I sing of warfare and a man at war.
. . .
He came to Italy by destiny.
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Virgil opens his epic poem by declaring its subject, “warfare and a man at war,” and asking a muse, or goddess of inspiration, to explain the anger of Juno, queen of the gods (I.1). The man in question is Aeneas, who is fleeing the ruins of his native city, Troy, which has been ravaged in a war with Achilles and the Greeks. The surviving Trojans accompany Aeneas on a perilous journey to establish a new home in Italy, but they must contend with the vindictive Juno.
Juno harbors anger toward Aeneas because Carthage is her favorite city, and a prophecy holds that the race descended from the Trojans will someday destroy Carthage.
Juno holds a permanent grudge against Troy because another Trojan, Paris, judged Juno’s rival Venus fairest in a divine beauty contest. Juno calls on Aeolus, the god of the winds, directing him to bring a great storm down upon Aeneas as he sails south of Sicily in search of a friendly harbor. Aeolus obeys, unleashing a fierce storm upon the battle-weary Trojans.
Aeneas watches with horror as the storm approaches. Winds and waves buffet the ships, knocking them off course and scattering them. As the tempest intensifies, Neptune, the god of the sea, senses the presence of the storm in his dominion. He tells the winds that Aeolus has overstepped his bounds and calms the waters just as Aeneas’s fleet seems doomed. Seven ships remain, and they head for the nearest land in sight: the coast of Libya. When they reach the shore, before setting out to hunt for food, a weary and worried Aeneas reminds his companions of previous, more deadly adversities they have overcome and the fated end toward which they strive.
Meanwhile, on Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, Aeneas’s mother, Venus, observes the Trojans’ plight and begs Jupiter, king of the gods, to end their suffering. Jupiter assures her that Aeneas will eventually find his promised home in Italy and that two of Aeneas’s descendants, Romulus and Remus, will found the mightiest empire in the world. Jupiter then sends a god down to the people of Carthage to make sure they behave hospitably to the Trojans.
Aeneas remains unaware of the divine machinations that steer his course. While he is in the woods, Venus appears to him in disguise and relates how Dido came to be queen of Carthage. Dido’s wealthy husband, Sychaeus, who lived with her in Tyre (a city in Phoenicia, now Lebanon), was murdered for his gold by Pygmalion, her brother. Sychaeus appeared to Dido as a ghost and advised her to leave Tyre with those who were opposed to the tyrant Pygmalion. She fled, and the emigrant Phoenicians settled across the sea in Libya. They founded Carthage, which has become a powerful city.