Camilla: Involvement of the Gods

As we know, the Aeneid is full of deities that meddle with the mortal characters. Juno plays a major part by trying to thwart Aeneas at every turn, first by supporting Dido to try and keep him in Carthage, then by inflaming madness in the mind of Turnus to make him oppose Aeneas’ settling in Italy. Venus, Aeneas’ mother, appears in disguise early on in the story and helps her son out along the way. Jupiter acts as the orchestrator of Fate, making sure that Aeneas stays on track and often sending Mercury down to remind him.

Apollo and Artemis/Diana are both downplayed in the Aeneid. This helps to negate the problem of their allegiances between the Iliad and the Aeneid. By keeping them more or less on the sidelines, their previous Trojan alliance more or less ignored as they go about their business. Diana is pretty much only concerned with Camilla, and Apollo takes a moment to give Aeneas instructions to go to Italy (helping keep Fate on track, just like Jupiter). When we talk about Camilla’s relationship with the gods, Diana is the only one that immediately comes to mind. She is devoted to her, fights with her weapons, and represents her as she goes forward in the story.

In addition, however, to this goddess, I want to point out a few others that have something to do with Camilla: Jupiter, Cybele, and Apollo.


Promised to be a follower of Diana from infancy, Camilla never had much of a choice in this regard. She was very close to the goddess, “dearer to me than all others”, and Diana wishes she had not been swept up into warfare.

Casual Diana
Casual Diana

Their relationship is, at best, ambiguous. A closeness is implied but not explained, and though Diana says she was part of her company, we do not know whether that means physically in the presence of the goddess (for we know that they can manifest themselves physically, as Venus did to her son Aeneas), or if she was like a priestess in a sanctuary to Diana. Whatever the case, we are told that they were very close, but are separated by Camilla’s decision to enter into the war. Many readers then find it unusual that Diana does not save Camilla from being killed in battle. Certainly the gods have intervened in such a way before (remember the Iliad), and it’s established that she certainly likes her enough to do this. But instead she sends her attendant Opis to get revenge on whomever kills her favourite huntress, and Opis does: she shoots Arruns after he flees from the battle. I suggest there are a few reasons why Diana would not interfere. Firstly, there has been a general instruction from Jupiter for the gods not to interfere in the war in Italy. Though this is repealed and somewhat ignored, Diana does seem to still adhere to this rule. Secondly, Camilla’s choice to go to war and therefore go against the ‘teachings’ (if I may use the term) of Diana somewhat discount her from the goddess’ help. Thirdly, in order to remain neutral in the conflict, Diana should abstain from getting involved. If she helps the Trojans, she abandons the native Italians, to whom she was very important. If she helps the Italians, she abandons the Trojans, whom she supported in the Trojan war. It seems that with these things in consideration, it is both the least and most she can do to send Opis out after Camilla’s killer. Regardless of her personal feelings, there are larger reasons why she cannot involve herself in the battle at hand — and this all comes down to the gods not being able to work against Fate.


Throughout the story Jupiter is a reserved and removed character. As mentioned above, he is making sure that everything goes according to Fate (there are arguments as to whether Fate is his will or his will is shaped to Fate; not something I’ll get into here!) At the beginning of book 10, Jupiter calls a meeting with the other gods. He sits them down and says, ‘Hey guys. Why are you all working against me here? I said that Italy should not fight the Trojans. The Romans will have enough trouble as it is down the road with that Carthage business. Whoever did the thing, stop it.’ Venus tattles on Juno, Juno gets mad, all the other gods start muttering about it. Jupiter has had enough, and decrees that the outcome will be left to Fate: nobody will interfere in it. Except, of course, him.

So fast forward, and we have Camilla and her buddies wrecking havoc on the battlefield. I don’t have to remind you of the long list of warriors she kills, which is impressive. At line 11.725, we then find Jupiter sitting up in Olympus watching what she’s doing. She has the singular attention of the king of the gods. Seeing what’s going on, he rouses the anger of the Etruscans she is fighting to rally and fight: as Tarchon says to his men, “Can a woman drive you in disorder and turn your ranks?” The Etruscans then start to do better in the battle. Arruns starts to stalk Camilla. Though a brief moment, we have therefore seen that Jupiter felt the need to personally intervene in the matter of taking down Camilla.

I have often speculated what would have happened if he had not done this. If the Etruscans were not roused by divine inspiration, would Camilla’s troops have defeated them? Then, victorious, what would they have done? It is reasonable to think that Turnus’ ambush of Aeneas would have worked. If he died, the story would have taken a different turn (and it certainly could have, according to Fate, for it would have been responsible for these events). Perhaps Venus’ backup plan of rescuing her grandson Anchises and taking him away to her territory, for him to one day return and reclaim Italy in better circumstances, would have happened. It is all, of course, simply speculation. But I think it is safe to say that Camilla’s death was critical in Aeneas’ survival.


Before we talk about Camilla’s death at the hands of Arruns, I think we should discuss this goddess. A maternal Phrygian goddess, she is said in the Aeneid to be the mother of all the gods, including Zeus (a little hazy on the genealogy here, but go with it). Roman writers saw her as a Trojan goddess and ancestral of Aeneas. She is decidedly on the Trojan side of things in this story. We find her most significantly in a scene earlier on where she gives the Trojans trees for making their ships that take them to Italy. She clearly is looking out for the interests of Aeneas and his fate, and supports the Trojans in their quest.

Cybele statue, from Nicaea in Bithynia.
Cybele statue, from Nicaea in Bithynia.

In book 11, starting at line 768, we then find something unusual. Chloreus, who was once a priest sacred to Cybele, “chances” to be at some distance from Camilla, wearing the ancient equivalent of a sparkling sequinned suit: in Phrygian armour, wearing deep colours and purple, golden weapons, a golden helmet, a saffron linen cloak with a gold clasp, and the rest of his outfit heavily embroidered. Even his horse is wearing an outfit, a hide of bronze scales with gold clasps. If ever something was to scream “DISTRACTION”, this was it. I also do not believe in “chances” when it comes to the Aeneid, and neither did Virgil. Everything was intentional. So the fact that this poncy priest of Cybele appears to throw Camilla off her game and distract her seems to be highly intentional.

If Cybele is as invested in the Trojans as we have seen before this, then we can’t help but think that she helped in this grand scheme to defeat Camilla by planting her priest there. So now, we have Diana not protecting Camilla, Jupiter encouraging the Etruscans to fight harder, Cybele distracting Camilla from the battle. What is left?


Our final player in this scene is the god Apollo. He was a god very familiar with the Etruscans, beloved and revered, and therefore understandably evoked by Arruns as he stands watching Camilla, praying for two things: let him kill Camilla, and let him return home alive. Apollo hears his prayer, and decides to grant half of it: Arruns will kill Camilla, but he will not live to return home. Arruns then throws his spear, it flies through the air in a moment that reads like slow-motion, and stabs Camilla right through the chest. She’s done for, and Arruns is hunted down by Opis on Diana’s behalf, and killed.

Apollo’s choice to only listen to half the prayer is something that still puzzles me. I suppose there is no reason for him to not do as he wished, but it seems odd that he would not protect someone from a race that worships him, and who is acting only according to Fate. I do have a few theories. First, Apollo is only really accountable to Fate. Fate is dictating that Camilla must die, so he gives this little mortal the ability to kill her. Other than that, he owes nothing to Arruns in particular. He is involved only as much as he has to be, and I think this hearkens back to Virgil’s choice to keep Artemis and Apollo out of the story as much as possible.

Secondly, I think there is something to be said about Apollo not overwriting the will of his sister. Diana has already decreed that she will bring about the death of Camilla’s killer, and he does nothing to interfere with this. This raises the question, I think, of whether Diana’s order is again Fate playing through her, and for this reason Apollo cannot interfere, or whether he doesn’t interfere for more sibling-affection related reasons. This latter suggestion is much more unconventional, of course, but I do wonder whether Virgil would play up that angle: Apollo would want his sister to be able to get revenge for her favourite human being killed, even though he was the one that helped it happen. I think they have a complicated sibling relationship in myth, so I will say no more on this theory. The simpler view is probably that Arruns’ fate is decided already and Apollo can do nothing to stop it.


So to wrap this post up, I hope that you’ll agree that there are some pretty significant forces at work to take down Camilla. Some of the really heavy-hitting deities have to take time out to make sure that she does not live past this battle. I don’t know of any other examples in the story where so many gods have to work together to create a circumstance such as this; perhaps, if you can think of one, let me know! From this we can really see what a formidable character Virgil created in Camilla. He obviously was very fond of her and thought quite elaborately – if not to completion – about her story and how she would be woven into the narrative.

I think about a professor that I had in undergrad that would skip over book 11 when teaching the Aeneid. He said it was a side-story that was largely unrelated to the plot of the book. I like to think that this series about Camilla is, in part, to prove how completely wrong he was. Thank you for reading and to all my regular readers who have started to love Camilla as much as I do!


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