Episode 55: Among the Shades

Virgil’s Aeneid, Books 4-6. The story of Dido and Aeneas, and his subsequent journey to the underworld, is the heart of Rome’s most famous poem.

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Virgil’s Aeneid, Books 4-6

Hello, and welcome to Literature and History. Episode 55: Among the Shades. This is the second of four programs on Virgil’s Aeneid, an epic poem first put into circulation in about 19 BCE. In the previous show, we heard the story of how Aeneas, his father Anchises, and his son Iulus escaped from Troy, together with a framing narrative about how Aeneas and his fellow Trojan refugees got swept down to the North African city of Carthage seven years later, where they met Queen Dido. And now, it’s time to talk about what happened next.

Many of the most haunting and poignant moments of the Aeneid take place in the part of the story that you’re about to hear. And a critical number of these moments involve Queen Dido of Carthage. In the words of scholar David Scott Wilson-Okamura “Dido has a way of taking books over,” whether these books are academic studies, or the Aeneid itself.1 Saint Augustine, in the Confessions, once berated himself for being more emotionally invested in the romance between Dido and Aeneas than he was in his own religion. Augustine wrote, “What is more pitiable than a wretch without pity for himself who weeps over. . .Dido [and] Aeneas, but not. . .over himself dying for his lack of love for you, my God.”2 While Virgil’s coverage of Dido is fairly brief, she is the figure whom most of us remember years after we finish the Aeneid – even as Aeneas himself smudges together with other epic heroes and fades from memory. Book 4 of the Aeneid, which is the part of the story that concerns Dido the most, is often studied in isolation and used by students learning to read Latin.3

Pasinelli Aeneas and Dido Virgil

Lorenzo Pasinelli’s Aeneas and Dido (late 17th-century).

Because Dido is such a crucial figure in the part of the Aeneid we’re going to discuss today, we should briefly review what we learned about her in the previous program. Dido was originally a Phoenician princess from the city of Tyre in the southern part of modern day Lebanon. She had married a very rich man named Sychaeus, and they’d been happy together. However, Sychaeus’ great wealth attracted jealousy – specifically the jealousy of Dido’s brother Pygmalion, the King of Tyre. And so Dido’s brother Pygmalion murdered her husband Sychaeus in order to take his money. Thereafter, the ghost of Sychaeus told Dido to flee from Tyre, and he told her where to find money that he’d hidden away. Taking her departed husband’s advice, Dido retrieved the cash, rounded up a large group of Phoenician allies who also detested her brother, and sailed to the north of modern day Tunisia, where she founded Carthage.

In Book 1 of the Aeneid, Dido and Aeneas meet for the first time, and discover that they have many commonalities. They are both the heads of state, and both the newly founded Carthage and Aeneas’ wandering Trojans face perilous and uncertain futures. They are refugees, and have each lost their spouses to violence. They are brave, and kind, and eloquent, and resilient, and well respected by their people. Their commonalities are especially clear in Book 1 of the Aeneid, when Dido tells Aeneas, “Fortune has battered me too, with some similar twists, through so many / Trials, yet finally willed that I settle down here in this country. / I am no stranger to hardship. I am learning to help those who suffer” (1.628-30).4 From their personal misfortunes, to their efforts to help their respective kingdoms, Virgil sets up so much fellow feeling between the two – such a touching combination of past loss and hope for the future, and such a mutual need for camaraderie and second chances – that a romance between them is palpable from the moment they appear onstage together for the first time.

Book 4 picks up with this romance. Between the natural affection she is developing for Aeneas, and the supernatural intervention of Venus, who has made Dido feel even more strongly toward the newly arrived foreigner, Dido is falling hard for Aeneas as Book 4 begins. So let’s pick up the story of Books 4-6 of the Aeneid, and one of the most famous romances in all literature. I’ll be quoting from four translations in this program, but unless otherwise noted, I’ll be quoting from the excellent and amply footnoted Frederick Ahl translation, published by Oxford University Press in 2007. [music]

Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 4

Dido Contemplates Her Feelings

It was very late. Aeneas had finished telling his story. And Dido seethed with strange emotions – anguish and passion – and a flutter of images from the stories that Aeneas had told hung in her mind and she still heard his words long after he’d finished speaking.

The next morning, feeling that she was not at all well, Dido went to see her sister Anna. Dido remarked on Aeneas’ looks to her sister – and his bravery and how unkind fate had been to him. And Dido said, in the Frederick Ahl translation,
Were it not rooted, immovably fixed in my mind, that I’d never
So much as wish to ally myself with another in marriage,
After my first great love deceived me and failed me by dying,
Were I not weary of weddings, my thoughts about marriage so altered,
I, perhaps, could rest easily with this – one point of censure.
Anna, I have to confess: ever since my poor husband. . .
Died and my brother stained our household’s shrines with his slaughter,
[Aeneas] is the one man who’s suppled my senses and pummeled my fainting
Mind’s resolution. (4.15-23)5

Dido’s sister Anna nodded, noting that Dido had, in fact, rejected many suitors after the death of her husband. Anna said that Dido’s kingdom was surrounded by wilderness and hostile territories, and further that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Dido married the attractive and articulate veteran of the Trojan War who happened to have just shown up. Tell him to stick around, said Anna – winter was coming, and their ships needed maintenance, after all.

The advice had a palpable effect on Dido, and the two sisters went to sacrifice some animals. Some time passed, and Dido often found herself in the temple. Virgil writes, “Sometimes [Dido] paces, before heaven’s eyes, to the rich smoke of altars, / Starting the day with her offerings, staring intently as cattle’s / Cavernous chests are cut open, consulting their still living entrails” (4.62-4). You know how that is, when you’re falling in love, thinking of that other person constantly, and – uh – staring longingly into bovine chest cavities.

Heinrich Friedrich Füger Dido Virgil

Heinrich Friedrich Füger’s Dido (1792).

Anyway, Dido wandered the halls of Carthage, her thoughts always on Aeneas. And she took him all over her developing city, showcasing its growing resources, and at odd moments finding herself unable to finish her sentences around him. Late in the evenings, she would go and sit down in places where Aeneas had sat. And meanwhile, out in the city, construction of fortifications and buildings began to falter as the queen’s focus turned increasingly elsewhere.

Juno and Venus watched Dido falling harder and harder for Aeneas. Juno proposed a union between the two – Aeneas’ Trojans would join Dido’s Carthaginians, and the two kingdoms would be unified. Now, remember, Juno wants to keep Aeneas in Carthage. Juno loves Carthage, and she has heard that one day, after Aeneas founds a kingdom up in Italy, his descendants will destroy Carthage, as Romans actually did in 146 BCE. So, for Juno, setting Dido and Aeneas up is a good way to bolster her favorite city with some musclebound veterans and ensure its ultimate longevity. Venus, on the other hand, wants to get her son Aeneas up to Italy so that he can found his kingdom, and earlier, she made Dido fall in love with Aeneas so that Aeneas would be safe during his brief stay over in Carthage. Venus, unlike Juno, has no intentions of cementing a real, lasting marriage between Dido and Aeneas. Venus, as I said in the previous episode, doesn’t exactly display a lot of circumspection in Greco-Roman literature, and so her motivations for having Aeneas and Dido actually marry one another are not very clear. It’s possible that Venus is spurring the union on in order to play a trick on Juno, who believes the prospective union to be to her advantage. Venus, after all, is told by Jupiter in Book 1 that Aeneas will reach Italy and establish the future grounds of Rome, and so Venus knows full well that the marriage that Juno wants to happen so badly won’t last.6 Whatever Venus’ exact grounds for having Dido and Aeneas marry, that’s the background on the Juno, Dido, Venus, Aeneas quadrangle at this point, the gods, as always, vying for power and influence, and the humans generally suffering as a result.

Juno proposed a marital union between Dido and Aeneas, explaining that the two were planning a hunt the following morning. Juno said she’d cause poor weather to fall over the hunting party and see to it that Dido and Aeneas wound up stranded in a cave together, where she would marry them. Venus, for whatever reason, agreed to this plan. [music]

The Marriage of Aeneas and Dido

Thomas Jones - Landscape with Dido and Aeneas - Virgil

Thomas Jones’ Landscape with Dido and Aeneas (1769). The dark woodland scene dwarfs the two figures, underscoring their powerlessness and lack of agency at this moment in the story.

At dawn the next morning, a party of Carthaginians and Trojans rode out of the gates of the city, and into the trackless mountains nearby. Aeneas’ little son Iulus, also called Ascanius, rode along with them, thrilled to gallop through the rocks and hills and herds of deer. The hunting party hadn’t gone very far when the sky darkened. Rain and hail began falling in torrents, and streams began rushing down the mountainsides. Trojans and Carthaginians alike scattered, and Aeneas and Dido ended up stranded in the same cavern, and Virgil makes clear that as the storm raged outside, Aeneas and Dido were married by Juno.

Rather than writing an extended love scene at the moment Dido and Aeneas come together, Virgil turns prophetic. “That. . .day,” he writes, “caused death, that first day began the disasters” (4.169), meaning the later century long conflict between Rome and Carthage that would unfold almost a thousand years later. Dido, Virgil writes, threw herself into her new marriage with abandon, not worrying that it wasn’t a diplomatically or state sanctioned union. Aeneas did the same. As winter fell over North Africa, Dido and Aeneas thought only of one another, the great legacies of their kingdoms suddenly secondary to their new love.

The kingdoms around them took notice. Particularly, a ruler called Iarbas, who had once proposed to Dido and been rejected, watched Aeneas with bitter jealousy. To Iarbas, Aeneas was an effeminate easterner with no claim to marriage with Dido. Iarbas himself had been there when Dido had arrived in North Africa – Iarbas had helped her set up her kingdom, and here she was with a perfumed Trojan! Iarbas said that he had heard rumors of Dido’s marriage, and in a prayer to Jupiter, he asked if Jupiter might just be a rumor, too, if such things were being allowed to take place. This blasphemy caught Jupiter’s attention. Jupiter sent Mercury to Aeneas with a message. Aeneas’ fate, said Jupiter, was not to get comfortable in Carthage with Dido. Aeneas’ fate was elsewhere, and greater. If Aeneas didn’t travel to Italy for his own sake, said Jupiter, he must do it for the sake of posterity – for the sake of setting his son up as the progenitor of a glorious civilization. And Jupiter added at the end of his directive, “Tell him to sail. That’s final. Let this serve him notice of our will” (4.236-7).

Affresco romano - Virgil's Aeneas and Dido

Roman fresco showing Dido and Aeneas. From the House of the Citharist in Pompeii,(10 BCE – 45 CE). Photo by Stefano Bolognini.

And so Mercury went to dispatch his message, his golden winged boots blazing over banks of clouds, craggy mountains, icy waterfalls, and then glimmering over the surface of the ocean. When he reached Carthage, Mercury found Aeneas there at work building houses. Mercury accosted him immediately. “You,” said Mercury, “laying foundations for mighty Carthage. . .Obsessed with your wife, you’re now building a lovely / City for her” (4.266-7). That dastardly Aeneas, caring about his wife and doing things for her – what a sick, disgraceful man! Mercury elaborated a moment later. There was a long term plan for Aeneas, said Mercury, and it didn’t involve a permanent North African vacation. And before Aeneas could even reply, Mercury vanished.

Aeneas’ jaw dropped. He couldn’t speak, his scalp prickled, and his senses dimmed. He did have to get out, he thought. He had to escape Carthage. But then there was Dido. Aeneas considered how to bring the issue up to her. He would begin, he thought, by having his men secretly get the ships ready for departure. And as they did that, he would talk with Dido and test out some different approaches for severing their union. It’s was not a particularly brave or forthright way to manage the situation. And Dido took notice. [music]

Dido Confronts Aeneas

Aeneas’ men began preparing the ships to sail north. It’s not clear how the Trojans planned to repair and fortify their fleet, which had been damaged by storms, without anyone noticing. And soon enough, Queen Dido did perceive that something was going on out in the harbor. Dido’s immediate reaction was anger. Virgil writes, “Mind out of control, all ablaze, [Dido] screams through the city” (4.300). Because Aeneas never admitted to her that he was leaving, Dido herself finally confronted him. Here is an excerpt from her speech to him, in the Fairclough prose translation this time:
False one! Did you really hope to cloak so foul a crime, and to steal from my land in silence? Does neither our love restrain you, nor the pledge once given, nor the doom of a cruel death for Dido? Even in the winter season do you actually hasten to labour at your fleet, and to journey over the sea in the midst of [a] northern gale, heartless one? What! If you were not in quest of alien lands and homes unknown, were ancient Troy yet standing, would Troy be sought by your ships over stormy seas? Is it from me you are fleeing? By these tears and your right hand, I pray you – since nothing else, alas, have I left myself – by the marriage that is ours, by the nuptial rites begun, if ever I deserved well of you, or if anything of mine has been sweet in your sight, pity a falling house, and if yet there be any room for prayers, put away, I pray, this purpose. Because of you the Libyan tribes and Numidian chiefs hate me, the [Carthaginians] are my foes; because of you I have also lost my honour and that former fame by which alone I was winning a title to the stars. To whose mercy do you leave me on the point of death, guest – since that alone is left from the name of husband? (4.305-24)7

Aeneas could say little to reply to this speech. Their romance had ruined her standing in Carthage and he was indeed abandoning her to with a stilted stature in a hostile region. His most famous line in self defense is hic amor, haec patria est, which means “one one side is the obligation of love, on the other side the obligation of homeland.” It’s a famous line, in that it encapsulates many of the tough situations in which Aeneas finds himself throughout the epic – situations in which different kinds of duty pull him in different directions. In this way, Aeneas’ world is more complex and compromised than that of the Homeric Achilles or Odysseus. All three have to fight through and survive some dreadful situations, but Aeneas, far more than his Homeric predecessors, has contradictory obligations that leave a trail of destruction behind him wherever he goes. He might be a more morally ambiguous hero than Achilles or Odysseus, but he might also be a more morally realistic character.8

Anyway, Aeneas told Dido that he would always remember her. And he also said that they had never really had a formal wedding. Italy, said Aeneas, was what the fates had in store for him, just as the fates had had Carthage in store for her. Neither of them had any choice about it. He had to go to Italy.

Dido was silent in the wake of his speech. She looked him over, her anger roiling until she could restrain herself no longer. He was no son of a goddess, she said. He was from some far off godless mountains, suckled by wild animals. She had taken him in after his shipwreck, given him a place in her kingdom, helped him recover his missing vessels and people. And he was leaving. She wouldn’t, she said, try and stop him. But she would hope that his ship wrecked, as he fell into the ocean and his lungs filled with seawater, he’d gargle her name. He would not escape her anger, she said. They were both going to the underworld, and there, she would find him. “My destination,” she concluded, “is yours. There’ll be no impunity. You’ll pay” (4.386). With these imprecations voiced, Dido wheeled and went out into the palace corridors, an illness churning in her stomach. Aeneas, shaken and sick at heart, went to look over his navy. [music]

The Death of Dido

Out in the harbor, the Trojan ships were being repaired and resealed. In and out of the city the Trojans sped, carting supplies to their ships, as busy and industrious as ants. High in the palace, Dido watched the Trojan preparation for departure, her previous fury giving way to tears. She went to Aeneas again, this time with a different approach. She asked her sister Anna to go to him. Side note, by the way – in this scene Virgil implies that Aeneas and Dido’s sister Anna have a trusting relationship – a relationship that has evidently unfolded off camera at some point during Book 4. Anyway, Dido asked her sister Anna to go to Aeneas, and make a request of him – not that he remain in Carthage forever, or even honor their union, however undefined it was, but to at least stay a little while longer and give her time to collect her thoughts.

But the entreaty, when Anna delivered it, was unsuccessful. Aeneas was as immobile, we learn in an epic simile, as an oak tree under a north wind. Virgil tells us that “[H]e, in his great heart, felt all the anguish. / But, in his mind, he remained unmoved; tears flood, but are wasted” (4.44-9). When Dido heard of Aeneas’ refusal to even linger for a little while longer, her little flicker of hope vanished, and she fell into even deeper devastation.

The great sky beyond the palace seemed to hold nothing for her. Within her chambers there were vessels of sacred water and ceremonial wine, but the water had turned black and the wine had thickened into a mush of clotted blood. The altar that she maintained for her dear departed Phoenician husband called out strange words, and at night, a screech owl cried out into the empty sky. Aeneas became in her mind a monster – and time seemed to collapse – he was killing her just as his people would some day kill hers, ages hence. The sun seemed to melt in two. In that moment, Dido surrendered herself to death.

And yet to her sister, she pretended to be recovering. There was, said Dido, a priestess who had once guarded a dragon. This priestess, rumor had it, could liberate people’s minds – she could halt rivers and make the dead come back to life. Dido asked Anna to build a pyre in the central palace courtyard, and to place on top of it Aeneas’ arms and armor, which hung on their bedroom walls, and also the bed that they’d shared. Dido was going to perform a ritual, she said – and Aeneas’ things, and the relics of the love they’d shared – it all needed to be burned.

And so Anna did as she was asked, and she built the pyre in the courtyard. Sacred water was placed there, and herbs. Dido cleaned herself and prayed for a deity who was gracious and had memories of the past. Night fell, and the livestock out in the fields quieted, and Dido considered alternatives to death. She could marry a desert chieftain, she thought. Or, perhaps, she could try and take her people and accompany the Trojans to Italy. But then, her people had already resettled. And the Trojans had no particular love for her, even if she’d helped them from the brink of destruction. Her mind wandered through a sequence of dead ends, and for a moment she blamed her sister for encouraging her union with Aeneas to begin with.

Out in the Carthaginian harbor, Aeneas was asleep in the cabin of his ship and dreaming, evidently far less heartsick than his lover onshore. But a deity came to him in his sleep and gave him a warning. He had done something awful to a powerful queen. He was still vulnerable to her forces, and in the bounds of her territories. It was time, said the messenger in Aeneas’ dream, to get out of Carthage.

Aeneas got out of bed and sprang into action. He told his men to prepare for immediate departure. Oarsmen went to their benches and Aeneas unsheathed his sword and cut their mooring line. Soon, the Trojans were straining their backs to get out of the harbor.

Not long after, the rising sun revealed that the Trojans were leaving. Dido, watching them, felt sudden fury. This was it, she thought. Aeneas had no regard for her – nor even fear of her kingdom’s power! She shouted into the bright morning air to the Carthaginians – outfit their fleet, she said, prepare fire and weaponry for a massacre. But her desire for immediate vengeance subsided. She should not have become his lover, she thought. There had been a time when she could have restrained him in Carthage with all the dignity and imperiousness of a respected queen, but that time had passed.

It was all futile now, she thought. If she stopped his fleet and cut him to pieces and killed his shipmates – if she cut down his son and served the little boy to his father – if she started a war with the Trojans – or if she had burned their ships upon arrival, even – none of it would bring, or would have brought her any respite. As she watched the Trojan ships diminish into the distance, Dido voiced a curse on them – a curse that would have weighty consequences in the central Mediterranean almost a thousand years later. Dido said, and this the Penguin W.F. Jackson Knight translation,
Terrible Spirits of Avenging Curse! Angels of Death. . .All of you, hear me now. Direct the force of your divine will, as you must, on the evil here, and listen to my prayer. If that wicked being must sail surely to land and come to harbour, because such is the fixed and destined ending required by Jupiter’s own ordinances, yet let him afterwards suffer affliction in war through the arms of a daring foe, let him be banished from his own territory, and torn from the embraces of [his son], imploring aid as he sees his innocent friends die, and then, after surrendering to a humiliating peace, may he not live to enjoy his kingdom in days of happiness; but may he lie fallen before his time, unburied on a lonely [shore]. That is my prayer and my last cry, and it comes from me with my life-blood streaming. From then onwards shall you, my [Carthaginians], torment with acts of pursuing hate all his descendants to come, each member of his line. This service shall be your offering to my shade. Neither love nor compact shall there be between the nations. And from my dead bones may some Avenger arise to persecute with fire and sword those settlers from Troy, soon or in after-time, whenever the strength is given. Let your shores oppose their shores, your waves their waves, your arms their arms. That is my imprecation. Let them fight, they, and their sons’ sons, forever!9

Even in the prose translation there, I think the venom and fury of Dido’s words come across. And just to state the obvious, Dido’s words there not only curse Aeneas himself, but also herald the coming Punic Wars, those wars fought from 264-146 BCE which resulted in the near annihilation of Rome.

Johann Heinrich Tischbein - Dido on the Pyre, 1775 Virgil

Johann Heinrich Tischbein’s Dido on the Pyre (1775). Many artists have tackled the death of Dido in paintings – this particular one conveys the mixture of rage, grief, and vulnerability that Dido experiences in her final moments.

With her scourge on Aeneas and his descendants voiced, Dido summoned her maid and her sister. She looked around, her eyes haunted and bloodshot, and then went to the courtyard. Dido climbed her pyre – that heap of household objects, at the top of which was her bridal bed and Aeneas’ armor and a sword he’d left behind. Reaching the bed she’d shared with the departing Trojan, Dido thought of how dear it had all once seemed. She said she had lived a good life – that she had saved her people from her awful brother and founded a city, and that up until the Trojans’ arrival all had been okay. But, she said, lacking vengeance, Aeneas, out at sea, would see the glow of her bonfire. And with these last words Dido fell onto his sword.

The attendants below screamed. As the pyre was lit the city burst into chaos, and Dido’s sister Anna rushed through throngs of people. She had expected the pyre to be for purification, and not a suicide, and so as Anna ran she said Dido had committed a fraud against her – that if Anna had known its true purpose she would have died alongside her sister. When Dido’s body was brought to Anna, Dido was still alive. Even with the sword in her, Dido’s great constitution drove her to try to rise – once, twice, and then a third time, but the blade of the sword scraped her ribcage, and she couldn’t get up. Juno pitied her and sought to ease her death, and so she sent the goddess Iris to perform a sacred ritual of cutting the hair off the dying. And the final words of Book 4 are, “Then, as [the goddess Iris’] right hand severed the hair, all warmth escaped Dido; / And as it did, life fluttered away from her into the breezes” (4.704-5). [music]

Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 5

The Funeral Games of Anchises

Aeneas sailed north through dark waves. Behind him, Carthage was aglow with a strange fire. Whatever it was, the Trojans thought, it was a horrible omen. As they continued north, they lost sight of the land behind them. A winter crossing of the Mediterranean was as perilous in Virgil’s time as it was a thousand years earlier, in that of Aeneas, and rainclouds thickened over their heads. The helmsman pointed out a peril to Aeneas – a huge mass of murk to the north of them. They needed, said the helmsman, to temporarily change course. Sicily was the closest place they could make landfall.

Fortunately for the Trojans, an ally lived nearby – a man named Acestes who had old ties to Troy. Acestes took the Trojans in and regaled them with food and presents. In a speech to his men, Aeneas recalled that it had been a year, now, since his father had died on the way past Sicily. He said it was time to hold funeral games for his father Anchises, who had died back at the end of Book 3. There would be a ship race, a footrace, javelin throwing and archery, and boxing. Following this announcement, Aeneas went to the site where they’d buried his father Anchises a year earlier. He poured offerings to his dead father and said a prayer, and witnessed a good omen. A beautiful blue and golden snake appeared, shimmering and iridescent beneath the sunny sky, and the snake circled the burial mound seven times. In awe of the propitious omen, Aeneas and his men sacrificed pigs and cattle.

The following day dawned bright and sunny, and the Trojans prepared for Anchises’ funeral games. These funeral games take up most of Book 5 of the Aeneid. I want to talk a bit about these funeral games up front. The long sequence involving the funeral games was influenced by Book 23 of the Iliad, during which extensive funeral games are held for Achilles’ best friend Patroclus. In both cases, I think, to our modern ears, pausing a war or a divinely mandated journey for the sake of holding a prolonged athletic contest is quite bizarre. Aeneas, after all, has just broken a great queen’s heart and compelled one of the most tragic deaths in literature so as to hasten up to the Italian mainland, and here he is in Book 5 stopping over in Sicily for a number of days so that his men can run little boat races with one another and beat one another up with primitive boxing gloves. Almost all of Book 5 is devoted to elaborate descriptions of the funeral games for Anchises in Sicily. Why write the scene, then?

I’ll give you two answers before we get into the games. The first is that, while the funeral games for Anchises aren’t strictly necessary for the advancement of the story’s plot, they are beautifully told – a series of set pieces that help us get acquainted with Aeneas’ Trojans as they pour themselves into athletic contests. The second, connectedly, is that the athletic games of Book 5 allow Virgil to offer what we might call shout outs to various prominent Romans of his day and age. For instance, at the opening of the funeral games, Virgil describes how a ship called the Pristis was piloted by a man named Mnestheus, who was an ancestor of the family with the name Memmius. The most prominent Memmius, in the first century BCE, was an aristocrat of the generation before Virgil. He was the patron of Lucretius, a philosopher Virgil admired, and he switched sides to back Caesar in the civil war of the early 40s. Another ship is piloted by an ancestor of the Sergian clan – and this was the clan of Lucius Sergius Catilina – that same Catiline we met back in Episode 47, whom Cicero stopped from seizing power in Rome. This second ship is co-piloted by a man named Cloanthus, an ancestor of the Cluentius family, another clan influential in the generations leading up to Virgil’s. Book 5 alludes to the Punic Wars, to the wars with Sextus Pompey that Octavian and Agrippa fought in the 30s BCE around Sicily, and to a gamut of historical figures that Augustus might have been keen to recognize when Virgil read the books of the poem to him. We’re going to talk quite a bit about the hundreds of allusions to Virgil’s Rome that are scattered throughout the Aeneid at the close of this and the next couple of episodes. The extent to which the Aeneid as a whole valorizes, or does not valorize the reign of the Augustus is one of the central issues of the entire poem. But giving you a full print out of all the allusions to Roman history of Virgil’s time even just in Book 5 alone would be an exhausting exercise, involving dozens of proper nouns and dates. So for now let’s just say that the funeral games portion of the Aeneid lets Virgil craft a number of parallels between his own time and the legendary past. In doing so, he furthers one of the main general goals of the Aeneid – taking set pieces from Homeric epics, and working them into a Roman context.

So, the funeral games for old Anchises began with a rowing competition between several boats. Aeneas marked a turning point out in the ocean, and the rowers prepared for a vigorous race. As always, whether he’s writing about spreading manure on fields or the magnificence of Jupiter himself, Virgil’s poetry is superb. Here’s the W.F. Jackson Knight translation of the beginning of the ship race:
The crews donned wreaths of poplar-leaves and smeared their bare shoulders with oil until they glistened. They took their places on the thwarts, and with arms stretched and braced at the oars intently awaited the call. Their hearts beat fast with the strain of nervous excitement and their eager thirst for glory. At last the trumpet rang out clear. Immediately all leapt forward from their places on the starting-line. Seamen’s shouts hit the sky as they drew back their arms, and the waters were churned to foam. They clove furrows in unison; wrenched by the oars and cut by the trident-stems, the sea-surface split open. Never with such a headlong pace did any chariots in pair-horse competition stream from their starting-cage and tear racing along the course. Never so did any charioteers shake rippling leather reins on uncurbed teams, or so bend forward to the lash. All the forest-land roared with the applause of onlookers and supporters urging on their favorites. The shouting beat against the surrounding hills and came echoing back; the cries were held, rolling round, about the low ground by the bay. (5.134-50)10

The competition was so fierce that a pilot threw a co-pilot overboard into the sea so that he could command his ship. In the end, it came down to a dead race between the ancestors of Gaius Memmius and those of Aulus Cluentius, again a prominent pair of first century BCE Romans, and in the end Cluentius’ progenitor was able to maintain his lead through means of prayers to oceanic deities. Fine prizes were dispersed amidst the contest’s victors – an ornate cloak for the first place victor, a chain mail shirt for the second, some bronze cauldrons for the third, and for the last, a slave girl from Crete nursing two baby boys. I don’t know what’s worse – being offered as a prize in a boat race, or being offered as the last place condolence prize, but in any case, the distribution of the prizes for the rowing competition marked the end of the first phase of the funeral games for Aeneas’ father. [music]

Running, Boxing, Archery, and Disaster

Next up was a footrace. Aeneas explained the rules of the competition ahead of time. Everyone, he said, would receive nice prizes, but the winners would receive extra valuables. The race proceeded, and Virgil throws himself into describing it with all his characteristic skill and energy. The runners exploded forward like a cloud, so closely matched in athletic ability that it was difficult to tell who would emerge victorious. Eventually, one runner fell. To help one of his fellow athletes, the fallen runner tripped another contestant. When the participants crossed the finish line, there were thus some complications about who deserved which prize – after all, the man who’d been tripped didn’t deserve any dishonor for losing. And so Aeneas gave the man who’d been tripped a special lion’s skin, and everyone else who felt unjustly served by the results were given such generous prizes that all were satisfied.

The funeral games then proceeded with a boxing competition. One Trojan hero, a man called Dares, stood up immediately, proclaiming himself ready for a fight. He was freakishly strong, and so skilled in hand-to-hand combat that as he looked around for a challenger, no one would enter into a contest with him. Thinking himself victor by default, Dares went to Aeneas to claim his prizes. But Aeneas wasn’t quite ready to cede a victory to the great Dares. Aeneas encouraged a man named Entellus to fight Dares. Entellus was also a decorated fighter, although a bit older, and when Entellus was convinced to fight Dares backed down. After some more hesitancy on both sides, centered on which boxing leathers – essentially boxing gloves – each man would wear, Aeneas himself wrapped their hands and they squared off for a bout.

At first the contest was uncertain. Entellus was older, and slower on his feet, but also larger and dreadfully powerful. Dares was young and his reactions were fast. Entellus, early in the contest, tripped and fell over. When this older fighter arose, it was with a sense of humiliation and rage at having gone down without even having been hit. Old Entellus then attacked Dares so ferociously that Aeneas had to break them up and declare Entellus the victor. Dares limped off to his ship, and Entellus, now so angry that he sought to show the assembly how powerful he’d been in his youth, crushed the skull of a sacrificial ox with his fist. Having done so, he said he had proved himself as much he needed to, and would henceforth retire from boxing. And I think one lesson we can take away from this scene is that it is extremely dangerous to be a quadruped in an ancient epic.

Following the boxing match, it was time for an archery contest. One of the Trojan captains tied a dove to his ship’s mast. And several archers – the best that Troy had produced – prepared their bows for a contest. The first fired and missed, though the arrow struck the mast so hard that it shivered. The second fired and the iron tip of his arrow severed the linen tether that held the dove to the masthead. The dove, thinking herself free, attempted an escape. But, as Frederick Ahl translates it,
Seizing the moment, [the third archer], long since ready with bowstring Taut, sets eye on the dove, bright white on a backdrop of black cloud, Flapping and clapping her wings in joy at escape through the empty Skies. So he prays. . .and fires a shot, and he strikes her. Lifeless, she drops to the earth, soul lost in the billowing stardust. (5.513-17)

A minor moment in the Aeneid, overall, but one that demonstrates Virgil’s relentlessly vivid imagery and the way that he can bring epic drama even to a recreational contest. The archery competition continued, however, with a final event. A fourth archer twanged an arrow far up into the sky, thinking that he could at least demonstrate his strength with a bow, even though the target had already been hit. The arrow, to everyone’s astonishment, caught fire as it flew, and rose all the way into the clouds, never to return. Aeneas declared this fourth archer victor over the others, and all present agreed that the gods had shown him the most favor.

The funeral games of Anchises had already been dramatic and memorable, but Aeneas had a few more events planned for the day. One of these was a display of horsemanship, led by Aeneas’ son Iulus and conducted by the Trojan youths. Mounted and in their finest ceremonial garments, the Trojan boys wove cavalry lines around in careful and complex lines – lines, Virgil makes clear, as complex as the labyrinth in Crete, or the interplay of dolphins in the ocean. One of the riders was called Atys. Atys was a good friend of Aeneas’ son Iulus, and Atys was an ancestor of Atia, the mother of Augustus (5.568). With the impressive equestrian display wound up, the funeral games of Anchises were finally concluded.

The Trojan Women Setting Fire to Their Fleet c1643 Claude Lorrain Virgil Aeneid

Claude Lorrain’s The Trojan Women Setting Fire to their Fleet (c. 1643).

At this point, northbound and having shown their athletic and martial prowess off to one another, things seemed to be going pretty well for the Trojans. There was a bit of a problem, though. And her name was Juno. Juno was still hell bent on keeping the Trojans from founding a city on the Italian mainland. And so Juno sent the goddess Iris to impersonate a Trojan woman, and join other Trojan women who were at that moment in Sicily and on the way north to Italy. So, as Aeneas and his men were off congratulating one another on athletic victories, the female Trojan refugees – and yes, there are female Trojan refugees with them at this point, who have not been mentioned – were down on the beach, near the ships, lamenting the loss of old Anchises. The goddess Iris infiltrated them, again, disguised as a Trojan woman, and Iris pointedly reminded the other Trojan women that they’d been wandering for seven years. They had been wandering for seven years, and still had no new home.

But she’d had a dream, said the disguised Iris. A much loved princess of Troy had come to her and said that Troy should be founded on the Sicilian shore. Their wandering should cease! The disguised Iris pointed around her – four torches appeared – wasn’t it a sign to take action? The Trojan women were torn. They did have a sacred duty to found their city, in Italy, as fate had mandated it, didn’t they? Evidently Aeneas wasn’t the only Trojan who had multiple and conflicting duties. And at that moment, Iris rose from their ranks and spread sudden wings. She flew up into a bank of thick storm clouds, leaving a rainbow behind her. This sign, to the Trojan women on the beach, was too much to ignore. They seized the torches. And together, they set the Trojan fleet ablaze. [music]

The Trojans Split, and Aeneas Continues Onward

Aeneas and his men saw the smoke from far off. Burning pitch sent oily clouds up into the gray sky, and Aeneas and his men tried to souse the spreading inferno, but to no avail. Seeing his fleet being reduced to charred wood and embers, Aeneas prayed with terrible desperation to Jupiter himself. If he were intended to go to Italy, Aeneas begged, then please, let Jupiter send a mighty rainstorm to put out the fire. And if not, then strike him down with lightning.

Jupiter, evidently, was listening, because heavy rain fell on the Sicilian coast. The fires went out. Four ships were beyond repair, but the rest, ugly as they now were, could be salvaged. Still, Aeneas wondered, how were they to press forward now? Should he indeed stop in Sicily, and give up his endless quest? One of his men recommended leaving some of the wearier Trojans behind, and allowing them to found a city led by a Trojan called Acestes. This, by the way, is the origin story Romans used to explain the foundation of a northwest Sicilian city called Segesta, and the city’s etiology fits well with Book 5’s general attempt to Romanize the Greek epic tradition of funeral games.

Anyway, still uncertain in the wake of the burning of the ships, Aeneas looked around for an answer as to what to do. At that moment, as twilight fell over the Sicilian shore, the ghost of Aeneas’ father came to him. Old Anchises told Aeneas to take his crewmate’s advice – let the tired and older Trojans stay there and found their city. Because, said Aeneas’ father Anchises, things were not going to be easy once they got to Italy. There would be wars, and Aeneas would need only his most valiant and powerful friends at his side. Anchises said that Aeneas needed to come and see him in a specific place in the underworld, and that Aeneas would need help from a guide. If Aeneas came to the underworld, said Anchises, Aeneas could learn the specifics of his fate, and the fates of his men. With this counsel, old Anchises vanished.

Aeneas lamented his father’s sudden departure, but took him at his word. The Trojans spent nine more days together there in the northwest of Sicily. Those who wanted to stay behind, whether to care for children, or because they were older, or simply because they had no wish for the grim events prophesied to unfold on the Italian mainland, did so. Foundations were laid and rituals undertaken to consecrate the new city while the salvageable ships were repaired at sea. The Trojans split up then, many of them under the care of the respected commander Acestes. And Aeneas, along with the more hardened Trojan refugees, cast out to sea once more.

Aeneas’ mother Venus was concerned. She asked Neptune to offer Aeneas and his men safe passage to the north. After some discussion, Neptune consented. They would reach the mainland, he said, near where they could meet the underworld guide mentioned by old Anchises’ ghost, but they would lose their helmsman. And so the Trojans sailed through the night, Aeneas taking control of the ship after Neptune pushed the helmsman overboard. Ahead of the ship, through the darkness and waves, lay the ancient city of Cumae. [music]

Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 6

Aeneas Meets the Sibyl

Mourning the loss of his helmsman, Aeneas steered his fleet onto the beach near Cumae, just west of modern day Naples on the Italian coast. It was an unfamiliar land to the men from the eastern Aegean, this bay on the Tyrrhenian Sea, and they knew that in a nearby grove there lay the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl, an oracle filled with the power of Apollo. Before making their way to this cave, however, the Trojans went to a temple built by the legendary architect Daedalus. Aeneas and his men admired the carvings in the temple doors, but soon enough the Sibyl herself came to them, warning that they had not come to the distant lands of Italy for sightseeing.

The Sibyl took them to a great cave where many shafts led back into the darkness. She told Aeneas it was time to pray – to pray to Apollo. The Trojan leader did so, looking into the mouth of the cavern, promising a temple to Apollo in the city that he would found. It was silent for a moment. The Sibyl then jerked and thrashed, resisting but being overpowered by the voice of Apollo. And then she spoke. The Sibyl said, and this is the Fairclough translation,
O you that have at length survived the great perils of the sea – yet by land more grievous woes lie in wait – into the realm of Lavinium the [Trojan refugees] shall come, relieve your heart of this care. Yet they shall not also rejoice in their coming. Wars, grim wars I see, and the Tiber foaming with streams of blood. . .Even now in [Italy] a new Achilles has been born, himself a goddess’s son; nor shall Juno anywhere fail to dog the Trojans, while you, a suppliant in need, what races, what cities of Italy will you not implore! The cause of all this Trojan woe is again an alien bride, again a foreign marriage! . . .Yield not to ills, but go forth all the bolder to face them as far as your destiny will allow! (6.83-96)11

These were characteristically cryptic words, and if you’ve read the Aeneid you know who the “new Achilles” and “alien bride” are going to be – Virgil is setting up Turnus and the coming conflict over Lavinia as every bit on the same caliber as the characters and events in the Trojan War. Anyway, to not jump ahead, at that moment, what Aeneas and the Trojans heard in the Sibyl’s words was a prophecy of another Trojan War – a conflict that would bring them once more to the brink of destruction. If Apollo, or the Sibyl, expected Aeneas to fall to his knees in despair at the prophecy, they were surprised when he heard the news with equanimity. He had heard parts of what was going to happen from his wife Creusa in Book 1, and from the seer Helenus and Aeneas’ father Anchises in Book 3. Aeneas knew it wasn’t going to be easy when they reached their destination. He sought more than mere prophecy from the Cumaean Sibyl. He needed to do what only a few of the most legendary heroes had done.12 Odysseus had once brought the dead up to speak with him. But Aeneas needed to venture into the underworld itself, and find his father. [music]

The Golden Bough

The Sibyl understood what Aeneas wanted. It was perfectly easy, she said, to descend into the underworld. Its gates were always open. What was difficult was getting back out. The underworld, she said, was immense. Dense forests filled it, and sinuous rivers; lakes and lightless pits. If Aeneas wanted to return from the underworld, said the Sibyl, Aeneas needed to find a particularly dark and dense copse of trees somewhere, and retrieve a talisman there – specifically, a golden bough. On the condition that Aeneas found this cluster of stems and leaves made of pure gold, and that he brought them to Proserpina (or the Greek Persephone, the queen of the netherworld), he might stand a chance of escaping from darkness. But, the Sibyl added, there was something even more pressing that he had to do. The Trojans had lost someone before reaching Naples. He needed to be given a proper burial, with just the right sacrificial offerings. With this council, the Sibyl’s prophecies concluded.

It was a mysterious directive. They’d lost plenty of people since they’d embarked from Troy. Aeneas and his friend Achates speculated about the mysterious lost Trojan. And, walking along the beach, they found a body – that of a man named Misenus, who had been a companion of Hector and bugle player during the Trojan War. Recovering their fallen comrade’s body, Aeneas, Achates, and the other Trojans gave him proper burial rites. As the fallen Misenus was laid to rest, Aeneas began wandering in the woods. He prayed for help in finding the golden bough, because without it, he knew he’d never be granted entrance into the underworld. And just as he prayed, a pair of doves, the symbol of his mother Venus, appeared. He followed them through the forest, until they landed. As W.F. Jackson Knight translates,
They flew up to the gateway-jaws of [the underworld]. Here they soared swiftly, skimming through the clear air, found the perch of their desire, and settled on a pair of adjacent tree-tops; and there, through the branches, shone the contrasting gleam of gold. Like the mistletoe, which, though never seeded from the tree on which it grows, encircles a round trunk with saffron-coloured berries, and is always green with young leaves amid the forest even in winter’s cold, so looked the leafy gold in the shadowy holm-oak tree, and so twinkled the [bough] in a gentle wind. Aeneas snatched it down at once. . .and carried it to the home of the prophetic Sibyl. (6.200-11)13

The golden bough by Wenceslas Hollar Virgil

Wenceslas Hollar’s The Golden Bough (17th century).

Now, there’s an interesting detail about this episode – one that has been of great interest to scholars. When the Sibyl tells Aeneas about the Golden Bough for the first time, she says, in the Penguin David West translation, “If you are a man called by the Fates, [the Golden Bough] will come easily of its own accord. But if not, no strength will prevail against it and hard steel will not be able to hack it off” (6.148-50).14 When Aeneas actually retrieves the branch, though, it neither resists, nor complies, but instead does something in between – Virgil writes, in the West translation, that “[The Golden Bough] resisted, but he broke it off impatiently” (6.210-12). In the Frederick Ahl translation, the words are, “Instantly grabbing the bough from its seat, though it struggles, Aeneas / Greedily snaps it and takes it. . .to his seer, the Sibyl” (6.210-11). In either case, the Golden Bough’s resistance, or its struggling, seems to indicate that the sacred talisman is not altogether convinced that Aeneas is a man of fate. Readers have for a long time been trying to figure out what Virgil thinks of the grand mission of his protagonist, and the Golden Bough’s hesitancy in aiding Aeneas is potential evidence that the ancient poet was ambivalent about some aspects of his hero and his hero’s journey.

Anyway, Aeneas snatched the Golden Bough. And meanwhile, out on the beach, the funeral rites for the fallen Trojan man continued. Aeneas returned to the shore with the Golden Bough. It was time to begin the rites that would gain him access into the underworld. Virgil has mentioned a couple of caves and grottoes in Book 6 thus far – the vast cave of the Sibyl, the “gateway-jaws” of the underworld near where Aeneas finds the Golden Bough. But the place where Aeneas actually accesses the underworld is called Avernus, which Virgil explains comes from the Greek words “The place that is birdless” (6.242); a place where the reeking stink of death pours up from the netherworld and causes birds to stay far off. The Knight translation describes it as “a deep rugged cave, stupendous and yawning wide, protected by a black lake of water and the glooming forest” (154; 6.237-9). Dark skinned animals, as was the tradition, were sacrificed to the underworld gods and demons, and the Sibyl cautioned all of the Trojans but for Aeneas to stand back. The earth yawned open. The Sibyl turned to Aeneas. “You,” she said, “set forth on your path, pull your blade from its sheath – now, Aeneas! / Now you need resolute courage and stout-hearted firmness of spirit” (6.260-1). And with these words, she plunged into the subterranean darkness. [music]

Aeneas in the Underworld

Aeneas followed soon afterward, into a place as silent and dim as the shadows of ghosts. Before long, they reached an entrance hall, and they began seeing the entities that dwelt in the underworld – Grief, Disease, Fear, Hunger, Poverty, Pain, War, and other personifications of things that bring pain to mortals dwelt there. These creatures, and others, swarmed around the jaws of Hades – Furies, Centaurs, Scyllas, the Chimaera, Gorgons, Harpies, and Geryon. Aeneas gripped his sword tightly, but the Sibyl assured him that everything he saw around him was illusory. They came to the banks of the river Acheron. What happens next, in the Frederick Ahl translation, is this:
Here, in a riot of mud and a suctioning vortex, a whirlpool
Seethes before vomiting up into Cocytus all of its thick silt.
Charon, repulsive in frightening filth, is the ferryman, plying
Passage across these turbulent waters. A matted and wolf-grey
Beard clings thick to his chin and his eyes glare flame into their bright gaze.
Dirt-soiled clothes hang dangling down from a knot at his shoulders.
He works alone. He’s propelling his skiff with a pole, trimming canvas
Sails as he ferries the bodies across in his iron-girt vessel. (6.296-303)

Swanenburg Charon's boat Virgil

Jacob van Swanenburgh’s Charon’s Boat (c. 1625), a highly unconventional but magnificent image of the crossing of the dead from the upper world into Hades.

This ferryman, Charon, is a fixture of earlier Greek mythology, is given his most famous description here in Book 6 of the Aeneid, but a close second is Dante’s in the Inferno. And side note, everything that we are reading here, from the moment Virgil enters the underworld to the end of Book 6, was read and meticulously re-crafted by Dante in the first part of the Divine Comedy, and Virgil had in turn adapted some of it from Book 11 of the Odyssey, in which Odysseus meets various spirits of people he has known. Back to the story. The ferryman Charon poled Aeneas and the Sibyl across the river Acheron, just as he brought everyone, regardless of their age or the circumstances of their deaths “Countless as leaves, during autumn’s first frosts, falling in forests” (6.309).

Aeneas noticed that Charon did not allow just anyone into his boat, and he asked the Sibyl about it. She explained that Charon only ferried people who had had a proper burial into the interior portions of the underworld. Those whose remains had not been buried had to wait a hundred years. Amidst the unburied Aeneas saw the helmsman who had died just before they’d reached Naples. The helmsman begged Aeneas to find his body and bury it – or to take him across the river Acheron. The Sibyl said the helmsman would see no such crossing – but she did bring him some peace. His remains would be found, she said, and a great burial mound and city would be built for him.


Pietro Testa’s Aeneas on the Bank of the River Styx (17th century). Charon, evidently, objects to the Sibyl thrusting the Golden Bough toward his crotch.

And so Aeneas and the Sibyl continued across Acheron. Once, the ferryman Charon spoke to them – what was their plan? He wanted to know. Aeneas was alive, and the living should not come to the land of the dead. The Sibyl assured the ferryman that Aeneas had no ill intentions in Hades – that he merely wanted to consult with his father, and further, that he had with him the golden bough. Heracles, Theseus, and Orpheus had all come to the underworld to get someone out – Aeneas had no such motivations. Seeing this talisman, the ferryman carried them the rest of the way across, and Aeneas and the Sibyl stepped onto a bank coated in slime and withered gray reeds.

This was the dwelling place of the three headed dog Cerberus. But just as Cerberus noticed the curious sight of a living man setting foot in the underworld, and began growling, the Sibyl tossed him a drugged morsel of food, and he fell into unconsciousness.

With Cerberus unconscious, Aeneas and the Sibyl had access into the deeper portions of the underworld. They first saw infants who had died before even reaching childhood. Aeneas and Sibyl saw the dead who had been executed on false charges, and Minos, one time king of Crete, who was the posthumous judge of those who’d died for crimes they did not commit. Continuing onward, Aeneas and his companion saw those who had died by suicide, and further on, bleak meadows and scattered paths and deep groves where there dwelt the dead who had died from losses related to love. Here, Aeneas saw Dido. This is one of the most famous scenes in the Aeneid, so I’m going read a fairly long quote from the Fairclough translation.
Among [the lovelorn dead], with wound still fresh, Phoenician Dido was wandering in the great forest, and soon as the Trojan hero stood near and knew her, a dim form amid the shadows – even as, in the early month, one sees or fancies he has seen the moon rise amid the clouds – he shed tears, and spoke to her in tender love: “Unhappy Dido! [said Aeneas,] Was the tale true then that came to me, that you were dead and had sought your doom with the sword? Was I, alas! the cause of your death? By the stars I swear, by the world above, and whatever is sacred in the grave below, unwillingly, queen, I parted from your shores. But the gods’ decrees, which now constrain me to pass through these shades, through lands squalid and forsaken, and through abysmal night, drove me with their behests; nor could I deem my going thence would bring on you distress so deep. Stay your step and withdraw not from our view. Whom do you flee? This is the last word Fate suffers me to say to you.” With these words amid springing tears Aeneas strove to soothe the wrath of the fiery, fierce-eyed queen. She, turning away, kept her looks fixed on the ground and no more changes her countenance as he essays to speak than if she were set in hard flint. . .At length she flung herself away and, still his foe, fled back to the shady grove, where Sychaeus, her [former husband], responds to her sorrows and gives her love for love. Yet none the less, stricken by her unjust doom, Aeneas attends her with tears afar and pities her as she goes. (6.450-76)15

Dido’s unforgiving silence is something many people remember from this scene.16 But I think we forget that Dido is reunited with her first husband in the underworld, a man she loved who never betrayed her, as Aeneas did, and that her first husband’s presence renders Aeneas’ apologies all the more awkward and futile. Rather than making Dido seem like a tragic heroine, the scene in Hades makes Aeneas himself seem like an ugly interloper in what would have otherwise been the uninterrupted dignity of the Carthaginian queen’s life.

Having no other choice, Aeneas continued onward. He saw the ghosts of various Trojans who had died in the war with Greece. Aeneas talked with a son of Priam called Deiphobos who had been mutilated gruesomely, the other Trojan asking that Aeneas strike viciously back against the Greeks. Before Aeneas could offer a proper response, the Sibyl told him he must keep moving if he wanted to reach his father.

What happens next is interesting in the history of religion. The Sibyl tells Aeneas, in the Vintage Classics Robert Fitzgerald translation,
Night comes on, Aeneas,
We use up hours grieving. Here is the place
Where the road forks: on the right hand it goes
Past mighty Dis’s walls, Elysium way,
Our way; but the leftward road will punish
Malefactors, taking them to Tartarus. (6.723-8)17

In other words, the door to the good place is on your right; the door to the bad place is on your left. In classical literature up to the Aeneid, we occasionally hear mention of a binary afterlife – Homer mentions Elysium in Book 4 of the Odyssey (4.561), Plato more extensively in the tenth book of the Republic (10.614), and long before both of them the dichotomy between sekhet-hetepet and eternal destruction by the monster called Am-met in the Middle Bronze Age Egyptian Book of the Dead.18 It’s important to remember that the Old Testament does not have such a bipartite afterlife, apart from occasional mentions of Yahweh’s dwelling place being in the clouds, and everyone else’s being in an underworld called sheol. Virgil, however, gives us an extensive treatment of something like heaven and hell prior to the time the later Catholic doctrine was codified, and thus it’s no coincidence that Dante read Virgil so carefully and included him as a main character in the first two books of the Divine Comedy – Virgil had not only written what appeared to be a prophecy of the coming of Christ in Eclogue 4 – Virgil had also given an extensive literary treatment to an afterlife where the good were rewarded and the wicked punished. Although the traditional Christian interpretation of this book of the Aeneid is that it clearly prefigures heaven and hell, we have to remember that Virgil’s philosophical background was Epicurean. And one of the most important doctrines of Epicureanism, if you remember from Episode 45 on Lucretius, was an absolute and crystal clear denial of the afterlife. So the actual ideology underpinning Book 6 here is a source of a lot of debate – I just wanted to express that upfront before we get into this part of this important book.19

Jan Brueghel the Elder - Virgil's Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld

Jan Bruegel the Elder’s Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld (c. 1600).

Before Aeneas was led toward Elysium, naturally, he wanted to take a look at Tartarus, or what we might call hell. He saw it only from the outside. There was a triple wall, around which coiled a river of rushing fire. A gate and walls made of adamantine and forged by the cyclopes towered over the blaze, and over it all stood a guard tower. Atop this tower stood a fury called Tisiphone, wearing blood drenched robes and looking down at the wall, never sleeping and making sure that nothing got in or out. Behind the fire and the metal walls, Aeneas heard groans of pain, the slaps of lashing whips, iron banging together, and chains being dragged along the ground. Mesmerized by the awful, mysterious sight, Aeneas asked the Sibyl what was behind the walls.

She told him. A deity called Rhadamanthus ruled there – a being that had once been a warden at the jail of Minos in Crete. Rhadamanthus listened to the confessions of the wicked dead, and decided on their punishments. Then, the demon Tisiphone would swoop down, and the great gates would shriek open, and the dead malefactor would be thrown into Tartarus. Tartarus, said the Sibyl, was deep – two times deeper than the sky was high – and big enough to contain the titans that Jupiter and his siblings had beaten in a war long ago. As the two stood alongside the cacophonous gates of hell, the Sibyl told Aeneas about some of the more awful punishments being meted out there.

Demigods, giants, and men, cast down into the pit for their acts of hubris, were tortured in various ways. A giant who had tried to rape the mother of Apollo was ripped apart by a vulture and lived in agony as his flesh was re-knit. Another famous sinner lived beneath a perpetually falling flint boulder, suffering the fear of his imminent demise for all time. Another malefactor was allowed to come close to his food, but a fierce fury kept him from ever eating. Tartarus held those who had hurt their families, those who had cheated others financially, who had been greedy, who had betrayed those they’d sworn to serve. “Had I,” said the Sibyl, “a hundred tongues and a hundred mouths and an iron / Voice, I would still fall short of the power I would need to encompass / Every species of crime or name all those judgements inflicted” (6.625-7).

Thus, the Sibyl indicated, it was time to go to the right – to Elysium, where Aeneas’ father Anchises resided. And so the pair approached the doors to Elysium, where Aeneas sprinkled his body with purifying water, and raised up his golden bough. [music]

Aeneas and Anchises in Elysium

Elysium was a far different place than whatever lay behind the gates of Tartarus. Virgil writes, in the Frederick Ahl translation, that
Down they went into the zone of joy, the green of idyllic
Fortune’s groves: the Estates of the Blest. A more generously lustrous
Brightness of sky dresses meadows here with a colourful brilliance.
They know a sun shining only for them and the stars are their own stars.
Some keep their bodies in shape on the open-air lawns of gymnasiums,
Hold competitions in sport, even wrestle each other on blond sand.
Some beat feet to the rhythm of dance, recite poetry, and music. (6.639-44)

Ubeleski Virgil's Aeneas and Anchises

Alexandre Ubeleski’s Aeneas and Anchises (17th century). Ubeleski puts women in Virgil’s Elysium.

Virgil’s Elysium, like his Tartarus, is exclusively male. It’s a sort of balmy country club for accomplished intellectuals, priests and warriors. Aeneas and the Sibyl asked a poet for directions, and found old Anchises in a grassy glade. He was taking a census of those who would come long after him – his grandson and his grandson’s grandsons and so on, and determining who would be eligible for Elysium when the time came. But when Aeneas appeared, Anchises stopped working, overwhelmed with emotion at seeing his son again. Trying to embrace his departed father, Aeneas found him only a ghost.

Aeneas asked his father about the spirits in Elysium. There were many of them – as many as bees humming in the summer. Anchises explained how Elysium worked, offering a sort of mash-up between stoicism and ancient metaphysics. A force called Spirit animated the entire world. The essences of people who had died, if they went to Elysium, experienced a long process of purification, before they were washed in the river Lethe, where they were purged of memories of their previous lives. Thereafter, they were reincarnated.

And Anchises had a lot more to tell Aeneas. He told Aeneas that Aeneas would marry a woman named Lavinia, and through Lavinia, Aeneas would have descendants – Silvius, Procas, Capys, Numitor, Silvius Aeneas – the sons who would found the cities of Alba Longa. Interestingly, these kings of Alba Longa would not be descendants of Aeneas’ son Iulus, but instead his son by the Italian woman Lavinia, connected to Aeneas’ line, just as Augustus was connected to Julius Caesar, through means of something like adoption rather than direct paternity.

From the kings of Alba Longa whom Anchises describes, there would next come Romulus, and then (Anchises skips about seven hundred years here), Augustus. In Virgil’s entire epic, Anchises’ description of the coming of Augustus reveals the story’s Augustan Age origins most clearly. Anchises says, in the Fitzgerald translation,
Turn your two eyes
This way and see this people, your own Romans.
Here is Caesar, and all the line of Iulus,
All who shall one day pass under the dome
Of the great sky: this is the man, this one,
Of whom so often heard the promise,
Caesar Augustus, son of the deified,
Who shall bring once again an Age of Gold. (6.1058-65)20

Anchises goes on to describe all of the various places over which Augustus will have dominion, and Virgil here piles the praises thick on his patron. Augustus will have dominion over the stars. Even in Aeneas’ time, a thousand years before Augustus’ coming, distant realms quiver in anticipation. The Nile shudders. Neither Hercules nor Dionysus shook the earth so much or journeyed so widely as Augustus one day would. The modern reader, knowing the ugly history of Octavian’s purges and wars before becoming emperor, and the destructive fate of his autocratic regime afterward, can’t help but study these euphoric praises with a certain cynicism.

In any case, in catapulting straight for Augustus, old Anchises realized he’d skipped about seven centuries of history, and so he went back and described the kings who would rule Rome after Romulus – Numa, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Marcius – names familiar to you if you’re read Livy. Following these kings, said Anchises, a man named Lucius Junius Brutus would overthrow the kingship (this happened historically in about 509 BCE), after which great Roman republicans would serve their country in various ways – Torquatus, Camillus, and many, many others of the middle and late republican periods.

Virgil Reading the Aeneid

Jean-Baptiste Wicar’s Virgil Reading the Aeneid (1790-3).

Aeneas saw someone else of obvious distinction – “a young man / Who, in his beauty and armour’s flash, stood out from the flocking / Crowds” (6.860-3). This man was Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Augustus’ nephew, who lived from 42-23 BCE. Marcellus had widely been expected to be Augustus’ heir, but he’d died in 23 BCE, and so Virgil depicts the deceased young man in glowing terms in Elysium. Aeneas brags that young Marcellus was never bested in war, which is not surprising, considering that Marcellus only went to war once, accompanying his uncle at the age of 16.21 And by the way, there’s a famous story about this passage that’s made its way into many paintings, including a little vignette of Virgil on our podcast’s album cover. The story is that when Octavia, Marcellus’ mother, heard Virgil read his lines about Marcellus in the underworld, Octavia fainted and Virgil’s performance had to be stopped for the day. There’s a number of paintings of Virgil, Augustus, and Octavia with the latter swooning over the mention of her departed son.

To return to the story, Anchises offered Aeneas a gigantic vantage of their lineage that would lead all the way down through Aeneas’ second son Silvius and the kings of Alba Longa, the coming of Romulus and foundation of Rome, the kings of Rome, the coming of the republic, the most prominent heroes of the republic, at the end of which came Augustus, and then, a little awkwardly, Augustus’ dead heir Marcellus. The most famous lines of Anchises’ speech, in the Ahl translation, are most likely these closing words of counsel to Aeneas.
Others will hammer out bronzes that breathe in more lifelike and gentler Ways, I suspect, create truer expressions of life out of marble, Make better speeches, or plot, with the sweep of their compass, the heaven’s Movements, predict the ascent of the sky’s constellations. Well, let them! You, who are Roman, recall how to govern mankind with your power. These will be your special “Arts”: the enforcement of peace as a habit, Mercy for those cast down and relentless war upon proud men. (6.847-53)

The lines are, most importantly, an assertion of Rome’s martial character and its destiny to dominate and superintend other nations. But these seven lines have a couple of details that we should remember – one is that Virgil does not say that other nations will produce better poets. And another thing to keep in mind is the final line of this speech. Old Anchises says that a characterizing Roman virtue is “Mercy for those cast down.” If you happen to know what happens at the very end of the Aeneid, this line is particularly memorable, because of Aeneas’ final act in the closing lines of the whole story.22

Following this enormous vision of their future geneaology, we are told in a quick trio of lines that Anchises explained to Aeneas what was going to happen up in Italy, and then, finally, how Anchises led Aeneas and the Sibyl up into the upper world. From there, Aeneas went to his ships, and the Trojans sailed to the north end of the Bay of Naples and laid anchor. And that is the end of Book 6, and thus the end of the first half of the Aeneid. [music]

Augustus, Augustan Rome, and Virgil’s Aeneid

What we have read today – particularly Books 4 and 6, are probably the most influential books of the Aeneid. Book 2 is quite important – that Book in which Aeneas describes the final bloodbath that closed the Trojan War. But elements of Book 4, which tells of the romance between Aeneas and Dido, show up in frequently in medieval and courtly love poetry. And Book 6, as you just saw, influenced Milton, and before him Dante, and before both of them, perhaps, Revelation and various apocalyptic visions in Catholic theology and the pseudepigraphal books of the Bible produced after the life of Christ.

Therefore, there are plenty of things we could talk about here. We could talk about Dido and Aeneas, where the famous romance between them may have come from in literary history, and how it was read over the centuries. We could talk about the gods and fate that, in forcibly separating Dido and Aeneas, fulfill the prophecy that they have themselves uttered, and what influential doctrines of Virgil’s age like stoicism had to say about destiny. We could discuss Virgil’s underworld and Elysium, and why all of a sudden in the 20s BCE we are hearing of something like salvation and damnation, when neither Homer, nor the playwrights of 5th-century Athens, nor the Old Testament, nor, certainly, Lucretius have anything to say about an orderly afterlife in which good is rewarded with reincarnation and wickedness punished with physical torture.23 All of this stuff is fantastically interesting.

Angelica Kauffmann - Virgil reading the ‚Aeneid‘ to Augustus and Octavia (Hermitage)

Angelica Kauffman’s Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia (1788). The emperor and his sister’s reception of the story is one of the legends surrounding the poem. While we’ll never know whether Octavia actually fainted on hearing about her recently departed son, we can be fairly certain that references to Augustus are woven throughout the Aeneid.

But for today, because we just heard old Anchises’ vision of the coming of Augustus and a new golden age, we need to talk about the Aeneid and the Augustan regime. Whether or not it’s fair, the fact that the Aeneid is ultimately a work that extols a new, historically well-documented monarchical regime has, over the past hundred years in literary criticism been the most significant mark against it. The epics that we’ve read before this one – the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Argonautica all have their imperfections. But none of them, in spite of their frequent glorification of brutality and the warlords who practice it, were state-funded efforts to historicize, mythologize, and justify the reign of a contemporary self-made tyrant. In the Middle Ages, when kingships were the norm and poets had to find patrons if they wanted to make a living, Virgil’s cozying up to Augustus seemed natural and inevitable.24 To those of us today who live in democracies, however, and further those of us who know the history of the late republic and understand that the reinstatement of hereditary monarchy was neither inevitable nor structurally farsighted, Virgil’s careful adulations of Augustus can seem quite objectionable.

My aim in the remainder of this second episode on the Aeneid is neither to give Virgil some sort of thumbs up or thumbs down for working to deify his patron. After decades and decades of warfare, surely any sort of stability seemed welcome to the median Roman, and as far as autocrats go, Romans were fairly lucky that they began with an Augustus, rather than a Commodus or a Caracalla. Further, writing in praise of patrons was simply something that Roman poets of the first century BCE did – something that they perhaps felt was no more oppressive than modern novelists who have to supplicate themselves before publishers in cover letters and literary contests. In the remainder of this show, then, I have no intention of telling you that Virgil was better or worse than any other writer of antiquity due to his advocacy of Augustus. I’m more interested in showing you the way this advocacy works – how throughout the first six books of the Aeneid, in many places I haven’t even mentioned during my summary of the story, Virgil busily includes little references to Roman history, and particularly the historical events that had unfolded during his own lifetime that had led up to the reign of Rome’s first emperor. [music]

References to Augustus and His World in Virgil’s Aeneid

In the opening scene of the Aeneid, Aeneas finds himself and his crew nearly obliterated by a storm – a storm that has been sent to eradicate the wandering Trojans before they can ever reach the future site of Rome. The storm is so intense that Neptune notices, and after chastising the ravaging winds, Neptune calms the sea. Neptune calms the sea, and Virgil thereafter writes an epic simile that is as follows in the Ahl translation,
Much the same happens within a great nation, where lawlessness often
Bursts into riots, where people become mobs savage with passion:
Firebrands, stones, start flying through air (fury furnishes weapons).
Then, if they happen to glimpse a man worth their respect for his righteous
Conduct, they’re silenced. They prick up their ears and await his instructions.
He, with his words, brings passions to heel, lulls panting to calmness. (1.148-53)

If you know just a bit about the history of the Aeneid, it’s not too hard to determine what this simile is doing here. Neptune calmed the seas, just as Augustus, after a long period of civil strife, brought new order to Rome. The modern reader might zip through this epic simile without noticing the historical parallel, but the Augustan Age reader would not. A five hundred year old governmental system had just gone into nuclear destruction and been replaced by a shiny new monarchy. It was the central historical event of a generation, and Virgil’s readers thus would not have missed this initial hat tip to Augustus.

Just a hundred lines later in Book 1, Virgil is at it again. Jupiter is in the midst of assuring Venus that the Trojans will arrive in Rome and set up shop there. And he tells Venus that after Aeneas’ reign ends in Italy, “Youthful Ascanius, who’ll now be known by a new name, ‘Iulus’. . .He will go on to complete full thirty cycles of. . . / Months in command” (1.267,69-70). Now, Aeneas’ son has two names – Ascanius and Iulus – which is confusing to new readers of the poem. What’s interesting for our purposes now, however, is that calling the boy “Iulus” seems to have been Virgil’s own invention. The historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus was roughly Virgil’s contemporary. And Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote this on Aeneas’ son’s name: “Aeneas having departed this life about the seventh year after the taking of Troy, Euryleon, who in the flight had been renamed Ascanius, succeeded to the rule over the Latins” (Ant 65.1).25 In other words, the historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus said that the boy’s name was Euryleon, and then, later, Ascanius. Virgil’s explanation is different. Virgil says that while young Ascanius dwelt in Troy, his name was “Ilus.” Virgil writes, “‘Ilus’ [the boy’s name was] while the Ilian state still ruled [in Troy]” (1.268), and that during the journey, the boy began to be called Iulus rather than Ilus. It’s not such a wild exercise in etymology. Illium is the classical name for Troy, and Virgil imagines the name Illium generating the names Ilus and then Iulus and then later Iulius. But this exercise in etymology, whether it’s original to the Aeneid or the Julian clan themselves, is done at the service of Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Before we ever have a direct reference to Augustus, then, we have a simile comparing his reign to a god calming story waters, and a reference to his lineage dating back to mighty Troy and before.

Pompée Vaux

References to Caesar and Pompey abound in the opening books of the Aeneid, connecting the previous generation of Roman civil wars with the events of Homeric epic.

Less than a hundred lines later in Book 1 is another unmistakable reference to Augustus. If you remember, Dido’s first husband was called Sychaeus. Sychaeus was murdered by a greedy brother-in-law who desired his wealth. And Sychaeus, who was caught “off guard and in front of an altar” (1.350) was stabbed to death and betrayed by his countryman. While he is not named, the reference to Julius Caesar would have been apparent to Virgil’s generation. Caesar, as you may know, was stabbed to death and died beneath a statue of Pompey in the Senate house in mid-March of 44 BCE, his death beginning the final phase of Rome’s civil wars just as Sychaeus’ death brings a political crisis to the ancient state of Tyre in the Aeneid.

Pompey himself is referenced in a climactic scene in the next book of Virgil’s epic – Book 2, which recounts the sack of Troy. In the Aeneid, the darkest moment of this sack comes when Achilles’ son viciously murders the Trojan King Priam. Achilles’ son slices off the king’s head and then skewers Priam’s remains with his sword. As Virgil writes, “So ended Priam’s role, as prescribed by the fates. . . .This man once in command of so many countries and peoples, / Ruler of Asia! He’s now a huge trunk lying dead on the seashore, / Head torn away from his shoulders, a thing without name, a cadaver” (2.554,556-8). It is an awful death, certainly, and the execution is carried out in front of Priam’s family. But the reference to “a huge trunk lying dead on the seashore,” to Virgil’s generation, would have called to mind the death of Pompey Magnus. Pompey was central to Rome’s growing sovereignty over the east during the late republic, just as Priam rules the eastern city of Troy. And Pompey, just as Priam does, was decapitated. In September of 48 BCE, having been defeated by his rival Caesar, Pompey went to Egypt to seek forces to help him recover. Upon arriving there, however, Pompey was stabbed in the boat that was taking him to the beach to meet with the Alexandrians, and, in Plutarch’s words, “they cut off Pompey’s head, and threw the rest of his body unclothed out of the boat, and left it for those who craved so pitiful a sight” (Pompey 80.1).26 Pompey and Priam are thus two prominent eastern figures, both beheaded and left to rot, and to make the connection even more obvious, while Priam’s assassin is Achilles’ son, the head assassin in Julius Caesar’s own account of Pompey’s death was called Achillas.27 This parallel between Priam and Pompey not only elevates Pompey to the stature of a legendary tragic figure – one whose death Caesar lamented even though they were at war with one another. Virgil’s parallel between Priam and Pompey also makes Caesar’s civil war itself into something as pivotal as Homer’s Iliad – an event in which men and gods clashed, an event in which a valorous leader had succumbed to the inevitable press of history.

A silver denarius, struck 19-18 BCE. Photo by the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

References to Caesar’s era continue to abound after Priam’s tragic death in Book 2 – again the one about the actual fall of Troy. If you can remember from the previous show, Aeneas’ father initially refuses to leave Troy. Aeneas decides he’ll just strap on his weapons and go out and die in combat, but his first wife tells him to stay there. Just as she does, little Iulus’ head starts glowing. Aeneas’ dad begs Jupiter for a sign, and then “a star shot from heaven, / Trailing a flare most intensely bright as it dashed through the darkness” (2.693-4). The comet, Aeneas recalls, was a pretty damned clear sign, and it showed them the direction they ought to take out of the city. A glowing headed boy named Iulus and a falling star would, to Virgil’s audience, most certainly have been a recognizable reference to Julius Caesar, because some months after Caesar died in 44 BCE, a tremendously bright comet was visible, leading Romans to believe it was Caesar’s spirit, ascending from earth. Later, early in Augustus’ reign, the image of this comet was still an important part of his iconography, as a silver denarius struck some time during 19-18 BCE displays the emperor’s head on one side and a comet on the other. Virgil wrote about this comet in the ninth Eclogue and Ovid in the fifteenth book of the Metamorphoses, and Augustus never let anyone forget the omen that he believed heralded his adopted father’s deification.

Now, these are only some of the references to Augustus’ lineage and contemporary history that Virgil weaves through Books 1 and 2 of the Aeneid – the sorts of things that your lecturer would point out to you if you were reading this book in a class. The references continue in Book 3. Aeneas’ statues of his household gods promise that “we. . .will raise your descendants high to the heavens; / We’ll give your city imperial power” (3.158-9). Further references to the coming Augustan regime occur frequently as Aeneas makes his way west. In the exceedingly inefficient route that Aeneas takes to get to Italy, he stops on the shore of a place where he can see “Leucas’s cloudy peaks” (3.274) to rest his fleet. Leucas, or modern day Lefkada, is a mountainous island south of the mouth of the Ambracian Gulf. In early September of 31 BCE, at the Battle of Actium, when Octavian stood on his ship’s decks and surveyed Antony’s fleet crunched up against the west side of modern day Greece, Lefkada would have been on his right. And so in the decade after Actium, Virgil made sure to include this pivotal location as part of the Aeneid.

The reference to the peaks of Lefkada is one of many geographical locations central to Augustus’ rise to power that Virgil sprinkles throughout the Aeneid. I want to jump forward, now to Book 6 – the one about the underworld – because the outset of this book offers a good example of the way that Virgil fuses contemporary Roman geography of the Augustan age with the legendary geography of the Homeric world. [music]

The Gates of Aeneas’ Underworld: Past and Present

The closing section of Book 6 of the Aeneid, as you heard earlier, elaborately and exultantly alludes to the coming glory of Augustus, as though all Mediterranean history is a prelude to his arrival, and history will conclude with the unending golden age ushered in by his ascendancy. The visions of old Anchises center on Augustus, but interestingly, the opening 200 or so lines of this same book are also packed with allusions to the Augustan Age and the decades before it. Some of these allusions are simple. Aeneas, for instance, promises to build Apollo and Diana “a solid Marble temple” where he’ll “institute festivals sacred to Phoebus” (6.69-70), likely a reference to a marble temple Augustus dedicated to Apollo in 28 BCE in Rome. Other allusions, however, are more complex and detailed.

Cumae acropolis Virgil's world

The acropolis at Cumae. The civilization here is thought to have been founded in the 700s BCE, 400 or 500 years after the events of the Aeneid. Photo by Mentnafunangann.

At the outset of Book 6, the Trojans go to the temple of the Cumaean Sibyl, and later the underworld. Let’s talk about the entrance of the underworld in Greco-Roman epic for a second, just in case you need to head there and convene with the ghost of your departed mother or father, or feed dog biscuits to Cerberus or something. Virgil crafts his descriptions to the entrance of the underworld very carefully. He spent most of his writing career around Naples, and uses his local knowledge to create very specific references to this area. The site of Cumae, the ancient city under which the Sibyl lives, and the nearby crater lake, Lake Avernus, are references to real geographical locations that Greeks and Romans associated with the opening of the underworld. These locations are about twelve miles west of Naples as the crow flies, or a hundred and ten southeast of Rome, if that’s more helpful. And they’re right on the coast just north of the Bay of Naples – ancient Cumae was right on the water, and Lake Avernus a quarter mile to the east. The Sibyl seems to live beneath the temple at Cumae, while the actual entrance to the underworld is at Avernus, again, a lake sunk down in a crater.

First of all, Cumae’s appearance in the Aeneid is an anachronism, as are many cities in Virgil’s poem – Cumae was an early Greek colony in Italy, but modern scholars think it was settled in the mid-700s BCE, whereas the Trojan War is dated almost 500 years earlier.28 Virgil spends a great deal of time describing the elaborate temple there, but one feature of this temple is particularly interesting for our purposes. The Trojans first converse with the Sibyl in a place that Virgil describes as follows: “Mined from a. . .cliff’s broad flank is a cavern of vast size. / Into it lead a full hundred broad-shanked shafts, a full hundred / Mouths” (6.42-4). A cavern with a hundred shafts, full of voices, is a memorable scene for what happens next. But it’s also a reference to contemporary Roman history. In the early 30s BCE and afterward, the area around Cumae, again on the north end of the Bay of Naples, was an industrial center for Rome’s naval operations. Virgil describes the Sibyl’s layer as “Mined from a. . .cliff’s broad flank” (6.42) and indeed during Virgil’s lifetime, the area around Cumae and Lake Avernus just half a mile southeast were excavated. The geographer Strabo, born about a hundred years after Virgil, describes how industrial and military activity during the 30s BCE stripped the gloomy hills and waterways there of their spookier qualities. Strabo recounts the old legends of how Ulysses once convened with the underworld at Cumae, and how supposedly an oracle once lived beneath the city with a subterranean sect who never came up into the light. Strabo also, as Virgil does, writes that the once-wooded hills around Lake Avernus cupped a lake that was so noxious that birds flying overhead died from the underworld vapors rising up into the sky. But then Strabo writes, “Such were the myths related by our ancestors. But now that the wood surrounding the Avernus has been cut down by Agrippa, the lands built upon, and a subterranean passage cut from Avernus to Cumae, all these appear fables.”29 So when Virgil describes the Sibyl’s cavern as “Mined from a. . .cliff’s broad flank,” we can be fairly certain that he was thinking of excavations carried out around 37 BCE during Octavian and Agrippa’s naval war with Sextus Pompeius, perhaps more specifically, a tunnel now called the crypta napolitana which connected the southwest coastal neighborhoods of Naples with villas that lay on the other side of a steep ridge, which was dug around this same time.

The real lake Avernus in 1988. Photo by Leo C. Curran.

There are two things about this 700-meter long tunnel that you should know that are worth pausing for just a second here. One is a medieval legend that Virgil himself dug the tunnel, or in scholar Jordan Lancaster’s words, “that Virgil had excavated the crypta napoletana tunnel in a single night.”30 Sounds realistic to me – most poets can bore through at least a kilometer through solid rock over the course of a typical evening. Anyway, another thing to know about the crypta napoletana is that the northeastern end of this tunnel is the site where Virgil’s tomb is located, very appropriately, just ten or so miles from Lake Avernus, where he situates the opening of the underworld. You can still visit Virgil’s tomb today, although his remains are no longer there.

So Virgil’s description of the manifold depths of the Sibyl’s layer as “Mined from a. . .cliff’s broad flank” seems at first glance a reference to a many-chambered place where a legendary oracle dwelt with her subterranean followers. But it’s also a reference to the construction projects that were taking place in and around Naples when Virgil lived there in the 30s. Virgil includes another reference to these same projects just after the Trojans meet the Sibyl in Book 6. This second reference occurs when the Trojans are building a tomb for a comrade called Misenus at the site of modern day Miseno, just a couple of miles south where the ruins of Cumae are today. In this scene, the Trojans “vied in constructing, / Tree upon tree, sky high, a cremation fire for his last rites. / Into an ancient forest they go. . .fracturing oak splits, sundered by wedges” (6.176-8, 181). Well sure, you need to cut down a lot of trees to build a funeral pyre, and the more important the person, the bigger the pyre. Interestingly, though, Misenum was in Virgil’s day no forlorn and murky cape of land, but the center of the Roman navy, and Octavian and Agrippa deforested it in the 30s BCE order to build a base there.31

I think that without maps, these details are probably hard to absorb in podcast form, so let’s zoom out and make a general statement about the opening of Book 6. When we read Virgil’s descriptions of Cumae, the caverns beneath it, the dreary woodlands nearby, the shadowy, mysterious Lake Avernus just inland, and the cheerless tableau of the Trojan funeral pyre out on the windblown promontory of Misenum, we as modern readers feel as though we’re hearing of a timeless, dusky place on the edge of the world, where strange oracles dwell and the vapors of subterranean rivers waft up into the sunless sky. Virgil’s reader, however, would have read these descriptions very differently – maybe even with a smirk. Patrician villas, by the Augustan Age, sparkled along the rim of the Gulf of Naples. The whole area was a resort community for aristocrats and intelligentsia. And its northernmost end – right around where Aeneas meets the Sibyl and plops down into the underworld – had recently become Rome’s main naval base. So while we might find Virgil’s Cumae, and Lake Avernus foreboding and dark, many elite Roman readers would have had something like the experience we have when we see shopping centers or museums or big box stores erected on sites of previous historical significance. The crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi where American blues guitarist Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in the 1920s is currently home to an auto repair shop, a U-Haul dealer, a convenience store, and a Church’s Chicken, with a Wal-Mart just a couple of miles down the road. And I think Roman elites who read Virgil’s description of the entrance to the underworld might have been amused by a similar contrast – the gates of hell, by 20 BCE, were a well-oiled naval base and a comfortable, carefully manicured tourist spot.

Virgil’s Dido and Cleopatra

As we come to the tail end of this long program I want to talk just a little about Dido. We’re going to discuss Dido more in the next two programs – specifically, in conjunction with the issues of fate and the gods. But while we’re on the subject of the Aeneid and allusions to contemporary Roman history, we should talk about Queen Dido, and another North African queen whose name was on everyone’s lips throughout the 30s BCE. On the subject of this queen, scholar W.W. Tarn famously wrote, “Rome, who had never condescended to fear any nation or people, did in her time fear two human beings; one was Hannibal, and the other was a woman.”32 This woman was Cleopatra VII, the last ruler of Ancient Egypt, the woman whose death ends the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt and the Hellenistic period of ancient Mediterranean history.

Roman Wall painting from the House of Giuseppe II, Pompeii, 1st century AD, death of Sophonisba, but more likely Cleopatra VII of Egypt consuming poison

Cleopatra in a wall painting in the House of Guiseppe II, in Pompeii (first century CE). The figure behind her is likely Cesarion.

For almost twenty years, Cleopatra was a specter that haunted Rome’s imagination – more than anyone’s, Mark Antony’s and Octavian’s. By the mid-30s, Cleopatra had seduced Octavian’s adopted father Julius Caesar, and forged a powerful alliance with Octavian’s rival Mark Antony. Worst of all, Cleopatra had a crop of four half-Roman heirs – boy and girl twins and then a younger son with Antony, and much more menacingly, Cesarion, the son of Julius Caesar, who, by the Battle of Actium, was seventeen years old. Cleopatra and her heirs were not only the forces that caused what many Romans perceived to be Mark Antony’s defection to Egypt. Cleopatra had also been instrumental in the decline of Julius Caesar’s public image in the mid-40s BCE. Modern historians, taking Augustan Age prejudices with a grain of salt, understand the republic’s decline as a slow process – one that began in the late second century BCE and snowballed due to a combination of military reforms, financial corruption, provincial mismanagement and populist politicians. But one of the common notions we discover in Roman literature and history, following the Battle of Actium, and thus heavily influenced by the propaganda engine of the Augustan Age, is that Cleopatra was a sort of vortex of depravity – one who brought down two great Roman generals with her decadence and vice. Plutarch, for instance, writes that at a certain moment, Mark Antony’s loyalty to Rome and his love for Cleopatra were at odds, but then, “as a crowning evil his love for Cleopatra supervened, roused and drove to frenzy many of the passions that were still hidden and quiescent in him, and dissipated and destroyed whatever good and saving qualities still offered resistance. And he was taken captive in this manner.”33 Elsewhere Plutarch writes of Antony’s passion as a “dire evil. . .like the stubborn and unmanageable beast of the soul,” and that because of Cleopatra, Antony “was not master of his own faculties, but, as if he were under the influence of certain drugs or of magic rites, was ever looking eagerly towards her, and thinking more of his speedy return than of conquering the enemy” on his military campaigns.34

Cleopatra, as she appears in Plutarch’s life of Mark Antony, is a sort of super villain, armed with tremendous intelligence and eloquence, a purveyor of intoxicants and decadence, an eastern queen more than capable of ensnaring a rustic and hedonistic simpleton like Mark Antony. This seems to have been the messaging endorsed by Augustus himself, if Horace’s poetry is any clue, and Horace was even more closely connected to the Augustan regime than Virgil. In one of Horace’s odes that we didn’t read – this is the Penguin Shepherd translation of 1.37, Horace calls Cleopatra a
crazy queen. . .plotting
with her polluted train

of evil debauchees, to demolish
the Capitol and topple the Empire-
a hopeful derangement drunk with its luck. . .
[but Augustus]
dragged back to fearful reality
her mind swimming in [Egyptian wine]:

his galleys harried her fleeing from
Italy. . .to put the curs’d monster in chains. Yet she,
seeking to die more nobly, showed
no womanish fear of the sword nor retired
with her fleet to uncharted shores.

Her face serene, [Cleopatra] courageously viewed
her fallen palace. With fortitude
she handled fierce snakes, her corporeal
frame drank in their venom:

resolved for death, she was brave indeed. (1.37.7-12, 14-18, 21-9)35

You can see contradictory impulses in those excerpts from Horace – impulses to demonize Cleopatra, intermingled with admiration of her vitality and fierce pride. Cleopatra was the lover of Augustus’ nemesis and the mother of the real son of Julius Caesar, a foreign enchantress who had come just inches away from cleaving Rome in two and bringing half of its power to Egypt, if not far more. Whether Plutarch or Horace was writing about her, Cleopatra, in the later Roman imagination, is a terribly dangerous person, a woman who should have an obedient subject in a client kingdom but was too brilliant, too cunning, and too audacious to be anything less than a power player.

Cleopatra looms like a shadow behind Book 4 of the Aeneid. The general parallels between Dido and Cleopatra are straightforward. They are North African queens, female heads of state, politically savvy, operating independently in hostile, male-dominated territories. They have ties to the ancient world of eastern culture and commerce, they both come from families broken by betrayal and murder, and both possess plucky confidence and outspokenness in the midst of constant military and political peril. Perhaps most significantly, they both waylay Roman men, and their affairs with Roman men both end in suicide.

There are references to Cleopatra in the Aeneid, but they are initially vague – Aeneas’s stopover near Actium, for instance, alludes to Cleopatra’s last military stand in 31 BCE. Cleopatra comes to the forefront later in the epic. Book 8 (8.675-728), as we’ll see, contains a long description of Actium as one of the images wrought on Aeneas’ shield. And this description depicts Cleopatra in the same way that Plutarch’s and Horace’s do – Cleopatra is a corrupt foreign queen, but at the same time she is formidable. Virgil writes, in the Ahl translation, that in the midst of the Battle of Actium,
[T]he queen cheers on her troops with the sistrum, her nation’s
Symbol. As yet she has not looked back at the twin snakes behind her.
[These snakes, by the way, were the symbol of the goddess Isis.]
Every conceivable monstrous god, even barking Anubis,
Points weapons at counterbalancing figures of Neptune and Venus,
Points at Minerva. (8.696-700)

One memorable aspect of this description in the Aeneid is that the Battle of Actium, in the Aeneid, is memorialized as a fight between Rome and Egypt – even between the gods of Rome and the strange deities of the Nile, as though there had been no civil war at all, and Mark Antony were twiddling his thumbs in the hold of one of the enemy ships. Cleopatra receives the longest description of any figure on Aeneas’ shield in this later book, dominating the story of the republic’s final battle as though she herself had fomented the conflict.

The subject of how Cleopatra was perceived in the early Augustan period after Actium is a complicated one. For our purposes, though, it’s safe to assume that she influenced Virgil’s portrayal of Dido in the opening books of the Aeneid. And while you and I might read, particularly, Book 4 today, and find Dido’s awful suicide a tragedy that haunts the remainder of the epic, Virgil’s original readers may have been far more culturally conditioned to accept her death as necessary to the story’s unfolding. Roman men who dallied with North African queens, after all, had caused a great deal of bloodshed and chaos in the twilight of the republic. And so – again to a Roman reader of the 20s or 10s BCE – and so if Aeneas’ abandonment of Dido might seem a bit heartless, it was nonetheless done with the discipline and clearheaded righteousness that Mark Antony had so conspicuously lacked in his dealings with Cleopatra. So to us, the Aeneas of Book 4 may seem dreadfully cold and unsympathetic, but maybe, to readers of the Augustan age, this very coldness was one of his more appealing qualities.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Penelope

Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s Penelope (1869). Considering that Odysseus abandons his wife in the lost Telegony, even the most prominent Homeric heroine was ultimately a disposable princess.

This analysis is, again, pretty straightforward, and classicists have taken it in all sorts of interesting directions. But there’s one more point I wanted to make about Aeneas’ abandonment of Dido – a point that those of you who have listened to the entire podcast up to this point are in a good position to understand. In ancient literature there is an important motif, or topos, called the “helpful princess.” Scholar Judith de Luce describes the “helpful princess” as “a powerful or influential woman who abandons her family or home to aid [a] hero in his quest; indeed she often gives up everything of her own to help him. In the end, the hero abandons her, choosing to continue on without her.”36 Now, we have met a number of helpful princesses in this podcast – perhaps not necessarily always princesses, but women who help heroes in their quests and then, in one way or another, duck out of the story. In the Odyssey, Calypso, Nausicaa, and Circe all abet the central character’s trip back to Ithaca, and in the lost Telegony, Odysseus even abandons Penelope herself to marry a queen up in the Adriatic, who later gets killed.37 In Jason and the Argonauts, and connectedly Euripides’ Medea, Medea betrays her family and kingdom to help Theseus get the Golden Fleece and is later cast aside by her husband in Corinth. The story of Theseus and the Cretan princess Ariadne, most vividly told in Catullus’ 64th poem, involves Ariadne helping Theseus navigate the minotaur’s labyrinth in Crete before she is surprised to find herself ditched on the island of Naxos on the way back to Athens. Books 1-4 of the Aeneid, and even the inset tale of Aeneas abandoning his wife Creusa in Book 2, follow this same pattern. Women help heroes, women surrender their personal interests to propel heroes on their quests, and then, due to the bloody machinery of fate or the inexplicable callousness of the heroes themselves, women are left behind. The slightly later Roman poet Ovid started producing a book called the Heroides, or “heroines,” around the time Virgil finished the Aeneid – and this book includes several more tales of women who were used and then cast aside by brawny adventurers.38

To return to Dido, one of the ways that scholars have traditionally explained Aeneas’ unfeeling and frosty abandonment of Dido is that Book 4 of the Aeneid was produced just after the death of Cleopatra, and North African queens were not regarded particularly reverently in the Roman world during this decade. But another is that the helpful princess, used and then set aside, was a literary topos that dated at least back to the eighth century BCE. The fate of Dido is a horrific one in the Aeneid – but it is also a sort of set piece amidst other epic set pieces in the story that are not unique to Virgil – journeys to the underworld, athletic games, arming of heroes, and on and on. And while the modern reader can regret that Virgil’s Dido is, in the end, just another helpful princess, tossed by the wayside, I think we also need to appreciate the richness of the romance that Virgil sets up in the opening four books of his story, a romance that has brought two thousand years of readers to remember Virgil’s queen of Carthage, even if Aeneas himself, in his subsequent wars and struggles, forgets her. [music]

Moving On to the Second Half of Virgil’s Aeneid

Well, folks, we’re halfway through the Aeneid, now – and this very episode has covered the epic’s most famous parts. As I do from time to time, I recommend you pick up a copy of the story for yourself, and in this case to read Book 4 in isolation – it’s only about 700 lines. My pick of choice is the Oxford Frederick Ahl translation, because I’m choosy about footnotes and this translation has fantastic ones, but the others I’m featuring at literatureandhistory.com’s book store are all great.

I also want to thank Professor Curtis Dozier of Vassar College again for giving this episode a once over before I recorded it. Last time, I told you about Professor Dozier’s podcast, Mirror of Antiquity, at mirrorofantiquity.com, in which decorated classicists talk about their work. This time, I want to tell you a bit about his website, which is called Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics.

There are a surprising number of contemporary hate groups that use texts from classical antiquity in order to justify their ideologies. White supremacists, for instance, have read Pericles’ funeral oration in Thucydides, and used the speech to show a historical precedent to their racism. Angry misogynists have peered back into ancient Roman culture and claimed that a writings by Macrobius, or Juvenal, or some other figure justifies their own beliefs about the inferior capacities of women. Herodotus is used, all too often, to support Eurocentric ideologies that disparage African and Eastern cultures. Ovid frequently gets invoked as a predecessor of modern pick up artists who view women as objects to physically enjoy and then cast aside. In short, whatever their exact ideology and agenda, a lot of hate groups are dipping into the classics and, by reading selectively and simplistically, finding content to corroborate their creeds. What Professor Dozier and a number of other classicists do on his website, again Pharos, is to catalog, correct, and rebuke the often outlandish attempts of modern bigots to pinpoint their prejudices in the pages of ancient texts. It’s obviously a worthwhile and powerful project to put before the public, and, in my opinion, it’s fun to see heavyweight professional scholars giving a black eye to angry pseudo-intellectuals, in article after article after article, through detailed citations and polite corrections, rather than angry and capitalized rants. I’ve put a link up to the website in this episode’s transcription, and if you happen to have an excellent memory, the site’s address is http://pages.vassar.edu/pharos/. You can also just Google the words “pharos” and “classics,” and check the site out that way.

Well, again, everyone, this episode covered an especially complex part of the Aeneid – the tragic romance book, the idiosyncratic athletic games book, and the challengingly dense underworld book. We also talked about some of the touchier issues in Virgil scholarship – his promotion of the Augustan regime and then his version of the helpful princess story. I think one of the things that separates the Aeneid from the Iliad is that while the Iliad really has no protagonist, and is about the tragic and beautiful fragility of the human condition, the Aeneid does have a protagonist, and a clear ideological trajectory. Occasionally, the Aeneid’s partisanship is a weakness. After all, we don’t really always want to hear Virgil blowing hot air into Augustus’ gargantuan ego in book after book, and allusion after allusion, and we know damned well that the foundation of the Roman Empire was not the glorious culmination of human civilization, but instead just another installment in the crazy train of humanity’s thus far rather modest history. But at other times – especially throughout the closing six books of the Aeneid – the epic’s partisanship becomes one of its most memorable and magnetic features.

The Aeneid begins with wanderings and diaspora, tragedy and dark romance, brooding on the past and fretting about the future. But next time, as Aeneas climbs out of the underworld and gets to Italy proper, the epic turns into a long, harrowing war story. It’s a war story about a hero who is tired of being lost, compromised, misunderstood, used, and underestimated. Having lost his wife and father, his city and most of his people, his ships and crew mates, and having been compelled by fate to ruin the life of Queen Dido of Carthage and slog through the underworld, Aeneas has given up everything he has to get to Italy. And upon arriving there, he intends to found his city, and flatten anything that stands in his way.

So in the following program in this sequence, Episode 56: I Shall Release Hell, you’re going to hear all about what happens when Aeneas gets to the future territory of Rome. And while Virgil’s general partisanship for Rome and the Augustan regime sometimes makes for awkward politicking and clunky excursions, there is also charm to reading a story with little moral ambiguity, with a protagonist and antagonists, with buckets of blood and some of my personal favorite one liners in literature. We’ve seen Virgil write tales of crestfallen shepherds in the Eclogues, the textures and rhythms of rural life in the Georgics and the privations of a wandering hero in the first half of the Aeneid. But in the next two shows, we’re going to meet a very different Virgil, and I think you’ll see that nobody – and I mean nobody – can tell a war story better than Rome’s most famous poet.

I will get the rest of these Aeneid episodes out as fast as I can, but at the moment I’m moving, and am about to put all my recording gizmos into boxes for a week or two. This entire year has been full of complicated life events that aren’t worth going into in the podcast, but they’ve collectively made me release a lot of programs at a snail’s pace. However, once I get installed in my new residence, I’ll be in a position to continue the show for a long time, with episode releases about every two weeks, rather than three or four. I even have some upcoming academic conferences planned, at which I hope to turn more professors and university departments on to literature podcasting, so that folks like yourselves can have a bigger breadth of professionally produced content to choose from. I have a quiz on this episode at literatureandhistory.com if you want to review the details of Books 4-6. If you want to hear a song, I’ve got one coming up. If not, thanks for listening to Literature and History, and I’ll see you next time.

Still listening? Well, I got to thinking. A theme that keeps coming up again and again lately has been that the Greco-Roman pantheon behaves not only with a disturbing disregard of humanity, but also, quite often, with an exceptional lack of coherence. I wondered – what if we could bring forward someone – someone like Xenophanes, or Plato – someone who, like us, gets a bit perplexed at the undignified and harebrained conduct of Zeus and his profusively inbred family? What if we could bring one of these thinkers forward, and put them in an eighties hair metal band? That seems pretty realistic to me – I mean it’s quite normal for ancient philosophers to get involved with eighties hard rock when they travel forward through time. Anyway, I got to thinking about that, and I wrote this hair metal song, which is called “The Gods Are Insane,” a song which contains an amount of what we guitar players call “wanking” that I hope is appropriate to the genre. Hope you like it, and see you soon.


1.^ Wilson-Okamura, David Scott. Virgil in the Renaissance. Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 6.

2.^ Confessions 1:21. Printed in Augustine. Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 14.

3.^ See Braund, Susanna. Virgil’s Aeneid. Audio blog post. “Analysis of Aeneid Books 4-6.” 30 April 2007. Web. 15 November 2017.

4.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated by Frederick Ahl and with an Introduction by Elaine Fantham. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 23. Further references to this translation are noted parenthetically in this transcription.

5.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated by Frederick Ahl and with an Introduction by Elaine Fantham. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 77.

6.^ My thanks to Curtis Dozier for pointing Venus’ potential motivation out to me.

7.^ Virgil. Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid 1-6. Translated by H. Rushton Fairclough and Revised by G.P. Goold. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 443-5.

8.^ Thanks to Curtis Dozier for pointing out the Latin parallelism here.

9.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated and with an Introduction and Notes by W.F. Jackson Knight. New York and London: Penguin, 1956, p. 116.

10.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated and with an Introduction and Notes by W.F. Jackson Knight. New York and London: Penguin, 1956, p. 123.

11.^ Virgil. Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid 1-6. Translated by H. Rushton Fairclough and Revised by G.P. Goold. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 539.

12.^ Theseus, Orpheus, and Heracles are the only figures in Greek mythology, to my knowledge, who descend into Hades and return.

13.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated and with an Introduction and Notes by W.F. Jackson Knight. New York and London: Penguin, 1956, p. 153.

14.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated by David West. Penguin, 2003, p. 120.

15.^ Virgil. Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid 1-6. Translated by H. Rushton Fairclough and Revised by G.P. Goold. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 565.

16.^ The scene may also imitate the reticence of Ajax toward Odysseus in Il 11, aligning stalwart and upright Ajax with Dido, and conniving Odysseus with Aeneas.

17.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Classics, 1981, p. 178.

18.^ See, for instance, Book of the Dead. Ed John Romer. Penguin Classics, 2008, p. 26.

19.^ A good starting point to learn more about the theology and philosophy implicit in Book 6 is Braund, Susanna. “Virgil and the Cosmos: Religious and Philosophical Ideas.” In Martindale, Charles, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Virgil. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

20.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Classics, 1981, p. 187.

21.^ Virgil. Aeneid. Translated by Frederick Ahl and with an Introduction by Elaine Fantham. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 380.

22.^ A sense of duty, and filial duty, is a characterizing feature of Aeneas. So it’s especially shocking that the slaughter of Turnus takes place – it is at once the murder of an unwitting victim of divine power politics, but also Aeneas betraying the very core of what his father told him characterizes Roman behavior.

23.^ Another important description of a dichotomous afterlife in the late first century BCE is Propertius (4.7.55-62).

24.^ See Wilson-Okamura, David Scott. Virgil in the Renaissance. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

25.^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Delphi Complete Works of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Delphi Classics, 2017. Kindle Edition, Location 1140.

26.^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives. In Delphi Complete Works of Plutarch. Delphi Classics, 2013. Kindle Edition, Location 19985.

27.^ See The Civil War 3.141.

28.^ See Ahl (2007), p. 363.

29.^ Strabo. The Geography 5.4.5. In Delphi Complete Works of Strabo. Delphi Classics, 2016. Kindle Edition, Location 70717.

30.^ See Lancaster, Jordan. In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Cultural History of Vesuvius. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2009, p. 48.

31.^ See Strabo 5.4.5 and Ahl (2007), p. 366.

32.^ Tarn, W.W. Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 10. Cambridge University Press, 1934, p. 111. Quoted in Lefkowitz, Mary and Flint, Maureen. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation. Johns Hopkins UP, 2005, p. 147.

33.^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives 25.1. In Delphi Complete Works of Plutarch. Delphic Classics, 2013. Kindle Edition, Location 28128.

34.^ Ibid, Locations 28288, 28313.

35.^ Horace. The Complete Odes and Epodes. Translated and with Notes by W.G. Shepherd and an Introduction by Betty Radice. Penguin, 1983, p. 101.

36.^ de Luce, Judith. “Reading and re-reading the helpful princess.” In Hallet, Judith P. and Van Nortwick, Thomas, eds. Compromising Traditions: The Personal Voice in Classical Scholarship. London and New York: Routledge, 1997, pp. 25-6.

37.^ See Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns, and Homerica. Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920, pp. 551-3.

38.^ Ovid includes the story of Dido and Aeneas, and its nearly exact parallel tale of Phyllis and Demophoon. Other Ovidian abandoned heroines are featured in the letters of Hypsiple, Ariadne, Medea, Oenone, and Deianira.