After arriving in Italy, Aeneas and his Trojan followers had to face a hostile coalition of Italian tribes, led by Turnus, the king of the Rutulians. With the help of Etruscan and Greek allies, he won a great victory. Aeneas himself killed many powerful foes, including Mezentius, a deposed Etruscan king who had taken refuge with Turnus.
At the beginning of the eleventh book of the Aeneid, Aeneas cut the branches off the trunk of a huge oak, erected it on a mound, and adorned it with the arms of Mezentius. This was a victory memorial dedicated to Mars, the war god.
Aeneas then addressed his comrades. He spoke of the great victory that they had won and pointed out that their next military objective was the capital of King Latinus, who was actually friendly to the Trojans but compelled by his people to take part in a war that he did not want.
However, before the armies could march, the Trojans and their allies had to honor their dead with burial rites. One of the dead was Pallas, the son of the Greek king Evander, who had become an ally of the Trojans. Aeneas uttered an elegy over his body and sent it back to his father. Aeneas sent along some of the spoils that had been wrested from the enemy, and one thousand soldiers accompanied the body as a sort of honor guard. Everyone was sad. Even Aethon, the horse of Pallas, was crying.
When Evander saw his dead son, he wished that he himself had fallen in battle instead of Pallas. He considered his wife fortunate since she had died before her son.
Evander did not regret his alliance with Aeneas. He told the Trojan soldiers to return to the battlefield so that they could contribute to the war effort.
In the meantime, a delegation came from the city of King Latinus and asked for a truce so that they could collect the bodies of their fallen comrades and bury them. They pointed out that the Trojans no longer had any reason to fight against those who had lost their lives.
In reply, Aeneas told them that he was willing to offer peace not only to the dead, but also to the living. He suggested that Turnus, who wanted to chase the Trojans out of Italy, should meet him in single combat.
One of the delegates, whose name was Drances, hated the Rutulian Turnus. He was pleased with the words of Aeneas and promised to relay the peace proposal to his fellow citizens. For the present, both sides agreed to observe a truce for twelve days.
During the truce, the Trojans, the Etruscans, and their enemies peacefully intermingled as they collected their dead and cut down trees to build funeral pyres.
Drances faithfully reported the words of Aeneas, and many agreed that Turnus alone should risk his life, especially women whose husbands and sons had died in battle. Nevertheless, others disagreed, and Turnus had the support of Amata, the wife of King Latinus.
The peace party received support from an unexpected quarter. Diomedes, a prominent Greek leader in the Trojan War, had settled in southern Italy with his followers. The Italians had sent ambassadors to encourage Diomedes to become their ally. The ambassadors now returned with bad news. Diomedes not only refused to fight the Trojans, but also offered cogent reasons why the Italians should make peace with Aeneas.
King Latinus favored peace. He was willing to give them some land if they wished to remain. If they wished to sail elsewhere, he was willing to help them build ships.
Drances then suggested that Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus, be given to Aeneas in marriage. He urged Turnus, who wanted to marry Lavinia, either to relinquish his claims or settle the matter by meeting Aeneas in single combat.
Turnus adamantly opposed the peace proposals. He pointed out that the Trojans, though victorious, had suffered many casualties. He himself had slain many with his own hand. Moreover, even though Diomedes refused to help them, they had many other powerful allies. He expressed willingness to fight Aeneas in single combat, if that was what everybody wanted.
While they were quarreling, Aeneas led his soldiers, accompanied by his Etruscan allies, toward the capital city of Latinus. Because of this, Turnus was able to ignore the counsel of those who proposed peace. With a few energetic commands, he mustered the troops for war.
King Latinus was dismayed. The people prepared to defend their city, and Queen Amata went to the temple of Minerva to pray.
In a conference with Camilla, the leader of his Volscian allies, Turnus proposed the following strategy. Since Aeneas and his foot soldiers were crossing mountainous terrain, Turnus would ambush him in a suitable location. In the meantime, Camilla and others would fight the enemy cavalry, which was causing havoc on the plain.
The goddess Diana was filled with dismay. Camilla was her favorite devotee, and Diana knew that she was doomed to die.
Diana summoned one of her nymphs named Opis and told her the following story.
Camilla was the daughter of a proud Volscian king who was deposed for his misdeeds. He was forced to flee, carrying the infant Camilla with him. While his enemies were close behind, he came to the Amasenus River. He hesitated to swim across carrying the child. He felt that she probably would die. Therefore, he wrapped Camilla in a protective covering and tied her to a huge spear. As he hurled the spear and his daughter across the river, he promised to devote her to Diana if she landed on the other side safe and sound. From that time on, Camilla enjoyed the special favor of Diana.
Though Diana could not prevent the death of Camilla, she wanted to punish the warrior who killed her. She sent Opis to the battlefield. As soon as Camilla died, Opis was to shoot an avenging arrow at the warrior who killed her.
The Volscians under Camilla and the Latins under Messapus met the enemy cavalry. It was a seesaw battle. First one side prevailed, and then the other.
Camilla was especially valiant in the fight, she killed many enemy warriors. The Etruscans would have been routed, but the valor of an Etruscan chief named Tarchon saved the day. A crafty Etruscan named Arruns stalked Camilla and killed her when the opportunity presented itself. In revenge, Opis killed Arruns, according to the instructions given by the goddess Diana.
After the death of Camilla, the Trojans, and their allies made a spirited attack The Volscian cavalry was the first to flee, and the Rutilians soon followed in their footsteps. They rushed back to the city with the enemy in close pursuit. There was a great slaughter, and the city was seriously threatened.
Meanwhile, Turnus had prepared his ambush, and it seemed as if Aeneas would fall into his well-prepared trap. However, when Turnus heard about the military disaster that his allies had suffered, he rushed back to defend the city.
Aeneas crossed the dangerous terrain not long after the army of Turnus had left. As the sun set, both armies were near the city. Since it was too dark to fight, hostilities were suspended.
This summary is based on the Virgil’s Latin text, which is presented online by the Latin Library. I also consulted an offline English translation by Allen Mandelbaum.