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Aeneas

[ih-nee-uhs]

This article is about the Roman hero. For other uses, see Aeneas (disambiguation).

In Greco-Roman mythology, Aeneas (Greek: Αἰνείας, Aineías; in English) was a Trojan hero, the son of prince Anchises and the goddess Venus. His father was also the second cousin of King Priam of Troy. The journey of Aeneas from Troy, (led by Venus, his mother) which led to the founding of the city Rome, is recounted in Virgil's Aeneid. He is considered an important figure in Greek and Roman legend and history. Aeneas is a character in Homer's Iliad, Quintus Smyrnaeus' Posthomerica, and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida.

Mythology

In the Iliad, Aeneas is the leader of the Dardanians (allies of the Trojans), and a principal lieutenant of Hector, son of the Trojan king Priam. In the poem, Aeneas's mother Venus frequently comes to his aid on the battlefield; he is also a favorite of Apollo. Venus and Apollo rescue Aeneas from combat with Diomedes of Argos, who nearly kills him, and carry him away to Pergamos for healing. Even Poseidon, who normally favors the Greeks, comes to Aeneas's rescue when the latter falls under the assault of Achilles, noting that Aeneas, though from a junior branch of the royal family, is destined to become king of the Trojan people.

As seen in the first books of the Aeneid, Aeneas is one of the few Trojans who were not killed in battle or enslaved when Troy fell. When Troy was sacked by the Greeks, Aeneas, after being commanded by the gods to flee, gathered a group, collectively known as the Aeneads, who then traveled to Italy and became progenitors of the Romans. The Aeneads included Aeneas's trumpeter Misenus, his father Anchises, his friends Achates, Sergestus and Acmon, the healer Lapyx, the steady helmsman Palinurus, and his son Ascanius (also known as Iulus, Julus, or Ascanius Julius.) He carried with him the Lares and Penates, the statues of the household gods of Troy, and transplanted them to Italy.

(From here on, the Greek myths make room for the Roman mythology, so the Roman names of the gods will be used.) After a brief, but fierce storm sent up against the group at Juno's request, and several failed attempts to found cities, Aeneas and his fleet made landfall at Carthage after six years of wanderings. Aeneas had a year long affair with the Carthaginian queen Dido (also known as Elissa), who proposed that the Trojans settle in her land and that she and Aeneas reign jointly over their peoples. Once again, this was in favour of Juno, who was told of the fact that her favorite city would eventually be defeated by the Trojans' descendants. However, the messenger god Mercury was sent by Jupiter and Venus to remind Aeneas of his journey and his purpose, thus compelling him to leave secretly and continue on his way. When Dido learned of this, she ordered her sister Anna to construct a pyre, she said, to get rid of Aeneas' possessions, left behind by him in his haste to leave. Standing on it, Dido uttered a curse that would forever pit Carthage against Rome. She then committed suicide by stabbing herself with the same sword she gave Aeneas when they first met and then falling on the pyre. Anna reproached the mortally wounded Dido. Meanwhile, Juno, looking down on the tragedy and moved by Dido's plight, sent Iris to make Dido's passage to Hades quicker and less painful. When Aeneas later travelled to Hades, he called to her ghost but she neither spoke to nor acknowledged him.

The company stopped on the island of Sicily during the course of their journey. After the first trip, before the Trojans went to Carthage, Achaemenides, one of Odysseus' crew who had been left behind, traveled with them. After visiting Carthage, the Trojans returned to Sicily where they were welcomed by Acestes, king of the region and son of the river Crinisus by a Dardanian woman.

Latinus, king of the Latins, welcomed Aeneas's army of exiled Trojans and let them reorganize their life in Latium. His daughter Lavinia had been promised to Turnus, king of the Rutuli, but Latinus received a prophecy that Lavinia would be betrothed to one from another land — namely, Aeneas. Latinus heeded the prophecy, and Turnus consequently declared war on Aeneas at the urging of Juno, who was aligned with King Mezentius of the Etruscans and Queen Amata of the Latins. Aeneas' forces prevailed. Turnus was killed and his people were captured. According to Livy, Aeneas was victorious but Latinus died in the war. Aeneas founded the city of Lavinium, named after his wife. He later welcomed Dido's sister, Anna Perenna, who then committed suicide after learning of Lavinia's jealousy. After his death, his mother, Venus asked Jupiter to make her son immortal. Jupiter agreed and the river god Numicus cleansed Aeneas of all his mortal parts and Venus anointed him with Ambrosia and Nectar, making him a god. Aeneas was recognized as the god Jupiter Indiges. Inspired by the work of James Frazer, some have posited that Aeneas was originally a life-death-rebirth deity.

Family and legendary descendants

Aeneas had an extensive family tree. His wet-nurse was Caieta, and he is the father of Ascanius with Creusa, and of Silvius with Lavinia. The former, also known as Iulus (or Julius), founded Alba Longa and was the first in a long series of kings. According to the mythology outlined by Virgil in the Aeneid, Romulus and Remus were both descendants of Aeneas through their mother Rhea Silvia, making Aeneas progenitor of the Roman people. Some early sources call him their father or grandfather, but considering the commonly accepted dates of the fall of Troy (1184 BC) and the founding of Rome (753 BC), this seems unlikely. The Julian family of Rome, most notably Julius Cæsar and Augustus, traced their lineage to Ascanius and Aeneas, thus to the goddess Venus. Through the Julians, the Palemonids also make this claim. The legendary kings of Britain also trace their family through a grandson of Aeneas, Brutus.

In the recent trilogy of Troy novels written by the now deceased author David Gemmell, Aeneas is known both by this name and also the name Helikaon.

Medieval literature

In the Divine Comedy Dante sees the shade of Aeneas among other Roman worthies in the section of Limbo reserved for "virtuous pagans".

Family tree

Notes

References

Classical sources

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