Week 7: Odysseus and Aeneas in the Underworld

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Aeneid, Book 6: Anchises

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

After the horrifying description of the inner depths of hell, the Sibyl leads Aeneas to the Elysian Fields and the Fortunate Groves, where the blessed souls dwell. It is in this happy place that Aeneas is able to find the spirit of Anchises, his father.

When she had spoken of this, the aged priestess of Apollo said:
‘But come now, travel the road, and complete the task set for you:
let us hurry, I see the battlements that were forged
in the Cyclopean fires, and the gates in the arch opposite us
where we are told to set down the gifts as ordered.’

She spoke and keeping step they hastened along the dark path
crossing the space between and arriving near the doors.
Aeneas gained the entrance, sprinkled fresh water
over his body, and set up the branch on the threshold before him.
Having at last achieved this, the goddess’s task fulfilled,
they came to the pleasant places, the delightful grassy turf
of the Fortunate Groves, and the homes of the blessed.

Here freer air and radiant light clothe the plain,
and these have their own sun, and their own stars.
Some exercise their bodies in a grassy gymnasium,
compete in sports and wrestle on the yellow sand:
others tread out the steps of a dance, and sing songs.

There Orpheus too, the long-robed priest of Thrace,
accompanies their voices with the seven-note scale,
playing now with fingers, now with the ivory quill.

Here are Teucer’s ancient people, loveliest of children,
great-hearted heroes, born in happier years,
Ilus, Assaracus, and Dardanus founder of Troy.

Aeneas marvels from a distance at their idle chariots
and their weapons: their spears fixed in the ground,
and their horses scattered freely browsing over the plain:
the pleasure they took in chariots and armour while alive,
the care in tending shining horses, follows them below the earth.

Look, he sees others on the grass to right and left, feasting,
and singing a joyful paean in chorus, among the fragrant
groves of laurel, out of which the Eridanus’s broad river
flows through the woodlands to the world above.
Here is the company of those who suffered wounds fighting
for their country: and those who were pure priests, while they lived,
and those who were faithful poets, singers worthy of Apollo,
and those who improved life, with discoveries in Art or Science,
and those who by merit caused others to remember them:
the brows of all these were bound with white headbands.

As they crowded round, the Sibyl addressed them,
Musaeus above all: since he holds the centre of the vast crowd,
all looking up to him, his tall shoulders towering above:
‘Blessed spirits, and you, greatest of Poets,
say what region or place contains Anchises. We have
come here, crossing the great rivers of Erebus, for him.’

And the hero replied to her briefly in these words:
‘None of us have a fixed abode: we live in the shadowy woods,
and make couches of river-banks, and inhabit fresh-water meadows.
But climb this ridge, if your hearts-wish so inclines,
and I will soon set you on an easy path.’
He spoke and went on before them, and showed them
the bright plains below: then they left the mountain heights.

But deep in a green valley his father Anchises
was surveying the spirits enclosed there, destined
for the light above, thinking carefully, and was reviewing
as it chanced the numbers of his own folk, his dear grandsons,
and their fate and fortunes as men, and their ways and works.
And when he saw Aeneas heading towards him over the grass
he stretched out both his hands eagerly, his face
streaming with tears, and a cry issued from his lips:
‘Have you come at last, and has the loyalty your father expected
conquered the harsh road? Is it granted me to see your face,
my son, and hear and speak in familiar tones?
I calculated it in my mind, and thought it would be so,
counting off the hours, nor has my trouble failed me.
From travel over what lands and seas, do I receive you!
What dangers have hurled you about, my son!
How I feared the realms of Libya might harm you!’

He answered: ‘Father, your image, yours, appearing to me
so often, drove me to reach this threshold:
My ships ride the Etruscan waves. Father, let me clasp
your hand, let me, and do not draw away from my embrace.’

So speaking, his face was also drowned in a flood of tears.
Three times he tries to throw his arms round his father’s neck,
three times, clasped in vain, that semblance slips though his hands,
like the light breeze, most of all like a winged dream.

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

  • what kind of existence do the spirits have in the "Fortunate Groves" of the Elysian Fields?
  • how did the spirit of Anchises, Aeneas's father, react when he saw him?
  • what happened when Aeneas tried to embrace his father?

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