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Virgil (Publius Virgilius Maro) was born in Mantua, a rural town north of Rome near the Alps. Even though Virgil's birth in 70 B.C. came in the middle of a century of political turmoil and civil war in Rome, life in Mantua was relatively peaceful, and Virgil's father, who was a prosperous Roman citizen, could afford to give his son a good education in the basics, especially Greek and Roman literature. When Virgil was about 17, his father decided that he should be a politician, or possibly a businessman, and sent him to Rome to study rhetoric (the art of public speaking).
But Virgil was shy and hated having to make long, flowery speeches about things that didn't interest him at all. Instead he wrote poetry on the sly. His first and last attempt to argue a case in court was an embarrassing failure, and Virgil decided he didn't have a future in politics. He left Rome and went to live by the beautiful Bay of Naples where he studied philosophy.
This was probably a good idea because Roman politics could be dangerous, even fatal. The Roman Republic's government was collapsing in civil war and mobs often rioted in the streets. Rival generals brought their troops home from foreign wars and used them against each other, each one trying to rule Rome his own way. Then in 44 B.C. Julius Caesar, the great Roman dictator, was assassinated and Rome was plunged into its worst political crisis--one that lasted more than a decade.
Virgil was 26 years old at that time. Ever since his birth in 70 B.C. there had been nothing but this frightening chaos. He, and many other young men of his generation, were totally fed up with Roman politics. Virgil stayed in Naples and spent these years studying philosophy and writing poetry about the joys of country living. These poems, called the Eclogues, became an instant hit in Rome and were read aloud at fashionable dinner parties. By the age of 33, Virgil was rich and famous. Virgil followed up the Eclogues with the Georgics, a book of poems about farming.
Then in 31 B.C., something happened that completely changed Virgil's feelings about Rome and about what he wanted to write. The Emperor Augustus finally managed to end the civil wars that had plagued the city for so long and restored order and peace. For the first time in his life, Virgil had hope for the future of his country, and he felt deep gratitude and admiration for Augustus, the man who had made it all possible. Virgil was inspired to write his great epic poem, the Aeneid, to celebrate Rome and Augustus' achievement. He had come a long way from his early days writing about nature and hating politics.
Virgil was clever. He didn't just write a story about Augustus. He wanted to make Romans proud of their history and their vast empire. He also wanted to show how Augustus was the most recent in a long line of great Roman leaders--strong, dedicated to their city, and willing to make great sacrifices for it. So the very beginning of Virgil's poem tells how Aeneas and a small band of exiles traveled for years and fought bravely to build the city that would become Rome, the capital of the greatest empire in the world. As you read, you'll see that there are many parallels between what Aeneas does and what Augustus did. For example, Aeneas fights a civil war in Italy and finally puts an end to the killing and chaos there, just as Augustus did in Rome. You'll also see Aeneas fall in love with a beautiful African queen who resembles Cleopatra, the great Queen of Egypt, who married Marc Antony (one of Augustus' rivals), and who also tried to seduce Augustus.
But the Aeneid is more than just a political poem about Rome. Like all great works of literature, it has a universal meaning. In many ways Aeneas is a man in search of himself and a new identity. In the beginning of the poem, he wishes that he could just stay home and keep out of trouble but, by the end, he is willing to do everything possible for the future of his people. You might see a parallel here comparable to Virgil's own wish, as a young man, to stay out of the political uproar of Rome and his emergence as Rome's national poet.
As you read the Aeneid you'll also learn a lot about Roman mythology, and about what Virgil believed was the role of fate and the gods in men's lives. You'll see that Virgil wasn't just out to praise Rome's achievements. He believed that Rome and Augustus were destined to rule the world. However, he also worried about the people who got in the way of that destiny, often through no fault of their own. Some of the characters you might like best are those, like Dido and Turnus, who are hurt by Aeneas' triumphs. Virgil's own experience of the horrors of civil war made him understand that there are always good and bad on both sides of any conflict.
You're going to see that Virgil was a great writer and a superb storyteller. You'll read about terrifying dangers, great battles, and even a passionate romance. (For a short time, when Virgil was young, he was a soldier. His vivid descriptions of war prove that he had had firsthand experience.) You'll also see Virgil's early love of nature in his beautiful descriptions of the sea and the countryside.
Virgil worked on the Aeneid for eleven years. This epic poem reflects his great skill and care in writing, and his tremendous knowledge of Greek literature, which he had studied ever since he was a boy. The Emperor Augustus knew about the project and asked to read some of it while it was in progress. Of course he loved it! When Virgil was 51 years old, in 19 B.C., he took a trip to Greece to visit some of the places Aeneas had visited. He got very sick, and Augustus brought him back to Italy where he died. Virgil told his friends to burn the Aeneid because there were still parts he wanted to rewrite. Fortunately, Augustus intervened and the Aeneid was saved. It became Rome's national epic almost immediately and is now considered one of the greatest works of Western literature.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: THE PLOT
For seven years, a great warrior named Aeneas leads a small band of fellow Trojans around the Mediterranean, looking for a place to build a new city. They were exiled from the city of Troy when the Greeks conquered it and burned it to the ground. Fate has decreed that they will be the founders of Rome, but they are having a hard time getting there.
A goddess named Juno, hates them and will do anything to prevent them from reaching Italy. They are almost there when she whips up a great storm that blows them off course. They end up in Africa, at a city named Carthage, which is Juno's favorite city. Carthage is ruled by Queen Dido, who is beautiful and kind. She welcomes them to Carthage and invites them to a great banquet.
At the banquet, Aeneas tells Dido his whole sad story. First, he describes how the Greeks finally conquered Troy by hiding inside a giant wooden horse and tricking the Trojans into pulling it into the city. He then tells how his mother, a goddess named Venus, warned him to flee, and told him that he was fated to establish a new city for his people. Even though Aeneas would rather have died fighting for Troy, he obeys the goddess and follows his fate. He carries his aging father, Anchises, on his shoulders and holds his little son, Ascanius, by the hand. His wife dies at Troy.
Aeneas tells Dido how he and the other Trojan exiles built a small fleet and began sailing around the Mediterranean looking for their new home. But they misunderstand omens that tell where the new city will be, and they keep trying to settle in the wrong place. Each time some disaster strikes, forcing them to move on again. Along the way, Aeneas suffers another tragedy when his father dies. Aeneas finishes his story by telling Dido that the Trojans had just figured out that they were supposed to go to the west coast of Italy to build their new city when Juno's storm carried them to Carthage.
Meanwhile Aeneas' mother, Venus, is so worried that Juno may make Dido turn against Aeneas that she makes Dido fall passionately in love with him. Dido is so infatuated with Aeneas that she completely forgets about her reputation and her kingdom. For a year, Aeneas, forgetting all about Italy, stays happily with Dido. But then, Jupiter, the king of the gods, scolds him for neglecting his fate and the future of his country. Aeneas, who always obeys the gods and does what's best for his country, immediately leaves for Italy. Dido, wild with grief and anger, accuses him of betraying her. When Aeneas answers only that he must obey the gods, Dido kills herself in despair.
After leaving Carthage, the Trojans stop in Sicily and honor the anniversary of Anchises' death with great funeral games. Finally, the Trojans get to Italy and Aeneas takes a magical trip to the underworld to visit his father. Anchises shows him the glorious future that lies ahead for the Roman Empire, and Aeneas sees a parade of great statesmen and generals who will be born in the future. Until this time, Aeneas has been doing what fate and the gods command. Now, for the first time, he's really inspired by the future of his new city and he stops wishing he were back at Troy.
But the Trojans still have plenty of trouble ahead in Italy. When they first land near the site of what will be Rome, Latinus, the king of the native Latins, welcomes them, and tells Aeneas that he is destined to marry Latinus' daughter, Lavinia, and to start a great new race from the mingling of Latin and Trojan blood.
Juno is still furious at the Trojans, however. Although she knows that Aeneas is fated to build his new city and to marry Lavinia, she can delay those events and make the Trojans pay heavily for them. She sends an evil goddess, Allecto, to poison the Latins' minds against the Trojans. In particular, Allecto infects a warrior named Turnus with an uncontrollable passion for war. He had planned to marry Lavinia himself.
At first, the Trojans are outnumbered and Aeneas goes to get help from other cities, including one that is built on the exact spot where Rome would later be built. When he returns, there are many ferocious battles between the Latins and the Trojans. Finally, to stop the needless bloodshed, Aeneas challenges Turnus to fight him alone. After some delays caused by Juno, the two great warriors meet. In the final scene Aeneas wounds Turnus and Turnus admits that he was wrong. Nevertheless, Aeneas kills him, either out of anger or as justified punishment for all the violence Turnus has caused.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: SIMPLIFIED TROJAN GENEALOGY
Priam m. Hecuba Anchises (w/ Venus)
Andromache Paris Deiphobus Polydorus Cassandra
Creusa m. Aeneas m. Lavinia
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: SIMPLIFIED GENEALOGY OF JULIUS CAESAR AND AUGUSTUS *
c. Julius Caesar
d. 85 B.C. Mars m. Rhea Silvia
Julia m. Atius Balbus Gaius JULIUS CAESAR
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: 102-44 B.C.
Atia m. C. Octavius
c. Julius Caesar OCTAVIUS Augustus
63 B.C.-14 A.D.
* Julius Caesar claimed descent from Ascanius (Iulus)
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: AENEAS
Aeneas is a great survivor. He's one of those people who can lose everything and still start over again. He goes from being a victim of the Greeks at Troy to becoming a conqueror in Italy. He starts out as an unhappy and unwilling exile and becomes the founder of a great city. Aeneas is the first hero in Western literature who changes and develops. His struggles help him discover who he is and what he thinks is important.
Is Aeneas great because his fate made him great or is he great because he had the courage and determination to live up to the role fate handed him? There is a side to Aeneas--particularly in the first four books of the Aeneid--that isn't very impressive, even if you can understand why he feels the way he does. He's sad, tired, always waiting for his father or the gods to tell him what to do. But Aeneas always fulfills his duty to his family, to his country, and to the gods, even when he's depressed. He is never selfish. He always puts his responsibility to others first. If you have to name one quality that defines Aeneas, it is this devotion to duty, a quality the Romans called pietas or piety. This quality keeps him going even when he would rather forget about his fate. Ultimately, this same quality makes him accept, even welcome, that fate. Because, when Aeneas finally realizes that all his efforts will make the glorious Roman Empire possible, his love of his family and his country are fulfilled. The result is that the Aeneas you see at the end of the Aeneid is determined, sure of himself and confident that he knows what's right. He has become a great leader who is able to impose order on people who display more selfish and unruly emotions.
Aeneas achieves his self-control at a stiff price to himself and, often, to others. He leaves Dido, a woman who rescued him and his Trojans and who loves him deeply, with no explanation except that he must follow his fate to Italy. You may decide that he's a cold-blooded achiever. Or you may decide that Aeneas felt terrible pain at leaving Dido and was able to leave only through the heroic mastery of his feelings. Aeneas is a great warrior, able and willing to brutally kill his enemies, but he is often horrified by death. Even in the last scene of the Aeneid, where Aeneas kills his most bitter rival, Turnus, you see that he has a moment of pity.
Aeneas does not just live in the moment. He lives with a strong sense of history. He remembers his past in Troy and he sees the future in store for his people. Aeneas' own life shows the terrible price men pay to build great civilizations. He has to suppress his own feelings in order to bring order. Some readers also see Aeneas as a link between the classical world of heroes, which admired strong but often selfish individuals, and the later Christian era with its greater emphasis on compassion for other people.
Aeneas would not be great at a party. He never cracks jokes. His complete devotion to duty can be a little dull. Virgil may have made him this way, in part, because Aeneas was supposed to represent Augustus, who was a very reserved, even cold, person. Another reason that Aeneas may not seem like a real person is that Virgil didn't want you to think of him that way. After all, Aeneas is the son of a goddess. He is partly divine or partly a myth himself. Aeneas is larger than life. Virgil turned him into a model of a great leader--firm, stern, but compassionate. He is a symbol of the great Roman virtues of duty and leadership.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: DIDO
Of all the characters in the Aeneid, Dido is probably the one you might relate to most. She's the most human. She's beautiful, generous, kind, and successful. She has strong emotions. She's the queen of a bustling city, Carthage. When you first see her, she offers a welcome relief from Aeneas' endless problems. But she ends up killing herself. What goes wrong?
On the simplest level, Dido's story is the classic story of unrequited love. She loves Aeneas more than he loves her. For a year they have a passionate affair and everything is great. But then Aeneas decides he has to leave. His respect for the gods and his duty to his people are stronger than his love. But nothing is more important to Dido than her love for Aeneas. She burns with love. She is totally distracted. When Aeneas finally leaves, she becomes alternately bitter, vindictive, and pathetic, as she curses Aeneas and then begs him to stay. She is a victim of uncontrolled passion.
Where did this passion come from? Is it Cupid's fault for wounding her with his arrow? If so, then what happens to Dido is not her fault. She's the victim of the gods and of Aeneas' fate to go to Italy. Part of Virgil's theme here is simply that life is terribly unfair to some people. Virgil wants you to feel sorry for Dido. After all, she got a raw deal.
But is there more to it? Do you really believe that Cupid was entirely to blame or was Dido ready to fall in love? Is passion part of her nature? The first time we see her we see that she is an extremist. She wants to stay up all night to hear Aeneas' story. Her vow never to remarry after her first husband died also seems a little drastic. Even her sister Anna thinks so.
Whatever started it, this excessive passion destroys Dido. For one thing, it makes her irrational. Aeneas' story should have warned her that he would eventually leave for Italy. A more rational person would at least have asked him what his plans were. Instead, Dido gets "married" in a mock ceremony in a cave--something only she believes is a real marriage.
Dido falls in love with Aeneas, in the first place, partly because she is so impressed with all his heroic exploits. She is a great person and she admires another great person. That's the basis of their love--the mutual respect of two people in similar situations. But, while they're having their love affair, both of them lose sight of the things that made them great. Dido forgets about ruling Carthage; she forgets about her reputation and about the kind of example she is setting for her people. She forgets about her vow never to marry again. Aeneas also forgets about Italy but, with a little help from Jupiter, he takes up his duties again. Stiff, when Aeneas leaves, Dido doesn't return to her duties as queen. She sinks into despair because not only has she lost Aeneas, she's also lost her self-respect. This is at least one reason why Dido commits suicide. No one can live without self-respect.
But why doesn't Dido return to ruling Carthage the way Aeneas returns to his responsibilities? You'll see that at the end this never occurs to her. She's too filled with despair. She does briefly consider trying to get someone else to marry her. She even considers following Aeneas to Italy. But we have to respect her when she realizes that either of these choices would be pathetic and would cause her to lose even more of her self-respect.
Dido kills herself out of frantic despair, but also as a way of restoring her self-respect. It is her last great act. Do you respect Dido for having the courage to kill herself or do you think it's the final sign of her madness?
Whichever answer seems right to you, you'll agree that Dido's tragedy shows the terrible destructive power of uncontrolled passion. In this way she is like Juno and Turnus but, in another way, she is totally different. They are angry and violent, lashing out at others, but Dido is ruined by love. In the end, she does curse Aeneas and predict a great war between Carthage and Rome, but Dido never actually hurts anyone but herself, and this makes her tragedy the greatest in the Aeneid.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: TURNUS
Turnus is a daredevil. If he were alive today, he might be the person who drag-races on Main Street at 3:00 A.M. to show off. He's incredibly competitive. He may not care that much about what he's fighting for, but he's proud of being a great warrior and he isn't going to let anyone get ahead of him.
Turnus isn't a nasty person. He doesn't really mean to cause as much harm as he does. Because he never really stops to think about the consequences of his actions, everything he does is incredibly destructive. That's why Virgil always compares him to a wild animal.
And that's Turnus' great flaw. You'll see that Virgil is no pacifist. He thinks that war and killing can be justified. He does not criticize Aeneas for fighting for his people and their right to make a home in Italy. But Turnus is mostly fighting for himself. Turnus never considers the possibility of a reasonable compromise with the Trojans. Even after his allies want to make peace, Turnus cannot stop fighting.
But is Turnus to blame for this? Literally, the story tells you that Turnus is set on fire with lust for war by Allecto's blazing torch. Is this passion something that Turnus couldn't help? Or was it in his personality all along; and is Allecto only a symbol for why it heated up? (This is the same question we asked about Dido and Cupid.)
You might think that the second answer sounds more reasonable. We no longer believe that evil goddesses like Allecto really exist. But there is another way of thinking about whether or not Turnus is to blame. In some ways he is just defending his country from invasion by a foreign army, the Trojans. What is wrong with that? What would your reaction be if a foreign army arrived in the United States and said, "Oh, by the way, we're here because the fates told us to come"? If you think about it that way, what Turnus does is perfectly reasonable, and he's innocent because he has no way of knowing that Aeneas really is right about his fate. He doesn't know that Aeneas will win. If he could have known that in advance, of course there would have been no reason to fight. But he can't know that Aeneas will win until close to the end. To his credit, when Aeneas is about to kill him, he realizes that he was wrong and admits it.
You get an interesting insight into Juno when you think about Turnus this way. One of the things wrong with Juno is that she keeps fighting fate. That's irrational on her part because she knows what the fates have in store. But Turnus really doesn't know. So what is evil in Juno becomes tragic in Turnus. He's doing the best he can but he doesn't realize that he's on the losing end of history.
You can also compare Turnus to Dido. They are both victims of uncontrolled passion and of Aeneas and his fate. Dido's misfortune is that she lives in a country where Aeneas isn't meant to stay. Turnus' problem is that he lives in a country where Aeneas is supposed to stay. But Dido harms only herself while Turnus kills many innocent people. And that makes a big difference. Dido is purely tragic, but it's hard to know exactly what to feel about Turnus.
Still another way of looking at Turnus is that he is the old-fashioned hero, the rugged individualist, who can never accept any authority other than his own. He cannot live in a peaceful, civilized state like the new order that Aeneas will start. There is no place for people like Turnus in Rome because they're the kind of people who start civil wars.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: JUNO
If you're really unlucky you may have met someone like Juno. She could be a distant relative who comes to the annual family reunion hopelessly overdressed and wants you to tell her how great she looks. You have to flatter her or she'll pester you all evening. She remembers all insults--real or imagined--and she talks about them for hours. She can't imagine what she ever did to deserve such disrespect. When the party's over, she still insists that no one paid any attention to her.
But Juno's even worse than this because she's a real troublemaker. She doesn't just talk about how angry she is, she acts on it. Since she's a goddess (and married to Jupiter) she can cause big trouble. If she wants a storm she can get it, and when she wants an evil demon, like Allecto, to drive people crazy all she has to do is call. Juno never controls her feelings. She simply lets everything out--and it's all bad.
The strangest thing is that Juno, despite her ruthlessness, never gets what she wants. Have you ever noticed how true that is about angry people? They just go from one fight to another, but they never seem to win. Why is that? One reason is that they are often irrational. They pick fights they can't win. They're also very self-destructive. They're so angry that they don't realize that their plans will backfire and produce exactly what they don't want. A good example of this is Juno's invention of a mock marriage between Dido and Aeneas in order to force Aeneas to stay in Carthage. Aeneas leaves anyway and Dido's life is ruined.
Why is Juno so angry at the Trojans? She has one petty reason--she lost a beauty contest--and one good reason. Carthage is Juno's favorite city and Rome (which the Trojans will found) is destined to destroy Carthage. That sounds like a rather good reason to be furious, and it is. However, no one, not even Juno, can change that destiny. It's inevitable. It's a part of fate and in Virgil's world even the gods can't change fate. So, in fighting fate, Juno is doing something basically irrational. She's fighting a battle she can never win. All she can do is make trouble.
This gives you a clue to what Juno symbolizes in the Aeneid. She is a force for disorder. Her uncontrolled rage does nothing but cause misery and death. Her weapons are found in nature: storms and fire on one hand, passions in men on the other. Thus, one way you can view Juno is as a symbol of violent and destructive forces that are always present in the world.
Juno will never stop on her own, but after her anger has burned itself out a bit, she will obey a command to stop from a god more powerful than she. That's Jupiter, her husband and the king of the gods. Similarly, you'll see that the effects of her rage on men like Turnus can eventually be controlled by other men, like Aeneas, who are strong enough to impose order.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: VENUS
The goddess Venus is Aeneas' mother. Like all mothers, she would like to see her son succeed. In fact, she wants him to succeed so much that she doesn't really care how hard it may be on him. For example, Venus agrees with Juno's scheme to have Dido and Aeneas marry in a mock ceremony. Venus doesn't care because she knows that Aeneas will have to leave anyway. But she doesn't stop to think about Aeneas' feelings when he has to leave. Venus isn't very warm. She's not interested in having long chats with her son, and she enjoys tricking him by disguising herself.
Like Juno, Venus loves to intervene in human affairs and helps Aeneas out of several difficult spots, but like Juno she can't change the basic course of fate. All she does is restore the balance after Juno has tipped it against Aeneas. But Venus' actions never restore order; in fact, they sometimes make matters worse. She's just another competing force against Juno. While she's not angry and destructive like Juno, she's not particularly admirable, either. Basically, Venus is concerned only about what she wants. If people like Dido get hurt in the process, Venus doesn't care.
In Roman mythology Venus was the goddess of love. It's no accident that she's Aeneas' mother. After all doesn't his great sense of responsibility come from his love of his family and country? But in Virgil's world you also see that love isn't necessarily as positive an emotion as we think it is today. Venus is responsible for Dido's uncontrollable passion. And Venus herself seems to be more a goddess of self-interest than one of true love and generosity.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: JUPITER
Jupiter is the only god in the Aeneid who acts the way you would think a god should. He's calm, rational, impartial. But in one way he's very different from what you would think a god should be. He's not particularly interested in goodness. His major interest is to see that everything goes according to fate. As a result he, unlike Juno and Venus, tends not to intervene unless things get seriously out of control.
Jupiter is the only god who really has the power to change things. For example, he can stop Juno from making trouble. He doesn't simply try to foil her the way Venus does. In some ways you might decide that there really is only one god, Jupiter, in the Aeneid and that the other gods are just symbols of natural and human forces.
You may ask why Jupiter doesn't intervene sooner and stop Juno from her futile but destructive efforts to change fate and prevent Aeneas from reaching Italy. If you think of Jupiter as a personality instead of a god, it's easy to understand why. He's married to Juno and has learned to indulge her a bit. It's easier for him to let her defuse her anger on the Trojans than to have her raging around him all day. But even if you view Jupiter as a god, his delay suggests that he himself is also a part of nature. He represents a basic force toward order but other chaotic forces also exist (like Juno) and he must let them run their course. Jupiter and the forces of order may ultimately win, but there may have to be a thunderstorm before the sky clears. Juno has to rant and rave for a while before her anger can abate.
Virgil also uses Jupiter as a way of giving official and religious approval to the Roman Empire. When Jupiter predicts that the Roman Empire will reach the stars and that it will last forever, Romans of Virgil's day must have felt that their power over the world was not only right but inevitable.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: ANCHISES
Anchises is Aeneas' father. When you first meet him, he is an old man, stubbornly refusing to budge from burning Troy. That's where he's lived his life; that's where he's going to die. Only after he sees two impressive omens, which say that his grandson is destined for great things, is he willing to go. Aeneas carries him out of the city on his shoulders.
Anchises is literally and symbolically a burden to Aeneas. Aeneas loves and respects his father very much. But Anchises is basically rooted in the past, even though he becomes a fervent supporter of the Trojans' search for a new city. Anchises makes mistakes--he sends the Trojans to Crete, which is relatively near Troy, instead of sending them to Italy. This shows that Anchises can't think radically. He's not up to a big change. He's naive. He thinks that the future will resemble the past. His naivete is shown by the fact that, unlike Aeneas, he doesn't seem to worry that much. He doesn't have doubts about the future. Anchises must die and go to the underworld before he will understand how different the future will be. Anchises symbolizes the old life and the old ways of Troy. Aeneas loves and respects these things, just as he loves and respects his father, but he must leave them behind and go on alone to find a totally new life in Italy. Anchises' death symbolizes that he remains a Trojan, a man of an earlier era.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: LATINUS
Latinus, king of the Latins, is the first native king Aeneas meets in Italy. Latinus has heard many omens that his daughter Lavinia is destined to marry a stranger, and that together they will start a new race that will rule the world. So Latinus is well disposed toward Aeneas when Aeneas first arrives.
But Latinus has not reckoned with the fact that his people are opposed to sharing their kingdom with strangers. He completely overlooks the problems that will arise from his refusal to let Turnus marry Lavinia, as he had planned to do. Even though Latinus wants to do what is in line with fate, and his wish to welcome Aeneas to Latium is a rational act, he does not have the authority to enforce his wishes. He can't even explain his plans convincingly to his wife. Finally, he allows himself to be bullied into making war against the Trojans.
Latinus is an old man who has lost most of his power. You can see him as a real person and feel sorry for the terrible trap he is in, but you can also see him as a symbol of the weakness of the Latin society before Aeneas' arrival. Latinus' inability to control his people strongly suggests that the Latin people needed a new leader. This fact helps Virgil justify or overlook the fact that the Trojans were invaders of Italy.
Latinus can also be compared with other senior citizens in the Aeneid. Like Priam, the king of Troy right before the Greeks destroyed it, he makes fatal mistakes that lead to the fall of his city. He also resembles Anchises because he wishes for the right things but he doesn't know how to attain them. Just as Priam and Anchises belonged to the old world of Troy--a world that must die--so Latinus belongs to the old world of Italy--one that must die to make room for Rome and its new order.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: EVANDER
Evander is a very symbolic character. His city, Pallanteum, is on the exact spot where Rome will be built. Evander illustrates some of the qualities that the Romans were particularly proud of. Pallanteum and its king are simple and rustic, without finery or luxury of any kind. You know that Americans admire the pioneers for being able to survive in the wilderness. The Romans liked to think that they had these same types of people in their background, too. When Aeneas sleeps on a bed of leaves in Evander's tiny hut, he shows that he has given up the old luxuries that he may have enjoyed in Troy or in Carthage with Dido.
Evander also becomes a substitute father figure, replacing Anchises. Aeneas treats him with great respect and his family loyalty is transferred to a father with roots in Italy. Evander also shows the greatest of Roman virtues: good political judgment. He knows how and where Aeneas can find allies.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: SETTING
The Aeneid is set in the middle of the 12th century B.C. after the fall of Troy. Troy was in Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. In Book II you see how Troy, which was a wealthy, fortified city filled with temples and palaces, is destroyed by the Greeks. The first six books of the Aeneid describe how Aeneas and a small band of Trojans are forced to flee Troy, They spend more than seven years sailing around the Mediterranean Sea in primitive wooden boats trying to find Italy. Finally, after many detours and disasters, they arrive on the west coast of Italy.
The Trojans land at the mouth of the Tiber, the same river that flows through present-day Rome. When the Trojans arrive, there are several small, simple cities (nothing like Troy) in the surrounding countryside, which is called Latium. At first the king of the biggest city, Laurentium, is willing to share his land with the Trojans, but soon his people rebel and band together with the people of the other cities to drive the Trojans away. The Trojans, led by Aeneas, battle them and finally succeed in capturing Laurentium, just as the Greeks had once captured Troy. After the war ends, the Trojans and the native people of Italy (including the Latins, Etruscans, and Ruffians) will live together and intermarry, becoming the ancestors of the Romans.
According to tradition, Troy fell in 1184 B.C. and Rome was founded in 753 B.C. Thus, more than 400 years passed between Aeneas' landing at the Tiber and the founding of Rome. Virgil explains part of this time gap in Book I. After the war, Aeneas will build a city called Lavinium and rule there for three years. His son Ascanius will move the city to nearby Alba Longa and rule for thirty years. His descendants will rule for 300 years after that until Romulus builds the walls around Rome. If you do some quick figuring, you'll realize that this leaves about 100 years unaccounted for. The reason for this may be that Virgil thought Troy fell at a later date than we do, or it may be that Virgil was less concerned with exact historical accuracy than he was with creating a poetic and almost mythological story of Rome's beginnings.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: THEMES
The Aeneid has many themes, which you'll see as you go through The Story section of this guide. There are many different ways to consider the poem's meaning because Virgil's story works on several different levels. For example, the Aeneid tells the history of Rome, but it also tells the personal story of its hero, Aeneas. To help you understand these levels, here is a list of the major themes you should focus on:
1. THE AENEID IS A NATIONAL EPIC ABOUT THE BEGINNING OF ROME
Virgil's poem tells how Rome came to be in historical and symbolic terms. The story blends history and myth to show how and why the Trojans reached Italy, and how Rome began. Virgil also explains the forces that made Rome great: fate and great courage, determination, and selflessness on the part of its first leader, Aeneas. Aeneas symbolizes the virtues that allowed the Romans to build a great empire.
2. THE AENEID IS A TRIBUTE TO AUGUSTUS AND A CELEBRATION OF THE END OF THE CIVIL WARS IN ROME
Aeneas is the model of a great leader. Virgil meant you to see him as a symbol for the Emperor Augustus. The wars between the Latins and the Trojans, which Virgil describes in the Aeneid, can be compared to the civil wars that raged in Rome before Augustus took control. When Aeneas defeats Turnus and ends the disorder that Turnus created, he is similar to Augustus, who ended the conflict between the warring factions in Rome.
3. THE AENEID IS THE STORY OF AENEAS' PERSONAL SEARCH FOR A NEW IDENTITY
Aeneas changes from a lost and lonely exile with no idea of his destination to a determined, self-confident leader. He gives up his past, as represented by Troy, and accepts the future, as represented by Rome. In the process of becoming a great leader he makes many personal sacrifices, including giving up Dido's love. He is completely devoted to his family and country, and never wavers from these duties, but he also understands the terrible price that others, like Turnus, have to pay for Aeneas' success. This ability to understand and to feel sorry for other people is what makes him such a great character. He's not just a simple-minded hero; he has a heart.
4. THE AENEID DESCRIBES THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN THE FORCES OF ORDER AND DISORDER IN THE WORLD
Virgil's world is a harsh one. The forces of disorder are always present. They are symbolized by Juno's uncontrollable rage at the Trojans and by the irrational passions that Dido and Turnus feel. These forces always lead to death and destruction.
Ultimately, though, Virgil seems to be saying that fate is on the side of order. Jupiter, the king of the gods and a force for order, finally tells Juno to stop making trouble. Aeneas, also a force for order because of his tremendous sense of duty and self-sacrifice, brings order to Italy.
5. THE AENEID DESCRIBES THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PEOPLE AND FATE
A person's life depends on his fate, something even the gods cannot change. Fate isn't fair--Dido and Turnus have tragic fates, even though they may not have done anything wrong. But someone's fate may also reflect the kind of person involved. Aeneas' responsibility to his country makes him a great leader, and he is fated to succeed. Dido and Turnus have excessively passionate natures that lead to their downfalls. Virgil seems to be saying that your fate is a combination of luck (which you can't control) and your own personality (which perhaps you can).
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: FORM AND STRUCTURE
The Aeneid is an epic poem written in 12 books. An epic poem is a long, narrative poem about the adventures of a great hero. Virgil's Aeneid is modeled in part on the great Greek epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, by Homer. The Iliad describes the exploits of Achilles and other Greek heroes in the Trojan War (the same war that forced Aeneas to leave Troy and that is described in Book II of the Aeneid). The Odyssey describes how Ulysses (or Odysseus in Greek) wandered for many years, trying to return home after the Trojan War.
The first six books of the Aeneid parallel the Odyssey because they describe Aeneas' search for a home. Aeneas even stops in many of the same places that Ulysses did. There is an important difference, however. Ulysses was trying to find his old home, while Aeneas is searching for a new home.
The second six books parallel the Iliad. They describe the war in Italy just as the Iliad describes the Trojan War. Again, there are many parallels. For example, the Trojans are besieged inside their fort in Italy just as they were trapped inside Troy. But again there is an important difference. The Iliad describes how the Trojans lost the war and Troy fell. In the Aeneid the Trojans win the war in Italy and get the chance to build a new city.
Virgil imitates many scenes from the Iliad. and the Odyssey in his epic, but he always changes them in significant ways so that they illustrate his own Roman themes. One of the most important differences between Homer's epics and the Aeneid is that the Aeneid is a patriotic poem while the Iliad and the Odyssey are poems about individuals and their adventures. Homer emphasizes heroes, not countries. But one of Virgil's main points is to show how Rome became the city it is, and to show what kind of person makes a good Roman citizen and leader.
You can also think about the Aeneid as being divided into three parts. The first four books take place with Dido in Carthage, including a flashback to the fall of Troy. The second four books (V-VIII) describe the Trojans' arrival in Italy and Aeneas' trip to the underworld where he sees the future of Rome. The last four books (IX-XII) describe the war in Italy and Aeneas' triumph over Turnus.
You can also consider the books of the Aeneid in pairs. The odd-numbered books tend to be less dramatic (for example, Book III in which the Trojans' wanderings are described or Book V where the funeral games for Anchises are shown). The even-numbered books reach more emotional peaks of tragedy or glory (for example, the death of Dido in Book IV, and Aeneas' vision of the future in Book VI).
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: STYLE
Just as the Aeneid's structure is modeled in part on the Iliad and the Odyssey, so is its style. Like Homer, Virgil wrote his poem in dactylic hexameter. This term describes the meter or rhythm of each line of poetry. It means that there are six major beats in each line and that each beat is made up of a dactyl (a word in which the first syllable is strong and the following two are weak) (-^^) and a spondee (a word in which both syllables are long (--). An example of a dactyl and a spondee in English are the words "fabulous pizza!". Of course, since you are reading the Aeneid in an English translation, what you're reading won't have this rhythm. But it's interesting to try to imagine how musical it must have sounded in the original Latin.
The reason for this rhythm is that Homer's epics were sung or chanted before they were written down, so it was natural to have a clear beat. Virgil kept this rhythm, even though he wrote his poem for a literate and sophisticated audience. But since he wrote the poem, instead of learning it from an oral tradition, he had the opportunity to use much more complex language than Homer could have. Virgil's poem is full of beautiful images, subtle allusions, and symbolism that give it a rich, dense texture. The result is that Virgil's epic has a very different style from Homer's.
Virgil also follows epic tradition in using many epic similes and epithets. An example of an epic simile is found in Book IV where Virgil compares Aeneas to a giant oak tree that cannot be blown down no matter how hard the winds blow. An epithet is a stock phrase that captures some part of a person's basic character. An example is "pious" Aeneas. The epithets you'll see depend on which translation you're using. Just look for the same word used over and over again to describe a person.
Another epic convention that Virgil makes great use of is long speeches by the major characters. Here we see that Virgil finally made use of his training in rhetoric. Although he might not have been a good public speaker himself, his characters surely are.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: POINT OF VIEW
Except for Books II and III where Aeneas tells his own story, the Aeneid is told from the point of view of an all-knowing narrator. This narrator is of course Virgil, but he pretends to get all his information from a goddess called the Muse. (If you look at the very beginning of the Aeneid, you'll see where Virgil asks the Muse for help in telling the story.) By following this convention of epic poetry, Virgil implies that his poem is accurate and objective. For example, when he says that Jupiter predicts that the Romans will rule forever, we're supposed to believe that he's right because the Muse told him it was true.
In reality the Aeneid is a very subjective poem. For one, you already know that one of the things Virgil wanted to do was to praise Augustus and the Roman Empire. That's not objective at all, but reflects Virgil's own beliefs. Even more importantly, Virgil has an unusual ability to get inside his characters' heads. For example, even though Dido seems to be described from the outside, you know exactly how she feels and what she's thinking about. The result is that you feel that you know her, and you feel very sorry for her.
Perhaps most important is Virgil's combination of an objective and subjective point of view that allows you to see Aeneas' character both from the outside and from the inside. For example, in Book IV when Aeneas leaves Dido, you see him almost from Dido's point of view. He hardly says anything to defend himself, and you get very little indication of his own feelings. This may make you dislike Aeneas a bit, but it also makes you see how much of his own feelings must be sacrificed in order to found Rome. By using this "outside" point of view, Virgil suggests that in some ways Aeneas' feelings don't matter that much. The important thing is that he does his duty.
But if that were the only side of Aeneas you see, he wouldn't be very interesting. So Virgil sometimes shows you things from Aeneas' "inside" point of view. For example, in Book I, when he is hit by Juno's storm and cries out that he wishes he had died in Troy, you learn what an unhappy and unwilling traveler he is at this point. Books II and III are told almost entirely from Aeneas' point of view and that's where you learn the most about him. If you think about it, you'll notice that much of the story in the early books of the Aeneid is told from Aeneas' point of view. This becomes less and less true later on. This shift in point of view reflects the change in Aeneas himself from an uncertain exile to a great leader. Virgil seems to be saying that as Aeneas learns to accept his great fate, he has fewer internal conflicts that you as the reader need to see. It may also be that as Aeneas becomes a great leader he can't afford to let whatever conflicts he does have show. As a result, this shift in point of view makes Aeneas into more of a myth--a model of a great leader--and less of an ordinary person.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: BOOK I
Imagine this scene: It's around 1150 B.C. Seven years earlier, a band of fierce Greek warriors invaded the city of Troy and set it on fire. Aeneas and a few fellow Trojans manage to escape to the coast where they launch their wooden boats and set sail to the west. There, some fortune-tellers have said, they will find a new home. They've been wandering all over the sea ever since, looking for this place.
When we first see him, Aeneas is filled with conflicting emotions. One part of him is still grieving for his lost city and all the friends and family who died there. Another part of him is worn out with troubles and worries about whether or not he will ever find a place where his people can settle. But, for the moment, he is simply relieved that the sun is shining and the sea is calm. He's beginning to have a little hope again. He does not suspect that an angry goddess is watching, and that she is determined to make as much trouble as possible for him and his fellow Trojans, wherever they go.
This is the moment Virgil picks to start his story of Aeneas' struggles to establish a new city--the city that would eventually become Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire and the greatest city in the world.
NOTE: The events in the Aeneid are not told in chronological order. You will see that Books II and III will take you back in time to the fall of Troy, while Book VI will show the future of Rome after Aeneas. Keep this blending of past, present, and future in mind as you read.
Before the action starts, Virgil tells us what his poem is about. The short prologue gives us many clues about the major themes, so it's worth reading carefully.
Arms and the man I sing, the first who came,
Compelled by fate, an exile out of Troy,
To Italy and the Lavinian coast,
Much buffeted on land and on the deep
By violence of the gods, through that long rage,
That lasting hate, of Juno's.
These first lines tell you that the Aeneid has two major subjects: war and a man. You can already guess that this man will be a great warrior and that you will read about many battles. The Aeneid also describes this man's relationship to war: he is both a victim of war--an "exile," a refugee--and he will also be a conqueror when he founds his new city in Italy. But this isn't just a war story. It's a story about an individual and how he feels about his life, whom he loves, how he makes his decisions. He is a man "compelled by fate." He doesn't always want to do what he must do; often it isn't even his idea. But the prologue also tells you that this story will have a good ending. The man will reach Italy, and the city he founds will become everlasting Rome. From this we see that the Aeneid will also describe the early history of Rome.
NOTE: The role of fate in men's lives is a crucial theme. As you read, ask yourself what that role is. Is fate a force for good or evil? Or is it neutral? Do men have any free choice? Are they responsible for their actions?
One of the most important things the prologue tells you is that the goddess Juno is responsible for much of this man's troubles. Why is she so furious? One reason is that Juno has discovered that the Romans are fated to destroy her favorite city, Carthage. (This actually happened in 146 B.C. during the Third Punic War, about a century before Virgil wrote the Aeneid.) The second reason is that she's been nursing a grudge against the Trojans since a Trojan named Paris didn't award her first prize in a beauty contest. The first reason seems a little odd: why is a goddess fighting fate? If fate is inevitable, why fight? Or can Juno win? The second reason is petty. What kind of goddess persecutes a good, honest, and religious man simply because she lost a beauty contest--especially when that man didn't have anything to do with it?
Keep an eye on Juno. She isn't a very admirable character, but she represents an important force in the world Virgil is describing: the power of uncontrolled anger. As you read, see how often rage leads to needless destruction. Later on you'll see that some gods who represent fairness and order, are opposed to Juno. The strange thing is that while they seem much nicer than Juno, they're never as interesting. You might want to think about why Virgil made such a mean character so vivid and real.
After giving you this background, Virgil begins the action. While the Trojans are relaxing in the sunshine, Juno is fuming and wondering whether she has to tolerate these people forever. Even though she knows that they are fated to reach Italy, she's irritated that everyone seems to be ignoring her, while other gods get their way. She decides to cause some trouble. She bribes Aeolus, the god of the winds, to help her sink the Trojan ships. If he'll let the winds out of the cave where he keeps them locked up, she'll give him her prettiest nymph. Of course Aeolus agrees and the winds whip out across the sea.
The sky turns black and winds batter the ships from all directions. Three ships are hurled onto rocks; one is stranded on a shoal; another is sucked into a whirlpool. Men are swimming everywhere, screaming for help. It looks like all is lost as Aeneas makes his first speech, which tells us a lot about his character and about what's on his mind.
O happy men, thrice happy, four times happy,
Who had the luck to die, with their fathers watching
Below the walls of Troy!
Aeneas is obviously nostalgic for his lost city of Troy. He misses it so much that he seems to wish he had died there. We also see Aeneas' reverence for his ancestors. (Later on you'll find out that his father had died just before this storm.) Aeneas also respects the old ideal of a hero. He thinks it's better to die fighting for your country than to be lost at sea for no reason. At this point you might be wondering how good a leader Aeneas will be. He literally wants to give up the ship without even trying.
But luckily for the Trojans, Juno is not the only god watching them. Neptune, the god of the sea, notices the uproar in his kingdom and is irritated about it. Unlike Juno, Neptune represents order. He scolds the winds and sends them back to their cave. He drives his flying chariot over the waves and calms them. He rescues the stranded ships. Virgil describes the scene in the first of the famous "epic similes" in the Aeneid.
Sometimes in a great nation, there are riots
With the rabble out of hand, and firebrands fly
And cobblestones: whatever they lay their hands on
Is a weapon for their fury, but should they see
One man of noble presence, they fall silent
Obedient dogs, with ears pricked up, and waiting,
Waiting his word, and he knows how to bring them
Back to good sense again. So ocean, roaring,
Subsided into stillness, and the sea-god
Looked forth upon the waters, and clear weather
Shone over him as he drove his flying horses.
In this simile Virgil has described the storm as though it were a civil war, with people fighting in the streets. He shows that a strong leader can calm the people and bring order out of chaos. You'll recall that, when Virgil began the Aeneid, the emperor Augustus had finally ended a century of civil strife by his strong leadership. In this way Virgil relates his story to recent events in Rome.
NOTE: An epic simile is a poetic device in which one thing, such as a storm at sea, is compared to another thing, such as a civil war. We won't discuss all the epic similes in the Aeneid, but you can have fun trying to spot them. They often begin with "like" or "as" and they usually compare a person or event with something in nature.
Saved from the storm, Aeneas and the remainder of his fleet find themselves near the north coast of Africa and head for the nearest harbor. Even though Aeneas is exhausted, he climbs a mountain, hoping to signal a passing ship. No luck. But suddenly three stags and a herd of deer appear. Quickly he shoots seven with his arrows and carries them back to the Trojan camp. There the men find some wine, still safe in one of the ships, and everyone stretches out on the grass, sipping wine while the meat cooks.
Aeneas gives a little speech, telling his comrades to cheer up, to forget their fear and sadness, and to hope for better days that fate has promised. What he doesn't mention--this is typical of Aeneas--is his own sorrow over his lost comrades and his dread about the future. We begin to see that Aeneas does have leadership qualities: for one, he takes responsibility. But we also see that he hides his true feelings in order to do so.
At this point the scene shifts back to the gods and we are introduced to Jupiter (also called Jove), the king of the gods, and Venus, who is Aeneas' mother.
NOTE: In classical mythology the gods sometimes had children with mortal men and women. Aeneas is the son of Venus and a mortal man, Anchises. Later on, you'll see that people often call Aeneas "goddess-born." This means that he is semi-divine. This myth explains why Julius Caesar, who claimed that he was descended from Aeneas, could proclaim himself a god while he was emperor. While Augustus didn't go quite this far, he was revered in Rome as godlike because he restored peace.
Venus is upset. She reminds Jupiter of his promise that the Trojans would found Rome and that Rome would rule the world. Jupiter is perfectly calm and tells Venus that everything is going just as it should, according to fate. To calm her he prophesies that Aeneas will find Italy, win a great war there, and start his city, Lavinium. (In the Aeneid, Italy is sometimes called Latium or Lavinia. Lavinium and Alba Longa are the names of the cities that came before the actual founding of Rome). Three hundred thirty-three years from this time, Romulus and Remus will build the walls around the city and call it Rome, after Romulus.
To these I set no bounds in space or time;
They shall rule forever...
And from this great line
Will come a Trojan, Caesar, to establish
The limit of his empire at the ocean,
His glory at the stars, a man called Julius
Whose name recalls Iulus.
You can imagine how much the Romans of Virgil's day enjoyed hearing that they were destined to rule forever! By making Jupiter predict the future, Virgil makes the past relevant to present-day Rome. We understand that this story, which seems to be about ancient history, will also tell us something about what kind of people the Romans are and how they got that way.
NOTE: Iulus is one of the names of Aeneas' son. (His other name is Ascanius.) By showing the similarity between Iulus' and Julius Caesar's names, Virgil seems to be supporting Julius Caesar's claim that he was descended from the original Trojans. Some readers have said that the Aeneid is political propaganda for the emperors Julius and Augustus. In this passage you can certainly see their point.
Meanwhile Aeneas, who hasn't heard about the great things that will happen for his people, awakens the next day and explores the forest to try to determine what land he is in. A beautiful young girl, dressed like a huntress, appears and Aeneas immediately suspects she's a goddess. (Virgil tells us that she's Venus.) She tells Aeneas that he's landed near Carthage, which is ruled by a woman, Queen Dido. Dido fled to Carthage after her brother murdered her husband and she's remained unmarried ever since.
Can you guess what's about to happen? Dido and Aeneas have much in common. They both had to flee from home. They're lonely, and they're both the leaders of their people.
Venus wraps Aeneas in a cloud so that he walks into Carthage without being seen. The city is bustling and everybody seems happy. Aeneas remarks enviously,
Happy the men whose walls already rise!
Dido is building a temple to Juno. (Remember that Carthage is Juno's favorite city.) Its walls are covered with paintings of the Trojan War. Aeneas is amazed and cries at the sight of all his old friends, but it also makes him feel at home. While he's studying each scene, Dido arrives, dressed in gold and followed by her servants. Right behind her, Aeneas sees the comrades he thought had drowned in the storm. Dido kindly assures the Trojans that they are welcome in her kingdom.
At this, Aeneas's cloud melts and he is revealed, looking godlike with the sun shining on his hair and armor. He thanks Dido graciously and greets his lost men.
Dido orders a great feast to celebrate, and things seem to be looking up for the Trojans. But Venus still isn't satisfied. She knows that Carthage is Juno's favorite city and she's afraid that Juno may make Dido turn against Aeneas. So Venus invents a scheme. She has Cupid, the god of love, dress like Ascanius (Aeneas' son) while she puts the real Ascanius to sleep. Cupid's mission is to infect Dido with a "blazing passion" for Aeneas so that Juno won't be able to influence Dido against him.
The scheme works. Dido can't take her eyes off the little boy--or Aeneas, either. It becomes very late but Dido is enjoying herself so much that she won't let anyone go to bed. She begs Aeneas to tell his story--from the beginning. He agrees. In Books II and III we'll hear what he has to say.
NOTE: You are familiar with the pictures of Cupid with his bow and arrow on Valentine's Day cards. That's exactly what Virgil had in mind with this scene. Although we think that love develops inside a person, Dido is "wounded" by love that comes from outside herself. She can't help it. Keep this image of a wound in mind; you'll see it again in Book IV. Note also how Dido's passion is described as a fire. That's also an important image you'll see again. These violent, destructive images suggest that this love affair may not have a happy ending.
^^^^^^^^^^THE AENEID: BOOK II
Have you ever noticed that, if something really frightening happens, no matter how long ago, you can remember every detail as if it happened yesterday? That's the way Aeneas remembers the last day of Troy before the Greeks destroyed it. Aeneas' story in Book II falls into three basic parts. First, he describes how the Greeks tricked the Trojans into letting them into the city. Second, he describes the desperate final battle to save Troy. Finally, he tells how he escapes from the burning city with his family. An important thing to remember about this Book (and Book III) is that the story is told from Aeneas' point of view. You are about to experience that last dreadful day as though you were there--inside Aeneas' head.
First here is some background. The Trojan War started because Paris, a Trojan, seduced Helen, who was married to a Greek named Menelaus, and took her back to Troy. The Greeks then attacked the Trojans. When Aeneas begins his story, both sides are exhausted. The Greeks have been camped outside the Trojan walls for ten years, unable to get inside. But the Trojans can't drive the Greeks away, either. The result is a stalemate.
Then one morning the Trojans look over their walls and the Greeks are gone! In their place they've left a giant wooden horse. The Trojans throw open the gates and rush out, wild with joy.
In fact, the Greeks aren't gone at all. Some of them are hiding on a nearby island, Tenedos, where they've hidden their ships. The rest are hiding in the hollow belly of the huge horse--waiting.
An ironic twist in the story is that one of the Trojans, Laocoon, warns that the Greeks are probably hiding inside the horse, but no one listens to him. Instead, the Trojans believe the story of a Greek named Sinon, who deliberately allowed himself to be "captured." Sinon tells them that if they destroy the horse, the gods will be furious and Troy will be destroyed. If, on the other hand, they bring the horse inside the city walls, Troy will conquer the Greeks.
We believed him, we
Whom neither Diomede nor great Achilles
Had taken, nor ten years, nor that armada,
A thousand ships of war. But Sinon did it
By perjury and guile.
Aeneas points out here that lies and tricks can do what the greatest Greek warriors and ten years of war could not. Deceit and treachery are important themes in Book II.
Another thing that convinces the Trojans to bring the horse into the city is that Laocoon, who warned them not to do this, is strangled horribly by two giant snakes that come rushing over the sea from Tenedos (just as the Greeks will attack later on). The snakes' eyes are burning with blood and fire as they choke Laocoon. The Trojans correctly decide that Laocoon is being punished, but they don't realize that he's being punished for telling the truth about the horse. The gods side with the Greeks, and they don't want anyone to save Troy.