19 Vergil’s Aeneid Book VIII

Here, we enter back into the Aeneid after Aeneas has made it to Italy, where he is at war with the native Rutulians.  Aeneas has journeyed to the future site of Rome and met Evander, the Greek who has colonized the site.

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved

Venus Ordering Arms from Vulcan for Aeneas, Jean Restout
‘Venus Ordering Arms from Vulcan for Aeneas’ – Jean Restout (France, 1692-1768), LACMA Collections

BkVIII:306-369 Pallanteum – the Site of Rome

Then they all returned to the city, the sacred rites complete.

The king walked clothed with years, and kept Aeneas and his son

near him for company, lightening the road with various talk.

Aeneas marvelled, and scanned his eyes about

eagerly, captivated by the place, and delighted

to enquire about and learn each tale of the men of old.

So King Evander, founder of Rome’s citadel, said:

‘The local Nymphs and Fauns once lived in these groves,

and a race of men born of trees with tough timber,

who had no laws or culture, and didn’t know how

to yoke oxen or gather wealth, or lay aside a store,

but the branches fed them, and the hunter’s wild fare.

Saturn was the first to come down from heavenly Olympus,

fleeing Jove’s weapons, and exiled from his lost realm.

He gathered together the untaught race, scattered among

the hills, and gave them laws, and chose to call it Latium,

from latere, ‘to hide’, since he had hidden in safety on these shores.

Under his reign was the Golden Age men speak of:

in such tranquil peace did he rule the nations,

until little by little an inferior, tarnished age succeeded,

with war’s madness, and desire for possessions.

Then the Ausonian bands came, and the Siconian tribes,

while Saturn’s land of Latium often laid aside her name:

then the kings, and savage Thybris, of vast bulk,

after whom we Italians call our river by the name

of Tiber: the ancient Albula has lost her true name.

As for me, exiled from my country and seeking

the limits of the ocean, all-powerful Chance,

and inescapable fate, settled me in this place,

driven on by my mother the Nymph Carmentis’s

dire warnings, and my guardian god Apollo.’

He had scarcely spoken when advancing he pointed out

the altar and what the Romans call the Carmental Gate,

in ancient tribute to the Nymph Carmentis,

the far-seeing prophetess, who first foretold

the greatness of Aeneas’s sons, the glory of Pallanteum.

Next he pointed to a vast grove, which brave Romulus would restore

as a sanctuary, and the Lupercal, the Wolf’s Cave, under a cold cliff,

named in the Arcadian way for the wolf-god, Lycaean Pan.

And he also pointed out the grove of sacred Argiletum

calling the place to witness, relating the death of Argus his guest.

He leads him from here to the Tarpeian Rock and the Capitol,

now all gold, once bristling with wild thorns.

Even then the dreadful holiness of the place awed the fearful

country folk, even then they trembled at the wood and the rock.

‘A god inhabits this grove,’ he said, ‘ and this hill with its leafy summit,

(which god is unknown): my Arcadians believe they have seen

Jove himself, as his right hand has often shaken

his darkening shield, and called up the storm clouds.

Moreover you can see in these two townships

with broken walls, the memorials and relics of men of old.

Father Janus built this fort, Saturn that:

this was named the Janiculum, that the Saturnia.’

Talking among themselves they came to the house

of the impoverished Evander, and saw cattle here and there, lowing

where the Roman Forum and the fashionable Carinae would be.

When they reached the house, Evander said: ‘Victorious Hercules

stooped to entering this doorway, this palace charmed him.

My guest, dare to scorn wealth, and make yourself worthy too

to be a god: don’t be scathing about the lack of possessions.’

He spoke, and led mighty Aeneas beneath the confines

of his sloping roof, and allotted him a mattress

stuffed with leaves, and the pelt of a Libyan bear:

Night fell, and embraced the earth with her darkening wings.


BkVIII:370-406 Venus Seeks Weapons from Vulcan

‘Venus Ordering Arms from Vulcan for Aeneas’ – Jean Restout (France, 1692-1768), LACMA Collections

Now Venus, a mother fearful, and not without reason, in her mind,

troubled by the Laurentine threats, and fierce uprising,

spoke to Vulcan, her husband, in their golden bridal chamber,

beginning this way, breathing divine passion into her words:

‘I didn’t ask weapons of your skill or power, dearest husband,

nor any help for my poor people, while the Argive kings

destroyed doomed Troy in the war, her citadel fated

to fall to hostile flames: no, I didn’t want to exercise

you or your skills in vain, though I owed much indeed

to Priam’s sons, and often wept at Aeneas’s cruel suffering.

Now at Jove’s command he has set foot on Rutulian shores,

so I come likewise as a suppliant and ask arms of the power

sacred to me, a mother on behalf of her son. Thetis, Nereus’s

daughter, and Aurora, Tithonus’s wife, could move you with tears.

See what nations gather, what cities, closing their gates,

are sharpening their swords against me, to destroy my people.’

She had spoken, and as he hesitated, the goddess caressed him

in a tender embrace, on this side and on that, in her snowy arms.

At once he felt the familiar flame, and that warmth he knew

penetrated him to the marrow, and ran through his melting bones,

no differently than when, with a peal of thunder, a forked

streak of fire tears through the storm-clouds with dazzling light:

his partner felt it, delighted with her cleverness and conscious

of her beauty. Then old Vulcan spoke, chained by immortal love:

‘Why do you seek instances from the past? Goddess, where

has your faith in me gone? If your anxiety then was the same,

it would have been right for me too to arm the Trojans then:

neither fate nor the almighty Father refused to let Troy stand,

or Priam live, ten years more. And so now, if war is your intent,

and your mind is set on it, cease to doubt your powers, entreating

whatever care I can promise in my craft, whatever can be made

of iron and molten electrum, whatever fire and air can do.’

Saying these words he gave her a desired embrace, and sinking

onto his wife’s breast, sought gentle sleep in every limb.

BkVIII:407-453 Vulcan’s Smithy

When, in vanishing night’s mid-course, first rest

has conquered the need for sleep: when a woman,

who supports life with distaff and the humble work

Minerva imposes, first wakes the ashes, and slumbering flames,

adding night hours to her toil, and maintains her servants

at their endless task, by lamplight, to keep her husband’s bed

pure, and raise her young sons: just so, the god,

with the power of fire, rose now from his soft bed,

no idler at that hour, to labour at the forge.

An island, its rocks smoking, rises steeply by

the Sicilian coast, near the flanks of Aeolian Lipare.

Beneath it a cave, and the galleries of Etna, eaten at

by the Cyclopean furnaces, resound, and the groans from

the anvils are heard echoing the heavy blows,

and masses of Chalybean steel hiss in the caverns,

and fire breathes through the furnaces. It is Vulcan’s home

and called Vulcania. Here then the god

with the power of fire descended from the heavens.

In the huge cave the Cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes,

and bare-limbed Pyrcamon, were forging iron.

They held a lightning-bolt, shaped with their hands,

like many of those the Father hurls from all over

the sky, part of it polished, part still left to do.

They’d added three shafts of spiralling rain, three of watery

cloud, three of reddening fire, and the winged south wind.

now they were blending terrifying flashes, into the work,

sounds and fears, and fury with following flames.

Elsewhere they pressed on with a chariot for Mars, with winged wheels,

with which he rouses men, with which he rouses cities:

and a chilling aegis, the breastplate of Pallas,

competing to burnish its serpent scales of gold,

its interwoven snakes, and the Gorgon herself

on the goddess’s breast, with severed neck and rolling eyes:

‘Away with all this,’ he shouts, ‘remove the work

you’ve started, Cyclopes of Etna, and turn your minds to this:

you’re to make arms for a brave hero. Now you

need strength, swift hands now, all the art now of a master.

An end to delay.’ He said no more, but they all

bent quickly to the toil, and shared the labour equally.

Bronze and golden ore flowed in streams,

and steel, that deals wounds, melted in a vast furnace.

They shaped a giant shield, one to stand against all

the weapons of Latium, layering it seven times,

disc on disc. Some sucked in air and blew it out

again with panting bellows, others dipped the hissing bronze

in the lake: the cavern groaned beneath the weight of anvils.

With mighty force they lifted their arms together in rhythm,

and turned the mass of metal, gripping it with pincers.

BkVIII:454-519 Evander Proposes Assistance

While the lord of Lemnos hastened the work on the Aeolian

shore, the kindly light, and the dawn song of the birds

beneath the eaves, called Evander from his humble house.

The old man rose, clothed his body in a tunic

and strapped Tyrrhenian sandals to the soles of his feet.

Then he fastened his Tegaean sword over his shoulder

and to his side, flinging back a panther’s hide on the left.

Two guard dogs besides ran ahead from the high

threshold, and accompanied their master’s steps.

The hero made his way to his guest Aeneas’s

secluded lodging, thinking of his words,

and the help he had promised. Aeneas was no less

early to rise: his son Pallas walked with the one,

Achates with the other. They clasped hands as they met,

sat down among the houses, and finally enjoyed

open conversation. The king was the first to begin, so:

‘Greatest leader of the Teucrians, for my part while you’re safe

and sound I’ll never accept that the kingdom and power of Troy

have been overthrown, our strength in war is inadequate to such

a name: on this side we are shut in by the Tuscan river, while on that

the Rutulian presses us, and thunders in arms round our walls.

But I propose to affiliate mighty peoples to you,

and a war-camp rich in kingships, help that chance

unpredictably reveals. You arrive at fate’s command.

Not far from here is the site of Argylla’s city,

built of ancient stone, where the Lydian race,

famous in war, once settled the Etruscan heights.

For many years it flourished, until King Mezentius

ruled it with arrogant power, and savage weaponry.

Why recount the tyrant’s wicked murders and vicious acts?

May the gods reserve such for his life and race!

He even tied corpses to living bodies, as a means

of torture, placing hand on hand and face against face,

so killing by a lingering death, in that wretched

embrace, that ooze of disease and decomposition.

But the weary citizens at last armed themselves

surrounded the atrocious madman in his palace,

mowed down his supporters, and fired the roof.

Amongst the carnage he escaped and fled

to Rutulian soil, protected by Turnus’s allied army.

So all Etruria has risen in rightful anger, demanding

the king for punishment, with the threat of immediate war.

Aeneas, I’ll make you leader of those thousands.

For their ships clamour densely on the shore,

and they order the banners to advance, but an aged

soothsayer holds them back, singing of destiny:

‘O chosen warriors of Maeonia, the flower, the honour

of our ancient race, whom just resentment sends against

the enemy, and whom Mezentius fires with rightful anger,

no man of Italy may control such a people as you: choose

foreigners as leaders.’ So the Etruscan ranks camped

on that plain, fearful of this warning from the gods.

Tarchon himself has sent ambassadors to me, with the royal

sceptre and crown, entrusting me with the insignia:

I to come to the camp, and take the Tuscan throne.

But the slow frost of old age wearied by the years, and strength

now beyond acts of valour, begrudge me the command.

I would urge my son to it, except that of mixed blood

with a Sabine mother, he takes part of his nationality from her.

You, O bravest leader of Trojans and Italians, to whose race

and years destiny is favourable, whom the divine will calls,

accept. Moreover I’ll add Pallas here, our hope and comfort:

let him become accustomed under your guidance

to endure military service, and the grave work of war,

witness your actions, and admire you from his early years.

I’ll grant him two hundred Arcadian horsemen, the choice flower

of our manhood, and Pallas will grant the same to you himself.’

BkVIII:520-584 The Preliminary Alarms

He had scarcely finished, and Aeneas, Anchises’s son,

and loyal Achates, with eyes downcast, were thinking

of many a difficulty, in their own sombre minds,

when Cytherea sent a sign from a cloudless sky.

For lightning came flashing unexpectedly from heaven,

with thunder, and suddenly all seemed to quake,

and, through the air, a Tyrrhenian trumpet blast seemed to bray.

They looked upwards, a great crash sounded again and again.

In a calm region of the sky among the clouds they saw

weapons reddening in the bright air, and heard the noise of blows.

The others were astounded but the Trojan hero knew

the sounds as those of things which his mother had promised.

Then he cried: ‘My friend, indeed, do not wonder I beg you

as to what these marvels might prophesy: I am called

by Olympus. The goddess who bore me foretold

she would send this sign if war was near, and bring

weapons from Vulcan through the air to aid me.

Alas what slaughter awaits the wretched Laurentines!

What a price you’ll pay me, Turnus! What shields and helmets

and bodies of the brave you’ll roll beneath your waves,

father Tiber! Let them ask for battle and break their treaties.’

Having spoken, he raised himself from his high throne,

and firstly revived the dormant altars with Herculean fire,

then gladly visited yesterday’s Lar and the humble

household gods. Evander and the Trojan warriors

equally sacrificed chosen ewes according to the rite.

Next he went to the ships and met again with his comrades,

choosing the most outstanding in courage to follow him

to war: the others slipped downstream, floating effortlessly

on the helpful current, carrying news to Ascanius

of his father and his fortunes. Horses were granted

to the Trojans who were to take the Tyrrhenian field:

They lead out a choice mount for Aeneas, clothed

in a tawny lion’s pelt with gleaming gilded claws.

A rumour suddenly flew through the little town, proclaiming

that horsemen were riding fast to the Tyrrhene king’s shores.

Mothers, in alarm, redoubled their prayers, and fear drew near

with danger, and now the war god’s image loomed larger.

Then old Evander, clasping his son’s hand as he departed,

clung to him weeping incessantly and spoke as follows:

‘O, if Jupiter would bring back the years that have vanished,

I to be as I was when I felled the foremost ranks under Praeneste’s

very walls, and as victor heaped up the shields,

and sent King Erulus down to Tartarus, by this right hand,

he to whom at his birth his mother Feronia (strange to tell)

gave three lives, triple weapons to wield – to be three times

brought low in death: who at last in a moment this right hand

stripped of all his lives, and equally of all his weapons:

I would never be torn as now from your sweet embrace, my son,

never would Mezentius have poured insults on

this neighbour’s head, caused so many cruel deaths

with the sword, or widowed the city of so many of her sons.

But you, powers above, and you, Jupiter, mighty ruler of the gods,

take pity I beg you on this Arcadian king, and hear

a father’s prayer. If your will, and fate, keep my Pallas safe,

if I live to see him and be together with him, I ask for life:

I have the patience to endure any hardship.

But if you threaten any unbearable disaster, Fortune,

now, oh now, let me break the thread of cruel existence,

while fear hangs in doubt, while hope’s uncertain of the future.

while you, beloved boy, my late and only joy, are held

in my embrace, and let no evil news wound my ears.’

These were the words the father poured out at their last parting:

then his servants carried him, overcome, into the palace.

BkVIII:585-625 Venus’s Gift of Armour

And now the horsemen had ridden from the opened gates,

Aeneas, and loyal Achetes, among the first: then the other

princes of Troy, Pallas himself travelling mid-column,

notable in his cloak and engraved armour,

like the Morning-Star, whom Venus loves above all

the other starry fires, when, having bathed in Ocean’s wave,

he raises his sacred head in heaven, and melts the dark.

Mothers stand fearfully on the battlements, and with their eyes

follow the cloud of dust, the squadrons bright with bronze.

The armed men pass through the undergrowth where the route

is most direct: a shout rises, and they form column,

and with the thunder of their hooves shake the broken ground.

There’s a large grove by the chilly stream of Caere, held sacred

far and wide, in ancestral reverence: the hollow hills enclose it

on all sides, and surround the wood with dark fir trees.

The tale is that the ancient Pelasgians, who once held

the Latin borders, dedicated this wood and a festive day

to Silvanus, god of the fields and the herds.

Not far from here, Tarchon and the Tyrrhenians were camped

in a safe place, and now all their troops could be seen,

from the high ground, scattered widely over the fields.

Aeneas, the leader, and the young men chosen for war,

arrived, and refreshed their horses and their weary bodies.

Then Venus, bright goddess, came bearing gifts through

the ethereal clouds: and when she saw her son from far away

who had retired in secret to the valley by the cool stream,

she went to him herself, unasked, and spoke these words:

‘See the gifts brought to perfection by my husband’s

skill, as promised. You need not hesitate, my son, to quickly

challenge the proud Laurentines, or fierce Turnus, to battle.’

Cytherea spoke, and invited her son’s embrace, and placed

the shining weapons under an oak tree opposite.

He cannot have enough of turning his gaze over each item,

delighting in the goddess’s gift and so high an honour,

admiring, and turning the helmet over with hands and arms,

with its fearsome crest and spouting flames,

and the fateful sword, the stiff breastplate of bronze,

dark-red and huge, like a bluish cloud when it’s lit

by the rays of the sun, and glows from afar:

then the smooth greaves, of electrum and refined gold,

the spear, and the shield’s indescribable detail.

BkVIII:626-670 Vulcan’s Shield: Scenes of Early Rome

There the lord with the power of fire, not unversed

in prophecy, and knowledge of the centuries to come,

had fashioned the history of Italy, and Rome’s triumphs:

there was every future generation of Ascanius’s stock,

and the sequence of battles they were to fight.

He had also shown the she-wolf, having just littered,

lying on the ground, in the green cave of Mars,

the twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, playing, hanging

on her teats, and fearlessly sucking at their foster-mother.

Bending her neck back smoothly she caressed them

in turn, and licked their limbs with her tongue.

Not far from that he had placed Rome, the Sabine women,

lawlessly snatched from the seated crowd, when the great games

were held in the Circus: and the sudden surge of fresh warfare

between Romulus’s men, and the aged Tatius and his austere Cures.

Next, the same two kings stood armed in front of Jove’s altar,

holding the wine-cups and joined in league, sacrificing a sow,

the new-built palace bristling with Romulus’s thatch.

Then, not far from that, four-horse chariots driven

in different directions tore Mettus apart (Alban, you should

have kept your word, though!), and Tullus dragged the liar’s

entrails through the woods, the briars wet with sprinkled blood.

There was Porsenna too, ordering Rome to admit the banished

Tarquin, and gripping the city in a mighty siege:

the scions of Aeneas running on the sword for freedom’s sake.

You could see Porsenna in angry, and in threatening, posture,

because Cocles dared to tear down the bridge,

because Cloelia broke her restraints and swam the river.

At the top Manlius, guardian of the Tarpeian Citadel,

stood before the temple, defending the high Capitol.

And there the silvery goose, flying through the gilded

colonnades, cackled that the Gauls were at the gate.

The Gauls were there in the gorse, taking the Citadel,

protected by the dark, the gift of shadowy night.

Their hair was gold, and their clothes were gold,

they shone in striped cloaks, their white necks

torqued with gold, each waving two Alpine javelins

in his hand, long shields defending their bodies.

Here he had beaten out the leaping Salii and naked Luperci,

the woolly priest’s caps, and the oval shields that fell

from heaven, chaste mothers in cushioned carriages

leading sacred images through the city. Far from these

he had added the regions of Tartarus, the high gates of Dis,

the punishment for wickedness, and you Catiline, hanging

from a threatening cliff, trembling at the sight of the Furies:

and the good, at a distance, Cato handing out justice.

BkVIII:671-713 Vulcan’s Shield: The Battle of Actium

The likeness of the swollen sea flowed everywhere among these,

in gold, though the flood foamed with white billows,

and dolphins in bright silver swept the waters

round about with arching tails, and cut through the surge.

In the centre bronze ships could be seen, the Battle of Actium,

and you could make out all Leucate in feverish

preparation for war, the waves gleaming with gold.

On one side Augustus Caesar stands on the high stern,

leading the Italians to the conflict, with him the Senate,

the People, the household gods, the great gods, his happy brow

shoots out twin flames, and his father’s star is shown on his head.

Elsewhere Agrippa, favoured by the winds and the gods

leads his towering column of ships, his brow shines

with the beaks of the naval crown, his proud battle distinction.

On the other side Antony, with barbarous wealth and strange weapons,

conqueror of eastern peoples and the Indian shores, bringing Egypt,

and the might of the Orient, with him, and furthest Bactria:

and his Egyptian consort follows him (the shame).

All press forward together, and the whole sea foams,

churned by the sweeping oars and the trident rams.

They seek deep water: you’d think the Cycladic islands were uprooted

and afloat on the flood, or high mountains clashed with mountains,

so huge the mass with which the men attack the towering sterns.

Blazing tow and missiles of winged steel shower from their hands,

Neptune’s fields grow red with fresh slaughter.

The queen in the centre signals to her columns with the native

sistrum, not yet turning to look at the twin snakes at her back.

Barking Anubis, and monstrous gods of every kind

brandish weapons against Neptune, Venus,

and Minerva. Mars rages in the centre of the contest,

engraved in steel, and the grim Furies in the sky,

and Discord in a torn robe strides joyously, while

Bellona follows with her blood-drenched whip.

Apollo of Actium sees from above and bends his bow: at this

all Egypt, and India, all the Arabs and Sabaeans turn and flee.

The queen herself is seen to call upon the winds,

set sail, and now, even now, spread the slackened canvas.

The lord with the power of fire has fashioned her pallid

with the coming of death, amidst the slaughter,

carried onwards by the waves and wind of Iapyx,

while before her is Nile, mourning with his vast extent,

opening wide his bays, and, with his whole tapestry, calling

the vanquished to his dark green breast, and sheltering streams.

BkVIII:714-731 Vulcan’s Shield: Augustus’s Triple Triumph

Next Augustus, entering the walls of Rome in triple triumph,

is dedicating his immortal offering to Italy’s gods,

three hundred great shrines throughout the city.

The streets are ringing with joy, playfulness, applause:

a band of women in every temple, altars in every one:

before the altars sacrificial steers cover the ground.

He himself sits at the snow-white threshold of shining Apollo,

examines the gifts of nations, and hangs them on the proud gates.

The conquered peoples walk past in a long line, as diverse

in language as in weapons, or the fashion of their clothes.

Here Vulcan has shown the Nomad race and loose-robed Africans,

there the Leleges and Carians and Gelonians with their quivers:

Euphrates runs with quieter waves, and the Morini,

remotest of mankind, the double-horned Rhine,

the untamed Dahae, and Araxes, resenting its restored bridge.

Aeneas marvels at such things on Vulcan’s shield, his mother’s gift,

and delights in the images, not recognising the future events,

lifting to his shoulder the glory and the destiny of his heirs.


Gender and Sexuality in Ancient Rome Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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