In Search of Aeneas

IN SEARCH OF AENEAS

IN SEARCH OF AENEAS: CLASSICAL MYTH OR BRONZE AGE HERO?

“I enjoyed this book immensely. It’s in my top list of books. It’s extremely well researched…  It’s become the authoritative story of Aeneas” – Petros Koutoupis.

“This is the authoritative guide to all things Aeneas… I see parallels or at least some D.H. Lawrence influence. The author personally visits the majority of the ancient sites cited by the Classical writers, providing such meticulous details, leaving the reader with the feeling that they are physically there and standing beside him’… I highly recommend reading it” – Digging up the Past.

Published by Amberley, 352 pages, four maps, two important genealogical tables (of the rulers of Rome, and of the family of Aeneas showing his ancestry back to the dawn of time), and 42 colour pictures. Hardback published 15 October 2023, ISBN 9781398105362, cover price £25. 

Available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, and the publisher, Amberley, and all good bookshops.

‘It is fated, moreover, that he [Aeneas] should escape, and that the race of Dardanos, whom Zeus loved above all the [other] sons born to him of mortal women, shall not perish utterly without seed or sign’ –  Poseidon to Hera and Athena, Iliad 20.

Aeneas is one of the most prominent heroes who fought at Troy, as told in Homer’s Iliad, and he is the subject of Virgil’s Aeneid, works that lie at the heart of western civilisation. In this first ever full-length biography of one of the most pivotal  figures in Greek and Roman mythology, genealogist and historian Anthony Adolph reports and analyses all the Greek and Roman myths about Aeneas to create the biography of a character who, though heavily fictionalised, may well have been a real person after all.

In Search of Aeneas  and opens a fresh window onto the ancient world, the Fall of Troy and the rise of Rome. Opening with the steamy encounter on Mount Ida between his parents, the young shepherd-prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite (as told in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite), this book retells the extraordinary story of Aeneas’s involvement in the bloody Trojan War (as related in Homer’s Iliad); his escape from the Fall of Troy; his journey to Sicily and ill-fated detour to Carthage; and his eventual arrival in Italy, where he fought his war against Turnus (all as told in Virgil’s Aeneid); and how he laid the foundations of Rome, and then ascended up to Mount Olympus to become a god (as described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses).

In Search of Aeneas provides a full and accessible analysis of the often contradictory stories about Aeneas, seeking always to understand their origin and purpose in the contexts of the times in which they were created, and the places where the events were said to have taken place.

This book reveals the symbiotic relationship between Aeneas’s myth and Mediterranean history, as we undertake two journeys running parallel to his own: one through the history of Anatolian, Greek, Roman and Christian civilisation over the last three and a half thousand years, and the other across the Mediterranean, from the peaks of Mount Ida and the ruins of Troy in modern Turkey, to Greece, Albania, Sicily, Carthage and mainland Italy.

Whilst the vast majority of Aeneas’s myths sprang out of human imagination, this biography presents the case for important events in his life being rooted in real history and physical phenomena. At the core of his story it is possible, as many modern scholars agree, that a real prince called Aeneas fought in a real war at the site in Turkey widely accepted by archaeologists as Homer’s Troy.

The story of Aeneas’s conception on Mount Ida as the son of a goddess may have been inspired by real and very ancient goddess-cults in the area, based on magnetic rocks which have been seen and tested. Similarly, the myth of the watery birth of his mother Aphrodite can be traced to an actual meteorite, which can be seen in Cyprus. And, at the end of his life, his deification, along with that of Julius Caesar (who claimed descent from him), were inspired by a real comet reported in contemporary Roman sources. These deifications in turn inspired subsequent claims of the ascension into Heaven of the resurrected Christ, making Aeneas’s myth a clear, cultural contributor to the birth of Christianity.

This book is aimed at general readers who love Classical mythology, ancient history and travelling in the Mediterranean. Although much has been written about Aeneas in text books and academic papers, many of these can be impenetrable to non-specialist readers (and pretty hard going for specialists too). This book cuts through the complexities and explains the ideas and theories about Aeneas in straightforward terms. By rooting the myths in real places, this book makes them more approachable, especially for newcomers to the story.

In Search of Aeneas is a fantastic adventure story of sex and war, journeys across the wine-dark seas, the destruction and founding of cities, and the way enemies, fear of death and the darker side of human nature can be overcome by the hope and perseverance inherent in us all.

In Search of Aeneas reveals the way mythology and empire inspired and fertilised each other for over three millennia soaked in Aeneas’s radiant glory.

Fresco depicting Iapyx removing an arrowhead from stoic Aeneas’s thigh (Pompeii Naples National Archaeological Museum)

Bullet points for buyers and reviewers:

  • Reports and analyses all the Greek and Roman myths about Aeneas, from Homer onwards, to create the biography of a character who, though heavily fictionalised in myth, was probably, at the core of it all, a real person.
  • Aeneas is one of the most prominent heroes who fought at Troy, as told in Homer’s Iliad, and he is the subject of Virgil’s Aeneid, works that lie at the heart of western civilisation.
  • Within his myth, Aeneas was the son of the goddess Aphrodite, who lived a life of exceptional human hardship until becoming, in Roman belief, god.
  • Roots Aeneas’s myths in the times and places in which they were created
  • Takes the reader on a journey, in Aeneas’s footsteps, across the Mediterranean from Troy to Rome.
  • Shows how the story that Aeneas was son of Aphrodite was rooted in real, Bronze Age Anatolian religious practises and identifies the hitherto unknown religious site where his real mother, a priestess of the Anatolian Mother Goddess, is likely to have taken place. This is in line with, and builds on, the contemporary academic view that the core of the Iliad is based in real events.
  • Explores afresh the location of Aphrodite’s temple on Kythera, an alleged scene of Paris’s abduction of Helen.
  • Identifies the obscure Phoenician archaeological site in Sicily that is likely to have inspired the story of Dido and Aeneas.
  • Provides new insights into Virgil’s writing of the
  • Reveals why both the Caesars and the Tudors were keen to claim Aeneas as their ancestor.

Author Anthony Adolph examining the walls of Troy, that date from the time of Aeneas.

For more information about Aeneas please see my web page Aeneas – a Life in Pictures.

REVIEWS

This is the complete review of In Search of Aeneas from Digging up the Past:

The mythical stories of Aeneas and his adventures in and from Troy have always fascinated me. His was a collection of tales of a demigod, the son of Anchises and Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans), who grappled with the task of finding his place in the ancient world; although, you wouldn’t know it, with Aeneas portraying himself to be more human than anything else, living through very human struggles. His tales were recited and repeated amongst the Greek communities of the Aegean and again, by the later Romans, throughout the entire Mediterranean.
Everything we know about Aeneas is preserved in the scattered and often contradictory fragments of the ancient Classical writers, excavated artifacts and the Virgilian epic in his name: The Aeneid. But what do we truly know about Aeneas, the mythical person and Aeneas, the hero? What would his life have looked like had he been a real historical character during the Late Bronze Age? How did his story evolve over time? Answering these very questions was the primary goal of renowned genealogist, Anthony Adolph, as he tackles the challenge of rediscovering Aeneas in his latest research “In Search of Aeneas: Classical Myth or Bronze Age Hero.”
I am just going to come out and say it: I enjoyed this book immensely. It felt like the author was piecing together an extremely complicated puzzle and doing so in such a way where you understood every step in the process. This publication is extremely well researched, almost too researched and I mean this in a positive way. I would go so far as to say that this is the authoritative guide to all things Aeneas. Two decades worth of research is distilled into this single 350-page tome.
But why focus on Aeneas? There are thousands of other mythological characters to write about. What made Aeneas so interesting to the ancients? The fact is, the entire Trojan Cycle was the Bible to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It taught them how to behave. It defined their values. The story of Aeneas though, was an incomplete one. He makes his appearance a couple of times in Homer’s Iliad and in each case, he is saved from death alluding to his destiny for something greater. And that is when the many non-Homeric stories were developed, to explain the fate of Aeneas after the Trojan War. Those fantastical stories circulated throughout the Mediterranean, eventually catching the interest of the Etruscans on mainland Italy and the Romans, to the South. We can observe this in early representations of Aeneas escaping Troy in Greek vase art to the many votive statuettes discovered throughout Etruria.
What happened then is not entirely clear but Rome did hijack his story, for the purpose of legitimizing the Augustan rule of imperial Rome. This form of propaganda, penned by Virgil, came out of the Julian family story in which, the family traced itself back to Iulius, a Roman invented name for Ascanius, thereby declaring Aeneas, the father of the Roman people and in turn, the Romans descendants of the great Trojan race. In the beginning it may have been gospel but over time, it became fact.
Anthony Adolph takes us on this journey as we dig through the clues that led to this point. I see parallels or at least some D.H. Lawrence influence. The author personally visits the majority of the ancient sites cited by the Classical writers, providing such meticulous details, leaving the reader with the feeling that they are physically there and standing beside him. We see what Anthony sees, even if it does not appear as it did in the time of Virgil.
And on this journey, we follow Aeneas from his childhood upbringing in the Dardanelles, through his last days in the Troad and the adventure that follows across the Mediterranean, until he reaches the Italian mainland.
Exhausting all sources at his disposal, we begin to understand why the ancients were so fascinated by this Trojan hero and why it was so important for ancient sites and ancient myth-makers to attach themselves to his story.
The book is divided into two major sections: (1) Aeneas as told by the Greeks and (2) Aeneas according to the Romans. Now, while the Romans adopted much of the tales surrounding this mythical hero from the Greeks, they expanded on it. Anthony Adolph makes this very apparent with his research. And as our journey comes to an end, we start to see the influence Aeneas had on early Christian writers and vice-versa.
Again, I found this publication to be very well researched and entertaining. If you have an interest in the mythical man behind the legend or Greco-Roman mythology, I highly recommend reading it.

THE ADVENTURES OF IN SEARCH OF AENEAS

An extract from the book (on Aeneas’s ancestor Dardanos) was published on the Ancient Origins website, under the title  ‘The Prestigious Pedigree Of Aeneas, Descendant Of Dardanos’, on 4 October.

I was interviewed in November 2023  by Anya Leonard of the Classical Wisdom website. The interview can be heard and watched on Youtube.

I was also interviewed in November 2023 by Dr Micki Pistorius about In Search of Aeneas on the Ancient Origins website (you need to be a member to listen but it is worth joining as the site is brimming with interesting and unusual information).  You can also find it on their ‘premium’ website, by “clicking ‘webinars’ on the ‘op’ bar and then clicking on the ‘talk to an expert’ dropbox”.

The book was also featured on the main Ancient Origins page under ‘Suggested Books’.

The Biographers’ Club, to which I have belonged since my first biography (of Henry Jermyn) came out, invited me to give a talk about writing In Search of Aeneas in particular, and writing biographies of semi or wholly mythological characters, such as Aeneas’s mythological great grandson Brutus of Troy. The talk was delivered, via Zoom, at 6.15 pm on Wednesday 10 January 2024. The technology all worked and I was able to show pictures to illustrate the talk. The talk concluded with some very interesting and perceptive questions from some of my fellow biographers, and the excellent Petros Koutoupis, all the way from Chicago. Thank you to everyone, including the wonderful biographer and reviewer Gillian Tindall, who attended.

On 3 March 2024 I was interviewed by Petros Koutoupis for his wonderful Digging Up The Past website. He was kind en0ugh to say “I enjoyed this book immensely. It’s in my top list of books. It’s extremely well researched and – and I say this in a good way – almost too researched. There’s a lot of information here”‘, and “I appreciated this book… It’s become the authoritative story of Aeneas… You share how the story of Aeneas evolved from the time of Homer to the time of the Caesars and beyond that… one of the things I enjoyed about this book – one of the many things – is that you yourself visited a lot of these sites… I found a bit of influence of D.H. Lawrence in your writing”.

Digging up the Past also invited me to write an article for their website, so I wrote and they published “In the Footsteps of Aeneas – To Etruria“,  March 2024.

In March 2024 I was invited to write a short piece on In Search of Aeneas for The Classics Library, Steve Jenkins’ superb resource hub for Classics teachers and teachers-to-be.

On 14 June 2024 I gave a talk on the story of Aeneas and Dido, and their depictions on the Low Ham Roman Villa mosaic, at the Museum of Somerset. The tragic story of Dido and Aeneas was worked up over about 200 years leading up to the time of Virgil, and was intended as a poetic explanation of the animosity between Carthage, and Rome. Virgil’s Aeneid delved deeper than before into the human aspects of the story, turning it into one of the most tragic love stories ever told. The owner of the Low Ham villa, commissioning a mosaic for the floor of his bath house in about AD 350, chose to focus on the more erotic aspects of the story, and omitted the tragic ending. The survival and preservation of the mosaic is nothing short of a miracle and it is wonderful to see scenes from the life of Aeneas depicted so vividly in this unique piece of original Roman art. My talk was well attended and was followed by some very interesting questions and a busy book-signing: copies of the book will remain on sale in the museum bookshop. Many thanks to the Museum staff for organizing such a  successful and enjoyable event (not least the very good tea afterwards) .

Me with ‘In Search of Aeneas’, in front of the Low Ham Roman mosaic in the Museum of Somerset, just before giving my talk and book signing there.

I will be giving a talk on Aeneas at the Godolphin and Latymer Ancient World Breakfast Club this autumn on 11 October 2024 at 8 am (yes, 8 am).