The Aeneid

by: Virgil

Book II

Summary Book II

Aeneas takes his father on his back and flees with his wife, Creusa, his son, Ascanius, and many other followers. Unfortunately, in the commotion Creusa is lost from the group. After everyone exits the city, Aeneas returns to search for her, but instead he meets her shade, or spirit. She tells him not to be sorrowful because a new home and wife await him in Hesperia. Somewhat comforted, Aeneas leaves Troy burning and leads the survivors into the mountains.

Analysis

With Aeneas’s claim that his tale of Troy’s fall is so sorrowful that it would bring tears even to the eyes of a soldier as harsh as Ulysses, Virgil calls attention to his own act of retelling the Trojan horse episode from a new angle, that of the vanquished Trojans. In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, we learn the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of Ulysses and the Greeks. Virgil’s claim is that even the Greeks, the victors, would be able to feel the sorrow of the event if it were told properly from the point of view of the victims. Virgil writes a characteristically evenhanded account, so that both losers and winners earn our sympathy and respect.

Virgil tries to minimize the humiliation of the Trojans and of his hero, Aeneas. He makes sure that Aeneas does not appear to be less of a warrior than the Greeks, even though they defeated him. When Aeneas admits that the Trojans were duped by the wooden horse trick, Virgil tempers the failure by emphasizing that not all Trojans were fooled. Aeneas’s mention that some Trojans counseled the others to destroy the horse demonstrates that there was in fact a degree of wisdom and perhaps even foresight among the Trojan people. He also carefully recounts all the details by which they were persuaded and frightened—the lies of the young Greek and the sign of the serpents, which gobbled up Laocoön, the man who had most vocally protested bringing the horse inside the city—in order to show that the Trojan fear of offending the gods was valid. In the end, the Trojans bring the horse into their city not out of foolishness but out of a legitimate and even honorable respect for the gods. Against Aeneas’s description of the Trojans’ earnest reverence, the Greeks begin to look guilty of bad sportsmanship.

At points during his story, Aeneas emphasizes the irrelevance of mortal concerns in the face of divine will. Venus’s persuasion of Aeneas to not kill Helen, for instance, relies on the ultimate inability of mortals to influence their destinies. Venus tells him to hold neither Helen nor Paris responsible for Troy’s downfall: he must realize that “the harsh will of the gods” (II.792) caused Troy’s destruction. Venus’s words reveal that although Aeneas and the Trojans lose a battle with the Greeks that they might have won, in the end they have no choice but to submit to the unfavorable will of the gods. But the gods’ will is also what enables some of the Trojans to escape from Troy. Again, fate must always be fulfilled: Aeneas is destined to survive. His sufferings in Troy are to be redeemed, eventually, by his glory in Italy. The shade of his wife, Creusa, comforts him with this message, and following his encounter with Creusa’s shade, Aeneas keeps his foretold destiny always in mind, distant though this destiny may seem.