cuncta videns magno curarum fluctuat aestu,
atque animum nunc huc celerem nunc dividit illuc
in partisque rapit varias perque omnia versat,
sicut aquae tremulum labris ubi lumen aenis
sole repercussum aut radiantis imagine lunae
omnia pervolitat late loca, iamque sub auras
erigitur summique ferit laquaria tecti.
nox erat et terras animalia fessa per omnis
alituum pecudumque genus sopor altus habebat,
cum pater in ripa gelidique sub aetheris axe
Aeneas, tristi turbatus pectora bello,
procubuit seramque dedit per membra quietem.
Identify the tone of this extract and explain how Virgil's language has helped to create this tone.
These lines describe Aeneas’ somewhat agitated state of mind as he ponders the coming war with the Latins, but despite their content, they have an overall peaceful tone. Virgil’s language has contributed to this tone in a number of ways.
The most obvious feature of these lines is the simile in lines 22-25, which compares Aeneas’ thoughts to light reflected from a basin of water (lumen… repercussum). The simile is full of peaceful, soothing images such as water (aquae), trembling light (tremulum… lumen), the bright, bronze basins (labris… aenis), the sun and shining moon (sole… radiantis lunae) and high, gold-plated ceiling (summi… laquearia tecti). Although the point of the simile is to highlight Aeneas’ restless thoughts, these images by their brightness evoke positive feelings in the reader and give the lines an underlying sense of calm, which suggests that despite his worries, Aeneas is, like all good Romans, in control of his emotions, not ruled by them as Turnus was in the lines just prior to this passage.
This peaceful tone is further reinforced by the alliteration used throughout the simile. The alliteration of ‘l’ and ‘m’ sounds in particular (e.g. in tremulum labris ubi lumen) have a soothing effect and give the passage a certain softness that reinforces the peaceful undertones created by the light and airy images of the simile.
Virgil’s use of meter, especially within the simile, also helps him to create a peaceful tone. For example lines 23 and 24 are predominantly dactylic. The many short syllables give these lines a light, breezy feel which gives the reader a sense of calm and contributes to the peaceful tone.
The broader setting of these lines is also important in considering their tone. The short clauses which Virgil uses here (e.g. Talia per Latium – note the ellipsis; nox erat…) act as a strong contrast to the scenes of frantic action which open Book VIII. This contrast allows Virgil to slow down the action and to instead focus on Aeneas’ internal thoughts (e.g. curarum, animum, versat), thereby creating a calmer and more reflective mood. That these events also occur at night (nox) is also pertinent. The language of rest and sleep used by Virgil (fessa, sopor altus, quietem) once more creates a peaceful atmosphere, as does his description of the icy axis of heaven (gelidique sub aetheris axe).