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The Aeneid | Book 2 | Summary

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Summary

Aeneas tells Dido of the destruction of Troy. This flashback to past events makes them come to life at the time of his retelling: The Greeks have apparently sailed away, leaving behind a giant horse. Laocoön, priest of Neptune, fears the horse is a trap and attacks it. A Greek prisoner, Sinon, spins a persuasive story that the horse is an offering for Greek offenses against the goddess Pallas Athena (Minerva). He says that a prophecy indicated Troy will invade Greece if they bring the horse into the city. Great serpents kill Laocoön; these seem to be a sign that he offended Minerva. To appease her they bring the horse to her temple in the heart of Troy.

But it's a sly Greek trick, for the Greek ships return in the night, and the warriors inside the horse open the gates to the Greek army. The ghost of Hector alerts Aeneas that Troy is falling, telling him to leave. Burning to fight, Aeneas roams the city and kills many Greeks, ending up at the palace, where he witnesses the death of King Priam. Suddenly, Aeneas remembers his own father, as well as his wife and son. His mother, Venus, appears, bidding him to flee Troy with his family, whom she has protected. All the gods are against Troy now.

Aeneas's father, Anchises, at first refuses to leave, but two signs change his mind: a crack of thunder crashes to the left of them and a star shoots down, persuading Anchises that he should follow his son out of Troy. Carrying his father and holding his son's hand, Aeneas runs to escape the city; his wife, Creusa, follows behind. When they arrive at their meeting spot, Aeneas discovers Creusa has been lost in the confusion. He returns to the burning city to find her, but her ghost appears to him. It is her fate never to leave Troy, but Aeneas will find a new queen in Hesperia (Italy).

Analysis

Signs and omens, which abound in The Aeneid, feature prominently in this book of the poem. Sometimes they are clear, as when Anchises asks for, and receives, a second sign that he should leave Troy with his son. Other signs are not so clear. The Trojans know the serpent attack on Laocoön is a terrible omen, but they interpret it incorrectly as a sign that he was wrong about the danger posed by the giant horse. Since the serpents slither away to the temple of Minerva, patron of the Greeks, that may have been the goddess's intent. (Snakes are also a motif in the poem, usually signaling death or destruction.) The fire that plays over the head of Aeneas's son is both a sign to Anchises and a foreshadowing of Ascanius's fate as a great king in Italy.

Father-son relationships are of highest importance in The Aeneid—the pinnacle of devotion to the family that is part of the Roman concept of pietas (state of being pius). Leaving the burning city, Aeneas literally supports his father by carrying him on his back and keeps his son beside him. Left to follow "at a distance," his wife, Creusa, is lost. He clearly loves her—he risks his life to go back and look for her and tries desperately to hold her ghost—but his actions demonstrate that his father and son are his priorities. Aeneas must also honor their household gods, small figures worshiped at home altars as guardians of a place, in this case Troy. Preserving them saves a sacred piece of Troy that can be replanted in a new land.

Fire symbolizes many things in Book 2, first and foremost the destruction of Troy, in some of Virgil's most vivid imagery. As Aeneas's home burns, "Devouring fire ... /goes churning into the rooftops, flames surging/ ... scorching blasts raging up the sky." The gods warn or destroy with fire. Pallas (Minerva) comes "flaming out of the clouds" to help destroy the city. These signs telling Anchises to leave Troy with his son involve fire, and descriptions of the battle fury experienced by Aeneas and others involve a lot of fire language. Fire is both inspiring and vengeful. A flame appearing above Ascanius's head signifies a good omen of future triumph.

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