Aeneid Book 4, lines 173 - 195


by Virgil

This passage, following the consummation of Dido and Aeneas’s affair, introduces Rumour personified as a Goddess or Titan with a terrifying ability to spread news both true and false: how she would have loved social media. The death and evils referred to were to include a bitter rivalry and three wars between Rome and Carthage, ending with the total destruction of Carthage and the slaughter of most of its population by the Romans in 146 BCE.

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ille dies primus leti primusque malorum
causa fuit; neque enim specie famave movetur
nec iam furtivum Dido meditatur amorem:
coniugium vocat, hoc praetexit nomine culpam.
Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes,
Fama, malum qua non aliud velocius ullum:
mobilitate viget virisque adquirit eundo,
parva metu primo, mox sese attollit in auras
ingrediturque solo et caput inter nubila condit.
illam Terra parens ira inritata deorum
extremam, ut perhibent, Coeo Enceladoque sororem
progenuit pedibus celerem et pernicibus alis,
monstrum horrendum, ingens, cui quot sunt corpore plumae,
tot vigiles oculi subter (mirabile dictu),
tot linguae, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit auris.
nocte volat caeli medio terraeque per umbram
stridens, nec dulci declinat lumina somno;
luce sedet custos aut summi culmine tecti
turribus aut altis, et magnas territat urbes,
tam ficti pravique tenax quam nuntia veri.
haec tum multiplici populos sermone replebat
gaudens, et pariter facta atque infecta canebat:
venisse Aenean Troiano sanguine cretum,
cui se pulchra viro dignetur iungere Dido;
nunc hiemem inter se luxu, quam longa, fovere
regnorum immemores turpique cupidine captos.
haec passim dea foeda virum diffundit in ora.

That first day was the cause
of death and evils; for Dido is not swayed
by appearance or reputation, nor is it
any furtive love she plans: she calls it marriage,
in that name she cloaks her fault.
At once Rumour passes through the great cities of Libya,
Rumour, than which no other evil is faster:
it thrives on movement and gains strength as it goes,
small at the first alarm, then lifts itself to the skies,
walks the ground and thrusts its head among the clouds.
They say that Earth gave her birth, her last child, roused
to anger with the Gods, a sister to Coeus and Enceladus,
swift of foot and with ruin in her wings, a huge,
dreadful monster with, amazingly, as many wakeful eyes beneath
as there are feathers on her body, as many mouths and
tongues cry out, she cocks as many ears. By night she flies
through mid-sky and the shade of Earth, shrieking,
nor shuts her eyes in sweet sleep; by day she sits
at watch on the ridge of the highest roof or on
high towers, and affrights great cities, as constant
to falsehood and distortion as she is a messenger of truth.
Now, joyful, she filled the nations with inconsistent tales,
descanting on things both done and undone:
how Aeneas has come, of Trojan blood, whom lovely Dido
thinks fit to join herself to as her husband; how now
all winter long they cosset each other in luxury,
forgetful of their kingdoms and slaves to base lust:
the foul goddess pours these things in mens mouths everywhere.