The Aeneid | Study Guide


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Book 8

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 8 of Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid.

The Aeneid | Book 8 | Summary



Aeneas worries about the impending war, but the god of the Tiber River appears in a dream and assures him he is fulfilling his fate. Tiber promises the sign that Apollo foretold on Delos, confirming Ascanius will establish Alba Longa, the parent city of Rome. He tells Aeneas to seek help from King Evander up the river in Pallanteum. As Aeneas prepares to sail, he sees the sign and sacrifices the pigs to Juno as instructed. The Tiber guides him to Pallanteum, the future site of Rome.

Evander and his people are feasting to honor Hercules, who saved their city from a monster. Prince Pallas greets Aeneas and his companions, and Evander welcomes them as friends and distant kin. After the celebration, Evander welcomes Aeneas to his home, showing him many places familiar to Romans. The next morning, Evander tells of a great army that will support Aeneas—Etruscans who rose up against the monstrous King Mezentius. Mezentius is now with Turnus, so they will fight with Aeneas. Importantly, they will follow him because a prophecy says they must have a leader from overseas. Sending his ships back to Ascanius, Aeneas rides with Pallas to meet the Etruscans.

Meanwhile, worried Venus charms her husband, the fire god Vulcan, into making weapons Aeneas can use to win against the Latins. Deep in his volcanic island he and his Cyclops assistants forge weapons, armor, and a great shield for Aeneas. Venus delivers them, and Aeneas marvels at the shield decorated with scenes of Roman history, foretelling the future of his people.


It is significant that Evander and Pallas are introduced to the story in the midst of a celebration to honor the hero-god Hercules, who saved their city. As Aeneas's primary allies, their honor and piety reflect on him. Evander and Pallas are also another important father-son pair in The Aeneid. Evander's passionate prayer for the safety of his son shows both the honor to family aspect of pietas and also great affection. As he sends Pallas to fight with Aeneas, he says he would rather die himself than live to see his son die, foreshadowing the worst.

The fact that Evander and Pallas are descended from Greeks, related to Agamemnon and Menelaus, who fought against Troy, fulfills one of the Sibyl's prophecies. They are also related to Aeneas, because both of their family lines descend from the Titan Atlas, father of Jupiter. They immediately bond as friends and allies. Although Venus signals approval of the alliance, Aeneas is insightful enough to fear the price of a war that will be paid in blood.

The shield that Venus has persuaded Vulcan to make for Aeneas, decorated with images of Roman history, is a symbol of both the inevitability of his fate and the destiny of Rome. The events engraved have yet to happen for Aeneas, but the poet and the reader know they are historically fixed (even if some are more legendary than strictly factual). This makes them inevitable for Aeneas, fixing his fate.

Part of the shield shows legendary formative events, including Romulus founding Rome and the abduction of the Sabine women. However, it is dominated by the glory of Caesar Augustus: the central image is his historic victory (with his commander Agrippa) over Mark Antony and Cleopatra in a sea battle at Actium. The aftermath of the battle, including the suicides of Antony and Cleopatra ("that outrage, that Egyptian wife!") and Augustus's triumph in Rome, takes up the remainder of the shield. The prominence of Augustus on Aeneas's shield equates the two men in greatness. From the city Aeneas builds, a great empire will spring. Virgil envisions Augustus's empire to likewise grow exponentially in territory and glory.

The shield itself is modeled after the shield of Achilles that appears in Homer's Iliad (Book 18). They are both forged by Vulcan (Hephaestus in Greek), the god of fire, at the request of the hero's mother. However, Achilles's shield shows scenes of everyday life and mythological figures, evoking moods more than a message. In contrast, Aeneas's shield is defined by Roman history and clearly conveys the dominant destiny of Rome.

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