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Book 6 Notes from The Aeneid

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The Aeneid Book 6

Aeneas weeps as the ships pull into the bay. The young men jump out of the boats and they see the grove of Diana where Daedalus made a shrine of gold, making everything except a sculpture of his son, which he could not bear to make. Daedalus landed here after his flight from Crete and King Minos. His son flew too close to the sun and died. The Sibyl calls them to sacrifice. Her cave has a hundred mouths and the wind hisses through it like voices. She begins to go into a frenzy and she tells Aeneas to pray. He prays to Apollo, the god of prophecy, and tells him that he has always helped the Trojans and should continue to. Aeneas promises to build a temple once his city is founded. The Sibyl has yet to be overcome by the god, so she thrashes more and begins to foretell a gruesome future:

"'I see wars, horrid wars, the Tiber foaming
with much blood. You shall have your Simois,
your Xanthus, and your Doric camp; already
there is in Latium a new Achilles-'"
Book 6, lines 122-5

She chants and Aeneas tell her that these trials are not unexpected. He adds that he is supposed to go to the underworld. He asks her to pity him, invoking the examples of other mortals who have gone to the underworld. She tells him it is easy to go down, but it is harder to return. She instructs him that there is a golden bough on a tree in the forest. If someone is fated to return from the underworld, he may pluck the bough and use it as a gift for Proserpina, the mistress of the underworld. The bough will not break free if it is touched by someone not so fated. She also tells him that before he goes he must first bury a member of his crew. He finds out that the crew member is Misenus who challenged Triton to a trumpeting contest and was killed as a result. They bury him and then go in search of the bough. Aeneas prays for a sign for the gods and two white doves lead him to the bough which he picks easily. The burial is completed and the area is named Cape Misenum. Aeneas goes to the Sibyl and they sacrifice steers and a black lamb. The cave rages and the ground rumbles. Aeneas and the Sibyl move into the large smoking cavern.

They enter the darkness where all the evils of the earth dwell. A giant elm stands here on whose limbs empty dreams cling. Aeneas sees harpies and gorgons and grips his sword to attack them, but the Sibyl tells him that they are just images. They follow the crowded path to the river Styx where they see the ferryman Charon. There are many souls waiting to pass over the river. Aeneas asks why some of them aren't allowed on the boat and the Sibyl replies, "'[a]ll these you see are helpless and unburied.'" Book 6, line 427. Aeneas ponders this as Palinurus passes him. Aeneas asks him what has happened and Palinurus replies that he floated to Italy only to be killed by barbarians. The Sibyl turns and tells him that his body will be buried by surrounding cities after the gods send a plague to them. Charon tells them that he doesn't want to take them across because every time he has helped someone there has been trouble. The Sibyl shows him the golden bough and he takes them on board. They float past three-headed Cerberus and the Sibyl passes him a honeyed wheat cake. They pass into his cavern, into the realm of suicides and those who died because of destructive love. In this forest, Aeneas sees Dido and repeats that he did not want to leave. He asserts:

"'And I could not
believe that with my going I should bring
so great a grief as this. But stay your steps.
Do not retreat from me. Whom do you flee?
This is the last time fate will let us speak.'"
Book 6, lines 610-14

She flees and joins her husband in the shadows. Aeneas wants to follow her but must continue. He meets fallen Trojans and Greeks tremble as they see him pass. He finds Deiphobus with his ears and nose cut off and he asks him how he came to be mutilated. The woman with whom he was sleeping betrayed him the night of the invasion and hid his weapons before she led Greeks into his bedchamber. He wants to speak with Aeneas for a while, but the Sibyl makes him follow her.

They continue and see a great fortress where the Sibyl tells Aeneas that the king of the realm judges the sins of men, proclaiming their punishment. Once she went inside and saw terrible tortures. She tells him that they must be quick and make the offering of the bough. They move on into the Elysian Fields where Aeneas sees many famous figures. The Sibyl asks one man where to find Anchises and they find him looking over future generations. He tries to embrace his father three times but cannot. Near the river of forgetfulness, he sees a myriad of spirits mulling around. Anchises tells him these are souls waiting for a second chance at life. Aeneas is amazed that anyone would want to return but Anchises tells him that some men just aren't satisfied. He pulls Aeneas and the Sibyl towards him and announces that he will narrate to them the descendants who are to come. There is Aeneas' last born son and then Romulus. Far after them, Julius and Augustus Caesar wait to bring about another golden age. There are men who bear all the famous names of Rome. Apart is a young man who is destined to die young. They look over the dead as Anchises tells Aeneas of the wars he will wage.

"There are two gates of Sleep: the one is said
to be of horn, through it an easy exit
is given to true Shades; the other is made
of polished ivory, perfect, glittering,
but through that way the Spirits send false dreams
into the world above. And here Anchises,
when he is done with words, accompanies
the Sibyl and his son together; and
he sends them through the gate of ivory."
Book 6, lines 1191-1199

Aeneas rejoins his companions.

Topic Tracking: Historical Subtext 4
Topic Tracking: Omens 6

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