Selections from the _Aeneid_ by Virgil

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The Last Man, Edited by Steven E. Jones

from Virgil, Aeneid VI


[ll. 42-55]

The huge side of the Euboean rock is hewn into a cavern, whither lead a hundred wide mouths, a hundred gateways, whence rush as many voices, the answers of the Sibyl. They had come to the threshold, when the maiden cries: "'Tis time to ask the oracles; the god, lo! the god!" As thus she spake before the doors, suddenly nor countenance nor colour was the same, nor stayed her tresses braided; but her bosom heaves, her heart swells with wild frenzy, and she is taller to behold, nor has her voice a mortal ring, since now she feels the nearer breath of deity. "Art thou slow to vow and to pray?" she cries. "Art slow, Trojan Aeneas? For till then the mighty mouths of the awestruck house will not gape open." So she spake and was mute. A chill shudder ran through the Teucrians' sturdy frames, and their king pours forth prayers from inmost heart . . . .

[ll. 236-294]

This done, he fulfils with haste the Sibyl's behest. A deep cave there was, yawning wide and vast, shingly, and sheltered by dark lake and woodland gloom, over which no flying creatures could safely wing their way; such a vapour from those black jaws poured into the over-arching heaven [whence the Greeks spoke of Avernus, the birdless Place]. Here first the priestess set in line four dark-backed heifers, and pours wine upon their brows; then, plucking the topmost bristles from between the horns, lays them on the sacred fire for first offering, calling aloud on Hecate, supreme both in Heaven and in Hell. Others set knives to the throat and catch the warm blood in bowls. Aeneas himself slays with the sword a black-fleeced lamb to the mother of the Eumenides and her great sister, and to thee, O Proserpine, a barren heifer. Then for the Stygian king he inaugurates an altar by night, and lays upon the flames whole carcasses of bulls, pouring fat oil over the blazing entrails. But lo! hard upon the dawning light of the early sun the ground rumbled underfoot, the wooded ridges began to quiver, and through the gloom dogs seemed to howl as the goddess drew nigh. "Away! away! unhallowed ones!" shrieks the seer, "withdraw from all the grove! And do thou rush on the road and unsheathe thy sword! Now, Aeneas, thou needest thy courage, now thy stout heart!" So much she said, and plunged madly into the opened cave; he, with fearless steps, keeps pace with his advancing guide.

Ye gods, who hold the domain of spirits! ye voiceless shades! Thou, Chaos, and thou, Phlegethon, ye broad, silent tracts of night! Suffer me to tell what I have heard; suffer me of your grace to unfold secrets buried in the depths and darkness of the earth!

On they went dimly, beneath the lonely night amid the gloom, through the empty halls of Dis and his phantom realm, even as under the grudging light of an inconstant moon lies a path in the forest, when Jupiter has buried the sky in shade, and black Night has stolen from the world her hues. Just before the entrance, even within the very jaws of Hell, Grief and avenging Cares have made their bed; there pale Diseases dwell, and sad Age, and Fear; and ill-counselling Famine, and loathly Want, shapes terrible to view; and Death and Distress; next, Death's own brother Sleep, and the soul's Guilty Joys, and, on the threshold opposite, the death-bearer War, and the Furies' iron cells, and savage Strife, her snaky locks entwined with bloody fillets.

In the midst an elm, shadowy and vast, spreads her boughs and aged arms, the home which, men say, false Dreams hold in throngs, clinging under every leaf. And many monstrous forms besides of various beasts are stalled at the doors, Centaurs and double-shaped Scyllas, and the hundredfold Briareus, and the beast of Lerna, hissing horribly, and the Chimaera armed with flame, Gorgons and Harpies, and the shape of the three-bodied shade. Here on a sudden, in trembling terror, Aeneas grasps his sword, and turns the naked edge against their coming; and did not his wise companion warn him that these were but faint, bodiless lives, flitting under a hollow semblance of form, he had rushed upon them and vainly cleft shadows with the steel.

[ll. 440-476]

Not far from here, outspread on every side, are shown the Mourning Fields; such is the name they bear. Here those whom stern Love has consumed with cruel wasting are hidden in walks withdrawn, embowered in a myrtle grove; even in death the pangs leave them not. In this region he sees Phaedra and Procris, and sad Eriphyle, pointing to the wounds her cruel son had dealt, and Evadne and Pasiphae. With them goes Laodamia, and Caeneus, once a youth, now a woman, and again turned back by Fate into her form of old. Among them, with wound still fresh, Phoenician Dido was wandering, in the great forest, and soon as the Trojan hero stood nigh and knew her, a dim form amid the shadows--even as, in the early month one sees or fancies he has seen the moon rise amid the clouds--he shed tears, and spoke to her in tender love: "Unhappy Dido! then was the tale brought me true, that thou wert no more, and hadst sought thy doom with the sword? Was I, alas! the cause of death to thee? By the stars I swear, by the world above, and whatever is sacred in the grave below, unwillingly, O queen, I parted from thy shores. But the gods' decrees, which now constrain me to pass through these shades, through lands squalid and forsaken, and through abysmal night, drove me with their behests; nor could I deem my going thence would bring on thee distress so deep. Stay thy step and withdraw not from our view. Whom fleest thou? The last word Fate suffers me to say to thee is this!"

With such speech amid springing tears Aeneas would soothe the wrath of the fiery, fierce-eyed queen She, turning away, kept her looks fixed on the ground and no more changes her countenance as he essays to speak than if she were set in hard flint or Marpesian rock. At length she flung herself away and, still his foe, fled back to the shady grove, where Sychaeus, her lord of former days, responds to her sorrows and gives her love for love. Yet none the less, dazed by her unjust doom, Aeneas attends her with tears afar and pities her as she goes. . . .

[ll. 703-59]

Meanwhile, in a retired vale, Aeneas sees a sequestered grove and rustling forest thickets, and the river of Lethe drifting past those peaceful homes. About it hovered peoples and tribes unnumbered; even as when, in the meadows, in cloudless summertime, bees light on many-hued blossoms and stream round lustrous lilies and all the fields murmur with the humming. Aeneas is thrilled by the sudden sight and, knowing not, asks the cause--what is that river yonder, and who are the men thronging the banks in such a host? Then father Anchises: "Spirits they are, to whom second bodies are owed by Fate, and at the water of Lethe's stream they drink the soothing draught and long forgetfulness. These in truth I have long yearned to tell and show thee to thy face, yea, to count this, my children's seed, that so thou mayest rejoice with me the more at finding Italy."

But, father, must we think that any souls pass aloft from here to yon sky, and return a second time to sluggish bodies? What means, alas! this their mad longing for the light?" "I will surely tell thee, my son, nor hold thee in doubt," replies Anchises, and reveals each truth in order.

"First, the heaven and earth, and the watery plains, the shining orb of the moon and Titan's star, a spirit within sustains, and mind, pervading its members, sways the whole mass and mingles with its mighty frame. Thence the race of man and beast, the life of winged things, and the strange shapes ocean bears beneath his glassy floor. Fiery is the vigour and divine the source of those life-seeds, so far as harmful bodies clog them not, nor earthly limbs and mortal frames dull them. Hence their fears and desires, their griefs and joys; nor discern they the light, pent up in the gloom of their dark dungeon. Nay, when at their last day life is fled, still not all the evil, alas! not all the plagues of the body quit them utterly; and it must needs be that many a taint, long linked in growth, should in wondrous wise become deeply ingrained. Therefore are they schooled with penalties, and for olden sins pay punishment: some are hung stretched out to the empty winds; from some the stain of guilt is washed away under swirling floods or burned out in fire. Each of us suffers his own spirit; then through wide Elysium are we sent, a few of us to abide in the joyous fields; till lapse of days, when time's cycle is complete, takes out the inbred taint and leaves unsoiled the ethereal sense and pure flame of spirit. All these, when they have rolled time's wheel through a thousand years, the god summons in vast throng to the river of Lethe, in sooth that, reft of memory, they may revisit the vault above and conceive desire to return again to the body."

Anchises ceased, and drew his son and, with him, the Sibyl into the midst of the concourse and murmuring throng, then chose a mound whence, face to face, he might scan all the long array, and note their countenances as they came.

Come now, what glory shall hereafter attend the Dardan line, what children of Italian stock await thee, souls illustrious and heirs of our name--this will I set forth, and teach thee thy destiny. . . .

[ll. 886-901]

Thus, through the whole region, they freely range, in the broad, misty plains, surveying all. And when Anchises had led his son over every scene, and fired his soul with love of fame that was to be, he tells him then of the wars he must thereafter wage, and instructs him of the Laurentine peoples and the city of Latinus, and how he is to flee or face each toil.

Two gates of Sleep there are, whereof the one is said to be of horn, and thereby an easy outlet is given to true shades; the other gleaming with the sheen of polished ivory, but false are the dreams sent by the spirits to the world above. There then with these words Anchises attends both his son and the Sibyl, and dismisses them by the ivory gate. Aeneas speeds his way to the ships and revisits his comrades; then straight along the shore sails for Caieta's haven. The anchor is cast from the prow; the sterns rest upon the beach.

Author

Published @ RC

October 1997