a Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire essay by Bluetiger
The Advent Calendar 2018, Week Four
Arma virumque cano…
Of Arms, and the Man I sing…
– Publius Vergilius Maro (Vergil), The Aeneid
The Targaryens were of pure Valyrian blood, dragonlords of ancient lineage. Twelve years before the Doom of Valyria (114 BC), Aenar Targaryen sold his holdings in the Freehold and the Lands of the Long Summer and moved with all his wives, wealth, slaves, dragons, siblings, kin, and children to Dragonstone, a bleak island citadel beneath a smoking mountain in the narrow sea.
(…) The Targaryens were far from the most powerful of the dragonlords, and their rivals saw their flight to Dragonstone as an act of surrender, as cowardice. But Lord Aenar’s maiden daughter Daenys, known forever afterward as Daenys the Dreamer, had foreseen the destruction of Valyria by fire. And when the Doom came twelve years later, the Targaryens were the only dragonlords to survive.
– George R.R. Martin, The World of Ice and Fire, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest
Many ASOIAF readers have pointed out that the story about Aenar “The Exile” Targaryen bears some remarkable resemblance to the story of Aeneas of Troy, as described by the Roman poet Vergil (Publius Vergilius Maro), in his epic The Aeneid, written between 29 and 19 BC (predominantly during the reign of Emperor Augustus). This poem, divided into twelve books, is in a way a sequel to Homer’s Iliad (where Aeneas is also a character), and Vergil’s poetic answer to Odyssey – rivaling his great predecessor was his greatest ambition.
The twelve books detail how Trojan prince and hero Aeneas managed to escape the burning city during its sack by Greek forces, and after long wanderings arrived in Italy, where his followers settled and became the ancestors of the Romans.
We can easily see several parallels between Aenar Targaryen and Aeneas:
- both were survivors of an earlier civilization that was violently destroyed – Old Valyria and Troy
- both led their followers in a migration and settled in a distant land already inhabited by warring tribes (Westeros and Italy)
- the descendants of both became mighty kings (Targaryen monarchs and Kings of Rome)
- the names of both heroes are similar (Aenar and Aeneas)
I’ll also point out that Aenar’s actions were (supposedly) guided by his daughter Daenys the Dreamer’s prophecy, while Aeneas’ destiny was revealed in a prophecy made by Trojan princess Cassandra (the oracle who was cursed by Apollo, so her prophecies would always be accurate, but other people would never believe in them). Daenys was Aenar’s daughter, while Aeneas was married to Cassandra’s sister Creusa (daughter of King Priam of Troy and Queen Hecuba). There are many references to Cassandra in ASOIAF – in names (for example, there’s Cassandra Baratheon) and in actions (Daenys the Dreamer, Malora Hightower, Melisandre of Asshai).
Aeneas was a member of the royal house of Troy himself, as his father Anchises was King Priam’s cousin, whereas his mother was the goddess Venus (Aphrodite) herself. It’s possible (though I’m by no means sure about this parallel, while the others are more obvious) that House Targaryen being one of the minor Valyrian dragonlord houses is a reference to Aeneas’ house being a cadet branch of the royal house of Troy. And Aeneas’ demigod status might have inspired Targaryens being viewed as ‘gods’ by the Westerosi, for: “On Dragonstone, where the Targaryens had long ruled, the common folk had seen their beautiful, foreign rulers almost as gods” (TWOIAF) and “[On Dragonstone] Targaryens were rightly regarded as being closer to gods than the common run of men” (The Princess and the Queen). In a later section I’ll explain why in my view it is extremely important that Aeneas was the son of Venus, not just any goddess, and how this might be important for ASOIAF (and Tolkien).
It can hardly be denied that GRRM was thinking about Aeneas when creating his own exiled hero who founded a great dynasty. But is there more to this? Is it nothing more than just another off-hand reference to literature and mythology? I’d suggest otherwise. The parallels between Aenar and Aeneas are so obvious, because GRRM wanted the reader to notice them. He wanted to give us a proof that he’s familiar with The Aeneid, and that he’s using it as a source of inspiration, and not just for House Targaryen, but for other aspects of his fictional world as well. In this essay, we’ll attempt to identify other elements of ASOIAF (and its backstory, i.e. TWOIAF), that were influenced by Vergil’s epic. For this purpose, we’ll go through The Aeneid and look for themes, events and characters familiar from A Song of Ice and Fire. Full speed ahead!
* Although the poet’s name is often spelled “Virgil”, I’ll use “Vergil”, as his real name was Publius Vergilius Maro, and “Virgil” comes from medieval Virgilius, whereas Vergilius was the correct Latin form. Some scholars suggests this discrepancy is due to some medieval scribe’s error while transcribing, others point out that in medieval folklore Vergil was depicted as a wizard an miracle worker rather than a poet – he was seen as a prophet, and his Eclogue IV was interpreted as a prophecy concerning Jesus Christ, making Vergil a proto-Christian prophet. For this reason, people came to believe that his name comes from the word virga (magical wand), while in truth, the etymology of “Vergilius” is unknown, but it’s been suggested that it comes from Latin vigilia (watch) or vigil (awake), and thus is related to English words like vigil and vigilant or Polish Wigilia (Christmas Eve) and wigilia (eve of some liturgical holiday).
The Aeneid begins in medias res (in the middle of things) – in the midst of the plot, and the reader is slowly acquainted with past events and the backstory from conversations between characters.
In Book One, as Aeneas’ fleet is sailing across the Mediterranean, we find out that although Troy has fallen, the goddess Juno (Roman equivalent of Greek Hera, Zeus’s sister-wife), has heard a prophecy that her beloved city of Carthage will one day be destroyed by the descendants of Trojan survivors (Vergil is referencing the Punic Wars from Rome’s history here). Juno already hates the Trojans – it seems there are more reasons for this enmity than there are royal titles of TV show Daenerys – we can try to enumerate several reasons:
- she mislikes her husbands’ young and handsome cupbearer Ganymede (who came from Troy) – by the way, you can read more about Ganymede-Aquarius and how this constellation figures in ASOIAF symbolism by reading LML’s amazing Zodiac Children of Garth the Green essay
- she’s angry because Trojan prince Paris chose Venus over herself during the Judgement of Paris, where King Priam’s son was asked to decide which of the three goddesses – Juno (Hera), Minerva (Athena) and Venus (Aphrodite) – is the most beautiful
- she hates the Trojans because their ancestor Dardanus was her husband Zeus’ illegitimate son with Electra the Pleiade (“Amber”), one of his numerous mistresses
Well, now Juno has another reason – she knows her beloved city will one day be destroyed by a nation founded by survivors from Troy. To prevent his from happening, she visits Aeolus, King of Winds, and promises him the hand of the nymph Deiopea for his assistance in scattering Aeneas’ fleet. A fierce storm caused by winds unleashed by Aeolus ravages the Trojan armada, but Neptune (Poseidon), the god of the seas, appears to calm the winds, angry that the lord of winds dared to trespass his dominion. Meanwhile, Aeneas’ mother pleads with Jupiter to allow her son to fulfill his destiny of founding Rome. Jupiter confirms that Aeneas’ fill be the founder of a great nation, and his descendants will reign over many lands (The poet includes a reference to his patron Augustus Caesar, The Aeneid is full of political references that were quite obvious for Vergil’s audience).
Aeneas’ ship lands in Libya in Northern Africa, where he realises that he’s been separated from a large portion of his fleet. While wandering in a wood, Aeneas comes across his mother Venus, disguised as a huntress from Carthage, who recounts to him the history of Carthage and its Queen Dido.
Carthage was founded by followers of the queen who fled from the Phoenician city of Tyre. (In ASOIAF, the Free City of Tyrosh is based on Tyre – the main export product of both cities is the same – Tyre was famed for its Tyrian purple dye, produced from sea snails, while Tyrosh is famed for its dye made from ‘a certain variety of sea snail). Dido (this name means either “The Beloved” or “The Wanderer”), also known as Elissa (some scholars suggest Elissa comes from Elishat/Elisha, with the ‘el’ meaning ‘god’ and ‘issa’ meaning either ‘fire’ or ‘goddess’. So Elissa would mean (more or less) “fire goddess” or “goddess”.
Elissa and her brother Pygmalion were joint rulers of Tyre, but Elissa fled the city with her loyalists when it was revealed that Pygmalion wanted to seize all the power for himself and has murdered her husband Sychaeus (Acerbas), the priest of Heracles. Elissa and her followers sailed away on a fleet of ships, and after a long and perilous voyage landed in Northern Africa, where they established the New City of Tyre, or Qart-hadasht in the Punic language, which became Carthage. This name of course reminds me of Qarth, whereas the story of Elissa and her usurper brother reminds me of the Amethyst Empress and the Bloodstone Emperor, who was her younger envious brother. Even before I came across this parallel, I was speculating that a group of the Empress’ loyalists have left the Great Empire of the Dawn and settled in some other area, perhaps at what is now Oldtown.
It seems that Qarth is that place, or at the very least, one of the places where those who despised Bloodstone Emperor’s tyranny fled. This agrees with what LML wrote about Qarth being symbolically connected with “The Jade Empress Nissa Nissa” figure in Daenerys the Sea Dreamer. The connection between Elissa’ homeland, Tyre, and purple dye might parallel Amethyst’ Empress purple association via her name, and Dany’s purple eyes, for Dany is the Amethyst Empress/Nissa Nissa figure in our story.
Queen Nymeria of the Rhoynar might be another figure based on Queen Elissa, just like Elissa Farman from Fire and Blood. Lady Elissa Farman, alias Alys Westhill, left her ancestral seat of Fair Isle because her brother, young Lord Franklyn Farman, wanted to force her to marry a man of his choice and thus bring political benefits to his house. This might be an echo of the conflict between Elissa and her brother Pygmalion. Elissa, just like her mythological namesake, was a sailor who organised an expedition to the west (Lady Farman wanted to circumnavigate the globe by sailing across the Sunset Sea) in search for new lands and opportunities.
Meanwhile, Queen Nymeria’s ship burning might be a reference to another event from The Aeneid, where some Trojan women (incited by Juno, who tried to prevent the prophecy from coming true), set Aeneas’ ships ablaze, believing this act will force him to settle down in Sicily and bring their wanderings to an end. In TWOIAF, it is said that:
To (…) make certain her people could not again retreat to the sea, Nymeria burned the Rhoynish ships. “Our wanderings are at an end,” she declared. “We have found a new home, and here we shall live and die.”
Asha Greyjoy, who fled from the Iron Islands and attempted to establish a realm for herself at Sea Dragon Point might be another figure based on Elissa. Is it a coincidence that Aenar Targaryen, the most obvious ASOIAF reference to The Aeneid, the epic where Elissa’s deeds are described, is first mentioned in her chapter in A Feast for Crows?
Let us return to Aeneas speaking with his mother Venus in the wilderness on the shores of Libya. Venus creates a magical mist/cloud that surrounds Aeneas, making him invisible, as to allow him to safely visit Carthage and assess whether it is wise to land there and ask for help. Our hero sees the grandeur and power of Carthage. Finally, at the Temple of Juno, he sees how the queen receives a group of Trojans (you might remember that many of Aeneas’ ships were separated from the main fleet during the storm, and now one of those ships has found its way to Carthage). The Queen offers them assistance, and expresses her pity that Aeneas, that great warrior, is not there, promising to dispatch her guards to find him and his lost men. At this moment, Aeneas’ reveals himself and gains her favour. But Venus is still afraid that Juno, her rival and Aeneas’ nemesis, will attempt to drive a wedge between Elissa and her son, and thus, sends her other son, Cupid (Aeneas’ half-brother and god of attraction and desire) to make Dido fall in love with Aeneas. Cupid attends a banquet in honour of the Trojans organised by the Queen, disguised as Aeneas’ young son Ascanius. At one point, Elissa cradles the boy in her arms, and Cupid uses is powers to enchant the Queen. She falls in love with Aeneas, although she has sworn to never again enter a relationship with any man, out of respect for her late husband, the priest of Heracles murdered by her usurping brother.
In Book Two, Aeneas recount the story of the Sack of Troy and his wanderings to the Queens. Various events of the Trojan war are mentioned – Ulysses’ idea to create the Trojan horse, the treachery of Greek warrior Sinon, who pretended that he deserted the Greek army and convinced the Trojans to bring the Horse into their city, how Cassandra and Laocoon the priest attempted to warn their countrymen but were not heeded, how Greek warriors came out the Horse in the dead of night and opened the gates, how King Priam and his people were slaughtered, how Aeneas and other prominent warriors of Troy valiantly defended the city and how Aeneas managed to escape with his elderly father Anchises and young son, but his wife Creusa was lost in the chaos.
Aeneas’ tale continues in Book Three, where he describes how his followers built a fleet and how they were wandering in the Mediterranean, visiting Andromache, the wife of Trojan hero hector, and Priam’s son Helenus, how they landed on an isle inhabited by harpies, with whom they warred and finally, how they visited the isle of the Cyclopes (the same where Ulysses lands in The Odyssey) and rescued one of Ulysses’ men who was accidentally left behind. Meanwhile, Aeneas’ father Anchises dies of old age.
Now, this incident with harpies reminds me of the wars between Valyria (which parallels Rome, founded by Aeneas) and the Ghiscari Empire, which used a harpy as its emblem. The Ghiscari wars are probably based on the Punic Wars as well, and because of this, some fans concluded that Old Ghis is Essos’ Carthage, while in my view, Qarth is Essos’ true Carthage.
In Book Four, Juno wants to make a deal with Venus – Aeneas will marry Elissa and his Trojans will settle down in Carthage. This of course, would prevent him from founding Rome. And of course, that’s precisely what Juno wants. When Aeneas and the Queen go on a hunting trip, Juno sends stormy clouds. In this torrent, they are separated from their party and guards and seek refugee in a nearby cave. You can imagine what happens next if I tell you that it seems likely that Jon Snow and Ygritte’s cave scene is based on this passage from The Aeneid.
Anyway, Elissa and Aeneas are now in love, but the Queen is still torn between her feelings for the Trojan hero and loyalty to her late husband. In the end, the feelings win and Aeneas and Elissa are about to become a happily married couple. But Jupiter has other plans. He dispatches Mercury, his messenger, to Aeneas to remind him of his destiny. Aeneas has to establish Rome, and this won’t happen if he stays in Carthage. Aeneas makes the decision and – in secret – has his fleet prepared for departure.
The Queen realises what Aeneas is plotting and falls into despair. This exile whom she received in her own palace, this man for whose sake she broke her vows to her late husband’s shade, this Aeneas of Troy proved a traitor at last. Elissa confronts him, pleading with him to stay, but Aeneas rejects the offer, speaking of his Fate and destiny in Italy. Aeneas promises that he’ll never forget her kindness and help, but there is no other way, as it has been long foretold that he will establish Rome. The Queen, in fury, calls him a traitor and swears vengeance. Then, she faints. Aeneas feels pity, but ultimately, he decides that Fate can not be denied. He orders his people to board their ships, and prepare to set off.
Elissa wakes and asks her sister Anna to go to Aeneas and beseech him to come to her one last time, until she finds a way to soothe her grief and reconcile with prospect of life without her lover. Aeneas, however, remains stalwart and is unmoved by Anna’s tears and Elissa’s pleas. Upon hearing that he rejected her once more, the Queen goes mad and wants to end her life. She claims that she can’t bear the sight of Aeneas’ belongings and gifts left in her palace, and the sight of their bed. She has her servants gather those items in the courtyard, and build a pyre.
The pyre is an enormous construction, built from oaken wood, decorated with wreaths, surrounded by altars to Erebos, Chaos, threefold Hecate, triple-faced Diana and a hundred other gods. The wood she sprinks with water from the river Avernus. Then she prepares herbs trickling black venom, cut by moonlight with brazen sickles. Her sister and her retainers think she’ll simply burn Aeneas’ belongings left in the city, but the Queen has other plans. Meanwhile, Aeneas is sleeping on board of his ship. Suddenly, Mercury appears in front of him again, and warns that unless he leaves at once, the people of Carthage will seize their fleet and burn the ships. Aeneas wakes and gives the order to embark.
Elissa sees this from her tower. In her final moments, she calls upon Hecate, Avenging Furies and ‘gods of dying Elissa’. She curses that ‘wretch’ Aeneas. Let him come to Italy, if Jupiter will so. But never allow him to find peace there. Let his men be slaughtered, let his nation be forced to war with all their neighbours. Let him be king, but make him die young and cruelly. This she says, is her final utterance she pours out with her blood. She bids her Tyrian people to persecute Aeneas’ descendants with hate, so there may never be any alliance or treaty between them. Then she says the famous line: “Arise from my ashes, Unknown Avenger, to harass the Trojan settlers with fire and sword!”. (Vergil is referencing Hannibal here).
Then, in agony, Elissa climbs the pyre, unsheathes Aeneas’ sword that was left behind, and falls upon the blade. The people of Carthage lament their Queen’s demise, with all streets filled with wailing and cries. Now it is Elissa’s sister Anna who falls into despair, and climbs the pyre, embracing the Queen’s bloodied body. Juno sees this, and dispatches Iris, the goddess of the dawn, to end her suffering. The goddess descends, and the pyre burst into flames. Out in the ocean, Aeneas sees the glow of Elissa’s funeral pyre.
Those events remind me of the Nissa Nissa and Azor Ahai myth, where the ‘hero’ pierces his wife with a sword. Here Elissa commits suicide, but it was Aeneas who brought it about. In both cases, it is the ‘hero’s sword that is used to kill his lover. I’ll also point out that the names “Nissa” and “Elissa” are quite similar, and “Elissa” might mean “fire of the gods”/”god-woman” or “godly fire”.
The pyre of Queen Elissa reminds me of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, which also gets a detailed description at the end of AGOT. Just like in The Aeneid, the woman who builds the pyre doesn’t share her true intentions – of climbing the pyre – with her retainers. I’d suggest that the Azor Ahai myth was at least partially inspired by this event from Vergil’s epic. Thus, we’d get more evidence that Amethyst Empress and Nissa Nissa were the same person, or at least, are based on the same archetypal pattern – Amethyst Empress’ story seems to be based on Elissa’ life until she met Aeneas, while Nissa Nissa’s death, as echoed by Dany’s fire transformation in Drogo’s pyre, parallels Elissa’ final moments.
The “unknown avenger” who is supposed to rise from Elissa’s ashes might have been the inspiration behind GRRM’s ‘weirwood assassin” figures, described by LML in It’s an Arya Thing which avenge Nissa Nissa (assassin, by the way, if read backwards, contains the word ‘nissa’).
But if Amethyst Empress/Nissa Nissa is Elissa who fled from her homeland (Great Empire of the Dawn would play the role of Tyre in this case) and founded a new city (Qarth/Carthage), that’d make the Bloodstone Emperor/Azor Ahai an Aeneas figure. Aeneas was famous for establishing a great civilization. Where is this nation founded by Azor Ahai?
Well, I’d suggest Valyria was that nation. If GRRM decided to follow The Aeneid, his Aeneas figure would arrive in a land that was already inhabited by many tribes, ally himself with one of them, make war against the others, defeat them in battle and finally have his followers settle down as assimilate with the locals. And think about this – there are so many parallels between Old Valyria and Rome. Surely, the founder of Valyria would be based on Aeneas? Yes, Aenar Targaryen who fled from Valyria and established House Targaryen in Westeros is based on that Trojan hero. But Aenar can be an echo of some earlier hero, just like Dany, Euron, Jon Snow and so many other ASOIAF characters. Many historical characters play into archetypal roles from the Dawn Age and GEOTD. Rhaenyra echoes the Amethyst Empress, Aegon the Elder (Aegon II) parallels the Bloodstone Emperor. Thus, Aenar might be but an echo of some earlier hero also based on Aeneas, not the wellspring of The Aeneid symbolism and references in ASOIAF. Here, I’d suggest that Azor Ahai (or his direct descendant or follower) was that original ASOIAF Aeneas. It was him who led a group of GEOTD people into exile, and finally arrived in the Lands of the Long Summer, where his group was assimilated and merged with the locals. Those locals were those proto-Valyrian shepherds who supposedly tamed the first dragons.
The Princess and the Queen and Fire and Blood seem to provide evidence for this scenario. There, Daemon Targaryen, who has once crowned himself King of the Stepstones and the Narrow Sea and reigned from his seat Bloodstone, and thus can symbolise the Bloodstone Emperor, becomes the companion and teacher of Nettles, the rider of the dragon Sheepstealer. The Valyrians, we are told in ASOIAF, were originally shepherds, who came across dragons living in the Fourteen Flames and tamed them. In my view, Nettles echoes those proto-Valyrians. It may be true that proto-Valyrians somehow managed to discover a way of controlling dragons on their own, but their methods were primitive (Nettles supposedly tamed Sheepstealer by bringing him mutton every day) and inferior to techniques available to the GEOTD dragonlords – horns similar to Dragonbinder, special saddles and whips, and most of all, magic. It is possible that the Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai knew about this taming, or even secretly enabled it. Then, with his surviving followers, he came to the Lands of the Long Summer, where he took over the proto-Valyrian shepherds and founded his new empire, Old Valyria. In TPATQ, Nettles found a way to tame Sheepstealer, but it was Daemon who shared his advanced dragonlore with her.
It is also possible that Queen Rhaenyra’s hatred of Nettles is an echo of the original enmity between Amethyst Empress Nissa Nissa’s new civilization, Qarth, and Azor Ahai’s Valyria (Rhaenyra symbolises Amethyst Empress because her conflict with Aegon the Elder echoes AE’s rivalry with her usurping brother the Bloodstone Emperor, and Daemon even gave her a jade tiara that has once belonged to a Lengi Empress).
Alternatively, our ancient GEOTD Aeneas-Azor Ahai might have founded a city in Westeros itself, perhaps Oldtown. After all, there are legends about dragons and ancient mariners visiting that region. Oldtown already has numerous parallels with Minas Tirith and Osgiliath in Gondor, and those cities were founded by Tolkien’s Aeneas figure, Elendil the Faithful who fled from Numenor.
To finish off our summary of The Aeneid, I’ll quickly present the major events of Books Five to Twelve (it appears that GRRM was chiefly referencing the first four books, as I haven’t found any interesting parallels between ASOIAF and the remainder of the poem).
In Book Five Aeneas’ fleet lands in Sicily where they organise funeral games in honour of Aeneas’ late father Anchises. During the games, Juno attempts to prevent Aeneas from fulfilling his destiny once again, by inciting the Trojan women to set their ships ablaze, to force Aeneas’ to settle down in Sicily and bring their wanderings to an end. However, Jupiter intervenes, causing a rainstorm, and thus Aeneas’ fleet is saved. In the aftermath, Aeneas’ heart is filled with doubts again, but a shade of his father appears before him, and bids him go to the Underworld to see a vision of Rome’s future, which will reassure him that his mission has to be completed.
In Book Six, Aeneas visits the oracle Sibyl, who agrees to be his guide in the Underworld. Before they can enter Hades, however, Aeneas has to find the magical Golden Bough in the nearby wood. The Golden Bough is a token that will allow them to safely venture into Hades and come back from it. (The title of Sir James George Frazer’s book on comparative mythology and religion, which greatly inspired J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and – at least in my view – was also GRRM’s source of inspiration – is a reference to this item from Vergil’s epic). Aeneas and Sibyl travel through Hades, seeing the great rivers of the Underworld, Acheront, Styx, Phlegethon, Cocytus and Lethe. At one point, Aeneas’ sees Elissa’s shade wandering in a great wood, her wound still fresh. He tries to excuse himself, but she doesn’t want to even listen to him and instead flees from him into the sacred grove where her husband awaits.
Finally, Aeneas’ finds his father in the Elysian Fields. Anchises shows him a vision of the future history of Rome and all valiant deeds of Aeneas’ descendants. His son Silvius, who will reign as King of Alba Longa, and his successors. Romulus, the founder of Rome proper. Lucius Junius Brutus who overthrew King Tarquin the Proud and founder the Roman Republic, Tiberius Gracchus and his brother Gaius, the Roman reformers, Scipio Africanus the Elder, who defeated Hannibal, and Scipio Aemilianius who destroyed Carthage during the Third Punic war, Quintus Fabius Maximus the Cunctator, who led Romans in guerilla warfare against Hannibal, and of course, Gaius Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus. Aeneas’ spirit is lifted, and our hero leaves the Underworld to continue his quest.
Books Seven to Twelve describe Aeneas’ wars in Italy. Our hero lands in Latium, where he plans to marry Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus who has received him warmly. Juno sends Alecto the Fury to rouse the neighbouring tribes and spark a war against the Trojans. King Latinus’ wife turns against Aeneas and wants to marry her daughter to King Turnus of the Rutuli, a powerful local tribe. Aeneas allies himself with King Evander of Arcadia and befriends his son Pallas. While Aeneas is away, seeking other allies, Turnus and his host attacks the Trojan camp and a siege begins. Turnus’ soldiers attempt to burn Aeneas’ fleet, but goddess Cybele turns them into water nymphs. Turnus managed to cut his way into the Trojan fort, but the defenders greatly outnumber him and thus, he has to jump into the river to save himself.
Meanwhile, King Tarchon of the Etruscans agrees to ally his people with the Trojans and gives Aeneas ships and warriors. As Aeneas’ new fleet sails downriver to his camp, his old ships (now turned into nymphs) appear, to warn him that his people are besieged. Turnus divides his host in two, with one part sent to storm the camp and the other dispatched to prevent Aeneas’ from landing on the shore. In the ensuing battle, Turnus kills Aeneas’ friend Pallas and our hero swears bloody revenge. Juno sees that Turnus is unwilling to unchivalrously flee from the scene, but she wants to save him so he might fight another day. Thus, she conjures a phantom shaped like Aeneas. Turnus pursues this fAeneas, who lures him on board of one of the empty ships. The ships sails away and thus Turnus is saved again (though his people call him a coward and a traitor).
In Book Eleven, both sides of the conflict agree to a truce to bury their dead and attend to the wounded. King Latinus’ advisors want to make peace with the Trojans, but Turnus enters the hall and gives a fiery speech against this proposal. When the truce comes to an end, Aeneas’ host marches against the capital. In Book Twelve, Turnus and Aeneas consent to a trial by combat-style duel between them, but Juno provokes an overall battle. During this bloody clash, Aeneas and Turnus come face-to-face. Our hero defeats his rival in a duel. Turnus begs for mercy, and Aeneas is about to give it, but then, he realises that Turnus is wearing an ornate belt he stole from Pallas’ corpse. Aeneas, in rage, avenges his friend by slaying Turnus.
The Aeneid ends here, but from other sources, we know that in Roman mythology, Aeneas married Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, and thus, the Trojans and the Latins became one people. Their son Silvius was an ancestor of King Numitor, mother of Rhea Silvia. Numitor’s brother Amulius usurped the throne. Rhea Silvia was forced to become a Vestal Virgin, which would prevent her from bearing children who could one day overthrow the usurper. However, she gave birth to two children, twins Romulus and Remus, and she claimed that Mars, god of war, was their father. Amulius the usurper had her imprisoned. The children were to be killed, but the soldiers sent to do the task felt pity and instead set them adrift on the river Tiber. They were rescued by Tiberinus, the river god, and raised by a she-wolf. Years later, Romulus and Remus overthrew their uncle and Romulus (after killing his brother in a quarrel) founded Rome proper.
Now, I believe there are two ways in which elements of The Aeneid have influenced GRRM – some came directly from the poem itself, while others came into ASOIAF via J.R.R. Tolkien. How Vergil inspired Tolkien is a topic for an entire essay, but for now, I’ll simply list several parallels between JRRT’s universe and the story of Aeneas:
- in The Aeneid Aeneas, the founder of Rome, is the son of Venus. In The Silmarillion, Elros, the founder of Numenor, is the son of Eärendil (please check out my essay on Morningstar/Evenstar symbolism in Tolkien’s writing – Eärendil, Bearer of Light, whose ship became Planet Venus, and Eärendil served as its steersman.
- Aeneas fled from burning Troy on a fleet of ships, while Elendil and his followers (a descendant of Eärendil) fled from doomed Numenor on nine ships
- Survivors from Troy founded Rome, survivors from Numenor founded Gondor, which is partially based on Rome
- Eärendil himself is similar to Aeneas, because he was a leader of survivors from the fall of Gondolin, the Hidden City, which is the closest thing Middle-earth has to Troy. It’s also possible that his father Tuor, who fled from burning Gondolin (which has tons of parallels with Troy) is in some degree based on Aeneas, but he might play the role of Aeneas’ father Anchises as well.
- Eärendil’s twin sons with Elwing, Elros and Elrond, parallel Romulus and Remus. Elros and Elrond were left to die in the woods by soldiers of the servants of Fëanor, but they were saved by Maglor and Maedhros. Elros founded Numenor, the greatest human civilization in Tolkien’s universe.
- Elwing parallels Rhea Silvia, who was saved from death by Tiberinus the river god. When soldiers in service of Fëanor’s sons came for her, she threw himself into the sea, but she was saved by Ulmo of the Valar, lord of the seas and thus an equivalent of a sea deity.
- We might see an echo of Queen Elissa in Queen Tar-Miriel of Numenor, whose throne was stolen by her cousin Ar-Pharazon.
Thus, there are actually two Aeneas figures in Tolkien’s writing – Eärendil, ancestor of the Kings of Numenor, and Elendil the Faithful, founder of Arnor and Gondor after the Downfall of Numenor. GRRM might be recreating this pattern by having two major Aeneas figures as well – Azor Ahai, who founded Valyria (Rome + Numenor) and Aenar Targaryen (a Valyrian lord, whereas Elendil was a Numenorean nobleman) who fled from the realm founded by the original Aeneas figure and established his own kingdom (Westeros under Targaryens, Gondor and Arnor).
With that said, our essay, and with it, our Advent Calendar 2018 series, comes to an end. I hope you have enjoyed my four essays – The Return of the Queen, Eärendil, Bearer of Light, The Jade Empire and Aenar’s Aeneid. If so, please spread the word about them with your friends and fellow ASOIAF fans. We’ve explored many different themes and aspects of ASOIAF, tracing their origins to various works of literature – Tolkien’s Legendarium, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Vergil’s The Aeneid, and The Bible. It always amazes me how many parallels and references to those great masterpieces GRRM included in his series, how many themes he explores, how many myths, books, poems, stories and religious texts he uses as sources of inspiration. Thanks to ASOIAF, his readers’ attention turns towards those works. He’s showing us how important and fascinating literature, mythology, symbolism and religion are. And that’s simply magnificent.
My friends, as I bid you farewell – sadly, I won’t be able to write and publish new essays in the following months – I hope we’ll meet again in the future, in the approaching 2019, to discuss and explore fantasy worlds of GRRM and J.R.R. Tolkien, and other awesome books.
I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the wonderful people in our ASOIAF community, and to all the amazing content creators, bloggers, podcasters, theory-makers, artists, youtubers, members of Mythical Astronomy Twitteros and other groups. Good luck in 2019, may that year bring you many new ideas and topics! And of course, good luck to our marvellous author, George R.R. Martin, the man thanks to whom all of us came together. Thank you for all your past works, thanks for Fire and Blood you gave us in 2018, and may your pen flow ever freely, no matter what kind of a project you pursue in the future!
Namárië! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Gloria in excelsis Deo! Radosnych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia! Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!