The Aeneid: Novel Summary: Book 7
The Trojans sail close to the shores of the island of Circe (the enchantress who turned Odysseus's men into swine) during the night, but Neptune keeps them from running aground. Then as dawn comes they see the beautiful Tiber flowing down into the sea, and Aeneas orders his men to sail into it. Virgil invokes the muse to help him, now that he is taking up the more challenging theme of war.
The part of Italy where the Trojans land is called Latium, and it is inhabited by various tribes collectively called the Latins, ruled by King Latinus. He has ruled for a long time in peace. His son died young, and only a daughter, Lavinia, is left to inherit. All the local princes and kings are vying to marry her. The handsomest and most powerful is Turnus, king of a tribe called the Rutulians, and Lavinia's mother favors him. But troubling omens have come, and the most sacred oracle of the people has spoken: Lavinia must marry the foreigner who is coming, and the race they will found will rule the world.
Meanwhile Aeneas and his men land and eat, using cakes of wheat as platters and then eating them. The prophecy that they would gnaw their tables for hunger before their troubles should be over is thus harmlessly fulfilled, and Aeneas hails the household gods of Troy, who have led him to this place destined to be their homeland. They sacrifice, and the omens are good. Aeneas plans the walls of their first settlement, while a hundred Trojans go to ask the king of the area to receive them in peace. Latinus welcomes them and speaks of the possibility of Aeneas marrying Lavinia. Let Aeneas come meet him face to face, and he will welcome this man of destiny. The Trojans return bringing peace.
But Juno is enraged. She can't stop destiny, but she is determined to cause more suffering before allowing it to be carried out. If she can't convince the gods to help her, she will go to hell for help. And so she calls up Allecto, worst of the Furies, who can bring war between brothers and ruin homes with hatred. Allecto goes first to the Latin queen, Amata, already unhappy that her husband is going to give her daughter to a stranger instead of to her favorite, Turnus. Amata, poisoned by the Fury's venom, rages through the city and takes her daughter and the matrons of the city, also driven to madness by Allecto, to the mountains, all pretending to be possessed by Bacchus. Then the Fury drives Turnus to rage and the insanity of wanting war, and he calls his countrymen to fight the Trojans and the Latins. Next Allecto incites the Trojans who are out hunting with Ascanius to pursue a tame stag, beloved by the Latins; Ascanius gives the stag a mortal wound, and the sight of its suffering, along with the influence of Allecto, rouses the Latins to battle against the Trojans. The Trojans kill several Latins, and Allecto's work is done. Juno sends her back to the Underworld. King Latinus cannot quiet the cry of all his people and Turnus and his following for war, and he retires into his palace in despair, leaving things to take their course.
Next, following epic custom, Virgil goes over the "catalogue" of those who come to battle to fight the Trojans. Many are ancestors of important Roman clans. Of those who appear later in the poem, the most important are Mezentius, cruel and without reverence for the gods, and with him his beautiful and brave son Lausus, who deserves a better father, and Camilla, a strong and beautiful woman warrior who leads the Volscian forces on horseback.
Once again, Aeneas and his followers seem to have found good fortune, only to see it destroyed by the rage of Juno. What distinguishes this account of the outbreak of war is the way Virgil uses the divine machinery to bring out the full horror of war. If only human psychology accounted for the war, as it easily could have, we would be less struck by how insane war is and how unnecessary. Virgil describes the Fury Allecto in terms that make our blood run cold, and her effect on the human beings she drives mad is no less blood-chilling.
The wounding of the tame deer seems meant to remind us of Dido, who is compared to a wounded deer when she is stricken by love. Without intending it, these men who are the agents of destiny are once again destroying the innocent. At the same time, Virgil must praise the valor of those who oppose Aeneas; the Latins will soon unite with the Trojans, and from both Trojans and Latins will come Rome, which will then unite all of Italy and make all Italians Roman citizens. This is then in a sense a civil war, and Virgil had lived with the horrors of civil war for much of his life.