Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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

In Sight of Italy

Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

From Buthrotum, Aeneas does not have far to go (see map): Italy is just a little ways due west of Albania. They catch sight of Italy, but the eastern coast of Italy is inhabited by Greek colonists - Aeneas and the Trojans understandably want to avoid any contact with the Greeks so they continue heading west, towards the volcanic island of Sicily where Mt. Etna is spewing forth fire and ash...

We sail on over the sea, close to the Ceraunian cliffs nearby,
on course for Italy, and the shortest path over the waves.
Meanwhile the sun is setting and the darkened hills are in shadow.

Having shared oars, we stretch out, near the waves,
on the surface of the long-desired land, and, scattered across the dry beach,
we rest our bodies: sleep refreshes our weary limbs.

Night, lead by the Hours, is not yet in mid-course:
Palinurus rises alertly from his couch, tests all
the winds, and listens to the breeze: he notes
all the stars gliding through the silent sky,
Arcturus, the rainy Pleiades, both the Bears,
and surveys Orion, armed with gold. When he sees
that all tallies, and the sky is calm, he sounds
a loud call from the ship's stern: we break camp,
attempt our route, and spread the winged sails.

And now Dawn blushes as she puts the stars to flight,
when we see, far off, dark hills and low-lying Italy.
First Achates proclaims Italy, then my companions
hail Italy with a joyful shout. Then my father Anchises
took up a large bowl, filled it with wine,
and standing in the high stern, called to the heavens:
"You gods, lords of the sea and earth and storms, carry us
onward on a gentle breeze, and breathe on us with kindness!"

The wind we longed-for rises, now as we near, a harbour opens,
and a temple is visible on Minerva's Height.
My companions furl the sails and turn the prows to shore.
The harbour is carved in an arc by the eastern tides:
its jutting rocks boil with salt spray, so that it itself is hidden:
towering cliffs extend their arms in a twin wall,
and the temple lies back from the shore.

Here I see four horses in the long grass, white as snow,
grazing widely over the plain, our first omen.

And my father Anchises cries: "O foreign land, you bring us war:
horses are armed for war, war is what this herd threatens.
Yet those same creatures one day can be yoked to a chariot,
and once yoked will suffer the bridle in harmony:
there's also hope of peace." Then we pray to the sacred power
of Pallas, of the clashing weapons, first to receive our cheers,
and clothed in Phrygian robes we veiled our heads before the altar,
and following the urgent command Helenus had given,
we duly made burnt offerings to Argive Juno as ordered.

Without delay, as soon as our vows are fully paid,
we haul on the ends of our canvas-shrouded yard-arms,
and leave the home of the Greek race, and the fields we mistrust.

Then Tarentum's bay is seen, Hercules's city if the tale is true:
Lacinian Juno's temple rises against it, Caulon's fortress,
and Scylaceum's shore of shipwreck.
Then far off Sicilian Etna appears from the waves,
and we hear the loud roar of the sea, and the distant
tremor of the rocks, and the broken murmurs of the shore,
the shallows boil, and sand mixes with the flood.

Then my father, Anchises, said: "This must be Charybdis:
these are the cliffs, these are the horrendous rocks Helenus foretold.
Pull away, O comrades, and stand to the oars together."

They do no less than they're asked, and Palinurus is the first
to heave his groaning ship into the portside waves:
all our company seek port with oars and sail.
We climb to heaven on the curving flood, and again
sink down with the withdrawing waves to the depths of Hades.
The cliffs boom three times in their rocky caves,
three times we see the spray burst, and the dripping stars.
Then the wind and sunlight desert weary men,
and not knowing the way we drift to the Cyclopes's shore.

There's a harbour, itself large and untroubled by the passing winds,
but Etna rumbles nearby with fearsome avalanches,
now it spews black clouds into the sky, smoking,
with pitch-black turbulence, and glowing ashes,
and throws up balls of flame, licking the stars:
now it hurls high the rocks it vomits, and the mountain's
torn entrails, and gathers molten lava together in the air
with a roar, boiling from its lowest depths.

The tale is that Enceladus's body, scorched by the lightning-bolt,
is buried by that mass, and piled above him, mighty Etna
breathes flames from its riven furnaces,
and as often as he turns his weary flank, all Sicily
quakes and rumbles, and clouds the sky with smoke.

That night we hide in the woods, enduring the dreadful shocks,
unable to see what the cause of the sound is,
since there are no heavenly fires, no bright pole
in the starry firmament, but clouds in a darkened sky,
and the dead of night holds the moon in shroud.

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

  • how does Anchises interpret the omen of the horses?
  • why is Charybdis dangerous?
  • what kind of mountain is Etna?

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