Aeneid Book 4, lines 238 - 258

Mercury’s journey to Carthage

by Virgil

Here is Mercury on his way to Carthage with a stern message for Aeneas from the Gods. Virgil combines a description of Mercury which is quite closely based on Homer with ideas of his own personifying Mount Atlas as a huge, craggy old man.

Mercury’s function as a psychopomp – a guide of the the souls of the dead – features in Homer’s Odyssey, where he brings the souls of Penelope’s suitors to the underworld when Odysseus has killed them. “Opening eyes in death” is a reference to the Roman custom of opening the eyes of the dead on the funeral pyre.

Mercury’s mother, Maia, was the daughter of Atlas. Mercury is called “the Cyllenian” after Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, where, according to tradition, he was born.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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Dixerat. ille patris magni parere parabat
imperio; et primum pedibus talaria nectit
aurea, quae sublimem alis sive aequora supra
seu terram rapido pariter cum flamine portant.
tum virgam capit: hac animas ille evocat Orco
pallentis, alias sub Tartara tristia mittit,
dat somnos adimitque, et lumina morte resignat.
illa fretus agit ventos et turbida tranat
nubila. iamque volans apicem et latera ardua cernit
Atlantis duri caelum qui vertice fulcit,
Atlantis, cinctum adsidue cui nubibus atris
piniferum caput et vento pulsatur et imbri,
nix umeros infusa tegit, tum flumina mento
praecipitant senis, et glacie riget horrida barba.
hic primum paribus nitens Cyllenius alis
constitit; hinc toto praeceps se corpore ad undas
misit avi similis, quae circum litora, circum
piscosos scopulos humilis volat aequora iuxta.
haud aliter terras inter caelumque volabat
litus harenosum ad Libyae, ventosque secabat
materno veniens ab avo Cyllenia proles.

The Great Father had spoken. Mercury prepared
to obey his order, and first laced the golden
sandals on his feet which bear him aloft on
their wings as fast as the wind over sea and land.
Next he took his wand, with which he summons
pale ghosts from Orcus, sends others under sad
Tartarus, gives and takes sleep and opens eyes
in death. With it he drives the winds and swims
over the wild clouds. In flight he sees the peak
and steep sides of rough Atlas, whose crown supports
the heavens, Atlas whose pine-clad head is forever
girt with black clouds and lashed by gale and storm,
snowfall clothes his shoulders, torrents crash down
from the ancient’s chin, his bristling beard is stiff
with ice. Here the Cyllenian, hovering on both wings,
first paused, then stooped headlong close to the waves in
the shape of a bird which flies low, skimming the surface,
around the shore and the fishes’ rocky home.
Just so Cyllene’s child cut the winds as he came,
flying between earth and sky to Libya’s sandy shore
from his maternal grandsire.


More Poems by Virgil

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