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Free MonkeyNotes Book Notes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Online Summary
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THEMES

Destruction

This theme is enunciated through the first Latin words of the epic “Arma”, “of arms.” Battles constituted the very fabric of life of early civilizations before adequate land, material and people were collected to establish a cultured life through the flowering of creative arts. As archeological evidence of the ancient world shows, battles brought loot and man power to help build a city and stabilize society through prosperous trade and commerce. At the same time overcrowding could be prevented by settling civilians into newly conquered lands as the Romans did. Evidence of this is presented rather subtly. For instance the loser of the boat race Sergestus is given a female slave who has twin sons and is skilled in weaving. Or there is evidence of Turnus’ ancestor being of Greek origin who had colonized Italy.

Destruction of cities following battles was a natural way for the chosen few to exert their talents of enterprise and build new cities. The whole project of the Aeneid is centered on this aspect of destruction. Aeneas builds two earlier cities, which are destroyed by pestilence and ill omens. Dido is driven out of Tyre to settle in a Sidonian colony in Africa and build Carthage. The Arcadians were similarly displaced from Greece. Diomedes, Idomeneus, lose their kingdoms and must rebuild.


Relocation also saves the best traditions and customs of a people. Priam’s family through his father, Laomedon had broken their word of honor to the gods. Priam himself had alienated Juno by supporting Paris in retaining Helen in Troy. So this family must be wiped out completely except for his son, Helenus the prophet who had defected to the Greek side. Even Creüsa, Aeneas’ wife must die in the fall of Troy. Anchises who is a distant relation (even spatially his house is away from the city centre) and his descendants, whose ancestors were Dardanus and his son, Tros (who built Troy) manage to survive the destruction. They are then entrusted by the phantom of Hector with the household gods, holy things and the everlasting fire, Vesta.

The destruction of Troy is then seen as the destruction of a decadent city, which had lost its reason and wisdom (the Palladium stolen by Diomedes and Ulysses). It had encouraged moral corruption (Helen and Paris) so as Venus reminds Jove, she had not begged him to save it (Book Tenth)

Before the final destruction even the preparation is a greatly creative process. Vulcan great armour (Book Eighth) is an example. Battles are rejuvenating because they are a kind of contest. Aeneas’ great boxing champion is laid low by the aging champion of Acestes in the friendly games (Book Fifth). But Evander regrets he cannot accompany Aeneas. The peaceful rural folk, Rutulians and Ausonians are invigorated by the call to battle. Pallas, Nisus and Euryalus are all fired by the desire for glory, not to forget Turnus who wants glory and destruction.

Not only does impending destruction stir the blood into action, but it makes fine orators. Both Aeneas and Turnus talk their way into gaining support. So battles serve as a practice in diplomacy. The destruction of Turnus becomes the climax of the epic.

Heroism

Is an offshoot of battle. Not given an opportunity to fight can lead to dissipation as Messapus men play and drink while besieging the Trojans. The besieged Trojans have two young men fired by the spirit of heroism. In Book Fifth, Nisus and Euryalus want to break through the enemy lines to reach Aeneas with the message of the siege. When Iris and Jaturna take steps to save Turnus by driving him away from the enemy, they are impeding his opportunity for heroism and he feels shame at having acted in a cowardly manner. A glorious death is preferable to a safe obscure life, so the troops are driven on in order to be celebrated for their deaths on the battlefield.

Book Tenth and Eleventh besides the last book are replete with the full force of indiscriminate destruction wrought by war. But within this destruction there is scope for generosity and nobility if not for mercy in a war where numbers are so significant. So Turnus kills Pallas, takes his armor but returns his body to Evander for funeral rites. Lausus,o the son of wicked Mezentius show filial piety and deep love as he shields his father with his own body and dies. The winning side grants truce for a few days for funeral proceedings, this is a thoughtful gesture to prevent soldiers from being exposed to the birds of prey on the battlefield.

Heroism is not merely for the men. Pallas bravely egging his rural, helpless, frightened Arcadians against superior weapons is inevitable heroism remarkable in a young spirit. But Camilla, the warrior of Diana’s huntresses is outstanding. She tells Turnus to block the mountain tracks while on horseback she will be in the forefront of battle on the fields. Hers is not a fight for territory or for a bridegroom. Her heroism is spurred on by the desire for honor and glory.

Even a refusal to participate in a war or to desire to prevent more bloodshed can be heroic. To this extent Drances who wants Turnus to fight it out alone with Aeneas had good arguments to advance (Book Tenth and Twelfth). Similarly Diomedes refusal with good advice can be seen as equally heroic. He was the finest warrior in the Trojan war but he admits to ultimate defeat and loss, which comes paradoxically even for the winning side. He warns them through the example of the returning Greek heroes, so many dispossessed of their own kingdoms while they fought for other’s causes. Aeneas himself is a perfectly heroic warrior who except towards the end is brave and temperate in attack and massacres. He may not be regarded conventionally heroic in issuing a challenge for single battle since he has faith in his destiny. However Aeneas’ real heorism lies in endurance and a disciplined advance towards his goal refusing to be deflected by personal inclinations or (except at rare moments as when his ships are burning) to give in to despair.

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