Virgil wrote the Aeneid during the reign of Caesar Augustus, who ruled Rome at the time when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born. However, Virgil never learned about the work of Christ. He died in 19 B.C.
It is interesting to note that in one of his Eclogues, Virgil prophesied that the birth of a child would usher in a golden age. During the Middle Ages, many Christians thought that he was prophesying the birth of Christ. This is unlikely. At least, his Aeneid betrays no knowledge of God’s plan of salvation, as you can see from the following summary of the seventh book of this marvelous epic.
After the fall of Troy, Aeneas led the Trojan remnant to Italy. After many adventures, they reached Cumae on the western coast of Italy. With the help of the Cumaean Sibyl, he visited his father Anchises in the land of the dead.
At the beginning of the seventh book of the Aeneid, the Trojans sailed northward. They stopped briefly at Caieta [modern Gaeta], which received its name from Caieta, the nurse of Aeneas, who was buried there. After safely passing the residence of Circe, they reached the Tiber River. Here they disembarked.
The Trojans had come to the kingdom of Latinus, an elderly king who had enjoyed a long and peaceful reign. According to common belief, the parents of Latinus were Faunus and a Laurentian nymph named Marica. His paternal grandfather was Picus, whom Circe had transformed into a bird with colorful wings. His great-grandfather was none other than Saturn himself.
Latinus’ only surviving child was a nubile daughter named Lavinia. She had many local suitors. The wife of Latinus favored the suit of Turnus, the king of the Rutilians. However, marvelous portents occurred which seemed to oppose such a match, and the oracle of Faunus insisted that Lavinia was supposed to marry a foreign bridegroom who was about to come to Latium.
The Trojans ate when they came ashore. They had some cakes that were flat enough to serve as makeshift tables, so they put them on the grass and piled some wild fruit on them. After eating the fruit, the Trojans were still hungry; so they ate the cakes on which they had put the fruit.
It had been prophesied that when the Trojans reached Italy, they would suffer such great hunger that they would eat their tables. Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, pointed out that this prophecy was being fulfilled at that very moment. The fulfillment of that seemingly dire prophecy proved to be ludicrously trivial. Aeneas took it as a sign that they had reached the place where they were supposed to settle.
The next day, the Trojans explored the land that Fate had given to them. After they had learned exactly where they were, Aeneas sent one hundred men to King Latinus. He sent along appropriate gifts and instructed them to ask for peace.
The king welcomed them and asked why they had come to his territory. He was favorably disposed toward his visitors because the Trojans had descended from Dardanus, who originally came from the Corythus in Italy.
Ileoneus served as spokesman for the Trojan delegation. He explained that the Trojans wished to settle in his territory. He assured King Latinus that they would bring honor to his realm. During their journey, they had met many people who wanted the Trojans to stay with them, but Apollo led them to the Tiber.
At the conclusion of his speech, Ileoneus gave King Latinus the gifts which Aeneas had sent to him.
King Latinus assured Ileoneus that he would grant the request of the Trojans. However, he wished to see Aeneas. He wanted to establish peace by shaking the hand of their chief.
The king also sent the following message to Aeneas. He had a daughter who was not supposed to marry a man who belonged to her own people. She was destined to marry a foreigner, and their progeny would raise their name to the stars. King Latinus felt that Aeneas was the destined bridegroom.
When the goddess Juno, who hated the Trojans, saw that they had reached their destination and were even building a city, she gave vent to hopeless rage. She felt helpless because she knew that Aeneas was destined to marry Lavinia and found a kingdom in Italy. Nevertheless, though she could not overturn the decrees of Fate, she resolved to hinder the Trojans as much as she could. Trojan and Rutulian blood would freely flow before Aeneas achieved his goals.
Since Juno apparently had no influence with the gods above, she called on the powers of hell. She summoned Alecto, the daughter of Pluto. Alecto was the most hideous of the Furies. Juno asked this infernal monster to sow discord and start a war.
Alecto first approached Amata, the wife of Latinus. Since the queen disliked the Trojans and wanted Turnus to be her son-in-law, she quickly succumbed to the monster’s baleful influence.
Alecto’s hair was made of snakes. She applied one of these reptiles to the vulnerable queen. The serpent glided around her limbs and entered her bowels, while poisonous exhalations pervaded her senses and twined about her bones.
Before Amata felt the full effects of the poison, she addressed Latinus with gentle but quarrelsome words. She urged him to give Lavinia to Turnus. Then, when she did not get what she wanted, Alecto’s venom took control of her mind. She rushed madly through the cities in her kingdom. She even went into the woods and indulged in Bacchic madness. In an attempt to prevent the impending nuptials, she concealed Lavinia in a secluded forest in the mountains.
Influenced by their queen and by the poison of Alecto, other matrons began to practice similar orgies.
Turnus was the next victim of Alecto. She first disguised herself as an aged prophetess named Calybe. In the name of Juno, she commanded Turnus to fight the Trojans.
Alecto’s trick did not work. Turnus rebuked Calybe and told her that war and peace were not her concern.
Then Alecto assumed her true form and cast a firebrand into the bosom of Turnus. This filled the Rutulian chief with an insatiable desire for battle. In a mad frenzy, he summoned his warriors and prepared for war. He was determined to drive the Trojans from the land.
Alecto then flew to a field where Ascanius and his companions were hunting. This time she focused her attention on the hunting dogs. She brought to their nostrils the scent of a pet stag that belonged to Silvia, the daughter of Tyrrhus, who had charge of the herds of Latinus. The dogs started chasing the stag, and Ascanius shot it, not knowing that it was a pet. He wounded it severely, and it ran home.
Silvia was stricken with grief, and the angry Latin farmers attacked Ascanius. Trojans came to the aid of Ascanius, and the trumpet of Alecto brought Latin warriors to the scene. A serious battle developed. Alno, the son of Tyrrhus, was killed. A sensible Latin man named Galaesus died while he was attempting to make peace.
Alecto then told Juno all that she had done and offered to do more. Juno told her to go home. She was afraid that Jupiter might intervene if Alecto continued to absent herself from her infernal abode. Now that the war had started, Juno thought that she could keep it going by herself.
Juno moved the Latin populous to surround the palace of Latinus and to demand war. Turnus was especially vociferous. Latinus firmly resisted their demands for a long time, but finally felt that he had to yield. After rebuking Turnus, he retired to his palace and allowed the people to do what they wanted.
To give official sanction to the conflict, Latinus was supposed to open the Gates of War, over which the god Janus presided. Latinus refused to perform this unholy act, so Juno opened the gates herself.
Italy was busily preparing for war. In Latin cities, artisans were forging armor and weapons for the soldiers. From nearby tribes, many prominent warriors brought troops to participate in the struggle against the Trojans.
Mezentius, a rough man who despised the gods, brought a contingent of warriors. He was accompanied by his son Lausus, who brought one thousand men.
Aventinus, a son of Hercules and the priestess Rhea, was eager to wage war. Hercules had visited Rhea after he killed Geryon in Spain and took his oxen. Rhea subsequently gave birth to her son on the Aventine, one of the hills later incorporated into the city of Rome.
Catillus and his twin brother Coras came from the city Tibur to fight. They were brothers of Tiburtus, from whom their city received its name.
Caeculus, the founder of Praeneste, approached with his troops, as did Messapus, the son of Neptune. The Sabine Clausus also brought a powerful army. These three leaders came from the regions north and east of the present site of Rome.
Halaesus was an inveterate enemy of the Trojans. He had been a follower of Agamemnon, who had led the expedition against Troy. He had become the chief of the Aurunci. His warriors came from southern Latium and northern Campania.
Another leader was Ocbalus, the son of Telon and the nymph Sebethis. Telon had ruled the island of Capri, and Ocbalus had subsequently annexed additional territory in Campania.
Three formidable tribes sent contingents to help Turnus. King Ufens led the Aequi, and a magical priest named Umbro led the Marsians. A female warrior named Camilla led the Volscians.
Virbius was an especially interesting ally of Turnus. He was the son of Hippolitus and Aricia, and the grandson of Theseus. After Hippolytus died, Aesculapius raised him from the dead. He then lived with Aricia in Egeria’s grove. Here their son Virbius was born.
Impressive Turnus led the way, followed by soldiers from many different tribes, all eager to fight.
I am indebted to the Latin Library for presenting Virgil’s Latin text online.
The Latín Library: P. Vergilius Maro (70-19 B.C.)
“The Aeneid of Virgil”; Translated by Allen Mandelbaum