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Deaths in the "Aeneid"

Author(s): E. N. Genovese
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 10 (Apr., 1975), pp. 22-28
Published by: Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association
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The deaths which conclude eight books of the Aeneid signal the develop-
ent of a major theme: forsake the past to secure the future.1 First, towards
the close of Book 2 Creusa dies: a faithful, loving wife and mother, she is
nevertheless to be supplanted by a young bride chosen for political purposes.
At the end of Book 3 Aeneas' father Anchises dies: having become little more
than a figurehead in his old age, he yields his title and position to a new pater
of a new people. Next, climactically, Dido falls a suicide in Book 4: she has
proved a welcome refuge for the man deprived of home and family, but she
is not destined to replace Creusa. At the end of Book 5 Aeneas loses his helms-
man Palinurus, whom he himself must replace, symbolic of the lonely role he
must assume now that Italy has been reached. In the underworld, Aeneas
foresees a thousand years hence the death of the youthful Marcellus, the future
hope of his race. Here, towards the end of Book 6, we see Aeneas' lonely task
reflected in the frustrations of Augustus in his search for a successor. In the
second half of the Aeneid, despite numerous deaths in battle, there are no
book-ending deaths until Mezentius is slain by Aeneas (Book 10). Mezentius,
a despot exiled for his crimes, threatens the Etruscans, much as Turnus, the
would-be king of the Latins, threatens the Trojans. Similarly, it is appropriate
that Camilla, a combination of Dido and Turnus, meet death near the end of
Book 11. Finally, in Book 12, Turnus himself must die, since he would pre-
clude a political and cultural alliance of Trojans, Etruscans, and Italians.
The modes and circumstances of these deaths prompt some immediate
observations: first, it seems significant that some die in the bloom of youth
and others in old age; second, some must die as sacrifices to the gods; third,
some must die because they present "furious" obstacles to the completion of
Aeneas' task. Because these deaths occur at prominent junctures, we can use
them to explain other deaths thematically important to the work.
But let us turn first to the only book of the Odyssean Aeneid which does
not end with a death. In the midst of the furious storm at sea we are intro-
duced to Aeneas. Threatened with imminent destruction, he cries helplessly:
o terque quaterque beati,/quis ante ora patrum Troiae sub moenibus altis/
contigit oppetere (1.94-96). The general allusion is forthright, but the phrase
ante ora patrum significantly denotes the theme of the death of future hopes
held for past traditions. Certainly Hector's brutal death before the eyes of
Priam springs first to memory, but we should recall also the slaying of Prina
himself, following the violent death of another son, Polites; the deaths both
of Priam and Polites come at the hands of a vengeful Pyrrhus, son of the
slain Achilles (2.526-558). In this one pathetic scene Vergil symbolically
portrays the collective and complete death of Troy. Polites, apparently the
last youthful hope of the ruling family,2 is slaughtered before his father's


eyes; then, the old king himself, slipping in the very blood of his son, is
viciously dispatched. The episode is concluded with the last description of
Priam: iacet ingens litore truncus, / auolsumque umeris caput et sine nomine
corpus. But Troy herself has been beheaded and, anonymous, lies sprawled
on shores that once were Trojan. With the deaths of Priam and Polites
together at the same altar of sacrifice, Troy has passed into oblivion.3
Priam's and his son's deaths were foreshadowed at the start of Book 2 by
the gruesome but equally symbolic deaths of Laocoon and his two small sons
(201-224). The pair of serpents (Agamemnon and Menelaus?) make first
for the boys; Laocoon, like Priam, vainly attempts a rescue and dies horribly
at his own altar of sacrifice. The father-son death motif is repeated in the
war in Italy (10.794-908), and though the principals are not Trojan, the
circumstancesare similar. In combat Aeneas kills Mezentius' son Lausus, who
has come to the aid of his father. When the body is brought to the wounded
Mezentius the old man resolutely returns to battle and death at the hands of
Aeneas. It is ironic, recalling Priam's fate, that Mezentius begs for decent
burial for himself and his son and, presumably, receives it. We should note
further that Vergil subtly associates this father-son death with Aeneas' own
dead father, for when Lausus dies it is the "son of Anchises" (Anchisades)who
looks on with pity. This same filial theme weighs heavily on Aeneas when
he returns Pallas to Evander for burial. After impassioned regrets, Evander
sends a message to Aeneas with the charge: dextera causa tua est, Turnum
gnatoque patrique / quam debere uides (11.178-179). Pallas was entrusted
as a son to Aeneas (8.514-517), and Evander more or less replaces the father
Aeneas has lost.4
And what of Anchises? The circumstances and details of his death are
not supplied (3.710-714); still, he dies at an appropriatejuncture: just before
the Trojans' final and strongest diversion from Italy. Aeneas, ironically, calls
his death hic labor extremus, not knowing that far greater trials await.5 Until
his death Anchises had served as a figurehead for the group of refugees: like
Priam, he represented past glories of Troy and had in his old age grown
somewhat helpless. His physical infirmity is well known: recall his departure
from Troy on Aeneas' shoulders, symbolic of the burden of the past that
Aeneas must carry (2.707-708, 804). Anchises' leadership, moreover, was
dubious: he needed a spectacularomen to agree to leave Troy (2,692-704); he
misinterpretedApollo's oracle, thereby directing the refugees to Crete, not
Italy (3.103-117). In sum, while he was yet alive, Anchises was virtually
useless; in the underworld, however, he would become an invaluable guide
and prophet for his son and his people.6 The past would serve as a guide to
the future, but the past itself would have to be left behind. It is therefore
no coincidence that after his mention of his father's death, it is pater Aeneas
who ends his tale.
In a similar way Creusa represents a past which must be forsaken by
Aeneas, who must accept a non-Trojan future in the person of Latinus'
daughter Lavinia. Like Anchises, it is a dead Creusa who directs Aeneas
on his journey, prophesying his arrival at Hesperia, where he will find res
laetae regnumque et regia coniunx. She bids him not to waste tears on her,
the past, but to care for their son Ascanius, the future (2.780-789). Compare
her concerns with Venus' emotional request to Jupiter that her grandson
Ascanius be spared combat (10.44-47) and with Dido's deep regret that

Aeneas had left her no son- when she could well have murdered Ascanius
and served him up at his father's table (4.327-330, 601-602); i.e., she could
have ended the future of Rome "before a parent's eyes."
To contrast with the spared Ascanius, Vergil presents the doomed Mar-
cellus (6.854-886). Although his untimely death is not part of the action of
the Aeneid, this adopted son of Augustus must be compared with Polites and
Pallas as a cruelly extinguished hope of the future.7 But also, his "death"
occupies the same structural position as that of Creusa, Anchises, Dido, and
Palinurus; i.e., each of these provides a painful conclusion to a phase of
Aeneas' journey to Latium. It might be further observed that the youthful
death of Mercellus at the end of the first half of the poem makes for a
dramatic contrast with Turnus' death at the end of the second half. Marcellus
must first be reborn, going to the upper world; Turnus will soon go to the
lower. Marcellus is the ultimate warrior of Ilian stock on which Rome's hopes
rested;8 Turnus is the Italian who, despite his nobility and valor, stands in the
way of the future glory of Rome.9
It might be said that all human deaths in the Aeneid are sacrifices to
inexorable Fate; some, however, are sacrificed to specific divinities for specific
purposes. An obvious example is the loss of Palinurus (5.779-841). Venus
asks her ally Neptune to assure the Trojan fleet safe passage from Eryx to
Cumae. His reply, unum pro multis dabitur caput, means that Palinurus,
Aeneas' skilled helmsman, will be taken. Sleep sprinkles Palinurus with
Lethean dew, then flings him headlong into the deep.10 As Putnam has
admirably demonstrated, Palinurus' death is foreshadowed during the regatta
earlier in Book 5, when Gyas flings his helmsman Menoetes into the sea
because he has been too fearful of the rocks.11 Menoetes emerges from the
waves, climbs the rock, and coughing up the salty water, delights his com-
rades on shore (159-1.82). Compare Palinurus' description of himself at
landfall: weighed down with soaked clothing, he manages to grasp the craggy
rocks (6.358-360).12 Subsequently, he is set upon and slain by savages (an
omen to the arriving Trojans); Menoetes, of course, survives. As a matter of
fact, none of the games in Book 5 result in the loss of human life, but because
they have a sacrificial function we cannot but see them as symbols or fore-
shadowings of the real loss of life. Euryalus wins the footrace because his
lover Nisus, who has slipped, appropriately, on sacrificial blood, has in turn
tripped Salius (327-338). The scene more or less repeats in Book 9 when
Nisus tries to distract Euryalus' captors; but when they kill the boy, Nisus
plunges to his own death at their hands (386-445). In the boxing match, Entel-
lus is stopped short of killing Dares, and so he sacrifices his prize, a bull,
with a mighty blow to its skull, declaring: hanc tibi, Eryx, meliorem animamn
pro morte Daretis / persoluo (5.473-484). This image recalls the striking
cattle similes used in the death of Laocoon and will itself be recalled shortly
before the deaths of Pallas (10.454-456) and Turnus (12.103-106, 715-724).13
The most dramatic sacrifice, and the most magnificent, is surely the
suicide of Dido. Acting as high priestess invoking Sun, Juno, Hecate, and
the Furies, she immolates herself for the destruction and torment of Aeneas
and his descendents (4.607-629). Moments before her death, Juno even
sends Iris to cut a lock of her hair as a ritual gift to Proserpina (693-705);
it was also the practice to cull some bristles from the forehead of the animal
before the act of sacrifice (cf. 12.173-174). Unwittingly, though, Dido is

really a sacrifice to Venus, since it was Venus who allowed Juno to think that
she was duping Venus into letting Aeneas delay in Carthage (4.90-113).
Venus pushes her victim into the affair because she knows that Fate will not
have Aeneas settle in Carthage and that Dido's subsequent actions will bring
pain and embarrassmentto Juno.
Most of the deaths of the Aeneid are directly caused by furor. This is
especially obvious in the many battle deaths, including those of prominent
characters like Nisus and Euryalus, Pallas, Lausus and Mezentius, Camilla,
and finally Turnus. But Dido's suicide is eminently furious: sed misera ante
diem subitoque accensa furore (4.697). The thematic premise of the Aeneid
is fata uiam inuenient (3.395), and although toward that end one must
observe pietas, the way is paved with impius furor. Juno's furor caused the
storm which drove the Trojans to Carthage,which gave occasion for the love
affair: amor is furor, and with Dido it is fatal. In the broad sceme of things
Dido must die to sever forever Trojan and Tyrian ties, and to bring down a
curse of war on the future generations of Romans (4.621-629). But for the
present she stands in the way of Aeneas' reaching Italy. Dido is Aeneas' first
great personal obstacle, Turnus is his last; both Dido and Turnus yield to his
sword (4.646-647, 12.950). But between wretched Dido and raging Turnus
lies a series of lesser obstacles which constribute to the transition (metamor-
phosis, as it were) of the queen Aeneas loved into the rival whom he will
see as a "second Achilles."
Aeneas' killing of Turnus is the ultimate act of the Aeneid, structurally
and thematically. It is foreshadowed by numerous events, but the first is the
story of the killing of Cacus by Hercules (8.193-267).14 Hercules pursues
his adversary,charging the monster's fortress again and again until he finally
forces entry; Aeneas pursues Turnus until at last the furious Rutulian must
face him in lone combat.15Other prefiguringsof Turnus' death are those of
Lausus and Mezentius, who also must be removed if Aeneas is to establish
an Etruscan alliance; Tarchon wants vengeance on Mezentius, and Lausus'
loyalty to his father is misguided and could be troublesome. Because of his
youth and wildness, Lausus is a Turnus figure who, dying, receives respect
from Aeneas (10.825-828). Mezentius in all his hateful fury is even more
like Turnus in that they both enter final combat with a sense of doom.l6
Turnus, refusing Juturna'scontinued aid, asks (12.646-647):
usque adeone mori miserum est? uos mihi Manes,
este boni, quoniam superis aduersauoluntas.
And again (12.678-680): stat conferre manum Aeneae, stat, quidquid acerbi
est / morte pati . . .; then astutely: hunc, oro, sine me furere ante furorem.l7
Vergil repeatsfor Turnusthe descriptiongiven Mezentius (10.870-871, 12.666-
667): aestuat ingens / uno in corde pudor mixtoque insania luctu. It is sig-
nificant, however, that whereas Mezentius accepts his death with professional
dispassionTurnus argues againstthe necessity of his own death (12.936-938).18
Closely tied to Turnus and his death is Amata, his intended mother-in-law.
She, like Turnus, was a forthrightand dramaticvictim of Juno's furor through
the snakes of Allecto. Amata symbolizes the incompatibilityof the old and
the new; she embodies a misguiding past and therefore must be removed.
She, like Mezentius, comes to recognize too late the harm she has caused
and wilfully yields herself to death (12.598-603). Amata is in many ways

parallel to Dido: she is a queen who cannot face the impossibility of her
plans and becomes Maenadic in her frenzy (7.385-387; cf. 4.300-303).19
But the final and most obvious transition from Dido to Turnus is found
in Camilla, who is in fact a Dido of the battlefield and is clearly associated
with the queen through the image of Penthesilea. Camilla, like the Amazon
on the frieze of Juno's temple in Carthage, is the last to be listed in the
catalogue of Italian warriors and she, too, is the only woman (7.803-817).?O
Significantly, she is a dedicated favorite of Venus' traditional rival Diana,
with whom Dido was compared at length (4.498-503); Camilla is, neverthe-
less, an Italian and shares with Turnus his hatred for the Trojans. Her death
(11.799-834) is noteworthy first for the effect it has on Turnus (ille furens,
11.901); second, Camilla's last thoughts are of her absent comrade, that he
should take her place in combat to keep the Trojans from the city.21 More-
over, we may not neglect the verse describingher death, since it is used again
to end the Aeneid with the death of Turnus: uitaque cum gemitu fugit indig-
nata sub umbras. The force of repetition is not lost, since both youthful
warriors, like the young Trojan Euryalus, died because of furious excess
their lust for spoil. Arruns is able to bring down Camilla because she has
become carelessly obsessed with pursuing the richly accoutered Chloreus
(11.768-782); the gleaming helmet of the slain Messapus betrayed Euryalus
(9.365-366, 373-374); the belt of Pallas will prompt Aeneas to carry out
the revenge he owes Evander (12.941-950).
Turnus is, then, both the final obstacle and the final sacrifice.22Having
narrowly escaped death in Books 9 and 10, he nearly succeeds again at the
close of the last book, but the belt abruptly reminds Aeneas that Turnus is
guilty of the slaying of his ward. In Fate's plan Turnus must not survive, for,
like Dido, he symbolizes a distant future of warfare which for the immediate
present must be avoided. Furor must yield to pietas if the Trojans are to settle
in Italy.
Deaths in the Aeneid, then, are neither random nor unrelated. The simi-
larities among such characters as Dido, Camilla, Mezentius and Turnus are
more than superficial, for these persons are not merely types. The Aeneid
must be resolved not simply at its end with the death of Turnus, but in the
deliberate,progressiveelimination of Turnus' furious prefigurements.Even so,
Vergil does not allow his poem to roll ruthlessly over the bodies of Aeneas'
adversaries.The hero's "task" is made "so great" because of the toll taken
of those who embody dear traditionsand of those who seem most apt to direct
the future. There is a generalizedtheme of necessary sacrifice in which some
victims are obstacles to Aeneas and to Roman destiny, and some are simply
part of the price paid for greatness. It is easy to see how Dido, Amata,
Lausus, Mezentius, Camilla, and Turnus are incompatible with Aeneas' goal;
but because their deaths are treated with compassion and respect, they reflect
the bitter deaths of Polites, Palinurus, Marcellus, Euryalus, and Pallas. Vergil
does not emphasize the deaths of the young merely to elicit horror or senti-
ment. Indeed, he does so to demonstrateby contrast Aeneas' need for mature
wisdom and selflessness, and to keep our attention on the destined role of
Ascanius. Likewise, by including the deaths of the elderly, Vergil asserts the
necessity of accepting change and of using, not being used by, the past. It
makes little difference, then, that Pallas and Turnus are adversariesor that
Anchises and Amata representdifferent traditions: each shares in symbolizing

the past or the future, and like all the other deaths in the Aeneid, they point
to present obligations incumbent on Aeneas.23


1Althoughthere is no scholarshipspecifically on this subject, for pertinent,frequent
observationssee: G. E. Duckworth,Foreshadowingand Suspense in the Epicsof Homer,
Apollonius,and Vergil (Princeton,1933); W. R. Nethercut, "Imagery in the Aeneid,"
CJ, 67 (1971-72), 123-143; Brooks Otis, Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford,
1964); MichaelC. J. Putnam,The Poetryof the Aeneid (Cambridge,Mass., 1965); Viktor
Poschl, The Art of Vergil, trans. Gerda Seligson (Ann Arbor, 1962); and W. Warde
Fowler,The Death of Turnus(Oxford, 1929), esp. pp. 122-156.
2Polites'son Priamus,who appears with Ascanius in the lusus Troiae (5.563-567), is
not yet mature,and if any significanceis to be attached to his sudden, brief (and only)
appearance, let it be that he is subordinate to Ascanius;this may well be an incon-
sisten tafterthoughtin an unfinishedwork. See below, n. 3.
3Cf. Juno's final words (12.828): occidit, occiderifque sinas cum nomine Troia. The
funeral rites for Priam's murdered son Polydorus (3.62-68) are in effect the solemn
obsequies for the last of Priam's line. Helenus in Buthrotum represents not the future of
the Trojan tradition, but the past: he can only prophesy for others, while he himself will
end his days with Andromache (bereft herself of son and husband) in a perverted
attempt to recapture the past at "Little Troy" within another's kingdom (3.294-351).
4Note Anchises' and Evander's similar roles as guides, in the underworld (6.697 ff.)
and in Pallanteum (8.307 ff.). Cf. also the deaths of Euryalus and his father figure
Nisus (9.431-449), the lament of Euryalus' mother (9.475-502), and the first Latin deaths
in battle, the boy Almo and old Galaesus (7.531-537, 575).
5E.g. hoc opus, hic labor est (6.129). Also, the death of Anchises is not the last break
with the past; e.g., the death of Aeneas' old nurse Caieta is similarly related (7.1-4),
and she, too, dies before a great trial for the hero.
6See Robert B. Lloyd, "Anchises in the Aeneid," TAPA, 88 (1957), 45-50.
7See Otis, pp. 303-304, and F. Dupont and J. P. Neraudau, "Marcellus dans le
chant VI de I'Eneide," REL,48 (1970), 259-279.
s6.875-876: nec puer Iliaca quisquam de gente Latinos / in tantum spe toilet
auos ..
9As much as the death of Polites prefigures that of Marcellus, Pallas, and Turnus
for that matter, the frantic deaths of Nisus and Euryalus (9.367-449) are prefigured by
the deaths of Laocoon's sons and are brutally recalled by the deaths of the brothers
Pandarus and Bitias (9.672-755). Nisus and Euryalus die in entrapment, as though at
the hands of avenging monsters in the bowels of hell; their deaths were not unexpected
(see Duckworth, pp. 89-90, and Putnam, pp. 50-59). Cf. Pandarus and Bitias, who also
find themselves beset by a furious monster.
l?Later in the underworld Palinurus is the first to meet Aeneas, informing him of his
need for burial (6.337-371). Cf. the unburied bugler Misenus, who, unlike Palinurus,
truly merited death for challenging Neptune's son Triton (6.160-174). The Triton-Neptune
association enforces the foreshadowing of the discovery of Palinurus in the underworld,
but as Otis observes (p. 281, n. 1, also p. 288), Misenus is sacrificed to Hecate much

as the black cattle are (6.152-155) in order that Aeneas might remove pollution that
would prevent his entry into the underworld. Further note that Leucaspis and Orontes,
whom Aeneas also spies in the underworld, might be considered sacrifices to Juno
during the storm (1.113-117, 6.333-336).
"Cf. Putnam, pp. 75-79, also pp. 83-85 for his discussion of the dove in the archery
match (5.513-517).
12Cf. the irony of Aeneas' remark (5.870-871): o nimium caelo et pelago confise
sereno, / nudus in ignota, Palinure, iacebis harena.
13See Putnam, pp. 82-83, and Roger A. Hornsby, Patterns of Action in the Aeneid
(Iowa City, 1970), p. 122.
14Vergil clearly identifies Aeneas as a Herculean figure inasmuch as both heroes
suffer labors at the hands of a jealous Juno; he even has Aeneas drape his shoulders
with a "tawny lion's skin" (2.721-722); see Nethercut, pp. 128-129. Also Cacus' hellish
cave compares with Latinus' city, which Turnus is using as a stronghold.
15At one point the image of Turnus clearly recalls the fire-breathing Cacus: after
Turnus has entered the Trojan camp and the gate is shut behind him, he is compared
with a flashing tiger among the herds (9.731-734; cf. 8.251-258).
16See the prophecy of the dying Orodes (10.739-741) and Mezentius' last words to
Rhoebus (10.861-865).
'7See Duckworth, p. 91.
I8The eventual death of Turnus is seen also in the slaying of Numanus by Ascanius
(9.590-637). This is Ascanius' first battle kill; Turnus is Aeneas' last. Numanus had
taunted the oriental Trojans, just as Turnus will insult Aeneas' manhood (12.99-100),
and Numanus himself has recently married Turnus' younger sister.
"9See John W. Zarker, "Amata, Vergil's Other Tragic Queen," Vergilius, 15 (1969),
20When Aeneas first gazes on Dido, he has just examined the last tableau on the
frieze: Penthesilea furens mediisque in milibus ardet, / . . . bellatrix, audetque uiris
concurrere uirgo (1.491-493); Dido appears, a lone female, with a throng of youths in
attendance; she is dressed as the virgin huntress. Recall also that Achilles fell in love
with Penthesilea-after he had killed her (Aethiopis).
21Camilla easily symbolizes Cleopatra, just as Aeneas and Turnus are symbols of
Octavian and Antony; cf. 8.675-688. See Janice M. Benario, "Dido and Cleopatra,"
Vergilius, 16 (1970), 2-6; and Nethercut, p. 129.
22Venus wants Turnus dead, just as she has encouraged the fall of Dido. She hedges
around Jupiter's peace proposal by enumerating Juno's interferences and by recalling
the Trojan past (10.16-61).
23As important as these deaths are to the dynamics of the Aeneid, the death most
essential to the poem is that of Aeneas himself, i.e., of the "old" Aeneas who must
function as an agent of Fate, limited in his vision of the future. His "death" occurs, of
course, in the underworld (see Otis, pp. 290, 310); shown by Anchises the future he
must prepare, he emerges reborn to execute his pietas in Hesperia. This new Aeneas,
however, does not attain his full glory and authority until he has removed the last
obstacle and sacrificed the last victim.