In the ancient age when the gods descended to Earth to sleep with mortal women, many heroes were born. But few of them were the offsprings of the goddesses and the mortal men. One of such heroes was Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, son of the ocean goddess Thetis, another one is the hero of an equally epic saga, the Aeneid - Aeneas, son of Venus, the goddess of beauty and her mortal lover Anchises.
The poem begins when Aeneas is already in the middle of his journey. With the bunch of his faithful warriors he fled the burning Troy and now, as their prince and the only one who survived from the royal family, leads them in their quest for the new home. Aeneas orders his ship to sail west, between Sicily and the northern coast of Africa, but their journey is interrupted by a terrible storm.
The storm isn’t a coincidence, but a direct divine intervention. The goddess Juno, who hates Trojans since the very beginning of the siege of Troy caused it. She wasn’t the one to be given the golden apple with “The most beautiful” written on it, and it was Trojan prince who gave the apple to Venus instead. At her request and open bribe, the god of the winds Aeol released all the winds he had to prey on helpless ships. Seeing his people perishing in the roaring waves, Aeneas prays to Neptune, begging him to calm down the storm, because the sea is his domain.
Neptune hears the prayer and indeed he calms the waves and drives off the winds. He is the brother of Jupiter and much more powerful god than Aeol is, so he will allow no lesser gods to mess with his realm without his permission. The sun shines again above the small fleet of Aeneas, but the ships are so heavily damaged already that the prince orders to sail to the nearest coast for an emergency repair.
They make camp on unfamiliar shore. It appears to be Africa, and the nearest city is a prosperous trading centre Carthage. The ruler of the city is the young dowager queen Dido, who was driven out from her native Phenicia by her greedy brother and settled down in her new home with a small band of loyal companions - just what Aeneas wants for herself. When Aeneas and his fellow warriors come to Carthage and hear this story, the prince is marvelled by this resemblance - and also the beauty of Dido’s city and the gorgeous temple of Juno, pictures on which portrayed Trojan heroes - the rumors about the Trojan war have already reached even the distant land of Africa.
Dido herself welcomes Aeneas and his companions, out of respect of her past as the similar exile. They all are invited to a great feast organised to honor them and at that feast Aeneas tells to the audience the story about the siege of Troy he saw with his own eyes.
The Greeks couldn’t defeat Trojans for whole ten years, so, when they understood that the city couldn’t be taken by force, they decided to use cunning instead. With the help of Minerva and the wits of Odyssey they built a huge wooden horse. The horse was hollow inside and its big wooden belly concealed the best of Greek heroes. The Greeks pretended to retreat: the rest of the army sailed to the nearest islands, far enough for them not to be seen from Trojan walls. The Greeks started rumors amongst the natives that the enemy gave up and returned back to Greece, leaving the wooden horse as a gift to Minerva, making it so huge for Trojans not taking them through the gates for themselves. The horse was, according to these rumors, so valuable to Minerva that whoever had it would win any war they would start.
Of course the Trojans immediately broke their own wall above the gates and pulled the horse inside. The city prophet Laocoon tried to warn them to not believe enemies who bring sudden gifts - but the gods clearly wished victory to Greeks. Two huge sea snakes emerged from the sea and killed Laocoon and his two young sons in front of the crowd he tried to warn. Seeing Laocoon and his family strangled, bitten to death and then drowned in the sea, the Trojans decided that they should better believe the rumors. So the horse stayed where it was - in the main city square right in front of the palace. The Trojans started a great feast celebrating their victory. When everyone in the city was tired and drunk, the Greek squad slipped out of the wooden statue, the rest of the troops sailed back from the nearby island waiting for the massacre to start.
Aeneas was asleep, but suddenly he saw Hector in his dream. He told the sleeping prince that his city is already doomed and he must wake up immediately and save those who still can be saved. Aeneas rushed to the roof of the palace just to see his city burning from all the sides, flame flying high to the sky and reflecting in the sea. The air was filled with screams and groans. Seeing his old king Priam killed and princess Cassandra raped in front of his eyes, Aeneas gathers his friends for the last stand, telling them not to think about their lives but for death, dignity and vengeance. But he sees his mother, Venus, in person. The goddess asks him not to seek death but to save his family and find a new land for the survivors. Aeneas has to listen her and retreat, losing his honor but saving life. He saves his old father Anchises and his little son Askanius, but when he rushes to his wife’s chambers, Creusa is nowhere to be found. She was killed in the overall chaos and panic and Aeneas had to leave with those who was still alive. With the handful of survivors he left the collapsing city and hid in the mountains, secretly building the ships big enough to accommodate all of them but he still didn’t have a clue where to sail.
For six miserable years Aeneas and his people wandered the sea. Somewhere the people were hostile to them, some cities they tried to enter were cursed with plague. Their bad fortune chases them on the sea and on the land. Aeneas meets the remnants of his previous life here and there: the bush with blood dripping from its leaves on the grave of another Trojan prince, Hector’s widow, who now is the prisoner of war, one of the best Trojan prophets, begging for food in the distant land, an abandoned Greek warrior who has no option than to ask his former enemies for mercy…
The oracles gave contradictory advice: some of them sent Aeneas to Crete, some to Italy, there were several who said that the quest was doomed from the very beginning and all the Trojans would soon starve to death, chewing their own tables, and one told Aeneas outright to descend to the shadow realm and ask his own dead men where to go.
During their last stay near Sicily, the old father of Aeneas, Anchises, died, exhausted with such harsh conditions, but the prince himself was too tired to grieve properly. The city of Carthage is the first one to finally welcome them and give the tired people a new spark of hope.
But there are still gods above people and they do not let the mortals decide by themselves. It starts from the union of Juno and Venus - the goddesses dislike each other, but now they do have a reason to unite - Venus doesn’t want her son to suffer anymore and Juno doesn’t want the Trojans to build Rome - the city that will be much more prosperous and great than Troy. So they ignite love between Aeneas and Dido - but it isn’t just a magic charm, the goddesses just make their relationship develop faster.
Two young exiles, lonely in the big and cruel world - Aeneas and Dido don’t need the gods’ permission to love each other. They spend all the time together, hunting, feasting and making love, unable to let each other go. They don’t care about the official marriage (Dido is a queen after all and the marriage will make strong political statement), but just enjoy the happiness they feel together. This love story is portrayed as, maybe, the most humane in all the ancient poetry, Aeneas’ and Dido’s feelings are so close to ours and so easy to understand.
But another god decides to interfere and no human love can compete with Jupiter’s will. Seeing that his grandson isn’t very eager to leave and found the city of Rome, Jupiter sends his messenger, Mercury, to remind Aeneas about his predestined fate and warn him about the terrible consequences if the prince dares to delay his departure again. Aeneas tries to speak to Dido, explaining that he isn’t running away from her but just following the will of the gods. But Dido doesn’t want to listen. She begs him to stay for their love, then asks him for some more time together, but Aeneas is adamant. In despair, Dido curses Aeneas if he dares to leave her, promising that whatever city he will found, her city will grow stronger and will start a terrible war to avenge its scorned queen. But the prince still leaves, though with a heavy heart.
Dido looks from the palace tower at the distant silhouettes of the ships disappearing over the horizon. Then she slowly goes down, orders to make a funeral pyre and, standing on top of it, falls to the sword, unable to live without her beloved.
For the sake of unknown future Aeneas left Troy and now leaving Carthage. But he is not only one heartbroken. Lots of his warriors have already married there and now they had to leave their families too. The morals is low as it never was before. Moreover, the women also have the words to speak. While they return to Sicily and stay near the Anchises’ grave to honor Aeneas’ father properly, the wives of the warriors, unable to make men listen to them, just set the ships on fire, so that no one will sail anywhere anymore and they may finally have a life. Four ships burn to ashes, only three remain. The women say that they saw Juno herself who ordered them to do what they did. They are lucky - the warriors believe them.
Aeneas has no choice than to leave some, the most tired of travelling, people in Sicily, taking with him only the most faithful and devoted of his men. They sail away and make their next stop in Cumae. There, another oracle, an old woman named Sybil approaches Aeneas saying that she has come to escort him to his deceased father Anchises, because he has an important message to tell his son. Aeneas follows her to the volcano Vesuvius and down through the cliffs in it. With the enchanted gold branch Sybil opens the gate to the realm of shadows and goes with Aeneas across the river Styx. Again the memories of war overwhelm the prince when he sees the shadows of the soldiers from both sides: loyal friends, sworn enemies and complete strangers, victims of the war. He sees the shadow of Dido with a wound on her chest, made by his own sword he left in Carthage, and understands what happened. Aeneas tries to talk to her, explaining that he had no choice, but Dido doesn’t even look at him.
He goes through the realm of Tartarus where sinners are tormented. Most of them went against the will of gods - so Aeneas sees his possible fate if he dared to oppose Jupiter in Carthage. After going through Tartarus he reaches the Blessed Fields, the place where souls of heroes rest. Here his father is waiting for him, near the river of oblivion, Leta. Anchises asks his son to look into Leta and see the yet unborn souls of the future Romans: Romulus, the founder of the city and Augustus, its savior, and other great heroes, legislators, tyrants - everyone who will bring Rome closer to the world domination. Greeks and Trojans were prone of beauty and wisdom, but Romans will be the different nation that will bring justice and order to the world.
Sybil guides the prince back to the surface, to the world of living beings. She warns him that his road won’t be easy still. Sybil foresees Aeneas’ sufferings, a new great war, a new hero rival, as great as Achilles and a new marriage in a stranger land. With this warning Sybil lets him return to his people and prepare for the new road.
Now the Trojans have to travel on foot. They walk all the day away from the coast and reach the mouth of river Tiber, the domain of an old and wise king named Latin and his people - Latins. Next to the Latins lives another tribe of Rutuls, ruled by the young hero Turnus. The day before an oracle announced that the only daughter of Latin, princess Lavinia must marry a stranger - so Latin welcomes Aeneas with hospitality and warmth and, after learning his story and noble origins, immediately offers him the hand of Lavinia. A lavish feast starts to welcome the Trojans. There is so much food that no one can eat it all at once, but the little son of Aeneas jokes that the travellers are so hungry that they will eat all the food and then chew the tables as a dessert. Hearing the boy’s words, Aeneas remembers the words of prophecy he heard in the beginning of his journey. It is completed, but the oracle meant not empty tables and starvation, but the complete opposite of it. Now Aeneas is sure that they reached their destination.
But Lavinia’s mother, Amata is not amused with newcomers. She was planning to arrange Lavinia’s marriage with Turnus, uniting the two lands and solidifying the peace. The poor stranger without any land and wealth is no match for her daughter!
Juno, who was watching all the journey since Carthage, is completely on her side. The furious goddess promises to prevent the founding of Rome by all means and if benevolent ones (as with Dido) didn’t work she is not the one to blame for something bad that is going to happen.
Juno comes to the temple on the main square of Latin’s capital. The doors of the temple are closed during the peaceful times and opened during the war. The goddess herself opens the heavy doors announcing her own personal war.
In the meantime Aeneas is participating in the royal hunt. Accidentally his own son kills the tame royal deer, a symbol of king. It is a grave offence: now the Trojans aren’t guests anymore, but sworn enemies who, though symbolically, killed the king who let him into his land. King Latin is in despair. He doesn’t want war with Aeneas and also he doesn’t want to fight Turnus, whose army is much stronger - and Turnus, who was rejected by Latin as a future son-in-law, prepares for war. The old king steps away, asking Aeneas to protect Latins.
Turnus has powerful allies - the invulnerable Mezentius and the queen of the Amazons Camilla, so Aeneas has to seek allies too. He asks the river god Tiberius for advice and the god offers him to go up his river. Aeneas does so and finds the poor king Evander, the leader of the Greek settlers from Arcadia. He lives exactly where Rome will later be found, his fields are lying where the Colosseum will be built and his goats are feeding on the hill where the Roman Forum will be located. Evander greets Aeneas in his own modest house and gives him four hundred warriors led by his own son Pallas. Aeneas befriends Pallas almost immediately, soon he looks at him as at his own younger brother, inexperienced but brave and curious.
Meanwhile, Aeneas’ mother Venus descends from Olympus to the forge of her husband Vulcan and asks to make the divine armor for her son, of the same quality that was the one he made for Achilles. Vulcan agrees and makes the armor, helmet and shield. But if Achilles’ shield had the whole world depicted on it, Aeneas’ one has all the history of Rome on its shiny bronze surface: the she-wolf feeding Romulus and Remus, the abduction of the Sabine women, the defeated Gauls, cunning Catiline, valiant Cato and Augustus’ triumph over Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. Aeneas won’t know that the pictures on the shields are the future of his own descendants.
But while Aeneas is far away, gathering the army, Turnus with his warriors approaches the Trojan camp that is left almost defenceless. He, inspired by Juno, imagines himself the new Achiless before the new Troy. But Turnus’ plan to destroy the camp is disrupted by two young friends: Nisus and Euryalus. In the night they silently escape their camp and sneak through the enemy lines, trying to escape the enemy and call Aeneas to help them. On their way they silently kill as many enemies as they can and seemingly escape - but at dawn they are caught by the enemy recon squad. Euryalus is taken prisoner immediately, Nisus - alone against three hundreds of enemies - rushes to save his friend but is also captured and they both are beheaded in front of the besieged Trojans, their bodies are mutilated and their severed heads are shown to the defenders.
Turnus prepares for the final attack. His soldiers set Trojan wooden walls on fire and break inside. The defenders desperately try to stop Turnus’ proceeding. Venus and Juno blame each other for the new war trying to aid the side they are concerned of, but Jupiter orders both to keep silent, saying that now it is the turn of Fate to reveal itself and even gods can’t change it.
Finally, Aeneas returns with Pallas and his warriors - just to see his own camp on fire. His young son who temporarily took the command in the camp, leads the small squad and tries to break through the enemy lines to his father. Pallas tries to aid Ascanius but he goes too far into enemy formation and Turnus himself catches him there. The duel starts. Pallas is a great warrior but Turnus is much more experienced in battles. Finally Pallas is hit by Turnus’ spear and collapses to the ground. Aeneas looks at the duel, unable to do anything, seeing that Turnus takes the precious belt from the dead body of his friend.
Blinded with anger, Aeneas gets into his camp, killing everyone standing on his way, including Mezentius (who appears to be not so invulnerable) and his son. Dying Mezentius just asks to bury him together with his son. After the fight is over, the field in front of the camp is covered by dead bodies. There are so much of them that both sides agree to the truce - just to bury their dead. But the truce is broken soon and the war continues. Now it is the turn of Camille to die. Surrounded by Trojans she hides in the sacred woods of goddess Diana, slaying the enemies until she has arrows and than is killed herself.
Seeing so many deaths of his allies Turnus decides that enough is enough. He sends a messenger to Aeneas offering him to settle their scores with the duel. If Turnus wins the Trojans will leave at once and search for another land to live. If Aeneas wins he will found a new city and live in peace with both Latins and Rutuls. Both heroes perform a sacrifice to the gods and swear to honor their deal. But suddenly the truce is broken again. In the sky both armies see the sign: the eagle hunts a swan, but the swan escapes. The Rutulian prophet screams that it is the sign of their victory and Turnus army charges again. Aeneas and Turnus are lost amidst the fighters.
Juno, understanding that the fate is unavoidable, asks Jupiter for the one last thing: if Aeneas is destined to win, not let him restore the glory of Troy, so its name will die with it. Jupiter agrees, saying that Aeneas will found a new nation. Trojans, Latins, Rutuls and Arkadians will form the entirely new nation with its own glory that will overcome the glory of Troy.
Aeneas and Turnus finally find each other in a battle and the duel starts. Jupiter looks at the fights holding the scales with two fates. Turnus’ sword is unable to pierce the armor made by Vulcan, but Aeneas’ spear easily pins Turnus to the ground. Heavily wounded, Turnus accepts his lose and begs to spare his life in the name of his father, reminding Aeneus of Anchises, who would be heartbroken to outlive his son. Touched, Aeneas holds his sword, but then he sees Pallas’ belt on the waist of his enemy. He remembers his young friend and, driven by rage and vengeance, kills Turnus with the final blow. Turnus’ shadow leaves his body and thus, the Aeneid ends.