The Aeneid | Study Guide


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Book 11

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 11 of Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid.

The Aeneid | Book 11 | Summary



Aeneas sends Pallas's body home to Evander in a great procession and allows the Latins to bury their dead. He says he never wanted to fight them—he would prefer to face Turnus in single combat. The Rutulian Drances, an opponent of Turnus, sets out to make peace between Aeneas and King Latinus. In Pallanteum, Evander mourns Pallas, wishing he had died instead of his son. He charges Aeneas with killing Turnus so he can take Pallas the news in the Underworld when he dies. Both sides perform funeral rites for their dead.

In Latium families are sick of the cost of war. Drances suggests Aeneas's single combat idea, but Queen Amata supports Turnus's war. The envoy to Diomedes, the great Greek hero who fought at Troy, returns with bad news: Diomedes has no desire to fight Aeneas again and recommends Latium not do so either. Latinus and Drances want to make peace with Aeneas, but Turnus still burns to fight. He grudgingly consents to single combat, but Aeneas's troops surround the city before anything is decided. Turnus rushes off to ambush Aeneas (still on his way) in a valley.

As the girl-warrior Camilla engages Aeneas's advance cavalry, her patron goddess, Diana the huntress, recalls her unusual upbringing. Foreseeing Camilla's fate, Diana sends her archer Opis to take vengeance on whoever harms her. "Godlike" Camilla is deadly with spear and battle-ax, killing warrior after warrior and driving back the Etruscan and Trojan allies. However, the Etruscan Arruns is stalking her. When Camilla is distracted by a desire for plunder, Apollo guides Arruns's spear through her defenses. Opis follows him deep into the woods and avenges Camilla's death. Her loss turns the battle against the Latins, and they flee into the city. Turnus rushes back to the battlefield, giving up his ambush just before Aeneas arrives. The sun goes down to end the battle.


Aeneas mourns Pallas almost as his own child: "Child of heartbreak, was it you/whom Fortune denied me, coming to me all smiles?" This is probably based on both affection and a sense of paternal responsibility because Evander entrusted Pallas to Aeneas's care. His paternal devotion to his own son is also involved as he mourns the loss to Ascanius—Pallas would have been a friend and ally to him had he lived. As a father himself, Aeneas knows how Evander will feel about this loss. Indeed, Evander's grief is deep and complex. He is glad that Pallas died bravely and can never be disgraced—not small considerations in a culture where bravery and honor are highly valued—but that is still small comfort when he no longer has his son. Virgil memorializes Pallas with an epic simile comparing him to a flower cut down, very similar to the one eulogizing Euryalus in Book 9. When Aeneas covers Pallas's body with robes that Dido made, the connection to the tragic queen emphasizes the great tragedy of Pallas's loss.

Once the heat of battle has passed, Aeneas's reason reappears. When the Latins request access to the battlefield to bury their dead, "good Aeneas grants the appeal he'd never shun." The contrast between this and his threat on the battlefield to leave an enemy fighter's body for the vultures highlights the terrible consequences of rage, building Virgil's argument against the rage of war. Ironically, when Aeneas is enraged, he is also at his most mighty, but Anchises's instruction in Book 6 to "spare the defeated" indicates that this strength should be used responsibly.

Book 11 also contains Virgil's most explicit argument about war and peace. The case for peace, made by Drances, emphasizes the cost of war to the people of Latium. Turnus's war making is "flinging your wretched people into naked peril" and has been "the root and spring of all the Latins' griefs!" Drances argues, "There's no salvation in war," countering the culture of patriotic pride and personal glory being won in war. As a product of a country in civil war, Virgil knew these costs firsthand. Farmers in northern Italy, where he grew up, were kicked off their land, which was then given to soldiers who fought in the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE. It is unclear whether Virgil's family also lost their land (if they did, they got it back eventually), but it made an impression on him either way. However, Virgil also points out that Drances uses bad logic and is envious of Turnus's glory, somewhat undermining his argument.

Turnus's case for war isn't particularly effective either, since he mostly attacks Drances rather than his arguments, a deliberate example of the logical fallacy known as ad hominem by the rhetorically trained Virgil. Feeling he is being shamed and called a coward, Turnus vehemently objects to the suggestion that he can't win, again comparing himself to Achilles. If he is Achilles, why should he back down? Greeks didn't back down at Troy, and they ultimately won. Turnus seems to be carried away by his sense of himself, confusing the destiny of Troy with the separate destiny of Aeneas and his Trojans. His argument for war is basically "glory or death," and those who object are just cowards. The ineffectiveness of Turnus's argument points out the weakness of many cases for war, but war was also deeply embedded in Roman culture.

Virgil bases his warrior princess Camilla on the Amazon warriors of mythology, but then makes her a unique legendary figure. He points out Camilla's similarity to the Amazon Penthesilea in the decorations of Juno's temple in Carthage in Book 1 and compares her to Hippolyte, another Amazon queen, in battle: "Watch, exulting here in the thick of carnage, an Amazon." Descriptions of her battles are as gory and brutal as those of the battles of Turnus or Aeneas. She experiences the same blaze of battle rage, fights with the same type of weapons, and even runs down on foot a man fleeing on horseback—a superhuman feat reserved for great heroes. The epic simile comparing her to a falcon catching a dove echoes Homer's simile in The Iliad describing Hector fleeing Achilles, putting her on a level with those great warriors. Only the opposing captain Tarchon disparages her skills. However, her "woman's lust for loot and plunder" leads to her death, somewhat undermining what is otherwise a portrait of a heroic warrior who just happens to be a woman.

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