This was the final Swann novel published in 1977 after the author’s death, in a limited signed edition, one reason I never found it. It tells part of the story of the Greek warrior Aeneas and Queen Dido of Carthage, in present-day Tunisia. The Greek poet Homer wrote of Aeneas in The Iliad, his story of the Trojan War. The Roman poet Virgil took Aeneas’s story up after that in his The Aeneid, including the meeting with Dido, though Virgil’s story went on much further. Swann has borrowed from both poets in this book but also from the myths and stories of Greece to create a different and less ambitious tale that’s still interesting and worth reading.
Aeneas, his son Ascanius, and the remnants of his army are shipwrecked on the shore of Africa where they are first threatened by elephants, who hate all men because they are ivory hunters in their eyes. The king of the elephants and Ascanius are able to converse mentally somehow and become friends, staving off the attack. Aeneas learns of Queen Dido and her people living nearby, and he and his son go to meet her. Aeneas finds in her a strong woman and a kindred spirit, and their attraction for each other grows, which angers the elephant king, Iarbus, who still fears Aeneas and his men, and does not want them to stay. Gods and demi-gods have some roles to play here, and the anger of elephants, even though Ascanius visits the elephants’ home after he is rescued from a giant deadly pitcher plant by Iarbus. Ascanius wishes for his father’s happiness, but the path ahead for Dido and Aeneas is troubled and full of difficulties.
I enjoyed this return to the myth-filled world of Thomas Burnett Swann, and recommend it.