Aeneid Book 6, Lines 450 to 474

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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 Book 6, Lines 450 to 474
Inter quas Phoenissa recens a volnere Dido
errabat silva in magna; quam Troius heros
ut primum iuxta stetit adgnovitque per umbras
obscuram, qualem primo qui surgere mense
aut videt, aut vidisse putat per nubila lunam,
demisit lacrimas, dulcique adfatus amore est:
Infelix Dido, verus mihi nuntius ergo
venerat exstinctam, ferroque extrema secutam?
Funeris heu tibi causa fui? Per sidera iuro,
per superos, et si qua fides tellure sub ima est,
invitus, regina, tuo de litore cessi.
Sed me iussa deum, quae nunc has ire per umbras,
per loca senta situ cogunt noctemque profundam,
imperiis egere suis; nec credere quivi
hunc tantum tibi me discessu ferre dolorem.
Siste gradum, teque aspectu ne subtrahe nostro.
Quem fugis? Extremum fato, quod te adloquor, hoc est.'
Talibus Aeneas ardentem et torva tuentem
lenibat dictis animum, lacrimasque ciebat.
Illa solo fixos oculos aversa tenebat,
nec magis incepto voltum sermone movetur,
quam si dura silex aut stet Marpesia cautes.
landem corripuit sese, atque inimica refugit
in nemus umbriferum, coniunx ubi pristinus illi
respondet curis aequatque Sychaeus amorem.

Dryden's translation
Not far from these Phoenician Dido stood,
Fresh from her wound, her bosom bath'd in blood;
Whom when the Trojan hero hardly knew,
Obscure in shades, and with a doubtful view,
(Doubtful as he who sees, thro' dusky night,
Or thinks he sees, the moon's uncertain light,)
With tears he first approach'd the sullen shade;
And, as his love inspir'd him, thus he said:
"Unhappy queen! then is the common breath
Of rumor true, in your reported death,
And I, alas! the cause? By Heav'n, I vow,
And all the pow'rs that rule the realms below,
Unwilling I forsook your friendly state,
Commanded by the gods, and forc'd by fate-
Those gods, that fate, whose unresisted might
Have sent me to these regions void of light,
Thro' the vast empire of eternal night.
Nor dar'd I to presume, that, press'd with grief,
My flight should urge you to this dire relief.
Stay, stay your steps, and listen to my vows:
'T is the last interview that fate allows!"
In vain he thus attempts her mind to move
With tears, and pray'rs, and late-repenting love.
Disdainfully she look'd; then turning round,
But fix'd her eyes unmov'd upon the ground,
And what he says and swears, regards no more
Than the deaf rocks, when the loud billows roar;
But whirl'd away, to shun his hateful sight,
Hid in the forest and the shades of night;
Then sought Sichaeus thro' the shady grove,
Who answer'd all her cares, and equal'd all her love.

A famous scene, roughly modelled on Ajax' similarly chilly reception of Odysseus in the Underworld in the Odyssey. Catching sight of his previous lover, Aeneas is surprised [or at least feigns surprise] that he was the cause of Dido's suicide; he repeats his protestations of innocence and again avers that the commands of the gods drove him from Carthage, not lack of affection for Dido. She, in turn, gives one of the most marvelously calculated and brutal responses in classical literature, entirely wordless. Fixing her eyes on the ground-- out of hatred, presumably--she endures the impassioned speech of Aeneas, and then runs back to safety, the loving arms of her former husband Sichaeus.

Aeneas's last utterance to Dido-- "this is the last opportunity that fate [fatum] allows for me to address you"-- agains brings up the theme of destiny in the Aeneid. How much choice does Aeneas have in any of his trials? (Or how often does Aeneas use fate as a convenient excuse?)