The death of Turnus
Inevitably, the combat between Aeneas and Turnus ends in victory for Aeneas. For a moment it seems that Turnus may be granted his life – but then Aeneas sees that he is wearing the sword-belt that Turnus took as a trophy when he killed Aeneas’s protégé, Pallas.
At one level the Aeneid’s ending with Turnus’s death seems abrupt, with peace not yet agreed, Aeneas and King Latinus’s daughter Lavinia not yet wed and Aeneas’s Italian city not yet founded. Perhaps Virgil might have modified it if he had lived to carry out the revision of the poem that we are told by ancient sources that he planned. On the other hand, Virgil has already shown earlier in Book 12 how the conflict between nations will be resolved – Aeneas has made it clear that he intends to live in justice and equity with the Latins, and Jupiter himself has confirmed that they and the Trojans will merge into a single, glorious Italian race. This ruling, by meeting Juno’s concerns for the future and finally abating her enmity for the Trojans, has also brought to an end the conflict among the gods about the future of Aeneas and the destiny of Rome that is one of the great themes of the poem. Now the great personal conflict of the story is also resolved with Aeneas’s victory over Turnus, and we can write
See the blog post with an illustration by Luca Giordano here.
If you want to follow the story of the Aeneid in sequence, you can navigate from the links at the foot of Virgil’s poet page here.
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Cunctanti telum Aeneas fatale coruscat,
sortitus fortunam oculis, et corpore toto
eminus intorquet. murali concita numquam
tormento sic saxa fremunt nec fulmine tanti
dissultant crepitus. volat atri turbinis instar
exitium dirum hasta ferens orasque recludit
loricae et clipei extremos septemplicis orbis;
per medium stridens transit femur. incidit ictus
ingens ad terram duplicato poplite Turnus.
consurgunt gemitu Rutuli totusque remugit
mons circum et vocem late nemora alta remittunt.
ille humilis supplex oculos dextramque precantem
protendens ‘equidem merui nec deprecor’ inquit;
‘utere sorte tua. miseri te si qua parentis
tangere cura potest, oro (fuit et tibi talis
Anchises genitor) Dauni miserere senectae
et me, seu corpus spoliatum lumine mavis,
redde meis. vicisti et victum tendere palmas
Ausonii videre; tua est Lavinia coniunx,
ulterius ne tende odiis.’ stetit acer in armis
Aeneas volvens oculos dextramque repressit;
et iam iamque magis cunctantem flectere sermo
coeperat, infelix umero cum apparuit alto
balteus et notis fulserunt cingula bullis
Pallantis pueri, victum quem vulnere Turnus
straverat atque umeris inimicum insigne gerebat.
ille, oculis postquam saevi monimenta doloris
exuviasque hausit, furiis accensus et ira
terribilis: ‘tune hinc spoliis indute meorum
eripiare mihi? Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas
immolat et poenam scelerato ex sanguine sumit.’
hoc dicens ferrum adverso sub pectore condit
fervidus; ast illi solvuntur frigore membra
vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras.
As Turnus held back, Aeneas looked for the right spot,
swung his deadly spear and cast at long range with
the whole force of his body. Never did stone walls
smitten by siege engines ring so or make such thunderous noise. The spear flew like a black, death-dealing storm,
bearing bleak ruin, found chinks in Turnus’s armour and
every last layer of his sevenfold shield – shrieking,
it transfixed his thigh. Stricken, knee bent double, huge Turnus crashed to the ground. The Rutuli rose up
with a cry, all the surrounding hill boomed, the high
groves all around echoed the shout. Humbly, a suppliant,
Turnus raised his eyes, and his hand in appeal, and said:
“I have deserved it and do not blame you if you take
the chance that has come your way. But if pity
for a poor parent can touch you – your own Anchises
was such another father – have mercy on Daunus’s
old age and send me home, or, if you prefer,
my lifeless body. You have won, and the Italians have
seen me beaten, stretching my hands out to you;
Lavinia is yours for a wife; take hatred no further.”
Warlike in his armour, Aeneas stood, looked aside,
lowered his hand, Turnus’s words began little by little
to sway him, when, hesitating, over Turnus’s shoulder
he recognised the baldric and belt, studs glinting,
of young Pallas, whom Turnus had first bested then slain,
and wore them on his shoulders, a trophy of his enemy.
Aeneas, seeing these spoils, a reminder of agonising
grief, burning with wrath and terrible in anger, said:
“Shall you, clad in spoils from my own, be snatched
away from me? With this blow, Pallas makes the sacrifice,
Pallas takes revenge in your guilty blood!” in his
passion,he buried the steel in the breast turned to him.
Turnus’s limbs collapsed in chill death, and with a groan his reluctant spirit fled from life to the shades below.