The Aeneid: Novel Summary: Book 3

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Book 3

Troy is fallen by the will of the gods, Aeneas says, and we are driven to find a place of exile far away. He tells how they build a fleet, and Anchises orders them to sail as soon as summer comes. Aeneas weeps as the ships set sail. He first lays out the walls of a new city in Thrace, a nearby land that used to be an ally of the Trojans, but when he tries to break off a branch to cover a sacrificial altar, the plant bleeds and a voice speaks-the voice of the Trojan who lies buried beneath the plant, killed by the treachery of the ruler of this land. The Trojans must move on. They next come to Delos, sacred island of Apollo, and Aeneas begs Apollo to reveal to him where they can found a second Troy. Apollo speaks, telling them to go the home of their ancestors. Anchises interprets the god's words as meaning Crete, from which some of their ancestors came. They land on Crete, and Aeneas immediately builds walls again. But a pestilence comes, killing many, and Anchises suggests that they go back to Delos to consult Apollo again. In the night, however, the household gods of Troy appear to Aeneas, telling him he must go on to Italy, from which the real founder of the Trojan race came.
A three-day storm drives them off course almost as soon as they set sail, and they land on the Strophades, where monstrous harpies steal and defile their food and predict such starvation when they come to Italy that they will gnaw on their tables for food. Anchises prays that this prophecy may come to nothing. They journey on till they come to a Greek city named Buthrotum, and are amazed to find that it is ruled by a son of Priam named Helenus, who has married Andromache, the wife of the dead Hector. Indeed, they find Andromache making offerings at an empty tomb she has raised for Hector. Everything here imitates Troy, and Andromache lives completely in the past.
Helenus is a priest of Apollo and can speak for him, and he tells Aeneas that they must not land on the eastern shore of Italy, which is close to where they are, but take a long and dangerous way around Sicily, avoiding death from Scylla and Charybdis. When he reaches Cumae, he must consult the sybil, who will tell him the dangers he must face when he gets to Italy. Aeneas leaves in tears, telling his hosts to be happy that they can rest and enjoy living in their new Troy, while he has to seek the always receding shores of Italy.
They land on the eastern shore of Italy, dangerous because now inhabited by Greeks, just long enough to sacrifice to Juno, as Helenus ordered. Then they sail on, narrowly escaping the whirlpool of Charybdis and landing on the island of the Cyclops. There they find a wretched man left behind by Ulysses (Odysseus) and his companions when they made their escape from the Cyclops by putting out the giant's one eye. Mercifully they take this Greek in and flee, as all the Cyclops rush down to the beach to catch them. They continue to Drepanum, where Anchises dies, and Aeneas laments the loss of his support and guidance, seeing himself as exhausted and deserted. From there, Aeneas says, divine power drove him to Dido's shores, and so he ends his tale of fates ordained by the gods.
Book 3 has strong pathos, as Aeneas describes attempt after attempt to build a new city. He tries again and again to build city walls, with all they mean of security and an ordered way of life, where sons can carry on the heritage of their fathers, and where the Lares and Penates of Troy, the household gods whose images he saved from the burning city and has carried so faithfully through all his wanderings, can be established and receive due worship again. (The expression "lares and penates" was once a common way of saying "treasured possessions" in English, in the days when all educated people knew at least some Latin.) He resists his destiny, resists seeing himself as creating something new, something greater than Troy; he wants only to build another Troy. Andromache and Helenus are clearly living in the past, especially Andromache, with her worship at an empty tomb, but Aeneas feels only envy for them.


It is Anchises who looks forward joyfully to the fulfillment of the destiny he recognized in the flame that played around Ascanius's head, and it is he who provides the driving force for the voyage; Aeneas has not only reverenced his father but depended on him completely. No wonder Aeneas sees Anchises's death as the worst blow of all. Now we understand much more fully why Aeneas is at such a low point as the story opens: the fall of Troy, the loss of his wife, the endless wandering, the unclear oracles of the gods, the constantly thwarted desire to bring the past back to life, the crowning blow of the death of his father, and now thirteen of his ships lost in the storm! Virgil has helped us understand why Aeneas is so pathetically grateful for the welcome Dido gives him, so envious of the Tyrians as they joyfully build Carthage.

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