The Aeneid | Study Guide


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Book 7

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 7 of Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid.

The Aeneid | Book 7 | Summary



Aeneas and his fleet sail again and finally reach the Tiber River. Upon landing the Trojans feast using dried-out wheat cakes for plates. Jupiter prompts them to devour the cakes after eating, thus fulfilling the prophecy that they will eat their platters. Aeneas praises and makes offerings to his patron gods, family, and the gods of the place, and Jupiter sends thunder and a fiery cloud: omens that they have reached their destination.

Latium's King Latinus has only one child, a lovely daughter named Lavinia. Neighboring King Turnus wants to marry her, but prophecies and signs indicate she will marry a stranger, one whose "lifeblood will lift our name to the stars." Aeneas starts building a town and sends a delegation to King Latinus, who receives them in a hall that echoes the power and history of Italy. Latinus recalls that Dardanus, one of the fathers of Troy, originated in Italy. The Trojans offer gifts and pledge friendship, and Latinus offers his daughter to Aeneas to fulfill the prophecy.

Frustrated she cannot change Aeneas's fate, Juno vows to make the cost as high as possible—she sends Allecto, the Fury of rage, to start a war. Driven insane by rage, Queen Amata whisks her daughter Lavinia away and whips the mothers of Latium into a frenzy. Allecto then visits Turnus in a dream, inflaming his heart with anger. He awakes burning with "lust for the sword, the cursed madness of war/and rage to top it off." Finally, Allecto causes Ascanius to inadvertently start a bloody battle with Latin citizens. Torn between his pledge to Aeneas and the anger of his people and Turnus, Latinus refuses to lead. He will not open the Gates of War, so Juno does it herself, and "all Italy blazed." Armies from all over Italy gather to support Turnus.


At the beginning of Book 7, Virgil again calls on the Muses to help him tell of the war Aeneas must fight to claim his fate in Italy, the "history" of Rome. He specifically invokes Erato, muse of love, because the war is fought over the right to marry a woman (Lavinia). Prophecies about Lavinia's marriage also predict the destiny of Rome: "rising or setting, East or West,/the whole earth turn beneath their feet, their rule." Signs and omens involving fire, such as Lavinia's head being wreathed in fire (which doesn't seem to burn, similar to the fire on Ascanius's head in Book 1), symbolize Aeneas's fate.

In an interesting interplay of the will of the gods, Jupiter fulfills the dire-sounding prophecy that a great hunger will make the Trojans eat their platters (originally made by the unfriendly Harpies) in a harmless way. Their "platters" are wheat cakes, and the great hunger is for their new home in Italy rather than a physical famine. Although Juno has godly powers, her actions are limited by the inevitability of Aeneas's fate. Hoping to at least postpone and make Aeneas's fate more difficult, Juno vows to make him into a "funeral torch to consume a second Troy." This passage refers to a story from The Iliad: before giving birth to Paris, Queen Hecuba dreams that she is carrying a burning torch, symbolizing the destruction her son will bring down on Troy. Juno wants Aeneas to wreak the same sort of destruction on Latium, but at a cost to him as dear as possible.

This is not the only parallel between the Trojan War and Aeneas's conflict with Turnus. Virgil emphasizes Turnus's Greek roots (he is a descendant of Acrisius, a king of Argos in Greece who built the Rutulian city of Ardea), equating him with the Greeks who fought at Troy. Turnus also mirrors Aeneas in many ways: he is the son of a goddess, although a more minor one, and is handsome and strong, although inevitably less so than Aeneas. With Virgil's typical sympathy for both sides, Turnus does not seem naturally war-crazy—he initially refuses to respond to Allecto's goading—but eventually he is infected by Allecto's rage.

Similar to his depiction of Rumor (who also appears in Book 7), Virgil's description of Allecto, the Fury of rage, is vividly terrifying. She has venomous snakes for hair, one of which she flings into Queen Amata's heart to inflame her anger to the point of madness. She flies unseen and can change her shape at will. Her faces are so terrifying that even her sister Furies hate her. The rage that Allecto either creates or increases is described consistently in vivid fire language. She ignites Turnus's rage by impaling his dream body with a flaming torch, which Virgil expands upon with an extended epic simile comparing him to a blazing fire under a wildly boiling cauldron.

Opening the Gates of War symbolizes that the country is at war. In Aeneas's legendary time, they seem to function more than symbolically: Juno opening the Gates of War appears to actually cause war to break out, prompting the gathering of armies in a country that was previously "all unstirred, inert." Furthermore, continual reminders of the high price in suffering, doubt, and conflict are Virgil's way of reminding the reader of the ultimate value placed on the founding of Rome. If the path had been made easy, its value would not have been as great.

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