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This article is about the Greco-Roman hero. For other uses, see Aeneas (disambiguation).
Aeneas flees burning Troy, Federico Barocci, 1598.

In Greco-Roman mythology, Aeneas (/ɪˈnəs/; Greek: Αἰνείας, Aineías, 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, and receives full treatment in Roman mythology as the legendary founder of what would become Ancient Rome, most extensively in Virgil's Aeneid. He became the first true hero of Rome.

Portrayal in myth and epos[edit]

Aeneas carrying Anchises, black-figured oinochoe, ca. 520–510 BC, Louvre (F 118)
Aeneas and Anchises

In the Iliad, Aeneas is a minor character, where he is twice saved from death by the gods as if for an as-yet unknown destiny. He is the leader of the Trojans' Dardanian allies, as well as a third cousin and principal lieutenant of Hector, son of the Trojan king Priam. Aeneas's mother Aphrodite frequently comes to his aid on the battlefield; 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 to become king of the Trojan people. He kills 28 people in the Trojan War, and his career during that war is retold by Roman historian Gaius Julius Hyginus (c.4563 64 BCE – CE 17) in his Fabulae.[1]

The history of Aeneas is continued by Roman authors, building on different myths and histories. During Virgil's time Aeneas was well-known and various versions of his adventures were circulating in Rome, including Roman Antiquities by 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 (through an epitome by Justin). Likewise important in Virgil's day was the account of Rome's founding in Cato the Elder's Origines.[2]

Birth of Aeneas[edit]

Venus as Huntress Appears to Aeneas

The story of the birth of Aeneas is told in the "Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite." Aphrodite was a very playful and fun-loving goddess. At times she played jokes on the other gods and goddesses. One of her favorites was to make a god, especially Zeus, fall in love with a mortal woman. Zeus did not want Aphrodite to be able to mock the gods because they had sired demi-gods with mortal women, so he decided to retaliate. He caused Aphrodite to look with desire on a mortal man so that she too would be the parent of a demi-god. So Zeus put desire in her heart for Anchises, who was tending his cattle at that time among the hills near Mount Ida. In his aspect Anchises was as a god, and when she saw him she was totally smitten. She then adorned herself as if for a wedding among the gods and appeared before him. He was quickly overcome by her beauty, believing that she was indeed a goddess, but Aphrodite denied herself saying that she was a Phrygian princess. After they had made love Aphrodite revealed to him that she was actually the goddess of love. Anchises feared what might happen to him as a result of their liaison, so Aphrodite assured that he would be protected, and that she would bear him a son and would call him Aeneas. However, she warned him that he must never tell anyone that he had lain with a goddess. When Aeneas was born, Aphrodite took him to the nymphs of Mount Ida. She directed them to raise the child to age five, then take him to Anchises. [3] Anchises later bragged about his time with Aphrodite, and as a result was struck in the foot with a thunderbolt from Zeus. He was thereafter lame in that foot, so that Aeneas had to carry him from the flames of Troy. [4]

Aeneas in Virgil[edit]

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.

Aeneas tells Dido about the fall of Troy, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin.

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.

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 Alyssa), 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.

Aeneas defeats Turnus, by Luca Giordano, 1634–1705. The genius of Aeneas is shown ascendant, looking into the light of the future, while that of Turnus is setting, shrouded in darkness.

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 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 after Virgil[edit]

Continuations of Trojan matter in the Middle Ages had their effects on the character of Aeneas as well. The 12th-century French Roman d'Enéas addresses Aeneas's sexuality; though Virgil appears to deflect all homoeroticism onto Nisus and Euryalus, making his Aeneas a purely heterosexual character, in the Middle Ages there was at least a suspicion of homoeroticism in Aeneas. The Roman d'Enéas addresses that charge, when Queen Amata opposes Aeneas's marrying Lavinia, claiming that Aeneas loved boys.[5]

Medieval interpretations of Aeneas were greatly influenced by Latin renderings of Virgil. Specifically, the accounts by Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis, which were reworked by 13th-century Italian writer Guido delle Colonne (in Historia destructionis Troiae), colored many later readings. From delle Colonne, for instance, the Pearl Poet and other English writers get the suggestion[6] that Aeneas was able to leave Troy city with his possessions and his family by way of treason, for which he was chastised by Hecuba.[7] In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 14th century) the Pearl Poet, like many other English writers, employed Aeneas to establish a genealogy for the foundation of Britain,[6] and explains that Aeneas was "impeached for his perfidy, proven most true" (line 4).[8]

Family and legendary descendants[edit]

Aeneas and the god Tiber, by Bartolomeo Pinelli.

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. Some early sources call him their father or grandfather,[9] but considering the commonly accepted dates of the fall of Troy (1184 BC) and the founding of Rome (753 BC), this seems unlikely. The Julian family of Rome, most notably Julius Cæsar and Augustus, traced their lineage to Ascanius and Aeneas, thus to the goddess Venus. Through the Julians, the Palemonids make this claim. The legendary kings of Britain trace their family through a grandson of Aeneas, Brutus.

Physical appearance[edit]

In the Aeneid, Aeneas is described as strong and handsome, but his hair colour or complexion are not described.[10] In late antiquity however sources add further physical descriptions. The Daretis Phrygii de excidio Trojae historia of Dares Phrygius describes Aeneas as ‘‘auburn-haired, stocky, eloquent, courteous, prudent, pious, and charming.’’[11]

There is also a brief physical description found in John Malalas' Chronographia:

‘‘Aeneas: short, fat, with a good chest, powerful, with a ruddy complexion, a broad face,
a good nose, fair skin, bald on the forehead, a good beard, grey eyes.’’[12]

Literature, theatre and film[edit]

Aeneas is the subject of the French mediaeval romance Roman d'Enéas.

Aeneas is also a titular character in Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas (c. 1688), and one of the principal roles in Hector Berlioz' opera Les Troyens (c. 1857).

In modern literature, Aeneas appears in David Gemmell's Troy series as a main heroic character who goes by the name Helikaon.

Aeneas is a main character in Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia, a re-telling of the last six books of the Aeneid told from the point of view of Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus of Latium.

Aeneas is one of the mythical founders of the Ventrue Clan in the role-playing game Vampire: The Requiem by White Wolf Game Studios.

Despite the many dramatic elements of his story, Aeneas has received little interest from the film industry. Portrayed by Steve Reeves, he was the main character in the 1961 sword and sandal film Guerra di Troia (The Trojan War). Reeves reprised the role the following year in the film The Avenger, about Aeneas's arrival in Latium and his conflicts with local tribes as he tries to settle his fellow Trojan refugees there.

Aenea (sic) is a significant female character in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Saga.

The most recent cinematic portrayal of Aeneas was in the film Troy, in which he appears as a youth charged by Paris to protect the Trojan refugees, and to continue the ideals of the city and its people. Paris gives Aeneas Priam's sword, in order to give legitimacy and continuity to the royal line of Troy – and lay the foundations of Rome. In this film, he is not a member of the royal family and does not appear to fight in the war.

In the 2010 Rick Riordan novel The Lost Hero Aeneas is mentioned but in this book, the Roman name Venus is used rather than Aphrodite.

Family tree[edit]

Painting Venus and Anchises by William Blake Richmond (1889 or 90)
Aeneas Silvius
Brutus of Britain
Latinus Silvius
Tiberinus Silvius
Romulus Silvius
Rhea Silvia

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 115.
  2. ^ Stout, S.E. (1924). "How Vergil Established for Aeneas a Legal Claim to a Home and a Throne in Italy". The Classical Journal 20 (3): 152–60. 
  3. ^ "Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite." trans by Gregory Nagy, University of Houston.
  4. ^ Virgil, The Aeneid
  5. ^ Eldevik, Randi (1991). "Negotiations of Homoerotic Tradition". PMLA 106 (5): 1177–78. 
  6. ^ a b Tolkien, J. R. R.; E. V. Gordon; Norman Davis, eds. (1967). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford UP. p. 70. ISBN 9780198114864. 
  7. ^ Colonne, Guido delle (1936). Griffin, N. E., ed. Historia destructionis Troiae. Medieval Academy Books 26. Cambridge: Medieval Academy of America. pp. 218, 234. 
  8. ^ Laura Howes, ed. (2010). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Marie Boroff (trans.). New York: Norton. p. 3. ISBN 9780393930252.  In Marie Boroff's translation, edited by Laura Howes, the treacherous knight of line 3 is identified as Antenor, incorrectly, as Tolkien argues.
  9. ^ Romulus by Plutarch
  10. ^ What Does Aeneas Look like?, Mark Griffith, Classical Philology, Vol. 80, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), p. 309.
  11. ^ "Classical E-Text: Dares Phrygius, The Fall Of Troy". Retrieved 2012-08-28. 
  12. ^ Lowden, John. Illuminated prophet books: a study of Byzantine manuscripts of the major and minor prophets Penn State Press, 1988, p. 62


Legendary titles
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