Aeneid: Book 6 Summary: The Underworld

Aeneid: Book 6 Summary: The Underworld

Aeneas arrives in Italy: at Cumae. Consults Sibyl, begs her to allow him to visit Underworld to see father Anchises. She agrees on condition that he finds golden branch in a dark tree and buries the body of Misenus, a comrade who has been crowned. Meets Palinurus, Dido and heroes who have died at Troy. Go to place of eternal torture and to Fields of the Blessed: finds Anchises. Explains creation of universe, origin of life and takes them to see parade of great Romans of future.

1-263: prep for descent into underworld

264-636: Aeneas journey through underworld, meeting figures

637-901: Anchises and pageant of future roman heroes

Literary Context

Bridges the gap between pre and post Italy

Oral Tradition

themes within the epics including: 


Book allows for development of Aeneas’ character; who by the end of the book becomes more determined to achieve fate.

  • Daedulus myth used pg 115 to show that like the labyrinth, Aeneas has had maze-like wanderings. Creates awe.
  • For Aeneas to have to escape the underworld is something only a few have achieved pg 119
  • Aeneas equal to Hector, in that Misenus chose to follow him pg 120
  • Aeneas urges on his men, yet he is still gloomily turning over thoughts over trying to find golden bough pg 120
  • Comical Aeneas- huge stature fitting into tiny, groaning boat pg 126
  • Aeneas worried at Deiphobus- not finding his body: showing piety and anxiety for comrades pg 129
  • Deiphobus gives some emotional respite with Helen story and his murder: but also gives Aeneas kick up the arse he needed- telling him to enjoy a better fate than him
  • Of the land of joy; greaT heroes reclining in peace with swords planted in ground

honour and reputation


  • Anchises’ faith in Aeneas’ piety and his mission pg 134
  • Anchises reiterates the danger that a lack of piety, or adherence to divine mission in staying with Dido would have caused harm pg 134
  • Pathos stirred; Aeneas tries to hug father 3 times, fails.
  • Anchises rekindles Aeneas’ drive and certainity in his fate. Makes him fall in love with glory that is to come pg 139


  • Crowd scene: Pasiphae, Phaedra etc, famous women yet passed on by because irrelevant compared to entry of Dido pg 127
  • Dido undeserved death reinforced; silence like Ajax, described immovable like stone, before running into arms of Sychaeus making Aeneas guilty…some closure and justice here pg 128

the role of the gods

  • Of Venus two doves which help Aeneas to find the golden bough pg 120
  • Aeneas claims that Apollo mislead him pg 124, although Palinurus assures him this was not the case: he was murdered coming onto the shore…so technically they did make it to Italy alive

the power of fate

  • Sybil predicts that peril journeying at sea has ended, but new threat is that of Turnus (not directly mentioned) and a new war and conquest. Juno too involved. Ref to Simois and Xanthus, Thybris flowing with blood pg 117
  • To bury Palinurus: with cattle purification pg 119
  • Anchises: Aeneas will live long, but not long enough to know Silvius who will begin Alban dynasty of kings; Aeneas’ son.
  • Anchises predicts future battles against Laurentine peoples.

the portrayal of war

  • Civil war triumph still negative due to all blood shed
  • Untimely deaths in underworld
  • How the Greeks still flee from Aeneas after death in underworld

 moral values/religion

Central book in terms of structure BUT also of patriotism and religiosity

  • Aeneas and men dutifully build pyre for Misenus pg 120
  • Many offerings, ritual salughters and incense for Misenus funeral pyre pg 121
  • Aeneas raises great mound for Tomb of Misenus pg 121
  • Palinurus worry at unburied body: Sibyl reassures him that a burial mound, annual tribute and naming of land will be given to him pg 125
  • Punishment of the impious clear p131: Salmoneus miming flames of Jupiter; Tityos immortal liver pecked
  • Anchises on the rebirth of souls; stoic doctrine. Idea that those impious people are reborn back unto earth to learn from mistakes and to become perfect. Perfect, pious people get to stay in Elysium pg 135
  • Afterlife was a way of justice: good get Elysium, bad get punished; like being stretched out and hung out empty to dry in the winds pg 135
  • Ends with Gates of Sleep; does this indicate the book was all merely a dream or vision of Virgil? Dream of Aeneas?

role of Aeneas in Rome’s imperial destiny.

Historical Context

Virgil’s relationship to the regime of Augustus;

  • Virgil links entire line from Aeneas to Romulus using crowd scene of future roman heroes pg 136
  • Great Roman city predicted, compared to Cybele: mother of gods 137
  • Augustus juxtaposed with Romulus; founding rome 753BC- out of chronological sync; he will bring back golden age of mythology and morality: a second founding of Rome. Expand empire. Even to far away corners like Caspian sea- to lands even Herculus cannot reach. Ref to Nile: Battle of Actium 31BC vs Antony and Cleopatra.

the political and historical background in which the Aeneid/Iliad  was written.

  • Augustus’ religiosity reflected in Aeneas’ promises to Apollo pg 117: Building temple to Apollo on Palatine hill 28BC
    • Also existing religiosity such as festival days for Apollo. Ludi Apollinares: began 2nd Punic War
  • Augustus moves Sybelline books and priests to new temple of Apollo on Palatine
  • Directly link of impious punishment in underworld to Augustus’ Leges Iuliae 18BC: in book mentions those who disrupt family life, financial exploitation, adultery, civil war etc. Laws sought to improve morality, family life, discourage sexual liberty and to end excessive wealth
  • Reference to runaway slaves is a link to Sextus Pompey who armed them in Civil Wars against Augustus
  • Parade of future Roman heroes:
    • Numa from Cures: emphasis on religious rites and peaceful law giver
    • Some pathos injected: reference to Brutus, who had to execute own sons- as they tried to return Tarquins to rome with Tarquin and Porsenna in 510BC 138 ALSO alludes to avenging Brutus that assassinated Julius Caesar 44BC
    • Reference to civil wars and the carnage they cause
    • Decii: both father and son of this family name famous for self-immolation: take lives to secure victories for Roman army 340BC Latin war: father, son 295BC vs SAMNITES
    • Torquatus leads Romans vs Gaul 361BC, 340BC, In Latin War, executes own son for disobeying orders
    • Lots of Rome’s conquests over Corinth, Achaea, Argos, Mycenae etc
      • But also Rape of Cassandra by Ajax…
    • Fabius Maximus- used delaying tactics to slowly rebuild Roman army to defeat Hannibal 217/6BC
    • Acknowledgement that Romans aren’t as good as Greeks in sculpture, astronomy, even rhetoric (in book ambigiously put as “other people”) but Roman’s are the best at government because of the peace they can achieve (UNDER AUGUSTUS PAX ROMANA)
    • Marcellus glory: winning 2nd Punic war as well as settling rebellious Gaul. Kills general so earns supreme spoils killing Viridomarus of Gaul- so dedicate it to Quirinus: god.
    • Ends on pathos: Marcellus, original heir to throne instead of Augustus dies at 19 years




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