Aeneas's Journey to Italy

The Romans didn't borrow everything from the Greeks, of course. They had their own stories about the beginnings of their culture and the founding of their city. The Romans believed that their ancestor was the Trojan hero Aeneas.

Aeneas was one of the few who survived the Trojan War. He was the leader of those Trojans who managed to escape the war with their lives. With their city destroyed, the Trojans needed a new home. They wandered, unable to find a suitable place, until they received a prophecy that they should make their home in the place of their “ancient mother.” At first, the prophecy was interpreted as referring to Crete, but when the displaced Trojans went there, they suffered a famine. They had to reconsider the prophecy.

The prophecy referred to Italy, the homeland of Dardanus, an ancestor of the Trojans. So the Trojans set out for Italy, but their journey was not an easy one. They suffered terrible sea storms and an encounter with Harpies — and they had Juno to deal with.

Juno's Wrath

Juno (you've known her throughout this book as Hera) could be ruthless, especially when she took things personally. Juno had favored the Greeks during the Trojan War and saw no reason to change her mind about the Trojans after the war had ended. One of the reasons she hated the Trojans was that Dardanus, their ancestor, was the illegitimate son of Jupiter (the Greek Zeus) and Electra — and Juno's anger at her husband's extramarital affairs could last for generations.

Juno wanted the Trojans to fail and tried to prevent them from finding a new home. First, she tried to make the winds destroy the Trojans' ships. But without the cooperation of Neptune (Poseidon), little damage was done. In fact, angry that Juno had invaded his domain, Neptune stopped the storm, but the winds had already blown the Trojan fleet far off course.

Trying to get back on course, the fleet made numerous stops. During a stop in Carthage, the queen, Dido, fell in love with Aeneas and committed suicide when he left her. (Chapter 15 tells you their story.)

Many of the Trojans, who had been wandering for years, grew tired of traveling and wanted to settle down. Juno incited some of the women to mutiny. When the fleet stopped in Sicily, Juno convinced the women to set fire to the ships. Some ships were destroyed, but Jupiter intervened to save the rest. Even with a reduced fleet, Aeneas refused to give up his quest for a new homeland. The remaining ships couldn't carry everyone, so he allowed some of the refugees to stay in Sicily, but the others continued with him on the journey.

Reaching Italy

Finally, more than seven years after the fall of Troy, Aeneas and his companions landed in Italy. Now that they'd reached their destination, however, they weren't sure what to do next. Until this point, Aeneas had relied on visions and prophecies, but now he needed further guidance.

As you read in Chapter 8, Aeneas decided to travel to the Underworld and seek advice from his father's shade. He met his father in the Elysian Fields, who told him that he would found the Roman race and his descendants would found the city of Rome.

Aeneas returned to the world of the living and set out again. This time, he and his followers landed in Latium, a region on the Tiber River. Latium was ruled by King Latinus, a son of Faunus (Pan). He had received an oracle saying that his daughter, Lavinia, would marry a man from abroad. Latinus recognized Aeneas as the man whose arrival the oracle had foretold, so the Trojans received a warm welcome.

Juno Steps in Again

Of course, Juno couldn't leave it alone. She decided to stir up trouble between the Trojans and the Latins by taking advantage of a prearranged marriage between Lavinia and Turnus, king of the Rutulians. King Latinus and his wife, Amata, had already promised their daughter in marriage to Turnus, who also happened to be Amata's nephew. Oracle or no, he wasn't willing to be pushed aside for some stranger.

Juno sent a Fury to turn Amata against a marriage between Aeneas and Lavinia. Next, the Fury incited Turnus to declare war.

The Trojans fought valiantly against the Rutulians. Many casualties occurred on both sides. Because each commander was losing so many men, the two leaders agreed to solve the dispute through one-on-one combat. Aeneas was a better fighter than Turnus, and Juno knew this. She persuaded Turnus to back out of the agreement at the last minute.

Furious, Aeneas launched a vicious attack on the Rutulians. So many men were killed that Turnus was rumored to be among the slain. Distraught over her nephew's death, Amata killed herself.

Turnus, however, had not died. Once again, the two leaders agreed to meet in single combat. This time, Juno was nowhere to be seen. Aeneas easily defeated Turnus and ended the war.

Aeneas did not kill Turnus right away. When it became evident that Aeneas had won the fight, Turnus begged for mercy. Aeneas almost conceded, but then he saw that Turnus wore the sword-belt of a friend of his who'd been killed. Aeneas killed Turnus on the spot.

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