Week 7: Odysseus and Aeneas in the Underworld

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Aeneid, Book 6: Dido and Deiphobus

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

Aeneas then sees the Fields of Mourning which is the place where the souls of tragic lovers are found. There he sees the ghost of Queen Dido, with whom he had an affair. When Aeneas met Dido, she was a widow (her husband Sychaeus was dead), and she invited Aeneas to share in the rule of the city of Carthage with her. Aeneas loved Dido but in the end he sailed away to Italy, and Dido killed herself from grief. Aeneas also meets the spirits of dead warriors, both his fellow Trojans and his enemies, the Greeks. He speaks with the spirit of Deiphobus, the Trojan prince who took possession of Helen after the death of his brother, Paris.

Not far from there the Fields of Mourning are revealed,
spread out on all sides: so they name them.
There, those whom harsh love devours with cruel pining
are concealed in secret walkways, encircled by a myrtle grove:
even in death their troubles do not leave them.
Here Aeneas saw Phaedra, and Procris, and sad Eriphyle,
displaying the wounds made by her cruel son,
Evadne, and Pasiphae: with them walked Laodamia,
and Caeneus, now a woman, once a young man,
returned by her fate to her own form again.

Among them Phoenician Dido wandered, in the great wood,
her wound still fresh. As soon as the Trojan hero stood near her
and knew her, shadowy among the shadows, like a man who sees,
or thinks he sees, the new moon rising through a cloud, as its month
begins, he wept tears and spoke to her with tender affection:
‘Dido, unhappy spirit, was the news, that came to me
of your death, true then, taking your life with a blade?
Alas, was I the cause of your dying? I swear by the stars,
by the gods above, by whatever truth may be in the depths
of the earth, I left your shores unwillingly, my queen.
I was commanded by gods, who drove me by their decrees,
that now force me to go among the shades, through places
thorny with neglect, and deepest night: nor did I think
my leaving there would ever bring such grief to you.
Halt your footsteps and do not take yourself from my sight.
What do you flee? This is the last speech with you that fate allows.’

With such words Aeneas would have calmed
her fiery spirit and wild looks, and provoked her tears.
She turned away, her eyes fixed on the ground,
no more altered in expression by the speech he had begun
than if hard flint stood there, or a cliff of Parian marble.
At the last she tore herself away, and, hostile to him,
fled to the shadowy grove where Sychaeus, her husband
in former times, responded to her suffering, and gave her
love for love. Aeneas, no less shaken by the injustice of fate,
followed her, far off, with his tears, and pitied her as she went.

From there he laboured on the way that was granted them.
And soon they reached the most distant fields,
the remote places where those famous in war
crowd together. Here Tydeus met him, Parthenopaeus
glorious in arms, and the pale form of Adrastus:
here were the Trojans, wept for deeply above, fallen in war,
whom, seeing them all in their long ranks, he groaned at,
Glaucus, Medon and Thersilochus, the three sons of Antenor,
Polyboetes, the priest of Ceres, and Idaeus
still with his chariot, and his weapons.
The spirits stand there in crowds to left and right.
They are not satisfied with seeing him only once:
they delight in lingering on, walking beside him,
and learning the reason for his coming.

But the Greek princes and Agamemnon’s phalanxes,
trembled with great fear, when they saw the hero,
and his gleaming weapons, among the shades:
some turned to run, as they once sought their ships: some raised
a faint cry, the noise they made belying their gaping mouths.

And he saw Deiphobus there, Priam’s son, his whole body
mutilated, his face brutally torn, his face and hands both, the ears
ripped from his ruined head, his nostrils sheared by an ugly wound.
Indeed Aeneas barely recognised the quivering form, hiding its dire
punishment, even as he called to him, unprompted, in familiar tones:
‘Deiphobus, powerful in war, born of Teucer’s noble blood,
who chose to work such brutal punishment on you?
Who was allowed to treat you so? Rumour has it
that on that final night, wearied by endless killing of Greeks,
you sank down on a pile of the slaughtered.
Then I set up an empty tomb on the Rhoetean shore,
and called on your spirit three times in a loud voice.
Your name and weapons watch over the site: I could not
see you, friend, to set you, as I left, in your native soil.’

To this Priam’s son replied: ‘O my friend, you’ve neglected
nothing: you’ve paid all that’s due to Deiophobus
and a dead man’s spirit. My own destiny,
and that Spartan woman’s deadly crime, drowned me
in these sorrows: she left me these memorials.
You know how we passed that last night in illusory joy:
and you must remember it only too well.
When the fateful Horse came leaping the walls of Troy,
pregnant with the armed warriors it carried in its womb,
she led the Trojan women about, wailing in dance,
aping the Bacchic rites: she held a huge torch in their midst,
signalling to the Greeks from the heights of the citadel.
I was then in our unlucky marriage-chamber, worn out with care,
and heavy with sleep, a sweet deep slumber weighing on me
as I lay there, the very semblance of peaceful death.
Meanwhile that illustrious wife of mine removed every weapon
from the house, even stealing my faithful sword from under my head:
she calls Menelaus into the house and throws open the doors,
hoping I suppose it would prove a great gift for her lover,
and in that way the infamy of her past sins might be erased.
Why drag out the tale? They burst into the room, and with them
Ulysses the Aeolid, their co-inciter to wickedness. Gods, so repay
the Greeks, if these lips I pray for vengeance with are virtuous.
But you, in turn, tell what fate has brought you here, living.
Do you come here, driven by your wandering on the sea,
or exhorted by the gods? If not, what misfortune torments you,
that you enter these sad sunless houses, this troubled place?’

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

  • what does Aeneas say to the ghost of Dido, his lover? how does she react?
  • what does the dead spirit of Deiphobus look like?
  • how did Helen bring about Deiphobus's death?

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