Thus far unaware of Dido's tragic demise, Aeneas stands aboard his ship, watching the city of Carthage burn in the distance. When the fleet reaches open water, Palinurus, the pilot, calls out to Aeneas that the wind has shifted; they will not yet be able to sail to Italy. Aeneas replies that struggling against the winds is useless, so they should seek shelter in the Sicilian town of Drepanum, where his father is buried and his friend Acestes lives. Acestes greets the voyagers joyfully and offers them shelter and food.
Aeneas realizes upon docking that it has been one year since the death of his father, so he orders a series of competitions to commemorate his passing. First, however, the Trojans offer sacrifices to Anchises. The moment that Aeneas calls out to his father, an enormous serpent crawls out of Anchises's shrine, tastes the feast that has been laid out, and returns harmlessly to the tomb. The men believe the serpent is the spirit of Anchises, and they resume the rites.
First, Aeneas calls for a boat race. Four boats are selected, with four captains to man them: Mnestheus, Gyas, Sergestus, and Cloanthus. The boats are to race out to an island in the ocean, where they will find an ilex branch that will signal them to turn around. Virgil offers a detailed description of the race, with all four captains determined to win at any cost. Cloanthus is the victor, though Aeneas offers prizes to all four captains - even to Sergestus, the loser, who receives a female slave as compensation for his humiliation.
The next competition is a footrace. The first two Trojans to enter the race are Nisus and Euryalus (whom we will meet again during the battle against the Latins). Although Nisus initially has a strong lead, he slips in sacrificial blood and falls. He trips up Salius, who was in second place, so that his friend (and probable lover) Euryalus will win. Aeneas, the "best of fathers" (472), is such a fair leader that he again gives all the men prizes, so that Nisus is not punished for having slipped and Salius is not punished for having been tripped.
Next, Aeneas calls for a boxing match. The enormous, young Dares enters immediately but can find no one brave enough to challenge him. Finally, after much urging, the legendary Entellus enters the match. It is a battle between youth and experience, and it is the latter who ultimately emerges victorious. Aeneas, in the end, must intervene and tell Dares to give up so that the younger man is not killed in the fight.
The final event is an archery competition, in which all the men must attempt to shoot a dove out of the air. This competition is most noteworthy because Acestes's arrow bursts into flames and disintegrates, which the men interpret as a powerful omen. Following this event, Aeneas calls for Ascanius, who is permitted to come out with his friends and "show himself in arms" (724). This is a great honor for the young man, in essence marking his coming-of-age.
The happy festivities take a turn for the worse when Juno intervenes to cause dissent among the Trojan women, many of whom are tired of traveling and wish to settle in Drepanum. She appears to them in the guise of Beroe, an elderly woman, and urges them to set fire to the Trojan ships so that they will be unable to continue their journey. When the goddess reveals her true shape, the women are stunned into action, and they light the ships aflame. Fortunately, Aeneas notices the burning ships in time to appeal to Jupiter. Jupiter takes pity on the Trojans and sends a thunderstorm that saves all of the ships except four.
That night, Anchises's shade appears to Aeneas in a dream, urging him to take the bravest of his group with him to Italy. First, however, Anchises tells Aeneas to travel to Dis, in order to seek a meeting with him in the underworld. Upon awakening, Aeneas calls his companions together and tells them that anyone who wishes to remain behind - those who do not seek "great fame" (990) - may do so. Aeneas founds a city to be reigned over by Acestes, and he uses a plow to separate it into two districts named Troy and Ilium.
In the meantime Venus, distressed by Juno's unending efforts to harm the Trojans, appeals to Neptune, asking the god of the sea to help the fleet reach its destination safely. Neptune replies that he will watch over the Trojans and that only one man will be lost. Thus, after the Trojans set out to sea once again, the god of sleep enchants Palinurus, the pilot: his eyelids grow heavy, he relaxes his limbs, and he falls, in a deep sleep, into the dark ocean. Book V ends with Aeneas mourning the loss of his friend.
The lighter Book V stands in marked contrast to the tragedy and emotionality of Book IV. By following the climactic death of Dido with this relatively joyful, easygoing period, Virgil not only heightens the impact of Dido's demise, but also gives his audience a release period during which to process the events that have taken place thus far. This is not to say that Book V is unimportant or even unexciting: the Book describes a series of thrilling competitions that would have been immensely exhilarating and familiar to Virgil's contemporaries. Furthermore, the Book is shot through with elements of sorrow; the Trojan women threaten the future of the fleet, and Aeneas's companion and trusted pilot Palinurus falls overboard to his death. Virgil is, quite clearly, aware of the tragedy that can strike even those who are destined for greatness.
The competitions are being held to honor Anchises, who was buried on that very island exactly a year ago. By holding elaborate funeral rites and an extended series of festivities, Aeneas is demonstrating once again the great respect he has for his father. The fact that Aeneas now deals with the reality of his father's death also makes the following Book, in which Aeneas descends into the Underworld in the company of his father, more understandable.
There are two notable points in Book V where Aeneas demonstrates his remarkable leadership skills: first after the footrace, and again after the boxing match. When Nisus trips Salius so that his friend Euryalus wins the race, Salius is quite understandably angered by the unfairness of the situation. Aeneas declares Euryalus the victor - and the respect that he receives is evidenced by the fact that no ones dares question the decision - but also gives prizes to Salius and Nisus, both of whom lost through no flaw in their abilities. In the boxing match, Aeneas urges Dares to accede victory to the older, stronger Entellus. Although Dares initially bristles at Aeneas's words, he is pacified when Aeneas tells him that he should not question the will of the gods.
Another moment that demonstrates Aeneas's ability to pacify the masses occurs when he allows the Trojan women to remain in Drepanum. Although he momentarily questions his destiny and wonders aloud whether he should build his city in Sicily, Anchises's shade helps him see that he can please everyone by taking the strongest with him on his journey, while giving a home to those who wish to remain behind.
The death of Palinurus at the close of Book V casts a pallor over the entire chapter. Palinurus is one of Aeneas's most trusted companions: a truly honorable, courageous, loyal man. Even the very best men, it seems, are not rewarded for their valor if such rewards do not serve the dictates of fate. Palinurus is not even rewarded in death; in Book VI, Aeneas will find his comrade's shade wandering in misery alongside other unburied, restless souls. Although the sibyl of Cumae assures Palinurus that his corpse will one day be put to rest, it is clear that Palinurus is expendable, and even his good deeds in life do not guarantee him happiness or peace in death. Through Palinurus's death, Virgil reveals the depth of the sacrifices that must be made in the service of destiny.