The Aeneid | Study Guide


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Book 5

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 5 of Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid.

The Aeneid | Book 5 | Summary



The Trojans see Dido's pyre burning as they sail away. A strong wind forces them toward Sicily, where King Acestes warmly greets them. It has been a year since they buried Aeneas's father, Anchises, there, and now it is time to hold his funeral games. As Aeneas pours offerings on his father's tomb, a snake slithers out, tastes the offerings, and disappears back into the tomb. Is it Anchises's spirit? Aeneas and his men make sacrifices and wait nine days. Then the games begin. The Trojans and Sicilians compete in dramatic races in ships and on foot, in a boxing match, and in an archery contest. Aeneas richly and fairly rewards all notable participants. Ascanius and his friends close the games with a complex demonstration of horseback skills.

While the games are going on, Juno sends her messenger, Iris, to the Trojan women who are part of Aeneas's group. Disguising herself, Iris plays on their frustration with seven years of wandering. When one woman sees through Iris's disguise, she drives the women to madly set fire to the ships. Rushing to the shore, Aeneas prays to Jupiter, who sends a rainstorm to put out the fires. Nevertheless, Aeneas's confidence in his fate is shaken. Should he stay in Sicily? An adviser tells him to leave those Trojans tired of traveling—Acestes will make them a home—and continue with the rest of his followers to Italy. Anchises's ghost comes with the night, bidding Aeneas to visit him in the Underworld when he gets there.

Upset by Juno's interference, Venus appeals to Neptune, god of the sea. He assures her the Trojans will reach Italy safely—only one life will be lost. During the night, the God of Sleep overwhelms Palinurus, the pilot of Aeneas's ship, and throws him overboard.


The funeral games are the essence of Aeneas's pietas. He isdoing his duty to honor and respect his family, in this case his father's memory. It again emphasizes the importance of the father-son relationship in The Aeneid. Nowhere else do the Trojans spend so much time (at least 10 days) sacrificing, feasting, and celebrating for a single purpose. Another aspect of pietas, paying respect and honor to the gods, is also a large part of the games, often with direct rewards. Cloanthus ensures his win in the ship race by promising a future sacrifice to the gods of the sea. Seeing his fleet in flame, Aeneas prays to Jupiter, who immediately sends rain to put out the fires. Aeneas worships the household gods of Troy and Vesta, goddess of the hearth, before sailing for Italy, symbolizing his recommitment to honoring Troy by accepting his fate.

The snake motif appears again in the form of a serpent that slithers out of Anchises's tomb during the funeral ceremony. Unlike most other snake appearances in the poem, this one seems peaceful and non-threatening, associated with death but not destruction.

Virgil models Anchises's funeral games after those in Homer's Iliad (put on by Achilles for his friend Patroclus). The first contest in The Aeneid is a ship race rather than a chariot race, but Virgil practically circles the parallel by comparing the speed of the ships' start to chariots. Parallels can also be seen in details of the races. As in The Iliad, the leader in the footrace loses by slipping in the mess from a sacrifice, though Virgil ends the race in a different way. Even the prizes Aeneas offers often parallel those offered by Achilles, except they are richer and grander. In one inconsistency that Virgil may have cleaned up had he lived longer, Aeneas lists a javelin contest when introducing the games (one appears in The Iliad) that is never described further.

In the simile describing the equestrian demonstration performed by Ascanius and his friends, "the labyrinth once in hilly Crete," Virgil uses the mythical Minotaur's labyrinth to emphasize the complexity of the horseback maneuvers.

In Book 5 fire again symbolizes passion, destruction, and destiny. The book begins with the sight of Dido's burning pyre, a symbol of destructive passion. In the games fire language is primarily used in the boxing match. The old champion Entellus's "blood runs cold" due to age until the embarrassment of overbalancing "fires him up." In the archery match, Acestes's arrow bursting into flame is a sign—"a potent marvel/destined to shape the future"—perhaps of the new city that Acestes builds for the Trojans who decide not to continue on to Italy.

Fire is associated with destruction and madness when the goddess Iris appears to the women in disguise. She says Cassandra, who was considered mad, gave her flaming torches in a dream as a sign to burn the ships. The fire would have consumed all of the ships without Jupiter's intervention. The message from Anchises's spirit reignites Aeneas's commitment to his fate, and he symbolically revives the fire to worship the household gods.

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