Along the Curving Shore:
and hospitium in Aeneid 3

Christopher Nappa

            The perversion of hospitality is a significant theme in the story of the Trojans’ wanderings in Aeneid 3.  Three times instances of perverted hospitium are marked by the presence of different kinds of monstra and their location on a litus curuum, a curving shore.  In each scene, forms of the phrase litus curuum (3.16, 223, 238-39, and 643) and the word monstrum (3.26, 214, and 658) occur.  This paper will trace the role that these episodes play in articulating the thematic and structural development of Book 3. 

            The first of these litora curua is in Thrace, a place Aeneas specifically identifies as a place of guest-friendship, a hospitium, of the Trojans.  Aeneas here encounters the first and most horrifying monstrum of the book:  the body of Polydorus, treacherously murdered by the hosts who had pledged to protect him.  The next curving shore in Aeneid 3 belongs to the island of the Harpies, where the Harpies prevent Aeneas and his followers from eating.  A central characteristic of hospitium is the provision of food to the traveler:  in denying a place to eat to the Trojan refugees, the Harpies are denying refuge.  In the third scene, Aeneas and his followers arrive at the southeast coast of Sicily, and they meet the Greek suppliant Achaemenides, who tells them of the dangers of these particular litora curua:  the Cyclops Polyphemus and his one-eyed brethren live here.  His story is confirmed by the arrival of Polyphemus himself, described at 3.658 as a monstrum, and a reminder of the theme of xenia in Homer’s Odyssey.

            The different kinds of monstra in Book 3 all reflect the origin of the word as “something that shows” and thus something from which one can learn.  This pattern of monstra is part of the moral education of Aeneas and the Trojans, for they must learn the value of hospitium, especially since hospitium in Italy is the ultimate goal of Aeneas’ mission.  These monstra do seem to teach the Trojans something, for in the last of the three episodes they offer hospitium to a man who is not only a suppliant but also a former enemy.

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