Virgil and the Aeneid
Virgil was a famous Roman poet, best known for his national epic, the Aeneid. Actually Romans regarded him as as their greatest poet. His fame rests chiefly upon the Aeneid, which tells the story of Rome’s legendary founder and proclaims the Roman mission to civilize the world under divine guidance.
First six of the Aeneid’s twelve books tell the story of Aeneas’s wanderings from Troy to Italy.
The story proper begins with the Trojan fleet in the eastern Mediterranean, heading in the direction of Italy. The fleet, led by Aeneas, is a voyage to find a second home. He has been foretold that in Italy he will give rise to a race both noble and courageous, a race which will rule all nations.
Juno is not happy with other gods’ decision, also because she knows her favorite city, Carthage, will be destroyed by Aeneas’s descendants.
The third and fifth books of Aeneid
Virgil, who surely visited Sicily, set the action of the third and fifth books of his poem in this shore where Aeneas landed after dubbing Lilybaeum promontory.
The Aeneid tells of the various comings of Aeneas to Drepanum. Near the current Pizzolungo Aeneid’s old father dead and there he was buried.
Near Drepanum he met Acestes, king of Elymnians, son of Aegesta and of the river god Crisinus. Acestes had Trojan blood because of his mother’s origin.
The next year, in occasion of the anniversary of the death of Anchises, Acestes organized funeral games in his honour.
Aeneas and the Trojans wanted to sail towards Latium but a violent storm drove the Trojans towards Africa where Aeneas was welcomed by Queen Dido.
The tell of the Troy horse
In books II and III of Aeneid, Aeneas recounts to Dido the events that occasioned the Trojans’ arrival. He begins the tale shortly after the war described in the Iliad. Cunning Ulysses devised a way for Greek warriors to gain entry into the walled city of Troy by hiding in a large wooden horse.
The Trojans then took the horse inside the fortified walls, and after nightfall the armed Greeks emerged from it, opening the city’s gates to allow the returned Greek army to slaughter the Trojans.
In a dream, Hector, the fallen Trojan prince, advised Aeneas to flee with his family.
Aeneas tells of his escape with his son, Ascanius, his wife Creusa, and his father, Anchises. At the city gates, they notice they lost Creusa, and Aeneas goes back into the city to look for her. He only encounters her ghost, who tells him that his destiny is to reach Hesperia.
The fleet of Aeneas
Aeneas build a fleet of ships and landed at various locations in the Mediterranean: Thrace, where they find the last remains of a fellow Trojan, Polydorus. Crete, which they believe to be the land where they are to build their city, but they are set straight by Apollo; finally Buthrotum.
This last city was an attempt to replicate Troy. In Buthrotum, Aeneas meets Andromache, the widow of Hector. She is still lamenting the loss of her valiant husband and beloved child. There, too, Aeneas sees and meets Helenus, one of Priam’s sons, who has the gift of prophecy.
Through him, Aeneas learns the destiny laid out for him: he is divinely advised to seek out the land of Italy (Ausonia or Hesperia), where his descendants will not only prosper, but in time rule the entire known world.
Aeneas leaves Buthrotum, rounds the south eastern tip of Italy and makes his way towards Sicily.
But the old Anchises dies and Aeneas buries him on the slope of Mount Eryx. The prophet Helenus had not foreseen this sad episode.
Dido and Aenead love story
Aeneas finishes his story, and Dido realises that she has fallen in love with Aeneas. Juno seizes upon this opportunity to make a deal with Venus, Aeneas’s mother, with the intention of distracting Aeneas from his destiny of founding a city in Italy. Aeneas wants to return Dido’s love, and during a hunting expedition, a storm drives them into a small covered grove in which Aeneas and Dido presumably made love, an event that Dido takes to indicate a marriage between them.
But when Jupiter sends Mercury to remind Aeneas of his duty, he has no choice but to leave. At the behest of Mercury’s apparition, he leaves clandestinely at night. Her heart broken, Dido commits suicide by stabbing herself upon a pyre with Aeneas’s sword. Before dying, she predicts eternal strife between Aeneas’s people and hers.
Looking back from the deck of his ship, Aeneas sees the smoke of Dido’s funeral pyre. Although he does not understand the exact reason behind it, he understands it as a bad omen.
The gales drove the ship once more towards Sicily. Aeneas landed on these sands again. Acestes came down from Eryx to welcome him. They prepared the solemn celebrations on the occasion of the anniversary of Anchises’s death.
From every part of the Elymnian kingdom people came to attend the magnificent funeral games which they were celebrating in this area.
The winners of the various games gained prizes such as golden arms, golden and silver crowns and talents, purple clothes and other gifts.
King Acestes shot with prodigious vehemence an arrow which changed into a fire line and dissolved in the air. He won a prize.
The “ludus troianus”, meaning the Trojan games, followed these games. In this tournament, boys on horseback partecipated, divided into three teams. These one were led by Priam jr, Ati and Ascanus and engaged in a simulated fight.
The ships on fire
While the games were tacking place on the beach, all of a sudden a thick cloud of black smoke rose from the ships.
The Trojan women were tired of wandering throughstorms and adventures. Inspired by Juno, who was averse to the Trojans and the accomplishment of their destiny, some women set the ships on fire.
Aeneas called for the help of gods and Jupiter caused a thunderstorm that smothered the fire. Thanks to him sixteen out of the twenty ships threatened with destruction could be saved.
Urged by Nantes and after dreaming of Anchises who incited him, Aeneas decided to leave the old people, the women and the week that had followed him till then at Eryx. He entrusted them to the sovereignty of king Acestes.
Then he founded a temple in honour of his mother Venus on top of Mount Eryx. He enclosed his father’s grave with a shady fence of aloes and myrtles and weighed anchor to sail to Latium.
The marble stele in Pizzolungo
In 1930, during the Fascism, on the beach of Pizzolungo, they wanted to erect a marble stele in everlasting memory of these moments of Virgil’s epic.