When two bulls lower heads and horns and charge
In deadly combat . . .
. . .
[They g]ore one another, bathing necks and humps
In sheets of blood, and the whole woodland bellows.
Just so Trojan Aeneas and the hero
Son of Daunus, battering shield on shield,
Fought with a din that filled the air of heaven.
(XII. 972– 982)
This passage from Book 12, in which Virgil describes Aeneas and Turnus locked together in the heat of battle, exemplifies a literary device Virgil employs throughout the poem: the epic simile. Virgil’s similes are extended comparisons of an element of action or a character to an abstract or external image or concept. These similes are often drawn from rural landscapes and farm life, and they often use the phrase “just so” as a connector. They give Virgil’s writing a descriptive richness by lingering at great length on some detail that might not otherwise have been illuminated. Often, Virgil uses the similes to give an interior depth to his characters, showing us by means of an analogy what it feels like to be that character in a given moment. This particular epic simile describes the intense battle between Aeneas and Turnus. By comparing these two warriors to bulls, Virgil conveys the potent, animalistic nature of their struggle.