The Aeneid, Book V

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Sicily

As Aeneas sailed away from Carthage he looked back and saw the flames from Dido’s funeral pyre glowing in the distance without knowing the reason for them. They encountered another storm. Palinurus, Aeneas’ navigator, advised not resisting it but going in the direction it blew, back to Sicily. They were welcomed there by King Acestes whose mother had been Trojan. It was the anniversary of his father’s death and Aeneas proposed honouring his father with religious rites, praying for favourable winds and the foundation of a city and temples where they would worship him every year.

Having poured drink offerings Aeneas observed a snake slithering from under the altar which he interpreted as a good omen. Sacrifices to Anchises’ spirit followed. Nine days later funeral games were held in honour of Anchises and all participants received prizes. They started with a boat race: four boats competed, racing to a rock at some distance from the shore and back again; it was a hard-fought and exciting race which Cloanthus and his men won. Next came a running race held in the middle of a flat valley won by Euryalus followed by a boxing match between Dares and Entellus won by Entellus. Next came an archery competition with a dove attached to a ship’s mast as the target. Eurytion was the winner. The arrow of Acestes burst into flames as it sped through the air and Aeneas interpreted this as a good omen for the king.

Mosaic floor from a Gallo-Roman villa depictng the boxing match from the Aeneid Book V, Villelaure, France, c. 175 AD.

Next three squadrons of young boys paraded in front of everyone, one led by Ascanius. Then they divided into two sections facing each other with spears and re- enacted a battle. Years later Ascanius renewed this mock battle annually whilst building Alba Longa and it was later adopted by Rome; the boys taking part were called the ‘Trojan Troop’.

Juno then caused more mischief by sending the rainbow goddess, Iris, to the Trojan women and persuading them, in the disguise of one of their own, to set fire to their ships. The motive behind this was that the Trojans would be unable to sail to Italy and would settle in Sicily. The women were not averse to doing this as they were tired of roaming after seven years of travel since the destruction of Troy. Ascanius and Aeneas stopped the women but not before a lot of damage had been done. Aeneas prayed to Jupiter for help who sent torrential rain to put out the fires. Only four ships were destroyed.

The Trojan Women Set Fire to their Flee.jpg
The Trojan Women Setting Fire to Their Fleet by Claude Lorrain, c. 1643.

Aeneas had doubts about continuing their journey to Italy but he was persuaded to do so by the prophet, Nautes, who advised that Aeneas should leave behind those Trojans who were old or frail or were tired of travelling. They should build a new city here in Sicily called Acesta after king Acestes. Anchises appeared to Aeneas to urge him to follow Nautes’ advice and proceed to Italy with his bravest fighters as there were men in Latium he would have to fight in a war. Before doing that Anchises told Aeneas he would have to go down to the Underworld led by the Sibyl where he would be reunited with him and also see his descendants and his future city.

Aeneas prepared to leave Sicily, repairing his ships and making arrangements with Acestes for those Trojans who wished to stay. They built a temple to Venus and appointed a priest to look after Anchises’ tomb. Aeneas made sacrifices to the winds and the sea in the hope of favourable weather and they set sail. Venus complained to Neptune about Juno’s recent behaviour and begged him to allow the Trojans a safe crossing to Italy. Neptune reassured her that Aeneas would arrive safely in Italy. He would only lose one man on the journey, the navigator, Palinurus. The god of Sleep made him fall asleep whilst guiding his ship at night and then threw him overboard. His companions did not hear his shouts. As they were approaching a dangerous coastline Aeneas realised Palinurus was not there and he grieved at the loss of his friend who would be washed ashore and lie unburied.

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