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aeneid
Virgil opens his epic poem by declaring its subject, “warfare and a man at war,” and asking a muse, or goddess of inspiration, to explain the anger of Juno, queen of the gods (I.1). The man in question is Aeneas, who is fleeing the ruins of his native city, Troy, which has been ravaged in a war with Achilles and the Greeks. The surviving Trojans accompany Aeneas on a perilous journey to establish a new home in Italy, but they must contend with the vindictive Juno.
Juno harbors anger toward Aeneas because Carthage is her favorite city, and a prophecy holds that the race descended from the Trojans will someday destroy Carthage.
aeneid
Juno holds a permanent grudge against Troy because another Trojan, Paris, judged Juno’s rival Venus fairest in a divine beauty contest. Juno calls on Aeolus, the god of the winds, directing him to bring a great storm down upon Aeneas as he sails south of Sicily in search of a friendly harbor. Aeolus obeys, unleashing a fierce storm upon the battle-weary Trojans.
Aeneas watches with horror as the storm approaches. Winds and waves buffet the ships, knocking them off course and scattering them. As the tempest intensifies, Neptune, the god of the sea, senses the presence of the storm in his dominion. He tells the winds that Aeolus has overstepped his bounds and calms the waters just as Aeneas’s fleet seems doomed. Seven ships remain, and they head for the nearest land in sight: the coast of Libya. When they reach the shore, before setting out to hunt for food, a weary and worried Aeneas reminds his companions of previous, more deadly adversities they have overcome and the fated end toward which they strive.
aeneid
Meanwhile, on Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, Aeneas’s mother, Venus, observes the Trojans’ plight and begs Jupiter, king of the gods, to end their suffering. Jupiter assures her that Aeneas will eventually find his promised home in Italy and that two of Aeneas’s descendants, Romulus and Remus, will found the mightiest empire in the world. Jupiter then sends a god down to the people of Carthage to make sure they behave hospitably to the Trojans.
Aeneas remains unaware of the divine machinations that steer his course. While he is in the woods, Venus appears to him in disguise and relates how Dido came to be queen of Carthage. Dido’s wealthy husband, Sychaeus, who lived with her in Tyre (a city in Phoenicia, now Syria), was murdered for his gold by Pygmalion, her brother. Sychaeus appeared to Dido as a ghost and advised her to leave Tyre with those who were opposed to the tyrant Pygmalion. She fled, and the emigrant Phoenicians settled across the sea in Libya. They founded Carthage, which has become a powerful city.
aeneid
Venus advises Aeneas to go into the city and talk to the queen, who will welcome him. Aeneas and his friend Achates approach Carthage, shrouded in a cloud that Venus conjures to prevent them from being seen. On the outskirts of the city, they encounter a shrine to Juno and are amazed to behold a grand mural depicting the events of the Trojan War. Their astonishment increases when they arrive in Dido’s court to find many of their comrades who were lost and scattered in the storm asking Dido for aid in rebuilding their fleet. Dido gladly grants their request and says that she wishes she could meet their leader. Achates remarks that he and Aeneas were clearly told the truth regarding their warm welcome, and Aeneas steps forward out of the cloud. Dido is awestruck and delighted to see the famous hero. She invites the Trojan leaders to dine with her in her palace.
Venus worries that Juno will incite the Phoenicians against her son. She sends down another of her sons, Cupid, the god of love, who takes the form of Aeneas’s son, Ascanius. In this disguise, Cupid inflames the queen’s heart with passion for Aeneas. With love in her eyes, Dido begs Aeneas to tell the story of his adventures during the war and the seven years since he left Troy.
aeneid
Fulfilling Dido’s request, Aeneas begins his sorrowful story, adding that retelling it entails reexperiencing the pain. He takes us back to ten years into the Trojan War: at the moment the tale begins, the Danaans (Greeks) have constructed a giant wooden horse with a hollow belly. They secretly hide their best soldiers, fully armed, within the horse, while the rest of the Greek army lies low some distance from Troy. The sight of a massive horse standing before their gates on an apparently deserted battlefield baffles the Trojans.
Near the horse, the Trojans find a Greek youth named Sinon. He explains that the Greeks have wished to flee Troy for some time but were prevented by fierce storms. A prophet told them to sacrifice one of their own, and Sinon was chosen. But Sinon managed to escape during the preparations, and the Greeks left him behind. The Trojans show him pity and ask the meaning of the great horse. Sinon says that it was an offering to the goddess Minerva, who turned against the Greeks after the desecration of one of her temples by Ulysses. Sinon claims that if any harm comes to the wooden statue, Troy will be destroyed by Minerva’s wrath, but if the Trojans install the horse within their city walls, they will rise victorious in war against southern Greece, like a tidal wave, with Minerva on their side.
aeneid
Aeneas continues his story: after Sinon finishes speaking, two giant serpents rise up from the sea and devour the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons as punishment for hurling a spear at the horse. The snakes then slither up to the shrine of Minerva. The Trojans interpret the snakes’ attack as an omen that they must appease Minerva, so they wheel the horse into the city of Troy.
Night falls, and while the city sleeps, Sinon opens the horse’s belly, releasing the Greek warriors. The warriors kill the Trojan guards and open the gates of the city to the rest of their forces. Meanwhile, Hector, the fallen leader of the Trojan army, appears to Aeneas in a dream and informs him that the city has been infiltrated. Climbing to his roof, Aeneas sees fighting everywhere and Troy in flames. He runs for arms and then heads for the heart of the city, joined by a few of his men.
aeneid
Aeneas and his men surprise and kill many Greeks, but are too badly outnumbered to make a difference. Eventually they go to King Priam’s palace, where a battle is brewing. The Greeks, led by Pyrrhus, break into the palace. Pyrrhus kills Polites, the young son of Priam and Hecuba, and then slaughters Priam on his own altar.
Aeneas continues relating his story: nearly overcome with grief over this slaughter, he sees Helen, the cause of the war, hiding. He determines to kill her, but Venus appears and explains that blame for the war belongs with the gods, not Helen. Venus advises Aeneas to flee Troy at once, since his fate is elsewhere. Aeneas then proceeds to the house of his father, Anchises, but Anchises refuses to leave. But after omens appear—first a harmless tongue of flame on Ascanius’s forehead, then a bright falling star in the sky—Anchises is persuaded to flee the city.
aeneid
Aeneas takes his father on his back and flees with his wife, Creusa, his son, Ascanius, and many other followers. Unfortunately, in the commotion Creusa is lost from the group. After everyone exits the city, Aeneas returns to search for her, but instead he meets her shade, or spirit. She tells him not to be sorrowful because a new home and wife await him in Hesperia. Somewhat comforted, Aeneas leaves Troy burning and leads the survivors into the mountains.
aeneid
Aeneas continues his story, recounting the aftermath of the fall of Troy. After escaping from Troy, he leads the survivors to the coast of Antander, where they build a new fleet of ships. They sail first to Thrace, where Aeneas prepares to offer sacrifices. When he tears at the roots and branches of a tree, dark blood soaks the ground and the bark. The tree speaks to him, revealing itself to be the spirit of Polydorus, son of Priam. Priam had sent Polydorus to the king of Thrace to be safe from the war, but when Troy fell, the Thracian king sided with the Greeks and killed Polydorus.
After holding a funeral for Polydorus, Aeneas and the Trojans embark from Thrace with a sense of dread at the Thracian violation of the ethics of hospitality. They sail southward to the holy island of Delos. At Delos, Apollo speaks to Aeneas, instructing him to go to the land of his ancestors. Anchises interprets Apollo’s remark as a reference to the island of Crete, where one of the great Trojan forefathers—Teucrus, after whom the Trojans are sometimes called Teucrians—had long ago ruled.
aeneid
Aeneas and his group sail to Crete and began to build a new city, but a terrible plague soon strikes. The gods of Troy appear to Aeneas in a dream and explain that his father is mistaken: the ancestral land to which Apollo referred is not Crete but Italy, the original home of Dardanus, from whom the Trojans take the name Dardanians. These hearth gods also reassert the prophecy of Roman supremacy, declaring, “You must prepare great walls for a great race” (III.223).
The Trojan refugees take to the sea again. A cover of black storm clouds hinders them. They land at the Strophades, islands of the Harpies, fierce bird-creatures with feminine faces. The Trojans slaughter many cows and goats that are roaming free and hold a feast, provoking an attack from the Harpies. To no avail, the Trojans attempt to fight the Harpies off, and one of the horrible creatures places a curse upon them. Confirming that they are destined for Italy, she prophesies that the Trojans will not establish their city until hunger forces them to try to eat their very tables.
aeneid
Disturbed by the episode, the Trojans depart for the island of Leucata, where they make offerings at a shrine to Apollo. Next, they set sail in the direction of Italy until they reach Buthrotum, in Chaonia. There, Aeneas is astonished to discover that Helenus, one of Priam’s sons, has become king of a Greek city. Helenus and Andromachë had been taken by Pyrrhus as war prizes, but seized power over part of their captor’s kingdom after he was killed.
Aeneas meets Andromachë and she relates the story of her and Helenus’s captivity. Helenus then arrives and advises Aeneas on the path ahead. Andromachë adds that to reach the western coast of Italy it is necessary to take the long way around Sicily, to the south. The short path, a narrow gap of water between Sicily and Italy, is rendered practically impossible to navigate by two potentially lethal hazards: Charybdis, a whirlpool, and Scylla, a six-headed monster.
aeneid
ollowing Andromachë’s instructions, Aeneas pilots his fleet along the southern coast of Italy to Sicily, where Mount Etna is erupting in the distance. Resting on a beach, the Trojans are startled by a ragged stranger who begs to be taken aboard. He was in the Greek army under Ulysses, and his crew was captured by a giant Cyclops on Sicily and barely escaped alive. He reports that Ulysses stabbed the monster in his one eye to allow their escape.
As the stranger finishes telling the Trojans his tale, the blinded Cyclops nearly stumbles upon the group. The Trojans make a quick escape with the Greek straggler, just as the other Cyclopes come down to the shore. Sailing around Sicily, they pass several recognizable landmarks before landing at Drepanum, where Aeneas endures yet another unexpected loss: his father’s death.
Aeneas turns to Dido and concludes his story by saying that divine will has driven him to her shores.
aeneid
The flame of love for Aeneas that Cupid has lit in Dido’s heart only grows while she listens to his sorrowful tale. She hesitates, though, because after the death of her husband, Sychaeus, she swore that she would never marry again. On the other hand, as her sister Anna counsels her, by marrying Aeneas she would increase the might of Carthage, because many Trojan warriors follow Aeneas. For the moment, consumed by love, Dido allows the work of city building to fall by the wayside.
Juno sees Dido’s love for Aeneas as a way to keep Aeneas from going to Italy. Pretending to make a peace offering, Juno suggests to Venus that they find a way to get Dido and Aeneas alone together. If they marry, Juno suggests, the Trojans and the Tyrians would be at peace, and she and Venus would end their feud. Venus knows Juno is just trying to keep the Trojans from Italy but allows Juno to go ahead anyway.
aeneid
One day when Dido, her court, and Aeneas are out hunting, Juno brings a storm down upon them to send the group scrambling for shelter and arranges for Aeneas and Dido to wind up in a cave by themselves. They make love in the cave and live openly as lovers when they return to Carthage. Dido considers them to be married though the union has yet to be consecrated in ceremony. Anxious rumors spread that Dido and Aeneas have surrendered themselves entirely to lust and have begun to neglect their responsibilities as rulers.
When Jupiter learns of Dido and Aeneas’s affair, he dispatches Mercury to Carthage to remind Aeneas that his destiny lies elsewhere and that he must leave for Italy. This message shocks Aeneas—he must obey, but he does not know how to tell Dido of his departure. He tries to prepare his fleet to set sail in secret, but the queen suspects his ploy and confronts him. In a rage, she insults him and accuses him of stealing her honor. While Aeneas pities her, he maintains that he has no choice but to follow the will of the gods: “I sail for Italy not of my own free will” (IV.499). As a last effort, Dido sends Anna to try to persuade the Trojan hero to stay, but to no avail.
aeneid
Dido writhes between fierce love and bitter anger. Suddenly, she appears calm and instructs Anna to build a great fire in the courtyard. There, Dido says, she can rid Aeneas from her mind by burning all the clothes and weapons he has left behind and even the bed they slept on. Anna obeys, not realizing that Dido is in fact planning her own death—by making the fire her own funeral pyre. As night falls, Dido’s grief leaves her sleepless. Aeneas does sleep, but in his dreams, Mercury visits him again to tell him that he has delayed too long already and must leave at once. Aeneas awakens and calls his men to the ships, and they set sail.
Dido sees the fleet leaving and falls into her final despair. She can no longer bear to live. Running out to the courtyard, she climbs upon the pyre and unsheathes a sword Aeneas has left behind. She throws herself upon the blade and with her last words curses her absent lover. As Anna and the servants run up to the dying queen, Juno takes pity on Dido and ends her suffering and her life.
aeneid
Massive storm clouds greet the Trojan fleet as it embarks from Carthage, hindering the approach to Italy. Aeneas redirects the ships to the Sicilian port of Eryx, where his friend and fellow Trojan Acestes rules. After landing and being welcomed by Acestes, Aeneas realizes that it is the one-year anniversary of his father’s death. He proposes eight days of sacrificial offerings and a ninth day of competitive games, including rowing, running, javelin, and boxing, in honor of his father.
When the ninth day arrives, the festivities begin with a rowing race. Four galleys participate, each piloted by one of Aeneas’s captains and manned by many eager youths. A suitable distance is marked off along the coastline and the race starts, with many spectators cheering from the beaches. Gyas, piloting the ship Chimaera, leads during the first half of the race. But at the turnaround point, his helmsman takes the turn too wide, and his boat falls behind. Down the final stretch, Sergestus takes the lead, but plows into the rocks. Colanthus and Mnestheus race together to the finish, but Colanthus prays to Neptune, who causes him to win. Lavish prizes are bestowed upon the competitors—even upon Sergestus, after he dislodges his ship from the rocks.
aeneid
Next comes the footrace. Nisus leads for most of the way, but slips on sacrificial blood near the finish. Euryalus wins the race, but Aeneas, as generous as before, hands out prizes to all the competitors. Next, the mighty Trojan Dares puts on his gauntlets (heavy fighting gloves) and challenges anyone to box with him. No one rises to the challenge at first, but Acestes finally persuades his fellow Sicilian Entellus—a great boxer now past his prime—to step into the ring. They begin the match, pounding each other with fierce blows. Younger and more agile, Dares darts quicker than Entellus. When he dodges a punch from Entellus, Entellus tumbles to the ground. Entellus gets up, though, and attacks Dares with such fierceness that Aeneas decides to call an end to the match. Entellus backs off, but to show what he could have done to Dares, he kills a bull—the prize—with a single devastating punch that spills the beast’s brains.
aeneid
Next, the archery contest commences. Eurytion wins by shooting a dove out of the sky, but Acestes causes a spectacular stir when his arrow miraculously catches fire in midair. Finally, the youths of Troy and Sicily ride out on horseback to demonstrate their technique. They charge at each other in a mock battle exercise, impressing their fathers with their skill and audacity.
Meanwhile, Juno’s anger against the Trojans has not subsided. She dispatches Iris, her messenger, down to the Trojan women, who are further along the beach from where the men enjoy their sport. Iris stirs them to riot, playing on their fear of further journey and more battles. She distributes flaming torches among them, inciting them to burn the Trojan ships so that the men will be forced to build their new city here, in Sicily. Persuaded, the angry women set fire to the fleet. The Trojan men see the smoke and rush up the beach. They douse the ships with water but fail to extinguish the flames. Finally, Aeneas prays to Jupiter to preserve the fleet, and immediately a rainstorm hits, ending the conflagration.
aeneid
The incident shakes Aeneas, and he ponders whether he should be satisfied with settling in peace on the Sicilian coast. His friend Nautes, a seer, offers better advice: they should leave some Trojans—the old, the frail, the injured, and the women weary of sailing—in the care of Acestes. Aeneas considers this plan, and that night the ghost of his father appears to him, advising him to listen to Nautes. The spirit also tells him that Aeneus is going to have to fight a difficult foe in Latium, but must first visit the underworld to speak more with Anchises.
aeneid
Aeneas does not know the meaning of his father’s mysterious prediction, but the next day he describes it to Acestes, who consents to host those who do not wish to continue to Italy after the Trojan fleet departs. Venus, fearing more tricks from Juno, worries about the group’s safety at sea. She pleads with Neptune to let Aeneas reach Italy without harm. Neptune agrees to allow them safe passage across the waters, demanding, however, that one of the crew perish on the voyage, as a sort of sacrifice for the others. On the voyage, Palinurus, the lead captain of Aeneas’s fleet, falls asleep at the helm and falls into the sea.
aeneid
At last, the Trojan fleet arrives on the shores of Italy. The ships drop anchor off the coast of Cumae, near modern-day Naples. Following his father’s instructions, Aeneas makes for the Temple of Apollo, where the Sibyl, a priestess, meets him. She commands him to make his request. Aeneas prays to Apollo to allow the Trojans to settle in Latium. The priestess warns him that more trials await in Italy: fighting on the scale of the Trojan War, a foe of the caliber of the Greek warrior Achilles, and further interference from Juno. Aeneas inquires whether the Sibyl can gain him entrance to Dis, so that he might visit his father’s spirit as directed. The Sibyl informs him that to enter Dis with any hope of returning, he must first have a sign. He must find a golden branch in the nearby forest. She instructs him that if the bough breaks off the tree easily, it means fate calls Aeneas to the underworld. If Aeneas is not meant to travel there, the bough will not come off the tree.
aeneid
Aeneas looks in dismay at the size of the forest, but after he says a prayer, a pair of doves descends and guides him to the desired tree, from which he manages to tear the golden branch. The hero returns to the priestess with the token, and she leads him to the gate of Dis.
Just inside the gate runs the river Acheron. The ferryman Charon delivers the spirits of the dead across the river; however, Aeneas notices that some souls are refused passage and must remain on the near bank. The Sibyl explains that these are the souls of dead people whose corpses have not received proper burial. With great sadness, Aeneas spots Palinurus among the undelivered. Charon explains to the visitors that no living bodies may cross the river, but the Sibyl shows him the golden branch. Appeased, Charon ferries them across. On the other side, Aeneas stands aghast, hearing the wailing of thousands of suffering souls. The spirits of the recently deceased line up before Minos for judgment.
aeneid
Nearby are the Fields of Mourning, where suicides wander. There, Aeneas sees Dido. Surprised and saddened, he speaks to her, with some regret, claiming that he left her not of his own will. The shade of the dead queen turns away from him toward the shade of her husband, Sychaeus, and Aeneas sheds tears of pity.
aeneid
Aeneas continues to the field of war heroes, where he sees many casualties of the Trojan War. The Greeks flee at first sight of him. The Sibyl urges Aeneas onward, and they pass an enormous fortress. Inside the fortress, Rhadamanthus doles out judgments upon the most evil of sinners, and terrible tortures are carried out. Finally, Aeneas and the Sibyl come to the Blessed Groves, where the good wander about in peace and comfort. At last, Aeneas sees his father. Anchises greets him warmly and congratulates him on having made the difficult journey. He gladly answers some of Aeneas’s many questions, regarding such issues as how the dead are dispersed in Dis and how good souls can eventually reach the Fields of Gladness. But with little time at hand, Anchises presses on to the reason for Aeneas’s journey to the underworld—the explication of his lineage in Italy. Anchises describes what will become of the Trojan descendants: Romulus will found Rome, a Caesar will eventually come from the line of Ascanius, and Rome will reach a Golden Age of rule over the world. Finally, Aeneas grasps the profound significance of his long journey to Italy. Anchises accompanies Aeneas out of Dis, and Aeneas returns to his comrades on the beach. At once, they pull up anchor and move out along the coast.
Turnus
The ruler of the Rutulians in Italy. Turnus is Aeneas’s major antagonist among mortals. He is Lavinia’s leading suitor until Aeneas arrives. This rivalry incites him to wage war against the Trojans, despite Latinus’s willingness to allow the Trojans to settle in Latium and Turnus’s understanding that he cannot successfully defy fate. He is brash and fearless, a capable soldier who values his honor over his life.
Ascanius
Aeneas’s young son by his first wife, Creusa. Ascanius (also called Iulus) is most important as a symbol of Aeneas’s destiny—his future founding of the Roman race. Though still a child, Ascanius has several opportunities over the course of the epic to display his bravery and leadership. He leads a procession of boys on horseback during the games of Book V and he helps to defend the Trojan camp from Turnus’s attack while his father is away.
Anchises
Aeneas’s father, and a symbol of Aeneas’s Trojan heritage. Although Anchises dies during the journey from Troy to Italy, he continues in spirit to help his son fulfill fate’s decrees, especially by guiding Aeneas through the underworld and showing him what fate has in store for his descendants.
Creusa
Aeneas’s wife at Troy, and the mother of Ascanius. Creusa is lost and killed as her family attempts to flee the city, but tells Aeneas he will find a new wife at his new home.
Sinon
The Greek youth who pretends to have been left behind at the end of the Trojan War. Sinon persuades the Trojans to take in the wooden horse as an offering to Minerva, then lets out the warriors trapped inside the horse’s belly.
Latinus
The king of the Latins, the people of what is now central Italy, around the Tiber River. Latinus allows Aeneas into his kingdom and encourages him to become a suitor of Lavinia, his daughter, causing resentment and eventually war among his subjects. He respects the gods and fate, but does not hold strict command over his people.
Lavinia
Latinus’s daughter and a symbol of Latium in general. Lavinia’s character is not developed in the poem; she is important only as the object of the Trojan-Latin struggle. The question of who will marry Lavinia—Turnus or Aeneas—becomes key to future relations between the Latins and the Trojans and therefore the Aeneid’s entire historical scheme.
Amata
Queen of Laurentum (a region of Latium, in Italy) and wife of Latinus. Amata opposes the marriage of Lavinia, her daughter, to Aeneas and remains loyal throughout to Turnus, Lavinia’s original suitor. Amata kills herself once it is clear that Aeneas is destined to win.
Evander
King of Pallanteum (a region of Arcadia, in Italy) and father of Pallas. Evander is a sworn enemy of the Latins, and Aeneas befriends him and secures his assistance in the battles against Turnus.
Pallas
Son of Evander, whom Evander entrusts to Aeneas’s care and tutelage. Pallas eventually dies in battle at the hands of Turnus, causing Aeneas and Evander great grief. To avenge Pallas’s death, Aeneas finally slays Turnus, dismissing an initial impulse to spare him.
Drancës
A Latin leader who desires an end to the Trojan-Latin struggle. Drancës questions the validity of Turnus’s motives at the council of the Latins, infuriating Turnus.
Camilla
The leader of the Volscians, a race of warrior maidens. Camilla is perhaps the only strong mortal female character in the epic.
Juturna
Turnus’s sister. Juno provokes Juturna into inducing a full-scale battle between the Latins and the Trojans by disguising herself as an officer and goading the Latins after a treaty has already been reached.
Achates
A Trojan and a personal friend of Aeneas.
Aeolus
The god of the winds, enlisted to aid Juno in creating bad weather for the Trojans in Book I.
Allecto
One of the Furies, or deities who avenge sins, sent by Juno in Book IV to incite the Latin people to war against the Trojans.
Tiberinus
The river god associated with the Tiber River, where Rome will eventually be built. At Tiberinus’s suggestion, Aeneas travels upriver to make allies of the Arcadians.