Aeneas or Aeneas (from Latin Æneas, in turn from Ancient Greek Αἰνείας) is a character from Greco-Roman mythology whose story is told in Homer's Iliad and, above all, in Virgil's Aeneid.
According to legend, Aeneas was the most famous of the Trojan chieftains, the son of the goddess Aphrodite (the Roman Venus) and Anquises, son of Capis, son of Asakrachus, king of Dardania. He was married to Creus, daughter of King Priam and Hecuba. He had a son, Iulo (in Roman literature Ascanius).
Aeneas in Greek tradition
In the Trojan War, Aeneas became the most valiant Trojan warrior, after Hector. Favored by the gods, he was saved by them on several occasions during the battles. When he was wounded by Diomedes, it was his mother, Aphrodite, who saved him. And when he faced Achilles on the battlefield, it was Poseidon who saved him from being killed by the Greek hero.
With the fall of Troy, his mother advised him to leave the city, taking his family with him, for it would be his destiny to revive Trojan glory in other lands.
Aeneas in the Latin tradition
Under the protection of Aphrodite, Aeneas leaves Troy (burned down by the Greeks), taking his wife Creusa, his son Ascanius, his old father Anquises (whom he carries on his back), and a handful of Trojan soldiers.
He also takes the Trojan Penates, deities that protected the state, the governments and the institutions that govern one and the other, in order to found a new city. On the road, his wife disappears without a trace and he boards a ship, in which he wanders the Mediterranean Sea in search of a new homeland.
The Trojan then asks Apollo, who tells him to go to the land where his first ancestor was from. Anquises, an expert in the matter, claimed that in ancient days, before King Tros founded the city of Troy, there lived in Phrygia a king named Theucro, whose daughter, Batia, had married Dardanus, Tros' father. Teucro was believed to have come from the island of Crete.
They then set out on their journey. On the third day they landed in Crete, where they immediately began to build a city which Aeneas called Pergamos. They plowed the land and sowed it, and it seemed that everything would go well, but unexpectedly, all their work was destroyed.
A terrible drought ruined the crops and unleashed an epidemic that spread among the Trojans. Anquises interpreted this as a clear sign of divine disapproval, and advised Aeneas to return to Apollo's temple on the island of Delos to receive further instructions from the oracle.
On the eve of departure, the tutelary numes appeared to Aeneas and told him that he should go to the birthplace of Dardanus, formerly called Hesperia, now Italy.
Telling this to his father, Anquises remembered that Cassandra had prophesied that a new Troy would rise in Hesperia. But, of course, everyone thought she was crazy. They set out again.
The Trojans met the Harpies, but unlike the Argonauts, they ran away from them. They arrived in Epirus, the land where Helenus and Andromache had settled. Helenus told him what was going to happen and what he should do.
Next they were on the island of the Cyclops Polyphemus, and rescued a man, Achaemenides, who had been left behind by Ulysses. Anquises, already old, died before they left Sicily.
After a long time, he arrives in Carthage and, by the trickery of Venus and Cupid, becomes the lover of Dido, queen and founder of the African city. At first it was Hera who wanted this, so that Aeneas would stay with Dido and not get to Italy, but Aphrodite saw that the queen's love could be profitable to Aeneas.
However, this was not yet his final destination. Hermes, sent by Zeus, asks him why he was building a city that would not belong to his son, for his descendants. Aeneas had fled Troy to avoid submission to the Greeks, and was now submitting to Dido and her countrymen!
He then warns him to leave Carthage and found a city and kingdom for his own. As he leaves the city, even begrudgingly, he sees Dido, extremely passionate, commit suicide on a funeral pyre that he had had made in his fortress. And finally his escape after the Trojan War.
Origins of Rome
After this episode, Aeneas landed in Italy. In Cumas, he went to the Underworld, where he met his father, who told him about future generations. He also saw Dido, but she refused to speak to him.
Then he went to Latium. Latinus, king of Latium and grandson of Saturn, offered him land and the hand of his beautiful daughter Lavinia, who had long been promised to Turnus, king of the Ruulus, in marriage.
This was because of a prophecy that Lavinia should marry a foreigner, to give birth to a very powerful race that would rule the world. Lavinia and Aeneas fell in love, but Queen Amata, Lavinia's mother, wanted her daughter to marry Turnus.
Turnus, seeing that he would lose the kingdom of Latium and Lavinia, declared war on Aeneas and his newly arrived Trojans in Latium. Other nations joined the contenders, on one side and on the other.
The war was so heated that Latin, afraid that his country would be ruined and destroyed, suggested a singular combat between Aeneas and Turnus, with Lavinia as the prize. Both accepted, and Aeneas beat Turnus. Given a choice between killing or sparing his younger opponent, Aeneas decided, after long hesitation, to kill him.
For, in his hesitation, he saw on his opponent's shoulder the spoils of his beloved Palante. He immolated Turnus on behalf of his friend. Amata, Lavinia's mother, preferred suicide to seeing Aeneas on the throne.
Aeneas is said to have abdicated the throne in favor of his son and returned to his homeland to rebuild Troy. After Aeneas' death, his son Iulus, or Ascanius (depending on the version), founded Alba Longa, of which his descendants will be successive kings. In 753 BC, Rome, the second Troy, is founded by the twins Romulus and Remus, maternal descendants of Aeneas, but direct sons of the god Mars.
This version of the founding of Rome, or rather of Romulus' ancestry going back to Aeneas, is taken by modern researchers as a mere recollection of contacts between the Aegean world and Italy.
Such a version was taking shape from the 3rd century BC onwards. It appeared in Q. Fabius Pictor (200 B.C.) the first version, the definitive one being given by Virgil in his Aeneid, Ovid and Titus Livius.