The Aeneid

Virgil
Summary

Book III

Summary Book III

Following Andromachë’s instructions, Aeneas pilots his fleet along the southern coast of Italy to Sicily, where Mount Etna is erupting in the distance. Resting on a beach, the Trojans are startled by a ragged stranger who begs to be taken aboard. He was in the Greek army under Ulysses, and his crew was captured by a giant Cyclops on Sicily and barely escaped alive. He reports that Ulysses stabbed the monster in his one eye to allow their escape.

As the stranger finishes telling the Trojans his tale, the blinded Cyclops nearly stumbles upon the group. The Trojans make a quick escape with the Greek straggler, just as the other Cyclopes come down to the shore. Sailing around Sicily, they pass several recognizable landmarks before landing at Drepanum, where Aeneas endures yet another unexpected loss: his father’s death.

Aeneas turns to Dido and concludes his story by saying that divine will has driven him to her shores.

Analysis

Although we know from Book I that the Trojans have been wandering for seven years, Aeneas, in telling his story, gives little explicit indication of the passage of time. Instead, the time frame is revealed in an indirect way by the situations the Trojan refugees encounter on their journey. In Book I, we see that there is already a mural in Carthage picturing the events of the Trojan War by the time Aeneas’s crew arrives there. Historically, the Trojan War and the founding of Carthage were separated by centuries, not years, though the epic tradition has compressed this time span. We also see Helenus and Andromachë, in a moment that comes even before Aeneas’s arrival in Carthage, and we learn that Pyrrhus, whom we last saw killing Priam, is now dead himself. Such details give us a sense that greater lengths of time have passed than the seafaring hero’s description of his various arrivals and departures can convey.

Aeneas’s path across the Mediterranean is not straight, and his fleet is frequently thrown off course or sent backtracking by the gods. He has to wait for summer before he can even set off from the coast of Antander, outside of Troy, and he must wait for auspicious weather each time he takes to the sea. Aeneas indicates the length of time he spends on Crete, where the Trojans actually begin to establish a new city, when he describes the period as “a year of death” (III.195). Such lengthy stops account for the passage of so many years between the departure of the refugees from Troy, on the coast of Asia Minor, and their landfall in Libya, near Carthage.

By the end of Book III, we have heard the prophecy that Aeneas is destined to found the race that will become the Roman people reiterated several times, each time with some additional—and often ambiguous—information. Aeneas’s fate is set, but Virgil makes the role of fate complex, so that his hero’s success in each adventure does not always seem a foregone conclusion. The dangers that Aeneas and his crew encounter are real threats, even if we know that he will survive them.