The Aeneid

The Aeneid Summary and Analysis of Book XI

Although Aeneas is deeply distressed by the deaths of Pallas and his other comrades, he still offers a sacrifice to the gods composed of spoils taken from Mezentius. He and his men bury the bodies of their slain companions and take great care readying Pallas's corpse for return to King Evander. Aeneas weeps over Pallas's fate and for having failed to keep his friend's son safe. Nevertheless, he is heartened by the fact that Pallas did not die a coward.

Messengers from the Latin camp then approach Aeneas, begging him to allow them to bury their dead. "Good Aeneas" (137) grants them their request, telling them that it is only Turnus who should be fighting him and that the Latins and Trojans should seek peace. The Latin Drances, who has an old grudge against Turnus, tells Aeneas that he admires him greatly, and they agree on a peace of twenty-six days during which all may bury their dead.

Rumor reaches King Evander before Pallas's body does, alerting him to his son's sad fate. Evander throws himself across the bier on which Pallas's corpse lays, crying, "I ... have undone/ the fate of fathers: I survive my son" (207-208). Nevertheless, he asserts that he does not blame Aeneas and that he is glad his son died bravely.

In a deeply emotional scene, Aeneas and his men set fire to the bodies of their comrades, throw spoils taken from the bodies of the Latins into the flames, and offer sacrifices. Elsewhere, the Latins do the same for their fallen men, and some women cry out that only Turnus should be suffering, since it is only he who seeks war. King Latinus, pained by the turn of events, calls a council of the city's chiefs. Some feel that the problem should be settled by a duel between Aeneas and Turnus alone, and when they learn that the great Greek warrior Diomedes has rejected their plea for aid, Latinus proposes that they attempt to establish peace. Drances attacks Turnus, blaming the war on his arrogance, and Turnus responds by mocking Drances and calling him a coward. He tells Latinus that he is happy to fight Aeneas alone, but begs him not to "falter in dishonor at the threshold" (560).

As the council argues, they receive word that the Trojans are marching on the city. Turnus takes advantage of the ensuing panic to urge the Latins to take up arms, and he prepares himself for battle. The Latins are joined by the legendary warrior Camilla and her Volscians, who take over the defense of the city against the approaching Trojan horsemen, while Turnus rides off to ambush Aeneas, who is taking a different route through the forest.

Virgil focuses briefly on Camilla's interesting history: when King Metabus fled his city in exile, he took the infant Camilla with him. When he approached a river that he could not safely cross with his daughter, he strapped her to a lance and threw her across, after praying to the goddess Diana to keep her safe. The girl was raised in the wilderness and became Diana's favorite: a fellow virgin whose only true love is of arms.

The Trojans finally reach the city, and the battle begins. Camilla is the fiercest warrior on the field, and she slays uncountable Trojans until she is finally taken down by Arruns. Arruns is only able to kill Camilla because he has prayed to Apollo to help him end her attack. Now Diana seeks vengeance by sending her sentinel, Opis, to slay Arruns. Having lost Camilla and unable to hold back the Trojan army, the Latins scatter. Camilla's closest companion, Acca, sends word to Turnus of the events taking place, and Turnus is forced to abandon his ambush and return to the city only moments before Aeneas passes through. Book XI ends with both men returning to their respective camps on the outskirts of Laurentum to fortify themselves for the next day's battle.


One of the more interesting problems that Virgil must have encountered while writing the Aeneid is the difficulty of maintaining suspense in a tale with such a preordained outcome. Throughout the story, readers are repeatedly made aware of the inevitability of Aeneas's victory; the gods themselves have asserted that his destiny is to found a city in Italy that will one day become the Roman Empire, and to act as the father to a long line of kings that will lead to the great Caesar Augustus, Virgil's patron. Even King Latinus tells the council that there is no use in continuing the war: "My citizens,/ we wage a luckless war against a nation/ of gods, unconquered men; no battle can/ exhaust them" (402-405). Nevertheless, Virgil is first of all a storyteller, and he does all that he can to keep his readers on tenterhooks as to the manner in which this outcome will be reached. He does this by allowing the action to take a dramatic turn: in the previous chapter, the Latins had the upper hand, exemplified by their destruction of the Trojan fortifications; in Book XI, the Latins maintain their position (largely because of Camilla), and even slay one of Aeneas' closest comrades, Pallas, but the chapter ends with the Latins scattering as the Trojan army presses in. Virgil's skill lies in allowing his readers to know only the story's ending, not how it will come to pass.

Although Aeneas's human limitations have been emphasized earlier, and he has even shown some character flaws, Book XI lauds him as an unfailingly fair, moral leader. The funeral rites that he gives Pallas are so exhaustive that even King Evander says that he could do no better for his own son, and Aeneas weeps genuine tears of mourning over the bodies of his fallen comrades. Indeed, the degree of sorrow that Aeneas expresses over the death of Pallas is almost startling if we recall that he only recently met the boy, when King Evander introduced them. Pallas, it seems, reminds Aeneas of his son, Ascanius, and the possibility of death that might have awaited the boy if he had not been preordained to help found Rome.

Even though he is overwhelmed by sadness at the deaths of his friends, Aeneas is so merciful that he allows the Latin envoys to reclaim the bodies of their dead so that they can be buried. Time and again, Virgil emphasizes that though Aeneas is a courageous warrior who will never shy away from the battlefield, what he truly wants is peace. This outlook contrasts markedly with that of Turnus, who refuses even to consider abandoning the conflict.

Camilla is a strong presence in this episode; Virgil describes the origins of the great female warrior in considerable detail. This is particularly striking given the fact that this episode and those surrounding it focus almost entirely on the battle taking place, making the story of Camilla's background a welcome, peaceful respite from the exhausting bloodshed. Like Dido, Camilla is a strong female character who commands the respect of the men around her, but unlike Dido, Camilla has no strong personal presence. She is described wholly in terms of her abilities on the battlefield, and does not appear to have any notable personality traits. Although audiences may wonder why Camilla is fighting on the "wrong" side, the fact that Virgil focuses solely on her skill on the battlefield helps to explain this: Camilla is first of all a fighter who will engage in battle wherever she finds it.

One particularly interesting element of Book XI is the absence of Lavinia. Even though the battle between the Trojans and the Latins is ostensibly being fought over the hand of this character, she is rarely mentioned. She remains quite peripheral and faceless (compare Helen in the Iliad). Even in King Latinus's council, the focus is never on the person over whom the war is being fought; by this point, it seems to be far more about Turnus's pride and determination to prove that he is the better man than it is about the love of a woman. Lavinia seems unlikely to inspire such impassioned devotion as to incite a war, and Virgil may have presented her in this manner in order to demonstrate that the mechanisms that bring Aeneas to his destiny are irrelevant - the fulfillment of his fate remains of first importance.