Aeneid Book 12, lines 919 - 952

The death of Turnus

by Virgil

In accordance with what we know to be Jupiter’s will, 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 the great theme of the poem. Now the central personal conflict of the story is also resolved with Aeneas’s victory over Turnus, and we can write

The End.

See the blog post with an illustration by Luca Giordano 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 holds back, Aeneas looks for the right spot, brandishes his deadly spear and casts at long range with all the strength of his body. Never did stone walls smitten by siege engines ring so or shatter with such thunderous noise. The spear flies like a black, death-dealing storm, bearing bleak ruin, and finds its way through chinks in Turnus’s breastplate and every last layer of his sevenfold shield – hissing, it transfixes his thigh through the middle. Stricken, knee bent double, huge Turnus crashes to the ground. The Rutuli rise up with a groan, all the surrounding hill and  the high groves all around echo back the shout. Humbly, a suppliant, Turnus raises his eyes, and his hand in appeal, and says: “I have been fairly beaten and seek no escape – make use of the lot that has fallen to you. But if pity for a poor parent can touch you – your own Anchises was such another father desrved– 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 had begun little by little to sway him, when, hesitating, over Turnus’s shoulder he recognised the baldric and belt, its familiar 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, set ablaze by furies andterrible in his anger, said: “Shall you, clad in spoils from my comrades, be snatched away from me? With this blow, Pallas makes the sacrifice, Pallas takes revenge in your guilty blood!”  And, 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.


More Poems by Virgil

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