The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Chasing chimaeras

W. S. M. Nicolla1

a1 University of Edinburgh

Of the various contests held by Aeneas to mark the anniversary of his father's death the ship-race (Aen. 5. 116–286) is marked out by its length and initial position as especially important. However its precise significance is by no means obvious. That Virgil intends it to have some relevance to events of later Roman history seems fairly clear. First, we are told the names of the families descended from three of the four captains involved — Cluentii, Memmii and Sergii. It seems therefore that we should look to the activities of members of these families to discover Virgil's intention. Two families — Cluentii and Memmii — are a mystery, since none of their members plays an obviously prominent role in the events of Virgil's own time. However, Sergestus and the Sergii point unmistakably towards Catiline. Sergestus' rash folly, which is nearly the ruin of his men and his ship, exactly matches Catifine's own furor, which would have destroyed Rome. Even the name of his ship, Centaurus, reinforces the point.