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.
To follow the story of the Aeneid in sequence, use this link to navigate from the foot of Virgil’s poet page.
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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,
amazing with 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 mid-sky
through the shade of Earth shrieking, nor shuts her eyes
in sweet sleep; by day she sits as watch on the ridge of the
highest roof or on high towers and affrights great cities,
as constant to twisted falsehood as a messenger of truth.
Now, joyful, she fill the nations with clashing tales,
embroidering fact and falsehood; how Aeneas has come,
of Trojan blood, whom lovely Dido thinks fit to join
to herself as husband; how now all winter long they
indulge each other in luxury, forgetful of kingdom
and slaves to base lust: the foul goddess pours
these things in men’s mouths everywhere.