Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The beginning of the Aeneid follows the pattern set by Homer’s epics and greatly recommended in Aristotle’s Poetics as well as in Virgil’s contemporary Horace’s Ars Poetica. This means it starts “in medios res” (“in the middle of things”) in mid-action and not at the very start of the story of the sack of Troy and Aeneas and the remaining Trojan fugitives seeking a new land.
The Proem or the first two paragraphs of Book First, lay out the general subject of the poem and try to find causal connections, which make Aeneas suffer. But then the poem is set out in Carthage after Aeneas has had a couple of adventures and is now shipwrecked with his Trojans. Then Books Second and Third go back to the beginning of their story of flight from Troy following the last holocaust there. This recapitulation is the exposition of the story till the landing at Carthage.
The landing of Carthage is the middle section of the plot because it is the first instance of the hostile intervention by Juno whose main aim is to prevent the Trojans from reaching Italy and settling up a great kingdom. From now on till the plot reaches its climax, the obstacles in the way of Aeneas’ destiny and how he overcomes them is the central interest of the epic. So Dido is the first impediment through her offering of love and the joint sovereignty over her city.
Escaping her, Aeneas reaches Sicily again to observe his father’s death anniversary on his way to the mainland of Italy. Here his own Trojan matrons burnt four of his ships forcing him to settle some of the travel worn in Sicily. At last he reaches the mainland where the Sibyl taking him to the underworld, fortifies him by her prophecies and those of Anchises and he reaches Latium at the mouth of the Tiber, as was prophesized. But here the Italians are stirred up by the Queen Amata and his chief antagonist Turnus into regarding the Trojans as invaders who would enslave them.
The climax is built up through a series of battles between the Trojans and their allies and Turnus with the majority, of the Italian rulers supporting him. After vivid descriptions of valor and carriage comes the single combat between Aeneas and Turnus which Juno has tried her best to prevent and postpone.
The epic ends abruptly with the slaying of Turnus after Jove has forbidden interference by any of the immortals. But throughout the epic the oracles and prophecies make the future of Aeneas in Italy quite clear. Moreover, through little vignettes Virgil gives glimpses of Aeneas and Ascanius as future leaders in peace times.
An epic generally has one main plot as stated in the argument. Virgil has established this unity through the worldview projected by him. But there are stories interwoven within the main plot concerning several other characters who prop up in the main plot. For instance Dido’s past is a story of family jealousy, betrayal and consequent exile, in it there are some situations which parallel Aeneas’ as that of founding a rich prosperous kingdom. But the plot of betrayal Sychaeus’ murder finds an echo in Polydorus’ murder by the Thracian King for gold. In this way minor stories are integrated into the main plot through the thread of criss-crossing destines.