Aeneid Book 6, lines 124 - 155

Aeneas learns the way to the underworld

by Virgil

Aeneas has asked the Sibyl to show him how to reach the underworld and Anchises, his dead father: here she tells him what must be done to open the way. The reference to the accidental death of a companion, creating a taint that must be cleansed before the journey, mirrors an incident in the corresponding episode in the Odyssey.

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Talibus orabat dictis arasque tenebat,
cum sic orsa loqui vates: ‘sate sanguine divum,
Tros Anchisiade, facilis descensus Averno:
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est. pauci, quos aequus amavit
Iuppiter aut ardens evexit ad aethera virtus,
dis geniti potuere. tenent media omnia silvae,
Cocytusque sinu labens circumvenit atro.
quod si tantus amor menti, si tanta cupido est
bis Stygios innare lacus, bis nigra videre
Tartara, et insano iuvat indulgere labori,
accipe quae peragenda prius. latet arbore opaca
aureus et foliis et lento vimine ramus,
Iunoni infernae dictus sacer; hunc tegit omnis
lucus et obscuris claudunt convallibus umbrae.
sed non ante datur telluris operta subire
auricomos quam quis decerpserit arbore fetus.
hoc sibi pulchra suum ferri Proserpina munus
instituit. primo avulso non deficit alter
aureus, et simili frondescit virga metallo.
ergo alte vestiga oculis et rite repertum
carpe manu; namque ipse volens facilisque sequetur,
si te fata vocant; aliter non viribus ullis
vincere nec duro poteris convellere ferro.
praeterea iacet exanimum tibi corpus amici
(heu nescis) totamque incestat funere classem,
dum consulta petis nostroque in limine pendes.
sedibus hunc refer ante suis et conde sepulcro.
duc nigras pecudes; ea prima piacula sunto.
sic demum lucos Stygis et regna invia vivis
aspicies.’ dixit, pressoque obmutuit ore.

As he prayed in these words and gripped the altar,
the seer began: “Born of the blood of the Gods,
Aeneas of Troy, easy is the descent to Avernus:
night and day the gate of black Dis stands open.
To retrace your steps, return to the upper air,
that is the task, there the difficulty. A few, that
Jove loved and favoured or bright virtue lifted to
heaven, divinely born, were able. Woods clothe
the centre, Cocytus flows round it in its black course.
If such great love and desire is in your mind twice
to sail the lakes of Styx, twice see black Tartarus
and take the mad challenge on, hear what must be
done first. Hidden in a thick wood there is a branch,
golden both in its leaves and its pliant stem,
said to be sacred to the infernal Queen; the whole
grove hides it, shadows shut it in with dark defences.
No-one is allowed under the buried places of earth who
has not plucked the gold-leaved growth from the tree.
Lovely Proserpina required this to be brought to her as
her due gift. As soon as the first bough is taken there is
another, also in gold, in leaf of the same metal.
So seek it with eyes upturned, and, when found,
pluck it by hand; for it will come easy and willing
if fate chooses you; else you will not win it with any
violence or be able to cut it with hard iron.
Also, you do not know, alas, the breathless body of
a friend lies tainting the whole fleet with death,
while you ask counsel and linger at our door.
First put him to his rest and lay him in his tomb.
Bring black beasts, let them first be your first offering.
So will you then see the groves of Styx and the realm
the living may not tread.” She ended, and kept silence.


More Poems by Virgil

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