The Aeneid

by: Virgil

Book IX

Summary Book IX

Virgil flirts with the defeat of the Trojans when, after Turnus gains access to the Trojan fortress, the author claims that if it had occurred to Turnus to open the gates and let his awaiting forces into the citadel, the Latins would have won the war then and there. By pointing to the possibility of other outcomes, Virgil heightens the dramatic import of the battle and establishes the Latins as worthy enemies. At the same time, this comment suggests that Turnus is not as amazing as he may seem, as it points out a shortcoming in his cunning and strategy.

In Book IX, Virgil foregrounds the parallels between the Aeneid and the Iliad. Turnus, for example, openly claims to be in the same predicament as the Greek king Menelaus—a Trojan has swept away Turnus’s bride, Lavinia, just as the Trojan Paris made off with Menelaus’s bride, Helen, thus bringing about the Trojan War. Turnus boasts that the Latins will not need to use the trickery of a wooden horse, as Ulysses did to gain entrance to Troy. Rather, he claims, the Latins will defeat the Trojans outright. Knowing the destined outcome of the war, we see that Turnus spells out his doom here: there may be similarities between the Greek-Trojan conflict and the Latin-Trojan conflict, but their outcomes will not be the same. The gods have offered clear signs that the conflict will turn in Aeneas’s favor, but Turnus chooses to ignore them, denying any faith in the oracles of his demise. Turnus is a fearsome warrior who is either too assured of his own ability—a quality that, when combined with defiance of divine powers, is known as hubris—or is resigned to his role as a pure destructive obstacle to the Trojans. He hints at the latter sentiment when he cries, “I have my fate as well, to combat theirs” (IX.190).

The ill-fated journey of the eager young soldiers Nisus and Euryalus provides a poignant counterpoint to the Trojans’ success at staving off the fortress’s siege. Their youthful bravery is extinguished because of Euryalus’s desire for prizes before the completion of their mission. They could easily kill a few Latins and still make it into the forest in good time. Instead, Euryalus concerns himself with the spoils of battle, enabling the Latins to capture him. Nisus’s willingness to sacrifice his own life for his friend is noble but largely useless, as he does not manage to save Euryalus but does manage to stab Euryalus’s killer as he falls to his own death. Following this intense and emotional episode, Virgil offers a brief message of memorial to these two Trojans, writing:

Fortunate, both [Nisus and Euryalus]!
If in the least my songs
Avail, no future day will ever take you
Out of the record of remembering Time.
         (IX.633–636)

In narrating the episode, Virgil displays his skill at dramatizing the impulsive, emotional nature of friendship and loyalty. With these lines to Nisus and Euryalus, he displays his confidence in his work and legacy, asserting that his poetry can make men immortal.