Week 7: Odysseus and Aeneas in the Underworld

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Aeneid, Book 6: Leaving the Underworld

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 500 words.

There are two more famous Romans that Anchises describes. There is Claudius Marcellus, a great Roman general who held the post of consul five times. He died in 208 BCE. The other is Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the nephew of the emperor Augustus, and considered at one time a candidate to succeed Augustus as emperor. Yet this Marcellus died in very suspicious circumstances as a young man, causing incredible grief to Augustus. Notice how Vergil is able to use the frametale of the visit to the land of the dead in order to pay homage to Augustus's dead nephew - a very welcome gesture, since Augustus was Vergil's patron! Marcellus died in 23 BCE, just a few years before Vergil's death in 19 BCE.

So father Anchises spoke, and while they marvelled, added:
‘See, how Claudius Marcellus, distinguished by the Supreme Prize,
comes forward, and towers, victorious, over other men.
As a knight, he’ll support the Roman State, turbulent
with fierce confusion, strike the Cathaginians and rebellious Gauls,
and dedicate captured weapons, a third time, to father Quirinus.’

And, at this, Aeneas said (since he saw a youth of outstanding
beauty with shining armour, walking with Marcellus,
but his face lacking in joy, and his eyes downcast):
‘Father, who is this who accompanies him on his way?
His son: or another of his long line of descendants?
What murmuring round them! What presence he has!
But dark night, with its sad shadows, hovers round his head.’

Then his father Aeneas, with welling tears, replied:
‘O, do not ask about your people’s great sorrow, my son.
The Fates will only show him to the world, not allow him
to stay longer. The Roman people would seem
too powerful to you gods, if this gift were lasting.
What mourning from mankind that Field of Mars will
deliver to the mighty city! And what funeral processions
you, Tiber, will see, as you glide past his new-made tomb!
No boy of the line of Ilius shall so exalt his Latin
ancestors by his show of promise, nor will Romulus’s
land ever take more pride in one of its sons.
Alas for virtue, alas for the honour of ancient times,
and a hand invincible in war! No one might have attacked him
safely when armed, whether he met the enemy on foot,
or dug his spurs into the flank of his foaming charger.
Ah, boy to be pitied, if only you may shatter harsh fate,
you’ll be a Marcellus! Give me handfuls of white lilies,
let me scatter radiant flowers, let me load my scion’s spirit
with those gifts at least, in discharging that poor duty.’

So they wander here and there through the whole region,
over the wide airy plain, and gaze at everything.
And when Anchises has led his son through each place,
and inflamed his spirit with love of the glory that is to come,
he tells him then of the wars he must soon fight,
and teaches him about the Laurentine peoples,
and the city of Latinus, and how to avoid or face each trial.

There are two gates of Sleep: one of which is said to be of horn,
through which an easy passage is given to true shades, the other
gleams with the whiteness of polished ivory, but through it
the Gods of the Dead send false dreams to the world above.
After his words, Anchises accompanies his son there, and,
frees him, together with the Sibyl, through the ivory gate.

Aeneas makes his way to the ships and rejoins his friends:
then coasts straight to Caieta’s harbour along the shore.
The anchors are thrown from the prows: on the shore the sterns rest.

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

  • why does Aeneas notice the young Marcellus as being different from the other spirits?
  • what symbolic gift does Anchises want to offer in honor of the young Marcellus?
  • what passageway does Aeneas use to leave the land of the dead and return to the world of the living?

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