Aeneid against Rhome & Trojan women burning ships to found Rome

The Aeneid, Virgil’s Latin epic of Trojan survivors establishing a new kingdom in central Italy, has been central to Rome’s imaginative foundation for more than two thousand years. The Aeneid draws thematically and stylistically on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Widely known and revered in Virgil’s Mediterranean world, those Homeric epics say nothing about Rome’s founding. However, non-Homeric Greek epic apparently told of the woman Rhome leading other Trojan women in burning Trojan ships. These women’s ship-burning caused the founding of a city named after Rhome. In the context of that epic account of Rome’s founding, the Aeneid poignantly depicts an escape from men’s impotence in relation to women’s power.

The Greek epic tradition is now understood to have been rich in archaic myth concerning the Trojan War. In addition to the Iliad and Odyssey, another set of archaic Greek epics, called the Epic Cycle, has survived in fragments. In contrast to the arduous, death-bringing, and highly constraining “heroic” gender role imposed on men in Homeric epic, the Epic Cycle poems “relish romantic intrigue and provocative, even perverse details.”[1] Treachery among intimates and friends is unthinkable in Homeric epic. In contrast, the Epic Cycle, like ancient Greek literature generally, abounds in perverse betrayals.

Trojan women starting to burn ships in Aeneid

The Epic Cycle poem Telegony tells the story of Telegonus, the son of Circe and Odysseus. That story is important for the founding of Rome because Circle’s isle of Aeaea is in the west across from Tyrrhenia in Ausonia. By the end of the sixth century BGC, Aeaea was localized at Monte Circe, about 100 kilometers southeast of Rome.[2] According to the Telegony, Telegonus unknowingly killed his father at Ithaca. That terrible event led to a happy ending:

When he learned whom he had killed, Telegonus on Minerva’s orders returned to his home on the island of Aeaea along with Telemachus and Penelope. They returned Odysseus’s dead body to Circe. There they buried him. Again on Minerva’s orders, Telegonus married Penelope and Telemachus married Circe.

{ Quem postquam cognovit qui esset, iussu Minervae cum Telemacho et Penelope in patriam reduxerunt, in insulam Aeaeam; ad Circen Ulixem mortuum deportaverunt. Ibique sepulturae tradiderunt. Eiusdem Minervae monitu Telegonus Penelopen, Telemachus Circen duxerunt uxores. }[3]

Other surviving evidence indicates that Circe made Penelope, Telemachus, and Telegonus immortal. Humans being made immortal is a well-recognized transformation in ancient Greek myth. Moreover, women marrying their deceased husbands’ sons from relationships with other women isn’t bizarre within all of ancient Greek myth. Nor would it be extraordinary for Odysseus, unhappy with his burdensome obligations under Penelope in their Ithacan household, to have recalled and sought a carefree, never-ending life with Circe. She, after all, required from men nothing more than for them to be like pigs.[4]

The Epic Cycle probably included a story of the woman anti-hero Rhome leading other Trojan women in burning Trojan ships to found Rome in the company of Odysseus and Aeneas. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian writing in Rome a few years after the Aeneid began circulating, reported:

The man who compiled the Priestesses at Argos and the events during the tenure of each of them says that Aeneas went with Odysseus from the land of the Molossians to Italy. He founded the city Rome and named it after Rhome, one of the Trojan women. This woman, he says, urged the other Trojan women on and, together with them, set the ships on fire, since she was tired of wandering around. Damastes of Sigeum and some other people also agree with him.

{ ὁ δὲ τὰς Ἱερείας τὰς ἐν Ἄργει καὶ τὰ καθ’ ἑκάστην πραχθέντα συναγαγὼν Αἰνείαν φησὶν ἐκ Μολοττῶν εἰς Ἰταλίαν ἐλθόντα μετ’ Ὀδυσσέως οἰκιστὴν γενέσθαι τῆς πόλεως, ὀνομάσαι δ’ αὐτὴν ἀπὸ μιᾶς τῶν Ἰλιάδων Ῥώμης· ταύτην δὲ λέγει ταῖς ἄλλαις Τρωάσι παρακελευσαμένην κοινῇ μετ’ αὐτῶν ἐμπρῆσαι τὰ σκάφη βαρυνομένην τῇ πλάνῃ· ὁμολογεῖ δ᾿ αὐτῷ καὶ Δαμάστης ὁ Σιγειεὺς καὶ ἄλλοι τινές. }[5]

The man who compiled Priestesses at Argos was Hellanicus of Lesbos. He was a prolific and influential fifth-century Greek historian. Not narrowly a historian in the modern sense, Hellanicus also wrote about the Hesperides.[6] They were daughters of the Titan god Atlas and nymphs associated with lands west of Greece. Odysseus betraying his Greek family and friends to travel with Aeneas to Italy, perhaps also taking the Palladium, perhaps to be with Circe at Aeaea, is the sort of romantic treachery at home in the Epic Cycle. So too is Trojan women betraying their leading Trojan men and burning Trojan ships. The story ending happily with Rome being named after the ship-burning Trojan woman ringleader Rhome echoes the spirit of the Telegony’s ending. Dionysius apparently preserved a genuine fragment from Hellanicus. That fragment plausibly provides myth from the Epic Cycle or other non-Homeric archaic Greek epic tradition concerning Rome’s founding.[7]

Aristotle the philosopher is attributed a more rational report about women burning ships to found Rome. Immediately following Hellanicus’s account of Rome’s founding, Dionysius provided an account that he attributed to Aristotle the philosopher:

Aristotle the philosopher recounts that some of the Achaeans returning home from Troy, as they were sailing around Malea, were suddenly taken by a violent storm. For a long time they wandered around many places of the sea, carried around by the winds. Eventually they arrived at that place in the land of the Opici which is called Latinium and is situated near the Tyrrhenian Sea. Happy to see land, they pulled their ships ashore at that location and spent the winter season there, preparing to sail at the beginning of spring. But when their ships were set on fire at night, not knowing how they could set sail, they were forced against their will to settle their abode in the place where they had disembarked. This happened to them because of female prisoners, whom they happened to be carrying along from Troy. These women had burnt down the ships out of fear for the Achaeans’ return home, believing that they would be carried into slavery.

{ Ἀριστοτέλης δὲ ὁ φιλόσοφος Ἀχαιῶν τινας ἱστορεῖ τῶν ἀπὸ Τροίας ἀνακομισαμένων περιπλέοντας Μαλέαν, ἔπειτα χειμῶνι βιαίῳ καταληφθέντας τέως μὲν ὑπὸ τῶν πνευμάτων φερομένους πολλαχῇ τοῦ πελάγους πλανᾶσθαι, τελευτῶντας δ’ ἐλθεῖν εἰς τὸν τόπον τοῦτον τῆς Ὀπικῆς, ὃς καλεῖται Λατίνιον ἐπὶ τῷ Τυρρηνικῷ πελάγει κείμενος. ἀσμένους δὲ τὴν γῆν ἰδόντας ἀνελκῦσαί τε τὰς ναῦς αὐτόθι καὶ διατρῖψαι τὴν χειμερινὴν ὥραν παρασκευαζομένους ἔαρος ἀρχομένου πλεῖν· ἐμπρησθεισῶν δὲ αὐτοῖς ὑπὸ νύκτα τῶν νεῶν οὐκ ἔχοντας ὅπως ποιήσονται τὴν ἄπαρσιν, ἀβουλήτῳ ἀνάγκῃ τοὺς βίους, ἐν ᾧ κατήχθησαν χωρίῳ, ἱδρύσασθαι. συμβῆναι δὲ αὐτοῖς τοῦτο διὰ γυναῖκας αἰχμαλώτους, ἃς ἔτυχον ἄγοντες ἐξ Ἰλίου· ταύτας δὲ κατακαῦσαι τὰ πλοῖα φοβουμένας τὴν οἴκαδε τῶν Ἀχαιῶν ἄπαρσιν, ὡς εἰς δουλείαν ἀφιξομένας. }

Having Trojan women burn their Greek captors’ ships doesn’t imply treachery toward one’s own people. Moreover, eliminating the woman anti-hero Rhome and naming of Rhome after her provides a less outrageous history. Compared to the account he attributed to the myth-historian Hellanicus, Dionysius reported from Aristotle the philosopher a more reasonable version of Rome’s founding.

An earlier epitome of Aristotle suggests more amorous intrigue in Rome’s founding. Heraclides Lembus, a second-century BGC Egyptian scholar and civil servant, wrote an epitome of Aristotle’s Constitutions. That work describes the history and formal political structure of 158 city-states. Many centuries later, authors report that Heraclides, describing the founding of Rome, mentioned the Trojan woman Rhome. She was “a certain young woman of marriageable age {virgo quidam tempestiuus}.” Moreover, she was “high-born {nobilis},” or even “very high-born {nobilissima}.”[8] Given her characteristics, the men with her most likely found her sexually attractive.

Men’s love for women figures in an alternative account of women burning ships to found Rome. About 100 GC in central Greece, the Greek essayist Plutarch explained:

Why do women kiss their relatives on the mouth? … Is it for the reason which Aristotle the philosopher has recounted? For that well-known deed, which is said to have taken place in many locations, was dared, it seems, by the Trojan women in Italy as well. When, after disembarking, the men had gone off, the women set the ships on fire, since they wanted to bring an end to their wanderings at sea by any means necessary. Fearing the men, they greeted their relatives and other members of the household by kissing and embracing whoever encountered them. And when the men had put an end to their anger and had been reconciled, the women continued to use this way of greeting them.

{ διὰ τί τοὺς συγγενεῖς τῷ στόματι φιλοῦσιν αἱ γυναῖκες; … δι’ ἣν Ἀριστοτέλης ὁ φιλόσοφος αἰτίαν ἱστόρηκε; τὸ γὰρ πολυθρύλλητον ἐκεῖνο καὶ πολλαχοῦ γενέσθαι λεγόμενον, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἐτολμήθη ταῖς Τρῳάσι καὶ περὶ τὴν Ἰταλίαν. τῶν γὰρ ἀνδρῶν, ὡς προσέπλευσαν, ἀποβάντων ἐνέπρησαν τὰ πλοῖα, πάντως ἀπαλλαγῆναι τῆς πλάνης δεόμεναι καὶ τῆς θαλάττης· φοβηθεῖσαι δὲ τοὺς ἄνδρας ἠσπάζοντο τῶν συγγενῶν καὶ οἰκείων μετὰ τοῦ καταφιλεῖν καὶ περιπλέκεσθαι τοὺς προστυγχάνοντας. παυσαμένων δὲ τῆς ὀργῆς καὶ διαλλαγέντων ἐχρῶντο καὶ τὸ λοιπὸν ταύτῃ τῇ φιλοφροσύνῃ πρὸς αὐτούς. }[9]

Plutarch’s account acknowledges the obvious interpersonal reality that men would be furious at the women burning their ships. But men love to have women kiss and embrace them. In contrast to modern myths, women never have been like men’s property. In fact, women actively kissing and embracing men can be powerful enough to overcome men’s anger at women’s destructive acts.

The Aeneid’s account of Trojan women burning Trojan ships is best interpreted in its historical context. When Virgil wrote the Aeneid, stories of the Trojan woman anti-hero Rhome leading other women in burning ships to found Rome were well-known. In the Aeneid, Aeneas directed the Trojan ships to land in Sicily to ride out a storm. There the Trojan men held funeral games to honor Aeneas’s deceased father Anchises. The funeral games included Trojan boys staging mock battles on horseback. That taught the boys their gender role as participants and victims of violence against men. The Trojan women engaged in gender-typical behavior starkly different from the boys joyfully training to kill or be killed:

Far separated on the lonely seashore, the Trojan women
wept for the lost Anchises, all looking out upon
the deep sea and weeping. “Ah, for the weary too many shoals,
and yet more of the sea to survive!” — so one voice for all the women.
For a city they pray, disgusted with enduring oceans of hardship.

{ At procul in sola secretae Troades acta
amissum Anchisen flebant, cunctaeque profundum
pontum adspectabant flentes. “Heu tot vada fessis
et tantum superesse maris!” vox omnibus una.
Urbem orant; taedet pelagi perferre laborem. }[10]

While weeping for the dead Anchises, the women mourned their own difficult lives. Unlike men, women typically have a strong sense of self-concern. That sense of self-concern, both in the Epic Cycle and in the Aeneid, helps to explain women’s willingness to burn ships.

The Aeneid underscores women’s obliviousness to men’s gender burdens. Like many women today, the goddess Juno, the cosmos’s queen consort and regnant in action, nursed anger about “her ancient grievance not yet sated {necdum antiquum saturata dolorem}.” She sent the messenger-goddess Iris to incite further trouble for the Trojans. Taking the form of the aged Trojan woman Beroë, she called for female solidarity in self-pity:

“O we wretched women,” she said, “whom Greek hands in the war
didn’t drag to death beneath our fatherland’s walls! O unhappy
people, what ruin does Fortune reserve for you?
The seventh summer has turned since Troy’s destruction,
with all the oceans and lands traversed, so many inhospitable stones
and stars we’ve endured, while through the great sea
we chase fleeing Italy and roll about on the waves.
Here are the borders of our brother Eryx and also our host Acestes.
Who forbids casting up walls here and giving citizens a city?”

{ “O miserae, quas non manus” inquit “Achaïca bello
traxerit ad letum patriae sub moenibus! O gens
infelix, cui te exitio Fortuna reservat?
Septuma post Troiae exscidium iam vertitur aestas,
cum freta, cum terras omnes, tot inhospita saxa
sideraque emensae ferimur, dum per mare magnum
Italiam sequimur fugientem, et volvimur undis.
Hic Erycis fines fraterni, atque hospes Acestes:
quis prohibet muros iacere et dare civibus urbem?” }

In referring to citizens, Beroë invoked foremost the women themselves to whom she appealed. Yet those who die in war’s fighting or in the sacking of a city are much more likely to be men than women.[11] Moreover, in the ancient world as in most countries today, heavy, dangerous manual labor such as constructing city walls is assigned primarily to men. However, compared to men, women have always been more potent in complaining.

In the Aeneid, Juno’s envoy disguised as Beroë incited the Trojan women to burn their own ships on the Sicilian shore so that the Trojans couldn’t voyage further. After her complaining speech, Beroë seized a piece of burning wood from Neptune’s altar and threw it at the Trojan ships. The Trojan women initially were bewildered. Then the eldest Trojan woman declared that the figure of Beroë wasn’t actually Beroë, but a woman with “signs of divine beauty {divini signa decoris}.” The other Trojan women wavered:

At first the Trojan mothers with spiteful eyes
looked upon the ships doubtfully, torn between wretched love
for the present land and the kingdom to which fate called them.
When the goddess Iris rose through the sky on her twin wings,
cutting a huge rainbow in her flight under the clouds,
then, truly astonished by the marvels and made furious,
they scream and seize fire from the inner hearths.
Some plunder the altars — garlands and boughs and burning wood
they hurl together. Loosed from his reins, the fire god Vulcan rages
through the ships’ rowing benches and oars and painted pine sterns.

{ At matres primo ancipites oculisque malignis
ambiguae spectare rates miserum inter amorem
praesentis terrae fatisque vocantia regna,
cum dea se paribus per caelum sustulit alis,
ingentemque fuga secuit sub nubibus arcum.
Tum vero attonitae monstris actaeque furore
conclamant, rapiuntque focis penetralibus ignem;
pars spoliant aras, frondem ac virgulta facesque
coniciunt. Furit immissis Volcanus habenis
transtra per et remos et pictas abiete puppes. }

The Trojan men were laboring on those benches and at those oars to bring themselves and their women to Rome, the city founded in alternate myth by Remus (literally, “oar”) and his twin brother Romulus.[12] But without even speaking to their men and considering their men’s views, the Trojan women in a fury burned their own ships. If their ships were destroyed, the Trojans couldn’t depart from Sicily to continue on to found Rome.

The Aeneid’s account of what happened is much different from the romantic, non-Homeric epic account of the woman anti-hero Rhome leading Trojan woman in burning Trojan ships to found Rome. In the Aeneid, the leaderless Trojan women burst into incoherent rage after being incited by the goddess Iris, disguised as the old woman Beroë. The Trojan women’s actions didn’t lead to the founding of Rome. The Trojan women’s actions merely threatened to strand the Trojans in Sicily. Sicily was already the kingdom of the Trojan exile Acestes.

For readers of the Aenead, Trojans settling in Sicily would be a bad alternative to them founding Rome. Acestes was an honored figure, but also regarded as wild and primitive. He was the legendary founder of the Sicilian city that came to be known as Segesta. About 307 BGC, the Greek despot Agathocles of Syracuse, returning from war with Carthage, was welcomed into Segesta. Agathocles betrayed Segesta, killed all its men, and took its women and children as captives. Roman readers of the Aeneid would have known that terrible history.

In Sicily, honoring Anchises with funeral games near his tomb, the Trojan men saw black smoke rising from their burning ships. Aeneas’s son Ascanius, leading other boys in a mock-battle formation, turned his horse and raced to the burning ships moored at the Trojan camp. The women at the camp were in chaos and doing nothing about their burning ships. The boy Ascanius shouted out:

“What new madness is this? What now, what is your point?” he cries,
“Oh, wretched women citizens! Not the enemy or a hostile Greek
camp, but your own hope you burn. How could you, I am your
own Ascanius!” Before his feet he threw down his worthless helmet,
which in play he had put on to rouse the semblance of battle.

{ “Quis furor iste novus? Quo nunc, quo tenditis?” inquit,
“heu, miserae cives! Non hostem inimicaque castra
Argivum, vestras spes uritis. En, ego vester
Ascanius!” Galeam ante pedes proiecit inanem,
qua ludo indutus belli simulacra ciebat }

Men’s willingness to fight and die is worthless against their own women’s treachery. Although only a boy, Ascanius understood the despair of Trojan men. That despair is much different from naming Rome in honor of the woman Rhome for leading Trojan women in burning Trojan ships.

Trojan men see disaster of Trojan women burning Trojan ships

The Trojan men labored to put out the flames consuming the ships while the Trojan women scattered and hid like frightened rabbits. The men’s efforts, however, weren’t sufficient to save them. As so many men have done throughout history, the Trojan leader Aeneas dramatically offered his chest in battle for his people:

Then pious Aeneas tears his robe from his shoulders,
for help he calls to the gods and imploringly extends his palms:
“All-mighty father Jove, if you not yet despise every one
of the Trojan men, if your ancient piety still respects
men’s labors, may our fleet evade the flames,
father, as you now snatch from ruin the tenuous Trojan story.
Or you send what remains of us to death with your destroying lightening,
if I so deserve, and here overthrow us with your strong right hand.”

{ Tum pius Aeneas umeris abscindere vestem,
auxilioque vocare deos, et tendere palmas:
“Iuppiter omnipotens, si nondum exosus ad unum
Troianos, si quid pietas antiqua labores
respicit humanos, da flammam evadere classi
nunc, Pater, et tenues Teucrum res eripe leto.
Vel tu, quod superest infesto fulmine morti,
si mereor, demitte, tuaque hic obrue dextra.” }

With a father’s loving care for his family, Jove created a wild black storm of life-giving rain. That rainstorm drenched the ships and extinguished the flames. Although damaged, all the Trojan ships except four were saved from ruin.

The Trojan women’s treachery and the resulting damage to the ships traumatized Aeneas. Full of anguish, he considered yielding to the women’s preference and settling in Sicily. That’s the non-Homeric Greek epic pattern, with Sicily substituted for Rome. However, the learned old man Nautes offered Aeneas consolation and advice contrary to traditional Greek epic. Nautes advised Aeneas to continue his voyage, but leave behind in Sicily the complaining women as well as the old, the feeble, the timid, and anyone else who chose to remain.

Like many men, Aeneas was reluctant to leave behind even whiny, treacherous women. Then Aeneas saw glide down from the sky his father Anchises’s spirit. Anchises greeted his dear son. Then he advised him to follow the untraditional advice of the old man Nautes. As fathers tend to do, Anchises offered his son much other advice as well. Then Anchises disappeared into the air like a wisp of smoke. With the support of those two respected old men, Aeneas finally gained the strength to defy archaic Greek tradition and leave the behind the complaining, ship-burning Trojan women.[13]

When time for separation came, those who wanted to remain changed their minds to no effect. The Trojans feasted together for nine days. Then the day came for some to depart:

From along the curving shore came forth unusual weeping.
They delayed, embracing one another for a day and a night.
Now the very mothers, the very men, to whom earlier
the sea’s face seemed harsh and its name intolerable,
wished to go and endure all the toils of voyaging.
Good Aeneas comforts them with friendly words
and tearfully commends them to his kinsman Acestes.

{ Exoritur procurva ingens per litora fletus;
complexi inter se noctemque diemque morantur.
Ipsae iam matres, ipsi, quibus aspera quondam
visa maris facies et non tolerabile nomen,
ire volunt, omnemque fugae perferre laborem.
Quos bonus Aeneas dictis solatur amicis,
et consanguineo lacrimans commendat Acestae. }

Not a yes-dearing man like Vulcan in relation to Venus, Aeneas remained firm about the established plan. With the eight salvageable ships repaired, he didn’t welcome all to join the further voyage in only the remaining two-thirds of their ships. Leaving the rest behind, the eager Trojan men and women sped away to found Rome.[14]

The Aeneid’s treatment of the ship-burning women is a radical departure from Greek epic tradition. The archaic Greek epic myth of Rome being named after Rhome, the ringleader of ship-burning Trojan woman, represents men accommodating women’s destructive acts. That myth includes the comforting conclusion that women’s destructive acts work for social good. Virgil rejected such childish delusions. In the Aeneid, he narrated Juno’s implacable hate and Allecto’s war-inciting evil. He depicted Dido’s suicidal sense of sexual entitlement and Juturna’s naive, narrow-minded actions on behalf of Juno’s hate.

Because so many men are terrified of challenging the gynocentric order, Virgil’s bracing lessons about women have been largely lost or marginalized in the literary reception of the Aeneid. In now-marginalized medieval literature, Marcolf provided vital wisdom about women’s power to the gyno-idolatrous King Solomon.[15] Marcolf better understood the Aeneid than have modern readers. Men must escape from their denial, complacency, and impotence in relation to women’s power, as Aeneas did, if humane civilization is to endure.

ships burning after attack at Pearl Harbor

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[1] Manolova (2011) p. 102. Similarly, Griffin (1977). Griffin observed:

most un-Homeric of all is the treacherous murder of an ally for selfish reasons. … Treachery and revenge on one’s friends are alike excluded by the noble ethos of the Iliad.

Id. p. 46. Unlike Homeric epic, the Epic Cycle included such actions. After reviewing some “outlandish bits” in the Epic Cycle, Konstan concluded:

I am inclined to believe that the Cyclic epics were more permissive than the Homeric poems in respect to comic dissonances within the context of heroic narrative, though always in a controlled and self­-conscious way. If I may offer an analogy with another genre, we may perhaps see a roughly comparable (by no means identical) contrast between the comedies of Plautus, with their broad, occasionally slapstick humor, and the more restrained style of Terence, who was more faithful, on the whole, to the relatively demure tone of Menander. To the extent that one may judge from the meager fragments of Roman comedy, Plautus represented the dominant fashion and Terence was the exception. Homer too seems to have been the exception in the genre of archaic Greek epic, and the prevailing taste might rather have approved the more extravagant compositions of his rivals.

Konstan (2015) p. 321. The relationship between Homeric epic and the Epic Cycle more generally is a contentious subject. For overviews, Burgess (2015) and Nagy (2015). On the Trojan cycle specifically, Burgess (2016).

[2] Burgess (2017b) p. 142. A Roman colony “with the significant name Circeii” was founded at Monte Circeo by the end of the sixth century BGC. Id.

[3] Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fables {Fabulae} 127 (Telegonus), Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Tsagalis (2015) p. 706. Hyginus wrote about the time of Virgil. This is the fragment denoted F 5 (a). Eustathius of Thessalonica, a twelfth-century Greek scholar and Archbishop of Thessalonica, attests to this fragment in his commentary on Odyssey 16.118. So too does Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Epitome 7.37, from the first or second century GC. Id. p. 705.

The Telegony {Τηλεγόνεια}, attributed to Eugammon of Cyrene, is dated to early sixth century BGC (no later than 570 BGC). Tsagalis (2015) pp. 692-5. For a plot summary based on surviving fragments, id. pp. 678-9. On the literary context of Odysseus death, Burgess (2014), Burgess (2017b), and Arft (2017).

[4] In Odyssey 23.247-84, “resourceful {πολύμητις}” Odysseus tells Penelope that he will have to spend a few years traveling around with his shapely oar until he receives a sign to plant it in the earth far from the sea. That parallels Odysseus’s tale to the Phaeacians of Tiresias’s prophecy to him. Odyssey 11.119-37. With deep philological expertise and keen imaginative sense, an eminent classicist has suggested that with this tale Odysseus received or invented an excuse to have again some extramarital affairs in exotic places. Rather than merely enduring a husband’s ordinary household burdens, Odysseus with that tale might also enjoy again the leisurely position of being Circe’s kept man near Rome. On wanderings of Odysseus outside of the Odyssey, Burgess (2017a).

The Telegony as a whole shows concern about blurring the categories of mortals and immortals. Tomasso (2020). For Odysseus, the choice between Penelope and Circe, like that between Penelope and Nausicaa, wasn’t simple. Epic singers likely exploited these complexities in competing with each other. Id.

[5] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities {Ῥωμαϊκὴ Ἀρχαιολογία} 1.72.2, Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Verhasselt (2019) p. 679. The subsequent quote concerning the account in Aristotle’s Political Constitutions {Πολιτεῖαι} is similarly from Roman Antiquities 1.72.3-4.

[6] Here’s more information about Hellanicus of Lesbos {Ἑλλάνικος ὁ Λέσβιος} and ancient reference to Hellanicus. In addition to writing about the Hesperides {Ἑσπερίδες}, Hellanicus wrote a mythography of Troy, the Troica {Τρωικά}. Parthenius of Nicaea in his Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 34 attributes the story of Corythus to the second book of Hellanicus’s Troica. Inconsistency among Hellanicus’s accounts of Aeneas’s exile doesn’t indicate the unreliability of Hellanicus or that the Hellanicus fragment concerning Rhome leading ship-burning Trojan women is spurious. Cf. Horsfall (1987) pp. 12-5. Archaic Greek epic didn’t consist of a unitary myth.

[7] Scholars have contested the authenticity and relevance of the Hellanicus fragment concerning Rome’s founding. Galinsky interpreted it to reflect a broad literary and historical tradition:

Before Hellanicus brought Aeneas to Rome, which is only a reflection in literature of the tradition of Aeneas in Etruscan art and the Etruscan influence on Rome, a Greek version had been current according to which some captive Trojan women, led by Rhome, burnt the ships of their Greek masters and thus forced them to stay in Latium and to found Rome. Hellanicus temporarily tried to reconcile the Trojan and the Aeneas tradition with somewhat awkward results: the Trojan Rhome burns the ships, and Trojan Aeneas has no choice but to found Rome. In the greater part of the fifth century, however, the Aeneas legend was eclipsed by the Trojan legend centering on Rhome. So far as it appears from the extant sources, Aeneas was not related to Rhome or connected with her in any way by Greek historians until the third century B.C., which merely reflects the revival of the Aeneas legend by the Romans at that time.

Galinsky (1969) p. 105. Gruen, in contrast, regarded the Hellanicus fragment as making an extraordinary claim, and he judged it as spurious:

How likely is it that Hellanicus took any notice of Rome, an insignificant little town in the fifth century? It strains credulity to image that any Greek writer at that time would consider it worthwhile to speculate on the origins of Rome. … If the fragment properly belongs to Hellanicus, it stands quite isolated; no clear evidence of Hellenic speculation on the origins of Rome exists for perhaps another century. Better to suppose that Dionysius erred in ascribing this text to Hellanicus, or that another writer composed a treatise with this title, or that a later scholar interpolated the material. … A more plausible setting would seem to be the later fourth century when tales of Aeneas and Latium, of Odysseus’ western ventures, and of arsonist Trojan women were circulating in the school of Aristotle and elsewhere.

Gruen (1992) pp. 17-8. For similar skepticism, Horsfall (1987) pp. 15-6.

The Iliac Tablets {Tabulae Iliacae} from late in the first-century BGC or early first century GC refer to the Epic Cycle. On the Capitoline Iliac tablet {tabula Iliaca Capitolina} (tablet 1A), a central scene shows the destruction of Troy and Aeneas carrying his father and leading his son away. Inscriptions under that scene refer both to Homeric Epic and the Epic Cycle:

Ilioupersis by Stesichorus. Troikos. Iliad by Homer. Aethiopis by Arctinus of Miletus. Little Iliad as told by Lesches of Pyrrha.

{ Ἰλίου πέρσις κατὰ Στησίχορον. Τρωικός/ Ἰλιὰς κατὰ Ὅμηρον Αἰθιοπὶς κατὰ Ἀρκτῖνον τὸν Μιλήσιον. Ἰλιὰς ἡ μικρὰ λεγομένη κατὰ Λέσχην Πυρραῖον. }

Squire (2014) p. 158 (including drawing of tablet). An inscription under a depiction of Aeneas boarding a ship declares, “Aeneas with his family setting off to the West {Αἰνήας σὺν τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀπαί[ρ]ων εἰς τὴν Ἑσπερίαν}.” Id. 160. The Iliac Tablets clearly show appreciation for the Epic Cycle, Homeric Epic, and the lyric poetry of Stesichorus. Earlier scholarship tended to discount the significance of the Epic Cycle and Stesichorus in the Tabulae Iliacae. See, e.g. the title of Horsfall (1987) and the analysis of the earlier scholarship in Squire (2011) pp. 106-8. The diverse possibilities of interpreting the depictions and inscriptions of the Tabulae Iliacae apparently are fundamental aspects of their art and use. Squire (2011), Squire (2014).

The long scholarly debate on Rome’s founding hasn’t specifically considered the Trojan women burning ships. On some arbitrary basis of counting, between twenty-five and thirty “different Greek versions of the origins of Rome” have survived. Erskine (2001) p. 151. Within that mythic diversity, the historical trajectory and significance of the myth of Aeneas founding Rome remains contentious. Horsfall (2001). Odysseus was more prominent than Aeneas in earlier surviving evidence of Greek myth concerning Rome’s founding. Erskine (2001) pp. 19-21. The past two decades of scholarly work on the Epic Cycle has increased general understanding of the diversity and importance of non-Homeric archaic Greek epic. That scholarly development should encourage study and analysis of ship-burning Trojan women in Rome’s founding.

Rhome leading ship-burning Trojan women to found Rome is a plausible element of non-Homeric archaic Greek epic. Specific citations in the Aeneid to the meager surviving fragments of the Epic Cycle haven’t been detected. Yet the Aeneid includes themes and events included in the Epic Cycle, but not in Homeric epic, in contexts where reference to the Epic Cycle is plausible. Gärtner (2015).

Even if not part of the Epic Cycle, Rhome leading Trojan women burning ships to found Rome surely was significant context for Virgil’s account of Trojan women burning Trojan ships in the Aeneid. The story of the Trojan ship-burning women was well known by the third century BCE. The Aeneid’s specific literary presentation of Trojan woman burning ships makes best sense in relation to the well-establish literary tradition of women burning ships causing the founding of Rome.

[8] Describing Rhome {Ῥώμη} as of marriageable age, Festus, Summary of the Deeds and Accomplishments of the Roman People {Breviarium Rerum Gestarum Populi} 7 (fourth century GC). Describing Rhome as a high-born woman, Servius auctus (Servius Danielis), Commentary on Virgil’s Aeneid 1.273 (roughly 400 GC).  Describing Rhome as a very high-born woman, Gaius Julius Solinus, Polyhistor 1.2 (third century GC). For the relevant full quotes and complete citations, Verhasselt (2019) p. 675.

[9] Plutarch, Moralia, Roman Questions {Αἴτια Ῥωμαϊκά / Quaestiones Romanae} 265B–D, Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Verhasselt (2019) pp. 677-8.

[10] Virgil, Aeneid 5.613-7, Latin text of Greenough (1900) and my English translation, benefiting from those of Fagles (2006), Kline (2002), and Fairclough & Gould (1999). Subsequent quotes above are from the Aeneid, Book 5, and are similarly sourced. They are vv. 608 (her ancient grievance not yet sated), 623-31 (O we wretched women…), 647 (signs of divine beauty), 654-63 (At first the Trojan mothers…), 670-4 (What new madness…), 685-92 (Then pious Aeneas tears his robe…), 765-71 (From along the curving shore…)

[11] Modern scholars have been largely oblivious to horrendous violence against men in ancient epic. Willful perversion of reality with respect to violence against men has been extraordinary in the past half century. Consider:

The matres {mothers} whether Iliades {Trojan women} or Latinae {Latin women}, are the real victims of epic heroism. They are the persons without a voice in the epic decisions; yet they pay the terrible costs of war.

Zarker (1978) p. 22 (I’ve added the parenthetical translation of Latin terms). Zarker thus anticipated Hillary Clinton’s influential claim in 1998, “Women have always been the primary victims of war.” See note [5] in my post on Marcabru and medieval conscription.

Obtuseness about men’s deeply entrenched status as expendable persons, especially in war, seems to be learned. Consider a woman scholar criticizing Virgil and two earlier women scholars of Virgil:

In Glazewski’s and Swallow’s texts, as in Vergil’s, the women are unquestionably expendable. For the voices of these female critics, the identification with the male subject position is so complete that it even precipitates some degree of misreading (for Glazewski on sacrifice, for Swallow on the women’s contentment) as well as the construction of “practical” reasons for Aeneas’ action which are not articulated in the text (such as “danger” and a kind of corporate “re-organization”).

Nugent (1992) p. 277. A leading man scholar of Virgil prudently praised Nugent’s perspective on women in the Aeneid: “The role of women in the poem has been well discussed, from different perspectives than mine.” Putnam (2001) p. 167, n. 13, citing Nugent (1999). Nugent (1999) concerns not Juno nor Allecto nor Juturna, but Dido. While Dido in the Aeneid has generated sympathetic readers for nearly two millennia, Dido has not been well-discussed, not by Nugent, nor by men scholars other than in recent meninist work.

[12] In a locally sourced myth of Rome’s founding, Romulus and Remus are twin sons of the Vestal virgin Rhea Silvia and the god Mars. Fearing a threat to his rule, King Amulius ordered the twins to be killed. They were instead abandoned on the bank of the river Tiber. With the aid of the river-god Tibernius, Romulus and Remus were saved. A she-wolf suckled them in a cave called the Lupercal. Romulus grew up to kill Remus in a dispute about the location of the new city they had decided to build. Romulus built the new city and called it Rome. On that myth of Rome’s founding, Bremmer (1987) and Rodriguez-Mayorgas (2010). The Aeneas and Romulus / Remus myths of Rome’s founding were combined over time.

[13] In considering the ship-burning Trojan women, Nugent impressively deployed the poor-dearism that sustains the gynocentric order, as well as the sentimental clichés now at the heart of unquestionable, all-encompassing academic orthodoxy:

The Trojan women are constructed here as the quintessential Other. In this way the text emphasizes that the Trojan society is divided within itself and, finally, that the masculine segment is appropriately ascendent over the feminine. … Now, in the conclusion of Book V, Aeneas and his men will be similarly successful in abandoning the collective women, with their inappropriate attention to mundane issues such as fatigue, the passage of time, and the registering of pain and loss. Vergil’s text successfully separates off and then rejects the women’s concerns, thereby establishing both division within the society and the subordination of the women to the men as of the weak and worthless to the strong and able.

Nugent (1992) pp. 267, 275. That interpretation completely ignores the mythic context of ship-burning Trojan women in Virgil’s time and the extraordinary silencing of men’s public voices today, e.g. concerning abortion and reproductive choice.

[14] Some Trojan women continued with Aeneas and other Trojan men to Italy to found Troy. See Aeneid 9.217 (Euryalus’s mother) and 11.35 (Trojan women mourning the death of Pallas). As the Aeneid indicates, women who don’t destructively assert their power tend not to attract attention under gynocentrism. Cf. Nugent (1992) pp. 271-2.

[15] Solomon and Marcolf, 2.11-18. For Latin text with English translation, Ziolkowski (2008). Solomon and Marcolf is thought to have been written about 1200 in central Europe.

[images] (1) Trojan women setting fire to Trojan ships on the Sicilian shore. Excerpt (color-enhanced) of painting by Claude Lorrain, painted c. 1643. Preserved as accession # 55.119 in The Metropolitan Museum (New York, USA). Credit: Fletcher Fund, 1955. (2) Aeneas sees Trojan women, incited by the goddess Iris, running on the shore after having set fire to the Trojan ships. Excerpt of copper engraving published in Lang, Eimmart & Buggel (1688) plate 20. Thanks to Dickinson College Commentaries. (3) U.S. ships burning in the Pearl Harbor Attack on 7 December 1941. Excerpt from photo of USS West Virginia (BB-48) afire forward, immediately after the Japanese air attack. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is on the sunken battleship’s opposite side. Excerpt from official U.S. Navy photograph, catalog # NH 97398, from the collections of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.


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