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Imagine this scene: It's around 1150 B.C. Seven years earlier, a band of fierce Greek warriors invaded the city of Troy and set it on fire. Aeneas and a few fellow Trojans manage to escape to the coast where they launch their wooden boats and set sail to the west. There, some fortune-tellers have said, they will find a new home. They've been wandering all over the sea ever since, looking for this place.
When we first see him, Aeneas is filled with conflicting emotions. One part of him is still grieving for his lost city and all the friends and family who died there. Another part of him is worn out with troubles and worries about whether or not he will ever find a place where his people can settle. But, for the moment, he is simply relieved that the sun is shining and the sea is calm. He's beginning to have a little hope again. He does not suspect that an angry goddess is watching, and that she is determined to make as much trouble as possible for him and his fellow Trojans, wherever they go.
This is the moment Virgil picks to start his story of Aeneas' struggles to establish a new city-the city that would eventually become Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire and the greatest city in the world.
The events in the Aeneid are not told in chronological order. You will see that Books II and III will take you back in time to the fall of Troy, while Book VI will show the future of Rome after Aeneas. Keep this blending of past, present, and future in mind as you read.
Before the action starts, Virgil tells us what his poem is about. The short prologue gives us many clues about the major themes, so it's worth reading carefully.
Arms and the man I sing, the first who came, Compelled by fate, an exile out of Troy, To Italy and the Lavinian coast, Much buffeted on land and on the deep By violence of the gods, through that long rage, That lasting hate, of Juno's.