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Aeneas: The Trojan Hero’s Odyssey in Greek Mythology

Aeneas was a Trojan hero in Greek mythology and the cousin of Hector, the Trojan prince. He’s well known for the role he played in the Trojan war, defending Troy against the Greeks. Aeneas was a highly skilled hero and was said to have been second only to his cousin Hector in battle skill and ability.

Who Is Aeneas?

According to Homer, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, provoked the supreme god Zeus, by making him fall in love with mortal women. Zeus, in retribution, made Aphrodite fall in love with a cattle farmer called Anchises.

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Aeneas Greek mythology hero
Aeneas, public domain

Aphrodite disguised herself as a Phrygian princess and seduced Anchises, after which she soon she became pregnant with Aeneas. Anchises didn’t know that Aphrodite was a goddess and it was only after Aeneas was conceived that she revealed her true identity to him.

When Anchises learned the truth, he began to fear for his own safety but Aphrodite convinced him that no harm would come to him as long as he told no one that he’d lain with her. Once Aeneas was born, his mother took him to Mount Ida where the nymphs raised him until he was five years old. Then Aeneas was returned to his father.

Aeneas’ name is derived from the Greek adjective ‘ainon’ which means ‘terrible grief’. No one knows exactly why Aphrodite gave her son this name. While some sources say that it was because of the grief that he had caused her, there’s no explanation of what this ‘grief’ exactly was.

In alternate versions of the story, Anchises publicly bragged about sleeping with Aphrodite until Zeus struck him in the foot with a thunderbolt, causing him to become lame. In some versions, Anchises was a prince of Troy and the cousin of Priam, the Trojan king. This mean that  he was the cousin of Priam’s children Hector and his brother Paris, the prince who started the Trojan war.  

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Aeneas married Creusa, the daughter of King Priam of Troy and Hecabe, and together they had a son named Ascanius. Ascanius grew up to become the legendary king of Alba Longa, an ancient Latin city.

Depictions and Descriptions of Aeneas

There are many descriptions about the character and appearance of Aeneas. According to Virgil’s Aeneid, he was said to have been a strong and handsome man.

Some sources describe him as a stocky, courteous, pious, prudent, auburn-haired and charming character whereas others say he was short and fat, with a bald forehead, grey eyes, fair skin and a good nose.

Scenes from Aeneas’ story, mostly taken from the Aeneid, have been a popular subject of literature and art since they first appeared in the 1st century. Some of the most common scenes include Aeneas and Dido, Aeneas fleeing Troy and the arrival of Aeneas in Carthage.

Aeneas in the Trojan War

Aeneas and Turnus
Aeneas defeats Turnus, by Luca Giordano (1634-1705). Public Domain

In Homer’s Iliad, Aeneas was a minor character who served as a lieutenant of Hector. He also led the Dardanians, who were allies of the Trojans. When the city of Troy fell to the Greek army, Aeneas tried to fight off the Greeks with the last remaining Trojans. They fought bravely and as their King Priam was killed by Pyrrhus, Aeneas decided that he was ready to die in combat for his city and his king. However, his mother Aphrodite appeared and reminded him that he had a family to take care of and she asked him to leave Troy in order to protect them.

During the Trojan War, Aeneas was assisted by Poseidon, the god of the seas, who saved him when he was attacked by Achilles. It’s said that Poseidon told him that was he was destined to survive the fall of his city and also to become the new King of Troy.

Aeneas and His Wife Creusa

With the assistance of his mother and the sun god Apollo, Aeneas fled Troy, carrying his crippled father on his back and holding his son by his hand. His wife Creusa followed him closely but Aeneas was too fast for her and she fell behind. By the time they were safely outside Troy, Creusa was no longer with them.

Aeneas returned to the burning city to search for his wife but instead of finding her, he came across her ghost which had been allowed to return from the realm of Hades so she could speak to her husband. Creusa informed him that he wuld face many dangers in the future and asked him to take care of their child. She also informed Aeneas that he was to journey to a land in the west to where the River Tiber flowed.

Aeneas and Dido

Aeneas and dido
Aeneas tells Dido About the Fall of Troy, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. Public Domain.

According to Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas was one of the very few Trojans who survived the war and weren’t forced into slavery. Together with a group of men who came to be known as the ‘Aeneads’, he set off for Italy. After searching for a new home for six long years, they settled in Carthage. Here, Aeneas met Dido, the beautiful Queen of Carthage.

Queen Dido had heard all about the Trojan War and she invited Aeneas and his men to a feast at her palace. There Aeneas met the beautiful queen and told her about the final events of the war which had led to the fall of Troy. Dido was fascinated by the Trojan hero’s story and soon she found herself falling in love with him. The pair were inseparable and planned to get married. Before they could, however, Aeneas had to leave Carthage.

Some sources say that the gods told Aeneas to journey on to Italy where he was to fulfil his destiny, while others say that he received a message from his mother saying to leave Carthage. Aeneas left Carthage and his wife Dido was heartbroken. She placed a curse on all Trojan descendants and then committed suicide by climbing onto a funeral pyre and stabbing herself with a dagger.

However, Dido wasn’t meant to die and she lay on the funeral pyre in pain. Zeus saw the Queen’s suffering and he took pity on her. He sent Iris, the messenger goddess, to cut off a lock of Dido’s hair and take it to the Underworld which would cause her to die. Iris did as she was told and when Dido finally passed away the funeral pyre was lit under her.  

Her curse caused anger and hatred between Rome and Carthage which resulted in a series of three wars which became known as the Punic Wars.

Aeneas – Forefather of Rome

With his crew, Aeneas traveled to Italy where they were welcomed by Latinus the Latin King.  He allowed them to settle down in the city of Latium.

Although King Latinus treated Aeneas and the other Trojans as his guests, he soon came to know of a prophecy about his daughter, Lavinia and Aeneas. According to the prophecy, Lavinia would marry Aeneas instead of the man she was promised to – Turnus, the King of Rutuli.

In anger, Turnus waged war against Aeneas and his Trojans but he was ultimately defeated. Aeneas  then married Lavinia and his descendants, Remus and Romulus founded the city of Rome on the land that once was Latium. The prophecy had come true.

In some accounts, it was Aeneas who founded the city of Rome and named it ‘Lavinium’, after his wife.  

The Death of Aeneas

According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Aeneas was killed in battle against the Rutuli. After he died, his mother Aphrodite asked Zeus to make him immortal and to which Zeus agreed. Numicus the river god cleaned away all of Aeneas’ mortal parts and Aphrodite anointed her son with nectar and ambrosia, turning him into a god. Aeneas was later recognized as the Italian sky-god known as ‘Juppiter Indiges. 

In an alternate version of the story, Aeneas’s body wasn’t found after the battle and from that point on he was worshiped as a local god. Dionysius of Halicarnassus states that he may have drowned in the Numicus river and a shrine was built there in his memory.

In Brief

The character of Aeneas, as Virgil portrays it, isn’t only that of a brave and heroic warrior. He was also extremely obedient towards the deities and followed divine commands, putting aside his own inclinations. The importance of Aeneas cannot be overstated, especially in Roman mythology. He is credited for establishing Rome which would go on to become one of the greatest civilizations in the history of the world.

Affiliate Disclosures
Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.