The Aeneid was written by a Rome’s greatest poet named Virgil or Vergil (full name was Publius Vergilius Maro) and lived in 70-19 BC. Though, Virgil wrote a couple of other works, it was the Aeneid that brought him fame after his death, during the reign of the Emperor Augustus (reign 27 BC – AD 14). To read about the background of the Aeneid, see Virgil and the Political Background.
|War in Italy|
|Legends of Aeneas|
|Virgil and the Political Background|
Legends of Aeneas
|Aeneas, the Trojan hero who survived the war at Troy, was a subject of several legends. The official legend of Aeneas was that found in a Latin epic, The Aeneid, written by a Roman poet, Virgil or Vergil. According to this epic, Aeneas settled in Italy, not far from the present site of Rome.
Ovid followed more or less Virgil’s epic about Aeneas after the Trojan War. Ovid only give a brief sketch of Aeneas voyage to Italy and the war against the Latins; all this take place in Book 14 of the Metamorphoses.
I will cover this legend, shortly, but in this introduction I would like us to look at the various legends of his survival.
According to classical mythology, Aeneas was the son of Anchises. His mother was the Greek goddess Aphrodite or the Roman goddess Venus. A story of the conception of Aeneas can be found in the Homeric Hymns. One long hymn was dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite.
The House of Troy had actually being divided into two branches: that of Dardania and that of Troy or Ilium. Aeneas actually belonged to the Dardania, a house older than Troy, but Troy became more powerful than Dardania. So in actual fact Aeneas was a Dardanian prince, not a Trojan.
In the major epic of the Trojan War, titled The Iliad, which was written by Homer, Aeneas’ role was minor. Despite this minor role in the epic, Homer says that Aeneas was second only to Hector as a warrior, on the Trojan side. Hector the son of King Priam of Troy and of Hecuba, was commander-in-chief of the Trojans and their allies, while Aeneas had served as second-in-command.
In one scene, when Poseidon rescued Aeneas from the Greek champion, Achilles, the sea god saved him and mentioned to him that he was destined not only to survive Troy’s fall, but becomes its new king.
Homer doesn’t mention Aeneas in his other epic, The Odyssey, which was devoted to the homecoming of the Ithacan hero Odysseus.
When Troy was sacked, all authors mentioned that Aeneas had survived the war.
In the fragments of two epic poems collected in the so-called Epic Cycle, they showed two very different outcomes for Aeneas after the war.
In the other Epic Cycle poem, The Sack of Ilium, Aeneas and his Dardanian followers were alarmed when two large sea serpents killed Laocoon and his son, before the Trojan Horse. Aeneas took this as a bad sign, so he gathered his followers returned to Mount Ida, leaving Troy to its fate, so Aeneas wasn’t there when the city was captured.
Neither of these two works mentioned Aeneas carrying his crippled father out of Troy or him sailing off from Troy to find a new home in Italy, which were found in The Aeneid. The mythographer Apollodorus also doesn’t mention Italy. He does say however that Aeneas did carrying his father out of Troy, but he also says that the Greeks allowed him to leave the city because of his piety. However, this image of him escaping Troy with his father and son does appear in a 6th century BC vase painting.
The earliest connections of Aeneas with Italy and Rome were found in the works of two Greek writers Hellanicus of Lesbos and Damastes of Sigeum. They actually say that Aeneas founded Rome.
The earliest Latin works concerning Aeneas, comes from Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Elder or Cato the Censor (234-149 BC), who wrote The Origines. Cato says that Aeneas married Lavionia, daughter of King Latinus of Latium, and founded Alba Longa.
Such was the popularity of Aeneas that other people in the Middle Ages began associating their cultures and civilisations to the Trojans, in particular to Aeneas. In the prologue of the medieval Icelandic Edda, Snorri Sturluson had identified Troy with Asgard, and Aeneas with Vidar, son of Odin and survivor of Ragnarok. Snorri had associated the destruction of Asgard during Ragnarok, with that of Troy.
According to the Welsh (pseudo-) historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in his Historia regum Britanniae, a long line of British kings were said to be descendants of Aeneas. Aeneas’ grandson Brutus was said to have migrated to Britain; Brutus became the eponymous founder of Britain.
Virgil and the Political Background
|The Aeneid was written by a Rome’s greatest poet named Virgil or Vergil (full name was Publius Vergilius Maro) and lived in 70-19 BC. Though, Virgil wrote a couple of other works, it was the Aeneid that brought him fame after his death, during the reign of the Emperor Augustus (reign 27 BC – AD 14).
Though it may seem to be incomplete because Virgil untimely death, the Aeneid was very popular in Rome. The Aeneid was used in Latin classroom throughout Rome’s history.
Augustus was originally named Gaius Octavius (54 BC – AD 14). Octavius (Augustus) was a great nephew of Julius Caesar, the great statesman and general. Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, when he gained absolute power in Rome, in the form of dictatorship. The Senate fearing his tyranny, so the senators stabbed Caesar to death.
Octavius was a member of the Second Triumvirate (43-32 BC), with Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. The Triumvirate was a mean of sharing political and military power during the last years of the Roman Republic. Though Octavius and Antony were partners, they were also rivals and their alliances were uneasy at the best of time. They split the Roman world in three, with Octavius receiving the western provinces, including Italy, while Antony received the eastern provinces. Lepidus received Sicily and Africa, but he was a minor player in the Triumvirate. Antony married Octavia, Octavius’ sister, to seal the deal.
They were involved in civil war against Caesar’s murderers. But once their enemies were all dead, their alliance began to crumble. The Second Triumvirate split because Antony had fallen under the charm of Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. Antony married Cleopatra while Octavia was in Greece and Rome, looking after his political affairs. Antony had several children from Cleopatra.
Civil war resulted when Antony sent his wife back to Rome and divorced Octavia. It was the excuse Octavius needed to declare war upon Antony and Cleopatra. Octavius defeated Antony’s fleet in a naval battle at Actium, on 31 BC. The following year in Egypt, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.
This left Octavius as the sole ruler of the Roman world. To avoid assassination like his great uncle Julius Caesar, Octavius reorganised military and political structure, so that the Senate would bestow power to him. Octavius knew that Rome did not need another civil war. While the Senate still administered some of the more peaceful provinces, Octavius received control over the rest of the provinces, since he has the backing of the entire army.
In 27 BC, Octavius had changed his name to Augustus. Augustus was emperor, and the Roman Republic had officially ended. A new era had begun in Rome.
The empire began to prosper from his constitutional settlement. Like Athens at the height of its power, Augustus established a program of developing magnificent new buildings for Rome.
And like Napoleon in France after the French Revolution, Augustus became a great patron of arts, architectures and literature. Augustus saw this as an excellent vehicle to justify his rights to imperial powers.
Augustus had used Virgil’s work, as media of propaganda for establishing his imperial power and promoting the Pax Romana, the era of the “Roman Peace”.
The epic is the account of the adventure of the Trojan hero, Aeneas, after the Trojan War. Virgil tried to give Rome a sense of heroic past, by associating their great city with Aeneas, as the ancestor of the Roman people. Julius Caesar and Augustus claimed direct ancestry to Aeneas through Ascanius, son of Aeneas, otherwise known as Iulus.
However, Virgil was not the only writer to link their pasts with Aeneas or other heroes.
Alexander the Great, one of the greatest soldiers of antiquity, seriously believed he was descendant of Achilles and Neoptolemus. When Alexander was in Egypt, the priests say that he was the son of god Amon.
In Iceland, Snorri Sturluson wrote in the Prose Edda, that Asgard, home of the gods, was actually Troy, and that the Norse gods were Trojan heroes, such as Thor was Hector and Vali (Ali) was Helenus. Snorri continued that the fall of Troy was Ragnarök, and that Aeneas was the god Vidar, who survived Ragnarök.
Similarly, Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote Historia regum Britanniae (1137), said that the first king of Britain was Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas. Brutus left Italy to find a new home on the British Isles. Over a thousand years later, Arthur was said to be descendant of Brutus, therefore Aeneas was his ancestor.
By claiming linkage to Aeneas, Heracles or a number of other heroes, rulers and nobles tend to think that they deserved the right of kingship or godhood. Seriously though, I found it quite amusing and I believed that these people were suffering from delusions of grandeur.
|Search For A New Home|
|Anchises and the Sibyl|
|The Aeneid actually began its tale in Carthage.
A fierce storm broke out at sea, with stormy winds driving the Trojan fleet to Carthage. It was no ordinary storm. Juno, or Hera as they called her among the Greeks, Queen of Heaven, had stirred the winds and sea. Since the time of Judgement of Paris, the goddess hatred for the Trojans hasn’t lesser since the death of Paris and the sack of mighty Troy. She was supporter of the Greek army, determined to rid of Troy for being slight in a beauty contest, when Paris awarded the apple of discord to Venus, a Latin name for the love goddess Aphrodite.
This Trojan fleet was led by the Dardanian prince, Aeneas, son of Anchises and Venus (Aphrodite). He was the leader of the Dardanians in the war at Troy, but he had survived and gathered the survivors to find a new home for his people. The goddess Juno (Hera) continued to oppose him and his people.
In Carthage, the goddess had hoped that its ruler and its kingdom would turn against these strangers, or at least divert Aeneas from fulfilling his destiny in Italy. But this kingdom was ruled by a Phoenician queen – Dido.
Dido was the founder of Carthage when she fled with her sister Anna from Phoenicia after their brother, Pygmalion, had murdered Sychaeus, Dido’s husband and uncle.
Venus took action to ensure her son’s survival. The love goddess persuaded her son Cupid (Eros), to make the Carthaginian queen fall in love with Aeneas, so the Carthaginian queen did not harm her son.
When Aeneas disembarked from his ship, Cupid took the form of Aeneas’ son, Ascanius, when they met the queen. With Cupid’s presence, Dido fell in love with Aeneas.
A banquet was held in honour of her Trojan guests, where Aeneas recounts his adventures. Aeneas began his narration with the last days of Troy.
Troy had fallen due to a ruse, in which the Greeks had hidden inside a giant Wooden Horse. The Greek fleet had gone, pretending they had left in defeat. At night, while the Trojan slept after an apparent victory over the Greeks, those inside the Trojan Horse would come out of its belly and opened the Troy’s gate for the returning Greek army. Too many Trojans were killed in the first hour of treachery and massacre, despite their valiant stand to save their city.
When Aeneas realised that Troy could not be saved, he went to rescue his family. Since Anchises, former king of the Dardanians, was crippled, Aeneas had to carry his father on his back. Aeneas left his home, with his son in tow Ascanius (Iulus) and his wife Creusa, the daughter of King Priam of Troy and Hecuba, following behind them. During their flight, Cresua got separated from husband. She had vanished, apparently killed.
Aeneas reached the safety of Mount Ida, with his father and son. Other survivors had also managed to reach Mount Ida. After the Greek left with Troy destroyed and the Trojan survivors enslaved, Aeneas and his followers left Troy, with twenty ships they sailed to Thrace, hoping to find a new home. However the ghost of his cousin Polydorus, son of Priam, warned them of his murder by the treacherous Thracian king named Polymestor.
Aeneas was advised to find a new home for his people from the land of their “ancient mother”, which they assumed to be Crete, the original home of Teucer, the Trojan ancestor. They had only arrived on this island but only to decide to leave Crete when they found that the island was suffering from a famine.
It was only when they reached Buthrotum, in Epeirus that they met Helenus, the seer and the son of Priam. Helenus had being slave to Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, but gained freedom, because of his wise counsel. Andromache, Hector’s wife had also being freed, and she married the seer. It was Helenus who informed them that their final destination was Italy.
The journey to Italy was long and fraught with perils. Just before they met Helenus they were driven away by the Harpies on the islands of Strophades. They avoid the narrow strait where the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis.
They suffered from hardship in travel, they encountered the wild storms, the Harpies, and in Sicily, they rescued an Ithacan, named Achaemenides, whom Ulysses (Odysseus) had left behind. Achaemenides’ timely warning, allow Aeneas and his followers to escape from Polyphemus, the blind Cyclops. (See Odyssey about how Ulysses blinded Polyphemus.)
Aeneas’ father died in Drepanum, in Sicily.
|After Aeneas’ narration, Dido had listened with growing unnatural love and desire for the stranger. The only person she could talk about this was to be her sister, Anna. Anna didn’t realise the love was not natural; she was unaware the gods had inflicted upon sister a love that would bring tragic consequences to her queen. Anna thought that Aeneas would be the perfect husband for her sister, a fate that was not meant to be. She encouraged the queen to give the utmost attention to their suppliant and guest.
So the queen welcomed Aeneas and the Trojans to stay in Carthage, offer her palace to the Trojan royalty, in the hope that Aeneas would in time become her husband.
Juno hoped that Aeneas would marry Dido, in the hope that he would forget his destiny in Italy. Venus has the opposite thought to this matter. During a hunting trip, the storm scattered the hunting party. Aeneas and Dido took sheltered into this cave, and the next morning, it soon became common knowledge in Carthage that Dido had slept with Aeneas. Though, they were not married, Dido had lost her wits, believing that they were married.
For months, Aeneas and his followers stayed in Carthage. They all believed that this would be their new home. Aeneas was often seen at her side, and it seemed that Dido has already given up her right to rule her city.
Aeneas seemed willing to stay in Carthage and become Dido’s husband. But Jupiter (Zeus) finally decided to take hand of the situation. The king of gods knew also of Aeneas’ destiny, and sent Mercury (Hermes), his messenger, to the Dardanian hero with words that he has lingered long enough in Carthage and a direct order that he must leave with his followers.
Aeneas tried to leave Carthage in secret, but Dido found out and tried to dissuade him from leaving. Aeneas told her that he was reluctant to leave, but he was given an order by Jupiter that his home was in Italy.
Dido could neither detain nor hurt him; she cursed him that her death would haunt him for the rest of his life. She made further entreaties to Aeneas as the Trojans made preparation for the journey.
When the final preparation was made, Dido had given up. Dido became inconsolable and quite mad over Aeneas abandoning her. Dido asked Anna to order a preparation should be made to sacrifice to Stygian Jupiter (Hades or Pluto), all the possessions that belonged to Aeneas, such as his sword and clothing, would be burned in the pyre. Dido told her sister it was the only way that she could forget the traitorous Trojan. Anna didn’t realise her sister’s true intention.
The moment she saw the ships left her harbour, Dido returned to the bed which she had shared with Aeneas. On the bed were Aeneas sword and clothing. With final words to the gods, she falls upon Aeneas’ sword.
Anna and the servant their queen had taken her own life. Anna realised the true purpose of the funeral purpose. She blamed herself, since she had encouraged her sister that Aeneas was a worthy husband for her. Rather than wait, Anna had her sister placed upon the funeral pyre and set alight.
Aeneas did see the black smoke from a distant, but did not know it was from the fire of Dido’s funeral pyre.
See Carthage in Geographia about the alternative legend of Dido’s death.
|Sailing away from Africa, they were at sea for days before they reach Sicily again. This time they were guests of Acestes, in Eryx. Acestes’ mother was Trojan, so he helped Aeneas prepared a great funeral games for Aeneas’ father, Anchises, who had died at Drepanum.
Then they set out again for Italy, hoping to reach Cumae, so he could consult with the Sibyl. Before they had landed in Eryx, Palinurus, the pilot of Aeneas’ ship had complained about dark, stormy sky. But before they reached Cumae, the pilot was lulled by the calm weather and sea; he fell asleep at the tiller, then fell overboard and drowned.
The Trojans reached Cumae, where Aeneas found and met the Sibyl, the seeress and priestess of Apollo and Diana in Diana’s Wood. Her name was Deiphobe, daughter of Glaucus. Through a trance Sibyl foresaw that Aeneas would find greater danger in Latium than he ever did on the high seas. In Latium, Aeneas would have to fight another war, if he was to win a homeland for his son and people. The prophetess also disclosed that one of his men, named Misenus, had died.
Aeneas was not satisfied with just Sibyl’s prophecy, he wanted to go to the Underworld to visit his father; a promise he had made before Anchises had died. The Sibyl agreed to guide him through the Underworld, only if he could find the Golden Bough.
The Golden Bough was sacred to Proserpine (Persephone), which will be offered to the goddess. Another name for the bough was the Wand of Destiny. Like the name implied, the leaf and stem is golden in colour. Pluck the bough from the tree, and another one would grow in its place. However, no one can pluck this Golden Bough, unless the person was destined to do so; not even an axe or sword could cut the Bough from the tree. It can only found on one tree, somewhere in Diana’s Wood. Aeneas felt a little despair, because this wood was quite large and dense.
While his men prepared a funeral pyre for Misenus, a white bird flew pass Aeneas’ face. The Trojan hero recognised the dove, which was sacred to his mother. He believed that his mother had sent the bird to aid him, so he followed the flight of Venus’ dove.
Aeneas found the Golden Bough on a holm-oak tree. Aeneas had to pull a couple of times, before the Golden Bough would come free in his hands. Aeneas brought the bough to the Sibyl, and they made preparation to descend the Underworld.
Aeneas and the Sibyl went to a cave, which was protected by a black lake and forest. No birds fly over this lake because the fume or water vapour was poisonous. The Greeks called it Aornos, the Birdless. Four bullocks were sacrificed to the goddess Hecate. Aeneas, himself, sacrificed a black lamb the Fates and barren cow to Proserpine. After sacrificial rites were completed, Aeneas followed Sibyl into the Underworld.
There is a lot of description in Aeneas’ descent, which cannot be fully described here. Aeneas and his companion had to cross the five Stygian rivers, including the river Styx, where they encountered Charon, the ferryman. At first, Charon refused to allow passage for the livings, because of his previous dealing with living heroes (Heracles, Orpheus, Theseus and Peirithous). But passages were given when the Sibyl revealed the Golden Bough to Charon.
The Sibyl had also led them passed the Cerberus, by feeding them drugged corn, which caused the hound to fall into slumber. Throughout their journey, Aeneas encountered shades of human and some shades of frightening creatures, but now harmless now that they are dead. Among the shades he met was his cousin Deïphobus, son of Priam. But the person who caused him the most grief was Dido, the Carthaginian queen.
Dido refused to acknowledge his presence, since she had killed herself because he had abandoned her. Even dead, she was still angry with Aeneas. She has now rejoined her former husband, Sychaeus, who tried to comfort her.
They soon came to the entry to the Elysian Fields, where an archway was erected by the Cyclops. At this gateway, Aeneas planted the Golden Bough on the threshold, before the pair entered a separate part of the Underworld.
Sibyl then asked the poet Musaeus for direction to finding Anchises. Musaeus was either a pupil or son of Orpheus, who was said to have brought the Orphic Mysteries to Greece.
Finally they found Anchises near the river Lethe. Father and son were reunited for a little while. Anchises urged his son to find their new home in Italy, where one of their descendants, named Romulus, would find the city Rome that would last thousands of years. Anchises also revealed that this Rome would establish a strong empire, lasting longer than others; it would certainly be greater than Troy. In fact, Virgil implied that Rome would be the second Troy. He mentioned other kings and famous generals, as well as the wars against Carthage and Gaul. One of these great Romans would be Augustus (Octavius), the first emperor of Imperial Rome.
As you can see this is a lot of propaganda for Rome and Augustus, who was Virgil’s contemporary.
|The Call for War|
|Search For Allies|
|War Against the Latins|
|In the land of Latium was a king, named Latinus, who name was eponym of the Latins. Latinus was a son of Faunus and Marcia. He was also a descendant of Picus and of Saturn (Cronus). Latinus was married to Amata, and he was a father of Lavinia. Latinus ruled in the city of Laurentum.
He was destined to not have any son to rule after him, so it was important to find a suitable husband for his daughter. Lavinia has many suitors, including Turnus, a young Rutulian king from the city of Ardea.
Turnus was a son of Danaus and Venilia. Turnus was most likely to have married Lavinia, because he was the strongest and most handsome of Italic suitors.
However, Latinus witnessed several miracles, which his prophet said that he must marry his daughter to no Latin prince; Lavinia must marry a foreign prince who was due to arrive soon; it was a divine decree. However, with this stranger, war will break out on his land, because of the dispute over his daughter between his people and the newcomers. Latinus had confirmation from his father Faunus that the oracle was true.
Latinus was horrified that there will be war on his land, but he couldn’t ignore the divine decree that he must marry his daughter to this Trojan prince.
Aeneas and his followers landed at the mouth of the River Tiber. As Aeneas had lunch on the field with his son, he realised that they had found their new home, when Ascanius commented on that they were eating their table.
When Aeneas arrived in Laurentum, Latinus warmly greeted Aeneas, and knew immediately that this stranger was destined to marry his daughter. So when Aeneas asked for Lavinia’s hand in marriage, the old king agreed.
Juno however stirred up trouble for new settlers. Juno caused Amata to oppose Aeneas’ suit, preferring Turnus. When Turnus found out that the king was favouring a stranger, he was also angry. Turnus refused to give up Lavinia and called upon Latinus to help him drive out the Trojans, but the old king refused to go to war against the Trojans, since he knew that Aeneas would fulfil the prophecy, regardless his wife’s or Turnus’ opposition to the Trojan prince.
There is a temple of Janus in Laurentum, with two Gates of War. The Latins would go to war only if both Gates were opened. Amata tried to persuade her husband to open the gates, but the old king refused. Juno, however, descent from Olympus, and with her own hands, unbolted the gates and threw the doors wide open, signalling war. Seeing that war was inevitable, Latinus abdicated.
|Among those who sided with Turnus was an exiled Etruscan king named Mezentius; Aventinus, the son of Hercules (Heracles); and the Volscian warrior woman named Camilla. There was also Virbius, son of Hippolytus, who was the son of Theseus.
Turnus had sent a messenger to the Greek hero Diomedes who settled in the city of Argyripa in southern Italy. Diomedes was one the best warriors on the Greek side during the Trojan War. Instead of being eager to fight the Trojans again, Diomedes advised Turnus to make peace with Aeneas and the Trojans. Diomedes clearly had enough war against the Trojans.
Aeneas had no choice but to seek out allies. He did not have enough men to survive the war.
The Etruscans decided to help Aeneas, only because they hated their former king – Mezentius. Mezentius was a tyrant known for his cruelties, who enjoyed torturing people. So the Etruscans became Aeneas’ largest ally.
A poor and aged king of Pallanteum (future site of Rome), named Evander, sent his only son Pallas, with a small force of warriors, to assist Aeneas in the war. Evander had given a belt to Pallas, before his son left with Aeneas. Aeneas and Pallas became friends, though this relationship would be short-lived.
|War Against the Latins|
|While Aeneas was seeking allies, Turnus and the Latins had already attacked the Trojans. The Trojans were besieged in their small, hastily built fort. There was a series of skirmishes in the beginning. The Trojans were about to be overwhelmed by numerically superior force, until Aeneas arrived with reinforcement, from newly formed allies.
Aeneas had killed Mezentius. Camilla also fell, killed by a Ligurian named Arruns; Arruns tried to run away, but a nymph named Opis, avenged her death, at Diana’s order. Turnus had killed Pallas and took the belt that his father had given him.
The war began to turn in the Trojans favour. The Trojans and their allies began to besiege Lauretum. Aeneas and Turnus decided to end the war through single combat, but Juno ended the truce, by stirring up the Latins. Juno used a nymph named Juturna, who was sister of Turnus, to disrupt the truce. It was Juturna who wounded Aeneas with an arrow, but Venus saved her son and healed his wound. In the guise of Turnus’ charioteer, Juturna tried to protect her brother. When the city seemed to be lost, Amata committed suicide.
More fighting followed, until Aeneas and Turnus agreed to another truce; they would settle the war through single combat (again). Jupiter (Zeus) prevented Juturna from saving her brother. In the end, Aeneas was stronger and more skilful warrior than Turnus. Aeneas wounded Turnus. Aeneas would have spare Turnus, had the hero not seen Turnus wearing Pallas’ belt; he recognised Pallas’ baldric. Mercy was forgotten, so Aeneas killed Turnus, plunging his sword into his enemy’s breast. With Turnus’ death, the Latins surrendered to the Trojans, since it was decided by single combat.
The tale ended with Turnus’ death, because of the author’s untimely death. Obviously, Aeneas married Lavinia, but Virgil didn’t go beyond Turnus’ shade being sent to Hades.