Book VIII opens with Latin warriors pledging their support to Turnus. Aeneas is greatly troubled by this turn of events, and particularly by the fact that the dangerous Diomedes has been asked to support the Latin troops. That night, the river god Tiberinus appears to Aeneas in a dream and tells him that he will see an omen of a white sow with thirty white suckling pigs to signify the location of Alba, the city that Ascanius will found. Tiberinus also tells Aeneas to seek help from King Evander and to pray to Juno in order to assuage her anger.
The next day, in the woods, Aeneas comes upon the very sight that Tiberinus has prophesied: the white cow with her sucklings. He takes this as incontrovertible proof that he and his companions are destined to build a great city in Latium, and he sacrifices all the animals to Juno.
Aeneas and his men then take off for Evander's city, where they find the residents engaged in a ceremony honoring Hercules, who saved them from the horrible monster Cacus. Although Evander's son, Pallas, instantly thinks that they are invaders and demonstrates his hotheadedness by snatching up his weapons to meet them, Aeneas extends an olive branch and is welcomed warmly by Evander, who remembers King Priam and Anchises fondly. Evander pledges to support the Trojans and asks them to join in the celebrations.
After the ceremony, King Evander takes Aeneas on a walk and tells him about the origins of Latium: once the lawless home of fauns and nymphs, order was established by Saturn, who was fleeing the wrath of Jove. On their walk, Evander points out a number of sights that would have been recognizable to Virgil's readers as important future locations. Evander takes them to his poor household and tells them not to feel bad about his poverty.
Meanwhile, Venus notices the Latin uprising with alarm and asks her husband, Vulcan, to fashion Aeneas a set of weapons. Vulcan agrees to do what he can to help her son, so he orders the Cyclops, who work for him, to stop what they are doing and focus on Aeneas's weapons.
At the same time, Evander is telling Aeneas that he has slim means by which to help the Trojans himself, but that he should seek aid from the Etruscans. For years, the Etruscans suffered under the rule of the evil Mezentius, who is one of Turnus's allies, so they would welcome the opportunity to rise up against their former oppressor and bring him back to their land to be punished. Evander also entrusts his son Pallas to Aeneas, since Evander himself is too old and infirm to go to battle. Aeneas is initially wary of Evander's advice, but Venus sends crashing thunder and an image of weapons hanging in the sky as a sign that he is to seek the help of the Etruscans.
Aeneas picks the bravest of his men to travel with him to Agylla, sending the rest back to the camp with a message for Ascanius. With Pallas by his side, he meets with the Etruscans, who are led by King Tarchon. At their camp, Venus appears to him with Vulcan's weapons. Aeneas marvels over the extraordinary craftsmanship of the shield, which depicts Rome's brilliant future. The shield contains images of Romulus and Remus suckling at the teats of a wolf and Augustus Caesar leading his men into battle, among others. The chapter ends with a promising image, as Aeneas dons his new armor: "Upon his shoulder he/ lifts up the fame and fate of his sons' sons" (954-955).
The primary function of Book VIII is to set up the readers' sympathies - in essence, to let them know who to root for. Parallels are drawn between Aeneas, Hercules, and Evander, cementing the men as heroes in their own time. Evander demonstrates remarkable piety, with his annual commemoration of Hercules' great feat; Hercules is an extraordinary warrior; and Aeneas is both courageous and pious, serving as a link between the two great men. The positive qualities displayed by Aeneas and his comrades - including the Etruscans, whose oppression under Mezentius's rule immediately arouses sympathy - stands in sharp contrast to the hotheadedness and antagonistic tendencies of their opponents, the Rutulians.
The second primary goal of Book VIII is to demonstrate, once again, that the great future of Rome was destined even in Aeneas's time. As they walk around Pallanteum, King Evander points out a number of sites that were still in existence during Virgil's time, thereby underscoring the fact that Rome's greatness was preordained. The shield that Vulcan presents to Aeneas is an even more concrete example of this theme, containing images of the heroes to come. Even though Aeneas is unaware of the meaning of the images, he is nevertheless awestruck by them, and their positive portents fill him with a sense of hope for the future and determination to see his son fulfill his destiny.
Many of Virgil's critics argue that the Aeneid is little more than a giant piece of propaganda intended primarily to please his patron, Caesar Augustus. Indeed, elements such as the images on Aeneas's shield and Anchises's tour of the Underworld certainly support the contention that Virgil hoped to present the Romans as a people so favored by the gods that their rise to power was inevitable. In the scenes depicting Rome's future, the only characters described in any detail are the Greeks, the Trojans, and the gods (with the Trojans given primary importance, of course); all others are mere filler, standing on the periphery of the world stage. Virgil's supporters, however, point to the fact that he repeatedly emphasizes the uncountable sacrifices in the pursuit of Rome's destiny; he attends to both the positive and negative aspects of the rise of the empire.
One interesting element found in this Book is King Evander's infirmity, which recalls both King Priam and King Latinus. While all three men are unquestionably moral, pious individuals, King Evander is "heavy/ with age" (402-403), King Priam is "tottering with age" (II.685), and King Latinus is "an old man now" (VII.56). Why does Virgil create such weak characters to rule over these lands? One possibility is that these rulers are meant to represent specific aspects of Aeneas's personality - his determination, his piety, his wisdom - and to provide a prototype for the ideal leader late in life. They may also be intended to contrast with the new generation of leaders; since the older generation is unable to lead their subjects as they once could, a new generation awaits, ready to take over the reins of power.
An interesting moment occurs when Tiberinus orders Aeneas to make offerings to Juno (as he has done several times before). When Aeneas finds the white cow and thirty white sucklings that mark the future location of Rome, he sacrifices all of the animals to Juno. This is a curious gesture, considering that omens such as these are what anger Juno the most, but by doing this Aeneas demonstrates that he is above the petty quarrels of the gods. He is entirely assured of his destiny, and he will not lower himself to treat Juno with the disrespect that she has shown to him.