Aeneid Book 1, lines 254 - 296

Jupiter’s prophecy

by Virgil

As the narrative of the Aeneid develops, there is no shortage of excitement, drama and suspense. Inevitably, however, the degree of jeopardy that Virgil can create is limited by our knowing the end of the story before it has begun: Aeneas will succeed in founding a city in Italy which has its roots in Troy, his son, Ascanius, will consolidate that success by founding the Kingdom of Alba, leading as the centuries pass to Romulus and Remus, the foundation of Rome, and the City’s eventual imperial dominance. Virgil’s purpose is to look back from the culmination of that history to its legendary beginnings and proclaim that Augustus’s rule is set to bring a new golden age of peace and empire; and in the process to assert Augustus’s divine pedigree as the descendant of Aeneas, and hence of the Gods themselves, through Aeneas and his mother, Venus.

This extract, early in Book One, spells all this out as clearly as can be, in the form of a pledge given by Jupiter, the ruler of the Gods, to Venus, who has complained to him that Juno’s enmity and her attempts to destroy Aeneas and his fleet are threatening to frustrate his divine will. It may hold less excitement for the modern general reader than much of the Aeneid, but it is an important passage because it expresses succinctly the practical purpose of Virgil’s poetic enterprise: to express and enhance the personal greatness and divine aura of Augustus and glorify his political programme for Rome. The Julius Caesar whose birth Jupiter foresees must be Augustus, so called after Julius Caesar, his great-uncle and adoptive father, whose advent can hardly be said to have ended civil strife.

See the illustrated blog post here.

To follow the story of Aeneas in sequence, use this link to the full Pantheon Poets selection of extracts from the Aeneid. See the next episode here.

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Olli subridens hominum sator atque deorum,
voltu, quo caelum tempestatesque serenat,
oscula libavit natae, dehinc talia fatur:
“Parce metu, Cytherea: manent immota tuorum
fata tibi; cernes urbem et promissa Lavini
moenia, sublimemque feres ad sidera caeli
magnanimum Aenean; neque me sententia vertit.
hic tibi (fabor enim, quando haec te cura remordet,
longius et volvens fatorum arcana movebo)
bellum ingens geret Italia, populosque feroces
contundet, moresque viris et moenia ponet,
tertia dum Latio regnantem viderit aestas,
ternaque transierint Rutulis hiberna subactis.
at puer Ascanius, cui nunc cognomen Iulo
additur,—Ilus erat, dum res stetit Ilia regno,—
triginta magnos volvendis mensibus orbis
imperio explebit, regnumque ab sede Lavini
transferet, et longam multa vi muniet Albam.
hic iam ter centum totos regnabitur annos
gente sub Hectorea, donec regina sacerdos,
Marte gravis, geminam partu dabit Ilia prolem.
inde lupae fulvo nutricis tegmine laetus
Romulus excipiet gentem, et Mavortia condet
moenia, Romanosque suo de nomine dicet.
his ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono;
imperium sine fine dedi. Quin aspera Iuno,
quae mare nunc terrasque metu caelumque fatigat,
consilia in melius referet, mecumque fovebit
Romanos rerum dominos gentemque togatam:
sic placitum. veniet lustris labentibus aetas,
cum domus Assaraci Phthiam clarasque Mycenas
servitio premet, ac victis dominabitur Argis.
nascetur pulchra Troianus origine Caesar,
imperium oceano, famam qui terminet astris,—
Iulius, a magno demissum nomen Iulo.
hunc tu olim caelo, spoliis Orientis onustum,
accipies secura; vocabitur hic quoque votis.
aspera tum positis mitescent saecula bellis;
cana Fides, et Vesta, Remo cum fratre Quirinus,
iura dabunt; dirae ferro et compagibus artis
claudentur Belli portae; Furor impius intus,
saeva sedens super arma, et centum vinctus aenis
post tergum nodis, fremet horridus ore cruento.”

With the smiling face with which he calms the heavens and the tempest, the creator of men and Gods kissed his daughter lightly on the lips and said: “Have no fear, Cytherea, the destiny of your people remains unchanged. You shall see the city and walls of Lanuvium, as promised, and lift great-souled Aeneas aloft to the stars of heaven – no afterthought has swayed me. Aeneas – since anxiety gnaws you, I shall speak, tell you the secrets of fate and unwind them more fully – will fight a great war in Italy, crush its redoubtable people and, until the third summer has seen him ruling in Latium and the third winter has passed after his defeat of the Rutuli, will establish both a city and customs for his people. Then young Ascanius, to whom as Iulus a new name is now given – it was Ilus, when the Trojan state stood in its power – will thirty times complete the great cycle of the year with his rule as the months come round, move the seat of power from Lanuvium and be the stout defence of the enduring city of Alba. There the race of Hector will reign for three hundred years, until a queenly priestess, Ilia, pregnant by the God of war, shall bear twins. Thence Romulus, rejoicing in the golden pelt of the she-wolf, his nurse, founding a stronghold worthy of the war-God, shall bring forth his people, calling them Romans after himself. For them I set no bounds of fortune or limit of time, and have granted them unending imperial sway. Even cruel Juno, who now in her fear troubles sea, land and heavens, will soften her views, and with me will foster the Romans, wearers of the toga, as the overlords of all. This is my will. With the long passing of time, there will come an age when Rome shall reduce the land of Achilles and illustrious Mycenae to servitude, in mastery over a conquered Greece. From the fairest stock shall be born a Trojan Caesar, destined to bound his rule by the Ocean and his fame by the stars – Julius, a name come down from the great Iulus. Rest assured that you shall one day welcome him, too, to Heaven, laden with the spoils of the Orient, and he too shall be invoked with vows. Then the harshness of the ages shall soften: grey-haired Honesty, Vesta  and Romulus, with Remus his brother, shall be the lawgivers; the gates of war, fearsome with their clenched bars and irons, shall be closed; confined within, wicked Madness, frightful on a seat of cruel arms, and pinioned behind by a hundred brazen knots, shall roar from his bloodstained maw.”

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More Poems by Virgil

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