Meanwhile, the fighting outside the Trojans’s camp grows more furious, and there are many casualties on both sides. With a fleet of thirty ships filled with Etruscan warriors and Evander’s forces, Aeneas begins the journey from Agylla to where the battle is being fought. During the night, before the fleet finally lands near the battle scene, the sea nymphs who were previously Aeneas’s ships approach the fleet. Their leader, Cymodocea, tells Aeneas about the siege of his troops that is now taking place.
When the Trojans see Aeneas arrive in his magnificent armor, they take heart. Turnus and the other enemy leaders do not panic, however, but launch an attack on Aeneas and his forces almost as soon as they land. A great slaughter follows, and Aeneas does his share of the killing. Pallas, proving his own courage, rallies his men when their spirits wane. He leads them in attacking the forces of Lausus, Mezentius’s son, whom he engages in a battle of equals: Both are young, brave, and handsome. Also, both are fated to die: first, Pallas at the hands of Turnus, who spears him and takes his richly illustrated swordbelt as a trophy; and then Lausus, whom Aeneas will slay. Foreseeing these deaths, Hercules grieves, but Jupiter consoles him by stating that all men must die, but in dying they can win the fame that comes from performing valorous deeds.
Enraged by the news of Pallas’s death, Aeneas slashes and kills his way through the enemy ranks in search of Turnus. Jupiter, waiving his rule against intervention, allows Juno to save Turnus by creating a shadow-Aeneas as a diversion. Turnus mistakes the fake Aeneas for the real man and pursues him on board a ship, which Juno then floats off to sea, preventing the Rutulian prince from risking his life in combat against his Trojan counterpart.
As Turnus rages with frustration aboard the ship, Aeneas, after a vain search for him, vents his bloodlust on the Etruscans’s former king, Mezentius, whom he wounds in the groin. Unable to continue fighting, Mezentius drags himself to safety while Lausus takes up the fight. Aeneas warns Lausus not to fight him, but when Lausus scoffs at this advice, Aeneas effortlessly kills him, only to be moved to pity by Lausus’s death and the young man’s selfless love for his father.
Mezentius, who receives Lausus’s body from his son’s comrades, is overcome by grief and remorse. Although he is gravely wounded and knows that he will probably be slain, he mounts his horse and rides off to fight Aeneas. He is determined to avenge Lausus’s death, which has made his own life meaningless, and to atone for his evil deeds. Mezentius fights bravely, but Aeneas finally kills him after felling his horse, which pins him to the ground. Before receiving the fatal stroke, Mezentius begs Aeneas to see that his body is buried in the same grave as his son’s.
In Book X, with both protagonist and antagonist present for the first time, the war enters its crucial phase. Turnus’s killing Pallas will lead eventually to his own death, for Turnus arouses in Aeneas a lust for vengeance that transforms the Trojan leader into an unrelenting enemy. Aeneas’s fury will be heightened by the sight of Pallas’s swordbelt, which Turnus unceremoniously wears as a war trophy during his battle with Aeneas in Book XII. There, the Trojan hero will dismiss from his mind the fleeting thought of sparing Turnus and will lead him instead to give the final, killing thrust that brings an end to both Turnus’s life and the epic poem.
Book X concludes with Aeneas slaying his other great antagonist, Mezentius. This incident is one of the most powerful in the Aeneid and offers an outstanding example of Virgil’s ability to introduce, at the very moment of triumph for the victor, a note of pathos that opens us to sympathy for the victim. Virgil’s power to awaken this feeling is all the more remarkable because in this case the victim, Mezentius, is monstrous. Although gravely wounded, Mezentius takes on a heroic stature by fighting Aeneas to avenge his son’s death and make amends for his own evil past.
In his grief over Lausus, whom Aeneas reluctantly slays, Mezentius resembles Evander, who loses Pallas. The love that exists between fathers and sons — Aeneas and Anchises offer the greatest example — is perhaps the most powerful emotional tie portrayed in the Aeneid and is closely bound up with the ideal of pietas — patriotism and duty.
Mezentius also contrasts — negatively — with Aeneas, at least in terms of their respect for the gods. Addressing the Trojan leader before flinging his spear at him, the evil king deliberately calls on no god to steady his aim, claiming that his right arm is the only god he needs. Aeneas, however, described as “the God-fearing captain” whose aim is true, successfully wounds his enemy. The man who is submissive to the gods wins in battle; the heathen does not.
In addition to religion, fate affects the outcomes of many battles here in Book X. Nowhere is this better exemplified than when Jupiter, speaking to Hercules, who wishes to help Pallas fight Turnus, philosophically explains death’s unstoppable march: “Every man’s last day is fixed. / Lifetimes are brief, and not to be regained, / For all mankind. But by their deeds to make / Their fame last: that is labor for the brave.” However, despite a person’s fated death, Jupiter does allow for some leeway, at least concerning Turnus. When Juno petitions her husband to permit Turnus to live a short while longer, he grants her wish. He tells her that there is room for some lenience concerning when a man must die, but she deludes herself if she thinks Turnus will be spared forever from his fate.
While modern readers tend to find the first half of the Aeneid more engrossing than the second, Virgil himself regarded the second half as fulfilling the true purpose of the epic and expected his readers to feel the same. We, however, may sometimes find his descriptions of man-to-man combat wearisome, especially in Book X, in which these military contests go on longer than elsewhere. Still, Virgil’s readers probably appreciated the elaborate descriptions of carnage. We must remember that the Romans were a warlike people: They relished gladiatorial fights, and persistent warfare was the means by which Rome forged its empire. Furthermore, war was regarded as the noblest theme of epic poetry.
Virgil especially emphasizes a warrior’s code of honor against which combatants are judged. Generally, those warriors who respect the unspoken code will prosper, but those who flaunt their victories will die. Such disparity concerning honorable actions is nowhere greater than between Turnus and Aeneas.
Turnus is the anti-hero, the character who, because of his ignoble behavior, is fated to die. His wish that Pallas’s father, Evander, were present to witness his son’s death recalls Pyrrhus’s horrific killing of Polites, witnessed by the young soldier’s father, Priam. Once Turnus kills Pallas, he boasts of his accomplishment; worse, he defames the sanctity of death when he steps on Pallas’s dead body and then dishonorably removes the fallen man’s swordbelt. Of these actions, Virgil comments, “The minds of men are ignorant of fate / And of their future lot, unskilled to keep / Due measure when some triumph sets them high. / For Turnus there will come a time / When he would give the world to see again / An untouched Pallas, and will hate this day, / Hate that belt taken.” Turnus is a poor winner who will pay — with his life — for his insolent behavior.
Aeneas, on the other hand, greatly respects a warrior’s code of conduct. Faced with Pallas’s death, his actions underscore his humaneness, for death is not trivial to him as it is to Turnus. Remembering the time he spent with Pallas and Evander, Aeneas offers sacrifices in the young soldier’s name. Later in the book, he again exhibits noble qualities when he mourns the death of Lausus, an enemy. Visibly moved by this death, Aeneas “groaned in profound pity. He held out / His hand as filial piety, mirrored here, / Wrung in his heart.” Of all the characters in the poem, Aeneas knows best the “empty rage” and “painful toil” of war.
It is in Book X, which focuses almost entirely on the war between the Trojans and the Latins, that Virgil most closely embraces Homer’s Iliad as a model for his own epic poem. For example, the council of the gods recalls the beginning of the Iliad’s Book VIII, in which Zeus convenes his fellow gods and orders them not to interfere in the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. More important, apart from this and other specific references to Homer’s epic, Virgil echoes the overall tone of the Iliad’s battle scenes. Like Homer, he succeeds in convincing us of his characters’s humanity. They remain accessible to feelings of love and sympathy even in the midst of struggle and death.
subjugating bringing under control or subjection; conquering.
terebinth a small European tree of the cashew family, whose cut bark yields a turpentine.
presage a sign or warning of a future event; omen; portent.
shingle large, coarse, waterworn gravel, as found on a beach.
emulating trying, often by imitating or copying, to equal or surpass.
scion a shoot or bud of a plant, esp. one for planting or grafting.
bemused muddled, stupefied, or preoccupied.
tableau a striking, dramatic scene or picture.
carnage bloody and extensive slaughter, esp. in battle; massacre; bloodshed.
bastion any fortified place; strong defense or bulwark.
integuments natural outer coverings of the body or of a plant, including skin, shell, hide, husk, or rind.
rout an overwhelming defeat.
enchased engraved or carved with designs, etc.
spectral of, having the nature of, or like a specter; phantom; ghostly.
pillory any exposure to public scorn, etc.