As Turnus cannot dstroy the Trojans in battle, he decides that he will at least burn their ships, which they cannot take inside the walls. He does not know, however, about a promise that Jupiter has made to the Goddess Cybele long before. The ships were built from pine from a sacred grove to the Goddess on Mount Ida: she had asked for them to be made immortal and indestructible. Jupiter had replied that he could not extend the privileges of immortality so far, but, speaking as this extract opens, is about to agree to confer a great distinction nevertheless on those of Aeneas’s ships that remain when he has reached Italy.
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“immo, ubi defunctae finem portusque tenebunt
Ausonios olim, quaecumque evaserit undis
Dardaniumque ducem Laurentia vexerit arva,
mortalem eripiam formam magnique iubebo
aequoris esse deas, qualis Nereia Doto
et Galatea secant spumantem pectore pontum.”
dixerat idque ratum Stygii per flumina fratris,
per pice torrentis atraque voragine ripas
adnuit, et totum nutu tremefecit Olympum.
Ergo aderat promissa dies et tempora Parcae
debita complerant, cum Turni iniuria Matrem
admonuit ratibus sacris depellere taedas.
hic primum nova lux oculis offulsit et ingens
visus ab Aurora caelum transcurrere nimbus
Idaeique chori; tum vox horrenda per auras
excidit et Troum Rutulorumque agmina complet:
‘ne trepidate meas, Teucri, defendere navis
neve armate manus; maria ante exurere Turno
quam sacras dabitur pinus. vos ite solutae,
ite deae pelagi; genetrix iubet.’ et sua quaeque
continuo puppes abrumpunt vincula ripis
delphinumque modo demersis aequora rostris
ima petunt. hinc virgineae (mirabile monstrum)
reddunt se totidem facies pontoque feruntur.
“No, but from those that one day have completed the task,
come to the ports of Italy, survived the seas and brought
Aeneas from Troy to the shore of Laurentium, I shall take
their mortal form and ordain that they will be Goddesses
of mighty ocean, and, like the Nereids Doto and Galatea,
sunder with their breast the foaming sea”. He spoke,
and with a nod swore the oath by his Stygian brother’s
stream, its banks burning with pitch about the black gulf,
and at his nod the whole of Olympus quaked. And so
the promised day was come, and the Fates had fulfilled
the time for Turnus’s attack to prompt
the great Mother to ward off fire from the sacred ships.
Now first an unfamiliar light dazzled all eyes, while
from the East an enormous cloud was seen approaching,
accompanied by Idaean choirs, and a tremendous voice
deafened Trojans and Rutuli alike. “Do not trouble,
Teucrians, to defend my ships, and do not take up arms:
Turnus will be allowed to burn up the seas, sooner than
their sacred timbers. You, go in freedom, go as Goddesses
of the sea: your Mother bids you!” And each ship instantly,
breaking its moorings, dipped its beaked prow and dove
dolphin-fashion for the deep, and up, miraculously,
surged as many maiden forms as the prows that earlier
fringed the shore, and were borne away to seaward.