--VIRGIL, The Aeneid, Book VIII

The Aeneid (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)


Aeneas climbs the mountain's airy brow,

[180] Meanwhile Aeneas climbs a peak and seeks a full view far and wide over the deep, if he may but see aught of storm-tossed Antheus and his Phrygian galleys, or of Capys or the arms of Caïcus on the high stern. There is no ship in sight; he descries three stags straying on the shore; whole herds follow behind these and in long line graze down the valley. Thereon he stopped and seized in his hand his bow and swift arrows, the arms borne by faithful Achates; and first he lays low the leaders themselves, their heads held high with branching antlers, then routs the herd and all the common sort, driving them with his darts amid the leafy woods. Nor does the stay his hand till seven huge forms he stretches victoriously on the ground, equal in number to his ships. Then he seeks the harbour and divides them among all his company. Next he shares the wine, which good Acestes had stowed in jars on the Trinacrian shore, and hero-like had given at parting; and, speaking thus, clams their sorrowing hearts:

In America today, we write about the actions and intentions of our Founding Fathers in history books, Supreme Court decisions, and National Treasure movie scripts. Two thousand years ago, they wrote epic poems. The opportunistic poet Virgil (the Michael Bay of the Roman Empire), composed The Aeneid to tell the blockbuster foundation story of the Roman Empire.

Above the rest, Aeneas mourns the fate

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Anna comforting Dido as Aeneas leaves Carthage.

In the first century BC, Virgil was a hot young Roman poet and a marketing genius. The amphitheater receipts for Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad were legendary, and Virgil saw room for a spinoff. He selected Aeneas as his central character, the Trojan hero destined to found Rome. Aeneas was a smaller character in Homer’s Iliad – a principal Trojan lieutenant and the son of the goddess Aphrodite. A solid leading man.

19-68 As Aeneas tears up some myrtle and cornet shoots in order to wreathethe altars, drops of blood come from the broken stems. Then a cry is heardfrom beneath the earth, and the voice of Polydorus tells Aeneas that theshoots have grown from the spears which transfixed him when he was murderedafter being sent to Thrace. Aeneas calls a council, and the Tojans decideto leave; funeral rites for Polydorus are prepared.