Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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

The Omen

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

But just as Aeneas is about to return to the battle in despair, a divine sign occurs: it appears that the hair of little Iulus catches on fire, but even though his hair is burning, the child is not harmed. It is a message from the gods. The family departs and Aeneas famously carries his old father on his shoulders, while his father clutches their "household gods," the Penates.

So, again, I fasten on my sword, slip my left arm
into the shield's strap, adjust it, and rush from the house.
But see, my wife clings to the threshold, clasps my foot,
and holds little Iulus up towards his father:
"If you go to die, take us with you too, at all costs: but if
as you've proved you trust in the weapons you wear,
defend this house first. To whom do you abandon little Iulus,
and your father, and me, I who was once spoken of as your wife?"

Crying out like this she filled the whole house with her groans,
when suddenly a wonder, marvellous to speak of, occurred.
See, between the hands and faces of his grieving parents,
a gentle light seemed to shine from the crown
of Iulus's head, and a soft flame, harmless in its touch,
licked at his hair, and grazed his forehead.

Trembling with fear, we hurry to flick away the blazing strands,
and extinguish the sacred fires with water.
But Anchises, my father, lifts his eyes to the heavens, in delight,
and raises his hands and voice to the sky:
"All-powerful Jupiter, if you're moved by any prayers,
see us, and, grant but this: if we are worthy through our virtue,
show us a sign of it, Father, and confirm your omen."

The old man had barely spoken when, with a sudden crash,
it thundered on the left, and a star, through the darkness,
slid from the sky, and flew, trailing fire, in a burst of light.
We watched it glide over the highest rooftops,
and bury its brightness, and the sign of its passage,
in the forests of Mount Ida: then the furrow of its long track
gave out a glow, and, all around, the place smoked with sulphur.

At this my father, truly overcome, raised himself towards the sky,
and spoke to the gods, and proclaimed the sacred star.
"Now no delay: I follow, and where you lead, there am I.
Gods of my fathers, save my line, save my grandson.
This omen is yours, and Troy is in your divine power.
I accept, my son, and I will not refuse to go with you."

He speaks, and now the fire is more audible,
through the city, and the blaze rolls its tide nearer.
"Come then, dear father, clasp my neck: I will
carry you on my shoulders: that task won't weigh on me.
Whatever may happen, it will be for us both, the same shared risk,
and the same salvation. Let little Iulus come with me,
and let my wife follow our footsteps at a distance.
You servants, give your attention to what I'm saying.
At the entrance to the city there's a mound, an ancient temple
of forsaken Ceres, and a venerable cypress nearby,
protected through the years by the reverence of our fathers:
let's head to that one place by diverse paths.

You, father, take the sacred objects, and our country's gods,
in your hands: until I've washed in running water,
it would be a sin for me, coming from such fighting
and recent slaughter, to touch them." So saying, bowing my neck,
I spread a cloak made of a tawny lion's hide over my broad shoulders,
and bend to the task: little Iulus clasps his hand
in mine, and follows his father's longer strides.
My wife walks behind. We walk on through the shadows
of places, and I whom till then no shower of spears,
nor crowd of Greeks in hostile array, could move,
now I'm terrified by every breeze, and startled by every noise,
anxious, and fearful equally for my companion and my burden.

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

  • what miraculous sign is shown? how doe Anchises interpret the sign?
  • who does Aeneas carry on his back? whose hand does he hold? who follows behind?
  • what does Aeneas's father carry with him?

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