Introducing Virgil’s Aeneid
Introducing Virgil’s Aeneid

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4 Book 12 of the Aeneid

When Aeneas arrives in Italy, he initially receives a warm welcome from the local people (the Latins), whose king, Latinus, recognises that it is Aeneas’ destiny to marry his daughter Lavinia. However, another Italian prince, Turnus, who also wishes to marry Lavinia, is furious at the Trojans’ arrival, and, urged on by the goddess Juno, he stirs up war between the Italians and the Trojans. The second part of the Aeneid narrates the events of this war, and by the time we get to the final book of the poem (Book 12), we have encountered many sympathetic young characters who have lost their lives. At this point in the poem, Turnus has killed Aeneas’ young friend Pallas, and Aeneas has been overcome with fury and grief. In Book 11, there has been a brief truce between the two sides, to allow them to gather the dead bodies and mourn them, and Aeneas has proposed that he and Turnus should meet in single combat to settle the conflict, but the truce broke down before a decision could be reached.

At the start of Book 12, Turnus decides to face Aeneas in single combat, and a solemn treaty is drawn up that both sides will abide by the result of the duel. However, Turnus’ followers are unhappy with this arrangement, and are urged on by Turnus’ sister, the goddess Juturna, to break the treaty and attack the Trojans while they are off guard. Aeneas tries to prevent his men joining in the fighting but is wounded by a stray arrow, while Turnus enthusiastically joins in the battle. But when Aeneas is magically healed by his mother, the goddess Venus, and returns to the fray, Turnus realises he must spare his people more suffering and so agrees to a duel again. The king and queen of the gods, Jupiter and Juno, who have been watching events from the heavens, agree between themselves that the war must now end, and Juno agrees to give up her support for Turnus and her hatred of the Trojans, who will now marry the Italians and become Romans.

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