Hector’s ghost warned Aeneas that Troy was doomed and would be overrun by the warring Greek armies the next day. He told Aeneas to gather up the household deities, the Lares and Penates, and lead his people from the burning city.
Alarmed by this strange nocturnal warning, Aeneas awoke, put on his armor, and hurried into the city. Greek soldiers had already stormed the walls and were burning Troy to the ground. Aeneas joined other Trojan soldiers and they fought their way toward King Priam’s palace.
But they were too late to save the lives of King Priam and his royal Trojan family. Outside the king’s chamber, Aeneas and his men heard King Priam bellowing at Greek soldiers for murdering his son, Polites. After the boy was killed, King Priam himself was murdered.
Aeneas was terrified. He feared the same fate might soon befall his own family, so he left the palace and ran all the way home. However, Aeneas need not have feared. Unbeknownst to him, his mother, the goddess Venus, was watching and protecting them so that no harm would befall his family.
When Aeneas entered his house, his father (Anchises), his son (Ascanius), and his wife (Creüsa), were seated around a small wooden table drinking warm milk and eating honey-coated bread, completely unaware of what was happening in their city.
Aeneas explained to them that Greek soldiers had stormed the city and the family must leave immediately. However, the crippled Anchises refused to go. Aeneas had to plead with his father to join them, stating that they would not leave without him.
Confused and bewildered, Anchises prayed out loud to Jupiter for guidance. Jupiter responded by sending down an omen in the form of a bolt of lightning and a loud crack of thunder. Anchises interpreted these signs from Jupiter to mean that he should leave Troy with Aeneas and his family. As Anchises prepared to go, he gathered up the Penates and the Lares to take along with them.
Aeneas gently hoisted his father onto his broad shoulders and took the hand of little Ascanius. He brushed a kiss against Creüsa’s cheek and asked that she follow close behind them. Then Aeneas led his family from their safe home, traveling by way of dark alleyways, cautious to avoid the Greek soldiers.
His long strides made it difficult for his son and wife to keep up, and they quickly became tired. When they were finally outside the gates of the city, Aeneas set his father down on the ground and released his son’s hand. But when he turned around, Creüsa was no longer with them.
Aeneas realized he had not looked behind him to see if she had been following. Panicked that he had walked too fast and that Greek soldiers may have ambushed her, Aeneas ran at breakneck speed back into the burning city.
Meanwhile, the soldiers had burned Aeneas’ house and many of the nearby homes to the ground. As Aeneas stared into the empty ruins, he saw someone move toward him. He suddenly realized it was Creüsa and ran toward her. But when he reached out to hold his wife in his arms, he could gather only the smoky air of her ghost.
But Creüsa’s voice was reassuring, and she told her husband that it was the will of the gods that she remain behind. She warned him that the gods had predicted a long and dangerous journey ahead for the Trojan people.
Aeneas reached out twice more to wrap his arms around his beloved wife, but each time he could feel only Creüsa’s ghost. He turned and ran back to his son and father, who had been joined by other Trojans and were waiting for him to lead them away.
Aeneas and the Trojans who had escaped the destruction of their city worked diligently for many months to build enough wooden ships to carry them across the sea in search of a new homeland.
The ships they built had decks below to accommodate passengers; middle decks filled with benches to hold the oarsmen, whose long oars extended through holes in the sides of the ships; and top decks with great tall sails in the center.
When at last the ships were ready and loaded with provisions, the fleet set sail north toward Thrace, a country known to be an ally of the Trojans. Aeneas wished to visit Polydorus, King Priam’s youngest son, who had been sent there for safekeeping.
Once Aeneas and his people were safely ashore in Thrace, Aeneas built the customary sacrificial altar to honor the gods and goddesses of the land. But when he uprooted some myrtle to decorate the altar, blood dripped from its leaves and a muffled sob burst forth from the earth. The voice belonged to young Polydorus, who had been killed by the Thracians after they had changed their alliance with the Trojans to one with the Greeks.
Aeneas was saddened by the loss of yet another member of the royal family. He and his people held a proper funeral for Polydorus before leaving Thrace. The Trojan women let down their hair, recited mournful prayers, and put to rest the spirit of the young prince.
Aeneas, unable to decide in which direction they must sail to find their ancestral homeland, steered the fleet to Delos, a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. The god Apollo had been born on this island, and Aeneas decided to consult with a priestess who lived there in a cave beneath Apollo’s temple. She would relay Apollo’s prophecy, or oracle, to those who came for advice. Aeneas found the priestess and asked:
Whom should we follow? Or by what sea way
Dost thou direct us? Where may we settle now?
Father, grant us a sign, enter our hearts!
The oracle answered and advised the Trojans to seek the land from which they first sprang. Aeneas did not understand what the oracle meant, so he consulted his father. Anchises remembered a legend about one of Troy’s founders who came from Crete, a very large island in the Mediterranean Sea. The old man convinced his son that Apollo’s oracle had meant that they should settle on the island of Crete. Thus, having solved the mystery of the oracle, Aeneas offered prayers of thanks to Apollo and set sail.
Men and women plowed the island’s fertile fields, planted crops of barley and millet, and tended the fruit and olive trees that grew generously all over the island. Aeneas offered his people hope by parceling out individual plots of land and by establishing a set of laws designed to guide them.
But their happiness was short-lived. Within a year, a devastating plague struck the island and killed plants, animals, and people. The Trojans could not understand why the gods were so angry with them.
Then one night, Penates and the Lares (the Trojan household gods that had been with Aeneas since he left Troy) appeared. They chorused:
Keep up the long toil of your flight. Your settlement
Must be changed. This coast is not the one
Apollo of Delos urged you toward, nor did he
Bid you stay on Crete. There is a country,
Hesperia, as the Greeks have named it - ancient,
Full of man-power in war and fruitful earth…
The following morning, Aeneas told his people about his vision, and he encouraged them to remain hopeful. With such positive guidance, the Trojans happily packed up and left the island and set out for Hesperia, the land the Greeks called Italy.