As Book 7 begins, Aeneas and the Trojans anchor at last in Italy at the mouth of the Tiber, in the realm of King Latinus. He is old and has no male heirs: his succession depends on his daughter, Lavinia. Queen Amata favours a marriage with Turnus, King of the neighbouring Rutuli, but Latinus has doubts because omens have been contrary and prophecy has suggested that Lavinia and a foreign bridegroom will wed and found a famous race.
Meanwhile an oracle is fulfilled which leads Aeneas to prepare to found his new city. The Harpy Celaeno (not Aeneas’s father, Anchises, as Virgil says here) has foretold that the Trojans will be reduced by hunger to gnawing their tables. The Trojans have just ended a meal by eating the wheaten platters it has been served on.
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“Heus! etiam mensas consumimus,” inquit Iulus,
nec plura adludens. ea vox audita laborum
prima tulit finem, primamque loquentis ab ore
eripuit pater ac stupefactus numine pressit.
continuo: “Salve fatis mihi debita tellus
vosque,” ait, “O fidi Troiae salvete penates:
hic domus, haec patria est. genitor mihi talia namque
(nunc repeto) Anchises fatorum arcana reliquit:
‘cum te, nate, fames ignota ad litora vectum
accisis coget dapibus consumere mensas,
tum sperare domos defessus ibique memento
prima locare manu molirique aggere tecta.’
haec erat illa fames; haec nos suprema manebat,
exiliis positura modum.
quare agite et primo laeti cum lumine solis
quae loca, quive habeant homines, ubi moenia gentis,
vestigemus et a portu diversa petamus.
nunc pateras libate Iovi precibusque vocate
Anchisen genitorem, et vina reponite mensis.”
sic deinde effatus frondenti tempora ramo
implicat et geniumque loci primamque deorum
Tellurem nymphasque et adhuc ignota precatur
flumina, tum Noctem Noctisque orientia signa
Idaeumque Iovem Phrygiamque ex ordine matrem
invocat et duplicis caeloque ereboque parentis.
hic pater omnipotens ter caelo clarus ab alto
intonuit radiisque ardentem lucis et auro
ipse manu quatiens ostendit ab aethere nubem.
diditur hic subito Troiana per agmina rumor
advenisse diem, quo debita moenia condant.
certatim instaurant epulas atque omine magno
crateras laeti statuunt et vina coronant.
“Well, we’re even eating the tables!” said Iulus
as a brief joke. Hearing that speech first brought an
end to their troubles, and his father snatched it from
his lips even as he spoke and took it up, stunned by the
omen. At once, “Hail, land promised by the fates,
and hail you loyal household Gods of Troy!” he said:
This is our home, this our fatherland. Now I remember,
my father Anchises left me these secrets from the fates:
‘son, when you are brought to unknown lands and food
runs short and hunger makes you eat your tables, then,
though exhausted, hope for homes, and remember to set
your hand for the first time to building a city
and rampart. This was that hunger, the culmination
destined to put an end to our exile. So come, and
at the first light of the sun, in gladness let us spread
out from the anchorage, find out what place this is,
who possesses it and where their city is.
But now pour libations to Jove, call on my father
Anchises in prayer, and put wine again on the tables.”
With that he bound his temples with a branch in leaf,
and prayed in due order to the spirit of the place,
Gaea, first of the Gods, the nymphs, the rivers, till now
unknown, then Night, and the signs Night gives of dawn,
Idaean Jove and Cybele, the Phrygian Mother, and both
his own parents, in heaven and the netherworld.
The almighty Father thundered clearly three times,
and himself brandished in the heavens a cloud,
blazing in his hand with rays of fire and gold.
At once the news spreads through the Trojan lines that
the day has come to found their promised city walls. They
race to prepare the feast and, joyful at the great
portent, set up the mixing-bowls and pour out the wine.