The Aeneid, Book VII

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Outbreak of War

Having buried Caieta, his childhood nurse, Aeneas set sail along the coast, passing the kingdom of Circe, and reached the river Tiber and the land of Latium. It’s king, Latinus, had no male heir but many were seeking to marry his daughter, Lavinia, Turnus most of all, and he had the support of Latinus’ wife, Amata. However, omens from the gods were against this marriage: firstly, a swarm of bees round the top of a sacred laurel tree, interpreted as meaning a stranger would come with an army and take control of the citadel; secondly, Lavinia’s hair and clothes caught fire which spread in the palace, interpreted as meaning that her future would be bright but war would come to her people.

A map of Latium. (c) Katy Purington

Then Latinus consulted the oracle of his father, Faunus, which told him not to marry his daughter to a Latin but to a stranger who would come, whose descendants would be rulers of the world. Rumour of what the oracle had said spread. After a meal laid on wheat cakes Iulus remarked that they even ate their tables. Aeneas remembered that Anchises had said that, when they reached a land where they were so hungry they were forced to eat their tables, this was the place they were fated to build their city and it would be the last time they would be hungry. Aeneas sacrificed to the gods of this land and Jupiter acknowledged with an omen of thunder and bright light.

On the next day Aeneas sent one hundred men to king Latinus to ask for peace. Latinus received them in the sacred ancestral hall of his palace. When Latinus asked the reason for their coming Iloneus replied it was fated they came here, back to their roots, as their ancestor, Dardanus, had been born here. They would bring great glory to him if Latinus allowed them to stay and form an alliance. He offered Latinus the gold cup of Anchises and the sceptre and purple clothing of Priam as gifts. Latinus saw this as the fulfilment of Faunus’ prophecy that his daughter would marry a stranger who would rule the world and so he welcomed the Trojans, asking to meet Aeneas and to tell him about the prophecy.

Latinus welcomes Aeneas and offers his daughter Lavinia in marriage, painting by Francesco de Mura.

Latinus reciprocated with gifts of horses for the Trojans and a chariot for Aeneas. When Juno saw that the Trojans had reached Italy she was angry that her attempts to stop them had been in vain. She knew she could not stop Aeneas’ fate of building his kingdom in Latium and marrying Lavinia but she was determined to delay it by causing a war. Juno asked Allecto, one of the Furies, to help her by ensuring Latinus did not ally himself with Aeneas. Allecto went to Latinus’ wife, Amata, who did not want an alliance with the Trojans, took a snake from her hair and threw it at Amata poisoning and maddening her. After Amata tried in vain to dissuade Latinus from marrying Lavinia to Aeneas she went into the forests and hid Lavinia there, behaving like a Bacchant, and the women of Latium followed her.

Allecto then flew to Turnus as he slept and, disguised as Calybe, an old priestess of Juno, told him his marriage was being stolen by a stranger; on Juno’s orders he and his warriors should attack these Trojans and Latinus himself if he did not give Turnus what he had been promised. At first Turnus said he knew about the arrival of the Trojans and refused to act, saying she should stick to serving the gods and leave peace and war to men. Then, blazing with anger, Allecto revealed herself as a Fury and threw a burning torch at him which aroused in him a angry desire for battle. He prepared to march to Latium and defend Italy against the Trojans.

Landscape with Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia, painting by Claude Lorrain, 1682.

Allecto continued to make mischief by making Iulus kill a stag, fed by Tyrrhus, the royal herdsman, and his family and much loved by the country people. They took up weapons in their desire to find and kill its killer. The Trojans came to help Iulus and, in the fighting between the two sides, the eldest son of Tyrrhus, was killed by an arrow. Allecto reported back to Juno about the discord she had caused and then returned to the Underworld. Despite many of his people demanding war against the Trojans, Latinus refused to open the gates of war and shut himself away so Juno came and opened the gates. Five cities prepared weapons of war from farming implements. The Italian leaders who went to war with Turnus are listed, anticipating the battles in which they would take part. The list culminates in Turnus himself, described as taller than the rest, with a Chimaera breathing fire from the top of his helmet and the story of Io engraved on his shield, followed by Camilla, a female warrior from the Volsci tribe.

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