I’ve decided that I want to put together a series of posts about Camilla and her story in the Aeneid. I’ve written many papers on her before and thought it might be nice to put some of my thoughts and research together in a more accessible format so more casual readers can enjoy her story too. This post will be the first of the series and will feature a general overview.
As far as we know, Camilla is an original creation of Virgil. There are no written sources that mention her before his time – it’s possible that there was some historical or mythical figure that existed that was similar, but can’t be said for certain. Servius, the ancient commentator of the Aeneid, wrote that she was based on Harpalyce, a girl also mentioned by Virgil who possessed some similar attributes. But there is debate about this, too.
Camilla’s first appearance is in the very last section of the seventh book, and then in the bulk of the eleventh book. There seems to be some difference in her depiction in either book, which I will eventually elaborate on. It might give us some insight on the things that Virgil wanted to edit when he was unable to finish the book upon his death. There are a few points in Camilla’s story that remain unresolved.
Camilla is the final entry in the list of heroes in book seven. She follows just after Turnus, the king of the Rutulians and Aeneas’ great foe for Italy and the hand of Lavinia. Camilla comes from the Volscian race, and is a bellatrix, a female warrior. Unusually, she has some supernatural powers, as Virgil says she has cursuque pedum praevertere ventos, speed of foot that outstripped the winds (7.807). She catches the attentions of those that watch her pass in the procession, and she is dressed regally in purple and gold, carrying a quiver and a myrtle staff.
We then meet her again in the second half of the eleventh book. The goddess Diana and her follower Opis are discussing Camilla, whom she calls cara mihi ante alias, dearer to me before all others (11.537). Through conversation they tell Camilla’s backstory, from when she was an infant and her father Metabus was deposed as a tyrant, and chased into the woods. To save his daughter, he tied her to a spear and threw her across the Amasenus river. He asked Diana to see her to safety, and if she did, the infant would be dedicated to her from then on. Both father and daughter make it across the river and escape capture, and from then on live in the wilderness. Camilla is suckled on the milk of wild animals, raised wearing a tiger skin and hunting with bow and arrow, and was a maiden sacred to Diana. As she grew, she was much admired by the people in nearby towns. Diana laments that Camilla has abandoned her ways and has joined the world of warfare, and she worries about her fate. She tells Opis that she will kill whomever kills Camilla in battle.
Presently Camilla is the Queen of the Volscians, and is leading their army and cavalry into battle as allies to Turnus. She consults with Turnus and agrees to meet Aeneas’ cavalry while Turnus goes to cut off Aeneas in the hillsides. She takes leadership of many smaller factions and goes to battle. She dominates the battlefield, and is compared to an Amazon, fighting with the weapons of the hunt and alongside her maiden companions. There is a long and detailed list of the enemies she slays. Jupiter, learning of her success, releases the gods from their non-interference edict, and allows them to interfere in the war. Camilla becomes distracted from the battle by the sudden appearance of Chloreus, a priest of the goddess Cybele, who is dressed in outlandish finery and is a strange sight in battle. She chases after him to collect his spoils as war-booty, but is struck down in her distraction by the Etruscan soldier Arruns, who flees immediately into the woods after throwing his spear.
Camilla lays dying in the arms of her companions, and tells them to get word to Turnus to continue with their plan. She dies, and when Turnus learns of this, he ignores her wishes and retreats to the city. The cavalry and company are roused into frenzy at their leader’s death, but it is only momentary, for they soon lose confidence and end up retreating as well. Arruns, running off in the woods, is pursued by Opis, who shoots him with an arrow given by Diana. The following book of the story focuses on the conflict between Turnus and Aeneas.
In this series of posts that I want to make, some of the things I want to be covering are:
(I will insert hyperlinks as they are written)
– Camilla and her relationship with the Volscians
– potential influences and inspirations for her character
– her relationships with the gods and their roles in her life
– huntress vs bellatrix dynamic
– her role in the story/why she had to die
– character developments and Virgil’s writing
– comparisons to other female characters in the story
– historical basis and info about Volscians and Rome conflict
– whether or not she is a ‘heroic’ character
If you’re reading this and are interested in discussion Camilla or have questions about any of this, please drop me a line on twitter or in the comments section here! I love discussing her and can hardly find any peers who are still willing to hear me ramble. Hope you enjoy the future entries!