Rome - Origins

Aphrodite and Aeneas
Joseph Chinard - 1756-1813 - Terracotta

The ancient Romans looked to Αἰνείας - Aeneas as the founder of the Roman state - and the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, who began the principate,  traced their ancestry to Aeneas, and ultimately to the goddess Venus (Aphrodite).

In Greco-Roman mythology, Αἰνείας - Aeneas - possibly derived from Greek 'αἰνή' meaning "praised") was a Trojan hero, the son of the prince Anchises and the goddess Venus (Aphrodite).
His father was the second cousin of King Priam of Troy, making Aeneas Priam's second cousin, once removed.
He is a character in Greek mythology, and is mentioned in Homer's 'Iliad'.
Aeneas receives full treatment in Roman mythology, most extensively in Virgil's 'Aeneid', where he is an ancestor of Romulus and Remus.
He therefore became the first true hero of Rome.

'Hymn to Aphrodite'

The story of the birth of Aeneas is told in the "Hymn to Aphrodite," one of the major Homeric Hymns.
Aphrodite has caused the other gods, especially Zeus, to fall in love with mortal women.
In retaliation, Zeus puts desire in her heart for Anchises, who is tending his cattle among the hills near Mount Ida.
When Aphrodite sees him she is smitten.
She adorns herself as if for a wedding among the gods and appears before him.
He is overcome by her beauty, believing that she is a goddess, but Aphrodite identifies herself as a Phrygian princess.
After they make love, Aphrodite reveals her true identity to him and Anchises fears what might happen to him as a result of their liaison.
Aphrodite assures him that he will be protected, and tells him that she will bear him a son to be called Aeneas, however, she warns him that he must never tell anyone that he has lain with a goddess.
When Aeneas is born, Aphrodite takes him to the nymphs of Mount Ida.
She directs them to raise the child to age five, then take him to Anchises.[
According to other sources, Anchises later brags about his encounter with Aphrodite, and as a result is struck in the foot with a thunderbolt by Zeus.
Thereafter he is lame in that foot, so that Aeneas has to carry him from the flames of Troy.

Aeneas in Homer's 'Illiad'

Aeneas is a minor character in the Iliad, where he is twice saved from death by the gods as if for an as-yet-unknown destiny, but is a warrior in his own right.
Having held back from the fighting, aggrieved with Priam because in spite of his brave deeds he was not given his due share of honour, he leads an attack against Idomeneus to recover the body of his brother-in-law Alcathous, at the urging of Deiphobus,.

Death of Hector - Illiad - Homer
He is the leader of the Trojans' Dardanian allies, as well as a third cousin and principal lieutenant of Hector, (who was killed by Achilles), son of the Trojan king Priam.
Aeneas's mother, Aphrodite, frequently comes to his aid on the battlefield, and he is a favorite of Apollo.
Aphrodite and Apollo rescue Aeneas from combat with Diomedes of Argos, who nearly kills him, and carry him away to Pergamos for healing.
Even Poseidon, who normally favors the Greeks, comes to Aeneas's rescue after he falls under the assault of Achilles, noting that Aeneas, though from a junior branch of the royal family, is destined for greatness.

Aeneas in Roman Literature

The history of Aeneas was continued by Roman authors.
One influential source was the account of Rome's founding in Cato the Elder's Origines.
The Aeneas legend was well known in Virgil's day, and appeared in various historical works, including the Roman Antiquities of the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus (relying on Marcus Terentius Varro), Ab Urbe Condita by Livy (probably dependent on Quintus Fabius Pictor, fl. 200 BCE), and Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus (now extant only in an epitome by Justin).

Virgil's Aeneid

The Aeneid explains that Aeneas is one of the few Trojans who were not killed or enslaved when Troy fell.
Aeneas, after being commanded by the gods to flee, gathered a group, collectively known as the Aeneads, who then traveled to Italy and became progenitors of Romans.
The Aeneads included Aeneas's trumpeter Misenus, his father Anchises, his friends Achates, Sergestus, and Acmon, the healer Iapyx, the helmsman Palinurus, and his son Ascanius (also known as Iulus, Julus, or Ascanius Julius).
He carried with him the Lares and Penates, the statues of the household gods of Troy, and transplanted them to Italy.
Several attempts to find a new home failed; one such stop was on Sicily where in Drepanum, on the island's western coast, his father, Anchises, died peacefully.
Aeneas tells Dido about the fall of Troy, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin.
After a brief but fierce storm sent up against the group at Juno's request, Aeneas and his fleet made landfall at Carthage after six years of wanderings.
Aeneas had a year-long affair with the Carthaginian queen Dido (also known as Elissa), who proposed that the Trojans settle in her land and that she and Aeneas reign jointly over their peoples.
A marriage of sorts was arranged between Dido and Aeneas at the instigation of Juno, who was told that her favorite city would eventually be defeated by the Trojans' descendants.
Aeneas's mother Venus (the Roman adaptation of Aphrodite) realized that her son and his company needed a temporary respite to reinforce themselves for the journey to come, however, the messenger god Mercury was sent by Jupiter and Venus to remind Aeneas of his journey and his purpose, compelling him to leave secretly.
When Dido learned of this, she uttered a curse that would forever pit Carthage against Rome, an enmity that would culminate in the Punic Wars.
She then committed suicide by stabbing herself with the same sword she gave Aeneas when they first met.
After the sojourn in Carthage, the Trojans returned to Sicily where Aeneas organized funeral games to honor his father, who had died a year before.
The company traveled on and landed on the western coast of Italy.
Aeneas descended into the underworld where he met Dido (who turned away from him to return to her husband) and his father, who showed him the future of his descendants and thus the history of Rome.
Latinus, king of the Latins, welcomed Aeneas's army of exiled Trojans, and let them reorganize their lives in Latium.
His daughter Lavinia had been promised to Turnus, king of the Rutuli, but Latinus received a prophecy that Lavinia would be betrothed to one from another land - namely, Aeneas.
Latinus heeded the prophecy, and Turnus consequently declared war on Aeneas at the urging of Juno, who was aligned with King Mezentius of the Etruscans and Queen Amata of the Latins.
Aeneas's forces prevailed. Turnus was killed, and Virgil's account ends abruptly.

The rest of Aeneas's biography is gleaned from other ancient sources, including Livy and Ovid's 'Metamorphoses'.
According to Livy, Aeneas was victorious but Latinus died in the war.
Aeneas founded the city of Lavinium, named after his wife.
He later welcomed Dido's sister, Anna Perenna, who then committed suicide after learning of Lavinia's jealousy.
After Aeneas's death, Venus asked Jupiter to make her son immortal. Jupiter agreed.
The river god Numicus cleansed Aeneas of all his mortal parts, and Venus anointed him with ambrosia and nectar, making him a god.
Aeneas was recognized as the god Jupiter Indiges.
Aeneas had an extensive family tree.
His wet-nurse was Caieta, and he is the father of Ascanius with Creusa, and of Silvius with Lavinia. Ascanius, also known as Iulus (or Julius), founded Alba Longa, and was the first in a long series of kings.
According to the mythology outlined by Virgil in the Aeneid, Romulus and Remus were both descendants of Aeneas, through their mother Rhea Silvia, making Aeneas the progenitor of the Roman people.
The Julian family of Rome, most notably Julius Cæsar and Octavian - Augustus, traced their lineage to Ascanius and Aeneas, thus to the goddess Venus.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

click below for next chapter
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016