The Aeneid

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The Aeneid Book 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Trojans sail towards Italy. Caeita, Aeneas's old nurse, dies and the Trojans name the land where she's buried after her. Not long after, Aeneas sees a region with a forest filled with birds and the beautiful Tiber river flowing through it.
The Trojans get their first glimpse of Latium, the region where they'll found a new city (and where Rome will eventually rise, along the Tiber's banks).
Themes
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Virgil explains the history of Latium, home of the Latins (and future location of Rome). King Latinus is seeking a suitable husband (and future heir) for his daughter Lavinia. Turnus, king of the Rutulians, seems most likely, but fate has delayed the marriage. Latinus sees a swarm of bees by a sacred laurel, signifying that strangers will arrive. A scary but harmless flame engulfs Lavinia, an omen that she will be long esteemed—but also that a war is on the horizon. Latinus goes to a grove sacred to Faunus, a nature god of the region, to pray about the omens. He sacrifices a hundred sheep. A voice tells him not to marry Lavinia to a Latin. A foreigner will arrive soon, who will lead to a powerful dynasty.
The harmless flame around Lavinia echoes the flame around Ascanius when Aeneas and his family were deciding whether to escape from Troy—another time when characters based their decisions about the future on signs rather than on what was easiest. Latinus's piety to the gods and to his daughter's future suggests he'll make a great father in law to Aeneas.
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The Trojans land their ships and have lunch, eating food that they've placed on top of pieces of bread. Ascanius jokes that they're eating their tables—so the Harpy Caelano's prophesy of famine has been harmlessly fulfilled. Anchises had also told Aeneas in the Underworld to build his home on the spot where he eats his tables. Jove sends thunder, and the Trojans rejoice to have reached their destined home. They begin immediately to build a fortress and camp.
This amusing resolution to Caelano's dark-seeming prophesy is a rare piece of good luck for the Trojans. It also shows that fate might not be as straightforward or easily interpreted as they expect.
Themes
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A delegation of Trojans (without Aeneas) journeys to Latinus's city. Latinus invites them to the palace, which is richly decorated with mythological images. He asks them how they arrived, and recalls that Trojan ancestry can be traced back to Latium. The Trojan Ilioneus praises Jove, describes Aeneas's greatness, asks if the Trojans can stay in peace, and offers gifts to Latinus, including some of Priam's robes.
This scene strengthens the Trojan-Latin bond, both from their historical connection (they're basically family) and from the gift of Priam's robes, which shows the legacy of Trojan leadership now passing to Latinus. An easy, fruitful peace seems inevitable.
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Latinus realizes that Aeneas must be the foreigner destined to marry Lavinia. He tells the Trojans they may stay, but first he wants to meet Aeneas because signs indicated his daughter's fated marriage to Aeneas. He gives horses to the Trojans, and prepares a carriage led by half-god horses for Aeneas. But Juno, spying on the proceedings from above, is disgusted at the Trojans' good fortune and is determined not to let her enemies win.
As with the Trojan horse incident in Book 2, or the first sighting of Italy in Book 3, the Trojans have another so-close-yet-so-far moment, making the tragedy of the coming war particularly painful. It would be so easy to have peace and fulfill fate immediately…but Juno pointlessly and cruelly continues to fight them.
Themes
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Juno goes to the fury-goddess Allecto and instructs her to destroy Latium's peace and turn people against each other. Allecto throws one of her evil magical snakes at Amata, poisoning her against Aeneas and making her angry that Lavinia won't marry Turnus. Amata tries to convince Latinus to cancel the marriage to Aeneas, to no avail. She runs through the streets, whipping many of the other women of Latium into a frenzy. They rush from the city, taking Lavinia with them, and hide her in the mountains.
Juno repeats her tactics of the boat-burning in Book 5, choosing to enchant the women first, not the male leaders. Juno understands that a nation's peace depends on every citizen, not just those with the most power. Now Amata has set herself against fate, just as Dido did. In both cases, the effort to thwart fate seems to be accompanied by a kind of craziness. In Dido's case, it was a love-craze. In Amata's it seems to be a frenzy of anger.
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Allecto next flies to Turnus's bedroom and disguises herself as an elderly priestess. She encourages Turnus to attack the Trojan ships and fight Latinus because of Lavinia. But Turnus dismisses her, saying she should focus on her temple and leave the fighting to the men. Allecto takes on her true, terrifying form, and throws a flame at him. Turnus becomes crazy with war-lust, like an overheated pot that bubbles over. He sends Latinus a message of war and gathers Rutulian men to be soldiers.
Our first impression of Turnus, like that of Dido, is that he's smart, balanced, and not an enemy at all. He resists Juno's desires much better than Amata or Dido. Allecto has to bring out her big guns to enchant him properly, suggesting that maybe all of what's to come isn't really his fault.
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Allecto flies to the Trojan camp, and makes Ascanius's hunting dogs go mad. Following after the dogs, Ascanius sees and shoots a stag. Unfortunately, that particular stag was a beloved pet of two Latium locals, Tyrrheus the shepherd and his daughter Silvia. They are furious at what Ascanius has done. Allecto makes a deathly war call emanate from a shepherd's trumpet, and the Trojans rush out of their nearby camp. A battle begins between Trojans and shepherds. Tyrrheus's son is the first to die.
Again, Juno takes a minimalist approach to achieve her goal, enchanting the hunting dogs instead of Ascanius. The war that will take up the rest of the poem basically starts from an argument about a pet deer. But the war's small and petty beginnings don't matter once the frenzy of fighting takes over.
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Allecto proudly shows her work to Juno, and offers to do more. Juno refuses the offer and sends Allecto away. The crazed mothers return from the mountains and ask Latinus to declare war. Latinus is reluctant to open the gates of war, which would serve as the declaration. Juno intervenes, opening the gates of war herself. The Latium men rush to arm themselves.
Juno's dismissal of Allecto shows that she hasn't created all this just for the fun of havoc—she has a purpose. Still not trusting the mess she's caused, she makes sure the war will stick by opening the gates.
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