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only stopped by a special rain-storm invoked by Aeneas, in despair, from Jove himself. Finally Aeneas resolves to leave behind the weak and half-hearted, including most of the women, and set sail for Italy. The book ends with the drowning of his steersman Palinurus.
One of the most effective portions of the Aeneid is his descent to Hades by the lake of Avernus near Naples, where he meets his dead father, Anchises, who shews him the souls of the future great men of Rome. He then emerges from the realms below and rejoins his fleet.
Reaching at length the coast of Latium, he discovers by a sign that this is his fated home. He sends to the king Latinus to offer peace, which is at first agreed to, and Aeneas is betrothed to Lavinia, daughter of the king; but difficulties arise, the gods interfere, and Turnus, king of the Rutules, who is a suitor of Lavinia, induces Latinus to join him in war against the Trojans.
Aeneas meanwhile sails up the Tiber, and makes alliance with the Arcadian Euander, who is king of a small tribe on the site of the future Rome.
Euander advises him to seek aid from the Etruscans of Caere, which he does. The war is begun. After much bloodshed, in which Pallas son of Euander, and the terrible Tuscan king Mezentius, are slain, it is at last agreed that the issue shall be decided by single combat between Aeneas and Turnus. Juno tries to interfere; but at length the heroes meet, and Aeneas grapples and slays Turnus.
Note on the Similes.
The following are the similes in this book:
(1) Line 89 a burnished snake, like a rainbow.
The boats start in the race as swiftly as chariots in the games.
213 Mnestheus' boat shoots along like a startled dove who, after some preliminary flapping, sails through the sky.
(4) Line 273 the disabled boat like a disabled snake.
the boxer Dares attacks Entellus with as many futile onslaughts as a besieger a strong fort. Entellus falls like a hollow pine-trunk.
Entellus blows rain as thick as pelting hail.
a burning arrow like a shooting-star.
the evolutions of the boyish troop like the mazy windings of the Labyrinth in Crete.
(10) 593 the boys with their quick bright movements like
In studying these similes, we see at once what they add to the poem in the way of ornament and of picturesque suggestiveness. Thus in (3) the picture of the startled dove fluttering at first, then sailing with unmoved wings through the liquid air, is very beautiful: the description of the disabled snake is extremely, even painfully vivid: the description of the Labyrinth in (9) is harmonious and effective writing: and the others though slighter, still add to the pleasure of the narrative, especially (10) delphinum similes' being a happy touch of comparison for the bright flashing nimble boyish troop.
But at the same time the point of the comparison in all these cases the fourth and last perhaps alone excepted—is more or less obvious: (2) swift boats like swift chariots, (3) a ship sailing like a bird sailing, (5) a strong boxer repelling attack like a strong fortress, (6) a heavy man falling like a heavy tree, (7) blows like hail, (8) a burning arrow like a shooting star, &c.,— such similes would occur to any one. The thing compared lies on the surface, it is one prominent feature of the scene; the simile is an ornament rather than a true illustration. The art is shewn not so much in the choice of the comparison, as in the expression and workmanship: in the vividness of the picture, the beauty of the language, and the truth of the details.
And we must also observe that these details, where they are at all fully given, have no bearing on the comparison. In (1), (2), (6), (7) they are not given: such similes are barely more than metaphors. But take for example (3) and (8), which are
more characteristic specimens of the Vergilian simile. In (3) the 'dove has her home and sweet brood in the cavern's chink'; very fit and pretty, but what has it do with the boat? Again, when she is startled she begins by loud flapping and fluttering, till she gains the free air, when she sails away. Now this is peculiarly inappropriate to Mnestheus, whose course is unimpeded from the first, whereas it might have suited Sergestus, who got in among the reefs. Again in (8) he gives a good description of the Labyrinth, and ends with describing the confusion of the winding ways, and speaks of a 'maze baffling the seeker, without clue or hope of return': an effective line but quite irrelevant to the Troianus ludus, where all the troops perform the same evolutions, and there is no baffling.
So again even in (4) which is the most original of all these similes, and in some ways the most vivid, the details still are irrelevant: the wounded boat is in many ways admirably likened to a wounded snake, but there is nothing to correspond to 'gleaming eyes', 'hissing neck', nor 'knotted and writhing spires'.
Thus in the Vergilian simile, for the most part the details are worked out independently, and while they relieve and adorn the epic narrative, the comparison usually turns on but one or two points and those commonplace.
This is what we may call the primitive use of the simile, as it is employed in Homer, and imitated in many poets since. There is however a modern use of the simile which is quite different. If we open Shelley we read
"The golden gates of Sleep unbar
Where strength and beauty, met together,
In a sea of glassy weather."
Here there is nothing obvious in the comparison: we should never have thought, without the aid of the poet's superb imagination, of comparing the union of love to a star mirrored in the smooth sea and yet there is a profound appropriateness, not only in the image, but in all the suggestions of it: the beauty,
the isolation from others, the reflection of the brilliance, the infinity, the serenity. Or again,
"Life like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of Eternity
Until Death tramples it to fragments."
Here too the comparison is not at all obvious: it is fetched from far by the poet's deeper insight and quicker sensibility: and it is splendidly illustrative all through: the bright colours compared with the pure white light resemble the chequered shifting imperfect beauties of life compared with the changeless perfection of eternity: the narrow limited dome and the endless vault of heaven give another equally deep contrast: and lastly, the perishable glass contrasted with the eternal spaces of the universe.
The more such similes are studied, the richer light is thrown on the comparison: they are not, like Vergil's, poetic miniature pictures to be enjoyed independently; they are profound luminous resemblances, a permanent addition to our fancy and insight, for which we are grateful to the higher gifts of the poet.
I have said so much, to make it clear, that what Vergil aims at in his similes is something quite different (and in one sense far less) than what the modern poet (especially the lyric poet) aspires to: for in order to appreciate the true poetic success of Vergil, it is clearly necessary to understand his object, and so avoid the mistake of judging him by an erroneous standard.
Note on the Fifth Book.
The fifth book occupies an exceptional position in the Aeneid. It comes, as a relief and a contrast, between the highwrought tragedy of Dido's death in the fourth book, and the beautiful and majestic poetry of the meeting with Anchises, and the prophecy of Rome, in the sixth. It adds not a little to the variety and artistic character of the whole conception, that between two such elevated passages should intervene the light, fresh, and sometimes almost humorous account of the games.
This book is not so highly reputed as either of those between which it comes: and the reason is not far to seek. There is nothing, and there scarcely can be anything, in the narrative of sports, which gives such scope to a poet like Vergil as the tragedy of disappointed love in Book IV., and the vision of the nether realms and all the future glories of Rome in Book VI. Of the peculiar quality of Vergil, the art by which quite simple things said naturally of the actors and actions in his drama seem to have a wider significance, and to touch deeper springs of our nature, there is less in this book than the rest, if indeed it appears at all1.
There is, however, a great deal of fresh and vigorous description in the account of the contests, especially the boat-race and the foot-race; the archery and boxing-matches naturally lending themselves less to poetical treatment than the sustained excitement of a contest of speed. In this book, moreover, occur the passages shewing the nearest approach to what one may call humour in the Aeneid; namely, the picture (181) of the helpless Menoetes, who is thrown overboard by his infuriated master, landing wet and woe-begone on a rock and disgorging the salt water he has swallowed; and again the picture (357) of Nisus piteously appealing to be remembered in the prize distribution, and all the while displaying 'a muddy face and mudbespattered limbs'.
A word must be said about the unfinished lines, 294, 322, 574, 653, 792, 815. It is well known as an old tradition, that the poet was surprised by his last illness before he had had time to revise the Aeneid to his satisfaction, and expressed a wish that it should be burned. This story, precious as a proof of Vergil's ideal standard of workmanship, is to some extent borne out by indications of incomplete polish in parts of the great poem, though less in the earlier than in the later books.
1 Some approach to this quality is found in lines like 344, Gratior et pulchro veniens in corpore virtus: in the description of the final struggle of the racing boats, 229-231: and in the descent of sleep at the end of the book.