Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

Week 5: Ancient Rome - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Aeneas Leaves Troy

Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Aeneas is not alone when he leaves Troy: he leads a large group of refugees who are prepared to follow Aeneas and to live in the new city that he will build for them... but where? First they to go Thrace, which used to be a territory allied to the Trojans. Aeneas builds a city there named Aeneadae. But a terrible event takes place that drives them out of Thrace: Aeneas is making a sacrifice to his goddess-mother Venus, but when he pulls up a bush in order to decorate her altar, the bush drips blood... and begins to speak to him...

And here, amazed, I found that a great number of new
companions had streamed in, women and men,
a crowd gathering for exile, a wretched throng.
They had come from all sides, ready, with courage and wealth,
for whatever land I wished to lead them to, across the seas.

And now Lucifer was rising above the heights of Ida,
bringing the dawn, and the Greeks held the barricaded
entrances to the gates, nor was there any hope of rescue.
I desisted, and, carrying my father, took to the hills.
After the gods had seen fit to destroy Asia's power
and Priam's innocent people, and proud Ilium had fallen,
and all of Neptune's Troy breathed smoke from the soil,
we were driven by the gods' prophecies to search out
distant exile, and deserted lands, and we built a fleet
below Antandros and the peaks of Phrygian Ida, unsure
where fate would carry us, or where we'd be allowed to settle,
and we gathered our forces together. Summer had barely begun,
when Anchises, my father, ordered us to set sail with destiny:
I left my native shore with tears, the harbour and the fields
where Troy once stood. I travelled the deep, an exile,
with my friends and my son, and the great gods of our house.

Far off is a land of vast plains where Mars is worshipped
(worked by the Thracians) once ruled by fierce Lycurgus,
a friend of Troy in the past, and with gods who were allies,
while fortune lasted. I went there, and founded my first city
named Aeneadae from my name, on the shore
in the curving bay, beginning it despite fate's adversity.

I was making a sacrifice to the gods, and my mother Venus,
Dione's daughter, with auspices for the work begun, and had killed
a fine bull on the shore, for the supreme king of the sky-lords.
By chance, there was a mound nearby, crowned with cornel
bushes, and bristling with dense spikes of myrtle.
I went near, and trying to tear up green wood from the soil
to decorate the altar with leafy branches, I saw
a wonder, dreadful and marvellous to tell of.

From the first bush, its broken roots torn from the ground,
drops of dark blood dripped, and stained the earth with fluid.
An icy shiver gripped my limbs, and my blood chilled with terror.
Again I went on to pluck a stubborn shoot from another,
probing the hidden cause within: and dark blood
flowed from the bark of the second. Troubled greatly
in spirit, I prayed to the Nymphs of the wild,
and father Gradivus, who rules the Thracian fields,
to look with due kindness on this vision, and lessen
its significance. But when I attacked the third
with greater effort, straining with my knees against the sand
(to speak or be silent?), a mournful groan was audible
from deep in the mound, and a voice came to my ears:

"Why do you wound a poor wretch, Aeneas? Spare me now
in my tomb, don't stain your virtuous hands, Troy bore me,
who am no stranger to you, nor does this blood flow from
some dull block. Oh, leave this cruel land: leave this shore
of greed. For I am Polydorus. Here a crop of iron spears
carpeted my transfixed corpse, and has ripened into sharp spines."

Then truly I was stunned, my mind crushed by anxious dread,
my hair stood up on end, and my voice stuck in my throat.
Priam, the unfortunate, seeing the city encircled by the siege,
and despairing of Trojan arms, once sent this Polydorus, secretly,
with a great weight of gold, to be raised, by the Thracian king.

When the power of Troy was broken, and her fortunes ebbed,
the Thracian broke every divine law, to follow Agamemnon's cause,
and his victorious army, murders Polydorus, and takes
the gold by force. Accursed hunger for gold, to what do you
not drive human hearts! When terror had left my bones
I referred this divine vision to the people's appointed leaders,
my father above all, and asked them what they thought.

All were of one mind, to leave this wicked land, and depart
a place of hospitality defiled, and sail our fleet before the wind.
So we renewed the funeral rites for Polydorus, and piled
the earth high on his barrow: sad altars were raised
to the Shades, with dark sacred ribbons and black cypress,
the Trojan women around, hair streaming,
as is the custom: we offered foaming bowls of warm milk,
and dishes of sacrificial blood, and bound the spirit
to its tomb, and raised a loud shout of farewell.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what weird thing did Aeneas discover in Thrace?
  • how had the Trojan prince Polydorus been killed?
  • what did Aeneas do for Polydorus before leaving Thrace?

Source: A.S.Kline, translator. Vergil's Aeneid (2002). Weblink. Kline has made his English translation of Vergil's Aeneid freely available over the Internet.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM