Personified Tiber (Vatican Museum, Rome)
Virgil's AENEID, Book VIII

Did you pick up the following salient points from the lecture and discussion. . .

(click on underlined words to view more images!)


Aeneas is troubled about the war that is brewing, he is, in fact, "heartsick at the woe of war."

VIII. 43-87

The Tiber river god appears to him in a dream and tells him

three Foci

The foci that "frame" Aeneas in this book, and that interpret his preparations for war, are the story of HERCULES that Evander tells and Vulcan's depiction on the shield of AUGUSTUS' victory over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium; the account of one of Aeneas' own violent and impious adversaries, MEZENTIUS, is placed between the frame of Hercules and the Shield.


l. 249ff

  • Once upon a time the countryside had been ravaged by a VIOLENT, FIRE-BELCHING, BESTIAL hulk of a man or monster named CACUS; note the symbols of impiety and furor that are clustered around him.
  • When HERCULES came through driving the cattle he had taken from Geryon, CACUS stole some of them, making them walk backward to his cave; he closes himself in by letting an overhanging rock fall in front of the opening.
  • HERCULES, in a perfect rage, breaks off the top of the mountain and goes in after the FIRE AND SMOKE BELCHING CACUS. HERCULES strangles CACUS, frees his cattle, and the countryside is amazed at the sight of the dead hulk.


VIII. 611-832

Aeneas learns that the Etruscans will help him because of a grudge they have against Turnus (for giving asylum to MEZENTIUS, another impious man of uncontrolled passions) and he leaves to seek an alliance with them.


VIII. 833 to end

  • Venus has asked her husband, Vulcan, to forge arms for Aeneas (which invites us to compare Aeneas' shield with Achilles' in the Aeneid).
  • The scenes on the shield start with the twins suckled by the wolf, but unlike the scene in Elysium (Book VI), in which many and varied of Aeneas descendants are shown, the scenes on the shield are confined to WAR.
  • The center of the shield depicts the BATTLE OF ACTIUM. Against AUGUSTUS, the embodiment of PIETAS, are pitted the barbarian forces of the East, with the zoomorphic gods and their impassioned female leader CLEOPATRA, together with her traitor-lover, ANTONY (all embodiments of impiety and furor).

About the war in Italy. . .

One of the questions we brought to Book VIII was the problem of war and whether the war in Italy would be shown as differing in any significant respect from the Trojan War. Without simplifying a deeply ambivalent approach to the destruction wrought by pietas (the example of Dido is never far from our minds!), it seems reasonable to say that in Book VIII, war gives rise to CIVILIZATION/CULTURE (Hercules) and ULTIMATE PEACE (Augustus).

and the first century civil wars in Rome. . .

The images of war in the Aeneid invite comparison with Virgil's own day: the years of bloody civil war and the peace of Augustus. Anderson suggests that Virgil deploys the dual levels to set Aeneas' Italian war in perspective as follows:

  • Aeneas will crush unholy FURY in Italy and so enable the growth of Rome throughout the peninsula of Italy,
  • as Augustus will crush unholy FURY in the Mediterranean and so establish Roman rule and creative peace in all the known world.


Be sure to read Aeneid Book XII carefully for the next class session. Here are a few notes about the advancement of the plot in the intervening books that may be helpful:

  • The battle between the Italians and the Trojans begins when the Italians attack the Trojan encampment while Aeneas is still away. Aeneas had left instructions to defend the wall if they were attacked, but not to wage all out war.
  • Book 10: Turnus kills Pallas in a fair (though not evenly matched) fight and takes his sword-belt, though without engaging in inappropriate vaunting, mutilation of the body, or even stripping him of his armor. Virgil does fault Turnus for lusting after the decorated sword belt and putting it on himself.
  • Aeneas turns from a methodical warrior-conqueror to a savage killer; he exceeds the limits of pietas: he denies victims mercy, engages in grisly killings, etc.
  • Book 11 includes a truce to bury the dead which seems as though it may lead to a permanent treaty, but the Latins are divided on that matter. They ask Turnus to give up claim to Lavinia and the kingship OR that he take Aeneas on in a duel. Turnus argues that it is not time to give up yet and, when Aeneas makes a move toward the city, Turnus quickly rouses the Latins to the battle, which the Trojans are winning decisively when Book 12 opens.