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.


More Poems by Virgil

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