Who was Camilla of the Volscians?

Having written some long posts about the character Camilla from Virgil’s Aeneid, I realized that a simple introductory post might be useful for those studying her/interested in the character. So here we go, my Camilla primer!

Who is Camilla?

Camilla is a character from Virgil’s Aeneid. As far as we know, she is an original creation of the author, though she follows the literary tradition of other huntress maidens. She is the main character of Book 11, and is mentioned at the end of Book 7 in a battle list.

What are her alliances?

Camilla is the Queen of the Volscians when we meet her. As a native Italian, she is opposing Aeneas’ conquest of the land. She is an ally of Turnus and Mezentius, and seems to have the trust and confidence of Turnus in particular. She has loyal followers that go with her into battle, and four maidens in particular fight alongside her: Acca, Larina, Tulla, and Tarpeia.

Who were her parents?

Her father was Metabus, the former king of Privernum. He was deposed as a tyrant and fled from the city with infant Camilla. They lived in the forest and shunned society after escaping from their pursuers. We are not told whether her father is still alive or not, but he is definitely not present in the battle. Her mother was named Casmilla, and Camilla was named after her. There is no other mention of her mother, and she is not said to leave Privernum with Metabus, so it may be presumed that she is dead.

What are her religious affiliations?

When Camilla was an infant, her father promised her to be a loyal devotee to Diana in exchange for the goddess’ protection. This was granted and Camilla was raised as a huntress to Diana. The goddess tells her attendant, as they watch the scene unfold, that Camilla was very dear to her and if she had not gone to war, she would still be part of her company. From this information we can guess that by going to war, Camilla has forsaken the ways of Diana’s worshippers. She is no longer under the protection of the goddess. As she was never entered into the religious service voluntarily, we have to wonder what her motivations were in going to war.

How does she fight?

Camilla is described as fighting like an Amazon, and resembling one in appearance. She uses the weapons of the hunt — a staff, bow and arrow, spears — in war, which is portrayed as a negative and strange thing. During her battle scene she is shown to defeat a large number of men in various ways. She possesses supernatural speed, able to run faster than horses and cross wheat fields without disturbing the grain. Overall she is portrayed as very strong and capable, but with certain downfalls — her hunting aspects, the fact that she is a woman in battle, and her coveting of treasure.

What is her fate?

When fighting in the battle, Camilla sees a priest standing off to the side. He is dressed elaborately in rich materials and Camilla thinks these things will make good spoils of war. She begins to pursue the man, but is caught off guard by an Etruscan soldier, Arruns. With the help of Apollo, Arruns throws a spear that pierces Camilla in the chest. She falls to the ground and her companions run to her. She tells them to make sure Turnus sticks to the plan, and dies. When Turnus hears that she is dead, he does not stick to the plan.

I thought the Etruscans were allies with Turnus?

The Etruscans were not allies of Turnus, but allies of Aeneas. Their king, Mezentius, is an ally of Turnus, but his people do not support him. There is some debate about the exact situation in this regard, but this seems to be the general state of things.

So how could Arruns, who seems feeble, kill Camilla?

Arruns asked for help from Apollo to kill Camilla. Apollo, as are all the gods, is subject to the power of Fate, and if Jupiter says that Fate wants Aeneas to take over Italy, then they all must allow that to happen. Arruns asks for two things: let me kill Camilla, and let me return home safely. Apollo only grants one of these things; just because the gods are subject to the power of Fate doesn’t mean they have to like it! Camilla is one of many people standing in the way of Aeneas’ conquest, and she must be eliminated so that he can fulfill his destiny.

If you have any more questions about her, leave me a comment or send me an email! I’m always happy to talk Camilla!


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. Read More »

Camilla: Influences and Inspirations

This week, we’re going to look at some possible influences in Virgil’s design of Camilla. This includes both fictional and historical figures.

We know that there is no evidence of Camilla before she was written by Virgil, and no source afterwards disputes this. As his original character, he drew inspiration from many sources. She seems to be a combination of several archetypes: the ‘female warrior’ (or bellatrix), the ‘maiden huntress’, and the ‘foreign queen’. Putting these together sure has some interesting consequences.

There are four figures that I’m going to explore here today as influences for Camilla’s character: Penthesilea, Cleopatra, Harpalyce, and Dido.

Read More »

Camilla: Representation for the Volscians

There are a large number of Italic tribes mentioned in the Aeneid as they oppose or side with Aeneas and his Trojan troops. Aeneas allies himself with the Latins, and King Latinus, whose daughter Lavinia he marries after the conflict. He’s also allied with King Evander and the Arcadians, and is joined by his son and troops, and the Etruscans.

The main opponents to this force are Turnus, the king of the Rutulians (which seems to be a subsect of the Latins, but that is a post for another day), Mezentius (a deposed Etruscan king who was ejected for his cruelty and sought refuge with Turnus) and his son Lausus, and Camilla and her Volscian crew.

'Agreement between Camilla and Turnus' by Francesco de Mura (1765)
‘Agreement between Camilla and Turnus’ by Francesco de Mura (1765)

I have often wondered why Virgil chose to invent Camilla, and why he chose to make her Volscian. There must be a purpose for it, for it is so implicitly written.

The Volscian tribe is first mentioned by Virgil in Georgics 2, when discussing the great achievements of the Italian land. He writes “haec genus acre virus, Marsos pubemque Sabellam adsuetumque malo Ligurem Volscoque verities exulit“, “She raised this keen race of men, Marsians and Sabine men, Ligurians accustomed to hardship, and the Volscians armed with spears” (2.167-169). The Volscians are added here to the list of other tribes typified for their sturdiness and strength. King Evander takes comfort and joy in the fact that his son Pallas killed thousands of Volscians before he died (spoiler alert… find it at 11.166-168). Clearly Virgil regarded the Volscians as a strong foe, evidenced further by the history of Roman and Volscian conflicts over the Pontine Plain as told by Livy and Dionysius.

Virgil does not list off the names of Volscian cities, save for a brief mention of Privernum where Camilla’s father once ruled. As a reader, we are aware that these other cities must exist, for Camilla is queen of one (it is not mentioned which), but Virgil spends much more time describing the river Amasenus and the wilderness that makes up their territory. The cities seem but shadowy outliers from the more important rural aspects of the Volscian land. Camilla and her father Metabus, the exiled tyrant, lived apparently unchallenged for many years in the forest, though it does sound as if Camilla had some contact with settlements as they offered her much praise.

Also worth mentioning is the archaeological finds at the site of Satricum, where many Volscian graves have been found.** Livy says that Attius Tullius and Gnaeus Marcius turned over Satricum (and other cities) to the Volsci, ‘liberating’ and ‘recovering’ them. This implies a Volscian presence in the area even before this time (Liv. 2.39). The chief cult in Satricum is that of the Mater Matuta, a name inscribed in many places in the site and apparently quite important. The Mater Matuta, as the name suggests, was a maternal goddess of the native Italians. She was associated with childbirth and children in general, and also had a temple dedicated to her later in Rome.

So what does this tell us? Virgil, being a knowledgeable fellow, has three main facts about the Volscians to work with:

1. The Volscians are a strong, sturdy, and fearsome race.
2. The Volscians have a strong connection to the land and wilderness (in Virgil’s opinion, as derived from his writing).
3. There is a presence of a Mother Goddess central to Volscian culture.

These seem to be the building blocks for Camilla’s character. The choice to make her a woman is certainly worthy for debate, and there are many trains of thought that I would support on the matter. I will suggest here that it is a feminine aspect that best suits a character fitting into these points above, with the exception of the more neutral first point (either a female or male warrior could have suitably represented the Volscian’s fearsomeness and strength).

On a very basic level, Italy is identified as a feminine noun, Italia. A tribe that is connected with the wilderness and the land could understandably be represented with a female personification of this. Mother Goddesses often have female worshippers and priestesses, and Artemis/Diana would be a more relevant deity to the Roman readers of the Aeneid, with similar attributes (Artemis as a deity of childbirth is a topic I will write on later!) The followers of this goddess would adopt the huntress lifestyle, at least in a mythological setting.

Therefore we get Camilla. Her fearsomeness in battle is demonstrated amply in the battle scene of book eleven. She fights with the weapons of the hunt, unsuitable for war but nonetheless present. She is watched over and avenged by the goddess Diana, who expresses her deep sadness at the fate of her favourite mortal.

We can see some sense in what Virgil did in creating Camilla. In a way, she is representative of the more rural aspects of Italy. But why, then, does she die in battle? This question shall be answered soon! I hope you enjoyed this segment. As always, comments and tweets are welcome!

** I am not an archaeologist and base my information about this site on literary research. If you have any information about it or know differently than I wrote please let me know! It was one of the harder parts to find information on and I would love contributions.

Camilla of the Volscians: Series Introduction

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.


Virgil’s Creation

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.Read More »