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The Trojans are delighted with this advice, but they can't figure out what place Apollo refers to. Then Anchises decides that the god means Crete because one of the Trojans' early ancestors had come from Crete. The Trojans leap in their boats and one races against the other to get to Crete first. However, within a year they realize that Crete isn't correct, either. They are stricken with plagues and drought.
Apollo's directions aren't very clear, are they? As you'll see again and again, the gods often intervene in human affairs, but they rarely tell men exactly what to do. For Aeneas, the result is that he must learn to figure things out for himself and must struggle when he makes a mistake. In the end this will make him a better leader.
When Apollo tells the Trojans to return to their "ancient mother" he means Italy, because another of their ancestors came from Italy. This means that the Trojans originally came from Italy. We'll see later on that it's very important for the Trojans to feel that they have a right to settle in Italy, that they are not simply invaders.
Anchises wants to return to Delos to ask Apollo for better directions. However, Aeneas has a vision in which the Trojan household gods explain Apollo's meaning to him. You see here that the gods have chosen Aeneas, not Anchises, as the Trojans' leader. However, even though Anchises keeps making mistakes such as the decision to go to Crete, Aeneas still asks him for advice. Aeneas hasn't fully accepted his role as leader yet. Soon we'll see that he won't have any choice but to accept it.
After a storm at sea, the Trojans land on some islands (the Strophades) that belong to the Harpies-horrible, foul-smelling creatures that are half bird and half woman. The Harpies attack, and one of them screams at Aeneas to get off their island and go to Italy. As they leave, she curses them, telling them that war and starvation await them there. They'll be so hungry she says, that they'll eat their tables. It's not an inviting prospect, is it?
The Trojans' next important stop is a very strange place: Buthrotum. You can imagine what Disneyland is like. That's what Buthrotum must have seemed like to the Trojans. Built by two exiles from Troy, Helenus and Andromache, Buthrotum resembled a miniature Troy with a small river like the Xanthus, and copies of the Trojan walls and city gates.
Andromache is the widow of Hector, the great Trojan warrior killed by Achilles. When Aeneas first sees her, she is weeping outside an empty tomb that she's built in Hector's memory. Although she's married again and many years have passed, she's still mourning. As she and Aeneas reminisce about the old days she keeps bursting into tears.
Helenus and Andromache welcome the Trojans warmly. They can remain at Buthrotum forever if they want to. In many ways it seems right because it's so much like Troy. But Aeneas is eager to move on. Why? It's important to see that this episode is different from the others we've seen in this Book. This is the first place that Aeneas leaves without being forced to. For the first time, he seems to be accepting his fate. He realizes that Helenus and Andromache are rooted in the past-as nice as that may be-but that he must start a new life.
Before he leaves, Aeneas gets detailed directions from Helenus about where to go and what dangers to avoid. Helenus explains that they must reach the west coast of Italy, and that they should get there by sailing all the way around Sicily to avoid Scylla and Charybdis, who guard the narrow strait between Sicily and Italy. (Scylla was a six-headed monster that devoured ships. Charybdis was a whirlpool that sucked in ships.)
The Trojans reach Sicily and land near Mount Etna-a place inhabited by Cyclopes, who are horrible, gory, one-eyed monsters that eat men. The Trojans spend a terrible night underneath the mountain, which is a volcano and belches smoke and lava. In the morning a ragged, starving man, a Greek left behind by Ulysses, runs out of the woods and warns them to flee. They escape just as one of the Cyclopes, who was blinded by Ulysses, comes roaring and stomping down to the beach to wash his oozing eye.
In this incident, Virgil is deliberately reminding us of one of the episodes in the Greek epic, the Odyssey, by Homer. In that epic the hero, Ulysses, spends many years searching for his home, just as Aeneas does. Having Aeneas stop in one of the places where Ulysses stopped is one of the ways in which Virgil suggests that his hero is as great as the famous Ulysses.
At last the Trojans manage to sail to the west coast of Sicily and land at Drepanum. Now they are very close to their destination. But then something terrible happens: Anchises dies. Aeneas is heartbroken.
All the storms and perils, All of the weariness endured, seemed nothing Compared with this disaster.