Editor’s Note: This is the third chapter of Romulus, by Jacob Abbott (published 1902).
III. The Story of Æneas
Besides the intrinsic interest and importance of the facts stated in the last chapter, to the student of history, there was a special reason for calling the attention of the reader to them here, that he might know in what light the story of the destruction of Troy, and of the wanderings of Æneas, the great ancestor of Romulus, which we now proceed to relate, is properly to be regarded. The events connected with the destruction of Troy, took place, if they ever occurred at all, about the year twelve hundred before Christ. Homer is supposed to have lived and composed his poems about the year nine hundred; and the art of writing is thought to have been first employed for the purpose of recording continuous compositions, about the year six hundred. The story of Æneas then, so far as it has any claims to historical truth, is a tale which was handed down by oral tradition, among story-tellers for three hundred years, and then was clothed in verse, and handed down in that form orally by the memory of the reciters of it, in generations successive for three hundred years more, before it was recorded; and during the whole period of this transmission, the interest felt in it was not the desire for ascertaining and communicating historic truth, but simply for entertaining companies of listeners with the details of a romantic story. The story, therefore, can not be relied upon as historically true; but it is no less important on that account, that all well-informed persons should know what it is.
The mother of Æneas (as the story goes), was a celebrated goddess. Her name was Aphrodite; though among the Romans she afterward received the name of Venus. Aphrodite was not born of a mother, like ordinary mortals, but sprang mysteriously and supernaturally from a foam which gathered on a certain occasion upon the surface of the sea. At the commencement of her existence she crept out upon the shores of an island that was near,—the island of Cythera,—which lies south of the Peloponnesus.
She was the goddess of love, of beauty, and of fruitfulness; and so extraordinary were the magical powers which were inherent from the beginning, in her very nature, that as she walked along upon the sands of the shore, when she first emerged from the sea, plants and flowers of the richest verdure and beauty sprang up at her feet wherever she stepped. She was, besides, in her own person, inexpressibly beautiful; and in addition to the natural influence of her charms, she was endued with the supernatural power of inspiring the sentiment of love in all who beheld her.
From Cythera the goddess made her way over by sea to Cyprus, where she remained for some time, amid the gorgeous and magnificent scenery of that enchanting island. Here she had two children, beautiful boys. Their names were Eros and Anteros. Each of these children remained perpetually a child, and Eros, in later times called Cupid, became the god of “love bestowed,” while Anteros was the God of “love returned.” After this the mother and the boys roamed about the world,—now in the heavenly regions above, and now among mortals on the plains and in the valleys below: they sometimes appeared openly, in their true forms, sometimes they assumed disguises, and sometimes they were wholly invisible; but whether seen or unseen, they were always busy in performing their functions—the mother inspiring everywhere, in the minds both of gods and men, the tenderest sentiments of beauty and desire,—while Eros, awakened love in the heart of one person for another, and Anteros made it his duty to tease and punish those who thus became objects of affection, if they did not return the love.
After some time, Aphrodite and her boys found their way to the heavenly regions of Mount Olympus, where the great divinities resided, and there they soon produced great trouble, by enkindling the flames of love in the hearts of the divinities themselves, causing them, by her magic power, to fall in love not only with one another, but also with mortal men and women on the earth below. In retaliation upon Aphrodite for this mischief, Jupiter, by his supreme power, inspired Aphrodite herself with a sentiment of love. The object of her affection was Anchises, a handsome youth, of the royal family of Troy, who lived among the mountains of Ida, not far from the city.
The way in which it happened that the affection of Aphrodite turned toward an inhabitant of Mount Ida was this. There had been at one time a marriage among the divinities, and a certain goddess who had not been invited to the wedding, conceived the design of avenging herself for the neglect, by provoking a quarrel among those who were there. She, accordingly, caused a beautiful golden apple to be made, with an inscription marked upon it, “FOR THE MOST BEAUTIFUL.” This apple she threw in among the guests assembled at the wedding. The goddesses all claimed the prize, and a very earnest dispute arose among them in respect to it. Jupiter sent the several claimants, under the charge of a special messenger, to Mount Ida, to a handsome and accomplished young shepherd there, named Paris—who was, in fact, a prince in disguise—that they might exhibit themselves to him, and submit the question of the right to the apple to his award. The contending goddesses appeared accordingly before Paris, and each attempted to bribe him to decide in her favor, by offering him some peculiar and tempting reward. Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, and she was so pleased with the result, that she took Paris under her special protection, and made the solitudes of Mount Ida one of her favorite retreats.
Here she saw and became acquainted with Anchises, who was, as has already been said, a noble, or prince, by descent, though he had for some time been dwelling away from the city, and among the mountains, rearing flocks and herds. Here Aphrodite saw him, and when Jupiter inspired her with a sudden susceptibility to the power of love, the shepherd Anchises was the object toward which her affections turned. She accordingly went to Mount Ida, and giving herself up to him, she lived with him for some time among the mountains as his bride. Æneas was their son.
Aphrodite did not, however, appear to Anchises in her true character, but assumed, instead, the form and the disguise of a Phrygian princess. Phrygia was a kingdom of Asia Minor, not very far from Troy. She continued this disguise as long as she remained with Anchises at Mount Ida; at length, however, she concluded to leave him, and to return to Olympus, and at her parting she made herself known. She, however, charged Anchises never to reveal to any person who she was, declaring that Æneas, whom she was going to leave with his father when she went away, would be destroyed by a stroke of lightning from heaven, if the real truth in respect to his mother were ever revealed.
When Aphrodite had gone, Anchises, having now no longer any one at home to attend to the rearing of the child, sent him to Dardanus, a city to the northward of Troy, where he was brought up in the house of his sister the daughter of Anchises, who was married and settled there. His having a sister old enough to be married, would seem to show that youth was not one of the attractions of Anchises in Aphrodite’s eyes. Æneas remained with his sister until he was old enough to be of service in the care of flocks and herds, and then returned again to his former residence among the pasturages of the mountains. His mother, though she had left him, did not forget her child; but watched over him continually, and interposed directly to aid or to protect him, whenever her aid was required by the occurrence of any emergency of difficulty or danger.
At length the Trojan war broke out. For a time, however, Æneas took no part in it. He was jealous of the attentions which Priam, the king of Troy, paid to other young men, and fancied that he himself was overlooked and that the services that he might render were undervalued. He remained, therefore, at his home among the mountains, occupying himself with his flocks and herds; and he might, perhaps, have continued in these peaceful avocations to the end of the war, had it not been that Achilles, one of the most formidable of the Grecian leaders, in one of his forays in the country around Troy, in search of provisions, came upon Æneas’s territory, and attacked him while tending his flocks upon the mountain side. Achilles seized the flocks and herds, and drove Æneas and his fellow-herdsmen away. They would, in fact, all have been killed, had not Aphrodite interposed to protect her son and save his life.
The loss of his flocks and herds, and the injury which he himself had received, aroused Æneas’s indignation and anger against the Greeks. He immediately raised an armed force of Dardanians, and thenceforth took an active part in the war. He became one of the most distinguished among the combatants, for his prowess and his bravery; and being always assisted by his mother in his conflicts, and rescued by her when in danger, he performed prodigies of strength and valor.
At one time he pressed forward into the thickest of the battle to rescue a Trojan leader named Pandarus, who was beset by his foes and brought into very imminent danger. Æneas did not succeed in saving his friend. Pandarus was killed. Æneas, however, flew to the spot, and by means of the most extraordinary feats of strength and valor he drove the Greeks away from the body. They attacked it on every side, but Æneas, wheeling around it, and fighting now on this side and now on that, drove them all away. They retired to a little distance and then began to throw in a shower of spears and darts and arrows upon him. Æneas defended himself and the body of his friend from these missiles for a time, with his shield. At length, however, he was struck in the thigh with a ponderous stone which one of the Greek warriors hurled at him,—a stone so heavy that two men of ordinary strength would have been required to lift it. Æneas was felled to the ground by the blow. He sank down, resting upon his arm, faint and dizzy, and being thus made helpless would have immediately been overpowered and killed by his assailants had not his mother interposed. She came immediately to rescue him. She spread her veil over him, which had the magic power of rendering harmless all blows which were aimed at what was covered by it, and then taking him up in her arms she bore him off through the midst of his enemies unharmed. The swords, spears, and javelins which were aimed at him were rendered powerless by the magic veil.
Aphrodite, however, flying thus with her wounded son, mother-like, left herself exposed in her anxiety to protect him. Diomedes, the chief of the pursuers, following headlong on, aimed a lance at Venus herself. The lance struck Venus in the hand, and inflicted a very severe and painful wound. It did not, however, stop her flight. She pressed swiftly on, while Diomedes, satisfied with his revenge, gave up the pursuit, but called out to Aphrodite as she disappeared from view, bidding her learn from the lesson which he had given her that it would be best for her thenceforth to remain in her own appropriate sphere, and not come down to the earth and interfere in the contests of mortal men.
Aphrodite, after conveying Æneas to a place of safety, fled, herself, faint and bleeding, to the mountains, where, after ascending to the region of mists and clouds, Iris, the beautiful goddess of the rainbow, came to her aid. Iris found her faint and pale from the loss of blood; she did all in her power to soothe and comfort the wounded goddess, and then led her farther still among the mountains to a place where they found Mars, the god of war, standing with his chariot. Mars was Aphrodite’s brother. He took compassion upon his sister in her distress, and lent Iris his chariot and horses, to convey Aphrodite home. Aphrodite ascended into the chariot, and Iris took the reins; and thus they rode through the air to the mountains of Olympus. Here the gods and goddesses of heaven gathered around their unhappy sister, bound up her wound, and expressed great sympathy for her in her sufferings, uttering at the same time many piteous complaints against the merciless violence and inhumanity of men. Such is the ancient tale of Æneas and his mother.
At a later period in the history of the war, Æneas had a grand combat with Achilles, who was the most terrible of all the Grecian warriors, and was regarded as the grand champion of their cause. The two armies were drawn up in battle array. A vast open space was left between them on the open plain. Into this space the two combatants advanced, Æneas on the one side and Achilles on the other, in full view of all the troops, and of the throngs of spectators assembled to witness the proceedings.
A very strong and universal interest was felt in the approaching combat. Æneas, besides the prodigious strength and bravery for which he was renowned, was to be divinely aided, it was known, by the protection of his mother, who was always at hand to guide and support him in the conflict, and to succor him in danger. Achilles, on the other hand, possessed a charmed life. He had been dipped by his mother Thetis, when an infant, in the river Styx, to render him invulnerable and immortal; and the immersion produced the effect intended in respect to all those parts of the body which the water laved. As, however, Thetis held the child by the ankles when she plunged him in, the ankles remained unaffected by the magic influence of the water. All the other parts of the body were rendered incapable of receiving a wound.
Achilles had a very beautiful and costly shield which his mother had caused to be made for him. It was formed of five plates of metal. The outermost plates on each side were of brass; in the centre was a plate of gold; and between the central plate of gold and the outer ones of brass were two other plates, one on each side, made of some third metal. The workmanship of this shield was of the most elaborate and beautiful character. The mother of Achilles had given this weapon to her son when he left home to join the Greeks in the Trojan war, not trusting entirely it seems to his magical invulnerability.
The armies looked on with great interest as these two champions advanced to meet each other, while all the gods and goddesses surveyed the scene with almost equal interest, from their abodes above. Some joined Venus in the sympathy which she felt for her son, while others espoused the cause of Achilles. When the two combatants had approached each other, they paused before commencing the conflict, as is usual in such cases, and surveyed each other with looks of anger and defiance. At length Achilles spoke. He began to upbraid Æneas for his infatuation and folly in engaging in the war, and especially for coming forward to put his life at hazard by encountering such a champion as was now before him. “What can you gain,” said he, “even if you conquer in this warfare? You can never be king, even if you succeed in saving the city. I know you claim to be descended from the royal line; but Priam has sons who are the direct and immediate heirs, and your claims can never be allowed. Then, besides, what folly to attempt to contend with me! Me, the strongest, bravest, and most terrible of the Greeks, and the special favorite of many deities.” With this introduction Achilles went on to set forth the greatness of his pedigree, and the loftiness of his pretensions to superiority over all others in personal prowess and valor, in a manner very eloquent indeed, and in a style which it seems was very much admired in those days as evincing only a proper spirit and energy,—though in our times such a harangue would be very apt to be regarded as only a vainglorious and empty boasting.
Æneas replied,—retorting with vauntings on his side no less spirited and energetic than those which Achilles had expressed. He gave a long account of his pedigree, and of his various claims to lofty consideration. He, however, said, in conclusion, that it was idle and useless for them to waste their time in such a war of words, and so he hurled his spear at Achilles with all his force, as a token of the commencement of the battle.
The spear struck the shield of Achilles, and impinged upon it with such force that it penetrated through two of the plates of metal which composed the shield, and reached the central plate of gold, where the force with which it had been thrown being spent, it was arrested and fell to the ground. Achilles then exerting his utmost strength threw his spear in return. Æneas crouched down to avoid the shock of the weapon, holding his shield at the same time above his head, and bracing himself with all his force against the approaching concussion. The spear struck the shield near the upper edge of it, as it was held in Æneas’s hands. It passed directly through the plates of which the shield was composed, and then continuing its course, it glided down just over Æneas’s back, and planted itself deep in the ground behind him, and stood there quivering. Æneas crept out from beneath it with a look of horror.
Immediately after throwing his spear, and perceiving that it had failed of its intended effect, Achilles drew his sword and rushed forward to engage Æneas, hand to hand. Æneas himself recovering in an instant front the consternation which his narrow escape from impalement had awakened, seized an enormous stone, heavier, as Homer represents it, than any two ordinary men could lift, and was about to hurl it at his advancing foe, when suddenly the whole combat was terminated by a very unexpected interposition. It seems that the various gods and goddesses, from their celestial abodes among the summits of Olympus, had assembled in invisible forms to witness this combat—some sympathizing with and upholding one of the combatants, and some the other. Neptune was on Æneas’s side; and accordingly when he saw how imminent the danger was which threatened Æneas, when Achilles came rushing upon him with his uplifted sword, he at once resolved to interfere. He immediately rushed, himself, between the combatants. He brought a sudden and supernatural mist over the scene, such as the God of the Sea has always at his command; and this mist at once concealed Æneas from Achilles’s view. Neptune drew the spear out of the ground, and released it too from the shield which remained still pinned down by it; and then threw the spear down at Achilles’s feet. He next seized Æneas, and lifting him high above the ground he bore him away in an invisible form over the heads of soldiers and horsemen that had been drawn up in long lines around the field of combat. When the mist passed away Achilles saw his spear lying at his feet, and on looking around him found that his enemy was gone.
Such are the marvelous tales which were told by the ancient narrators, of the prowess and exploits of Æneas under the walls of Troy, and of the interpositions which were put forth to save him in moments of desperate danger, by beings supernatural and divine. These tales were in those days believed as sober history. That which was marvelous and philosophically incredible in them, was sacredly sheltered from question by mingling itself with the prevailing principles of religious faith. The tales were thus believed, and handed down traditionally from generation to generation, and admired and loved by all who heard and repeated them, partly on account of their romantic and poetical beauty, and partly on account of the sublime and sacred revelations which they contained, in respect to the divinities of the spiritual world.