Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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

Andromache in Chaonia

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

Buthrotum was actually a Trojan city! Other Trojan refugees had found their way to this place and had begun to build a city, a "little Troy", imitating the grand architecture of the great city of Troy on a smaller scale. The ruler of this little Troy is Helenus, one of the sons of King Priam. And his wife is Andromache, the widow of Hector. Andromache lost her husband during the war, and her son Astyanax was also brutally murdered by the Greeks despite Andromache's heroic efforts to save him. When Aeneas arrives in Buthrotum, Andromache thinks that she is seeing a ghost...

Here a rumour of something unbelievable greeted our ears:
Priam's son, Helenus, reigning over Greek cities,
having won the wife and kingdom of Pyrrhus, Aeacus's scion,
Andromache being given again to a husband of her race.

I was astounded, and my heart burned with an amazing passion
to speak to the man, and learn of such events.
I walked from the harbour, leaving the fleet and the shore,
when, by chance, in a sacred grove near the city, by a false Simois,
Andromache was making an annual offering, sad gifts,
to Hector's ashes, and calling his spirit to the tomb,
an empty mound of green turf, and twin altars, she had sanctified,
a place for tears. When she saw me approaching and recognised,
with amazement, Trojan weapons round her, she froze as she gazed,
terrified by these great wonders, and the heat left her limbs.

She half-fell and after a long while, scarcely able to, said:
"Are you a real person, a real messenger come here to me,
son of the goddess? Are you alive? Or if the kindly light has faded,
where then is Hector?" She spoke, and poured out her tears,
and filled the whole place with her weeping. Given her frenzy,
I barely replied with a few words, and, moved, I spoke disjointedly:
"Surely, I live, and lead a life full of extremes: don't be unsure,
for you see truly. Ah! What fate has overtaken you, fallen
from so great a husband? Or has good fortune worthy enough
for Hector's Andromache, visited you again? Are you still
Pyrrhus's wife?" She lowered her eyes and spoke quietly:

"O happy beyond all others was that virgin daughter
of Priam, commanded to die beside an enemy tomb,
under Troy's high walls, who never suffered fate's lottery,
or, as a prisoner, reached her victorious master's bed!
Carried over distant seas, my country set afire, I endured
the scorn of Achilles's son, and his youthful arrogance,
giving birth as a slave: he, who then, pursuing Hermione,
Helen's daughter, and a Spartan marriage, transferred me
to Helenus's keeping, a servant to a servant.
But Orestes, inflamed by great love for his stolen bride,
and driven by the Furies for his crime, caught him,
unawares, and killed him by his father's altar.
At Pyrrhus's death a part of the kingdom passed, by right
to Helenus, who named the Chaonian fields, and all
Chaonia, after Chaon of Troy, and built a Pergamus,
and this fortress of Ilium, on the mountain ridge.

"But what winds, what fates, set your course for you?
Or what god drives you, unknowingly, to our shores?
What of the child, Ascanius? Does he live, and graze on air,
he whom Creusa bore to you in vanished Troy?
Has he any love still for his lost mother?
Have his father Aeneas and his uncle Hector roused
in him any of their ancient courage or virile spirit?"

Weeping, she poured out these words, and was starting
a long vain lament, when heroic Helenus, Priam's son,
approached from the city, with a large retinue,
and recognised us as his own, and lead us, joyfully,
to the gates, and poured out tears freely at every word.

I walked on, and saw a little Troy, and a copy of the great
citadel, and a dry stream, named after the Xanthus,
and embraced the doorposts of a Scaean Gate.
My Trojans enjoyed the friendly city with me no less.
The king received them in a broad colonnade:
they poured out cups of wine in the centre of a courtyard,
and held out their dishes while food was served on gold.

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

  • why did Hector's wife Andromache think that Aeneas might be a ghost?
  • what had happened to Andromache after the fall of Troy? how did she end up married to Hector's brother Helenus?
  • what kind of city has Helenus built in Chaonia?

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