Week 7: Odysseus and Aeneas in the Underworld

Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Aeneid, Book 6: Cumae

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Aeneas and his ship lands at the port of Cumae in Italy. This is also the place where the mythological craftsman, Daedalus, came when he escaped from King Minos of Crete (you might already know the story of Daedalus, Icarus, and the wings of wax!). Daedalus no longer lives in Cumae, but he left behind an artistic representation of his adventures - a story (the story of Daedalus), depicted in a work of art within another story (the story of Aeneas). Then the priestess of Apollo arrives, and gives Aeneas instructions about the sacrifice he must make. The god then takes possession of the priestess, and Aeneas speaks his request to the god.

So Aeneas spoke, weeping, gave his fleet full rein, and glided
at last to the shores of Euboean Cumae. They turned
their prows to the sea, secured the ships’ anchors,
by the grip of their flukes, and the curved boats
lined the beach. The youthful band leapt eagerly
to the Hesperian shore: some sought the means of fire
contained in veins of flint, some raided the woods
the dense coverts of game, pointing out streams they found.

But pious Aeneas sought the summits, where Apollo
rules on high, and the vast cavern nearby, the secret place
of the terrifying Sibyl, in whom the Delian prophet
inspires greatness of mind and spirit, and reveals the future.
Soon they entered the grove of Diana, and the golden house.

Daedalus, so the story goes, fleeing from Minos’s kingdom,
dared to trust himself to the air on swift wings,
and, gliding on unknown paths to the frozen North,
hovered lightly at last above the Chalcidian hill.
First returning to earth here, he dedicated his oar-like wings
to you Phoebus, and built a gigantic temple.

On the doors the Death of Androgeos: then the Athenians,
Crecrops’s descendants, commanded, sadly, to pay annual tribute
of seven of their sons: there the urn stands with the lots drawn.
Facing it, rising from the sea, the Cretan land is depicted:
and here the bull’s savage passion, Pasiphae’s
secret union, and the Minotaur, hybrid offspring,
that mixture of species, proof of unnatural relations:
the artwork here is that palace, and its inextricable maze:
and yet Daedalus himself, pitying the noble princess
Ariadne’s love, unravelled the deceptive tangle of corridors,
guiding Theseus’s blind footsteps with the clue of thread.
You’d have shared largely in such a work, Icarus, if grief
had allowed, he’d twice attempted to fashion your fate
in gold, twice your father’s hands fell.

............................................................Eyes would have read
the whole continuously, if Achetes had not arrived
from his errand, with Deiophobe, Glaucus’s daughter,
the priestess of Phoebus and Diana, who spoke to the leader:
‘This moment doesn’t require your sightseeing: it would
be better to sacrifice seven bullocks from a virgin herd,
and as many carefully chosen two-year old sheep.’

Having spoken to Aeneas in this way (without delay they sacrificed
as ordered) the priestess called the Trojans to her high shrine.
The vast flank of the Euboean cliff is pitted with caves,
from which a hundred wide tunnels, a hundred mouths lead,
from which as many voices rush: the Sibyl’s replies.
They had come to the threshold, when the virgin cried out:
‘It is time to question the Oracle, behold, the god, the god!’

As she so spoke in front of the doors, suddenly neither her face
nor colour were the same, nor did her hair remain bound,
but her chest heaved, her heart swelled with wild frenzy,
she seemed taller, and sounded not-human, for now
the power of the god is closer. ‘Are you slow with your
vows and prayers, Aeneas of Troy, are you slow?’
she cried. ‘The great lips of the House of Inspiration
will not open without.’ And so saying she fell silent.

An icy shudder ran to the Trojans’ very spines,
and their leader poured out heartfelt prayers:
‘Phoebus, you who always pitied Troy’s intense suffering,
who guided the hand of Paris, and the Dardan arrow,
against Achilles’s body, with you as leader I entered
all those seas, encircling vast lands, and penetrated
the remote Massilian tribes and the fields edged by Syrtes:
now at last we have the coast of elusive Italy in our grasp:
Troy’s ill fortune only followed us as far as here.
You too with justice can spare the Trojan race, and all you gods
and goddesses to whom the great glory of Ilium and Dardania
was an offence. O most sacred of prophetesses,
you who see the future, (I ask for no lands not owed me
by my destiny) grant that we Trojans may settle Latium,
with the exiled gods and storm-tossed powers of Troy.
Then I’ll dedicate a temple of solid marble to Phoebus
and Diana Trivia, and sacred days in Phoebus’s name.
A noble inner shrine waits for you too in our kingdom.
There, gracious one, I will place your oracles, and mystic
utterances spoken to my people, and consecrate picked men.
Only do not write your verses on the leaves, lest they fly,
disordered playthings of the rushing winds: chant them
from your own mouth.’

........................................He put an end to his mouth’s speaking.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did Ariadne help Theseus to escape from Daedalus's labyrinth?
  • what were the physical signs of the Sibyl's possession by the god?
  • what does Aeneas promise he will do for Apollo if Apollo will speak to him through the Sibyl?

Homer's Odyssey, translated by Samuel Butler (1898). Website: The Odyssey.
Vergil's Aeneid, translated by A.S. Kline (2002). Website: Vergil: The Major Works.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM