Aeneid Context Questions

Read the extracts and then answer the appended questions.

1. Book 9 p228

a. Explain the context of this extract. (5)
b. How believable is the conduct of the characters in this extract? (10)
c. How successfully does Virgil bring out the tragedy of war both in this extract and elsewhere in the Aeneid? (10)

Volcens was wild with rage, but nowhere could he see the thrower and he, could not decide where to direct the fury of his assault. 'Never mind!' he shouted. 'For the moment, you and your warm blood will pay me for both of them!' and he drew his sword and rushed at Euryalus. This was too much for Nisus. Out of his mind with terror and unable to endure his anguish, he broke cover, shouting at the top of his voice: 'Here I am! Here I am! I am the one who did it! Aim your weapons at me, you Rutulians! The whole scheme was mine. He is innocent. He could not have done it. I swear by this sky above me and the stars who know the truth, his only offence is to have loved the wrong friend too much!' He was still speaking as the sword was driven through the ribs of Euryalus, full force, shattering his white breast. He rolled on the ground in death, the blood flowed over his beautiful body, his neck grew limp and the head drooped on his shoulders, like a scarlet flower languishing and dying when its stem has been cut by the plough, or like poppies bowing their heads when the rain burdens them and their necks grow weary. But Nisus rushed into the thick of the enemy, looking only for Volcens. Volcens was the only thought in his mind. The Rutulians gathered round their leader and in close fighting threw Nisus back again and again as he came at them from one side after another, but he bore on none the less, whirling a sword like lightning till he met the Rutulian face to face and buried it in his mouth as he opened it to shout. So, in the moment of his own dying, he cut off the breath of his enemy: Then, pierced through and through, he hurled himself on the dead body of his friend and rested there at last in the peace of death.

a. Explain the context of this extract. (5)

Aeneas has left the Trojan camp in Italy to seek an alliance with King Evander of Pallanteum. He has instructed the Trojans to stay in their camp in his absence. Now danger threatens as the Rutulian enemy are taking advantage of his absence and attacking them. Nisus and Euryalus volunteered to creep out of the camp under cover of night to bring their leader the news. However, while passing through the enemy camp, they were tempted to wreak havoc among the sleeping soldiers. Now one of the enemy leaders, Volcens, wants revenge and is about to kill the out numbered Trojan pair.

b. How believable is the conduct of the characters in this extract? (10)

The conduct of all characters is believable but especially Nisus and young Euryalus, close friends in the style of Homer's Achilles and Patroclus. Volcens is fired by furor, "wild with rage". This is not surprising as he and his men have been surprised in the middle of the night and he has lost several comrades. His anger is heightened by his frustration as he cannot see his aggressor in the darkness. Thus he is happy to lash out at anyone, no matter who is the victim of "the fury of his assault". This anger and frustration are extremely credible. However, it does not touch the audience as does the conduct of the tragic Trojan two. Nisus, the older of the pair, is marked out as the caring one, willing to give his own life for the beautiful Euryalus. "The whole scheme was mine. He is innocent", he declares as he tries to take the brunt of Volcens' anger. He breaks cover and reveals himself, "unable to endure his anguish". His terror, coupled with guilt, is emphasised by his gabbled and lengthy address. Above all, he is driven by love for young Euryalus and guilt at costing his friend his life: "His only offence is to have loved the wrong friend too much." Nisus' anguished guilt recalls that of Achilles in the lliad, groaning and rolling in the dirt at the death of Patroclus, stunned by being the cause of his death. The irony of his guilt is underlined by the sudden killing of Euryalus, shattered before his very eyes, his crushed beauty emphasised by the moving crushed flower simile. The consequence is psychologically believable and horrible: Nisus is obsessed with revenge and rushes upon Volcens, his desperation underlined by the abrupt phrasing: he declares he was "looking only for Volcens. Volcens was the only thought in his mind." Despite the mention of other Rutulians, "gathered round their leader", the focus is strictly on Nisus. He whirls a sword "like lightening" and, horrifically, buries it in his enemy's mouth. Greatly out numbered, he himself dies at the same time. The self sacrifice of Nisus is entirely believable, both psychologically and in its Homeric literary context. Nisus is a Homeric hero, risking all for glory but moved still more by love of his close friend. This whole episode, a moving and self contained story, is a typical example of Hellenistic eppilyion, a "mini epic".

c. How successfully does Virgil bring out the tragedy of war both in this extract and elsewhere in the Aeneid? (10)

This war in Italy is depicted throughout the Aeneid as a civil war, tragically wasteful and between peoples who are destined to be a great empire. The sad waste of life is designed to remind Virgil's readers of their own civil war, still brewing in the hearts of many. Aeneas is adamant throughout that he does not will this war. The Italians are used to peace and prosperity. This is brought out in the catalogue of Italian forces in Book 7, when they are described as coming from a world of peace and plenty. The war is unnecessary, over the marriage of one princess whose own opinion we never discover. She is an excuse for war and Juno must work hard to stir up the furor which drives men to battle. She must enlist the help of the hellish fiend Allecto, furor personified. Allecto herself has problems inspiring even the hero Turnus, who initially laughs at her propaganda. As for King Latinus, he is grief stricken and locks himself away at the onset of war. The war is tragic in its waste of young lives and the focus of the Aeneid is on grief and lament at death, notably in the paean of Euryalus' widowed mother. The warriors do not enjoy divinely inspired aristeias, as in the lliad. War in the Aeneid is also much more of a team effort than in the lliad. Volcens is able to overpower Nisus because of his Rutulians who "gathered round their leader and ... threw Nisus back again and again". There are also references to prosaic but realistic wartime activities which never find their way into the more stylised narrative of the lliad, such as Aeneas' negotiations and alliances wilh Evandel and Mezenlius' Elruscans. The emphasis in this extract is in the sad waste of war: Nisus and Euryalus doomed because they sacrificed their mission for the glory of savage slaughter for just a few medallions and an empty helmet. The image that remains imprinted on the reader's mind is that of Euryalus, slaughtered before the very eyes of his lover, the cause of his death. Virgil emphasises the tragedy with his simile of the "head drooped on his shoulders, like a scarlet flower.. cut by the plough, or like poppies ... when the rain burdens them". Euryalus is young and beautiful, not intended for war, marred by his heroic wound. The complete waste of it all is emphasised by the fact that both Nisus and Volcens die together: "so, in the moment of his own dying, he cut off the breath of his enemy." Here, as elsewhere, war is first and foremost a tragic waste of life and it is the aspect of war which Virgil conveys best rather than the glorious attractiveness of the hero in battle.

Cathy Mercer