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THE DEATH OF TURNUS
AFTER the publication of "Aeneas at the Site of Rome," I went on to the ninth and following books, relieving by such studies the constant anxiety of last winter and spring (1917-18). These last books of the Aeneid seemed to me to demand more knowledge of things Roman and Italian than the earlier ones; and a long experience of life and thought in ancient Italy is my only real justification for attempting to illuminate any part of Virgil's poems. Once more, then, I venture some observations on a single book, encouraged by much friendly correspondence and criticism.
The choice of the twelfth book is explained by the fact that it is the only one of the last four which contains a complete story in itself, while at the same time it forms a magnificent conclusion to the greater story of the whole epic. I may add that it is in my judgment the poet's most mature work, and reveals his mind more fully to those who study it closely than any other book but the sixth; and
that its great wealth of detail and incident, its psychological subtlety, and the comparative difficulty of its language, give it a claim to closer study and more leisurely reflection than any other book in the poem.
It is, indeed, so full of detail and difficulty that it is not easy to grasp the story it tells and to keep it in the memory. It may be of some use to the reader if, instead of a synopsis still more bewildering than the poetry, I venture to suggest that the book falls conveniently into three parts or acts, of which the first and third are the shortest and most important, and the second the longest and least interesting to a modern.
In the first act (down to line 215) we have the earnest endeavour of Aeneas and Latinus to make a fair and lasting peace between Trojans and Latins, in accordance with the decrees of Fate. Turnus, however, claims his right to the hand of Lavinia, and the right to do battle for it with Aeneas; and his furious anger, refusing all compromise, makes a satisfactory peace impossible without a single combat between himself and his rival. Aeneas and Latinus solemnly ratify the treaty with religious rites, but the single combat is to be allowed, and its decision is to govern the fate of Italy.
The second act (216-697) shows this passionate individual misleading the Italians into a repudiation
of the treaty just concluded; they think he is unfairly matched with Aeneas: they fancy that the omens are in their favour; they outrage both civil and religious laws by rushing into the battle. Fighting goes on with varying fortune: Aeneas is wounded and healed by his divine mother's help; to the other side Juno sends divine aid in Juturna. At last the battle inclines against the Latins, Aeneas attacks the city of Laurentum itself, and the Latin queen Amata hangs herself in despair. Turnus is summoned to the point of danger as the last hope of the losing side.
The third act (698-end) contains the single combat of Turnus and Aeneas, interrupted in the narrative only by a sudden change of scene to Olympus, where Jupiter and Juno settle the course of the future history of Italy by a compromise/ honourable for both Trojans and Latins. But Turnus must first be conquered, for he represents the spirit of disunion and strife; and a terrible messenger is sent from Jupiter to effect this by paralyzing his energies. Aeneas has him at his mercy; but would have spared him, if his eye had not caught the ill-omened spoil he was wearing, the belt of his victim Pallas, Evander's beautiful son. Angered by the sight of this, Aeneas hesitates no longer to slay his enemy.
The style, diction, and versification of this book
interest me greatly, but it is not for me to write at length about them. I will only say this, that Virgil seems to me here more completely master of his language and his metre than ever, more entirely free to use and vary them as he pleases. Not that the result is on that account always more pleasing; if we turn back from this book to the golden beauty and soothing smoothness of the Georgics, we may possibly be inclined to think that the poet had outlived his period of perfection, "vivendo vicisse sua fata.” It is not unlike what we experience in going back from "Cymbeline" to the "Merchant of Venice," or from "Paradise Regained" to the first two books of "Paradise Lost"; or, again, from Beethoven's posthumous quartets to those of his middle period. The difference in Virgil is, indeed, less marked than in either Shakespeare, Milton, or Beethoven; but I think it is there, and worth the attention of students.
The late F. W. H. Myers expressed this difference very happily in his Essay on Virgil. Nothing, perhaps, in Latin versification is more interesting than the traces of a later manner in process of formation, which are to be found in the concluding books of the Aeneid. The later manner of a painter or poet generally differs from his earlier manner in much the same way. We observe in him a certain impatience of the rules which have guided him to
excellence, a certain desire to use materials more freely, to obtain bolder and newer effects. A tendency of this kind may be discerned in the versification of the later books, especially of the twelfth book, of the Aeneid. The innovations are individually hardly perceptible, but taken together they alter the character of the hexameter line in a way more easily felt than described. Among the more definite changes we may note that there are more full stops in the middle of lines, there are more elisions, there is a larger proportion of short words, there are more words repeated, more assonances. . . . Where passages thus characterized have come down. to us in the making, the effect is forced and fragmentary. Where they succeed they combine, as it seems to me, in a novel manner the rushing freedom of the old trochaics with the majesty which is the distinguishing feature of Virgil's style. Art has concealed its art, and the poet's last words suggest to us possibilities in the Latin tongue which no successor has been able to realize.”1
I have, as before, avoided commenting on passages already in my judgment fully explained
1 "Classical Essays," p. 138. From the twelfth book he gives as examples lines 48, 72, 179, 429, 615-616, 632-649, 676-680, 889-893, 903-904. My attention was drawn to this passage of Myers's Essay by my friend Mr. A. L. Irvine of the Charterhouse.