The Aeneid


Book III

Summary Book III

The Trojan destiny is more flexible and alterable than it might seem, at least in a limited sense. There is no set time span that binds the workings of fate regarding Aeneas or prevents considerable delays on the way to Italy. The gods, who know what fate ultimately holds for Aeneas, still try to alter his path, knowing that they can assist him or cause him suffering along the way. It becomes obvious, in the case of the Harpy’s curse, that the actions of the Trojans themselves, and not only those of the gods, can affect what they will have to endure. The fleeing Trojans, in a sense, try to take the easy way out—they keep looking for the nearest place to settle and make a new life. This urgent craving for stability is probably what causes Anchises to misinterpret Apollo’s message, when he steers the group south from Delos to nearby Crete instead of Italy. In the end, though, Virgil’s message is that fate is inevitable and demands obedience. The more one tries to delay or avoid fate, the more one suffers. At every wrong turn Aeneas and his men take, they endure another hardship that eventually puts them back on the path to Italy.

A general overview of what happens to some of the major figures of the Trojan War after the fall of Troy is helpful in understanding some of the references in Book III. Pyrrhus the Greek, son of Achilles, took back two Trojans to be his slaves: Helenus, son of Priam, and Andromachë, widow of Hector. Helenus and Andromachë were soon married, though the latter continued to mourn Hector, her lost husband. Pyrrhus married Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus and Helen, born before Helen was taken to Troy. Unfortunately for Pyrrhus, Hermione had already been betrothed to Orestes, the son of Agamemnon. Orestes came and killed Pyrrhus, whose kingdom fell to Helenus. Thus, Helenus and Andromachë came to be rulers of a Greek city. This whole series of events is described in the Oresteia, a famous trilogy of plays by Aeschylus. As for the other Greek generals, Menelaus and Ulysses were both forced to delay their homecomings as punishment for wrongs committed in the sacking of Troy. Menelaus took eight years to return to Sparta, while Ulysses did not reach Ithaca for ten long years, as recounted by Homer in the Odyssey. Virgil solidifies the link between these stories by having Aeneas stop on the shore of Sicily, right where the Greeks had stopped, and actually encounter a member of Ulysses’ crew who was left behind.