This painting, by the Dutch artist Ferdinand Bol (c. 1616-1680), re-creates a scene from the Aeneid, a poem by the Roman poet, Virgil (c. 70-19 BCE), that tells of the journey of the Trojan hero, Aeneas, as he travels west after the Trojan War. In the episode painted above, Aeneas had reached the island of Sicily, where he was well received by King Acestes, a ruler of myth or legend. Acestes helped the Trojan wanderers hold a massive set of funerary games in honor of Aeneas’ father, in which competitive events were held, such as racing and boxing. The first of the games was ship racing, where four of the greatest ships and the most talented crews competed for enticing prizes. Cloanthus won the event on his ship, the Scylla. Next came Mnestheus on the Dragon, then Gyas on the Chimaera, and finally Sergestus on the Centaur. Virgil poetically described Aeneas handing out prizes to the competitors of the race:
“The son of Anchises summons all together, true to custom.
A herald’s ringing voice declares Cloanthus the victor
and Aeneas crowns his brows with fresh green laurel.
He presents the prizes to each ship’s crew, some wine,
three bulls of their choice and a heavy silver bar
and for each ship’s captain lays on gifts of honor.
To the winner a cloak of braided gold that’s fringed
with thin ripples of Meliboean crimson running round it,
and woven into its weft, Ganymede, prince of woody Ida”
(Virgil, Aeneid, 5.273-281).
It is this scene of Aeneas rewarding the competitors of the ship race that inspired Ferdinand Bol’s painting. Masts and rigging of sailing vessels can be seen in the background of the artwork, and figures haul around the various gifts of animals, and objects that would be handed out that day. In the center of it all, Cloanthus is depicted receiving his laurel wreath from Aeneas.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.