Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

Subscriber: null; date: 12 December 2018


Aeneas, character in literature and mythology, son of Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite. In the Iliad he is a prominent Trojan leader, belonging to the younger branch of the royal house, (13. 460–1, 20. 179–83, 230–41), and has important duels with Diomedes (2) (5. 239 ff) and Achilles (20. 153 ff.), from both of which he is rescued by divine intervention. His piety towards the gods is stressed (20. 298–9, 347–8), and Poseidon prophesies that he and his children will rule over the Trojans (20. 307–8).

This future beyond the Iliad is reflected in the version in the lost cyclic Iliu Persis (see epic cycle) that Aeneas and his family left Troy before its fall to retreat to Mt. Ida, which led later to accusations of his treachery (e.g. Origo gentis Romanae 9. 2–3). The departure of Aeneas from Troy is widely recorded, and the image of Aeneas' pious carrying of his father Anchises on his shoulders in the retreat is common in Greek vases of the 6th cent. bce found in Etruria, and occurs in 5th- and 4th-cent. Attic literature (Soph. fr. 373 Radt, Xen. Cyn. 1. 15). The further story of Aeneas' voyage to Italy may have existed as early as the 6th or 5th cent. bce (Stesichorus fr. 205 Davies; Hellanicus, FGrH 4 F 84), but seems well established by the 3rd cent. (Timaeus, FGrH 566 F 59). Following recent excavations at Lavinium, claims have been made for hero-cult of Aeneas there as early as the 4th cent. bce, but these must remain unproven; it is not easy to link this with other attestations of cult for Aeneas as Jupiter Indiges (e.g. Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 1. 64. 5; Livy 1. 2. 6).

The list of Aeneas' westward wanderings towards Italy is already long and contradictory by the 1st cent. bce (cf. Dion. Hal. 1. 44–64), including cities and cults supposedly named after him in Thrace, Chalcidice, Epirus, and Sicily, and visits to Delos and Crete. A visit to Carthage, possibly involving a meeting with Dido, is certainly part of the itinerary by the time of Naevius' Bellum Punicum (3rd cent. bce), where it is seen as an ancestral cause of the enmity between Rome and Carthage. As Rome confronted a Greek-speaking Mediterranean world in the 3rd cent. bce, it found it politically and culturally useful to claim as its founder Aeneas, famous through his appearance in Homer but also an enemy of the Greeks; a particular stimulus was the invasion of Italy by Pyrrhus of Epirus (280 bce), who claimed descent from Achilles and saw Rome as a second Troy (Paus. 1. 12. 2). In consequence, Roman poets (e.g. Ennius), historians (e.g. Cato (Censorius)), and antiquarians (e.g. Varro) stressed the Trojan origins of Rome; considerations of chronology eventually led to the view that Aeneas founded not Rome but a preceding city, Lavinium, and that Rome's eponymous founder Romulus was his distant descendant.

Virgil's version of the Aeneas-legend in the Aeneid aims at literary coherence rather than antiquarian accuracy. Aeneas' wanderings, apart from the stay at Carthage, are compressed into a single book (Aeneid 3); his war in Latium is the subject of the second half of the poem, and he appears there and at other times to have some typological link with Augustus (cf. Aen. 8. 680 and 10. 261), who claimed him as ancestor (1. 286–8). The Virgilian Aeneas' central traits of pietas and martial courage continue his Homeric character, but he is also a projection of the ideal patriotic Roman, subordinating personal goals to national interest. And yet he never renounces his human vulnerability; he is in despair in his first appearance in the poem (1. 92 ff), he is deeply affected by love for Dido (4. 395, 6. 455), and the poem ends not with his triumphant apotheosis, anticipated earlier (1. 259–60, 12. 794–5), but with his emotional killing of Turnus in a moment of passion.

The success of the Aeneid meant that few innovations were made in the Aeneas-legend by later writers; subsequent Aeneas-narratives are clearly crafted from existing materials, principally Virgil (e.g. Ov. Met. 13. 623–14. 608, Origo gentis Romanae 9. 2–15. 4).


J. Perret, Les Origines de la légende troyenne de Rome (1942).Find this resource:

    G. K. Galinsky, Aeneas, Sicily and Rome (1969).Find this resource:

      N. M. Horsfall, in J. N. Bremmer and N. M. Horsfall, Roman Myth and Mythography (1987).Find this resource:

        F. Canciani, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 1 (1981–), “Aineias.”Find this resource:

          E. Gruen, Culture and National Identity in Republican Rome (1992).Find this resource:

            Do you have feedback?