Aeneid Intro (1.1-11)

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Briefly annotated by Tom Jenkins.

Read by Professor Wendell Clausen,

Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature
Professor of Comparative Literature, Emeritus

Dryden read by Professor Kathleen Coleman

Aeneid 1.1-11
ARMA virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem,
inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum,
Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae.
Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso,
quidve dolens, regina deum tot volvere casus
insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
impulerit. Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?

Dryden's translation
Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,
And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town;
His banish'd gods restor'd to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.

O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate;
For what offense the Queen of Heav'n began
To persecute so brave, so just a man;
Involv'd his anxious life in endless cares,
Expos'd to wants, and hurried into wars!
Can heav'nly minds such high resentment show,
Or exercise their spite in human woe?

The famous and oft-quoted prologue to Vergil's Roman epic. The first two words, "arma" [meaning weapons] and "virum" [meaning man], indicate the overall structure of the epic, though (in terms of broad sweep) one encounters the two themes in reverse. The first 6 books, roughly, of the Aeneid relate Aeneas's-- 'the man's'-- wanderings after the fall of Troy, just as Homer's Odyssey narrates Odysseus's various peregrinations on his return voyage home. The last six books, concern the bloodshed and battle-- 'weapons'-- which greet Aeneas in his quest to found a new city on the coast of Italy. [The battle scenes are particularly resonant of the mighty clashes in the Iliad of Homer.]

The invocation of the Muse, line 8, is a traditional but powerful trope, as Vergil enlists the muse of Epic, Calliope, as a companion in the enterprise of recalling Aeneas' story. Vergil singles out Juno, queen of the gods, as the impetus for the events leading to both Aeneas' fantastic voyage and subsequent warfare; it is her wounded numen, her injured sense of self as a goddess and supernatural being, that spurs her vendetta against the mortal Aeneas, and which turns the wheels of the divine machinery omnipresent in the epic.

The final line-- "can immortal souls indeed harbor such terrible wrath?"-- is a novel twist to a prologue, a sudden anxious query on the part of the narrator about the ramifications of the story which he causing to be told. It is true enough that the story of Aeneas may be seen as a triumphant tale: Aeneas founds the city that shall, in time, become the most powerful in the western world. But throughout his journey Aeneas encounters so much wrath, ira, both from mortals [Dido, Turnus, Mezentius] and immortals [Juno, Aeolus' winds, Allecto] that this violent, intemperate force threatens to color darkly our view of the poem.