Book 6 - The Underworld

  • Created by: chunks-42
  • Created on: 04-02-16 09:26

Aeneas arrives in Italy at last, landing at Cumae just north of the Bay of Naples. There he consults the Sibyl, begging her to allow him to go to the Underworld to see his father Anchises. She agrees to escort him on condition that he finds a golden branch in a dark tree and buries the body of Misenus, a comrade who has been drowned. These tasks he achieves and in the Underworld they meet, in reverse order of their deaths, Palinurus, Dido and heroes who had died at Troy. They proceed to the place of eternal torture of the damned and to the Fields of the Blessed where they find Anchises, who explains the creation of the Universe and the origin of life, and takes them to see a parade of great Romans of the future marching up family by family towards the light of life.

Why the Underworld?

Why did Virgil send his hero down into the Underworld? In Virgil there is often more than one answer to a question. The simple explanation is that this allows him the emotional intensity of the scenes where Aeneas meets dead friends and enemies - his pilot Palinurus drowned in the crossing to Cumae, Dido ignoring his tears and words of love, Trojans who had died at the sack of the city, Greeks fleeing at this approach. This episode is also watershed in the plot. In the Underworld Aeneas faces his memories and is given a view of the future. From this time forth he is looking towards the destiny of Rome. Another factor in Virgil's decision must have been the Homeric model. Virgil is writing a Latin epic to stand beside the great epics of the Greeks. Odysseus has conversed with the shades over a trench filled with blood; Aeneas, too, will converse with the dead. The resemblance are obvious, but the differences are profound. These are two eloquent silences in classical epic. In the Odyssesy Ajax, the great rival of Odysseus, stood aloof and would not speack, but went to join the…


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