The Aeneid, Book I

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The Storm & Refuge at Carthage

After the destruction of Troy by the Greeks after a ten years’ siege, Aeneas escaped with his father, Anchises, his son, Ascanius, and a group of Trojans and sailed across the Mediterranean towards Italy where he was fated to found a new city.

However, the goddess Juno hated Aeneas for a number of reasons: another Trojan, Paris, had not chosen her in the contest for the golden apple; she was jealous of Ganymede, a Trojan whom Jupiter had carried off to be his cupbearer; she had been on the side of the Greeks in the Trojan war and Rome, the city Aeneas’ ancestors would found in Italy, was fated to destroy Carthage which she loved. She therefore sent storms to harass and to try to destroy his fleet and prevent Aeneas reaching Italy. She sought the help of Aeolus, who controlled the winds, by promising him a beautiful nymph as his wife. Aeolus released the storm winds and Aeneas’ fleet began to be scattered. However, Neptune was angry at Aeolus’ and Juno’s interference in his area of authority; he sent the winds back to Aeolus and, with the help of Triton and a sea nymph, rescued Aeneas’ ships and set them back on course.

The Shipwreck by William Turner
The Shipwreck, painting by William Turner. (c) The Tate

Not long afterwards only seven out of their original twenty ships landed in Libya. The Trojans were feeling very dejected at having lost so many of their ships and comrades, as they thought. Aeneas showed his leadership qualities and raised their spirits by hunting and killing seven deer for them to eat, giving them wine which he had brought from Sicily and giving a stirring speech reminding them they had survived hardships in the past and that it was fated they reach Italy where they would build a new kingdom.

The goddess Venus, Aeneas’ mother and therefore protector, was upset at the constant harassment of Aeneas and the Trojans by Juno and asked her father, Jupiter, why this was being allowed to happen. Venus had endured the Trojans losing the war because they were fated to found a new city which would rule the rest of the world. She asked why Juno’s anger and jealousy were being allowed to prevent this. Jupiter reassured her that Aeneas’ fate was unchanged and prophesied some of the great future Romans and their history culminating in the victories of Augustus. Jupiter then sent Mercury, the messenger god, to Carthage and to their queen, Dido, to ensure they would give Aeneas and his men a hospitable welcome.

Venus Appearing to Aeneas on the Shores of Carthage by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1757).

The next morning Aeneas left camp with just one companion, Achates, to scout out the land. Venus came to him in disguise as a local girl and gave him a description of how the present Tyrian inhabitants, formerly Phoenicians, came to be here building their own new city: their queen, Dido, had fled Tyre after her brother, Pygmalion, murdered her husband, Sychaeus. He, in a dream, had told Dido the location of some buried gold and silver and she was using this to build a new city nearby. Venus told Aeneas his ‘lost’ ships and men had landed safely and, as she left, Aeneas recognised her as his mother. She covered both men in a cloud so they could not be seen.

From a hilltop Aeneas and Achates looked down on the Tyrians working like busy bees on the buildings of the new city, described in Roman terms. They saw a magnificent temple being built in honour of Juno. On it Aeneas saw in detail depictions of the battles and other events in the Trojan War, which caused him to cry as he re-lived those events but also gave him hope for the future that others knew what they had been through and sympathised. While he was looking at these Queen Dido arrived accompanied by Tyrian warriors. She was compared in beauty and bearing to the goddess Diana and, as a leader, she is Aeneas’ equal in the way she organises the work and decides on laws and rules of conduct. Aeneas then saw his men whom he had presumed dead approaching Dido.

The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas, painting by Nathaniel Dance-Holland.

They explained who they were, that they had been ship wrecked, that they meant Dido and her kingdom no harm and asked permission to repair their ships and continue on their journey to Italy or, if their leader Aeneas had been killed, to return to Sicily. Dido told them she had heard of the tragic events of Troy and that they had nothing to fear from her. She would give them supplies for their journey if they wished to leave or they could settle with the Tyrians in Carthage. She would send men to look for Aeneas and the rest of the Trojans.

Aeneas introducing Cupid dressed as Ascanius to Dido, painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1757).

The cloud of invisibility was removed and Aeneas revealed to Dido who he was and thanked her for her generosity. She said she empathised with him as she also had shared similar misfortunes. Food was sent to Aeneas’ men and she ordered a banquet to be prepared in her palace. Aeneas sent for his son, Ascanius, and for gifts brought from Troy for Dido. Venus meanwhile plotted to make Dido fall in love with Aeneas by sending her son, Cupid, to take the place of Ascanius and to breathe into Dido love for Aeneas. She thought this would prevent Juno doing Aeneas any harm via Dido. Venus meanwhile hid Ascanius. Cupid worked his magic and made Dido fall in love with Aeneas. At the end of the banquet Dido asked Aeneas to tell her all about Troy, its downfall and about the Trojans‘ seven years of wandering.

Aeneas tells Dido about the fall of Troy, painting by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin.

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