Virgil, the 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.
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 battleweary 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.
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 Lebanon), 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 birdcreatures 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. 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 sixheaded monster.
Following 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 oneyear 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. Cloanthus and Mnestheus race together to the finish, but Cloanthus
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Book VI At last, the Trojan fleet arrives on the shores of Italy. The ships drop anchor off the coast of Cumae, near modernday
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.
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; howev