Mary Stone | November 28, 2022
Aeneas (Latin: Aenēās, -ae) is a figure in Greek and Roman mythology, son of the mortal Anchises (cousin of the Trojan king Priam) and Aphrodite
Prince of the Dardans, he participated in the Trojan War on the side of Priam and the Trojans, during which he distinguished himself very early in battle. A very valiant warrior, he was a Trojan hero second only to Hector, but he assumes a minor role within Homer”s Iliad. Aeneas is the protagonist of Virgil”s Aeneid, a poem in which the events following his flight from Troy are recounted, characterized by long wanderings and numerous losses caused by Juno”s wrath. The story ends with his landing on the shores of Latium and his marriage to Princess Lavinia, daughter of the local king Latino.
The figure of Aeneas, the archetypal man obedient to the gods and humble before their will, has been taken up by numerous ancient authors, later than Virgil and Homer, such as Quintus Smyrnaeus in the Posthomerica. He is a hero destined by fate for the founding of Rome.
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Once upon a time, Zeus, the father of the gods, who had never lain with his adopted daughter, tired of the constant temptations that Aphrodite”s magical belt continually stimulated in him, as in any other being, mortal or divine, contrived to humiliate the goddess by making her fall madly in love with an ordinary mortal.
The chosen one was Anchises, a young Phrygian shepherd, son of Capi and Temiste (or, according to other legends, of Aegesta), who usually grazed his vast herds on the hills of Mount Ida.
Aphrodite, who was seduced by his extraordinary beauty, after escorting him to do his work, decided to gain his favor at once.
One night, as he lay in his herdsman”s hut, the goddess assumed the appearance of a common mortal and under that disguise approached him, claiming to be a princess, daughter of King Otreus, who, abducted by the god Hermes, who was hopelessly in love with her, had then been transported by the god to the pastures of Ida.
Then wearing a seductive peplos of a dazzling red color, the goddess succeeded in her intention and, lying down beside the young man, she lay with him in a bed of animal skins. Accompanied by the serene buzzing of bees, throughout the night the two lovers enjoyed the amorous passions, and it was from this intercourse that the goddess of love became pregnant with a child. When, as dawn broke, Aphrodite revealed her true nature to the man, Anchises, fearing punishment for discovering the nakedness of a goddess, begged her to spare his life.
However, the goddess reassured him, predicting the birth of a child who would be able to reign over the Trojans, acquiring extraordinary power that would be maintained even with his descendants.
But at the same time Aphrodite warned her lover, urging him to conceal the truth about the child”s birth, knowing full well that if Zeus learned of it, he would undoubtedly electrocute him.
A few days later, while Anchises was at an inn in the company of his friends, one of them asked him whether he preferred to spend a night with Priam”s daughter or with Aphrodite. The young Trojan, oblivious to the promise and dizzy with intoxication, boasted, claiming to have slept with both and judging such a comparison impossible.
Hearing the fearsome boast, Zeus from the heights of Olympus hastened to punish such a brazen mortal, hurling a thunderbolt destined to incinerate him. But Aphrodite, posing in defense of her beloved, protected him thanks to her magic belt, in the face of which Zeus”s terrible weapon could do nothing; the thunderbolt nevertheless reached Anchises, but instead of incinerating him, it burst harmlessly beneath his feet. The young mortal nevertheless felt an incredible fright at the sight of those sparks, so much so that from then on, he was unable to straighten his back, traumatized as he was at the sight of divine wrath, and Aphrodite herself became disinterested in him after she begat Aeneas. It is also told that Zeus punished him by depriving him of his sight.
Aphrodite gave birth to Aeneas on Mount Ida, and here the nymphs raised him in the very early years of his life. He was then educated, according to some, by the centaur Chiron. When he was five years old, he was entrusted by his father to Alcatho, who was Aeneas” brother-in-law because he had married his half-sister Hippodamia. Here Aeneas was raised until he came of age. Aeneas was not the only son that Anchises begat: in fact, some authors want that from the union of the goddess with the herdsman was also born Lirno (or Liro), who died childless. Virgil recounts that Aeneas would have been raised from an early age by a nurse named Caieta, to whom the hero was very fond, and when she died he reserved all sorts of regard for her. He married Creusa, daughter of King Priam, his father”s cousin, and from her he had Ascanius. Pausanias relates that from his wife Aeneas would also beget another daughter, Aetia.
Before the outbreak of the war against the Achaeans, Aeneas took part in a number of military expeditions as part of the expansionist policy undertaken by Priam, tying his name in particular to the conquest of the island of Lesbos (whose capital at the time was Arisbe), which became a strategic outpost of the Trojans.
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According to the earliest sources of the Trojan saga, Aeneas is said to have played a part in the abduction of Helen: it was his mother Aphrodite who ordered the hero to kidnap the queen of Sparta, who was married to Menelaus, who was the prize the goddess had given to Paris for delivering the apple of beauty to her:
Aeneas was close friends with Hector, he, on the other hand, often had disagreements with Priam, as is mentioned several times in the Iliad. In Canto XIII, the hero sits on the battlefield resentful of the king”s treatment of him. He was opposed to war and initially refused to fight but once he donned arms he did not back down.
Aeneas participated in the Trojan War by placing himself at the head of a contingent of Dardanians. The Iliad recounts that, during a period of fictitious peace, the hero was then herding his father”s cattle on Mount Ida when, in the course of a raid in the pastures of the Troad, Achilles managed to separate him from his herds of oxen, plundered them, and chased him down the wooded slopes of Ida but the Trojan managed to escape him.
He was a valiant hero, second only to Hector, and often supported by the gods. In the battle that followed the duel between Paris and Menelaus, he fought in the war chariot in the company of Pandarus. The latter was killed by Diomedes, and Aeneas left the chariot unattended (which would later be taken to the Greek camp by Stenelo, Diomedes” faithful companion in arms and charioteer) to defend his friend”s body from Greek assaults.
He therefore confronted Diomedes, being injured by a rock thrown by the Greek. He was saved by his mother, who wrapped him in her veil. Diomedes, not fearing the wrath of the goddess, wounded her also and forced her to flee. Apollo therefore descended to the Trojan”s rescue; against him not even Diomedes” blows could do nothing. Aeneas was admitted to the temple of Apollo and cared for by Artemis and Latona. In his place fought on the field a ghost with his likeness.
Aeneas also fought valiantly in other battles, such as the one at the Greek ships, rescuing Hector, who was wounded by a rock thrown by Ajax Telamonius, and killing Medon, half-brother of Ajax Oileus, and Iasus, an Athenian leader. In this circumstance, however, he lost both his lieutenants, Archeloco and Acamante, who were two of Antenor”s many sons, and his brother-in-law Alcatho.
After the death of Patroclus, Achilles decided to return to battle. Aeneas wanted to face him in a duel; he hurled his spear at the Greek but failed to hit him.
Achilles pounced on Aeneas: Poseidon, who although a deity hostile to the Trojans appreciated Aeneas for his reverence for the gods, decided to save Anchises” son by wrapping him in a thick mist and placing him among the last ranks of the army. For Poseidon knew that Aeneas would have to perpetuate his lineage after the end of Troy.
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Escape from Troy
On the night when the Greeks were to leave the wooden horse, Hector, terrible in appearance, appeared to him in a dream, announcing the inevitable fall of Troy and its arrival on Italic soil. During the burning of the city he tried, along with a few men, to defend it, but after realizing that this was now futile, he decided to flee, taking his father Anchises on his shoulders and his son Ascanius with him. During the escape, however, he lost his wife Creusa, who, in the form of a ghost, revealed to him his future as the founder of a great people.
In the Iliou persis, on the other hand, Aeneas escaped from Troy with his followers immediately after the end of Laocoon, having sensed through that episode the imminent fall of the city.
According to Homer, Aeneas became the founder of a great kingdom in the Troad; Stesichorus” version, however, enshrined by Virgil, is the best known.
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Journey of Aeneas, hero in the Aeneid
Aeneas fled from Troy by sea: with him were joined many Trojans and also various warriors from other regions who had taken part in the conflict as allies. He first arrived in the Thracian Chersonese, where he learned of the terrible end of Polydorus, son of Priam, who had been killed by Polymestore, who wanted to appropriate his wealth. In Delos, Aeneas sought a response from Apollo, who ordered the Trojan to travel to the homeland of Troy”s founder, Dardanus. But Anchises thought he was referring to Teucer, another progenitor of their people, originally from Crete. He therefore set a course for the island. There the Trojans were struck by a plague, Aeneas ordered to move toward Corito-Tarquinia (III, 170), in Italy, the land of Dardanus. Determined to replenish their supplies, the Trojans stopped at the Strofadi islands where they were attacked by the Harpies who ravaged their mess and forced them to flee. They reached Epirus where they met Elenus and Andromache, founders of the city of Butrotus
Elenus, endowed with the gift of prophecy, announced to his friend that he was going to Italy, trying to avoid the land of Sicily, home of the Cyclops and Scylla and Charybdis. He advised instead to disembark near Cumae to seek response from the sibyl who lived there. The Trojans narrowly escaped that threat and landed near Mount Etna, where they were joined by Achaemenides, a companion of Odysseus who had been abandoned in that land. Aeneas landed in Italy in what is now Salento, at Castro. After witnessing the terrible arrival of the Cyclops Polyphemus, Aeneas and his men stopped in Sicily, at Trapani (Aeneid book-3-vv-692-718: … hinc Drepani me portus accipit … ), benevolently welcomed by King Aceste, where old Anchises died and was buried. Hera, full of hatred for the Trojans, unleashed a storm against the fleet, which was swept toward Africa.
There Aeneas and his men were met by Queen Dido, in Carthage where the hero narrated his painful events. The two fell hopelessly in love but, by Zeus” order, Aeneas had to leave again. Although reluctantly, he had to say goodbye to Dido. It was a terrible blow to the poor queen.
Dido, watching in the distance as Aeneas” ship sailed away, killed herself. The Trojan fleet landed again at Drepanon (present-day Trapani), where on the anniversary of Anchises” death some games in his honor, the ludi novendiali, were held, in which both Trojan and Sicilian athletes participated (Book V). In the city of Drepanon, some women among the exiles, tired from wandering, decided to set fire to the ships. Aeneas therefore ordered that those who did not want to continue the journey would remain in Drepanon, while the others would continue the journey. Upon reaching Cumae, Aeneas met the Sibyl with whom he descended alive into the realm of the dead. There he met Charon and Cerberus, who fell asleep through a deception of the Sibyl. Arriving at the fields of weeping he then saw the sad spirit of Dido.
He later met the soul of Deiphobo, whose corpse had been scarred by Menelaus. Finally he was welcomed by his father Anchises, who presented him with the souls of those who would make great the kingdom promised to Aeneas in Italy.
Back in the world of the living, Aeneas finally landed on the banks of the Tiber, after also visiting Circeo: here Caieta, his nurse, died, and he had her buried in the place that would later be called Gaeta in her memory. The king of Laurentius, Latino, decided to entrust him with the hand of his daughter Lavinia, thus incurring the wrath of Turno, the king of the Rutuli, to whom the maiden had been promised. During a hunting trip Ascanius unknowingly killed a domestic doe, and for this he was pursued by the local shepherds. The Trojans rushed to the aid of Aeneas” son and killed one of the pursuers, the dashing Almone, a young courtier of King Latino. This was the spark that started the war. Turnus gathered his men and moved against the Trojans. Aeneas, on the other hand, went up the Tiber River, thus reaching the territory of Evander, king of the Arcadians. The latter also advised the Trojan hero to go among the Etruscans and ask Tarconte for help. Among Turno”s allies was in fact Mezentius, a former ruler of the Etruscans who had been driven out for his cruelty. During Aeneas” absence the Trojan camp was besieged by fourteen young Italic leaders, each of whom was followed by a hundred other young men. Euryalus and Niso, two inseparable Trojan friends, decided to join Aeneas, to warn him of the danger. Going out at night, they penetrated between the enemy lines where they surprised in their sleep two of the besieging commanders, Ramnetes and Remus, and some warriors fighting in their contingents, killing them with their swords; then they resumed their journey, but intercepted by an enemy patrol they were surrounded and put to death. After a fierce battle, during which Turnus slaughtered the Trojans, Aeneas, returning by sea from Corito-Tarquinia along with the Etruscans commanded by Tarconte, the Ligurians of Cunaro and Cupavone, and the Arcadians led by Pallantus, son of Evander, managed to rush to the aid of his comrades. But Pallantus himself, in that clash, fell at the hands of Turnus. Aeneas went on a rampage and failed in his famous piety, beheading the young Etruscan demigod Tarquitus, who had been defeated by him in a duel and begged to be spared, and throwing his torso into the water. Then Juno, fearing for Turno”s life, managed to remove him from the battlefield. Aeneas faced Mezentius in a duel, wounding him: then he killed Lauso, the tyrant”s son, who had intervened in his defense. Moved by the young man”s courage, Aeneas returned the body and weapons to Mezenzio, who, in a later clash, fell under the Trojan”s sword. The hero, after burying the young Pallas, ordered his men to march against the city of the Latins. Turno and Camilla, warrior queen of the Volscians, deployed their troops. The Ruthulian king assaulted the Trojan infantry, Camilla the Etruscan cavalry. In the ensuing clash Camilla was killed. Turno then decided to face Aeneas in a duel. The Trojan soon had the upper hand and for a few moments restrained himself from killing his enemy; but recognizing on Turno the weapons of Pallantus and remembering Evander”s grief at the death of his son, he thrust his sword into his breast (…vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras).
The earliest versions of the Aeneas myth are ancient, so much so that they are already known in Etruria before the 6th century B.C. and in Greece in the 5th century B.C. and would have the name “Rome” derived from that of a Trojan woman with the meaning of “strength.”
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Summary of the legend
Aeneas is a Trojan prince, a native of the slopes of Mount Ida in the Troad, and participates only in the final phase of the Trojan War; he is related to King Priam having married his daughter Creusa and in that his father Anchises is a cousin of the king. The Romans like Aeneas as a progenitor because it allows him to be rooted in a civilization with a shining past while distinguishing himself from the Greeks.
The legend of Romulus and Remus, at first separate from that of Aeneas, is also later integrated into his myth. At first the twins are referred to as his sons or grandsons.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene realizes, however, that since the date of the fall of Troy is roughly 1184 B.C., neither Aeneas nor his more direct descendants could have founded Rome in 753 B.C., the date to which mythology dates the birth of Rome.
Cato the Censor makes the story plausible. According to his version, later accepted as definitive, Aeneas escapes from Troy and arrives in Latium. Here, after marrying Lavinia, he founds Lavinium. Ascanius, on the other hand, is the founder of Alba Longa and his successors give rise to the dynasty from which, after several generations, Rea Silvia will give birth to Romulus and Remus and later to the gens Julia, with Julius Caesar and the first emperor Augustus.
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Assumption into heaven
According to legend, after his four-year reign, Aeneas was taken up into the sky amid lightning and thunder during a battle against the Etruscans in the vicinity of the Numicus River and received into Olympus along with the gods. Interestingly, Romulus is also decreed the same fate, later allowing Julius Caesar and Augustus, his distant descendants, to be deified as well. The divine origins of the founders of Rome would thus be incontrovertible. Accepting Aeneas as the progenitor, one finds Venus and Mars as ancestors.
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Other versions on the descent of Aeneas
In the most archaic legends, Romulus has no twin and is the son of Zeus; later elaborations are similar, placing Romulus and Remus as sons of Mars and Rhea Silvia, (in some versions she was a priestess) and therefore of divine descent.
A further version of the legend, points to Rhea Silvia as the daughter of Aeneas, and an additional name for her would be Ilia, to recall Rome”s connection with Troy (“Ilia” in Greek).
For the Roman version handed down to us by Ennius, he had two daughters by Creusa, as we get from the fragment from which The Dream of Ilia is taken.
From Brutus of Troy the historical gens Iulia is generated.
Aeneas was the Trojan hero who, par excellence, killed the most enemies of all going so far as to destroy, in the entire story, 69 heroes among Achaeans and Latins, second only to Achilles who killed a total of 77 enemies, among Trojans and their allies.
Aeneas also killed Rebo, the horse of Mezenzio.
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- ^ “His name will be Aineias [Aeneas], since it was an unspeakable [ainos] akhos that took hold of me – grief that I had fallen into the bed of a mortal man.” (Nagy 2001, 198–99)
- ^ a b c d e f g h i Strabone, Geografia, V, 3,2.
- ^ Pseudo-Apollodoro, Biblioteca III, 12, 2.
- ^ Tzetze, Scoli a Licofrone ai versi 471 e 953.
- ^ La bellezza di questo giovane era tale da attirare il desiderio di varie divinità. Igino stesso nomina nell”elenco dei mortali più belli anche il nome del giovane troiano (Fabula 270).
- ^ Teocrito, Idilli I, versi 105-107.
- (en) The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, Thomas Library, 2000
- Jean Haudry, Enéide, Revue des Études latines, 95, 2018, p. 99-124.
- « ÉNÉE », sur Encyclopædia Universalis (consulté le 23 juillet 2020).
- En griego antiguo, Αἰνείας: Aineías; en latín, Aeneas.