The Trojans sail west - The Roman prequel series - Part 2
In this series of articles, I will describe the myth of Aeneas, the mythical ancestor of the Romans, as it was told by Virgil in his Aeneid. This article covers their journey from Troy to Carthage.
In a short time after the sack of Troy, the refugees built a small fleet and sailed away from what was left of their homes. Their first stop was Thrace. Here they founded a city but did not stay long. They soon realized that they were in exactly in the place, where Trojan man called Polydoros had been betrayed and slaughtered by a local king. This was hardly the right place to settle – they sailed away to the isle of Delos, the birthplace of the god Apollo. They consulted the oracle and received not overly clear instructions. They were called sons of Dardanus, urged to find the land of their ancestors and seek out their ancient mother. Not sure about the meaning, they turned to Anchises, who saved the day by remembering that it was Crete, where their ancestors came from. There had been a man call Teucer who led a large number of Cretans to Asia Minor. Those people later become Dardanians as Dardanus arrived from Italy and married Teucer’s daughter.
In a couple of ours Aeneas and his fleet left in direction to Crete. Once they arrived, they built a city called Pergamum, but again something went wrong. A plague struck the people and the crops. This was outrageous! Gods sent the Trojans to Crete and then started to harm them on purpose? Aeneas set sail back to Delos and demanded an explanation. It was given. It turned out old Anchises was mistaken and they were never supposed to travel to Crete. They were supposed to go to Italy, the homeland of his ancestor Dardanus. They set sail again and this time in the correct direction.
The stopped on the islands called Strafades, hunted some animals and then noticed that those probably belonged to the Harpies. Harpies were half-bird half-human creatures, not friendly at all. Trojans were given a new prophecy, not a pleasant one – they will suffer from a great hunger (they will starve so desperately they will eat the tables) before they will be allowed to build the city that was promised.
The next stop on their journey was the city of Buthrotum in Epirus (now in southern Albania). They saw familiar faces here. This land had belonged to Pyrrhus, son of Achilles (aka Neoptolemos). He returned here after the Trojan war but was soon killed in a fight for a girl (Hermione, the daughter of Helen). His folk was now lead by Helenus and he surely had a familiar face. He was a son of the late Trojan king Priam, brother to Hector, Paris, and Cassandra. If there ever was a man who had a right to call himself a true heir of Troy, it would be him. Helenus had a useful skill - he could see the future. Therefore, he was another in the long list of characters that made a prophecy about Aeneas and his fate. This one looked quite useful and practical. “Do not use the shortest way, but sail around Sicily to avoid Scylla and Charybdis.”, “Found your city in a place when you will find a white sow with 30 little white piglets”, “Visit the oracle of Cumae and make her speak to you.” … After the recent fail with confusing Italy and Crete, Aeneas must have been thrilled by such a clear advice.
There was another familiar face to be found in this city. It belonged to Andromaché, the wife of the late Hector, the bravest of the Trojans. Andromaché had been taken by Pyrrhos, but now stayed with Helenus. The encounter with her was definitely not that useful, but even more joyful. It was nice to see her reasonably happy and she was generous enough to have some gifts prepared for little Iulus.
Aeneas and his people continued their journey, narrowly missing the unpleasant Charybdis, to Sicily where they witnessed a restless volcano Etna spitting fire everywhere. There they were approached by an obviously poorly-groomed man. He introduced himself as Achaemenides form Ithaca. Despite soon realising that he as a Greek could not expect a warm welcome in the party of Trojans, this guy would rather be honourably killed by them than stay one more day on that cursed island. Why was he so desperate to leave? His reason was understandable – Cyclops.
Achaemenides used to accompany his king, the cunning Ulysses (Odysseus) up until the point when they met a one-eyed giant Polyphemus. The cyclops ruthlessly killed and ate a couple of their fellow soldiers. Horrified by this display of sheer beastly hunger and violence, they somehow managed to outsmart him, get him drunk and drive a sharp piece of wood in his only eye. While the most of Ithacans safely escaped afterward, the poor unfortunate Achaemenides was left behind.
But Polyphemus was not dead. He may have been blinded and embarrassed, but definitely very much alive. And with him, there were hundreds of other cyclops on the island. Just as the Greek guy finished his story, Polyphemus appeared, eager to accomplish his daily hygiene routine. Aeneas did the most heroic deed he could think of – ordered the man to paddle away as quickly as possible.
This crew took the Ithacan with them, but it did not last long and they were again in their original numbers. Anchises, the former lover of the goddess Venus and father of Aeneas, passed away in Sicily.
Aeneas and his people were just passing Sicily on their way to Italy when Juno saw an opportunity for her. In the Aeolian islands lived Aelous, a minor god with a funny title, “The Keeper of the winds”. Gods had made him responsible for occasionally letting the winds out and create a storm on the sea. Juno basically bribed this guy. She promised him a beautiful nymph. Aelous did not hesitate and a huge storm. Aeneas didn’t really display much currage during the storm. With great despair in his heart, he just wished he had died in Troy. But his fortune was about to change – the storm blew the Trojan fleet all the way to Carthage.