Reader's Encyclopedia


An epic poem by Vergil, composed of twelve books, in which the legendary Trojan origin of the Roman people is glorified. Vergil traces the lineage of the Julii from Iulus or Ascanius, the son of the Trojan hero Aeneas, down to Octavius Caesar (later Augustus), whose newly established principate the poem endorses. The poem was written at the request of the emperor and, though it was left unfinished at the sudden death of the poet (19 bc ), it was greeted with enthusiasm by all educated Romans because of its nationalistic purpose.

In Book I, Aeneas and his Trojan followers are driven by a storm to the shores of Carthage and are hospitably entertained by Queen Dido. In Book II, Aeneas tells the tale of the wooden horse and of the destruction of Troy. He describes his escape from the burning city with his father, Anchises, his son Ascanius, and several followers. His wife was lost and died during their flight. The narrative is continued in Book III, in which Aeneas recounts the perils he encountered on the westward voyage from Troy and the death of his father. Book IV tells of Dido's love for Aeneas, his departure from Carthage, and her suicide and cremation on a great funeral pyre. In Book V, Aeneas and his followers reach Sicily and hold funeral games in honor of Anchises. Aeneas visits Anchises in the underworld in Book VI, sees the future generations of Romans, and is told of their exploits. Here appear the much quoted lines of Anchises to Aeneas concerning the task of the Romans: "Roman, remember that you shall rule the nations by your authority, for this is to be your skill, to make peace the custom, to spare the conquered, and to wage war until the haughty are brought low."

In Book VII, Latinus, king of the Latini, entertains Aeneas and promises his daughter Lavinia to him in marriage, but Prince Turnus, who has already been betrothed to her by her mother, raises an army to resist Aeneas. Book VIII tells of the preparations for war on both sides and of Aeneas ' visit to Latium, the future home of the Romans. In Book IX, Turnus, in the absence of Aeneas, fires the Trojan ships and assaults their camp. The episode of Nisus and Euryalus, in which the two Trojans die heroically trying to infiltrate the enemy camp, occurs here. The war between Turnus and Aeneas is depicted in Book X. Here Mezentius and his son Lausas are slain by Aeneas. In Book XI, the battle continues. Book XII tells of the single combat between Aeneas and Turnus and of the death of Turnus. See Achates; Palinurus.