Week 7: Odysseus and Aeneas in the Underworld

Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Aeneid, Book 6: Anchises, cont.

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

Anchises continues his description of the descendants of Aeneas whose spirits he can see around the river of Lethe. There is Romulus, the son of Mars who was suckled by a wolf cub. There is Augustus Caesar, who was probably in the audience when Vergil first performed this poem publicly in Rome! Anchises also describes some of the mythological rulers of Rome, such as Numa, Camillus and many others whose names would all be familiar to Vergil's Roman audience.

'Yes, and a child of Mars will join his grandfather to accompany him,
Romulus, whom his mother Ilia will bear, of Assaracus’s line.
See how Mars’s twin plumes stand on his crest, and his father
marks him out for the world above with his own emblems?
Behold, my son, under his command glorious Rome
will match earth’s power and heaven’s will, and encircle
seven hills with a single wall, happy in her race of men:
as Cybele, the Berecynthian ‘Great Mother’, crowned
with turrets, rides through the Phrygian cities, delighting
in her divine children, clasping a hundred descendants,
all gods, all dwelling in the heights above.

'Now direct your eyes here, gaze at this people,
your own Romans. Here is Caesar, and all the offspring
of Iulus destined to live under the pole of heaven.
This is the man, this is him, whom you so often hear
promised you, Augustus Caesar, son of the Deified,
who will make a Golden Age again in the fields
where Saturn once reigned, and extend the empire beyond
the Libyans and the Indians (to a land that lies outside the zodiac’s belt,
beyond the sun’s ecliptic and the year’s, where sky-carrying Atlas
turns the sphere, inset with gleaming stars, on his shoulders):
Even now the Caspian realms, and Maeotian earth,
tremble at divine prophecies of his coming, and
the restless mouths of the seven-branched Nile are troubled.
Truly, Hercules never crossed so much of the earth,
though he shot the bronze-footed Arcadian deer, brought peace
to the woods of Erymanthus, made Lerna tremble at his bow:
nor did Bacchus, who steers his chariot, in triumph, with reins
made of vines, guiding his tigers down from Nysa’s high peak.
Do we really hesitate still to extend our power by our actions,
and does fear prevent us settling the Italian lands?

'Who is he, though, over there, distinguished by his olive branches,
carrying offerings? I know the hair and the white-bearded chin
of a king of Rome, Numa, called to supreme authority
from little Cures’s poverty-stricken earth, who will secure
our first city under the rule of law. Then Tullus
will succeed him who will shatter the country’s peace,
and call to arms sedentary men, ranks now unused to triumphs.
The over-boastful Ancus follows him closely,
delighting too much even now in the people’s opinion.
Will you look too at Tarquin’s dynasty, and the proud spirit
of Brutus the avenger, the rods of office reclaimed?
He’ll be the first to win a consul’s powers and the savage axes,
and when the sons foment a new civil war, the father
will call them to account, for lovely freedom’s sake:
ah, to be pitied, whatever posterity says of his actions:
his love of country will prevail, and great appetite for glory.
Ah, see over there, the Decii and Drusi, and Torquatus
brutal with the axe, and Camillus rescuing the standards.

' But those others, you can discern, shining in matching armour,
souls in harmony now, while they are cloaked in darkness,
ah, if they reach the light of the living, what civil war
what battle and slaughter, they’ll cause, Julius Caesar,
the father-in-law, down from the Alpine ramparts, from the fortress
of Monoecus: Pompey, the son-in-law, opposing with Eastern forces.
My sons, don’t inure your spirits to such wars,
never turn the powerful forces of your country on itself:
You be the first to halt, you, who derive your race from heaven:
hurl the sword from your hand, who are of my blood!
There’s Mummius: triumphing over Corinth, he’ll drive his chariot,
victorious, to the high Capitol, famed for the Greeks he’s killed:
and Aemilius Paulus, who, avenging his Trojan ancestors, and Minerva’s
desecrated shrine, will destroy Agamemnon’s Mycenae, and Argos,
and Perseus the Aeacid himself, descendant of war-mighty Achilles.

' Who would pass over you in silence, great Cato, or you Cossus,
or the Gracchus’s race, or the two Scipios, war’s lightning bolts,
the scourges of Libya, or you Fabricius, powerful in poverty,
or you, Regulus Serranus, sowing your furrow with seed?
Fabii, where do you hurry my weary steps? You, Fabius
Maximus, the Delayer, are he who alone renew our State.
Others (I can well believe) will hammer out bronze that breathes
with more delicacy than us, draw out living features
from the marble: plead their causes better, trace with instruments
the movement of the skies, and tell the rising of the constellations:
remember, Roman, it is for you to rule the nations with your power,
(that will be your skill) to crown peace with law,
to spare the conquered, and subdue the proud.’

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

  • what description does Anchises give of Romulus?
  • what description does Anchises give of Augustus Caesar?
  • what does Anchises describe as the mission of Rome?

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