Saturday, February 18, 2017

TFBT: Refugees in the Aeneid

Refugees across the world are in our thoughts and prayers lately. The Aeneid is all about Trojan refugees (and Tyrian) trying to find a new home. Regardless how you feel about the issue,  every possible scenario seems to play out in the first four chapters;  


• Settled in Aeneadae, ghost of local hero chased them off,

“O fly from this unhospitable shore,

Warn'd by my fate; for I am Polydore!” 


• Settle in Pergamum plague breaks out;

"A season black with death and pregnant with disease"


• Strophades attempted to drive the locals (Harpies) from their country;

          “High on a craggy cliff Celaeno sate,

And thus her dismal errand did relate:

'What! not contented with our oxen slain,

Dare you with Heav'n an impious war maintain,

And drive the Harpies from their native reign?”


  • Arrive Chaonia set away by local king (Aeneas' brother-in-law!)

“This is what Heav'n allows me to relate:

Now part in peace; ” 


• Actian shore near a little town; peaceful winter spent nude wrestling


• Carthage, Tyrian refugees tricked locales into selling them land and are now the envy of their neighbors:

“A wand'ring woman builds, within our state,

A little town, bought at an easy rate;

She pays me homage, and my grants allow

A narrow space of Libyan lands to plow;

Yet, scorning me, by passion blindly led,

Admits a banish'd Trojan to her bed!”


• Carthage, Trojan refugees settle here, upset balance of power and then abandon hostess;

“For you I have provok'd a tyrant's hate,

Incens'd the Libyan and the Tyrian state;

For you alone I suffer in my fame,

Bereft of honor, and expos'd to shame.

Whom have I now to trust, ungrateful guest?”


  1. So poor Aeneas were ordered out of everywhere. Only Dido accepted them, and paid for it. (Have you read her Wikipedia page? Quite interesting; she may have been historical, though much later than the Trojan War.)

    My humans think that being a refugee is a fate worse than death. Here is the argument of one of them why they need fire:

    "But why do you think that if you decline the fire, you necessarily remain alive? Listen what is awaiting the Ants without fire: Sooner or later, several cold winters happen in a row. Water in buckets is covered by ice, cattle dies... Many go to Hades, children and elderly do not remain at all. Finally, survivors seek refuge. They yoke the oxen, if they still have any, load the carts, if they have not already forgotten the wheel, and go south. Men who already live in those lands are not happy. The Ants have to fight them. And what if they reach the sea, and the cold is still chasing them?"

  2. Maya,

    It always amazes me how many people get exiled in Greek mythology. It always appears to be be no big thing; find some king to purify you, spill a little piglet blood and become his retainer and potential son-in-law. Maybe it didn't work out so well for real people.

    Your story about "several cold winters happen in a row" reminds me of the Vikings who migrated to "Green" Land. A quarter of the fleet didn't make the trip, it was the beginning of a mini- Ice Age. When they realized they were screwed, the North Atlantic was choked with ice bergs year round. It took them three generations to starve to death, as aptly described by you above. Some times when we have back-to-back bad winters here, I recall the Vikings in Greenland and shutter.

  3. To me, the prototype exiled mythological character is Patroclus. It seems that, in exchange for the asylum he received, he was obliged to abstain from reproduction and be always at his host's services. Phoenix maybe was in the same situation.

    Two of the Seven Against Thebes married as exiles, but nevertheless they decided to attack and take over Thebes, so maybe they felt penniless.

    Of real people exiled, I remember Thucydides. He didn't seem to suffer any shortage, but he was bitter and this is seen between the lines of his "History". Socrates preferred to die than to be exiled.

    1. Maya,

      Calling Patroclus the prototype exiled mythological character sure fits my line of thinking on the subject. He like so many of his fellow exiles kills somebody (accidentally?), gets purified, then (accidentally) kills his host or host's son and runs off again. I was doing some research on the Myrmidons and three of them at Troy were exiles rescued by Peleus. (As was Patroclus' father) There might be more.

    2. I thought that Patroclus killed and was exiled only once. Who was the second victim?

    3. Maya,

      "Greek Mythology" says "Las killed by Patroclus 1

      It is told that Patroclus 1 killed Las, the founder of a town called Las near Gythium in Laconia, when he was on his way to ask the hand of Helen of Tyndareus. It has also been said that Las was killed by Achilles, but some considered it unlikely because Achilles is not counted among the SUITORS OF HELEN."

      Clearly a non-panHellenic version. Which doesn't even make sense mythologically speaking. But there it is


  4. Yes, living in Alaska, you can relate to the dangers of cold!

    In Norse mythology, the end of the world as we know it will begin with a succession of 3 unusually cold winters without summers between them:

    Many years ago, I read in the journal "Science" an article about the fate of the Viking colony - "Death in Norse Greenland" by H. Pringle. According to the author, the only chance of the settlers to survive was to learn from the indigenous people (who survived the mini-Ice Age). But they apparently didn't learn. While the locals dressed in fur, the Vikings used relatively thin woolen clothes.

    The quest to the South Pole was analogous: Amundsen, who had learned from the natives of the far north, had a nostos, while Scott and his team perished.

  5. Maya,

    I think we read the same article "Death in Norse Greenland" by H. Pringle"! What especially interested me was the illusion of "greenness" Apparently the soil was very thin atop the glacial waste left by the recently retreated glaciers. It looked good, but was only a few inches deep.

    The locals (Inupiats?) not only survived but thrived and expanded their range. Was there no intermarriage?


  6. It seems the two groups did not intermarry, and each of them wished the other away.

    "At the same time as the Norse faced environmental, economic, and political challenges, the Thule Inuit were moving into the outer fjords of the Norse Settlement areas... Norse references after the early 13th century suggest growing conflict with people that they called Skrælings. The mid-14th-century report by Ívar Bárðarson enigmatically states that “[n]ow the Skrælings have desolated the whole of the Western Settlement”... and in A.D. 1379, the Icelandic annals note that “the Skrælings attacked the Greenlanders, killed 18 men and captured two boys and made them slaves”... The A.D. 1379 reference could be interpreted as the loss of three or four of the boats used for sealing and voyaging, and if accurate, this account would suggest that a single raid cost the Norse Greenlanders as much as 5% of their active adult hunters. Even just sporadic conflict with the maritime-adapted Thule Inuit would substantially increase the hazards of the annual sealing effort and daily life in this dispersed community."
    A.J. Dugmore et al. (2012) Cultural adaptation, compounding vulnerabilities and conjunctures in Norse Greenland.

    Another source, E. Bosch et al. (2012) High level of male-biased Scandinavian admixture in Greenlandic Inuit shown by Y-chromosomal analysis, has looked for interbreeding evidence in Greenland Inuit's DNA. Only male-derived Scandinavian DNA sequences are found, and are attributed to a much later contact.

    I suppose that the Inuit helped the climate finish off the Norse colony.