As Aeneas and the Trojans arrive in Latium, its King, Latinus, has no sons and an only daughter, Lavinia. Many would like to marry her: the favourite is Turnus, the handsome chief of the neighbouring Rutuli. In this passage, however, omens suggest to Latinus that fate requires him to look farther afield.
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Multi illam magno e Latio totaque petebant
Ausonia. petit ante alios pulcherrimus omnis
Turnus, avis atavisque potens, quem regia coniunx
adiungi generum miro properabat amore;
sed variis portenta deum terroribus obstant.
laurus erat tecti medio in penetralibus altis,
sacra comam multosque metu servata per annos,
quam pater inventam, primas cum conderet arces,
ipse ferebatur Phoebo sacrasse Latinus
Laurentisque ab ea nomen posuisse colonis.
huius apes summum densae (mirabile dictu),
stridore ingenti liquidum trans aethera vectae,
obsedere apicem, ex pedibus per mutua nexis
examen subitum ramo frondente pependit.
continuo vates: ‘Externum cernimus,’ inquit,
‘adventare virum et partis petere agmen easdem
partibus ex isdem et summa dominarier arce.’
praeterea, castis adolet dum altaria taedis
et iuxta genitorem adstat Lavinia virgo,
visa (nefas) longis comprendere crinibus ignem,
atque omnem ornatum flamma crepitante cremari
regalisque accensa comas, accensa coronam
insignem gemmis, tum fumida lumine fulvo
involvi ac totis Volcanum spargere tectis.
Many men sought her, from great Latium and all Ausonia.
Turnus sought her, more handsome than all others,
powerful by descent and long pedigree, whom the Queen
loved and was determined to make her son-in-law, but
various frightening omens from the Gods stood in the way.
In the lofty shrine in the middle of the house stood
a laurel, with a sacred crown, kept with great care
over many years, which father Latinus himself
was said to have found and consecrated to Apollo
when first he founded the citadel, and named his colonists
the Laurentes after it. Wonderful to say, a dense cloud
of bees was borne through the clear air with a great hum
and settled at the top, locked together by the feet,
and hung all of a sudden in a swarm from the leafy branch.
The seer broke out: “I see a foreigner come, and
a force make for this same place from the same
quarter, and hold sway in the very topmost stronghold.”
Also, as the maid Lavinia worshipped with chaste torches
at the altar, standing by her father, a terrible thing!
they saw her catch fire in her long hair, the whole
of its ornament burning with crackling flame,
her royal locks, her diadem and its bright gems alight,
and she engulfed in smoke and glow, scattering
Vulcan’s sparks all through the palace.