The Aeneid

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The Aeneid Book 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Aeneas's ships sail from Carthage, he and his men notice a bright point in the city, but don't realize that it's Dido's burning pyre. A storm rises, and the navigator Palinurus advises landing. Aeneas knows of a friendly land nearby in Sicily, ruled by Acestes. They land and Acestes greets them. Then Aeneas proposes a festival and various games (boat race, foot race, boxing, shooting) to celebrate the memory of Anchises, who died exactly a year ago and was buried here. The men put on garlands and make offerings at Anchises's grave. A serpent in seven coils winds around the grave but harms no one—a good sign. Aeneas sacrifices six animals.
Tragically, Dido's final wish—that Aeneas realize she's died—goes unfulfilled, for now. The poem makes a sudden jump in tone, from a scene of suicide to fun party plans. This shows Aeneas's morale-boosting leadership, but also highlights his unsympathetic blindness to the pain he's just caused.
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The first day of the games dawns brightly. A crowd of locals gathers to watch. Four boats attempt the first race. The large boats and brave captains, dressed in purple and gold, are described. Gyas leads at first, but his navigator, Menoetes, fears the reefs near the cliffs and directs the boat to deeper waters, and Cloanthus gains the lead. Gyas angrily throws Menoetes overboard. The crowd laughs at Menoetes as he climbs onto a rock to dry.
These amusing scenes familiarize us with Aeneas's followers, who later we'll see again in the battles of Books 7-12. The competitions are a kind of mock-war, a lighthearted version of what's to come. They emphasize the joy of companionship and athleticism.
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Another captain, Sergestus, takes the lead. Mnestheus tails him, encouraging his crew to draw strength from memories of Troy, but also acknowledging that Neptune will decide the victor. Sergestus's boat crashes on the rocks, and Mnestheus surges forward. Cloanthus prays to Neptune, promising to make offerings to him, and comes from behind to win. At the end of the race, Aeneas gives all the captains gifts. Sergestus is the last to return, embarrassed by his crash. Aeneas happily welcomes him back, and gives him the special gift of a slave woman with two sons.
Making the competition even more like a real war, the most pious captain appeals to Neptune and wins. The games also show Aeneas's balanced leadership. Since Aeneas is the forefather of Augustus, his good traits reflect on Augustus too. Virgil is showing us what good leadership looks like. Aeneas excels at paying attention to everyone, not just the winners, and he's observant of his men's different temperaments.
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The Trojans and locals prepare for the foot race. Nisus and Euryalus, two great Trojan friends, join the race, as well as five others. Before they start, Aeneas reminds them that they'll all get a prize. Nisus slips and knows he can't win, but he gets up and tackles the leading runner, Salius, to help Euryalus's chances. Euryalus wins, but Salius is angry about the cheating. Aeneas decides that the race results will stand, but comforts Salius with a prize.
Aeneas confronts a slightly more difficult leadership challenge here, with Nisus's devotion to Euryalus leading to an unfair result. As before, Aeneas's solution is to acknowledge everyone's good efforts.
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The boxing match is next. Dares, a muscular hero of the Trojan War, steps into the ring, and no one wants to fight him. Acestes, king of the region, goads his friend Entellus to fight. Entellus, a former champion, protests that he's too old and that he doesn't care about glory, but he gets up anyway. The spectators admire his enormous strength. During the fight, despite Entellus's slowness and age, Dares resembles a soldier attempting to attack a mountain fortress. Entellus tries to hit Dares, but Dares slips away, and Entellus falls. When he gets back up, he pounds Dares so relentlessly that Aeneas stops him. Entellus, the winner, sacrifices a bull just by punching it with his boxing glove, and announces his retirement from boxing.
Here Aeneas demonstrates the all-important trait of clemency—of knowing when to have mercy and stop the fight. He prevents Entellus from causing Dares more injuries. Entellus is a pious man, shown by his sacrifice at the end. But the passage also shows how even the most pious can get carried away in the heat of a fight, even if their enemy is quite vanquished. This foreshadows Aeneas's ruthless vengeance on Turnus in Book 12.
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Next is the shooting contest, with bows and arrows. The men shoot well, and a man named Eurytion seems to have won, since he manages to shoot the targeted bird. Acestes shoots last, and his arrow catches fire in midair. Aeneas interprets this as a sign from Jove, and gives Acestes the first prize, Anchises's decorated bowl. Eurytion is kind and doesn't mind his unexpected drop to second place.
This final contest shows the supremacy of signs, fate and gods' favor. Eurytion is the best shooter, but that doesn't matter compared to the heavenly sign. We can generalize and see this as further confirmation of Aeneas's fitness as forefather of Rome. Despite his flaws, he's the chosen one.
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Ascanius and other Trojans parade in on their horses and perform a highly choreographed horse show that simulates a battle.
This kind of show will become a tradition in Rome. Virgil is here using the Aeneid to imagine the origins of Roman customs.
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Juno watches these celebrations from the heavens, and sends down Iris to investigate. Iris finds the Trojan women apart from the games, exhausted with sailing and weeping about not yet having a home. Juno disguises herself as an old Trojan woman and comes to the Trojan women to stir up trouble. She complains about the seven years of traveling, wishes the Trojan ships would go up in flames, and exclaims that Cassandra, in a dream, told her that Acestes's land is the Trojans' destined home. Finally, she throws a torch at the Trojans' ships.
No happy festivity can last long when Juno's your enemy. The women's desperation brings to life the underlying pain and sadness of the Trojans' long wandering without a home. Though Aeneas can keep the men's morale high, the women can't be distracted by games.
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One Trojan woman, Pyrgo, warns that the firestarter isn't who she says she is, and looks more like a god. After a moment of indecision, the women's longing for home overtakes them, and they start heaping the ships with flammable material.
Is Juno really to blame for the women's actions? Juno started the fire, but the women build up the fire even after they realize that it was started by a god. They choose to perform this action on their own.
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A messenger rushes in to Ascanius with the news that the woman have begun burning the ships. Ascanius stops the celebrations and reaches the women first, bringing them to their senses. As Aeneas and others arrive, the embarrassed women leave the scene, shaking off Juno's influence. But the boats continue to burn.
This section indicates that Juno's enchantments had influenced them. Still, as always with the gods, Juno may have merely stimulated the women's natural inclinations.
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Aeneas prays to Jove to either stop the fire or to kill him now with lightning. A huge rainstorm rolls in, and all but four of the ships are saved. Aeneas forgets his fate and can't decide if it would be better to keep going to Italy or to remain here, as he now sees his people wish to do. The wise old seer Nautes suggests a plan—the tired and weak should stay here in Acestes's lands, while the fit can continue.
As at the start of the Aeneid, we see Aeneas despairing. Aeneas's devotion to his people sometimes makes him lose track of his fate—another sign of his thoughtful leadership, though soon he'll remember that he must make his fate top priority.
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Aeneas still isn't sure, until Anchises's ghost appears to him at night. Anchises tells Aeneas to follow Nautes's plan, and to bring only the best for the future difficulties in Italy. But before heading for Italy, Anchises says, Aeneas should go to visit him in the Underworld, with the aid of the Sibyl of Cumae. Anchises vanishes, and Aeneas calls after him, asking why he must go so quickly. The next day, the Trojans decide who will stay and who will go. For those who will stay, Aeneas marks out the boundaries of the new town, while Acestes describes the laws. They also mark out a temple for Venus and a priest to look after Anchises's grave.
Anchises's intervention demonstrate how much Aeneas depends on good advice from others. If he didn't have these others to keep reminding him, would he fail to fulfill his fate? This seems contradictory, but the poem allows that uncertainty to add tension to the storyline. Despite Aeneas's piety, it's hard even for him to have total faith in his fate. He doesn't seem to have accepted his fate yet, preferring to focus on the smaller picture.
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The reduced group of Trojans sets sail. Venus goes to Neptune and describes Juno's recent plot, then asks Neptune to grant the Trojans safe passage to Italy. Neptune agrees, but requires the sacrifice of one man. Palinurus, the skilled navigator, leads the Trojan fleet. At night, the god of Sleep comes to Palinurus and forces him to doze off. Palinurus falls overboard and calls for help, but no one hears. Eventually, Aeneas takes over steering, and grieves for his friend, but blames him for putting too much trust in the quiet sea.
In this beautiful, tragic passage, Aeneas blames his navigator for dooming himself. The passage rings true psychologically—Aeneas would rather scold Palinurus for leaving him than accept the death. He fails to imagine it from Palinurus's point of view, and doesn't realize that the gods were responsible for the sacrifice. Aeneas comes off as both flawed and loving.
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