This episode of Virgil’s Aeneid finds the Trojans in a war with the Latins. With their forces divided, Aeneas and his men couldn’t be sure of victory and it seemed, that Turnus, their enemy, would get the upper hand.
The new day started by Latin attack on the Trojan camp. Aeneas was still far away, the mission to contact him had failed. Nothing could have stopped Turnus from attacking. The Latins didn’t lack bravery. They first concentrated their efforts to a tower of the Trojan camp and after a while, that tower was down and many Trojans buried under it. This certainly didn’t help to improve the Trojans’ morale.
In this hour of desperation, Iulus, Aeneas’ son, joined the battle despite his young age. Remulus, Turnus’ brother in law, felt confident enough to let some nasty remarks leave his mount. Iulus, angered by such sauciness, grabbed his bow and well-placed headshot stopped Remulus’ words. For the kid, this was the first heroic deed in the battle and he really liked it. He would have continued his killing spree, had it not been forbidden by the gods. This time Apollo (coincidentally the god “who strikes from afar”, as Homer calls him) came and kindly asked him to stop.
Iulus’ enthusiasm inspired the Trojans to make an attempt to counter-attack. They gathered their forces and pusher the Latin lines far from the camp. This success, however, made them careless. While attacking the Latins, they were slow to close the gates of their own camp.
Turnus, a brave and experienced warrior, saw an opportunity in this. He rushed to the open gate and entered the camp just before it was closed. To the amazement of all, he now stood among the Trojan huts. Several Trojan warriors attacked him, but he bested all of them in combat. Had he thought of opening the gate again and let the Latins in, the war would have been over. But Turnus too became too confident for his own good. He proceeded by killing one Trojan after another and moving slowly further and further away from the gates. The Trojans slowly realized, that even if none of them could defeat Turnus in a one-on-one fight, an organized line could bring him into serious trouble. This tactic worked and Turnus was forced to retreat and, in the end, jump into the river to save his life.
As the battle for the Trojan camp was growing in intensity, the Gods on the Olympus were watching. Juno tried to bring advantage to the Latins, Venus to the Trojans. Finally, Jupiter made a decision that from that point on, he would remain neutral. Let the best fighters win!
Turnus’ failed attempt to capture the camp didn’t have any negative impact on the Latin army. Minute by minute they were clearly getting an upper hand. The Trojans would surely have lost, had Aeneas not returned at that moment.
Despite not having received any message from the Trojan camp, Aeneas finally appeared with an army of allies. Ships filled with warriors ready to attack Turnus emerged on the horizon. Pallas, Evander’s son led the Arcadians and Tarchon led a vast army of Etruscans ready to help Aeneas.
The vessels moved to the shore at an enormous speed. They were helped by unexpected allies – the nymphs that had been turned to their current form from the Trojan ships. Aeneas did not hesitate for one minute and immediately joined the battle.
The small company of Arcadians struggled in the battle. They were on the verge of a flight when their leader Pallas inspired them by his courageous fight. Slaying one Latin after another, he deserved attention form Turnus himself. The armies witnessed the most glorious duel of that day. Despite its fame and glory, the fight itself didn’t last long at all. First, Pallas tossed his spear in Turnus’ direction. The spear hit Turnus in the arm but caused little damage. Now it was Turnus’ turn to throw a spear. In this discipline, he really excelled. He threw his spear with such force, that neither the shield nor the breastplate helped Pallas. The Arcadian fell and the duel was over. Turnus looked at his corpse, said a few words about his condolences to Evander (Pallas’ father) and took a richly decorated belt as spoils.
It didn’t take long and Aeneas heard about the death of his ally and friend. Needless to say, he didn’t take it well. What followed was the most brutal killing spree in the whole Aeneid. He killed one enemy after another. It didn’t make any difference whether they actively attacked him or just begged for mercy on their knees. He even killed one guy and forbid to bury him just to make his point.
His goal was clear – to find Turnus and personally revenge the death of Pallas. This development didn’t make Juno happy. The goddess favoured Turnus but knew very well that he has no chance to beat Aeneas now. She turned to Jupiter and asked him for permission to do at least one small favour for Turnus. Not helping him win, but saving his life. Jupiter granted her this wish. It wasn’t that easy though. Turnus may have been a slightly worse fighter than Aeneas, but he was not a coward. He definitely wouldn’t run away from a duel just to save his life. For the lack of better options, Juno tricked him. She created a phantom in the likeness of Aeneas. When Turnus saw this phantom, he rushed to fight him, thinking it was Aeneas. But the phantom retreated and retreated until it boarded a ship. On that ship, the phantom vanished and Turnus realised the trickery, but it was too late. The ship sailed away and he couldn’t take part in the battle anymore. Was Turnus happy to have his life saved? Oh no, he was not! He tried to kill himself three times to avoid the shame, but Juno stopped him.
Even without Turnus, the battle continued. The next Aeneas’s victim was Mezentius. This man had once been a king of the Etruscan town Cerae. With one cruel decision after another, he tyrannized his subjects to the point they overthrew him. However, they still weren’t able to kill him. He left, took his son Laurus with him and joined Turnus’ army as one of his mightiest warriors. He was not mighty enough to overpower Aeneas. When the two began their fight, it was soon clear who would win. After seconds, Meznetius laid on the ground injured and Aeneas was ready to strike the final blow. In that very moment, however, he was interrupted. Mezentius’ son Laurus joined the fight and blocked Aeneas’ strike. The Trojan was amazed to see such bravery and sacrifice, nevertheless, he killed the young man.
Meanwhile, Mezentius crawled away and gathered some strength. He wouldn’t have it for too long. After learning that his son sacrificed himself, he knew he wouldn’t live much longer too. Mezentius mounted his horse, grabbed a couple of spears and rode to find Aeneas, the murderer of his brave son. As you can imagine now, Aeneas was not hard to find in that battle. Mezentius circled around him throwing spears and hoping for the best. Aeneas had his armour and shield (made by gods) with enough quality to withstand this attack but didn’t enjoy this kind of fighting. He made a huge leap and stuck his spear into Mezentius’ horse. The animal didn’t survive the hit, fell down and trapped his master under his body. Mezentius was now doomed to die. He spoke his last wish (to be buried properly) and accepted the sword that ended his life.
Virgil – Aeneid