Summary and Analysis Book III

After performing funeral rites for Polydorus, the Trojans left bloodstained Thrace and sailed to the island of Delos, sacred to Apollo, from whom Aeneas sought counsel. Apollo declared through his oracle — his priest, through whose mouth he spoke — that the Trojans should seek their “mother of old,” which Anchises, Aeneas’s father, understood to be Crete, a kingdom ruled by Teucrus, an ancestor of the Trojans.

Following a ritualistic sacrifice to the gods, the Trojans sailed to Crete and attempted to found a city, but their efforts were thwarted by a sudden plague that brought a year of death to humans and crops alike. Anchises then proposed that they return to Delos and again consult the oracle, but this voyage was made unnecessary when Troy’s hearth gods told Aeneas in a vision that Apollo’s oracle had meant that they should go to Hesperia — Italy — the ancestral home of another ancestor, Dardanus.

On the right track at last, the Trojans again set forth toward Italy, but soon they were driven off course by a storm that forced them to take refuge on one of the Strophades, a group of islands in the Ionian Sea. Here, Harpies, vicious bird-women, assailed them. The Trojans defended themselves as best they could, and Celaeno, the Harpies’s leader, prophesied that after the Trojans reached Italy, famine would drive them to eat their tables as a punishment for their violence against her race.

The Trojans fled from the island and sailed north along the western coast of Greece to Actium, where they spent several months and held athletic contests. From here, they journeyed to Buthrotum, where they were welcomed warmly by the prophet Helenus, a son of Priam, and his wife, Andromache, the widow of Hector, for whom she still grieved. Helenus warned Aeneas that many trials would still have to be overcome before the voyagers reached Italy, where Aeneas’s discovery of a white sow with a litter of thirty young would indicate the site upon which he was to found his city. Telling Aeneas how best to avoid danger while at sea, including the monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, Helenus also advised him to consult the sibyl of Cumae and to appease Juno’s hatred by remembering to offer sacrifices to her.

Andromache recounted how she and Helenus came to rule together, and provided Aeneas with the information that Pyrrhus, who killed Priam and his son Polites in Book II, was killed by Orestes. Ironically, Pyrrhus’s death occurred “before his father’s altar,” a fitting site for his demise when we remember how cruelly he treated Priam by slaying Polites in front of the Trojan king.

After Aeneas exchanged gifts with his hosts and bid them farewell, the Trojans sailed north to Ceraunia. Here they spent the night and then crossed over to the heel of the Italian peninsula, where Aeneas offered prayers to Pallas and sacrifices to Juno, according to Helenus’s instructions. They then sailed across the Gulf of Taranto and, after escaping Scylla and Charybdis, landed on the coast of Sicily, where they spent a fearful night near Mount Aetna, a volcano.

The next morning, the Trojans were accosted by a Greek, Achaemenides, a member of Ulysses’s company, who had been left behind accidentally when his companions fled the Cyclops Polyphemus. He begged the Trojans to take him with them or else kill him, which he said would be a better fate than remaining alone, for not only Polyphemus, whom Ulysses blinded, lived in the region, but many other Cyclopes as well. Polyphemus and other Cyclopes then appeared, and the Trojans fled, taking Achaemenides with them.

They sailed along the coast of Sicily and finally reached Drepanum, where Anchises, Aeneas’s father, died. After burying him, they set sail again and encountered the storm that drove them to Carthage. At this point, Aeneas ends his story.


For the most part, Book III deals with the Trojans’s search for their promised homeland, covering almost their entire voyage up to the moment when the storm raised by Aeolus drives them away from their nearby goal of Italy. The ghost of Creusa, whom Aeneas encountered toward the end of the preceding book, had called Italy by its Greek name, Hesperia, but Aeneas does not remember this name during the earlier stages of his voyage, even though it had been entrusted to him under such momentous circumstances. Only after the Trojans’s failed attempt to settle on Crete does he fix Italy as his true destination.

While Book III has dramatic moments, it constitutes a relatively placid interlude between two episodes of great intensity — the account of Troy’s destruction, with its descriptions of violence and bloodshed, and the tragic story of Dido’s passionate love for Aeneas. As such, it resembles Book V, which deals with the stage of the voyage that follows Dido’s death and precedes another high point of the Aeneid, Aeneas’s encounter with the sibyl at Cumae and his descent into the underworld. Books III and V, then, create with the others an overall rhythmical pattern that adds variety of pace to the epic poem’s narration.

Although Book III deals with subject matter that may seem more prosaic and uneventful than that of other books, it contributes greatly to the development of the Aeneid’s national theme by depicting what Virgil considered unique, important Roman virtues, superimposed on a legendary past. Aeneas’s “Roman” qualities are shown especially in his attitude toward Anchises, to whom he constantly gives all his dutiful respect, which the Romans, as members of a patriarchal society, especially valued as an important aspect of pietas. Virgil makes a point of telling us that it was Anchises who gave the order to sail from Troy, and that Aeneas consulted his father in Thrace after the hero’s ominous encounter with the spirit of the murdered Polydorus, and again on Delos and on Crete. As we shall see, Anchises’s authority will be strengthened after his death, for he will be Aeneas’s guide in the underworld, and he will predict Rome’s future greatness.

Deliberately anachronistic, Virgil also shows how Roman customs and a Roman spirit are already at work in the context of Rome’s legendary past. For example, the Trojans perform religious rites in connection with oracular pronouncements and sacrifices to the gods. Repeatedly, Aeneas prays to the gods, both when the Trojans abandon a country and when they arrive at a new one. A notable example of the Trojans’s piety is when they take the time to give Polydorus a proper funeral.

The most important divinity in Book III is Apollo. Although he does not appear in person — he reveals himself only once during the entire epic, and then only briefly, in Book IX — he makes his powerful and benign presence felt through every prophecy Aeneas receives. The Penates, or Trojan hearth gods, who tell Aeneas to sail for Italy, acknowledge Apollo’s rule over them; when Aeneas meets Celaeno, the Harpies’s leader, she too speaks of how Apollo, the god of prophecy, instructed her to foretell of the Trojan’s future; and Helenus, the “Trojan interpreter of the gods’s will,” receives his gift of revelation from Apollo. The Penates, Celaeno, and the prophet Helenus strengthen Aeneas’s resolve to complete his mission successfully and convince him that a glorious future lies beyond the hardships that he and his followers must endure.

In the course of Book III, we see Aeneas growing into his role as the founder and national hero of a new society. Little by little, the uncertainty that Aeneas revealed in the preceding books gives way to assurance. For example, when the Trojans reach Thrace, Aeneas reports, “I plotted out / On that curved shore the walls of a colony — / Though fate opposed it — and I devised the name / Aeneadae for the people, my own.” Later, when Polydorus advises the Trojans to leave Thrace as quickly as possible, Aeneas first consults other leaders of his people: He is a good ruler who does not abuse his power. And before the plague decimates the Trojans and forces their evacuation from Crete, he is well on his way to founding a homeland. The “hoped-for city walls” that he is anxious to erect symbolize the society he so desperately wants to create; his parceling homesteads and decreeing laws are his attempts to bring order and security to his people.

Aeneas’s role as a dutiful father is expanded in Book III to include paternal responsibility not only for Ascanius and the Trojans in his immediate care, but for the entire Roman race to come. When Helenus tells Aeneas to “let your progeny / Hold to religious purity thereby,” the progeny that the Buthrotum ruler is referring to is that of the Julian line, including Augustus. Helenus’s comment is similar to one made earlier by Andromache, who, concerned for Ascanius’s well-being, asks Aeneas if he is fostering “old-time valor and manliness” in his son. These virtues of valor and manliness are prized by Virgil as qualities befitting Aeneas and his Trojan people, and the poet’s own fellow Roman citizens.

The Trojans’s harboring Achaemenides, the Greek who is abandoned on the Cyclopes’s territory by his Greek shipmates, recalls how the Trojans allowed the trickster Sinon to enter within Troy’s walls in Book II. We wonder just how gullible Aeneas and his people can be to accept so willingly another Greek warrior into their company. Nevertheless, they do. Perhaps Virgil is emphasizing the deep humaneness of the Trojans and, by extension, the poet’s own race.

Aeneas’s concluding his explanation of how the Trojans came to be in Carthage with the announcement that Anchises, his father, died in Drepanum greatly explains his sorrowful reluctance to recount the Trojans’s past when Dido initially asked him to. His dejection over losing his beloved father might also explain why in Book IV he will allow Dido to waylay him from his fate-appointed mission to found a new homeland. Stylistically, note how Virgil parallels the turbulent weather that the Trojans sailed through to reach Drepanum, where Anchises died, to Aeneas’s grieving emotions over his father’s death: “And in the end the port of Drepanum / Took me in, a landing without joy. / For after storms at sea buffeted me / So often, here, alas, I lost my father, / Solace in affliction and mischance.” “O best of fathers,” the devoted Aeneas says, and then falls silent, his tale of the Trojans’s past having come to an end.


auguries divinations from omens.

muster to assemble or summon (troops, etc.), as for inspection, roll call, or service.

hummock a low, rounded hill; knoll; hillock.

halyard a rope or tackle for raising or lowering a flag, sail, etc.

filial of, suitable to, or due from a son or daughter.

posterity all of a person’s descendants.

caldron a violently agitated condition like the boiling contents of a large kettle.

sanctum sacred place.

roil to work hard and continuously; labor.

welter to tumble and toss about, as the sea.

prophecy prediction of the future under the influence of divine guidance; act or practice of a prophet.

scud very low, dark, patchy clouds moving swiftly, generally characteristic of bad weather.

dallying wasting time; loitering.

whorls things with a coiled or spiral appearance.

infernal a) of the ancient mythological world of the dead b) of hell.

hawsers large ropes used for towing or mooring a ship.

oracular of or like an oracle; wise, prophetic, mysterious, etc.

auspices omens, such as may be revealed in the flight of birds.

sundered broken apart; separated; split.

immured shut up within or as within walls; imprisoned, confined, or secluded.

cuirass a piece of closefitting armor for protecting the breast and back, orig. made of leather.

caparisoned covered with ornamental trappings.

festal of or like a joyous celebration; festive.

yardarms Naut. the two halves of a yard supporting a square sail, signal lights, etc.

boon [Archaic] kind, generous, pleasant, etc.

quail to draw back in fear; lose heart or courage; cower.