Aeneas continues his story, recounting the aftermath of the fall of Troy. After escaping from Troy, he leads the survivors to the coast of Antander, where they build a new fleet of ships. They sail first to Thrace, where Aeneas prepares to offer sacrifices. When he tears at the roots and branches of a tree, dark blood soaks the ground and the bark. The tree speaks to him, revealing itself to be the spirit of Polydorus, son of Priam. Priam had sent Polydorus to the king of Thrace to be safe from the war, but when Troy fell, the Thracian king sided with the Greeks and killed Polydorus.
After holding a funeral for Polydorus, Aeneas and the Trojans embark from Thrace with a sense of dread at the Thracian violation of the ethics of hospitality. They sail southward to the holy island of Delos. At Delos, Apollo speaks to Aeneas, instructing him to go to the land of his ancestors. Anchises interprets Apollo’s remark as a reference to the island of Crete, where one of the great Trojan forefathers—Teucrus, after whom the Trojans are sometimes called Teucrians—had long ago ruled.
Aeneas and his group sail to Crete and began to build a new city, but a terrible plague soon strikes. The gods of Troy appear to Aeneas in a dream and explain that his father is mistaken: the ancestral land to which Apollo referred is not Crete but Italy, the original home of Dardanus, from whom the Trojans take the name Dardanians. These hearth gods also reassert the prophecy of Roman supremacy, declaring, “You must prepare great walls for a great race” (III.223).
The Trojan refugees take to the sea again. A cover of black storm clouds hinders them. They land at the Strophades, islands of the Harpies, fierce bird-creatures with feminine faces. The Trojans slaughter many cows and goats that are roaming free and hold a feast, provoking an attack from the Harpies. To no avail, the Trojans attempt to fight the Harpies off, and one of the horrible creatures places a curse upon them. Confirming that they are destined for Italy, she prophesies that the Trojans will not establish their city until hunger forces them to try to eat their very tables.
Disturbed by the episode, the Trojans depart for the island of Leucata, where they make offerings at a shrine to Apollo. Next, they set sail in the direction of Italy until they reach Buthrotum, in Chaonia. There, Aeneas is astonished to discover that Helenus, one of Priam’s sons, has become king of a Greek city. Helenus and Andromachë had been taken by Pyrrhus as war prizes, but seized power over part of their captor’s kingdom after he was killed.
Aeneas meets Andromachë and she relates the story of her and Helenus’s captivity. Helenus then arrives and advises Aeneas on the path ahead. Andromachë adds that to reach the western coast of Italy it is necessary to take the long way around Sicily, to the south. The short path, a narrow gap of water between Sicily and Italy, is rendered practically impossible to navigate by two potentially lethal hazards: Charybdis, a whirlpool, and Scylla, a six-headed monster.