The Aeneid Summary and Analysis
Book X begins with a council of the gods. Jupiter calls the gods to Mount Olympus, where he berates them for having meddled with fate. Although Venus and Juno attempt to argue the cases of, respectively, the Trojans and the Latins, Jupiter asserts that there is to be no further divine intervention in the battle: "what each man does will shape his trial and fortune" (160).
While the gods hold their council, the fighting on earth continues: the Trojans are still trapped inside their battlements as the Latins storm their gates. Aeneas, with Pallas at his side, travels back to the Trojan camp from his meeting with the Etruscans after securing their pledge of assistance. With him aboard the ships are a number of notable chiefs and warriors, all of whom are described in considerable detail. On the voyage, Aeneas is met by the sea nymphs who were once his ships, and the leader of the nymphs, Cymodoce, warns him of the siege taking place on the Trojan camp. She also predicts that the next day will see a great many Rutulian casualities.
When the Trojans see Aeneas approaching, his shield held high, their hope is renewed. Immediately upon docking, however, Aeneas and his men are attacked by the Latins. Horrific fighting ensues, during which many lives are lost on both sides. Aeneas, Turnus, and Pallas are each responsible for an amazing number of deaths. Pallas, invoking his father's name, enters into battle with Lausus, Mezentius's son, but is slain by Turnus. Turnus callously slings Pallas's belt across his shoulders - a decision that he will come to regret in the last moments of his own life. Pallas's friends carry him back to camp, where Aeneas is spurred into fury at the sight of the dead body of the boy entrusted to him by his friend for safekeeping.
In a rage, Aeneas cuts a wide, bloody swath through the Rutulian army - like a "torrent/ or black whirlwind" (829-830) - in search of Turnus. Juno, fearing for Turnus's life, asks Jupiter to help her protect her favorite, and he consents to this one favor. In an effort to send Turnus away from the battlefield, she conjures a mist in Aeneas's shape and allows Turnus to catch sight of it. Turnus pursues the phantom as it boards a ship, which then sets out to sea. Upon realizing that he has been tricked, Turnus is deeply angered; he wonders whether he should save himself from the disgrace of having seemed to abandon his troops by falling upon his sword, or whether he should try to swim back to shore. Three times he tries to jump into the water, but three times Juno restrains him.
In Turnus's absence, Aeneas and Mezentius meet on the battlefield. Although Mezentius is harmed, he is able to escape Aeneas. His son Lausus, upset at the sight of his father's wound, confronts Aeneas. Aeneas warns the young boy not to engage with him in battle - "Why are you rushing to sure death?" (1113) - but Lausus refuses to back down, and Aeneas slays him easily. As the boy dies, however, Aeneas is filled with thoughts of his own father, and feels dismayed by what he has done.
When Mezentius hears of the death of his son, he is grief-stricken and sets out to avenge Lausus's death or to die himself. He engages in battle with Aeneas but is finally cast from his horse. As Aeneas holds his sword poised above Mezentius's body, the old man bares his throat willingly, his final words a plea to be buried alongside his beloved son.
The question of the inevitability of destiny is answered once and for all at the outset of Book X, when Jupiter addresses the council of the gods. He chides Juno and Venus for having attempted to alter the course of fate, refusing to allow any further meddling: "Jupiter is king of all alike/ the Fates will find their way" (161-162). Although he agrees that Juno may help Turnus live a little longer, he tells her that Turnus's fate remains set in stone: "If you ask respite from impending death,/ a breathing space for that doomed youth ... then let your Turnus flee" (855-858). He will allow her to sway the course of events slightly, but she can do nothing to alter the eventual outcome.
Book X portrays Aeneas in a far different light than what we have seen thus far. Here we see a vengeful, impassioned Aeneas, wreaking havoc on the battlefield. Even though certain elements of his behavior recall Turnus's rage earlier, Aeneas's actions stem from the far nobler desire to avenge the death of the blameless youth, Pallas, who was entrusted to his care. Furthermore, he displays a morality on the battlefield far different than that of Turnus: when he is forced to kill Lausus, he is filled with pity and perhaps even regret. Aeneas had wounded Lausus's father, and his own close relationship with Anchises helps him to see why the young Latin might have been driven to seek battle with him.
Turnus is not, however, wholly without redeeming qualities here. Once again, one could admire his passion and determination to abide by his convictions while fighting a losing battle. After Juno, in a last-ditch attempt to save his life, tricks him into boarding a boat that takes him away from certain death, Turnus tries to throw himself overboard three times: he will either return to the battlefield and fight Aeneas, despite the inevitably hopeless outcome, or he will die at sea - he will not be regarded as a coward who abandoned his men and his beliefs.
The level of passion that Turnus displays in this chapter is almost unparalleled in the Aeneid. The only other character with a comparable display of emotion is Dido. The moment when Aeneas goes raging through the battlefield after learning of Pallas's death is one of the few times in the epic when his emotionality rivals that of Dido and Turnus. Interestingly, both Dido and Turnus are driven to such a state by love (overtly in Dido's case, more by implication in Turnus's); Aeneas, however, is flung into the throes of near-madness by the loss of a boy who was like a son. Once again, Virgil underscores his belief that the relationship between sons and fathers is of utmost importance - so important, in fact, that it can push a relatively calm and moderate man to impassioned fury.
Virgil's ability to create antagonists as complex as his protagonists is exemplified in the death of Mezentius. The previous chapter displayed his many misdeeds, and his evil nature has been emphasized repeatedly. Yet Virgil arouses sympathy during Mezentius's final battle against Aeneas. Mezentius is acting out of a paternal love similar to the bond between Aeneas and Ascanius, and when he finally dies, he does it bravely, turning his throat up to meet Aeneas's sword. If he cannot avenge the death of his son, he wishes to die on the battlefield and join him in the afterlife. Even though Mezentius is a "bad guy," he is no stock evil character, deprived of redeeming characteristics; he is a complex, multilayered character who stands as a testament to Virgil's extraordinary craftsmanship.
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- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Book I
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- Summary and Analysis of Book IV
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- Summary and Analysis of Book XI
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