One daughter only kept His line alive, heir to his ample realm; Mature for marriage now, in maiden bloom. From Latium and from all the Ausonian lands Many had sought her; comelier far than all, Turnus, for noble ancestors renowned; Whom the queen sought with zealous love to make Her son-in-law: but portents of the gods, With various omens of great dread, opposed.
Virgil introduces Turnus, the king of the Rutulians, and a suitor of King Latinus’s daughter Lavinia. Turnus would seem to be a good match for Lavinia, as he is of noble birth and preferred by the queen. Yet Latinus seems to seek signs that Turnus is not the right man to be his son-in-law, seeing signs and consulting oracles. The gods, only concerned with their personal schemes, are interfering with the marriage even before the arrival of Aeneas.
“But you, good mother, dulled by mold of years, Worn out in in mind and body, your old age Broods to no purpose over groundless cares, Amid the warlike armament of kings Mocks your prophetic vision with false fears. It is up to you to tend the images and fanes: Let me, who province it is, make peace and war.”
When the Fury Allecto first approaches Turnus in the guise of an old woman inciting wrath upon Latinus and Aeneas, Turnus rejects her proposition. He declares war and peace to be the concern of men, not women. Turnus almost evades Allecto’s persuasion, showing his strength and independence. As happens throughout The Aenied, however, divine intervention proves too powerful for mortal beings. Turnus inevitably succumbs and moves to instigate an attack.
Now here, now there, the chieftain rides, and seeks An entrance; like a wolf that raging prowls After the folds, exposed to winds and rains At midnight, while the bleating lambs lie safe Beneath their mothers, and, enraged and fierce, Snarls at the prey he cannot reach, impelled By long, mad hunger that drains dry his throat.
As the Latians are about to launch their first attack on the Trojans, Turnus is described as a hungry wolf seeking his next meal. Just as the wolf must eat the lamb to survive, Turnus must kill the Trojans to survive. If he fails at this task, Aeneas will take over Latnium, and Turnus’s future and kingdom will no longer exist. Duty demands bloodshed.
But fury now And a wild thirst for slaughter drove him on Against the opposing foe.
Having gained entrance into the Trojan fortress, Turnus ruthlessly attacks the enemy. Virgil describes him in these lines as both an instrument of death and as having a desire to kill that is a “thirst,” implying that killing will fulfill a physical need. Whatever the cause, Turnus cuts down many Trojans before escaping by jumping into the river. This scene warns the reader that at least one bloody battle lies in wait for Turnus and Aeneas.
“It’s time now to desist From battle,” he exclaimed: “for I alone Must deal with Pallas; he is due to me Alone. Would that his father might be here To see us!”
Turnus utters these words as he seeks out Pallas, revealing a deeper depth of cruelty than previously shown. As a practical matter, Turnus wants to take down Pallas, who has proven an effective leader in battles. On a personal level, however, Turnus’s words betray his descent into savagery as he wishes to torture Pallas’s father by making him a witness to his son’s murder. Again the theme war and its effects on men is highlighted.
With that, he pressed the corpse With his left foot, and seized and tore away The heavy belt[.]
Turnus kills Pallas and savagely rips away his sword belt as a trophy of war. Turnus’s action is surprising since he had just promised to send Pallas back for proper burial rites. Turnus vacillates between being a man of mercy and duty, and a man driven by pride and cruelty. We later learn that by subduing his merciful side, Turnus signs his own death warrant, a subtle warning to readers to take heed and learn from Turnus’s mistake.
With words like these, his soul Here, there fluctuates and turns; Whether, for such disgrace, to plunge his sword Into his frenzied breast, or throw himself Into the waves, and swimming seek the shores, And against the Trojans take field again.
Juno sends a phantom Aeneas to lure Turnus from the battle, making him inadvertently desert his men, but this deception angers Turnus. He alternates between attempts to kill himself and throw himself in the water and return to his men. With her actions, Juno has deprived Turnus of the loyalty he feels to his men as well as his personal desire to be a hero in battle. This scene reminds readers of Turnus’s positive traits as a leader.
“Undaunted I will meet this chief, although Like great Achilles he appear, arrayed Like him in armor wrought by Vulcan’s hands. To you, and to the king, my future sire, I, Turnus, second to no veteran here In valor, have devoted this my life. Is it me alone Aeneas challenges? Be it so, I pray!”
When Latinus proposes a truce with Aeneas, Turnus vows to continue fighting, even if he must do so alone. Turnus’s words show that his courage may now be converging with foolish pride. He knows that Aeneas is protected by impregnable Vulcan armor, yet he won’t back down. The enmity between the two men has become intensely personal to Turnus, enough so that he is mainly led by his desire to best his rival and prove his own worth.
“Ah, by these tears, by whatsoever regard You have for Amata, you, Turnus, now, Are the sole hope and solace that remains Unto my sad old age. On you depends Latinus’ power and glory; upon you Our house declining rests.”
Queen Amata pleads with Turnus to refuse to fight Aeneas. Amata’s strong feelings and caring words remind the reader that Turnus, despite the savagery he has shown in warfare, is loved. When Turnus responds to Amata, he calls her “mother.” This exchange hints at the sadness that underlies the battle between Aeneas and Turnus. Neither man is all good or all bad, but only one of them can prevail.
“This I have deserved Indeed, nor do I deprecate this blow. Use now your fortune. If for a wretched sire You have any regard (such once to you Your sire Anchises was), pity, I beg, My father Daunus’ venerable age; And me, or if you would rather, send back, Despoiled of my life, my corpse unto my friends. You have prevailed. The Ausonians have beheld A vanquished enemy stretch forth his hands. Lavinia is your bride. Stretch not your hate Beyond what you have done.”
These words are Turnus’s last, in which he surrenders and asks Aeneas to spare his life. Turnus argues that he has an elderly father so Aeneas’s mercy would demonstrate filial duty. Showing mercy would also allow Aeneas to move away from the cloud of war that breeds hatred and cruelty. Aeneas rejects Turnus’s offer of a new beginning, and sends Turnus to his death. Wars started with honorable duty do not always end in honorable actions.