Jan Brueghel the Elder, Aeneas and Sibyl in the Underworld, 1600
Virgil's AENEID, Book VI

Did you pick up the following salient points. . .

Book V

Some things we didn't read, but it is helpful to know. . .

  • Helenus, a Trojan seer, advised Aeneas to find out from the Sibyl, a prophetess of Apollo, about his immediate future in Italy (this is told in Book 3!).
  • Aeneas held anniversary games for the anniversary of his father's death
  • Juno plots to have the Trojan women set fire to the ships, which they do; many of the women and some of the weaker men are left in Sicily. NB: this frees up "a few good [Trojan] men" to take Italian wives in Italy, thus joining the Trojan and Italian blood.
  • Anchises appears to Aeneas in a dream and tells him to visit him in the underworld (V.940ff)


Before we look at the details, let's think about a catabasis/katabasis in hero stories: a katabasis may be thought of as a symbolic death and resurrection, though the hero neither dies nor returns immortal; it is a kind of rite of passage in which the hero learns something and frequently returns changed in some aspect.

The location of the catabasis in Virgil's epic is significant for understanding it as a 'passage'. Remember that we have said the journey from East to West/ Troy to Italy is a major theme of the poem, and, further, that the journey is not just geographical, but also ideological.



reinvented hero is 'duty-bound' public servant

[Homeric] heroism

reign of law/order


___?___ war (Trojan prince takes a foreign bride)

futile war (Trojan prince takes a foreign bride)

The katabasis occurs right in the center of the epic and in the center of the East to West movement. It marks several "leavings" of relationships and/or identities associated with the ideology of Troy and an identification with a new order and a new people, the Roman descendants of Aeneas. But we must return to the issue of war; before we do so, think about what the Sibyl tells Aeneas about his arrival in Italy:


The Sibyl foretells war in Italy; the cause is like the cause of the Trojan War (Trojan prince takes a foreign wife). Is Aeneas just 'another Paris' and is the war in Italy just 'another [futile and senseless] Trojan War'? Accordingly, is the second half of Virgil's epic "just another Iliad!?" We will have to struggle with this problem--and it is a central one--along with Aeneas in Book 8.

Aeneas' visit to the underworld

Two acts Aeneas must perform before being admitted to the underworld:

  • perform funeral rites for Misenus (a ritual victim to the gods to compensate for Aeneas' coming and going from Hades?)
  • find and bring the golden bough (a symbol of death and resurrection? the object of a heroic-quest story motif? allusion to legend of slave-kings?)

Map of hell














Virgil and Augustus

1) Aeneas is ferried across the Styx, leaving behind Palinurus.

2) The place for those who led wretched lives

  • died untimely deaths, were falsely accused, committed suicide, ruined by love
  • Dido the paragon of those who dwell in this part of the underworld.

3) Another place for men who died in war (but didn't make it to Elysium!), like poor Deiphobos (who had married Helen after Hektor's death), whom Aeneas also leaves sorrowfully.

4) Tartarus is reserved for the worst of the worst; but listen to some of the [Roman] crimes that will get you to Tartarus ( 814ff):

  • what are all these crimes a violation of?

5) Elysium, "places of delight," where there are athletic contests, choral dancing, chariots and horses, and all the things the blessed souls enjoyed during their life on earth. Aeneas is amazed that anyone would want to leave to re-enter earthly existence. (Virgil's vision of the underworld may be compared to Plato's in the Myth of Er.)

  • 904ff: metempsychosis
  • 974ff: compare to Stoic cosmology
  • Note the future Romans that Aeneas sees: KINGS, AUGUSTUS, HEROES OF THE REPUBLIC. What might this say about, or TO, Augustus?
    • Note especially the program adumbrated in the "Roman arts" in 1151-54. Is this praise, prescription, or both?

Aeneas belongs to the future in Italy, not to the past in Troy. The continuity with Troy is important, but less so, it appears, than the creation of something new that awaits.

Looking ahead

  • As you read Book 8, think about the problem of war: is the war in Italy significantly different than the war in Troy and, if so, in what respects? This is a problem that Aeneas must come to grips with. . . like the reader.
  • A little summary of the plot advance in Book VII:
    • Aeneas beaches his ships in Italy near the mouth of the Tiber and sends an envoy to King Latinus. King Latinus realizes that Aeneas fulfills an oracle about the man to whom he should give his daughter Lavinia, so he promises her to Aeneas. Lavinia has, however, been courted by Turnus, with her mother's, Amata's, approval.
    • Juno sends Allecto, the most terrifying of the Furies, first to Amata to enflame her with anger over the proposed marriage of Lavinia and Aeneas, and secondly to Turnus to enflame him to take up arms against Aeneas and the Trojans.
    • Allecto then maddens the hounds in the Trojan camp so they chase a stag, raised by the royal herders, which Ascanius wounds. She whips up a bloody battle between the farmers, foresters, herders, and the Trojans. Virgil uses all the images of disorder and destruction that he has set up in the first six books (fire, furor, wounds, storm, etc.) to characterize the battle. The question of what kind of war this will be becomes pressing.
    • Both Turnus and the Latins approach Latinus and demand that he declare war on the Trojans; he cannot reason with them and so withdraws into his halls (VII.825) .