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Vergil's Aeneid, X-XII
(click here for Books I-VI; here for Books VII-IX)


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Study Questions
In addition to considering the book-specific questions below, it would be good to think about the larger structural issues: how is the epic as a whole organised? Is there evidence of ring composition, as in Homer, and if so, how (if at all) does Vergil modify this structure? How would you divide the work into parts? What main themes and plot concerns drive each part? (It's a good idea to keep a set of lists at the back of your notebook, to track themes/motifs both within and among the works we study: for the Aeneid, you might make such lists as "fire," "walls," "ekphrasis," "Aeneas [mis]reading," "female quest victims" [see Book XI, below], etc.)


  1. Jupiter's decision to unleash all the Olympians parallels Zeus's in the Iliad (Bk. XXI). But with the chief gods occupying different places within their respective universes, how is Jupiter's decision more preplexing that Zeus's? Note carefully what future conflicts already stand fated (l. 15-20) and what is omitted.

  2. As Aeneas makes his entrance to battle, note his helmet (l.374-81). What other scenes in the Aeneid does this resonate with? Compare also Iliad V:4-8 (Diomedes's helmet), XVIII:205-14 (Achilles's helmet) and XXII:25-32 (Achilles's chest-plate).

  3. Whose Iliadic aristeia is evoked in the story of Pallas? Aeneas has only just met Pallas; how then can the boy's death provoke such furor from him? The theme of the touching youthful victim is Vergil's; Homer showed little interest in this particular brand of pathos. Why do you think Vergil develops it so extensively?

  4. Lausus and Mezentius seem to be a variation on the same theme; why do you think Vergil follows up a moment so important as the death of Pallas with this doublet on the "enemy" side? How does Mezentius's death change the way we see his character, and what new wrinkle does Mezentius-as-father add to the death-of-son theme?


  1. This book seems pretty slow going compared to what surrounds it: Pallas's funeral, the Latin war council, preparations for battle. What is the purpose of all this delay and procedure? Why does Vergil hold up the action this way?

  2. Camilla adds herself, in this book, to the impressive list of female victims that have accrued to Aeneas's quest, starting with Creusa. Unlike her predecessors, though, Camilla seems to be accorded proper hero status, complete with aristeia. What do you make of this? Is Vergil finally conferring heroic usefulness on a female character, after extruding them from the manifest destiny of the Trojans all this time? Or--?
           Camilla's aristeia forms a self-enclosed narrative; how would you characterise this narrative? Is it a tragedy? How does her death fit into the set of deaths on which Rome is to be founded? Is it related to any characteristic failing? What effect does her death have on the battle?


Book XII, which alludes to most of the previous books and quite a few from the Iliad as well, is obviously meant to draw things together and round out various themes; yet it is also notorious for its abrupt ending and lack of closure: unlike the Homeric epics, this one ends as well as begins in medias res, and at the climax of the hero's task (compare the Iliad and Odyssey, which each climax in Book 22).

To make sense of the ending, we will need to evaluate the Turnus/Aeneas episode closely from numerous angles: (1) the vocabulary of images (similes, etc.) Vergil has developed throughout the work; (2) the system of values Vergil has also been developing (the system that accounts, e.g., for Dido's fall); (3) his system of Homeric allusions; (4) his technique of role-shifting and role-reversal, both with reference to Homeric works and within the Aeneid itself. With all that in mind, here are some questions you can be pondering:

  • Track Vergil's use of fire, hunting, snake and bee imagery through the whole poem.
  • Compare the simile that opens Book 12 (p.367, l.6-11: Turnus as lion) with the one at IV:95-102 (p.97f.: Dido as doe).
  • Compare the bee simile at XII: 800-807 (p.389) with those in other books.
  • How many structural comparisons can you draw between Book XII and: (a) Book II (e.g. Aeneas as besieged [II] vs.Aeneas as besieger [XII])?(b) Book IV? (c) Book VI?
  • How has Aeneas become like what Turnus used to be?
  • How has the role of Venus changed since Book II (see esp. II:780 ff., p.54)?
  • What has happened to the qualities of furor, amor, and pietas--once so clearly identified with Juno, Venus, and Aeneas, respectively? Are they still so easily distinguished?
  • Who or what causes war in the Aeneid? What is Vergil's attitude toward the violence of war? Does it differ from Homer's?

The Big Question, of course, is Should Aeneas have spared Turnus? Here are a few questions you can ask to help you figure out an answer on the Big Question:

  • Is Turnus victim or aggressor here? Compare him with (a) Dido, (b) Hektor, (c) Aeneas himself.
  • How do Aeneas's feelings of responsibility for Pallas compare with Achilles's for Patroklos? Are they merely self-indulgent (as you may, or may not, have thought Achilles's were)?
  • How does the duel between Aeneas and Turnus compare to the duel between Achillies and Hektor?
  • By Iliadic standards, would Aeneas's final act (killing Turnus) be viewed as a spiritual victory or defeat? How about by Aeneidic standards (going by what we've seen emerge as a standard for right behaviour over the course of the work)?
  • Would the alternative ending--pardoning Turnus--make effective storytelling?
  • Is this ending anticipated, or not, in the rest of the work? Look back at Jupiter's prophecy in Book I (pp.11ff.), Dido's prophetic curse in Book IV (pp.117ff.), Anchises' prohecy in Book VI (pp.186ff.), the Shield of Aeneas in Book VIII (pp.252ff.) and anywhere else that strikes you as significantly foreshadowing the Roman destiny and offering instruction as to the Roman character. How would these passages suggest Aeneas act in this situation? And must Aeneas ambody all the Roman virtues in order to advance the Roman cause?
  • Some critics have contended that Aeneas, in failing here to "spare the conquered" (VI:1154), is (like Adam with the apple) dooming future Roman generations to a much more troubled history than would otherwise have been their lot. But if that's the case, how do we account for the many prophecies that have already outline the internecine quality to be taken by Roman history? Or are these prophecies merely contingencies, worst-case scenarios whose "activation"--and eventual solution--lie in human choices?
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