Study Guide

The Aeneid Book 3

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Book 3

  • Aeneas and his followers take refuge beneath Mount Ida, in the neighborhood of Troy. There they set to work building a fleet.
  • When the summer rolls around, they sail off.
  • First they head for Thrace, a region once allied with Troy.
  • Aeneas plots out a settlement on the coast. Then he prepares to make a sacrifice.
  • But when he tries to pick some myrtle saplings to make a shelter for the altar, something strange happens: blood spurts out from the roots of the tree.
  • He tries again, and more blood spurts out.
  • Understandably freaked out, he makes some prayers. Then he tries for a third time.
  • This time, a voice speaks up from the ground, saying, "Hey! It's me, Polydorus, a Trojan. Some guys killed me with a bunch of spears, which then took root and turned into myrtle trees." What? You couldn't figure that out for yourself?
  • As it turns out, King Priam of Troy sent Polydorus to Thrace a while back with a shipment of gold. He was to give the gold to the king of Thrace for safekeeping while the Trojan war raged on. Unfortunately, the Thracian king decided to take the gold for himself, which is why he had Polydorus killed.
  • After a brief consultation, Aeneas and the other leaders decide that this probably isn't the best place to start a new city.
  • Before sailing off, they hold funeral rites for Polydorus.
  • Next they sail to the island of Delos, where there is an oracle of the god Apollo.
  • The oracle tells them to go to the original home of the Trojan people. There they will found an empire that will rule the shores of the world for generations to come.
  • Cool. But where's the original home of the Trojan people? Aeneas's dad, Anchises, knows: "Many years ago," he explains, "a guy named Teucrus came from Crete. He sailed from there to Asia Minor, where he founded Troy. We should head for Crete."
  • Which is exactly where they go. And found a city. Sweet. Or…maybe not. The Trojans are only there for a little while when a plague strikes them and their crops and the sun dries up all the water. (Way to go, Dad.)
  • Anchises says that Aeneas should go back to Delos and ask the oracle for an explanation.
  • That night, while Aeneas is sleeping, the household gods start talking to him. They tell him to go to Italy, where another ancestor of the Trojans – Dardanus, Teucrus's son-in-law – came from.
  • The next day, Aeneas tells the prophecy to Anchises, who says, "You're right, my bad. Let's go to Italy."
  • And off they go. Things are going pretty well for a while, but then the fleet gets caught in three days of storms.
  • Eventually, they succeed in making their way to an island. What they don't know is that it is inhabited by the Harpies – disgusting flying bird creatures with the faces of women.
  • But all the Trojans see is all the livestock roaming the shore unattended. To them, this can mean only one thing: BBQ time!
  • Unfortunately, when they go ashore to grab some dinner, the harpies swoop in and defile the meat with their filthiness. The Trojans try to fight them, but they just fly away.
  • Then Celaeno, the queen Harpy tells them that they will make it to Italy alright, "but as for what you did to my livestock – your reward will be terrible hunger. In fact, you guys are going to get so hungry that you're going to end up eating your tables!" Yikes.
  • After making prayers to avert this calamity, the men set sail again, and eventually make it to the Leucas region of western Greece.
  • They stay there for the winter, and then set sail again.
  • Next they come to Chaonia in Epirus – a region of Northwestern Greece.
  • Here they learn that Helenus, a son of the Trojan King Priam, has ended up ruling over some Greek cities. They also learn that he has married Andromache, who used to be the wife of the Trojan hero Hector (deceased).
  • On their way to find them, who should they run into but…Andromache herself, making sacrifice at a shrine she has made to her dead husband Hector.
  • Even though she faints when she sees them, when she wakes up she is full of information. She tells them that, after the fall of Troy, she was enslaved by Achilles's son Neoptolemus. But he soon got tired of her and took a Spartan woman, Hermione, for his wife.
  • At this point, he married her off to her fellow captive Trojan Helenus.
  • Then Agamemnon's son, Orestes, who was in love with Hermione, killed Neoptolemus; for some reasons that aren't entirely clear, Helenus inherited some land as a result of this, which is why he and Andromache have ended up as king and queen in this part of Epirus.
  • Then Helenus himself shows up. He leads them back to the city, which turns out to be a miniature replica of Troy.
  • After they stay there for a few days, Aeneas asks Helenus – who has the gift of prophecy – to tell them what's in store for them.
  • Helenus makes some sacrifices, and then starts telling them a lot of cool stuff.
  • He says that, for the most part, things are looking good. Then he gives them a list of things to watch out for.
  • He also tells them that, whenever they see a giant white sow suckling 30 white piglets, they'll know that they've found their new homeland.
  • Then he gives them some more advice, and tells them to steer clear of the narrows between Sicily and mainland Italy – that's where Scylla and Charybdis lurk.
  • But Helenus still isn't finished. Now he tells them to keep praying to Juno – maybe they'll win her over eventually. Also, he says once they get to Italy, they should head for the town of Cumae. There, they should consult with the Sibyl, a priestess and oracle.
  • After this, Helenus gives them all gifts, with some special gifts for Anchises.
  • Andromache also gives them gifts, with special stuff for Ascanius, who reminds her of her dead son.
  • Then the Trojans sail off. First they go to Ceraunia, further up the coast of Greece. From there, it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to the East coast of Italy. There they make a brief a pit stop, and then head off again.
  • They follow the coast of Italy south, and round the boot.
  • Soon afterward, they feel the sea getting choppy. Anchises realizes that they're close to Scylla and Charybdis. He tells them to head away from it.
  • They get away safely – but are headed to the island of the Cyclopes, better known as Sicily. (For information on the Cyclopes, check out this website.)
  • The volcanic Mt. Aetna is rumbling nearby, making things all the more spooky.
  • They make camp and spend the night in the forest.
  • In the morning, an emaciated man comes up to them out of the mist.
  • It turns out he is a Greek named Achaemenides. Even though he is scared at first to fall in with a bunch of Trojans, he suddenly comes forward and throws himself at their mercy.
  • He tells them that if they kill him, it would be OK. "So long as I die at the hands of humans, it's no big deal."
  • It turns out that Achaemenides was a sailor from the fleet of Ulysses (a.k.a. Odysseus), who was left behind. He narrowly escaped from the Cyclops's lair, and has been hiding out in the forest for the past three months. (If you don't know what happened when Ulysses/Odysseus encountered the Cyclops, check out our summary of Book IX of Homer's Odyssey.)
  • He tells the Trojans to sail away from there like their life depends on it – which it does. He repeats that they can kill him if they want.
  • At this point, who should come galumphing down to the water but Polyphemus – the Cyclops Ulysses/Odysseus blinded!
  • Aeneas and his crew put the pedal to the metal – that is, the paddle to the puddle – and get away in the nick of time. They take Achaemenides with them.
  • Then they keep sailing around the south coast of Sicily.
  • When they stop at the city of Drepanum, tragedy strikes again: Aeneas's father Anchises dies.
  • After this, Aeneas and company make their way to Carthage. This is the end of Aeneas's story.

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