Æneas and the Old Witch

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Virgil reading the Aenid to Augustus and Octavia

Vergil (70 B.C.–19 B.C.). Æneid.
Vol. 13, pp. 207-218 of The Harvard Classics

The Sybil, an old witch, personally conducts Æneas through the gate and into the jaws of hell, where terrors abound on every hand and frightful mysterious forms rule. There he is told of the greatness and glory that was to come.
(Virgil died Sept. 21, 19 B. C.)


The Sixth Book of the Æneis

THE ARGUMENT.—The Sibyl foretells Æneas the adventures he should meet with in Italy. She attends him to hell; describing to him the various scenes of that place, and conducting him to his father Anchises, who instructs him in those sublime mysteries of the soul of the world, and the transmigration; and shews him that glorious race of heroes which was to descend from him, and his posterity.


HE said, and wept; then spread his sails before
The winds, and reach’d at length the Cumæan shore:
Their anchors dropp’d, his crew the vessels moor.
They turn their heads to sea, their sterns to land,
And greet with greedy joy th’ Italian strand.
Some strike from clashing flints their fiery seed;
Some gather sticks, the kindled flames to feed,
Or search for hollow trees, and fell the woods,
Or trace thro’ valleys the discover’d floods.

Thus, while their sev’ral charges they fulfil,
The pious prince ascends the sacred hill
Where Phœbus is ador’d; and seeks the shade
Which hides from sight his venerable maid.
Deep in a cave the Sibyl makes abode;
Thence full of fate returns, and of the god.
Thro’ Trivia’s grove they walk; and now behold,
And enter now, the temple roof’d with gold.
When Dædalus, to fly the Cretan shore,
His heavy limbs on jointed pinions bore,
(The first who sail’d in air,) ’t is sung by Fame,
To the Cumæan coast at length he came,
And here alighting, built this costly frame.
Inscrib’d to Phœbus, here he hung on high
The steerage of his wings, that cut the sky:
Then o’er the lofty gate his art emboss’d
Androgeos’ death, and off’rings to his ghost;
Sev’n youths from Athens yearly sent, to meet
The fate appointed by revengeful Crete.
And next to those the dreadful urn was plac’d,
In which the destin’d names by lots were cast:
The mournful parents stand around in tears,
And rising Crete against their shore appears.
There too, in living sculpture, might be seen
The mad affection of the Cretan queen;
Then how she cheats her bellowing lover’s eye;
The rushing leap, the doubtful progeny,
The lower part a beast, a man above,
The monument of their polluted love.
Not far from thence he grav’d the wondrous maze,
A thousand doors, a thousand winding ways:
Here dwells the monster, hid from human view,
Not to be found, but by the faithful clew;
Till the kind artist, mov’d with pious grief,
Lent to the loving maid this last relief,
And all those erring paths describ’d so well
That Theseus conquer’d and the monster fell.
Here hapless Icarus had found his part,
Had not the father’s grief restrain’d his art.
He twice assay’d to cast his son in gold;
Twice from his hands he dropp’d the forming mold.
  All this with wond’ring eyes Æneas view’d;
Each varying object his delight renew’d:
Eager to read the rest—Achates came,
And by his side the mad divining dame,
The priestess of the god, Deiphobe her name.
“Time suffers not,” she said, “to feed your eyes
With empty pleasures; haste the sacrifice.
Sev’n bullocks, yet unyok’d, for Phœbus choose,
And for Diana sev’n unspotted ewes.”
This said, the servants urge the sacred rites,
While to the temple she the prince invites.
A spacious cave, within its farmost part,
Was hew’d and fashion’d by laborious art
Thro’ the hill’s hollow sides: before the place,
A hundred doors a hundred entries grace;
As many voices issue, and the sound
Of Sybil’s words as many times rebound.
Now to the mouth they come. Aloud she cries:
“This is the time; enquire your destinies.
He comes; behold the god!” Thus while she said,
(And shiv’ring at the sacred entry stay’d,)
Her color chang’d; her face was not the same,
And hollow groans from her deep spirit came.
Her hair stood up; convulsive rage possess’d
Her trembling limbs, and heav’d her lab’ring breast.
Greater than humankind she seem’d to look,
And with an accent more than mortal spoke.
Her staring eyes with sparkling fury roll;
When all the god came rushing on her soul.
Swiftly she turn’d, and, foaming as she spoke:
“Why this delay?” she cried—“the pow’rs invoke!
Thy pray’rs alone can open this abode;
Else vain are my demands, and dumb the god.”
  She said no more. The trembling Trojans hear,
O’erspread with a damp sweat and holy fear.
The prince himself, with awful dread possess’d,
His vows to great Apollo thus address’d:
“Indulgent god, propitious pow’r to Troy,
Swift to relieve, unwilling to destroy,
Directed by whose hand the Dardan dart
Pierc’d the proud Grecian’s only mortal part:
Thus far, by fate’s decrees and thy commands,
Thro’ ambient seas and thro’ devouring sands,
Our exil’d crew has sought th’ Ausonian ground;
And now, at length, the flying coast is found.
Thus far the fate of Troy, from place to place,
With fury has pursued her wand’ring race.
Here cease, ye pow’rs, and let your vengeance end:
Troy is no more, and can no more offend.
And thou, O sacred maid, inspir’d to see
Th’ event of things in dark futurity;
Give me what Heav’n has promis’d to my fate,
To conquer and command the Latian state;
To fix my wand’ring gods, and find a place
For the long exiles of the Trojan race.
Then shall my grateful hands a temple rear
To the twin gods, with vows and solemn pray’r;
And annual rites, and festivals, and games,
Shall be perform’d to their auspicious names.
Nor shalt thou want thy honors in my land;
For there thy faithful oracles shall stand,
Preserv’d in shrines; and ev’ry sacred lay,
Which, by thy mouth, Apollo shall convey:
All shall be treasur’d by a chosen train
Of holy priests, and ever shall remain.
But O! commit not thy prophetic mind
To flitting leaves, the sport of ev’ry wind,
Lest they disperse in air our empty fate;
Write not, but, what the pow’rs ordain, relate.”
  Struggling in vain, impatient of her load,
And lab’ring underneath the pond’rous god,
The more she strove to shake him from her breast,
With more and far superior force he press’d;
Commands his entrance, and, without control,
Usurps her organs and inspires her soul.
Now, with a furious blast, the hundred doors
Ope of themselves; a rushing whirlwind roars
Within the cave, and Sibyl’s voice restores:
“Escap’d the dangers of the wat’ry reign,
Yet more and greater ills by land remain.
The coast, so long desir’d (nor doubt th’ event),
Thy troops shall reach, but, having reach’d, repent.
Wars, horrid wars, I view—a field of blood,
And Tiber rolling with a purple flood.
Simois nor Xanthus shall be wanting there:
A new Achilles shall in arms appear,
And he, too, goddess-born. Fierce Juno’s hate,
Added to hostile force, shall urge thy fate.
To what strange nations shalt not thou resort,
Driv’n to solicit aid at ev’ry court!
The cause the same which Ilium once oppress’d;
A foreign mistress, and a foreign guest.
But thou, secure of soul, unbent with woes,
The more thy fortune frowns, the more oppose.
The dawnings of thy safety shall be shown
From whence thou least shalt hope, a Grecian town.”
  Thus, from the dark recess, the Sibyl spoke,
And the resisting air the thunder broke;
The cave rebellow’d, and the temple shook.
Th’ ambiguous god, who rul’d her lab’ring breast,
In these mysterious words his mind express’d;
Some truths reveal’d, in terms involv’d the rest.
At length her fury fell, her foaming ceas’d,
And, ebbing in her soul, the god decreas’d.
Then thus the chief: “No terror to my view,
No frightful face of danger can be new.
Inur’d to suffer, and resolv’d to dare,
The Fates, without my pow’r, shall be without my care.
This let me crave, since near your grove the road
To hell lies open, and the dark abode
Which Acheron surrounds, th’ innavigable flood;
Conduct me thro’ the regions void of light,
And lead me longing to my father’s sight.
For him, a thousand dangers I have sought,
And, rushing where the thickest Grecians fought,
Safe on my back the sacred burthen brought.
He, for my sake, the raging ocean tried,
And wrath of Heav’n, my still auspicious guide,
And bore beyond the strength decrepid age supplied.
Oft, since he breath’d his last, in dead of night
His reverend image stood before my sight;
Enjoin’d to seek, below, his holy shade;
Conducted there by your unerring aid.
But you, if pious minds by pray’rs are won,
Oblige the father, and protect the son.
Yours is the pow’r; nor Proserpine in vain
Has made you priestess of her nightly reign.
If Orpheus, arm’d with his enchanting lyre,
The ruthless king with pity could inspire,
And from the shades below redeem his wife;
If Pollux, off’ring his alternate life,
Could free his brother, and can daily go
By turns aloft, by turns descend below—
Why name I Theseus, or his greater friend,
Who trod the downward path, and upward could ascend?
Not less than theirs from Jove my lineage came;
My mother greater, my descent the same.”
So pray’d the Trojan prince, and, while he pray’d,
His hand upon the holy altar laid.
  Then thus replied the prophetess divine:
“O goddess-born of great Anchises’ line,
The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies.
To few great Jupiter imparts this grace,
And those of shining worth and heav’nly race.
Betwixt those regions and our upper light,
Deep forests and impenetrable night
Possess the middle space: th’ infernal bounds
Cocytus, with his sable waves, surrounds.
But if so dire a love your soul invades,
As twice below to view the trembling shades;
If you so hard a toil will undertake,
As twice to pass th’ innavigable lake;
Receive my counsel. In the neighb’ring grove
There stands a tree; the queen of Stygian Jove
Claims it her own; thick woods and gloomy night
Conceal the happy plant from human sight.
One bough it bears; but (wondrous to behold!)
The ductile rind and leaves of radiant gold:
This from the vulgar branches must be torn,
And to fair Proserpine the present borne,
Ere leave be giv’n to tempt the nether skies.
The first thus rent a second will arise,
And the same metal the same room supplies.
Look round the wood, with lifted eyes, to see
The lurking gold upon the fatal tree:
Then rend it off, as holy rites command;
The willing metal will obey thy hand,
Following with ease, if favor’d by thy fate,
Thou art foredoom’d to view the Stygian state:
If not, no labor can the tree constrain;
And strength of stubborn arms and steel are vain.
Besides, you know not, while you here attend,
Th’ unworthy fate of your unhappy friend:
Breathless he lies; and his unburied ghost,
Depriv’d of fun’ral rites, pollutes your host.
Pay first his pious dues; and, for the dead,
Two sable sheep around his hearse be led;
Then, living turfs upon his body lay:
This done, securely take the destin’d way,
To find the regions destitute of day.”
  She said, and held her peace. Æneas went
Sad from the cave, and full of discontent,
Unknowing whom the sacred Sibyl meant.
Achates, the companion of his breast,
Goes grieving by his side, with equal cares oppress’d.
Walking, they talk’d, and fruitlessly divin’d
What friend the priestess by those words design’d.
But soon they found an object to deplore:
Misenus lay extended on the shore;
Son of the God of Winds: none so renown’d
The warrior trumpet in the field to sound;
With breathing brass to kindle fierce alarms,
And rouse to dare their fate in honorable arms.
He serv’d great Hector, and was ever near,
Not with his trumpet only, but his spear.
But by Pelides’ arms when Hector fell,
He chose Æneas; and he chose as well.
Swoln with applause, and aiming still at more,
He now provokes the sea gods from the shore;
With envy Triton heard the martial sound,
And the bold champion, for his challenge, drown’d;
Then cast his mangled carcass on the strand:
The gazing crowd around the body stand.
All weep; but most Æneas mourns his fate,
And hastens to perform the funeral state.
In altar-wise, a stately pile they rear;
The basis broad below, and top advanc’d in air.
An ancient wood, fit for the work design’d,
(The shady covert of the salvage kind,)
The Trojans found: the sounding ax is plied;
Firs, pines, and pitch trees, and the tow’ring pride
Of forest ashes, feel the fatal stroke,
And piercing wedges cleave the stubborn oak.
Huge trunks of trees, fell’d from the steepy crown
Of the bare mountains, roll with ruin down.
Arm’d like the rest the Trojan prince appears,
And by his pious labor urges theirs.
  Thus while he wrought, revolving in his mind
The ways to compass what his wish design’d,
He cast his eyes upon the gloomy grove,
And then with vows implor’d the Queen of Love:
“O may thy pow’r, propitious still to me,
Conduct my steps to find the fatal tree,
In this deep forest; since the Sibyl’s breath
Foretold, alas! too true, Misenus’ death.”
Scarce had he said, when, full before his sight,
Two doves, descending from their airy flight,
Secure upon the grassy plain alight.
He knew his mother’s birds; and thus he pray’d:
“Be you my guides, with your auspicious aid,
And lead my footsteps, till the branch be found,
Whose glitt’ring shadow gilds the sacred ground.
And thou, great parent, with celestial care,
In this distress be present to my pray’r!’
Thus having said, he stopp’d with watchful sight,
Observing still the motions of their flight,
What course they took, what happy signs they shew.
They fed, and, flutt’ring, by degrees withdrew
Still farther from the place, but still in view:
Hopping and flying, thus they led him on
To the slow lake, whose baleful stench to shun
They wing’d their flight aloft; then, stooping low,
Perch’d on the double tree that bears the golden bough.
Thro’ the green leafs the glitt’ring shadows glow;
As, on the sacred oak, the wintry mistletoe,
Where the proud mother views her precious brood,
And happier branches, which she never sow’d.
Such was the glitt’ring; such the ruddy rind,
And dancing leaves, that wanton’d in the wind.
He seiz’d the shining bough with griping hold,
And rent away, with ease, the ling’ring gold;
Then to the Sibyl’s palace bore the prize.
Meantime the Trojan troops, with weeping eyes,
To dead Misenus pay his obsequies.
First, from the ground a lofty pile they rear,
Of pitch trees, oaks, and pines, and unctuous fir:
The fabric’s front with cypress twigs they strew,
And stick the sides with boughs of baleful yew.
The topmost part his glitt’ring arms adorn;
Warm waters, then, in brazen caldrons borne,
Are pour’d to wash his body, joint by joint,
And fragrant oils the stiffen’d limbs anoint.
With groans and cries Misenus they deplore:
Then on a bier, with purple cover’d o’er,
The breathless body, thus bewail’d, they lay,
And fire the pile, their faces turn’d away—
Such reverend rites their fathers us’d to pay.
Pure oil and incense on the fire they throw,
And fat of victims, which his friends bestow.
These gifts the greedy flames to dust devour;
Then on the living coals red wine they pour;
And, last, the relics by themselves dispose,
Which in a brazen urn the priests inclose.
Old Corynæus compass’d thrice the crew,
And dipp’d an olive branch in holy dew;
Which thrice he sprinkled round, and thrice aloud
Invok’d the dead, and then dismiss’d the crowd.
But good Æneas order’d on the shore
A stately tomb, whose top a trumpet bore,
A soldier’s fauchion, and a seaman’s oar.
Thus was his friend interr’d; and deathless fame
Still to the lofty cape consigns his name.
These rites perform’d, the prince, without delay,
Hastes to the nether world his destin’d way.
Deep was the cave; and, downward as it went
From the wide mouth, a rocky rough descent;
And here th’ access a gloomy grove defends,
And there th’ unnavigable lake extends,
O’er whose unhappy waters, void of light,
No bird presumes to steer his airy flight;
Such deadly stenches from the depths arise,
And steaming sulphur, that infects the skies.
From hence the Grecian bards their legends make,
And give the name Avernus to the lake.
Four sable bullocks, in the yoke untaught,
For sacrifice the pious hero brought.
The priestess pours the wine betwixt their horns;
Then cuts the curling hair; that first oblation burns,
Invoking Hecate hither to repair:
A pow’rful name in hell and upper air.
The sacred priests with ready knives bereave
The beasts of life, and in full bowls receive
The streaming blood: a lamb to Hell and Night
(The sable wool without a streak of white)
Æneas offers; and, by fate’s decree,
A barren heifer, Proserpine, to thee,
With holocausts he Pluto’s altar fills;
Sev’n brawny bulls with his own hand he kills;
Then on the broiling entrails oil he pours;
Which, ointed thus, the raging flame devours.
Late the nocturnal sacrifice begun,
Nor ended till the next returning sun.
Then earth began to bellow, trees to dance,
And howling dogs in glimm’ring light advance,
Ere Hecate came. “Far hence be souls profane!”
The Sibyl cried, “and from the grove abstain!
Now, Trojan, take the way thy fates afford;
Assume thy courage, and unsheathe thy sword.”
She said, and pass’d along the gloomy space;
The prince pursued her steps with equal pace.
  Ye realms, yet unreveal’d to human sight,
Ye gods who rule the regions of the night,
Ye gliding ghosts, permit me to relate
The mystic wonders of your silent state!
  Obscure they went thro’ dreary shades, that led
Along the waste dominions of the dead.
Thus wander travelers in woods by night,
By the moon’s doubtful and malignant light,
When Jove in dusky clouds involves the skies,
And the faint crescent shoots by fits before their eyes.
  Just in the gate and in the jaws of hell,
Revengeful Cares and sullen Sorrows dwell,
And pale Diseases, and repining Age,
Want, Fear, and Famine’s unresisted rage;
Here Toils, and Death, and Death’s half-brother, Sleep,
Forms terrible to view, their sentry keep;
With anxious Pleasures of a guilty mind,
Deep Frauds before, and open Force behind;
The Furies’ iron beds; and Strife, that shakes
Her hissing tresses and unfolds her snakes.
Full in the midst of this infernal road,
An elm displays her dusky arms abroad:
The God of Sleep there hides his heavy head,
And empty dreams on ev’ry leaf are spread.
Of various forms unnumber’d specters more,
Centaurs, and double shapes, besiege the door.
Before the passage, horrid Hydra stands,
And Briareus with all his hundred hands;
Gorgons, Geryon with his triple frame;
And vain Chimæra vomits empty flame.
The chief unsheath’d his shining steel, prepar’d,
Tho’ seiz’d with sudden fear, to force the guard,
Off’ring his brandish’d weapon at their face;
Had not the Sibyl stopp’d his eager pace,
And told him what those empty phantoms were:
Forms without bodies, and impassive air.
Hence to deep Acheron they take their way,
Whose troubled eddies, thick with ooze and clay,
Are whirl’d aloft, and in Cocytus lost.
There Charon stands, who rules the dreary coast—
A sordid god: down from his hoary chin
A length of beard descends, uncomb’d, unclean;
His eyes, like hollow furnaces on fire;
A girdle, foul with grease, binds his obscene attire.
He spreads his canvas; with his pole he steers;
The freights of flitting ghosts in his thin bottom bears.
He look’d in years; yet in his years were seen
A youthful vigor and autumnal green.
An airy crowd came rushing where he stood,
Which fill’d the margin of the fatal flood:
Husbands and wives, boys and unmarried maids,
And mighty heroes’ more majestic shades,
And youths, intomb’d before their fathers’ eyes,
With hollow groans, and shrieks, and feeble cries.
Thick as the leaves in autumn strow the woods,
Or fowls, by winter forc’d, forsake the floods,
And wing their hasty flight to happier lands;
Such, and so thick, the shiv’ring army stands,
And press for passage with extended hands.
Now these, now those, the surly boatman bore:
The rest he drove to distance from the shore.
The hero, who beheld with wond’ring eyes
The tumult mix’d with shrieks, laments, and cries,
Ask’d of his guide, what the rude concourse meant;
Why to the shore the thronging people bent;
What forms of law among the ghosts were us’d;
Why some were ferried o’er, and some refus’d.
  “Son of Anchises, offspring of the gods,”
The Sibyl said, “you see the Stygian floods,
The sacred stream which heav’n’s imperial state
Attests in oaths, and fears to violate.
The ghosts rejected are th’ unhappy crew
Depriv’d of sepulchers and fun’ral due:
The boatman, Charon; those, the buried host,
He ferries over to the farther coast;
Nor dares his transport vessel cross the waves
With such whose bones are not compos’d in graves.
A hundred years they wander on the shore;
At length, their penance done, are wafted o’er.”
The Trojan chief his forward pace repress’d,
Revolving anxious thoughts within his breast,
He saw his friends, who, whelm’d beneath the waves,
Their fun’ral honors claim’d, and ask’d their quiet graves.
The lost Leucaspis in the crowd he knew,
And the brave leader of the Lycian crew,
Whom, on the Tyrrhene seas, the tempests met;
The sailors master’d, and the ship o’erset.
  Amidst the spirits, Palinurus press’d,
Yet fresh from life, a new-admitted guest,
Who, while he steering view’d the stars, and bore
His course from Afric to the Latian shore,
Fell headlong down. The Trojan fix’d his view,
And scarcely thro’ the gloom the sullen shadow knew.


 

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