IN THE STEPS OF A TROJAN HERO ; Archaeologists Have Discovered the Place Where Aeneas Is Believed to Have First Set Foot in Italy. Peter Popham Reports
Popham, Peter, The Independent (London, England)
It is the closest point on the Italian peninsula to Albania and, until efforts by the coastguard some years ago, was the destination of choice for Albanians fleeing poverty for the glamour and prosperity of their wealthy neighbour. But suddenly, the little town of Castro in the province of Lecce has something much more exciting to shout about.
Archeologists at the University of Lecce have discovered that the modern town, with its 15th-century walls, sits on the ruins of the port that was the first landfall in Italy made by the semi-mythical wanderer of the ancient world, Aeneas. According to Virgil's epic, he fled Troy as the Greeks destroyed it and made his laborious way westwards finally to found a "new Troy", the imperial city of Rome. In the third book of the Aeneid, according to John Dryden's 17th- century translation, the poet describes the hero's discovery of Italy thus:
"... And now the rising morn with rosy light
Adorns the skies, and puts the stars to flight;
When we from far, like bluish mists, descry
The hills, and then the plains, of Italy ...
The gentle gales their flagging force renew,
And now the happy harbour is in view.
Minerva's temple then salutes our sight,
Plac'd, as a landmark, on the mountain's height ..."
Minerva's temple is the key: the head of the Archeology Department at Lecce University has found clinching evidence of the existence of a temple of Minerva, exactly where the poet describes it. "There is no doubt," Professor Francesco d'Andria said. "We have found fragments of a female divinity, and many iron weapons given to the goddess as offerings. In this temple a warrior goddess was worshipped. Minerva was worshipped." Aeneas was first described as coming to Italy by the poet Stesichorus, writing around 600 BC. But it is the Roman poet Virgil, who died at sea in 19 BC aged 51 before he could complete his masterpiece, who defined him and his voyage for posterity. In the Aeneid, Virgil provided the rapidly rising Roman state with its own national epic in a deliberate effort to out- Homer Homer and the Greek culture of which his poems were a foundation.
Like the Illiad and the Odyssey, the background of the Aeneid is Troy and the 10-year war that culminated in its destruction. Like Odysseus, the poem's hero, Aeneas, product of a fling between a noble of Troy and the goddess Aphrodite, wanders at length across the oceans with his devoted followers, seeking with increasing desperation the new Troy the gods have promised him. Is it Thrace? Might it be the island of Delos, home to the oracle of Apollo? Clearly not: in both cases the auguries are bad. For a long time he cherishes the idea that Crete is the place. But when he arrives there a pestilence is …
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Publication information: Article title: IN THE STEPS OF A TROJAN HERO ; Archaeologists Have Discovered the Place Where Aeneas Is Believed to Have First Set Foot in Italy. Peter Popham Reports. Contributors: Popham, Peter - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: April 27, 2007. Page number: Not available. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.