Aeneas, was a Trojan hero and the son of Anchises and Venus, the Roman goddess of love. He was the favourite of the Romans, who believed that some of their eminent families were descended from the Trojans who fled westwards with him from Asia Minor after the Greek sack of Troy. Early Rome was only too aware of its lack of tradition and history in comparison with Greece, so the exploits of Aeneas conveniently provided a means of reasserting national pride. It was not a coincidence that the first Roman emperor, Augustus, took a personal interest in the myth.
During the Trojan War, Anchises was unable to fight, having been rendered blind or lame for boasting about his relationship with Venus. But young Aeneas distinguished himself against the Greeks, who feared him second only to Hector, the Trojan champion. In gratitude Priam gave Aeneas his daughter Creusa to have as his wife, and a son was born named Ascanius.
Although Venus warned him of the impending fall of Troy, Anchises refused to quit the city until two omens occurred: a small flame rose from the top of Ascanius’ head and a meteor fell close by. So, carrying Anchises on his back, Aeneas managed to escape Troy with his father and his son. Somehow Creusa became separated from the party and disappeared. Later, Aeneas saw her ghost and leaned from it that he would found a new Troy in distant Italy.
After sailing through the Aegean Sea, where the small fleet Aeneas commanded stopped at a number of islands, the fleet came to Epirus on the eastern Adriatic coast. From there it made for Sicily, but before reaching the Italian mainland it was diverted to North Africa during a sudden storm sent by the goddess Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, who harassed Aeneas throughout the voyage.
Only the timely help of Neptune, the Roman sea god. saved the fleet from shipwreck. At the city of Carthage, the great trading port founded by the Phoenicians, Venus ensured that Aeneas fell in love with its beautiful queen, the widow Dido. Because of her own flight to Carthage, Dido welcomed the Trojan refugees with great kindness and unlimited hospitality.
Time passed pleasantly for the lovers, as Aeneas and Dido soon became, and it seemed as if Italy and the new state to be founded on its shores were both forgotten. But watchful Jupiter, the chief Roman god, dispatched Mercury with a message to Aeneas, recalling him to his duty and commanding him to resume the voyage. Horrified by his intention to leave, Dido bitterly reproached Aenas, but his deep sense of piety gave him strength enough to launch the fleet again. Then the weeping queen mounted a pyre which she had ordered to be prepared and, having run herself through with a sword, was consumed by the flames.
When the Trojans finally landed in Italy, near the city of Cumae, Aeneas went to consult the Sibyl, who was a renowned prophetess. She took him on a visit to the underworld. There Aeneas met his father’s ghost, who showed him the destiny of Rome. Anchises had died of old age during the stay in Sicily, but his enthusuastic outline of the future encouraged his son. Aeneas also saw Dido’s ghost, but it did not speak to him and hurriedly turned away.
Afterwards, Aeneas steered for the mouth of the River Tiber, on whose river banks the city of Rome would be built centuries later. Conflict with the Latins, the local inhabitants, was bloody and prolonged. But peace was made when Aeneas married Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus. It had been foretold that for the sake of the kingdom lavinia must marry a man from abroad. The Trojans, in order to appease Juno, adopted the Latins’ traditions and language.