Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

Week 5: Ancient Rome - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Aeneas Sees Helen

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 650 words.

The death of Priam shocks Aeneas, and he is suddenly seized by thoughts of his own father and his wife Creusa and his child Iulus. He rushes back to them... but on the way he sees Helen, the wife of the Greek king Menelaus, the cause of all this carnage. In his rage, Aeneas is ready to kill Helen on the spot, but then Venus shows up, the goddess-mother of Aeneas, and someone to whom Helen is very dear...

Then for the first time a wild terror gripped me.
I stood amazed: my dear father's image rose before me
as I saw a king, of like age, with a cruel wound,
breathing his life away: and my Creusa, forlorn,
and the ransacked house, and the fate of little Iulus.
I looked back, and considered the troops that were round me.
They had all left me, wearied, and hurled their bodies to earth,
or sick with misery dropped into the flames.

So I was alone now, when I saw the daughter of Tyndareus,
Helen, close to Vesta's portal, hiding silently
in the secret shrine: the bright flames gave me light,
as I wandered, gazing everywhere, randomly.
Afraid of Trojans angered at the fall of Troy,
Greek vengeance, and the fury of a husband she deserted,
she, the mutual curse of Troy and her own country,
had concealed herself and crouched, a hated thing, by the altars.

Fire blazed in my spirit: anger rose to avenge my fallen land,
and to exact the punishment for her wickedness.
"Shall she, unharmed, see Sparta again and her native Mycenae,
and see her house and husband, parents and children,
and go in the triumphant role of a queen,
attended by a crowd of Trojan women and Phrygian servants?
When Priam has been put to the sword? Troy consumed with fire?
The Dardanian shore soaked again and again with blood?
No. Though there's no great glory in a woman's punishment,
and such a conquest wins no praise, still I will be praised
for extinguishing wickedness and exacting well-earned
punishment, and I'll delight in having filled my soul
with the flame of revenge, and appeased my people's ashes."

I blurted out these words, and was rushing on with raging mind,
when my dear mother came to my vision, never before so bright
to my eyes, shining with pure light in the night,
goddess for sure, such as she may be seen by the gods,
and taking me by the right hand, stopped me, and, then,
imparted these words to me from her rose-tinted lips:
"My son, what pain stirs such uncontrollable anger?
Why this rage? Where has your care for what is ours vanished?
First will you not see whether Creusa, your wife, and your child
Ascanius still live, and where you have left your father Anchises
worn-out with age? The Greek ranks surround them on all sides,
and if my love did not protect them, the flames would have caught them before now,
and the enemy swords drunk of their blood.
You do not hate the face of the Spartan daughter of Tyndareus,
nor is Paris to blame: the ruthlessness of the gods, of the gods,
brought down this power, and toppled Troy from its heights.

" See (for I'll tear away all the mist that now, shrouding your sight,
dims your mortal vision, and darkens everything with moisture:
don't be afraid of what your mother commands, or refuse to obey
her wisdom): here, where you see shattered heaps of stone
torn from stone, and smoke billowing mixed with dust,
Neptune is shaking the walls, and the foundations, stirred
by his mighty trident, and tearing the whole city up by it roots.
There, Juno, the fiercest, is first to take the Scaean Gate, and,
sword at her side, calls on her troops from the ships, in rage.
Now, see, Tritonian Pallas, standing on the highest towers,
sending lightning from the storm-cloud, and her grim Gorgon breastplate.
Father Jupiter himself supplies the Greeks with courage,
and fortunate strength, himself excites the gods against
the Trojan army. Hurry your departure, son, and put an end
to your efforts. I will not leave you, and I will place you
safe at your father's door." She spoke, and hid herself
in the dense shadows of night. Dreadful shapes appeared,
and the vast powers of gods opposed to Troy.

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

  • why did Aeneas want to kill Helen? why did he refrain?
  • what does the goddess Venus say to her son Aeneas?
  • what does Aeneas see when Venus removes the mist from his eyes?

Source: A.S.Kline, translator. Vergil's Aeneid (2002). Weblink. Kline has made his English translation of Vergil's Aeneid freely available over the Internet.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. 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 12:52 PM