The Aeneid

by: Virgil

Book XI

Analysis

With the gods refraining from intervention in Aeneas’s movements, Aeneas’s words and actions reveal his integrity. His sincere mourning at Pallas’s funeral shows how deeply he appreciates the youth’s valor in arms and how seriously he took his promise to King Evander to protect the boy. Aeneas also honorably agrees to a truce so that the dead of both sides can be properly buried. His earlier descent to the underworld allows him to witness the terrible fate of those not properly buried on Earth—they roam the shores of the river Acheron, without a home and without rest. As a new aspect of his piety, Aeneas takes up the imperative that no one, not even his enemies in battle, should endure this awful punishment on his account.

But Aeneas has not conducted himself entirely as a paragon of mercy in the struggle with the Latins. In Book X, he mercilessly kills two Latins who are on their knees, begging him to spare their lives. In portraying Aeneas as a man who expresses many different emotional extremes—anger, hatred, passivity, grief, love, and pious respect—Virgil risks introducing some inconsistencies in his hero’s character. Of course, it is certainly possible that a man could be both brutally unforgiving in war and lovingly compassionate at other times. However, our attempt to reconcile these two contradictory sides of Aeneas’s heroism resembles Dido’s failure to comprehend Aeneas’s expression of love for her just before his act of abandonment. In both cases, Aeneas’s primary motivations lie in fate and piety, but in the brief moments when fate and piety do not govern his actions, Aeneas expresses his true emotions either tenderly or brutally.

Turnus’s character remains consistent, if somewhat one-dimensional. He is as stubborn and temperamental as ever. Drancës’ claim that the war is Turnus’s fault holds some truth, for King Latinus has opposed battle from the very beginning. Originally, Turnus claims to be fighting for his promised bride, Lavinia, but in the council it appears that his own pride has usurped Lavinia as his motivation. Both Latinus and Drancës insult Turnus by suggesting that he should be willing to lay down his arms in front of the Trojans after fighting for so long. Turnus’s reply to the council is bitterly sarcastic, adding new depth to his character as he shows himself to be either ignorant or recklessly defiant. He seems hell-bent on destruction, despite the warning signs of the gods in the earlier battles. He has too much at stake in terms of honor and reputation to give up now.

The action of Book XI suggests that the movement and success of the armies depend entirely upon visible and active leaders. The tide turns in battle when a leader either arrives on the scene or leaves it. When Camilla dies, for example, the Trojans scatter the Latins. Because the battles in the Aeneid always flow this way, it is necessary for Virgil, at times, to remove the greatest heroes from the fighting for a while in order to maintain some suspense—otherwise, Aeneas and Turnus would have met in single combat long ago. In Book XI, Turnus’s planned ambush in the mountains removes the main characters from the fighting and then, coincidentally, keeps them from meeting at the last moment. Virgil delays this final confrontation for as long as possible, thus building the tension.