The Aeneid Summary and Analysis
Aeneas's first stop in Book VII is Caieta's harbor, named for his childhood nurse. After honoring Caieta's memory, the fleet sails past the island ruled over by Circe, a goddess who turns her many suitors into animals. Neptune takes pity on Aeneas's men and sends them a wind that carries them past the dangerous island. Aeneas sees the Tiber River and knows that he has arrived, at last, in the land that he is destined to rule. At this point, Virgil returns to the first-person narrative that he used at the very opening of the epic, calling upon Erato, the muse of poetry, to aid him in telling the second half of Aeneas's story.
Virgil now introduces King Latinus, who presides over Latinum with his wife, Queen Amata. The pair have only one surviving child: a daughter, Lavinia, who is being pursued by the Rutulian Turnus, a favorite of Queen Amata.
As Aeneas and his men arrive on the Latin shores, King Latinus receives a series of omens of war. He also receives a prophecy that he should choose a husband for his daughter from among the foreigners who have just arrived, and that he should allow these strangers to intermarry with the Latins, for the offspring of such a union is destined to rule the world: "their blood will raise our name/ above the stars" (124-125).
In the meantime, Aeneas and his men rest beneath some trees and prepare a sumptuous meal, which they serve on hard wheaten cakes. After they finish the meal, they eat the cakes, and Ascanius laughingly says that they were so hungry that they ate their very tables. Aeneas is struck by this statement, because earlier in the Aeneid the Harpy Celeano prophesized that they would only reach the destined land when their hunger had compelled them to eat their tables.
Aeneas sends emissaries to King Latinus, laden with gifts. King Latinus, realizing that Aeneas and his men must be the foreigners destined to intermarry with his people, sends gifts to the Trojans in return and asks Ilioneus to tell Aeneas that he wishes to give him Lavinia's hand in marriage.
Upon hearing of this peaceable agreement, Juno becomes infuriated once again. Although she recognizes that she cannot sway the Trojans from their destiny, she is determined to postpone their inevitable rise for as long as possible: "so be it, let Lavinia be his wife/ as fates have fixed. But I can still hold off/ that moment and delay these great events,/ can still strike down the nations of both kings" (415-418). To achieve this end, she enlists the Fury Allecto to help her incite a war between the Trojans and the Latins.
Allecto approaches Queen Amata and enchants her so that she will do all that she can to upset the peace between the Trojans and the Latins. Amata begs her husband not to give away their daughter to "Trojan exiles" (475). Latinus refuses to be swayed, and Amata literally turns insane, raging throughout the city and lighting fires while singing the wedding song of Turnus and Lavinia. She even goes so far as to hide Lavinia in the mountains.
Allecto next goes to Turnus, where she takes on the guise of the elderly Calybe, priestess of Juno's temples. As Calybe, Allecto urges Turnus not to permit the Trojans to take control over the city, and tells him to raise his men in arms against the foreigners. Turnus mocks Allecto, telling her that war is a matter for men. Angered, Allecto reveals her true self to Turnus, and he is frightened into assent.
Allecto completes her plan to destroy the treaty between the Latins and the Trojans by visiting Ascanius, who is hunting along the coast. She sends the scent of a stag owned by a Latin family into the noses of Ascanius's dogs, and then guides Ascanius's arrow so that it slaughters the beast. The local farmers are enraged and gather their weapons against the Trojans; Allecto herself blows the trumpet calling them to war. The Latins attack the Trojans, and several men die on both sides.
Finally, Allecto returns to Juno to report that her work is done: "See the discord I made ripe/ for you in bitter war" (718-719). Allecto offers to continue wreaking havoc, but Juno dismisses her, and Allecto returns to her cave in Cocytus. Angered by the casualties, the Latins (including Turnus) storm the palace, calling for war, but King Latinus refuses, and "shut himself within the palace, let the reins of rule fall slack" (791-792).
Virgil next describes a "traditional Hesperian custom" in which the gates of Mars's temple are thrown open to signify the beginning of a war. Seeing that King Latinus refuses to take this step, Juno throws the gates open herself, and warriors come from all over the kingdom to fight against the Trojans. Two notable arrivals are the evil Mezentius and the brave Camilla, both of whom will be described in more detail later in the story.
Book VII is a turning point in the Aeneid, marking the beginning of the second half of Virgil's epic. This is evidenced by Virgil's return to the first person: "Now, Erato, be with me, let me sing/ of kings and times and of the state of things/ in ancient Latium when the invaders/ first beached their boats upon Ausonia's coasts" (45-48). This half of the book is distinct from the first, in that the action largely takes place in one location. Furthermore, Virgil offers exhaustive descriptions of specific warriors, lavishing attention on their ancestry and past feats of heroism. He also describes battle scenes in rich, almost tiresome, detail. Although these elements may appear incongruous in light of the tone of the first half of the tale, it is important to remember that Virgil's audience would have relished Virgil's willingness to offer the founding of Rome the attention that they would have felt it deserved.
An interesting sidenote is that Aeneas himself appears in Homer's Iliad as a relatively minor character. In Homer's epic, Aeneas is a warrior who survives a battle with Achilles, thereby implying that he does have a great future written in the stars. Not only does Virgil directly emulate his predecessor's style, in this Book in particular, but he directly appropriates one of Homer's characters in order to further link the three works. By doing this, Virgil lends his epic the gravitas of association with an established classic, and underscores his desire to have his work do for the Romans what Homer's great poems did for the Greeks: give the gift of immortality to their empire, and to their leaders.
An important aspect of Book VII is the emphasis that Virgil places on the Trojans' blamelessness: they are not true "invaders," seeking to take over a land that does not belong to them and disturb the peace. When he approaches King Latinus, Aeneas's companion Ilioneus asks only for "some small settlement:/ safe shore to house our native gods and air/ and water free to all" (300-302). Aeneas and his men are more than willing to find a peaceable way to coexist with the Latins; it is the hotheaded Turnus and the meddlesome Juno who intervene to create the ensuing tragedy. In this manner, Virgil reconciles the necessity of conquering the Latin people with Aeneas's essential morality and fairness.
Throughout the Aeneid, mortals fall victim to the gods' meddling. This Book, in particular, demonstrates the negative consequences that arise from intervention in matters of destiny. Even Juno finally recognizes that Aeneas's marriage to Lavinia is inevitable, but she cannot resist doing all that she can to stave off this event and cause as much discord as possible. She enlists the hideous Allecto to aid her, and the ensuing events recall the tragedy in Carthage. Like Dido going insane with passion after being hit with Cupid's arrow, Queen Amata goes "raging" throughout the city, insane with anger. Even Turnus, as unquestionably self-possessed and autonomous as he is, is described as being driven to the brink of sanity by Allecto's interference: "Great fear/ shatters his sleep, sweat bursts from all his body/ and bathes his bones and limbs. Insane, he raves/ for arms, he searches bed and halls for weapons" (605-608). Attempting to sway destiny, it appears, not only creates strife but can lead to insanity.
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