Once upon a time, nearly three thousand years ago, the city of Troy in Asia Minor was at the height of its prosperity. It was built on a fortified hill on the southern slopes of the Hellespont, and encircled by strong walls that the gods had helped to build. Through their favor Troy became so strong and powerful that she subdued many of the neighboring states and forced them to fight for her and do her bidding. Thus it happened that when the Greeks came to Asia with an army of 100,000 men, Troy was able to hold out against them for nine years, and in the tenth was only taken by a trick.
In the "Iliad" of Homer you may read all about the quarrel between the Trojans and Greeks, the fighting before Troy and the brave deeds done by Hector and Achilles, and many other heroes. You will see there how the gods took part in the quarrel, and how Juno, who was the wife of Jupiter and queen of heaven, hated Troy because Paris had given the golden apple to Venus as the fairest among goddesses. Juno never forgave this insult to her beauty, and vowed that she would not rest till the hated city was destroyed and its very name wiped from the face of the earth. You shall now hear how she carried out her threat, and overwhelmed Aeneas with disasters.
After a siege that lasted ten years Troy was taken at last by means of the wooden horse, which the Trojans foolishly dragged into the city with their own hands. Inside it were hidden a number of Greeks, who were thus carried into the heart of the enemy's city. The Trojans celebrated the departure of the Greeks by feasting and drinking far into the night; but when at last they retired to rest, the Greeks stole out of their hiding-place, and opened the gates to their army, which had only pretended to withdraw. Before the Trojans had recovered their wits the town was full of enemies, who threw blazing torches on the houses and killed every citizen who fell into their hands.
Among the many noble princes who fought against the Greeks none was braver and handsomer than Aeneas. His mother was the goddess Venus, and his father a brave and powerful Prince named Anchises, while Creusa, his wife, was one of King Priam's daughters. On that dreadful night, when the Greeks were burning and killing in the very streets of Troy, Aeneas lay sleeping in his palace when there appeared to him a strange vision. He thought that Hector stood before him carrying the images of the Trojan gods and bade him arise and leave the doomed city. "To you Troy entrusts her gods and her fortunes. Take these images, and go forth beyond the seas, and with their auspices found a new Troy on foreign shores."
Roused from his slumbers Aeneas sprang up in haste, put on his armor and rushed into the fray. He was joined by a few comrades, and together they made their way through the enemy, killing all who blocked their path. But when they reached the royal palace and found that the Greeks had already forced their way in and killed the aged man by his own hearth, Aeneas remembered his father and his wife and his little son Ascanius. Since he could not hope to save the city he might at least take thought for his own kin. While he still hesitated whether to retire or continue the fight, his goddess mother appeared and bade him go and succor his household. "Your efforts to save the city are vain," she said. "The gods themselves make war on Troy. Juno stands by the gate urging on the Greeks, Jupiter supplies them with hope and courage, and Neptune is breaking down with his trident the walls he helped to raise. Fly, my son, fly. I will bring you safely to your own threshold."
Guided by her protecting hand, Aeneas came in safety to his palace, and bade his family prepare in all haste for flight. But his father refused to stir a step. "Let me die here at the enemy's hands," he implored. "Better thus than to go into exile in my old age. Do you go, my son, whither the gods summon you, and leave me to my fate." In vain Aeneas reasoned and pleaded, in vain he refused to go without his father; neither prayers nor entreaties would move Anchises till the gods sent him a sign. Suddenly the child's hair burst into flames. The father and mother were terrified, but Anchises recognised the good omen, and prayed the gods to show whether his interpretation was the true one. In answer there came a clap of thunder and a star flashed across the sky and disappeared among the woods on Mount Ida. Then Anchises was sure that the token was a true one. "Delay no more!" he cried. "I will accompany you, and go in hope wheresoever the gods of my country shall lead me. This is a sign from heaven, and the gods, if it be their will, may yet preserve our city."
"Come then, father!" cried Aeneas joyfully. "Let me take you on my back, for your feeble limbs would move too slowly for the present danger. You shall hold the images of the gods, since it would be sacrilege for me to touch them with my blood-stained hands. Little Ascanius shall take my hand, and Creusa will follow us closely."
He now ordered the servants to collect all the most valuable possessions, and bring them to him at the temple of Ceres, just outside the city. Then he set out with father, wife and son, and they groped their way through the city by the light of burning homesteads. Thus they passed at last through the midst of the enemy, and reached the temple of Ceres. There, to his dismay, Aeneas missed Creusa. He rushed back to the city and made his way to his own house. He found it in flames, and the enemy were sacking the ruins. Nowhere could he find a trace of his wife. Wild with grief and anxiety he wandered at random through the city till suddenly he fancied he saw Creusa. But it was her ghost, not her living self. She spoke to her distracted husband and bade him grieve no more. "Think not," she said, "that this has befallen without the will of the gods. The Fates have decided that Creusa shall not follow you to your new home. There are long and weary wanderings before you, and you must traverse many stormy seas before you come to the western land where the river Tiber pours its gentle stream through the fertile pastures of Italy. There shall you find a kingdom and a royal bride. Cease then to mourn for Creusa." Aeneas tried to clasp her in his arms, but in vain, for he only grasped the empty air. Then he understood that the gods desired him to go forth into the world alone.
While Aeneas was seeking Creusa a group of Trojans who had escaped the enemy and the flames had collected at the temple of Ceres, and he found them ready and willing to join him and follow his fortunes. The first rays of the sun were touching the peaks of Ida when Aeneas and his comrades turned their backs on the ill-fated city, and went towards the rising sun and the new hope.
For several months Aeneas and his little band of followers lived as refugees among the hills of Ida, and their numbers grew as now one, now another, came to join them. All through the winter they were hard at work cutting down trees and building ships, which were to carry them across the seas. When spring came the fleet was ready, and the little band set sail. First they merely crossed the Hellespont to Thrace, for Aeneas hoped to found a city here and revive the name of Troy. But bad omens came to frighten the Trojans and drive them back to their ships.
They now took a southward course, and sailed on without stopping till they reached Delos, the sacred isle of Apollo. Here Aeneas entered the temple and offered prayer to the lord of prophecy. "Grant us a home, Apollo, grant us an abiding city. Preserve a second Troy for the scanty remnant that escaped the swords of the Greeks and the wrath of cruel Achilles. Tell us whom to follow, whither to turn, where to found our city."
His prayer was not offered in vain, for a voice spoke in answer. "Ye hardy sons of Dardanus, the land that erst sent forth your ancestral race shall welcome you back to its fertile fields. Go and seek your ancient mother. There shall the offspring of Aeneas rule over all the lands, and their children's children unto the furthest generations."
When he had heard this oracle, Anchises said, "In the middle of the sea lies an island called Crete, which is sacred to Jupiter. There we shall find an older Mount Ida, and beside it the cradle of our race. Thence, if tradition speaks truth, our great ancestor Teucrus set sail for Asia and there he founded his kingdom, and named our mountain Ida. Let us steer our course therefore to Crete, and if Jupiter be propitious, the third dawn will bring us to its shores."
Accordingly they set out again full of hope, and passed in and out again among the gleaming islands of the Ægean, till at last they came to Crete. There they disembarked, and began to build a city. The houses were rising, the citadel was almost ready, the fields were planted and sown, and the young men were seeking wives, when suddenly the crops were stricken by a blight and the men by a pestilence. Surely, they thought, this could not be the home promised them by Apollo. In this distress Anchises bade his son return to Delos and implore the gods to vouchsafe further counsel.
At night Aeneas lay down to rest, troubled by many anxieties, when suddenly he was roused by the moonlight streaming through the window and illuminating the images of the Trojan gods. It seemed as though they opened their lips and spoke to him. "All that Apollo would have told you at Delos, we may declare to you here, for he has given us a message to you. We followed your arms after the burning of Troy, and traversed the ocean under your guidance, and we shall raise your descendants to the stars and give dominion to their city. But do not seek it here. These are not the shores that Apollo assigns you, nor may Crete be your abiding place. Far to the west lies the land which the Greeks called Hesperia, but which now bears the name of Italy. There is our destined home; thence came Dardanus, our great ancestor and the father of our race."
Amazed at this vision, Aeneas sprang up and lifted his hands to heaven in prayer. Then he hastened to tell Anchises of this strange event. They resolved to tarry no longer, but turning their backs on the rising walls they drew their ships down to the sea again, and once more set forth in search of a new country.
Now they sailed towards the west, and rounded the south of Greece into the Ionian Sea. But a storm drove them out of their course, and the darkness was so thick that they could not tell night from day, and the helmsman, Palinurus, knew not whither he was steering. Thus they were tossed about aimlessly for three days and nights, till at last they saw land ahead and, lowering their sails, rowed safely into a quiet harbor. Not a human being was in sight, but herds of cattle grazed on the pastures, and goats sported untended on the rocks. Here was even food in plenty for hungry men. They killed oxen and goats, and made ready a feast for themselves, and a sacrifice for the gods. The repast was prepared, and Aeneas and his comrades were about to enjoy it, when a sound of rustling wings was heard all round them. Horrible creatures, half birds, half women, with long talons and cruel beaks, swooped down on the tables and carried off the food before the eyes of the terrified banqueters. These were the Harpies, who had once been sent to plague King Phineus, and when they were driven away by two of the Argonauts, Zetes and Calais, took refuge in these islands. In vain the Trojans attacked them with their swords, for the monsters would fly out of reach, and then dart back again on a sudden, and pounce once more on the food, while Celæno, chief of the Harpies, perched on a rock and chanted in hoarse tones a prophecy of ill omen. "You that kill our oxen and seek to drive us from our rightful home, hearken to my words, which Jupiter declared to Apollo, and Apollo told even to me. You are sailing to Italy, and you shall reach Italy and enter its harbors. But you are not destined to surround your city with a wall, till cruel hunger and vengeance for the wrong you have done us force you to gnaw your very tables with your teeth."
When the Trojans heard this terrible prophecy their hearts sank within them, and Anchises, lifting his hands to heaven, besought the gods to avert this grievous doom. Thus, full of sad forebodings, they returned to their ships.
Their way now lay along the western coast of Greece, and they were glad to slip unnoticed past the rocky island of Ithaca, the home of Ulysses the wily. For they did not know that he was still held captive by the nymph Calypso, and that many years were to pass before he should be restored to his kingdom. They next cast anchor off Leucadia, and passed the winter in these regions. In spring they sailed north again, and landed in Epirus, and here to their surprise they found Helenus, one of the sons of Priam, ruling over a Greek people. He welcomed his kinsman joyfully and, having the gift of prophecy from Apollo, foretold the course of his wanderings. "Italy, which you deem so near, is a far-distant land, and many adventures await you before you reach that shore where lies your destined home. Before you reach it, you will visit Sicily, and the realms of the dead and the island of Circe. But I will give you a sign whereby you may know the appointed place. When by the banks of a secluded stream you shall see a huge white sow with her thirty young ones, then shall you have reached the limit of your wanderings. Be sure to avoid the eastern coast of Italy opposite these shores. Wicked Greek tribes have their dwelling there, and it is safer to pass at once to the western coast. On your left, you will hear in the Strait the thundering roar of Charybdis, and on the right grim Scylla sits scowling in her cave ready to spring on the unwary traveler. Better take a long circuit round Sicily than come even within sight and sound of Scylla. As soon as you touch the western shores of Italy, go to the city of Cumæ and the Sibyl's cavern. Try to win her favor, and she will tell you of the nations of Italy and the wars yet to come, and how you may avoid each peril and accomplish every labor. One warning would I give you and enjoin it with all my power. If you desire to reach your journey's end in safety, forget not to do homage to Juno. Offer up prayers to her divinity, load her altars with gifts. Then, and then only, may you hope for a happy issue from all your troubles!"
So once more the Trojans set sail, and obedient to the warnings of Helenus they avoided the eastern coast of Italy, and struck southward towards Sicily. Far up the channel they heard the roar of Charybdis and hastened their speed in fear. Soon the snowy cone of Etna came into view with its column of smoke rising heavenward. As they lay at anchor hard by, a ragged, half-starved wretch ran out of the woods calling loudly on Aeneas for succor. This was one of the comrades of Ulysses, who had been left behind by mistake, and lived in perpetual dread of the savage Cyclôpes. Aeneas was moved to pity, and though the man was a Greek and an enemy, he took him on board and gave him food and succor. Before they left this place they had a glimpse of Polyphemus himself. The blind giant came down the cliff with his flock, feeling his way with a huge staff of pine-trunk. He even stepped into the sea, and walked far out without wetting his thighs. The Trojans hastily slipped their cables, and made away. Polyphemus heard the sound of their oars, and called his brother Cyclôpes to come and seize the strangers, but they were too late to overtake the fugitives.
After this they continued their southward course, passing the island where Syracuse now stands, and rounding the southern coast of Sicily. Then they sailed past the tall rock of Acragas and palm-loving Selinus, and so came to the western corner, where the harbor of Drepanun gave them shelter. Here a sorrow overtook Aeneas, that neither the harpy nor the seer had foretold. Anchises, weary with wandering and sick of long-deferred hope, fell ill and died. Sadly Aeneas sailed from hence without his trusted friend and counselor, and steered his course for Italy.
At last the goal seemed at hand and the dangers of the narrow strait had been escaped. But Aeneas had a far more dangerous enemy than Scylla and Charybdis, for Juno's wrath was not yet appeased. He had offered prayer and sacrifice, as Helenus bade him, but her long-standing grudge was not so easily forgotten. She hated Troy and the Trojans with an undying hatred, and would not suffer even these few-storm-tossed wanderers to seek their new home in peace. She knew too that it was appointed by the Fates that a descendant of this fugitive Trojan should one day found a city destined to eclipse in wealth and glory her favorite city of Carthage. This she desired to avert at all costs, and if even the queen of heaven was not strong enough to overrule fate, at least she resolved that the Trojans should not enter into their inheritance without many and grievous tribulations.
Off the northerncoast of Sicily lies a group of small islands, still called the Æolian Isles, after Æolus, king of the winds, whose palace stood upon the largest. Here he lived in a rock-bound castle, and kept the boisterous winds fast bound in strong dungeons, that they might not go forth unbidden to work havoc and destruction. But for his restraining hand they would have burst forth and swept away land and sea in their fury. To this rocky fortress Juno came with a request to Æolus. "Men of a race hateful to me are now crossing the sea. I beseech you, therefore, send a storm to scatter the ships and drown the men in the waves. As a reward I will give you one of my fairest nymphs in marriage." Thus she urged, and at her bidding Æolus struck the rock and the prison gates were opened. The winds at once rushed forth in all directions. The clouds gathered and blotted out sky and daylight, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and the Trojans thought their last hour had come. Even Aeneas lost heart, and envied the lot of those who fell before Troy by the sword of Diomede. Soon a violent gust struck his ship, the oars were broken, and the prow turned round and exposed the side to the waves. The water closed over it, then opened again, and drew down the vessel, leaving the men floating on the water. Three ships were dashed against sunken rocks, three were driven among the shallows and blocked with a mound of sand. Another was struck from stem to stern, then sucked down into a whirlpool. One after another the rest succumbed, and it seemed as if each moment must see their utter destruction.
Meantime Neptune in his palace at the bottom of the sea had noticed the sudden disturbance of the waters, and now put out his head above the waves to learn the cause of this commotion. When he saw the shattered Trojan ships he guessed that this was Juno's work. Instantly he summoned the winds and chid them for daring to disturb the waters without his leave. "Begone," he said, "and tell your master Æolus that the dominion of the sea is mine, not his. Let him be content to keep guard over you and see that you do not escape from your prison." While he spoke Neptune was busy calming the waters, and it was not long before he put the clouds to flight and brought back the sunshine. Nymphs came to push the ships off the rocks, and Neptune himself opened a way out of the shallows. Then he returned to his chariot, and his white horses carried him lightly across the calm waters.
Thankful to have saved a few of his ships, all shattered and leaking as they were, Aeneas bade the helmsman steer for the nearest land. What was their joy to see within easy reach a quiet harbor closed in by a sheltering island. The entrance was guarded by twin cliffs, and a forest background closed in the scene. Once within this shelter the weary vessels needed no anchor to secure them. Here at last Aeneas and his comrades could stretch their aching limbs on dry land. They kindled a fire of leaves with a flint, and dried their sodden corn for a scanty meal.
Aeneas now climbed one of the hills to see whether he might catch a glimpse of any of the missing ships. Not a sail was in sight, but in the valley below he spied a herd of deer grazing. Here was better food for hungry men. Drawing an arrow from his quiver, he fitted it to his bow, let fly, and a mighty stag fell to his aim. Six others shared its fate, then Aeneas returned with his booty and bade his friends make merry with venison and Sicilian wine from the ships. As they ate and drank, he tried to hearten the Trojans. "Endure a little longer," he urged. "Think of the perils through which we have passed, remember the dreadful Cyclôpes and cruel Scylla. Despair not now, for one day the memory of past sufferings shall delight your hours of ease. Through toils and hardships we are making our way to Latium, where the gods have promised us a peaceful home and a new and glorious Troy. Hold out a little while, and wait for the happy days in store."