Heading West

As the editor of Dig, I’m charged with choosing themes for the coming year. It is definitely an exciting process. The possibilities are endless, but getting the right mix can be challenging. We like a mix that includes not only ancient and more recent centuries, but also a wide geographical reach. So, imagine my delight when, from the list of possibilities, “Vergil’s Aeneid,” won approval from all involved. Why delight? One of my majors in college was Latin, and I later taught Latin. Just the thought of focusing an issue on the Aeneid brought a smile to my face. It definitely was fun developing the outline with readers who may never have heard of Vergil or his poem in mind. Ancient Rome is part of most curricula, but at most Vergil gets a line or two. Yet, the characters in his tale and the places they visit and the gods they meet have made their way into stories, symphonies, art works, and movies through the centuries.
One article that really caught my attention was “Heading West.” The author, a professor of classics, took a unique approach. He wrote as a ship log—and so I felt as I read it as if I was on the ship with Aeneas, traveling the Mediterranean Sea in search of a new home.
How to bring archaeology into the mix took a little more thought, as Aeneas is more myth than actual character. But, then, right there was angle—had anything been uncovered that might tell us that there was actual truth to some of Vergil’s details. I think you’ll find, as I did, that the piece about Amazons by Adrienne Mayor (another classics professor and a researcher), will have you thinking about the truth behind these legendary female warriors. I don’t want to ruin the suspense, so I won’t give any more details! You’ll have to read if for yourself. But, I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Which article got you thinking the most? What facts surprised you? Which article had you smiling?

Heading West: In Search of ‘Home’

By Anthony Hollingsworth

Captains of ships traditionally keep a diary of their travels and record the important events of a journey. Today, we call these journals “logs.” (On the Internet, they are called web-logs or “blogs.”) After the Trojan War, Aeneas fled from Troy and, for seven years, sailed the sea searching for a new home. Although we do not know if he kept his own log, we do know where he went. If he had written down the important events, it probably would have resembled this.

Late Winter, the night Troy fell:

O most worthy readers of my tale, and most Great Zeus, king of men and gods, because those Achaeans, those terrible men of Greece, led by Agamemnon, his brother Menelaus, and that wicked Odysseus, have destroyed my home, I now flee Troy with my father, son, and a handful of Trojans. We hope to find a new land and a new home for our gods. We are ruined. Our city is in flames, and all we have left are the few things we carried out of the city as we escaped Greek spears. There is no escape by sea, and we have decided to travel south to the little town of Antandros. There, we will find safety and a place to plan our future.

Beginning of summer, our fleet is ready.

The villagers of Antandros have welcomed us into their homes. They saw our city fall, and they have felt our pain. With their help, we have built a fleet of sturdy ships to carry us to a new home. We have not been here very long, but my father, Anchises, commands us to set sail. “West,” he says, “It is the will of the gods that we find our new homes across the sea to the west.”

Summer, our first hope.

The winds lead the way and drive us west and north toward the Thracians, a people whom we once called friends. But that was long ago and during happier times. We found a place to land and decided to build a new city there. Everyone is hopeful. No longer will we be Trojans. Everyone agrees that we will now be the “Aeneidae.” I am greatly honored that the name of our people comes from my own name.

Summer, lost hope.

Although we have just created our new city, we must now leave it. It is cursed! I was pulling plants from the ground to decorate our altars, when I saw blood dripping from the roots. “Aeneas,” a ghostly voice cried out, “Why are you torturing me? Those plants you tore from the ground were once the spears that killed me.” “Who are you,” I demanded. “You knew me. I was once Polydorus, the son of King Priam. The people of this land killed me when the Greeks came. These people are your enemy, and this place is cursed with the blood of the murdered. Leave! Leave as quickly as you can.” My father commands us to
give poor Polydorus a proper funeral. Then, with sad hearts, we set sail again. Will the gods show us no mercy?

Summer, three days later in the morning.

The gods have smiled upon our voyage. After three days on the high sea, we have come to the island of Delos. This is the island where the god Apollo was born and where he foretells the fate of those who visit him. I pray that he will tell us where to go.

Later, the same day.

“Find your ancient mother.” That is what Apollo told us when we visited his temple. We had just arrived and began to pray when everything grew dark, the earth trembled, the altar of the god opened up, and we heard those words, “Find your ancient mother.” My father thought about these words for a while. Finally, he shouted with joy, “Our ancient mother is the island of Crete!” Crete is the land of our ancestors. On Crete, men live in great and fertile cities. Finally, we all think, we will have a new home.

Three days later.

We have arrived on Crete! The towns are empty and the houses are ready for us to use. Fortune has favored us. Now, we can begin planting crops, building our walls, and making laws.