At the beginning of the war between Aeneas and Turnus, even the beauty goddess Venus wanted to help. She was Aeneas’ mother after all. This time her help had nothing to do with love, she wanted to provide a weapon for her son. Venus was married to Vulcan, the god of fire and a skilled smith. Her charm was just irresistible and it didn’t require too much effort to persuade her husband to employ his talent. He made an armour for Aeneas and what an armour it was!
Once all was ready, Venus surprised her son. While he was on his way to the Etruscans in order to get them to join his cause and face Turnus in the upcoming war, she appeared out of nowhere. She embraced her son and gave him presented him her gift. Aeneas was fascinated by this present. He has never seen anything like that.
There was a sword, sharp and ready to kill. An armour made of copper, firm, and red as blood. Greaves and a javelin and above all a shield. The shield was composed of seven layers to ensure, it was not to be penetrated by some random Rutulian arrow. But that was not the most exciting fact about it. The shield was decorated with images of future Roman triumphs! By the highlights of the Roman history, that Aeneas couldn’t possibly recognize, but the gods, aware of the future, could depict them. What was in that “hall of fame” of Roman accomplishments that made it to the shield?
- The Capitoline wolf – a she-wolf with the little twins Romulus and Remus. The boys sucking milk from her udders.
- The Rape of the Sabine women – the event when Rome acquired is female population back in the reign of Romulus. The shield contained an image of the Roman and Sabine kings negotiating a peace treaty.
- The execution of Mettus Fufetius – the ill fate of a dictator from Alba Longa who failed to keep his word and betrayed the Romans in a battle. The punishment was cruel – two chariots tore him apart.
- The war with Porsena – the war broke out after the Romans overthrew the last king Tarquinius Superbus. The most heroic moment of this war came when Horatius Cocles singlehandedly defeated and then destroyed a bridge over the Tiber.
- The Gaul attack on the Capitol – a scene from the war with Gauls when their night attempt to overtake the Capitoline hill was sabotaged by the geese that woke up the Romans.
- Dancing and ceremony – the depiction of the ancient ceremonies – the dancing Salii and the naked Lupreci
- The underworld – detailed image of Catiline suffering for his sins and Cato (the Elder) giving low to the underworld
- The battle of Actium – the depiction of the famous naval battle in which Anthony and Cleopatra were defeated by the future emperor Augustus and his Admiral Agrippa. This image covered the central part of the shield – hinting the utmost importance of this scene.
- The triumphs of Augustus – a well-deserved acknowledgement of the famous achievements of the emperor.
Aeneas must have been confused by the appearance of the shield, not knowing the events depicted there, but he must have been honoured. Only a handful of the greatest heroes were given an armour from gods. There was Hercules and most famously Achilles. This is the league in which Aeneas was playing now.
Virgil’s description of the shield tightly resembles the description of the shield of Achilles in the Iliad. The parallels are easily found. Both are requested by the mother of the hero, both are made by the same god, Achilles also had some typical Greek scenes depicted on his shield (hardly as specific as Aeneas).
Virgil – Aeneid