Book I: The Landing Near Carthage
The narrator begins the epic story of Aeneas by laying out his plans for the story:
Arms and man I sing, the first who came,
Compelled by fate, an exile out of Troy,
To Italy and the Lavinian Coast,
Much buffeted on land and on the deep
But violence of the gods, through that long rage,
That lasting hate, of Juno’s. And he suffered
Much, also, in war, till he should build his town
And bring his gods to Latium, whence, in time,
The Latin race, the Alban fathers, rose
And the great walls of everlasting Rome.
With that one of the greatest epics of all time is begun. He sets up the story of why Juno hated Aeneas and the Trojans. Juno loved a city called Carthage, but had heard that the Trojans would rise in power and defeat her city. Also, she favored the Greeks in the Trojan war, because Paris (a Trojan) had judged against Juno in a beauty contest. So, for many reasons, Virgil has set up the story so that Juno can remain a constant enemy of Aeneas on Aeneas’s journeys. Juno asks Aeolus to bring up the winds and the smaller cliff waves to make Aeneas’s journey to Italy dangerous, which the lesser god complies with. However, Neptune sees these waves and brings the water and winds under control, since it is his domain in the world. At this calming, Aeneas and his 7 ships make for the coastline on Italy. After landing, Aeneas climbs a cliff hoping to find out what land they have come to, but is unable to, so, after killing seven stags from a nearby herd, he returns to his men, and they eat. At this point, Venus approaches Jupiter asking what Aeneas has done to warrant such treatment, and reminds Jupiter of the promise that the Trojans would father the Romans, who would be quite powerful. Jupiter tells her he remembers his promise, and that it will be fulfilled. He prophesies that Aeneas will wage “a mighty war in Italy,” winning, and create a land with laws. This war and city building would happen within three years. Ascanius (Ilus, Iulus), Aeneas’s son, will reign in this city for 30 years, and then move the kingdom to Alba Longa, where the newly built city will exist for 300 years. Thereon, a royal priestess will bear twin sons to Mars (Romulus and Remus), and from Romulus the actual city of Rome will rise. Eventually, Jupiter promises, even Juno will stand behind this race, and it will be the most loved of all the gods. Jupiter also says that eventually a ruler by the name of Julius Caesar will become ruler of Rome, and he will be the finest leader of all time. After all this, he sends Mercury down to create a welcome in Carthage from the queen Dido. At the same time, Aeneas and Achates wander into the forest where they come upon a female huntress who is actually Aphrodite in disguise. Aeneas questions whether she is only a girl, or whether there is a godliness in her. She swears she is not. She tells him Dido’s story. Finishing, she asks what Aeneas is doing--where he is headed and where he is from. So begins his abbreviated story. From Troy, he and his fellow sailors carry his household gods. On leaving, Aphrodite shines with a radiance, letting Aeneas know her for who she really is. He is annoyed and feels she continuously plays games with him. On walking to Carthage, Aeneas is awed by a temple that is heavily decorated with scenes from the Trojan war. Finally, Dido approaching, he sees fellow Trojans whom the storm had thrown off course, but none-the-less had made it to Carthage soil. The Trojans are asking Dido fro safety in her land, and she grants this saying that she thinks Aeneas could be near, and that he is welcome also. At this, Aeneas, who has been surrounded in a cloud of his mothers making up until now, steps forward and presents himself. After being welcomed by Dido, Aeneas sends for his son. Instead, Cupid comes in the form of Ascanius, and through his power, Dido is spurred to attraction to Aeneas. Overcome with love, and quite a bit of lust, Dido welcomes the Trojans heartily, and at the end of Book I invites Aeneas to tell the full story of the Trojan war and his wanderings.
Book II: The Fall of Troy
Aeneas, quite willing to tell his story, begins. He tells of the Trojan horse that the Greeks finally used (with Pallas’s help) to trick the Trojans. Hiding men in the horse’s belly, the rest of the ship fleet made for a nearby harbor to hide. Many warned against bringing the horse into the city. They didn’t trust the Greek treachery. One of the Greeks had purposely let himself be captured by some Trojan shepherds, and was dragged before Priam. He seemingly begs for pity, claims he will tell the truth no matter what. Supposedly angered by the unfair death of Greek Palamedes, this prisoner was hated by Ulysses who he persisted in threatening. Saying that the Greeks were tired of the long war, but were unable to because of some reason or another every time they tried to make sail (wind, storm, etc.). Trying to figure out how to leave Troy, the Trojans were told that blood from a virgin (Iphigenia) had brought them to Troy, and blood would need to be sacrificed to leave. Therefore, this prisoner had been chosen to be sacrificed, and instead, had run from that fate, after which he was captured. Priam, in pity, says that the prisoner can make a new home among the Trojans. At this point, a snake monster from the ocean comes in and attacks Laocoon, dragging him to the citadel of Pallas. People said he deserved it having thrown a spear at the great horse earlier, and made a cry out to bring the horse into the walls. Even though they heard arms within the horse, they ignored the sounds, so overcome with joyous celebration. Cassandra, a prophetess blessed with the true gift of sight, but cursed to never be believed, warned the people of the treachery, but went unbelieved as normal. While the Trojans slumbered, the Greek fleet came back. The doors, which had been opened during the celebration and wheeling in of the horse (and never reclosed), posed no problem to the now invading Greek army. Aeneas, sleeping, dreamt of Hector, torn and killed from being drug behind Achilles cart. Hector tells him to escape the city, and warns that the Greeks are invading even as Aeneas sleeps. He is told to bring the Troy’s household gods with him. Hector brought with him the chaplets of Vesta and her undying fire. Aeneas wakes. A priest of Apollo runs up with holy relics, and tells Aeneas that the battle is already lost, and Troy has no hope. A Greek stupidly approaches Aeneas, thinking he is Greek as well. He is killed. Stealing uniforms of Greeks, Aeneas and some comrades start fighting the Greeks, and killing them in this guise. Sneaking into the palace, and witness the chaos therein. Proud of his king, Aeneas says that no matter the age of Priam, when the moment came, and it was obvious Troy was falling, he honorably put on armor, and went to fight. Aeneas witnessed the death of Priam at Pyrrhus’s hands. He pictures such a death for his own father, Anchises, and is shaken. At this poin the sees Helen hiding at Vesta’s shrine. Angered at the idea that she should return a heroine to Greece, Aeneas moves to kill her, but he is stopped by a vision of his mother, Aphrodite, who catches his hand, and points out that while he participates in this foolishness, he is not protecting his own family, who are in mortal peril. He is told to return to his father’s house, and Venus promises safety until he reaches there. At his father’s house, Anchises refuses to leave, not wanting to live through Troy’s defeat. Aeneas refuses to leave him to die. Aeneas says if his father refuses to leave, then he does as well, and will instead go to battle. Creusa, his wife, begs him to stay and protect the family. At this point, unquenchable flames start to lick at Anchises’s hair, who takes the flames as a sign, and asks for a sign to “ratify the omen” from Jupiter. This request is quickly answered by a loud roll of thunder and a shooting star. At this, Anchises finally agrees to leave. Due to his father’s old age, Aeneas takes him on his shoulders to carry him out of the city. Anchises is to carry the holy relics and household gods in his arms, since Aeneas’s hands are dirtied with blood from battle. At a point of confusion when it seems some Greeks are following, Aeneas turns off the path, and Creusa is lost. She was never seen again. Trying to find her, Aeneas went back, but could not find her. Going back to his house hoping to see her, he saw the Greeks setting fire to the house. Then he saw a “shadow” of her. She tells him that the gods have not willed it for her to leave with him. She says that a new kingdom awaits him where he will have a new royal wife. She points out that if nothing else, she has been saved from being taken as a slave woman back to Greece with the Greek fleet, and that she is being kept by Cybele. She finishes by telling him to love their son. At this, Aeneas reaches for her three times, and each time her image fled his reach. Returning to his comrades, he was surprised to see how many had joined them, looking to him as the leader. Finally giving up the city, they sought the hills for protection.
Book III: The Wanderings of Aeneas
Aeneas continues his story. The defeated Trojans built a fleet of ships, and left the Trojan shores. He tried to start a city named Aeneadae. Aeneas decided to perform a sacred rite and pray to the nymphs, so he went to get some plants. While pulling up a bush, black blood bled from the plant and its roots. Suddenly, the plant talked to him. The voice claimed to be Polydurus, who had been sent on a mission and killed. Aeneas, shaken, performed funeral rites for the man, prayed to the nymphs, and the Trojans leave this island. At another island they are met by the king and a priest of Apollo, who tell them that they will journey to the land that “brought them forth.” Anchises believes that this must be the land of Crete which is the cradle of their race, and the land that Cybele came from, so they journey to Crete and found the city Pergamea. However, the year they live there is full of hard weather and death. Anchises suggests that they return to Delos to consult the oracle. That night Aeneas has a dream in which the household gods come to give him a message from Apollo. They tell him that Crete is not the place and that the land they search for is to the west called Italy. When Aenaes wakes, he tells his father who admits his mistake and says that Cassandra had indeed said the same things, but “Who ever believed Cassandra?” Sailing on, they make harbor at another island and feast, but are attacked by Harpies. Harpies are girls that look like birds, have talons for hands, and very pale faces. According to the story, they come with loud shrieks and a most foul smell. Trying to avoid them, they move the banquet but the Harpies follow. Unhappy with the Trojans, one curse them saying that they will find their land, but will not wall the city in Italy till they have felt the pangs of hunger. Leaving this land, they start to hear stories of two of their people, Andromache (wife of Hector) and Helenus (son of Priam), both of whom they meet shortly. Andromache, especially, has a sad story of her capture and being given to the Greek, Pyrrhus. He held her captive and made her bore his children in bondage before leaving her for another woman. While in this Trojan controlled city, Aeneas talks with a priest, and is told that Italy is still far off and they have a long journey ahead of them. They will know they have finally found the land where their city should raise when Aeneas sees a white sow with a litter of 30 sucking from her udders. Also, he tells Aeneas that he must visit the Sibyl. After they leave this city, they sail and at one point accidentally make harbor on the island of the Cyclopes, where they meet a Greek man named Achacemenides, a former companion of Ulysses who was deserted on the island when the men fled in terror. He describes the Cyclopes whose eye Ulysses bore out. This Cyclopes eats men and drinks their blood. In actuality, there are 100 Cyclopes on this island. Finally the Trojans leave, barely avoiding capture (taking the Greek with them). Shortly thereafter, Anchises dies. It is around this time that they make their way to Carthage, and thus Aeneas’s story ends.