Aeneid Quotes in Context

Quotes in Context

"A Fickle Thing And Changeful Is Woman Always"

Context: A true epic is a natural, gradual evolution, about whose author little or nothing is known. So the Aeneid (i.e., a poem about Aeneas) is a literary epic, being the result of conscious artistic efforts by Publius Vergilius Maro, product of Rome's Golden Age and friend of its Emperor Augustus. Aeneas, fleeing from burning Troy spends the winter with Queen Dido of Carthage, enjoying her passionate love. Finally details of his delay reach Jove, who has destined Aeneas to found Rome, and he sends his son, Mercury, to order Aeneas to depart. When Queen Dido and her sister Anna beg the Trojan to remain, Mercury again visits him in a vision, to warn him falsely that fickle Dido and her sister are planning to play on his affections and even destroy his ships to prevent his departure. The Greeks are not the only people to have a word for the fickleness of woman. Francis I of France (1494–1547) is supposed to have written with his diamond ring on a window of the Château of Chambord: "Woman often changes; foolish the man who trusts her." The Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto sings: "La donna è mobile (Woman is changeable)." As Virgil tells the story:

. . . a vision . . . visited his dreams . . . in all things like to Mercury, voice and color, yellow locks, and the graceful limbs of youth: . . . "Madman, seest not the after-dangers that beset thee? Resolved on death, she is pondering in her heart fell villainy and treachery, and rousing the swirling tide of passion: . . . Anon, thou wilt see the brine a turmoil of shattered timbers, see torches flashing fierce and the strand fervent with fire, if the rays of dawn discover thee tarrying in the land. Up and go!–truce to delay. A fickle thing and changeful is woman always!" Thus he said, and mingled with the shadows of night.

"A Mind Conscious Of Virtue May Bring To Thee Suitable Rewards"

Context: Virgil, with great patriotism, influenced by Homer, sought to proclaim an origin suitable to the glory of Rome in his epic The Aeneid. Aeneas, son of Venus and a hero of the Trojan War, leader of a company attempting to establish a kingdom in Italy, is confronted with perils similar to those of Ulysses as he and his men sail from Troy to Italy. Shipwrecked near Carthage, Aeneas and Achates, a companion, become separated from the other voyagers, who are rescued and sustained by Dido, Queen of Carthage. Shrouded by a cloud provided by his mother Venus, Aeneas suddenly becomes visible to Dido and, to the amazement of all of the beholders, declares that he is Aeneas, whom they seek. Expressing his gratitude to Dido for the safety of his men, he states that a mind conscious of virtue may bring to thee suitable rewards, or in the translation of Davidson:

. . . I, whom you seek, am present before you; Trojan Aeneas, snatched from the Libyan waves. O thou, who alone hast commiserated Troy's unutterable calamities! who in thy town and palace dost associate us, a remnant saved from the Greeks, who have now been worn out by woes in every shape . . . to repay thee due thanks, great queen, exceeds the power not only of us, but of all the Dardan race, wherever dispersed over the world. The gods (if any powers divine regard the pious, if justice anywhere exists, and a mind conscious of its own virtue) shall yield thee a just recompence. . . .

"Arms And The Man"

Context: The epic form, which Virgil inherited from Homer and which he closely followed in the Aeneid, required that the poet should begin his work with a statement of its subject. Homer had begun the Iliad with the statement that he is writing of "the wrath of Achilles;" and the Odyssey that his subject will be the wanderings of Odysseus. So Virgil tells his audience that his subject will be the wanderings of Aeneas, who escaped from the fall of Troy and endeavored to found a new Trojan empire in Italy. He will tell of the long journey of his hero, of his sufferings caused by the anger of Juno, and of his eventual success in founding what was to become Rome. The epic begins:

I sing of arms and the man who, fated to be an exile, was the first to come from the coasts of Troy to Italy and its shores near Lavinium, a man who was much harassed on land and sea by divine power on account of the relentless anger of savage Juno.

"Each Of Us Suffers His Own Hell"

Context: Written with patriotic inspiration, The Aeneid attempts to give Rome an origin worthy of her greatness. Aeneas, the son of Venus and a hero of the Trojan War, sails from Troy to Italy, encountering perils reminiscent of those of Ulysses. Upon his arrival in Italy, Aeneas is conducted by a Sybil to the land of the dead where his father Anchises reveals to him his destiny as founder of the Roman Empire, showing him the grandeur of their mutual heirs awaiting their earthly sojourns. Anchises explains to Aeneas that all men bear the taint of guilt and that for this reason each of us suffers his own hell before reaching the rewards of the blessed Elysian Fields, or in the translation of Jackson:

. . . Some are hung outspread to the substanceless winds: from others the stain of guilt is washed clean under the waste of waters, or burnt away by fire. We suffer, each in his proper spirit; then are sent to the spacious plains of Elysium, where some few abide in the blissful fields; till at length the hoary ages, when time's cycle is run, purge the incarnate stain, and leave but the purified ethereal sense and the unsullied essential flame. . . .

"Easy Is The Descent To Hell"

Context: During the sack of Troy, Aeneas, son of Anchises and Venus and one of the great Trojan heroes, escapes the destruction of his city and sets out across the Mediterranean to found a new Troy. After having reached Carthage where he and his companions were hospitably received by Queen Dido and after that queen's suicide for love of the hero, Aeneas and his train finally land at Cumae on the shores of Italy. Aeneas at once seeks out the temple of Apollo and the cave of the famous Sibyl. The priestess, Deiphobe, instructs him to offer sacrifices; this order having been carried out, the Sibyl tells Aeneas that, after many more adventures, he will establish a kingdom in Lavinium. Aeneas next asks that he be permitted to visit Hades to see the shade of his father, Anchises, whom he had rescued from the flames of Troy and who had died in Sicily. To this request the Sibyl replies (Compare Milton: "Long is the way/ And hard, that out of Hell leads up to light"):

"O you who are born of the blood of the gods, Trojan son of Anchises, easy is the descent to Avernus [Hell]; the door of dark Dis stands open day and night. But to retrace your steps and come out to the air above, that is work, that is labor!"

"Faithful Achates"

Context: Achates was the faithful companion of Aeneas, and therefore the expression has become proverbial for a trusty comrade. In Book VI of the Aeneid, the hero and his companions have come through a storm to the shores of the Euboean Cumae. "In hot haste," Aeneas' companions rush about in various joys and duties, while the hero goes to the cave of the Sibyl to hear the oracles. While she chants her "dread enigmas and echoes from the cavern, wrapping truth in darkness," Aeneas seeks knowledge of the descent into the Underworld. The prophetess says that it is easy for Aeneas to descend to Avernus, but difficult to return to the upper air. After her prediction, Aeneas is saddened, especially by the statement that he will find there "the dead body of thy friend," because he and Achates do not know which friend is referred to. Virgil continues:

With sad countenance and downcast eyes, Aeneas wends his way, quitting the cavern, and ponders in his mind the dark issues. At his side goes faithful Achates, and plants his steps under a like load of care. Much varied discourse were they weaving, each with each–of what dead comrade spoke the soothsayer, of what body for burial?

"Fortunate Isle, The Abode Of The Blest"

Context: The Aeneid, written to give Rome an origin suited to her glory, portrays the adventures of her founder, Aeneas, son of Venus and hero of the Trojan War, as he seeks to establish a settlement in Italy. Reaching Italy after a tempestuous voyage from Troy, Aeneas is conducted by a Sybil to the land of the dead, where he eventually meets his father in the Elysian Fields and learns of his own great destiny. Approaching the fortunate isle, abode of the blest, Aeneas performs the prescribed rites and places the Golden Bough on the threshold.

This at length performed and the service of the goddess discharged, they came to the realms of joy–the pleasant lawns of the Happy Groves, and the seats of the Blest. Here an ampler ether invests the plains in radiance, and they know their own sun and their own stars. Part by their limbs in the verdant lists and, in sportive conflect, wrestle on the yellow sand; part tread the dance and sing. . . .

"From A Single Crime Know The Nation!"

Context: Publius Vergilius Maro, heir to a prosperous family of Northern Italy, and born a few decades before the end of Rome's Golden Age, received an excellent education and the friendship of some of Rome's most cultured and powerful leaders. Through their urging, he began at the age of forty to compose an epic Homeric poem honoring Rome and his friend, the Emperor Augustus. In the story, Aeneas, fleeing from Troy, was driven by storms to Carthage, the city favored by his enemy Juno. Venus, to befriend him, made Queen Dido fall in love with him. During a welcoming feast, the queen urged Aeneas to tell of his adventures. In Book II he commences his account of the fall of Troy, at the moment when the Danaans, or Greeks, have sailed away, leaving on the shore, "with Pallas' celestial skill to aid, a horse, mountain-huge, and interwove the flanks with hewn pine–an offering, they feigned for their safe return." Inside were "weaponed soldiery," a treacherous trick, contrary to fair fighting, that destroyed the reputation for honor and chivalry of the Greek warriors who had taken part in the ten years' siege. While the Trojans are debating what to do with the horse, a prisoner is brought before them. He tells them that the Greeks had built the wooden horse, so big that it could not be moved, intending it to remain on the shore while they go home to make sacrifices, after which they will return and conquer Troy. The destruction of the city can be averted only if the Phrygians (Trojans) get the wooden horse inside their city. In this way Virgil describes the arrival of the treacherous bearer of the false prophecy about the horse, a young warrior who says he is the escaped victim of the sacrifice demanded by the gods. Achaea, actually land around the Gulf of Corinth, here stands for all of Greece. Its Greek inhabitants, descended from the mythical Danaus, were sometimes called Danaans. Indicative of their well-known treachery, says Aeneas, is this episode of the Trojan horse. This same treachery occasioned another well-known expression, "I fear the Greeks, even though they bring gifts."

But, lo, in the meantime came a band of Dardan shepherds, dragging to their king, amid clamorous outcry, a youth whose hands were bound behind him. A stranger, he had thrown himself of free will in their path, that he might compass this very end and leave Troy naked before Achaea. . . . Now harken to Danaan guile, and from a single crime know the nation! For, as he stood in full view, unweaponed, confused, and swept his gaze round the Phrygian lines, "Alas!" he cried, "what land, what sea, now shall give me haven? . . . I have no place amid the Greeks, and the very Trojans, no less, prove foes and cry for the penalty of blood!"

"Hence, O Hence Ye That Are Uninitiate"

Context: Virgil died while making the final revisions of his Homeric epic about Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. Augustus Caesar, in whose honor it had been composed, ordered the work preserved. In the early books, Aeneas, who had fled from burning Troy carrying his aged father Anchises, tells the story of his flight to Dido, Queen of Carthage. Warned in a dream by Mercury that the queen intends to keep him in Carthage, Aeneas resumes his journey. At Sicily, Anchises dies and is buried. Finally in Book VI Aeneas reaches the shores of Italy at Cumae, famous for its Sibyl or prophetess. She grants Aeneas the privilege of visiting his father in the underworld, and counsels him about the proper religious ceremonies at the Cavern that marks the descent to Avernus. Proserpine or Persephone, the goddess of fertility, wife of Pluto or Hades, is compelled to remain underground part of each year because of the four pomegranate seeds she had eaten when kidnaped and taken there. Hecate, the moon goddess, is her attendant in the lower world, beyond the River Styx, the realm of the Stygian king. The Furies or Erinyes or goddesses of vengeance are the daughters of Earth or Uranius. Night is Earth's sister. When all is ready at the Cavern entrance, about sunrise, the uninitiated, that is, not instructed in the religious mysteries, are ordered to leave the holy forest. The Sibyl has provided four black steers and a lamb whose fleece is black. She has been:

. . . calling the while on Hecate, queen alike in Heaven and Hell. Others set the knife to the throat and caught the warm blood in vessels. Himself, Aeneas, smote with the sword a ewe-lamb of sable fleece to the mother of the Furies and her mighty sister, and to thee, Prosperpine, a barren heifer. Then to the Stygian king he reared altars by night and placed on the flames whole carcasses of bulls, pouring rich oil over the burning flesh. But, lo, about the first rays of the orient sun, earth began to moan under foot, and the ridges of forest to tremble, and hounds seemed to bay through the twilight as the goddess drew nigh. "Hence, O hence," cried the prophetess, "ye that are uninitiate! Withdraw ye from all the grove!" . . .

"I Fear The Greeks, Even Though They Bring Gifts"

Context: As part of the story of the fall of Troy, we have the wanderings of Aeneus, which Virgil told to celebrate the founding of Rome. After seven years of voyaging (an imitation of the travels of Ulysses) Aeneas and his faithful comrades reach Carthage where they are hospitably received by Queen Dido. Before resuming his efforts to find a site for the new Troy which he hopes to establish, Aeneas, at a banquet, tells of the downfall of the old Troy, a story not found in Homer. The Greeks conquered the city by a trick. They pretended to abandon the siege and left on the shore a great wooden horse whose hollow body had been filled with soldiers. The Greeks then sailed just out of sight, while the puzzled Trojans debated the question of what to do with this strange object. Some advocated taking it into the city; others favored destroying it on the beach. Among the latter was Laocoön, priest of Neptune, who thrust his spear into the horse's belly. But two huge snakes came slithering across the sea and killed Laocoön and his sons. The terrified Trojans then brought the horse into their city. The famous warning of Laocoön is

"O miserable citizens, what great insanity is this? Do you believe that the enemy has sailed away, or do you think that any gifts of the Greeks are free from deceit? . . . Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks, even though they bring gifts."

"It Is Enough To Have Perished Once"

Context: Fired by patriotism, Virgil wrote the Aeneid to give to Rome an origin suited to her greatness. Aeneas, son of Venus and hero of the Trojan War, encounters difficulties similar to those of Ulysses as he sails from Troy to Italy, but, led on by his destiny, he reaches Italy and overcomes the armies of the inhabitants. The destined union of the Latins and the Trojan invaders is accomplished when the aged King Latinus gives to Aeneas the hand of his daughter Lavinia. Turnus, chief suitor of Lavinia, becomes the arch enemy of Aeneas, and, declaring his intention of fighting until death against the Trojans, exclaims, "It is enough to have perished once." In the translation of Mackail the passage reads:

. . . In no wise am I dismayed by those divine oracles of doom that the Phrygians insolently advance. Fate and Venus are satisfied, in that the Trojans have touched our fruitful Ausonian fields. I too have my destiny against theirs, to put utterly to the sword the guilty nation who have robbed me of my bride; not the sons of Atreus alone feel that pain, nor may Mycenae alone take arms. But to have perished once is enough! . . .

"There Are Tears For Misfortune"

Context: Virgil, fired with patriotism, wrote the epic The Aeneid, reminiscent of The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer, in an effort to give to Rome a fitting background and destiny. Aeneas, son of Venus and a hero of the Trojan War, in attempting to reach Italy, is driven by stormy seas to Carthage. He is deeply moved when he sees engraved upon the walls in the city the battles of Ilium, in which he fought, and exclaims to his faithful friend, Achates, the line above, "There are tears for misfortune." In the translation of Jackson, the passage reads:

. . . He stayed his foot, and, "Achates," he cried, "is there any place, is there any land of all the lands, that is not yet rife with our tale of sorrow? Lo, here is Priam! Even here, virtue hath her rewards, and mortality her tears: even here, the woes of man touch the heart of man! Dispel thy fears; this fame of ours is herald to some salvation!" He said, and sated his soul with the barren portraiture; and oft he sighed, and his cheeks were wet with the welling flood. . . .