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Ch. 24: AEneas, Harpies, Dido, Palinurus

We have followed one of the Grecian heroes, Ulysses, in his
wanderings, on his return home from Troy, and now we propose to
share the fortunes of the remnant of the conquered people, under
their chief AEneas, in their search for a new home, after the
ruin of their native city. On that fatal night when the wooden
horse disgorged its contents of armed men, and the capture and
conflagration of the city were the result, AEneas made his escape
from the scene of destruction with his father, and his wife, and
young son. The father, Anchises, was woo old to walk with the
speed required, and AEneas took him upon his shoulders. Thus
burdened, leading his son and followed by his wife, he made the
best of his way out of the burning city; but in the confusion,
his wife was swept away and lost.

On arriving at the place of rendezvous, numerous fugitives, of
both sexes, were found, who put themselves under the guidance of
Aeneas. Some months were spent in preparation and at length they
embarked. They first landed on the neighboring shores of Thrace,
and were preparing to build a city, but AEneas was deterred by a
prodigy. Preparing to offer sacrifice, he tore some twigs from
one of the bushes. To his dismay the wounded part dropped blood.
When he repeated the act, a voice from the ground cried out to
him, "Spare me, AEneas; I am your kinsman, Polydore, here
murdered with many arrows, from which a bush has grown, nourished
with my blood." These words recalled to the recollection of
AEneas that Polydore was a young prince of Troy, whom his father
had sent with ample treasures to the neighboring land of Thrace,
to be there brought up, at a distance from the horrors of war.
The king to whom he was sent had murdered him, and seized his
treasures. AEneas and his companions hastened away, considering
the land to be accursed by the stain of such a crime.

They next landed on the island of Delos, which was once a
floating island, till Jupiter fastened it by adamantine chains to
the bottom of the sea. Apollo and Diana were born there, and the
island was sacred to Apollo. Here AEneas consulted the oracle of
Apollo, and received an answer, as ambiguous as usual "Seek
your ancient mother; there the race of AEneas shall dwell, and
reduce all other nations to their sway." The Trojans heard with
joy, and immediately began to ask one another, "Where is the spot
intended by the oracle?" Anchises remembered that there was a
tradition that their forefathers came from Crete, and thither
they resolved to steer. They arrived at Crete, and began to
build their city, but sickness broke out among them, and the
fields that they had planted failed to yield a crop. In this
gloomy aspect of affairs, AEneas was warned in a dream to leave
the country, and seek a western land, called Hesperia, whence
Dardanus, the true founder of the Trojan race, had originally
migrated. To Hesperia, now called Italy, therefore, they
directed their future course, and not till after many adventures
and the lapse of time sufficient to carry a modern navigator
several times round the world, did they arrive there.

Their first landing was at the island of the Harpies:

"__________The daughters of the earth and sea,
The dreadful snatchers, who like women were
Down to the breast, with scanty coarse black hair
About their heads, and dim eyes ringed with red,
And bestial mouths set round with lips of lead,
But from their gnarled necks there began to spring
Half hair, half feathers, and a sweeping wing
Grew out instead of arm on either side,
And thick plumes underneath the breast did hide
The place where joined the fearful natures twain.
Gray-feathered were they else, with many a stain
Of blood thereon, and on birds' claws they went.
Morris: Life and Death of Jason

The Harpies had been sent by the gods to torment a certain
Phineus, whom Jupiter had deprived of his sight in punishment of
his cruelty; and whenever a meal was placed before him, the
Harpies darted down from the air and carried it off. They were
driven away from Phineus by the heroes of the Argonautic
expedition, and took refuge in the island where AEneas now found

When they entered the port the Trojans saw herds of cattle
roaming over the plain. They slew as many as they wished, and
prepared for a feast. But no sooner had they seated themselves
at the table, than a horrible clamor was heard in the air, and a
flock of odious Harpies came rushing down upon them, seizing in
their talons the meat from the dishes, and flying away with it.
AEneas and his companions drew their swords and dealt vigorous
blows among the monsters, but to no purpose, for they were so
nimble it was almost impossible to hit them, and their feathers
were like armor impenetrable to steel. One of them, perched on a
neighboring cliff, screamed out, "Is it thus, Trojans, you treat
us innocent birds, first slaughter our cattle, and then make war
on ourselves?" She then predicted dire sufferings to them in
their future course, and having vented her wrath flew away. The
Trojans made haste to leave the country, and next found
themselves coasting along the shore of Epirus. Here they landed,
and to their astonishment learned that certain Trojan exiles, who
had been carried there as prisoners, had become rulers of the
country. Andromache, the widow of Hector, became the wife of one
of the victorious Grecian chiefs, to whom she bore a son. Her
husband dying, she was left regent of the country, as guardian of
her son, and had married a fellow-captive, Helenus, of the royal
race of Troy. Helenus and Andromache treated the exiles with the
utmost hospitality, and dismissed them loaded with gifts.

From hence AEneas coasted along the shore of Sicily, and passed
the country of Cyclopes. Here they were hailed from the shore by
a miserable object, whom by his garments, tattered as they were,
they perceived to be a Greek. He told them he was one of
Ulysses' companions, left behind by that chief in his hurried
departure. He related the story of Ulysses' adventure with
Polyphemus, and besought them to take him off with them, as he
had no means of sustaining his existence where he was, but wild
berries and roots, and lived in constant fear of the Cyclopes.
While he spoke Polyphemus made his appearance; a terrible
monster, shapeless, vast, whose only eye had been put out. He
walked with cautious steps, feeling his way with a staff, down to
the sea-side, to wash his eye-socket in the waves. When he
reached the water, he waded out towards them, and his immense
height enabled him to advance far into the sea, so that the
Trojans, in terror, took to their oars to get out of his way.
Hearing the oars, Polyphemus shouted after them, so that the
shores resounded, and at the noise the other Cyclopes came forth
from their caves and woods, and lined the shore, like a row of
lofty pine trees. The Trojans plied their oars, and soon left
them out of sight.

AEneas had been cautioned by Helenus to avoid the strait guarded
by the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. There Ulysses, the reader
will remember, had lost six of his men, seized by Scylla, while
the navigators were wholly intent upon avoiding Charybdis.
AEneas, following the advice of Helenus, shunned the dangerous
pass and coasted along the island of Sicily.

Juno, seeing the Trojans speeding their way prosperously towards
their destined shore, felt her old grudge against them revive,
for she could not forget the slight that Paris had put upon her,
in awarding the prize of beauty to another. In heavenly minds
can such resentments dwell! Accordingly she hastened to AEolus,
the ruler of the winds, the same who supplied Ulysses with
favoring gales, giving him the contrary ones tied up in a bag.
AEolus obeyed the goddess and sent forth his sons, Boreas, Typhon
and the other winds, to toss the ocean. A terrible storm ensued,
and the Trojan ships were driven out of their course towards the
coast of Africa. They were in imminent danger of being wrecked,
and were separated, so that AEneas thought that all were lost
except his own.

At this crisis, Neptune, hearing the storm raging, and knowing
that he had given no orders for one, raised his head above the
waves, and saw the fleet of AEneas driving before the gale.
Knowing the hostility of Juno, he was at no loss to account for
it, but his anger was not the less at this interference in his
province. He called the winds, and dismissed them with a severe
reprimand. He then soothed the waves, and brushed away the
clouds from before the face of the sun. Some of the ships which
had got on the rocks he pried off with his own trident, while
Triton and a sea-nymph, putting their shoulders under others, set
them afloat again. The Trojans, when the sea became calm, sought
the nearest shore, which was the coast of Carthage, where AEneas
was so happy as to find that one by one the ships all arrived
safe, though badly shaken.

Waller, in his Panegyric to the Lord Protector (Cromwell),
alludes to this stilling of the storm by Neptune:

"Above the waves, as Neptune showed his face,
To chide the winds and save the Trojan race,
So has your Highness, raised above the rest,
Storms of ambition tossing us repressed.."


Carthage, where the exiles had now arrived, was a spot on the
coast of Africa opposite Sicily, where at that time a Tyrian
colony under Dido their queen, were laying the foundations of a
state destined in later ages to be the rival of Rome itself.
Dido was the daughter of Belus, king of Tyre, and sister of
Pygmalion who succeeded his father on the throne. Her husband
was Sichaeus, a man of immense wealth, but Pygmalion, who coveted
his treasures, caused him to be put to death. Dido, with a
numerous body of followers, both men and women, succeeded in
effecting their escape from Tyre in several vessels, carrying
with them the treasures of Sichaeus. On arriving at the spot
which they selected as the seat of their future home, they asked
of the natives only so much land as they could enclose with a
bull's hide. When this was readily granted, she caused the hide
to be cut into strips, and with them enclosed a spot on which she
built a citadel, and called it Byrsa (a hide). Around this fort
the city of Carthage rose, and soon became a powerful and
flourishing place.

Such was the state of affairs when AEneas with his Trojans
arrived there. Dido received the illustrious exiles with
friendliness and hospitality. "Not unacquainted with distress,"
she said, "I have learned to succor the unfortunate." The
queen's hospitality displayed itself in festivities at which
games of strength and skill were exhibited. The strangers
contended for the palm with her own subjects on equal terms, the
queen declaring that whether the victor were "Trojan or Tyrian
should make no difference to her." At the feast which followed
the games, AEneas gave at her request a recital of the closing
events of the Trojan history and his own adventures after the
fall of the city. Dido was charmed with his discourse and filled
with admiration of his exploits. She conceived an ardent passion
for him, and he for his part seemed well content to accept the
fortunate chance which appeared to offer him at once a happy
termination of his wanderings, a home, a kingdom, and a bride.
Months rolled away in the enjoyment of pleasant intercourse, and
it seemed as if Italy and the empire destined to be founded on
its shores were alike forgotten. Seeing which, Jupiter
dispatched Mercury with a message to AEneas recalling him to a
sense of his high destiny, and commanding him to resume his

AEneas, under this divine command, parted from Dido, though she
tried every allurement and persuasion to detain him. The blow to
her affection and her pride was too much for her to endure, and
when she found that he was gone, she mounted a funeral-pile which
she had caused to be prepared, and, having stabbed herself, was
consumed with the pile. The flames rising over the city were
seen by the departing Trojans, and, though the cause was unknown,
gave to AEneas some intimation of the fatal event.

We find in "Elegant Extracts" the following epigram:

From the Latin

"Unhappy, Dido, was thy fate
In first and second married state!
One husband caused thy flight by dying,
Thy death the other caused by flying."

Dr. Johnson was once challenged to make an epigram on the
syllables di,do,dum. He immediately replied in these lines:

"When Dido found AEneas would not come,
She wept in silence, and was Dido dumb.


After touching at the island of Sicily, where Acestes, a prince
of Trojan lineage, bore sway, who gave them a hospitable
reception, the Trojans re-embarked, and held on their course for
Italy. Venus now interceded with Neptune to allow her son at
last to attain the wished-for goal, and find an end of his perils
on the deep. Neptune consented, stipulating only for one life as
a ransom for the rest. The victim was Palinurus, the pilot. As
he sat watching the stars, with his hand on the helm, Somnus,
sent by Neptune, approached in the guise of Phorbas and said,
"Palinurus, the breeze is fair, the water smooth, and the ship
sails steadily on her course. Lie down a while and take needful
rest. I will stand at the helm in your place." Palinurus
replied, "Tell me not of smooth seas or favoring winds, me who
have seen so much of their treachery. Shall I trust AEneas to
the chances of the weather and winds?" And he continued to grasp
the helm and to keep his eyes fixed on the stars. But Somnus
waved over him a branch moistened with Lethaean dew, and his eyes
closed in spite of all his efforts. Then Somnus pushed him
overboard and he fell; but keeping his hold upon the helm it came
away with him. Neptune was mindful of his promise, and kept the
ship on her track without helm or pilot, till AEneas discovered
his loss, and, sorrowing deeply for his faithful steersman, took
charge of the ship himself.

There is a beautiful allusion to the story of Palinurus in
Scott's Marmion, Introduction to Canto I., where the poet,
speaking of the recent death of William Pitt, says:

"Oh, think how, to his latest day,
When death just hovering claimed his prey,
With Palinure's unaltered mood,
Firm at his dangerous post he stood;
Each call for needful rest repelled,
With dying hand the rudder held,
Till in his fall, with fateful sway,
The steerage of the realm gave way."

The ships at last reached the shores of Italy, and joyfully did
the adventurers leap to land. While his people were employed in
making their encampment AEneas sought the abode of the Sibyl. It
was a cave connected with a temple and grove, sacred to Apollo
and Diana. While AEneas contemplated the scene, the Sibyl
accosted him. She seemed to know his errand, and under the
influence of the deity of the place burst forth in a prophetic
strain, giving dark intimations of labors and perils through
which he was destined to make his way to final success. She
closed with the encouraging words which have become proverbial:
"Yield not to disasters, but press onward the more bravely."
AEneas replied that he had prepared himself for whatever might
await him. He had but one request to make. Having been directed
in a dream to seek the abode of the dead in order to confer with
his father Anchises to receive from him a revelation of his
future fortunes and those of his race, he asked her assistance to
enable him to accomplish the task. The Sibyl replied, "The
descent to Avernus is easy; the gate of Pluto stands open night
and day; but to retrace one's steps and return to the upper air,
that is the toil, that the difficulty. She instructed him to
seek in the forest a tree on which grew a golden branch. This
branch was to be plucked off, to be borne as a gift to
Proserpine, and if fate was propitious, it would yield to the
hand and quit its parent trunk, but otherwise no force could rend
it away. If torn away, another would succeed.

AEneas followed the directions of the Sibyl. His mother Venus
sent two of her doves to fly before him and show him the way, and
by their assistance he found the tree, plucked the branch, and
hastened back with it to the Sibyl.

Thomas Bulfinch

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