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For the group of nine Ancient Egyptian deities, see Ennead.
The Aeneid ( ; in Latin Aeneis, — the title is Greek in form: genitive case Aeneidos) is a Latin epic poem written by Virgil in the late 1st century BC (29–19 BC) that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojanmarker who traveled to Italymarker, where he became the ancestor of the Romansmarker. It is written in dactylic hexameter. The first six of the poem's twelve books tell the story of Aeneas' wanderings from Troy to Italy, and the poem's second half tells of the Trojans' ultimately victorious war upon the Latins, under whose name Aeneas and his Trojan followers are destined to be subsumed.

The hero Aeneas was already known to Greco-Roman legend and myth, having been a character in the Iliad; Virgil took the disconnected tales of Aeneas' wanderings, his vague association with the foundation of Romemarker and a personage of no fixed characteristics other than a scrupulous piety, and fashioned this into a compelling founding myth or nationalist epic that at once tied Rome to the legends of Troy, glorified traditional Roman virtues and legitimized the Julio-Claudian dynasty as descendants of the founders, heroes and gods of Rome and Troy.


The Aeneid can be divided into two halves based on the disparate subject matter of Books 1–6 (Aeneas' journey to Italy) and Books 7–12 (the war in Italy). These two halves are commonly regarded as reflecting Virgil's ambition to rival Homer by treating both the Odyssey's wandering theme and the Iliad's warfare themes. This is, however, a rough correspondence the limitations of which should be borne in mind.

Journey to Italy (books 1–6)

Virgil begins his poem with a statement of his theme (Arma virumque cano..., "I sing of arms and of the man...") and an invocation to the Muse, falling some ten lines after the poem's inception: (Musa, mihi causas memora..., "O Muse, recount to me the causes..."). He then explains the reason for the principal conflict in the story: the resentment held by the goddess Juno against the Trojanmarker people. This is consistent with her role throughout the Homeric epic.

Map of Aeneas' journey.

Also in the manner of Homer, the story proper begins in medias res, with the Trojan fleet in the eastern Mediterraneanmarker, heading in the direction of Italymarker. The fleet, led by Aeneas, is on a voyage to find a second home. It has been foretold that in Italy, he will give rise to a race both noble and courageous, a race which will become known to all nations. Juno is wrathful, because she had not been chosen in the judgment of Paris against Aeneas's mother Venus, and because her favorite city, Carthagemarker, will be destroyed by Aeneas' descendants. Also, Ganymede, a Trojan prince, was chosen to be the god's cup bearer—replacing Juno's daughter Hebe. Juno proceeds to Aeolus, King of the Winds, and asks that he release the winds to stir up a storm in exchange for a bribe (Deiopea, the loveliest of all the sea nymphs, as a wife). He agrees, and the storm devastates the fleet. Neptune takes notice: although he himself is no friend of the Trojans, he is infuriated by Juno's intrusion into his domain, and stills the winds and calms the waters. The fleet takes shelter on the coast of Africa. There, Aeneas's mother, Venus, in the form of a hunting woman very similar to the goddess Diana, encourages him and tells him the history of the city. Eventually, Aeneas ventures in, and in the temple of Juno, seeks and gains the favor of Dido, Queen of Carthage, the city which has only recently been founded by refugees from Tyremarker and which will later become one of Rome's greatest enemies.

At a banquet given in the honour of the Trojans, Aeneas recounts sadly the events which occasioned the Trojans' fortuitous arrival. He begins the tale shortly after the events described in the Iliad. Crafty Ulysses devised a way for Greek warriors to gain entry into Troy by hiding in a large wooden horse. The Greeks pretended to sail away, leaving a man, Sinon, to tell the Trojans that the horse was an offering and that if it were taken into the city, the Trojans would be able to conquer Greece. The Trojan priest Laocoön, who had seen through the Greek plot and urged the horse's destruction, hurled his spear at the wooden horse. Just after, in what would be seen by the Trojans as punishment from the gods, Laocoön was suddenly grabbed and eaten, along with his two sons, by two giant sea snakes. So the Trojanmarker brought the horse inside the fortified walls, and after nightfall the armed Greeks emerged and began to slaughter the city's inhabitants. Aeneas woke up and saw with horror what was happening to his beloved city. At first he tried to fight against the enemy, but soon he lost his comrades and was left alone to fend off tens of Greeks. Venus intervened directly, telling him to flee with his family. Aeneas tells of his escape with his son Ascanius and father Anchises, his wife Creusa having been separated from the others and subsequently killed in the general catastrophe. He tells of how, rallying the other survivors, he built a fleet of ships and made landfall at various locations in the Mediterranean, notably Aeneamarker in Thrace, Pergamea in Cretemarker, and Buthrotummarker in Epirus. This last had been built in an attempt to replicate Troy. In Buthrotum, Aeneas met Andromache, the widow of Hector. She still laments for the loss of her valiant husband and beloved child. There, too, Aeneas saw and met Helenus, one of Priam's sons, who had the gift of prophecy. Through him, Aeneas learned the destiny laid out for him: he was divinely advised to seek out the land of Italy (also known as Ausonia or Hesperia), where his descendants would not only prosper, but in time rule the entire known world. In addition, Helenus also bade him go to the Sibyl in Cumaemarker. Heading out into the open sea, Aeneas left Buthrotum, first making landfall in Italy at Castrum Minervaemarker, but continuing on towards the west coast of the peninsula. While in the open sea, Anchises, the father of Aeneas, peacefully died. The fleet had rounded Sicily and was making for the mainland, when Juno raised up the storm which drove it back across the sea to Carthage.

Meanwhile, Venus has her own plans. She goes to her son, Aeneas' half-brother Cupid, and tells him to imitate Ascanius. Disguised as such, he goes to Dido, and offers the gifts expected from a guest. With her motherly love revived in the sight of the boy, her heart is pierced and she falls in love with the boy and his father. During the banquet, Dido realizes that she has fallen madly in love with Aeneas, although she had previously sworn fidelity to the soul of her late husband, Sychaeus, who had been murdered by her cupidinous brother Pygmalion. Juno seizes upon this opportunity to make a deal with Venus, Aeneas' mother, with the intention of distracting him from his destiny of founding a city in Italy. Aeneas is inclined to return Dido's love, and during a hunting expedition, a storm drives them into a cave in which Aeneas and Dido presumably have sex, an event that Dido takes to indicate a marriage between them. But when Jupiter sends Mercury to remind Aeneas of his duty, he has no choice but to part. Her heart broken, Dido commits suicide by stabbing herself upon a pyre with Aeneas' sword. Before dying, she predicts eternal strife between Aeneas's people and hers; "rise up from my bones, avenging spirit" (4.625, trans. Fitzgerald) is an obvious invocation to Hannibal. Looking back from the deck of his ship, Aeneas sees Dido's funeral pyre's smoke and knows its meaning only too clearly. However, destiny calls and the Trojan fleet sails on to Italy.

Aeneas's father Anchises having been hastily interred on Sicily during the fleet's previous landfall there, the Trojans returned to the island to hold funeral games in his honour. Eventually, the fleet lands on the mainland of Italy and the quest enters a new phase. Aeneas, with the guidance of the Cumaean Sibyl, descends into the underworld through an opening at Cumaemarker; there he speaks with the spirit of his father and has a prophetic vision of the destiny of Romemarker. Upon returning to the land of the living, Aeneas leads the Trojans to settle in the land of Latium, where he courts Lavinia, the daughter of king Latinus.

War in Italy (books 7–12)

Although Aeneas would have wished to avoid it, war eventually breaks out. Juno is heavily involved in causing this war—she convinces the Queen of Latium to demand that Lavinia be married to Turnus, the king of a local people, the Rutuli. Juno continues to stir up trouble, even summoning the Fury Alecto to ensure that a war takes place.

Seeing the masses of Italians that Turnus has brought against him, Aeneas seeks help from the Tuscans, enemies of Turnus. He meets King Evander from Arcadiamarker, whose son Pallas agrees to lead troops against the other Italians. Meanwhile, the Trojan camp is being attacked, and a midnight raid leads to the deaths of Nisus and his companion Euryalus, in one of the most emotional passages in the book. The gates, however, are defended until Aeneas returns with his Tuscan and Arcadian reinforcements.

In the battling that follows, many heroes are killed, notably Pallas, who is killed by Turnus, and Mezentius, Turnus' close associate who inadvertently allows his son to be killed while he himself flees; he reproaches himself and faces Aeneas in single combat—an honourable but essentially futile pursuit. Another notable hero, Camilla, a sort of Amazon character, fights bravely but is eventually killed. Camilla had been a virgin devoted to Diana and to her nation; the man who killed her was struck dead by Diana's sentinel Opis after doing so, even though he tried to escape.

After this, single combat is proposed between Aeneas and Turnus, but Aeneas was so obviously superior that the Italians, urged on by Turnus' divine sister, Juturna, break the truce. Aeneas is injured, but returns to the battle shortly afterwards. Turnus and Aeneas dominate the battle on opposite wings, but when Aeneas makes a daring attack at the city of Latium itself (causing the queen of Latium to hang herself in despair), he forces Turnus into single combat once more. In a dramatic scene, Turnus' strength deserts him as he tries to hurl a rock, and he is struck by Aeneas' spear in the leg. As Turnus is begging on his knees for his life, the poem ends with Aeneas killing him in rage when he sees that Turnus is wearing the belt of his friend Pallas as a trophy.


The Aeneid was written in a time of major political and social change in Rome, with the fall of the Republic and the Final War of the Roman Republic having torn through society and many Romans' faith in the "Greatness of Rome" severely faltering. However, the new emperor, Augustus Caesar, began to institute a new era of prosperity and peace, specifically through the re-introduction of traditional Roman moral values. The Aeneid was seen as reflecting this aim, by depicting the heroic Aeneas as a man devoted and loyal to his country and its prominence, rather than personal gains, and going off on a journey for the betterment of Rome. In addition, the Aeneid attempted to legitimize the rule of Julius Caesar (and by extension, of his adopted son Augustus and his heirs) by renaming Aeneas' son, Ascanius (called Ilus from Ilium, meaning Troy), Iulus and offering him as an ancestor of the gens Julia, the family of Julius Caesar, and many other great imperial descendants as part of the prophecy given to him in the Underworld.

Despite the polished and complex nature of the Aeneid (legend stating that Virgil wrote only three lines of the poem each day), the number of half-complete lines and the abrupt ending are generally seen as evidence that Virgil died before he could finish the work. It is common, however, for epic poems to contain incomplete, disputed, or badly adulterated text, and because this poem was composed and preserved in writing rather than orally, the Aeneid is more complete than most classical epics. Furthermore, it is possible to debate whether Virgil intended to rewrite and add to such lines. Some of them would be difficult to complete, and in some instances, the brevity of a line increases its dramatic impact (some arguing the violent ending as a typically Virgilian comment on the darker, vengeful side of humanity). However, these arguments may be anachronistic—half-finished lines might equally, to Roman readers, have been a clear indication of an unfinished poem and have added nothing whatsoever to the dramatic effect.

The perceived deficiency of any account of Aeneas' marriage to Lavinia or his founding of the Roman race led some writers, such as the fifteenth-century Italian poet Maffeo Vegio (through his Mapheus Vegius widely printed in the Renaissance), Pier Candido Decembrio (whose attempt was never completed), and Claudio Salvucci (in his 1994 epic poem The Laviniad) to compose their own supplements.

Some legends state that Virgil, fearing that he would die before he had properly revised the poem, gave instructions to friends (including the current emperor, Augustus) that the Aeneid should be burned upon his death, owing to its unfinished state and because he had come to dislike one of the sequences in Book VIII, in which Venus and Vulcan have sexual intercourse, for its nonconformity to Roman moral virtues. The friends did not comply with Virgil's wishes and Augustus himself ordered that they be disregarded. After minor modifications, the Aeneid was published.

The first full and faithful rendering of the poem in an Anglic language is the Scots translation by Gavin Douglas—his Eneados, completed in 1513, which also included Maffeo Vegio's supplement. Even in the twentieth century, Ezra Pound considered this still to be the best Aeneid translation, praising the "richness and fervour" of its language and its hallmark fidelity to the original. The English translation by the 17th-century poet John Dryden is another important version that can be said to retain the power and flow of the original, although Dryden took numerous, significant liberties with the text . Most classic translations, including both Douglas and Dryden, employed a rhyme scheme, a very non-Roman convention that is not usually followed in modern versions.

Recent English verse translations include those by British Poet Laureate C Day Lewis (1963) which strove to render Virgil's original hexameter line, Allen Mandelbaum (honoured by a 1973 National Book Award), Library of Congress Poet Laureate Robert Fitzgerald (1981), Stanley Lombardo (2005), and Robert Fagles (2006).


The Aeneid, like other classical epics, is written in dactylic hexameter, meaning that each line has six feet made up of dactyl, or one long syllable and two shorts, and spondees, or two long syllables. As with other classical Latin poetry, the meter is based on the length of syllables rather than the stress, though the interplay of meter and stress is also important. Virgil also incorporated such poetic devices as alliteration, onomatopoeia, synecdoche, and assonance.


The Aeneid makes several references to its timing. It is mentioned that following the destruction of Troy, Aeneas spent six years wandering the Mediterranean before meeting Dido, and it is later mentioned that on his arrival in Sicily from Carthage that seven years have now passed since the end of Troy. Unfortunately the age of Aeneas's son, Ascanius, cannot provide a clue to the sequence of events; in Book 4, for example, he is pictured both as participating in the hunt, and being impersonated by Cupid as a child in the arms of Dido, shooting arrows into her heart. During Book 4, however there is an indirect reference to a timeline. It is stated that Dido and Aeneas were together through the long winter, implying that Aeneas and his crew must have only stayed in Carthage for the winter, before they heeded Jupiter's message sent by Mercury to leave Carthage.


Nearly the entirety of the Aeneid is devoted to the theme of conflict. The primary conflict is that of Aeneas, as guided by gods such as Jupiter, Apollo and Venus, Aeneas' mother. Aeneas is representative of pietas (a self-less sense of duty), against Turnus, who is guided by Juno, representing unbridled furor (mindless passion and fury). Furor is also personified in the character Dido, however although her furor conflicts with Aeneas' pietas, she herself is not pitted against Aeneas. Other conflicts within the Aeneid include fate versus action, male versus female, Rome versus Carthage, Aeneas as Odysseus in Books 1–6 versus Aeneas as Achilles in Books 7–12, calm weather versus storms, and the Gate of Horn versus the Ivory Gate of Book VI.

Pietas, possibly the key quality of any 'honorable' Roman, consisted of a series of duties: duty towards the gods (hence the English word piety), duty towards one's homeland, duty towards one's followers and duty to one's family—especially one's father. Therefore, a further theme of the poem explores the strong relationship between fathers and sons. The bonds between Aeneas and Ascanius, Aeneas and Anchises, Evander and Pallas, Mezentius and Lausus are all worthy of note. This theme reflects Augustan moral reforms and was perhaps intended to set an example for Roman youth.

The major moral of the Aeneid is acceptance of the workings of the gods as fate through the use of pietas or piety. In composing the character of Aeneas, Virgil alludes to Augustus, suggesting that the gods work their ways through humans, using Aeneas to found Rome and Augustus to lead it, and that one must accept one's fate.


The most debated theories with regard to the Aeneid involve whether Virgil meant to convey a so-called "hidden message" or allegory within the poem. These, of course, are only speculative interpretations. The first section in question is:
There are two gates of Sleep, one said to be of horn, whereby the true shades pass with ease, the other all white ivory agleam without a flaw, and yet false dreams are sent through this one by the ghost to the upper world. Anchises now, his last instructions given, took son and Sibyl and let them go by the Ivory Gate.

—Book VI, lines 893–899, Fitzgerald trans.

(emphasis added)

Aeneas's exiting of the underworld through the gate of false dreams has been variously interpreted: One suggestion is that the passage simply refers to the time of day at which Aeneas returned to the world of the living; another is that it implies that all of Aeneas's actions in the remainder of the poem are somehow "false." In an extension of the latter interpretation, it has been suggested that Virgil is conveying that the history of the world since the foundation of Rome is but a lie. Other scholars claim that Virgil is establishing that the theological implications of the preceding scene (i.e. an apparent system of reincarnation) are not to be taken as literal.

The second section in question is:
Then to his glance appeared the accurst swordbelt surmounting Turnus' shoulder, shining with its familiar studs—the strap Young Pallas wore when Turnus wounded him and left him dead upon the field; now Turnus bore that enemy token on his shoulder—enemy still. For when the sight came home to him, Aeneas raged at the relic of his anguish worn by this man as trophy. Blazing up and terrible in his anger, he called out: "You in your plunder, torn from one of mine, shall I be robbed of you? This wound will come from Pallas: Pallas makes this offering, and from your criminal blood exacts his due." He sank his blade in fury in Turnus' chest …

—Book XII, lines 1281–1295, Fitzgerald trans.

(emphasis added)

This section has been interpreted to mean that for the entire passage of the poem, Aeneas who symbolizes pietas (reason) in a moment becomes furor (fury), thus destroying what is essentially the primary theme of the poem itself. Many have argued over these two sections. Some claim that Virgil meant to change them before he died, while others find that the location of the two passages, at the very end of the so-called Volume I (Books 1–6, the Odyssey), and Volume II (Books 7–12, the Iliad), and their short length, which contrasts with the lengthy nature of the poem, are evidence that Virgil placed them purposefully there.


The Aeneid has long been considered a fundamental member of the Western canon. As a result, many phrases from this poem entered the Latin language, much as passages from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope have entered the English language. One example is from Aeneas' reaction to a painting of the sack of Troy: Sunt lacrimae rērum et mentem mortālia tangunt—"These are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart." (Aeneid I, 462) ( ). The influence is also visible in very modern work: Brian Friel's Translations (a play written in the 1980s, set during the English colonization of Ireland), makes references to the classics throughout and ends with a passage from the Aeneid:
"Urbs antiqua fuit—there was an ancient city which, 'tis said, Juno loved above all the lands. And it was the goddess's aim and cherished hope that here should be the capital of all nations—should the fates perchance allow that. Yet in truth she discovered that a race was springing from Trojan blood to overthrow some day these Tyrian towers—a people late regem belloque superbum—kings of broad realms and proud in war who would come forth for Libya's downfall."

Parodies and travesties

  • A number of parodies and travesties of the Aeneid epic were made. One of the earliest was written in Italian by Giovanni Batista Lalli in 1635, titled L'Eneide travestita del Signor Gio.
  • A French parody by Paul Scarron became famous in Francemarker the mid-17th century, and spread rapidly through Europe accompanying the growing French influence. Its influence was especially strong in Russiamarker.
  • The Charles Cotton work Scarronides included a travestied Aeneid.
  • In 1796, Russian poet N.P. Osipov published travesties of several portions of the Aeneid.
  • From the late 18th to the early 19th centuries, many Slavic language folk parodies of the story were made. One of these was Енеїда (Eneyida), written in 1798 by Ivan Kotlyarevsky, which is considered to be the first literary work written in a language close to modern Ukrainian. His epic poem was adapted into an animated feature film of the same name in 1991 by Ukranimafilm. [6359]


  1. E.G. Knauer, "Vergil's Aeneid and Homer", Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 5 (1964) 61–84. Originating in Servius's observation [1]
  2. The majority of the Odyssey is devoted to events on Ithaca, not to Odysseus' wanderings, so that the second half of the Odyssey very broadly corresponds to the second half of the Aeneid (the hero fights to establish himself in his new/renewed home). Joseph Farrell has observed, "...let us begin with the traditional view that Virgil's epic divides into 'Odyssean' and 'Iliadic' halves. Merely accepting this idea at face value is to mistake for a destination what Virgil clearly offered as the starting-point of a long and wondrous journey" ("The Virgilian Intertext", Cambridge Companion to Virgil, p. 229).
  3. Pound and Spann; Confucius to Cummings: An Anthology of Poetry, New Directions, p.34.
  4. See Emily Wilson Passions and a Man, New Republic Online (January 11, 2007), which cites Pound's claim that the translation even improved on the Virgil because Douglas had "heard the sea".
  5. Trans. David West, "The Aeneid" (1991) xxiii.
  6. The anecdote, in which the poet read the passage in Book VI in praise of Octavia's late son Marcellus, and Octavia fainted with grief, was recorded in the late fourth-century vita of Virgil by Aelius Donatus.
  7. [2]

See also

Further reading

  • Buckham, Philip Wentworth; Spence, Joseph; Holdsworth, Edward; Warburton, William; Jortin, John, Miscellanea Virgiliana: In Scriptis Maxime Eruditorum Virorum Varie Dispersa, in Unum Fasciculum Collecta, Cambridge : Printed for W. P. Grant; 1825.
  • Virgil: The Aeneid (Landmarks of World Literature (Revival)) by K. W. Gransden ISBN 0-521-83213-6
  • Virgil's 'Aeneid': Cosmos and Imperium by Philip R. Hardie ISBN 0-19-814036-3
  • Brooks Otis, Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry, Oxford, 1964
  • Lee Fratantuono, Madness Unchained: A Reading of Virgil's Aeneid, Lexington Books, 2007.
  • Joseph Reed, Virgil's Gaze, Princeton, 2007.
  • Kenneth Quinn, Virgil's Aeneid: A Critical Description, London, 1968.
  • Francis Cairns, Virgil's Augustan Epic, Cambridge, 1989.
  • Gian Biagio Conte, The Poetry of Pathos: Studies in Vergilian Epic, Oxford, 2007.
  • Karl Gransden, Virgil's Iliad, Cambridge, 1984.
  • Richard Jenkyns, Virgil's Experience, Oxford, 1998.
  • Eve Adler, Vergil's Empire, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

External links

  • Translations
    • - Latin text, Dryden translation, and T.C. Williams translation (from the Perseus Project)
    • Gutenberg Project: The Aeneid (Dryden translation) (plain text)
    • Fairclough's excellent Loeb Translation (1916) [6360] (Books 1-6 only)
    • Virgil’s Aeneid, trans. John Dryden with Introduction and Notes (New York: P.F. Collier and Son, 1909).. See original text in The Online Library of Liberty.

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