Aeneid Book6, lines 548 - 579

Aeneas comes to the Hell of Tartarus

by Virgil

Continuing his underworld journey after his sad meeting with the shade of Dido, Aeneas comes to the home of the shades of warriors. Many Trojan heroes alongside whom he fought at Troy throng around him in welcome; the ghosts of their Greek adversaries run away in fear. Among the Trojans he meets Deiphobus, who became Helen of Troy’s new husband after the death of Paris: he is horribly disfigured. Deiphobus tells of the treachery of Helen, who on the night that Troy fell hid every weapon in the house, flung open the doors and called on Menelaus, whose men found him defenceless and were able to maim and slaughter him at leisure. The Sibyl, Aeneas’s guide, interrupts, pointing out that time is passing, and the two of them leave Deiphobus and come to the vast and terrible prison of Tartarus.

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Respicit Aeneas subito et sub rupe sinistra
moenia lata videt triplici circumdata muro,
quae rapidus flammis ambit torrentibus amnis,
Tartareus Phlegethon, torquetque sonantia saxa.
porta adversa ingens solidoque adamante columnae,
vis ut nulla virum, non ipsi exscindere bello
caelicolae valeant; stat ferrea turris ad auras,
Tisiphoneque sedens palla succincta cruenta
vestibulum exsomnis servat noctesque diesque.
hinc exaudiri gemitus et saeva sonare
verbera, tum stridor ferri tractaeque catenae.
constitit Aeneas strepitumque exterritus hausit.
‘quae scelerum facies? o virgo, effare; quibusve
urgentur poenis? quis tantus plangor ad auras?’
tum vates sic orsa loqui: ‘dux inclute Teucrum
nulli fas casto sceleratum insistere limen;
sed me cum lucis Hecate praefecit Avernis,
ipsa deum poenas docuit perque omnia duxit.
Gnosius haec Rhadamanthus habet durissima regna
castigatque auditque dolos subigitque fateri
quae quis apud superos furto laetatus inani
distulit in seram commissa piacula mortem.
continuo sontis ultrix accincta flagello
Tisiphone quatit insultans, torvosque sinistra
intentans anguis vocat agmina saeva sororum.
tum demum horrisono stridentes cardine sacrae
panduntur portae. cernis custodia qualis
vestibulo sedeat, facies quae limina servet?
quinquaginta atris immanis hiatibus Hydra
saevior intus habet sedem. tum Tartarus ipse
bis patet in praeceps tantum tenditque sub umbras
quantus ad aetherium caeli suspectus Olympum.”

Aeneas looks round and, under the crag on the left,
sees a wide fortress surrounded by a triple wall, which
a swift river, Tartarus’ Phlegethon, girds with
searing flames, rolling crashing boulders along.
Opposite are a huge gate and columns of solid adamant
that no mortal strength, nor even the Gods themselves
could take in battle; a tower of iron soars up to
the heights, and unsleeping Tisiphone in her gory robe
sits and guards the entry both night and day.
From within, cries are heard, and the sound of savage
blows, then scraping iron and the drag of chains. Pausing,
Aeneas, aghast, took in the din. “What kind of crimes
are these, and by what penalties are they punished?
What is this noise of blows, rising upwards? Speak,
maiden!” The seer began: “glorious leader of the Trojans,
no guiltless being may tread this threshold of wickedness;
but when Hecate gave me charge of the groves of Avernus
she told me of the Gods’ penalties and explained them all.
Cretan Rhadamanthus holds this most grim of realms,
tries and punishes fraud and forces confession of sins
among the living, atonement for which, relying on vain
concealment, sinners have postponed too long until death.
Tisiphone ceaselessly springs at the guilty with her lash
at her girdle, threatens them with the fierce snakes in her
left hand and calls on the savage band of her sisters.
Then, finally, the sacred gates open, grating on their
shrieking hinges. Do you see what kind of watch sits
in the entrance, the form that guards the threshold?
Hydra, horrible with fifty gaping black maws, fiercer
still, keeps its seat within. Then, Tartarus itself gapes
steeply down and stretches twice as far into the dark as
Olympus is lifted into the Aether of the heavens.”

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