Riding the wave

Aeneas and the Mediterranean Sea

The story of Aeneas takes more space in Latin mythology and poetry than in the Greek one: his deeds already occupied a significant part in the Iliad, but Virgil made him the protagonist of his poem, making him a unique and extremely modern personality for the attitude the Trojan hero assumed in front of the existence; also the route of his journey and the stages on the Mediterranean coast suggest the creation of a myth around the alleged ancestor of the Romans taking possession of that sea they loved to call "nostrum" (our).

Aeneas from Troy to the mouth of the Tiber The journey of Aeneas from Troy to the mouth of the Tiber from The Romance of mythology from A to Z by Gaetana Miglioli, Messina-Florence, publisher G. D'Anna, 1991
Detail of the chart Detail of the chart
Detail of the chart Detail of the chart

Born from the union between Anchises and Aphrodite , he spent his childhood and early youth on Mount Ida, where he lived peacefully with his father Anchises, his wife Creusa and his little son Ascanius, in the early days of the Trojan War, that he, a lover of peace, opposed. But he was forced to take up arms to defend himself and the lives of the loved ones, when Achilles arrived on Mount Ida with his Myrmidons, which he rejected with courage and tenacity.

Achilles prepares for battle Achilles prepares for battle. Vase, sixth century BC, Athens, National Archaeological Museum

Now involved in the war, he took part in various actions, while Troy fell, and Aeneas witnessed with great anguish the last hours of the town; with a group of friends he tried to oppose the enemy in battle, until his mother Aphrodite showed him the futility of his efforts, revealing that fate gave him a much more important task: to seek salvation and a future in a new home, bringing there the Gods of Troy.

So the hero won - with the help of a divine miracle - the opposition of his father Anchises, that, old and tired, would rather not leave the land they had always lived in and where he wanted to be buried, and left the city still in flames.

Aeneas sacrifices to Penati Aeneas sacrifices to Penati (Home Gods). Bas-relief, the first century BC, Rome, Ara Pacis Augustae

He took the father, handing the sacred Penati, on his shoulder, his little son Ascanius by the hand and his wife Creusa followed; he went to the port of Antandros, that he had indicated as a place of gathering the few survivors Trojan decided to leave with him. But when he arrived, he noticed that Creusa was no more with them. In desperation he turned back to look, to call, but all was in vain, and finally the shadow of his beloved wife appeared to him, urging him to leave, to salvage with their son and the others, she would always remain in the ashes of Troy, but with the thought she would have accompanied them on the journey and in the new events that awaited them.

There were many stops on the trip, that was full of adventures, mishaps, painful episodes, miraculous events. The refugees were first in Thrace, where Aeneas spoke with the shadow of Polidoro, the unhappy son of Priam, that the father had sent him to the king of the place, Polymestor, to be rescued along with much of the treasure of Troy. The king however, on the news of the fall of Troy, had murdered him to seize the treasure.

Left this treacherous place, where those who reigned had not respect for the laws of God nor the human ones, Aeneas went to Delos to consult the oracle, who urged him to seek his old home. Thinking that the oracle was referring to Crete , from where came one of the most ancient kings of Troy, he went on that island, but the Penati appeared in a dream warning him that the land that he was supposed to find, the Enotria or Italy, was further west.

He then proceeded to cross the Ionian Sea, but the goddess Juno, adverse to him, provoked a violent storm that drove the ships on the Strofades islands, from which the refugees were forced to leave at once by the monstrous Harpies led by Celaeno, who had flown over their food, causing contamination.

Aeneas then went in Epirus by Helenus, a son of Priam, that, as his sister Cassandra, had the gift of prophecy and became king after an extraordinary event. The son of Achilles, Pyrrhus-Neoptolemus, had taken him away from Troy as a slave, and Andromache, the widow of Hector, that Pirro had given in marriage to Helenus, was also part of the booty. Then, when the fierce Achilles' son was killed, the locals asked Helenus to become their king.

Aeneas was pleased to know that a Trojan of royal lineage had had a good chance, but was deeply troubled when he saw Andromache: petrified in pain and distant in her mind, she recalled every day, with offerings and prayers at a fake tomb of Hector, that had been erected in Butroto, her tragedy of a woman whose husband and son had been killed.

When Aeneas left Butroto, following the advice of Helenus, he went to Sicily, that he circumnavigated to avoid Scylla and Charybdis , and stopped in Erice, where he had the pain of losing his father Anchises, weakened by the fatigue of the journey. After having buried the father, he took the sea, but again lose the route in a sea storm, that drove the ships to the coast of Africa.

Aeneas's ship landed in a quiet haven, but he feared, along with a few survivors, to have lost all their companions. While desperately scouring the place, he met his mother Aphrodite as a girl, who consoled him and advised him to report to Dido, queen of the place, asking her hospitality.

The Trojan ships visiting Carthage Trojans ships visiting Carthage. Mosaic from a Roman villa at Lullingstone in Kent, UK, housed at the Castle Museum, Taunton, Somerset

Aeneas then, with a few companions and his son, walked toward the city, where were ongoing constructions of buildings, streets, temples; he was surrounded by a prodigious cloud that allowed him to not be seen, and so came up to the throne from which the queen Dido practiced justice and was giving orders.

There he saw the comrades, who had believed lost in the sinking, who had just come to ask hospitality and help. The cloud that enveloped him dissolved, and he joined the friends in supplicating the Queen, who received with kindness the prayers of the shipwrecked and hosted Aeneas with his son Ascanius in his palace.

Aeneas, Dido and Ascanius In the mosaic of Lullingstone, Aeneas, Dido and Ascanius participating in a hunt

Dido was also a refugee, who fled from home with a few faithful companions after her husband Sichaeus had been killed in a conspiracy; attracted by the Trojan hero, she developed a deep passion for him, hoping that he would remain to share with her the burden of command. Aeneas also felt bound by a strong feeling for that courageous woman, that made him forget everything, especially the duty, imposed by the Gods, of searching for a new home. Then Jupiter sent Mercury to remind his fate, and he had to say farewell to Queen Dido.

Dido and Aeneas In Lullingstone's mosaic: the love between Dido and Aeneas is born
Aeneas, Ascanius, Aphrodite and Dido In Lullingstone's mosaic: Aeneas, Ascanius, Aphrodite and Dido. According to Salvatore Conte (QDido.org ), author of the drama in four acts The freed Dido: the authentic Dido of Virgil, the four figures on the right represent Aeneas, Ascanius, Dido and Anna, sister of the Queen.

Dido tried to restrain him in any way, but in the end, in front of his irrevocable decision, in despair at the thought of a very sad future, she took his own life and Aeneas, already sailing off the African shore, exhausted and powerless, saw the fire rising from the royal palace as a sign of mourning.

The Trojan hero and his companions left for Italy, but first made a brief stop in Sicily, at Erice, to make the funeral honors to Anchises, buried there. Then finally they arrived in Italy, at Cumae, where Aeneas had to stop to query the Sibyl , but before going down with her in the realm of the dead, he had to bury the trumpeter Miseno on the promontory that was named Cape Miseno : he had dared defy the gods and was thrown into the sea by the god Triton . The Sibyl took him in the Hades to obtain from his father news on his descendants and the events that were related to them.

The journey restarted, with one last stop to make the funeral to the nurse Cajetan - from whom derived the name of the city, later called Gaeta - until the ship landed on the banks of the Tiber , and here a miracle happened: the ships were turned into nymphs and went off into the sea, and Aeneas understood from this event that he had arrived at the place designated by the gods, where his travels would end.

But the difficulties were not over. He was received with full honors from the Latin king of the town of Laurent, who offered him his daughter Lavinia in marriage, following the signs that God had prophesied that indicated the marriage as necessary. He was however opposed by the wife of Latin, Amata, and by the king of Rutuls, Turnus, claimant of Lavinia, who collected many fighters in the district and declared war on whom he considered an usurper.

As usual for Aeneas in respect of war, he fought with honor, but reluctantly and only to complete the divine plan. Finally he accomplished the fate and Turnus fell under the blows of the Trojan hero.

With the death of Turnus ends Virgil's story of the wanderings of Aeneas, but the ancient legends recounted his latest story, telling that during a battle against the Etruscans, who were allies of Turnus, in the culmination of a sudden storm, he disappeared and Venus carried him to Olympus, where he became a god, honored later by the Romans under the name of Jupiter Indigo. The son of Aeneas, Ascanius-Julus then founded the city of Alba Longa and his family originated the Julian family.

The figure of "pius Aeneas" - this hero who did not love the war, but fought to defend his old and his new home, who was always respectful to the gods, cared the family, respectful of divine and human laws, who always faced the life with a great sense of responsibility, wanting to complete the tasks at any cost that fate had given him - is always returning, in the Middle Age, in all rebates, paraphrases, imitations of Virgil's poem.

In the Renaissance he became one of the ideal models of the epic-chivalric tradition, and we find him in the figure of Roger in Ariosto and in the one of "pius" Bouillon in Tasso.