The Sufferings of Wanderers
The first half of the Aeneid tells the story of the Trojans’ wanderings as they make their way from Troy to Italy. Ancient culture was oriented toward familial loyalty and geographic origin, and stressed the idea that a homeland is one’s source of identity. Because homelessness implies instability of both situation and identity, it is a form of suffering in and of itself. But Virgil adds to the sufferings of the wandering Trojans by putting them at the mercy of forces larger than themselves. On the sea, their fleet buffeted by frequent storms, the Trojans must repeatedly decide on a course of action in an uncertain world. The Trojans also feel disoriented each time they land on an unknown shore or learn where they are without knowing whether it is the place where they belong. As an experience that, from the point of view of the Trojans, is uncertain in every way, the long wanderings at sea serve as a metaphor for the kind of wandering that is characteristic of life in general. We and Virgil’s Roman audience know what fate has in store for the Trojans, but the wandering characters themselves do not. Because these individual human beings are not always privy to the larger picture of destiny, they are still vulnerable to fears, surprises, desires, and unforeseen triumphs.