Arma virumque cano, Trojae qui primus ab oris
Italiam fato profugus Lavinaque venit
litora-multum ille et terris jactatus et alto
vi superum, saevae memorem Junonis ob iram,
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem
inferetque deos Latio-genus unde Latinum
Albanique patres atque altae moenia Romae.
Arms and a man I sing, who first from the shores of Troy
exiled by fate came to Italy and to the Lavinian
shores-much was he buffeted on the earth and on the sea
by the power of the gods, on account of the unforgetting anger of cruel Juno,
much also he suffered in war, until he could found a city
and carry his gods into Latium-whence the Latin race,
and the Alban fathers and the walls of high Rome.
(Book 1, lines 1-7. All translations are literal, though Virgil is so condensed that sometimes words have to be added in brackets.)
The opening lines of the Aeneid announce it as an epic poem on a great subject-the way one mans suffering provided the basis of the founding of Rome.
Constitit et lacrimans “Quis jam locus” inquit “Achate,
quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris?
En Priamus. Sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi;
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.”
He halted and, weeping, “What place now” he said, “Achates,
what region on earth is not full of [the story of] our hardship?
Behold Priam. Here too are the rewards of glory;
there are tears for things, and what is mortal touches the mind.”
(Book 1, lines 459-462)
Newly landed on the shores of northern Africa after seven years of wandering, Aeneas and Achates see pictures of the Trojan War on the wall of one of the new buildings in Carthage. Aeneas sees compassion in those pictures, and feels hope that those who care about the sorrows of that war will feel compassion for them and welcome them.
“Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.”
“I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts.”
(Book 2, line 49)
Aeneas is telling the story of the fall of Troy. Here he repeats the most memorable of the words Laocoon spoke, as he tried in vain to persuade the Trojans to see the Trojan Horse as a trick of the Greeks and to destroy it.
Talibus orabat, talisque miserrima fletus
fertque refertque soror. Sed nullis ille movetur
fletibus, aut voces ullas tractabilis audit;
fata obstant placidasque viri deus obstruit auris.
Ac velut annoso validam cum robore quercum
Alpini Boreae nunc hinc nunc flatibus illinc
eruere inter se certant; it stridor, et altae
consternunt terram concusso stipite frondes;
ipsa haeret scopulis et quantum vertice ad auras
aetherias, tantum radice in Tartara tendit;
haud secus adsiduis hinc atque hinc vocibus heros
tunditur, et magno persentit pectore curas;
mens immota manet; lacrimae volvuntur inanes.
With such words [Dido] prays, with such lamentations
the most wretched sister speaks and speaks again [to Aeneas]. But he is not
with any lamentations, nor does he hear any voices gently;
the fates oppose [it], the god stops the mans kind ears.
And just as when an oak [is] mighty with ancient strength,
[and] the Alpine north winds with their blasts, now from this side, now from that,
strive against each other to uproot it, and high
branches strew the ground from the shaken trunk,
[the tree] itself clings to the crags, and as high as it reaches with its top to the
high in the air, so deep it reaches with its root into the Underworld;
not otherwise the hero is assailed by voices from this place and that,
and in his great breast he feels grief,
[yet] the mind remains unmoved; the tears fall useless.
(Book 4, lines 437-449) Dido has sent her sister to plead with Aeneas for just a brief respite, to give her time to get used to the idea that he is leaving, but he resists as firmly as a deep-rooted oak tree that cannot be destroyed by a storm. He feels grief for Dido, but it does not shake him.
“Varium et mutabile semper
“Variable and fickle always
(Book 4, lines 569-570)
Those who quote this line as though it were an ultimate truth might do well to remember the context: having lived contentedly with Dido as her husband in all but name for some time, Aeneas is leaving, under the orders of the gods, to carry out his destiny, and Dido is almost crazy with grief. A dream comes to him on shipboard, in which a figure that looks like Mercury, the messenger of Jupiter, warns him not to wait for dawn but to leave at once, or risk having his ships burned. These are the last words the messenger speaks.
“Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(hae tibi erunt artes), pacisque imponere morem,
parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.”
“You remember to guide the peoples with power, Roman,
(these will be your arts), to impose the way of peace,
to spare the conquered and to battle down the proud.”
(Book 6, lines 852-853)
Anchises has been showing Aeneas the souls that will be reborn as some of the greatest heroes of Rome, among them those who saved the city when all seemed lost, and now he speaks, perhaps to Aeneas as the first of the Romans, since his destiny is to provide a beginning for Rome, perhaps to the Roman to come. Others, he says, will create more magnificent statues and be more skilled at finding out the ways of nature-and here Virgil is clearly thinking of the Greeks. The arts of the Roman will be to rule, to bring peace by his rule, to rule humanely.
“Consulis imperium hic primus saevasque secures
accipiet, natosque pater nova bella moventis
ad poena pulchra pro libertate vocabit.
Infelix! Utcumque ferent ea facta minores,
vincet amor patriae laudumque immensa cupido.”
“This man first will accept the power of a consul
and the stern battle-axes, and, a father, for the sake of glorious liberty,
he will call his sons to punishment.
Unhappy! Howsoever posterity may report these deeds:
love of country will prevail and immense desire for fame.”
(Book 6, lines 822-823)
Anchises continues to show Aeneas heroes of Rome to be, among them the first Brutus, who was one of the leaders in the rebellion that threw out the king who had been ruling Rome and turned the city into a republic. When Brutuss two sons were implicated in a rising designed to restore the monarchy, he had them executed, and watched as it was done. Here Virgil seems to question whether such a deed should be seen as heroic-or at least to suggest the tragedy of being drawn to such a deed, whatever the nature of the motive.
“Aude, hospes, contemnere opes, et te quoque dignum
finge deo, rebusque veni non asper egenis.”
“Dare, guest, to despise riches, and make yourself also worthy
[to be?] a god, and do not come as a harsh [judge] of [our] poverty.”
(Book 8, lines 364-365)
Evander, king of the small Greek settlement built on the site where Rome will one day rise in all its grandeur, invites Aeneas to enter his simple home-and Virgil invites the Romans of his day to overcome their obsession with riches.
Talia per clipeum Vulcani, dona parentis,
miratur, rerumque ignarus imagine gaudet,
attollens umero famamque et fata nepotum.
At such things on the shield of Vulcan, the gift of his mother,
he marvels, and, ignorant of the events, rejoices in the image,
lifting up on his shoulders the fame and fate of his descendants.
(Book 8, lines 729-731)
The images the god of fire, Vulcan, has put on the shield of Aeneas are all of the future glory of Rome, with the triumph of Augustus over Cleopatra and Mark Antony at the center. Here Virgil ends Book 8 with Aeneas marveling at the images of a future he cannot know, and bearing that future on his shoulders as once he bore his father.
“Stat sua cuique dies; breve et inreparabile tempus
omnibus est vitae; sed famam extendere factis,
hoc virtutis opus.”
“For each his [appointed] day stands; brief and unrenewable
for all is the time of life; but to extend ones fame by deeds,
that [is] the work of valor.”
(Book 10, lines 467-469)
Pallas, sent by his father Evander to fight under the leadership of Aeneas, must face Turnus. He prays to Hercules, once welcomed as his fathers guest, to help him conquer Turnus, and in heaven Hercules weeps that he can do nothing to save the young hero. Jupiter comforts Hercules with these words. It is the code of the Homeric warrior, and certainly Virgil knew that it was the love of fame that had drawn many Romans to their heroic actions in warfare, which Virgil hoped would lead to a more peaceful world. Yet if winning glory in battle is the motivator, what hope for a peaceful world?
Arma virumque cano, Trojae qui primus ab oris