Aeneid Book 6, lines 860 - 886

Aeneas sees Marcellus, Augustus’s tragic heir

by Virgil

Aeneas asks his father Anchises about the spirit of a splendid young warrior-to-be, who nevertheless has a tragic air. This is Marcellus, Augustus’s nephew, whom he adopted as his son and prospective successor in 25 BCE, only for him to die two years later at the age of 19. The spirit with whom Marcellus is walking is another famous Marcellus, a great Roman general of the third century BCE.

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Atque hic Aeneas (una namque ire videbat
egregium forma iuvenem et fulgentibus armis,
sed frons laeta parum et deiecto lumina vultu)
‘quis, pater, ille, virum qui sic comitatur euntem?
filius, anne aliquis magna de stirpe nepotum?
qui strepitus circa comitum! quantum instar in ipso!
sed nox atra caput tristi circumvolat umbra.’
tum pater Anchises lacrimis ingressus obortis:
‘o gnate, ingentem luctum ne quaere tuorum;
ostendent terris hunc tantum fata nec ultra
esse sinent. nimium vobis Romana propago
visa potens, superi, propria haec si dona fuissent.
quantos ille virum magnam Mauortis ad urbem
campus aget gemitus! vel quae, Tiberine, videbis
funera, cum tumulum praeterlabere recentem!
nec puer Iliaca quisquam de gente Latinos
in tantum spe tollet avos, nec Romula quondam
ullo se tantum tellus iactabit alumno.
heu pietas, heu prisca fides invictaque bello
dextera! non illi se quisquam impune tulisset
obvius armato, seu cum pedes iret in hostem
seu spumantis equi foderet calcaribus armos.
heu, miserande puer, si qua fata aspera rumpas!
Tu Marcellus eris. manibus date lilia plenis
purpureos spargam flores animamque nepotis
his saltem accumulem donis, et fungar inani

Here Aeneas, seeing an outstandingly beautiful
young man in dazzling armour walking with him,
but with too sad a brow, eyes and face cast down, said
“Father, who is that walking with him as he goes?
His son, or one of the great line of his descendants? What
a stir their companions make! What a paragon he is! But
the blackness of night flits round him with its sad shade.”
Father Anchises, tears welling, said: “my son, do not
ask about the great sorrow of your people; fate will give
the world only a glimpse of him, and let him live no longer.
Gods, the Roman race seemed too strong to you, had these
gifts been lasting. How great the groans of men, that the
Campus Martius will bear to Mars’s city! Tiber, what
mourning you will see, flowing by the freshly-made tomb!
Nor will any son of the Trojan race lift the Latin elders
so much in hope, or the land of Rome
boast so of any other of its sons. Alas for his
uprightness, alas for his pristine loyalty,
his right arm invincible in war! No-one
could have stood against him in arms,
taking on the enemy afoot or when spurring
the flanks of his foaming horse. If only, pitiable child,
you could somehow break from bitter destiny!
You will be Marcellus. Let me scatter purple lily flowers
in handfuls, at least load the spirit of my descendant with
those gifts, and make my tribute although in vain.