EpicMythology

THE STORY OF THE AENEID

For many years the heroic Aeneas, who escaped from falling Troy to seek the shores of Italy, there to found the lofty walls of Rome, was tossed upon the sea by the wrath of cruel Juno.

The fates foretold that these future Romans would overthrow a city dearer to her than Samos,—Carthage, founded by the Tyrians, opposite Italy, and far from the Tiberine mouths. For this rich city Juno desired boundless rule,—hence her hatred of the Trojans. Moreover, she had not forgotten the judgment of Paris, her slighted charms, and the supplanting of Hebe by Ganymede.

After having tossed the unhappy hero and his men over many seas, Juno, observing their approach to Italy, hastened to Aeolia, where King Aeolus ruled over the struggling winds and tempests, chained in vast caves.

Bribed by Juno, Aeolus sent forth a tempest that scattered the ships of Aeneas, and would have destroyed them had it not been for the interposition of Neptune.

Suspecting his sister’s treachery, Neptune angrily dismissed the winds, and hastened to the relief of the Trojans. Cymothoë and Triton pushed the ships from the rocks, he himself assisting with his trident. Then, driving over the rough waves in his chariot, he soothed the frenzy of the sea.

The wearied Aeneans speedily sought a harbor on the Libyan shore, a long and deep recess bordered by a dense grove. In the cliffs was a cave, with sweet waters and seats carved from the living rock,—the abode of the nymphs. Gathering here the seven ships that survived the fury of the storm, Aeneas landed, and feasted with his comrades.

The next morning Aeneas, accompanied by his friend Achates, sallied forth from the camp at dawn, to learn, if possible, something of the land on which they had been thrown. They had gone but a little way in the depths of the forest when they met Aeneas’s mother, Venus, in the guise of a Spartan maid, her bow hung from her shoulders, her hair flowing to the wind.

“Hast thou seen my sister?” she inquired, “hunting the boar, wrapped in a spotted lynx hide, her quiver at her back?”

“Nay, we have seen no one,” replied Aeneas. “But what shall I call thee, maiden? A goddess, a nymph? Be kind, I pray thee, and tell us among what people we have fallen, that before thy altars we may sacrifice many a victim.”

“I am unworthy of such honors,” Venus answered. “This land is Libya, but the town is Tyrian, founded by Dido, who fled hither from her brother Pygmalion, who had secretly murdered her husband, Sichaeus, for his gold. To Dido, sleeping, appeared the wraith of Sichaeus, pallid, his breast pierced with the impious wound, and revealed to her her brother’s crime, showed where a hoard of gold was concealed, and advised her to leave the country.

“Gathering together a company of those who wished to flee from the tyrant, Dido seized the ships, loaded them with the gold, and fled to Libya, where she is now erecting the walls and towers of New Carthage. I would advise thee to hasten forward and seek our queen. If augury fail me not, I read from yonder flight of swans the return of thy missing ships and comrades.”

As she turned to go, her neck shone with a rosy refulgence, ambrosial fragrance breathed from her, her robe flowed down about her feet and revealed the goddess. As she vanished, her son stretched longing hands after her. “Ah, mother, why dost thou thus trifle with me? Why may not I clasp thy loved hands and exchange true words with thee?”

Wrapped in a cloud by Venus, Aeneas and Achates mounted a hill that overlooked the city, and looked down wondering on the broad roofs and the paved streets of Carthage. The busy Tyrians worked like the bees in early summer: some moving the immense masses of stone, some founding the citadel, others laying off the sites for the law courts and sacred Senate House. “O happy ye whose walls now rise!” exclaimed Aeneas, as he and Achates mingled with the crowd, still cloud-wrapped, and entered the vast temple built to Juno. Here Aeneas’s fear fell from him; for as he waited for the queen’s coming, he saw pictured on the walls the fall of his own dear city, and wept as he gazed upon the white tents of Rhesus, and Hector’s disfigured body.

As he wept, the beautiful Dido entered, joyously intent on her great work, and, seating herself on her throne, proceeded to give laws to the Tyrians, and assign their work to them.

Suddenly, to the amazement of Aeneas and Achates, in burst their lost comrades, Antheus, Sergestus, Gyas, Cloanthus, and other Trojans, demanding of Dido a reason for their rough reception. To whom the queen replied:—

“Let fear desert your hearts; I, too, have suffered, and know how to aid the unfortunate. And whither hath not the fame of Troy penetrated? I will aid you in leaving this coast, or give you a home with me, treating you as I treat my Tyrians. Would only that Aeneas’s self stood with you!”

Then burst Aeneas forth from his cloud-wrapping, made more beautiful by Venus, the purple bloom of youth on his face, joy in his eyes. “Here am I, Trojan Aeneas, to render thanks to thee, divine Dido.”

Dido, charmed with the hero, prepared a banquet for him in her splendid hall, curtained with rich drapery, and adorned with costly plate, whereon were pictured the proud deeds of her ancestors. Hither came the Trojans with gifts for Dido,—a rich robe stiff with gold embroidery, a veil embroidered with the yellow acanthus, ornaments of Helen, the sceptre of Ilione, a pearl and gold necklace, and a double crown of gems and gold.

Beside Achates tripped Cupid, for Venus, suspecting the craft of the Tyrians, had hidden Ascanius on Mount Ida, and sent her own son in his guise, to complete Aeneas’s conquest of Dido.

After the feast was over, the great beakers were brought in and crowned with garlands. Dido called for the beaker used by Belus and all his descendants, and pouring a libation, drank to the happiness of the Trojan wanderers, and passed the cup around the board. Iopas, the long-haired minstrel, sang, and the night passed by in various discourse. Dido, forgetting Sichaeus, hung on the words of Aeneas, questioning him of Priam and Hector, and at last demanding the story of his wanderings.

“Thou orderest me, O queen, to renew my grief, the destruction of Troy by the Greeks, which deeds I have seen, and a part of which I have been.

“Despairing of conquering Troy, the Greeks attempted to take it by stratagem. By the art of Pallas, they framed a heaven-high horse, within which were concealed picked men for our destruction. Leaving this behind them, they sailed, ostensibly for home, in reality for Tenedos.

“When we supposed them gone we joyfully went forth to examine the deserted camp and the giant horse. As we wondered at it, and Laocoön, priest of Neptune, urged us to destroy it, a crowd of shepherds approached with a youth whom they had found hiding in the sedges. His name was Sinon. He was a Greek, but he was hated by Ulysses, and had fled to save his life. The Greeks had sailed home, he assured us, leaving the horse as a votive offering to Pallas. They had hoped that its great bulk would prevent the Trojans from taking it inside their walls, for once within the city, Troy could never be taken.

“We Trojans were credulous, and Sinon’s tale was plausible. To increase our belief in it, while Laocoön was sacrificing a bull to Neptune, we saw coming over the sea from Tenedos two huge serpents, their crimson crests towering high, their breasts erect among the waves, their long folds sweeping over the foaming sea. As we fled affrighted, they seized the two sons of Laocoön, twining their coils around the wretched boys; and when their father hastened to their aid, caught him in their huge coils, staining his fillets with black blood. ‘Laocoön suffered for his crime,’ we said, when, the priest slain, the serpents crept to Pallas’s altar, and curled themselves around the feet of the goddess. Then joyfully we made a breach in the walls, put rollers under the horse, and, with music and dancing, dragged it within the walls.

“That night as we lay sleeping after revelry and feasting, Sinon crept down, opened the horse, and freed the men, who were soon joined by the other Greeks, returned from Tenedos.

“In a dream Hector’s shade appeared to me, and, weeping, bade me fly. ‘Troy falls. Do thou go forth and save her household deities!’ As I woke, sounds of battle penetrated to my palace halls, removed somewhat from the city, and embowered in trees; and I rushed forth, forgetful of Hector’s warning. I saw the streets swimming in Trojan blood, Trojan women and children led captive, Cassandra dragged from her shrine. Enraged, I gathered a band and slew many Greeks. But when I saw the impious Pyrrhus enter the palace and slay Priam at the altar, I recognized the uselessness of my struggle, and turned to my home.

“Taking my old father Anchises on my back, and leading Iulus by the hand, I set forth, followed by my wife Creusa. But when I looked behind me at the city gates, my wife was gone. Mad with despair, I rushed back to the citadel, crying, ‘Creusa! Creusa!’ Our homestead was in flames, the streets filled with Greeks; but as I roamed through the town, I met her pallid shape. ‘O husband, rage not against heaven’s decrees! Happy days will come for thee on the banks of the Tiber. Farewell, and love with me our boy!’

“Without the gates I was joined by other fugitives; and after the departure of the Greeks we built ships from the timbers of Mount Ida, and loading these with our household gods and a few spoils from the city, we departed to seek new homes.

“In Thrace, our first stopping-place, I learned that Polydore, Priam’s son, who had been entrusted to the care of the Thracian king, had been slain by him for his gold, when the fortunes of Troy fell. We hastened to leave this accursed land, and sought Delos, only to be instructed by Apollo that we must seek the home from which our forefathers had come. Anchises, who remembered the legends of our race, thought this must be Crete; so to Crete we sailed, and there laid the foundations of a city, only to be driven thence by a plague and a threatened famine.

“In a dream my household gods instructed me that Dardanus, the founder of our race, had come from Hesperia, and thither we must bend our course. Tempests drove us about the sea for three suns, until, on the fourth, we landed at the isle of the Harpies,—loathsome monsters, half woman, half bird, who foul everything they touch. When we had slain the cattle and prepared to banquet, they drove us from the tables; and when attacked by us, uttered dire threats of future famine.

“At Epirus we heard that Andromache had wed Prince Helenus, who had succeeded to the rule of Pyrrhus, two Trojans thus being united. As I landed here, anxious to prove the truth of the rumor, I met Andromache herself in a grove near the town, sacrificing at an empty tomb dedicated to Hector. Pyrrhus had made her his slave after the fall of Troy, but after he wedded Hermione, he had given her to Helenus, himself a slave. When Pyrrhus died, part of his realm fell to Helenus, and here the two had set up a little Troy.

“Helenus received us kindly, instructed us as to our route, and gave us rich gifts; and Andromache, remembering her dead Astyanax, wept over lulus as she parted with him.

“As we passed Sicily we took up a Greek, Achemenides, a companion of Ulysses, who had been left behind, and had since been hiding in deadly terror from the Cyclops. We ourselves caught sight of the monster Polyphemus, feeling his way to the shore to bathe his wounded eye.

“Instructed by Helenus, we avoided Scylla and Charybdis, and reached Sicily, where my father died. We were just leaving the island when the storm arose that brought us hither. The rest thou knowest.”

The guests departed from the banquet hall; but the unhappy Dido, consumed with love, imparted her secret to her sister Anna.

“Why shouldst thou weep, sister dear? Why regret that thou hast at last forgotten Sichaeus? Contend not against love, but strive to unite Trojan and Tyrian. Winter comes on, and thou canst detain him while the sea rages and the winds are fierce and the rains icy.”

Her ambitious plans for her city forgotten, Dido wandered through the streets, mad with love and unable to conceal her passion. She led Æneas among the walls and towers, made feasts for him, and begged again and again to hear the story of his wandering. At other times she fondled Ascanius, leaving her youths undrilled, and the city works abandoned.

Perceiving that Aeneas, well content, seemed to forget that his goal was Hesperia, Mercury was dispatched by Jupiter to warn him to depart from Carthage.

“Why stoppest thou here?” questioned the herald of the gods. “If thou carest not for thyself, think of Ascanius, thine heir. His must be the Italian realms, the Roman world.”

The horror-stricken Aeneas stood senseless with fear. He longed to escape, but how leave the unhappy Dido? Quickly calling his comrades, he commanded them to fit out the fleet in silence, hoping to find a time when he could break the news to Dido gently.

But who can deceive a lover? Rumor bore the report to Dido, who, mad with grief, reproached Aeneas. “Perfidious one! didst thou think to escape from me? Does not our love restrain thee, and the thought that I shall surely die when thou art gone? I have sacrificed all to thee; now leave me not lonely in my empty palace.”

Aeneas remained untouched. He would ever retain the kindest memories of his stay in Carthage. He had never held out the hope of wedlock to her. A higher power called him, and, bidden by Jove, he must depart, for Ascanius’s sake, to Italy.

The fainting Dido was carried to her palace, whence she could watch the hurried preparations for the departure. As she watched, life became intolerable to her. Pretending to her sister that she was preparing to perform a magic spell to release her from the bonds of love, she reared a mighty pyre in her court, wreathed it with funereal garlands, and placed thereon Aeneas’s couch, garments, and sword. With her hair dishevelled, she then invoked Hecate, and sprinkling Avernian water and poisons on it, and casting thereon various love charms, she called the gods to witness that she was determined to die. As the ships left the harbor, she tore her hair, one moment accusing herself because she had not torn Aeneas to pieces when in her power, at another vowing to follow him. Then, anxious to forget her grief, she mounted, the pyre, and threw herself on the sword of her faithless, lover.

Far out at sea, the Aeneans, looking back, dimly guessed the meaning of the flames that brightened the stormy skies.

Contrary winds compelled Aeneas to seek harbor in Sicily. Its king, Acestes, was his friend, and there he had buried his father Anchises. A year had elapsed since his death, and in honor of the anniversary, Aeneas instituted funeral games, in which there were trials of skill in rowing, foot-racing, archery, and boxing.

While the spectators were applauding the feats of skill, the Trojan women, at the instigation of Juno, set fire to the ships, that they might compel Aeneas to remain in Sicily. By Jupiter’s aid, some of the vessels were saved, and Aeneas, acting on the advice of Nautes, allowed the women and those Trojans who so desired, to remain in Sicily, and himself marked out for them the foundations of their city.

While here Aeneas was urged by Anchises in a dream to visit the Cumaean Sibyl, that, with her assistance, he might visit Elysium and talk with him.

In the lofty temple, the Sibyl, inspired by the god, encouraged the hero. “Success will at last be thine, and Juno will be won over to thee. But great labors must thou undergo.”

To visit the underworld was no easy task, she assured him. “The gates of Dis stand open night and day; small trouble it is to descend thereto, but to retrace one’s steps, and regain the upper air, there lies the toil.” Aeneas must first possess a golden branch to present to Proserpina, and celebrate the funeral rites of his friend, Misenus, who yet lay unburied.

While Aeneas worked in the forest, felling trees for Misenus’s bier, the doves of Venus descended and aided him to find the tree, from which he plucked the gleaming branch.

Across the Styx, past the dread Cerberus, Aeneas and the Sibyl went, through the abode of babes and those who died for deeds they did not do, and into the mourning fields, where the disappointed in love were hedged in with myrtle sprays. Here Aeneas descried Dido dimly through the clouds, and wept to see her fresh wound. Many were his protestations of his faithfulness, and strong his declaration that he left her only at the command of the gods. But without raising her eyes, Dido turned coldly away to where her former husband returned her love for love. Past the chamber of torture, beyond Phlegethon, guarded by Tisiphone and Tartarus, in whose depths the wicked were punished, they went, and entered the beautiful fields of Elysium, where Aeneas found his father.

To his son, Anchises explained that the souls that visited the underworld were punished according to their deserts, and then sent into Elysium. Cleansed there of all impurities, and with the memories of the past washed from them by Lethe, they again visited the world in another form. Pointing out a crowd that passed them, he indicated to Aeneas the illustrious men who would make his race famous in Italy. First his son Silvius, born of Lavinia, his Italian wife to be; Numitor, Romulus, the founder of Rome, Caesar, and greatest of all, Augustus Caesar, who would usher in the golden age.

Comforted by the prophecies of Anchises, Aeneas sought the upper world, and collecting his companions, set sail for the mouth of the Tiber.

Latinus the king welcomed Aeneas, and received his proposals for his daughter Lavinia’s hand with favor, remembering an ancient prophecy that Lavinia was to wed a foreign prince. But queen Amata, aroused by Juno, insisted that Lavinia should be espoused to Turnus, chief of the Rutulians. Stung by the fury Alecto, she stirred up the people until they demanded that Latinus declare war against Aeneas; and when he hesitated, Juno herself threw open the gates of the temple of Janus.

Leaving part of his forces in Latium with Ascanius, Aeneas, instructed in a dream by father Tiber, sailed up the river to Pallanteum, the future site of Rome, to gain the alliance of Evander, an Arcadian king unfriendly to Turnus.

Evander, who was celebrating a solemn feast to Hercules, together with his only son Pallas, and his senate, welcomed the warriors to his modest home, promised his alliance, and sent forth with Aeneas his son Pallas and four hundred knights. He also advised him to go to Argylla, whose people were stirred up against Turnus because he protected their tyrant king Mezentius.

While Aeneas was thus seeking allies, his troops in Latium had been attacked and besieged by Turnus, and were greatly in need of the hero’s aid. While the hosts of Turnus were sleeping after their drunken revelry, Nisus proposed to his beloved Euryalus that they steal through the Latin line with messages to Aeneas. Their proposal was applauded by the elders, and Iulus, weeping, promised to cherish them forever for their courage.

As the youths passed among the sleeping Latins, the desire for slaughter overcame them, and they slew Rhamnes, as he lay upon his gorgeous rugs, Lamus, and many others, Euryalus taking Rhamnes’s golden-studded belt and Messapus’s helmet as booty. Unfortunately they had delayed too long in slaughter; as they neared the camp of Turnus, Volscens, returning with reinforcements, caught sight of the shining helmet of Euryalus. The youth, flying, became separated from Nisus, and was captured by the enemy. Nisus, who returned to rescue his friend, sent weapon after weapon from his retreat, and when he saw Euryalus about to suffer death from Volscens, rushed forth to save him, only to fall dead upon the body of his slaughtered friend.

Angry at the slaughter committed by Nisus and Euryalus, Turnus, on his return, attempted to scale the intrenchments. The fight raged fiercely around the walls and towers; but just as the victory seemed to be with Turnus, Aeneas returned with his Tuscan allies, effected a landing, and began to put the enemy to flight, slaying the tyrant Mezentius and his son.

Turnus, hearing of the danger of his friend Lausus, at the hands of Pallas, who had already wrought great slaughter, sought him out, amazing the young warrior by his great size. Pallas faced him bravely; but while his spear only grazed the shoulder of Turnus, the spear of the Rutulian crushed the folds of iron, bronze, and hides, the corselet’s rings of steel, and buried itself in Pallas’s breast.

Turnus took the sword-belt from Pallas’s body; but because of the merit of the young warrior, yielded his body to the Arcadians to be carried to King Evander.

Enraged at the death of his friend, Aeneas fought more fiercely. Especially anxious was he to meet Turnus; but Juno, determined, if possible, to save her favorite, decoyed Turnus off the battle-field by assuming the guise of Aeneas.

After a truce, during which the armies buried their dead, and the body of Pallas was sent home to his father, the armies again came together, the Latins being reinforced by the Amazons, under the leadership of Camilla. Camilla had been reared by her father, the exile Metabus, and, early trained to warlike pursuits, had consecrated herself to Diana. Beautiful as a goddess was she, and so light of foot that she could fly over the tops of the tallest wheat without harming the ears.

Within the walls of Latium there was quarrelling between the parties, Drances, leader of the peace party, accusing Turnus of bringing on and continuing the hostilities. The approach of Aeneas brought these disputes to an abrupt conclusion, and Camilla, with Turnus, hastened to battle. Many victims fell by Camilla’s hand that day, as she rode about the field, her breast bare, her hand clasping her double battle-axe, before Aruns struck her down and fled, frightened at his victory.

In Latium the unhappiness increased, and Turnus, enraged at the reproaches heaped upon him, declared that he would decide the war by single combat with Aeneas. Latinus made no secret of his regret at having been compelled to break his compact with Aeneas; but Amata, still furious, raged against Aeneas, and declared that she would die if he were made her son-in-law.

The preparations were made for the single combat, the sacrifices at the altars, the crowds assembled to witness the combat; but just as the kings were solemnizing the agreement, Turnus’s sister, Juturna, a river goddess, beloved of Jupiter, renewed the hostilities that Turnus might be saved. A weapon hurled from the Latin ranks caused the indignant Trojans to rise in arms, forgetful of the treaty, and the fight raged more fiercely than before.

Juturna, fearful from Juno’s words of the fate of Turnus, assumed the guise of Metiscus, his charioteer, and drove her brother over the field far from the angry Aeneas, who, weary of waiting for Turnus, turned towards Latium. The frightened people rushed hither and thither, and the queen, seeing the approaching foe, the roofs in flames, and no troops of Turnus in sight, supposed the Rutulian dead, and hanged herself.

In the mean time, Turnus, remote from the fight, reproached his sister. “Think’st thou not I recognized thee? Thy deceit is in vain. Is to die so wretched a thing? Let us go to the battle. At least, I will die not unworthy of my ancestry.”

As he spoke, Saces, wounded and bleeding, rushed to him, imploring: “Turnus, have pity on us; come to our rescue! The Latins call thee, the queen is dead, the phalanxes crowd thick around the gates, while thou drivest idly here.”

Turnus, amazed, confused, and shamed, saw flames consuming the towers of Latium.

“Now, sister, the fates control. Desist! It is too late, I will be shamed no more!” Leaping from his chariot, he rushed forward, demanding that war cease in order that he and Aeneas might decide the battle in single combat.

When Turnus’s sword broke on the helmet of Aeneas,—the sword of his charioteer, that he had seized by mistake instead of his own Styx-hardened blade,—he turned and fled, Aeneas pursuing.

Above, in Olympus, Jupiter and Juno quarrelled, as they watched the heroes circling over the yellow sand.

“Give over thy enmity,” said the omnipotent father. “Thou hast caused the treaty to be violated; even now thou hast made Juturna return the lost sword to Turnus—in vain. Grieve no more, and goad no longer these suffering men of Troy.”

Then Juno yielded, stipulating only that the Trojans lay aside their ancient name, that Latium remain Latium, and the future growth Roman.

Juturna, warned by Jove’s messenger, a bird of evil omen, tore her locks and beat her breast, regretting the gift of immortality conferred on her by Jove. Then wrapping her gray veil about her, she fled to her watery throne that she might not see the death of her brother. The frightened Turnus, still fleeing from Aeneas, abandoned his sword and took up instead a mighty rock, a landmark such as scarce six men could uplift.

Hurling this at Aeneas, he stood, his blood running chill, his eyes cast towards the Rutuli, the town, and the spear of Aeneas, that, shrieking through the air, doom laden, wrecked his heavy shield and pierced his thigh.

“Mercy!” he prayed. “Fate hath given thee the advantage. Think, thou duteous son, of my old father, Daunus.”

As Aeneas stood, softened, and ready to grant the request, the sword-belt of Pallas caught his eye.

“Shalt thou escape, decked out with Pallas’s spoils? No, not I slay thee, but Pallas! His hand immolates thee!” As he spoke he plunged his sword in Turnus’s breast.

Chilly death came, and the warrior’s spirit fled, groaning to the shades.

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