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.”


More Poems by Virgil

  1. Rumour
  2. The journey to Hades begins
  3. Mourning for Pallas
  4. Dido’s release
  5. Sea-nymphs
  6. Aeneas’s vision of Augustus
  7. Juno throws open the gates of war
  8. The farmer’s starry calendar
  9. Signs of bad weather
  10. New allies for Aeneas
  11. Aeneas’s oath
  12. Virgil predicts a forthcoming birth and a new golden age
  13. King Mezentius meets his match
  14. The death of Euryalus and Nisus
  15. Aeneas saves his son and father, but at a cost
  16. Aeneas’s ships are transformed
  17. The death of Dido.
  18. A Fury rouses Turnus to war
  19. The Trojans prepare to set sail from Carthage
  20. How Aeneas will know the site of his city
  21. Charon, the ferryman
  22. Aeneas arrives in Italy
  23. Aeneas finds Dido among the shades
  24. More from Virgil’s farming Utopia
  25. Juno is reconciled
  26. The farmer’s happy lot
  27. Storm at sea!
  28. Aeneas rescues his Father Anchises
  29. The death of Priam
  30. The Syrian hostess
  31. Anchises’s ghost invites Aeneas to visit the underworld
  32. Mercury’s journey to Carthage
  33. The Aeneid begins
  34. Turnus at bay
  35. The death of Pallas
  36. Omens for Princess Lavinia
  37. Rites for the allies’ dead
  38. Hector visits Aeneas in a dream
  39. Aeneas prepares to tell Dido his story
  40. The infant Camilla
  41. Catastrophe for Rome?
  42. Aeneas reaches the Elysian Fields
  43. Souls awaiting punishment in Tartarus, and the crimes that brought them there.
  44. Aeneas tours the site of Rome
  45. Palinurus the helmsman is lost
  46. Virgil’s perils on the sea
  47. King Latinus grants the Trojans’ request
  48. Dido and Aeneas: royal hunt and royal affair
  49. Laocoon and the snakes
  50. Help for Father Aeneas from Father Tiber
  51. Aeneas joins the fray
  52. Dido falls in love
  53. In King Latinus’s hall
  54. Aeneas sees Marcellus, Augustus’s tragic heir
  55. The Trojans reach Carthage
  56. Jupiter’s prophecy
  57. Virgil begins the Georgics
  58. The Trojan Horse enters the city
  59. Laocoon warns against the Trojan horse
  60. Fire strikes Aeneas’s fleet
  61. Virgil’s poetic temple to Caesar
  62. Turnus is lured away from battle
  63. The portals of sleep
  64. Aristaeus’s bees
  65. The Harpy’s prophecy
  66. Aeneas is wounded
  67. Aeneas learns the way to the underworld
  68. Turnus the wolf
  69. The natural history of bees
  70. Dido and Aeneas: Hell hath no fury …
  71. Love is the same for all
  72. The Fury Allecto blows the alarm
  73. Vulcan’s forge