Aeneid: Book 8
Book eight of the Aeneid starts with Aeneas in an anxious and nervous mood. With Turnus rallying his troops, and the uncertainty of aid from other territories, Aeneas’ mind is in turmoil. His thoughts are further confused when he sleeps that night and has a prophetic dream. He dreams he is lying on the bank of a river when the God of the Tiber river appears. He eases Aeneas’ troubled mind by saying that he has made it to the new Trojan home. He goes on to say that if he doubts this vision, he will find a white sow on a riverbank the following day, with thirty young pigs around it. He further explains that Aeneas must head for Pallanteum and seek an alliance with the ruler of this land, Evander. The dream ends as the Tiber river tells Aeneas that he will aid him with fair currents.
Aeneas sets sail the next day on a calm river, on his way to visit Evander. He finds the king in the middle of a celebration honoring Hercules. Aeneas and Evander talk and discover that they are actually distant relatives, and Evander agrees to help Aeneas in the coming war. Evander then goes on to invite the Trojans to the feast.
At the feast, Evander relates the story of how his people came to celebrate Hercules on a special day. The story goes that there was a half-man half-monster named Cacus who would terrorize and kill the people of this town. One day, Hercules was traveling through this land with his cattle. Cacus then stole some of the cattle and Hercules chased him to his mountain hideaway. Hercules lifted the entire mountain up, found Cacus, and killed him.
As the night comes, Aeneas and Evander sleep as Venus and Vulcan stay up. Venus uses her powers to seduce Vulcan and convince him to do her a favor. Vulcan went to the Cyclops’ forge on his island to do work for his wife. He employed all the Cyclops to help him in his task of making new armor for Aeneas.
In the meantime, Aeneas and Evander are preparing for war. They wake early to have a meeting and decide leadership. Evander chooses to put Aeneas in control in accordance with a prophet he received saying: “No Italian, by right, may rule your assembly. Choose a foreign leader.” Then minutes before the battle, Venus appears and brings the forces under Aeneas weapons. Aeneas uses this appearance from heaven to motivate his troops for the battle. Lastly, she gave Aeneas the armor that Vulcan had been preparing.
The armor was made out of gold and silver, with a breastplate that reflected the sun so violently that it would blind others. The shield depicted scenes of Roman history. Vulcan, knowing the fate of Rome, had carved in events that would shape what Rome would be.
First, on the shield, was an illustration of a mother wolf nursing two twin babies. Next was a picture of the rape of the Sabine women attending games. Following that was a scene depicting Mettus being drawn into pieces by four horses, all pulling in different directions. On the top of the shield was Manlius, guarding the Capitol Hill. Next was a scene warning of the Gauls who appeared on the shield with wild hair and all were carrying spears. Also on the shield was a picture showing Cataline dangling from a rope. The final scene was in the center of the shield, and it depicted the great battle at Actium, between Augustus and Antony. Two fleets were shown amidst turbulent waters, fiercely battling. The chapter ends with a description of Caesar Augustus riding through Rome, celebrating with his countrymen. It shows people of all races who had been conquered by Rome’s greatest ruler.
Book eight is a perfect transition between books seven and nine. It finishes what is started in book seven, and sets the stage for book nine. At the same time, it provides information that will be vital later on in the Aeneid.
In book seven, the Trojans realize that this is to be their new homeland, which is further shown by the god Tiber’s message in Aeneas’ dream. Also, what was started in book seven, Turnus reacting to Juno’s rage and declaring war on the Trojans, is further expanded in book eight with the alliance between Aeneas and Evander, and the Trojans preparing for war. Also, we meet Pallas in this book, who will be the cause of much grief to Aeneas in a later book.
Book eight also serves as a catalyst to book nine. All of book eight builds up to the war that will be experienced in book nine. Book eight lays the groundwork for the war that will be the subject of the rest of the book. It gets all the formal alliances and arrangement out of the way, so the rest of the books can be nothing but action.
“Under the Volcano”, an article written by Patricia A. Johnston, discusses Vergil’s use of volcanoes in the Aeneid. Much of the article is about Vergil’s two references to volcanoes in book eight. The first is the referral to the demon Cacus who lived in the middle of a mountain (8.190). The second referral is to the instance in which Vulcan is preparing to create Aeneas’ armor, and he goes to the island Vulcania, and under a volcano to his forges(8.416-421).
The study points to the similarities between Cacus and Polyphemos of Homer’s Odyssey. Both live in caves, are shepherds, giants, and are sons of Vulcan. The article points to the fact that whenever there is an eruption in a literary work by Vergil, there is a non-human responsible for it. Furthermore, it also states that, “Vulcan’s well run workshop is at the heart of the volcano”. This implies that not only is Vulcan the blacksmith of the gods, but also in control of volcanoes on earth, thus making him a much more important and relevant god to mankind.
The article is well organized, giving information on instances not only in the Aeneid. It is convincing from the standpoint that it uses logic and citation to back up its new ideas. It also goes into great detail of each part of a volcano eruption and why they believe it happens. “the Cyclopes instigate volcanic activity by heating iron, beating it into shape, and tempering it in cool water; hence the flames, sound and steam produced by a volcano.”
The essay goes on to explain that some volcanoes, like Vesuvius in AD 79, erupt very abruptly without warning. Others, however, would erupt with great frequency without causing damage to anything. This suggests that as often as Vulcan and his workers make anything, there will be at least a minor eruption. Vergil, even thousands of years before any system had been developed, seemed to be trying to classify different types of volcanoes by explaining what creature lived underneath them. It can be said, then, that Vergil was inventing his own mythology to explain how a natural event was occurring.