Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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


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

And sure enough, here comes the Cyclops Polyphemus, blinded now, but still a formidable monster, "vast and shapeless, robbed of the light." The Trojans sail away and head for the westernmost point of Sicily, the port of Drepanum, where the greatest sadness of all awaits Aeneas... It is from this point, from Drepanum, that Aeneas and his ships will soon be blown by a storm towards the south (see map), ending up on the shores of north Africa. That is how they come to Carthage, to the city of Queen Dido - and remember, Aeneas is telling his story to Dido right now, at a feast she is holding in his honor...

He'd barely spoken, when we saw the shepherd Polyphemus
himself, moving his mountainous bulk on the hillside
among the flocks, and heading for the familiar shore,
a fearful monster, vast and shapeless, robbed of the light.
A lopped pine-trunk in his hand steadied and guided
his steps: his fleecy sheep accompanied him:
his sole delight and the solace for his evils.

As soon as he came to the sea and reached the deep water,
he washed away the blood oozing from the gouged eye-socket,
groaning and gnashing his teeth. Then he walked through
the depths of the waves, without the tide wetting his vast thighs.
Anxiously we hurried our departure from there, accepting
the worthy suppliant on board, and cutting the cable in silence:
then leaning into our oars, we vied in sweeping the sea.
He heard, and bent his course towards the sound of splashing.
But when he was denied the power to set hands on us,
and unable to counter the force of the Ionian waves, in pursuit,
he raised a mighty shout, at which the sea and all the waves
shook, and the land of Italy was frightened far inland,
and Etna bellowed from its winding caverns, but the tribe
of Cyclopes, roused from their woods and high mountains,
rushed to the harbour, and crowded the shore.

We saw them standing there, impotently, wild-eyed,
the Aetnean brotherhood, heads towering into the sky,
a fearsome gathering: like tall oaks rooted on a summit,
or cone-bearing cypresses, in Jove's high wood or Diana's grove.
Acute fear drove us on to pay out the ropes on whatever tack
and spread our sails to any favourable wind.

Helenus's orders warned against taking a course between
Scylla and Charybdis, a hair's breadth from death
on either side: we decided to beat back again.
When, behold, a northerly arrived from the narrow
headland of Pelorus: I sailed past the natural rock mouth
of the Pantagias, Megara's bay, and low-lying Thapsus.
Such were the shores Achaemenides, the friend of unlucky Ulysses,
showed me, sailing his wandering journey again, in reverse.

An island lies over against wave-washed Plemyrium,
stretched across a Sicilian bay: named Ortygia by men of old.
The story goes that Alpheus, a river of Elis, forced
a hidden path here under the sea, and merges
with the Sicilian waters of your fountain Arethusa.
As commanded we worshipped the great gods of this land,
and from there I passed marshy Helorus's marvellously rich soil.

Next we passed the tall reefs and jutting rocks of Pachynus,
and Camerina appeared in the distance, granted
immoveable, by prophecy, and the Geloan plains,
and Gela named after its savage river.
Then steep Acragas, once the breeder of brave horses,
showed its mighty ramparts in the distance:
and granted the wind, I left palmy Selinus, and passed
the tricky shallows of Lilybaeum with their blind reefs.

Next the harbour of Drepanum, and its joyless shore,
received me. Here, alas, I lost my father, Anchises,
my comfort in every trouble and misfortune, I, who'd
been driven by so many ocean storms: here you left me,
weary, best of fathers, saved from so many dangers in vain!
Helenus, the seer, did not prophesy this grief of mine,
when he warned me of many horrors, nor did grim Celaeno.
This was my last trouble, this the end of my long journey:
leaving there, the god drove me to your shores.

So our ancestor Aeneas, as all listened to one man,
recounted divine fate, and described his journey.
At last he stopped, and making an end here, rested.

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

  • what do Aeneas and his men do when they see the Cyclops?
  • what happens to Achaemenides?
  • what was the final tragedy of Aeneas's voyage?

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