Aeneid Book 1, lines 1-7

The Aeneid begins

by Virgil

The Aeneid begins, with an echo of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and using the same metrical verse form. Virgil’s purpose in writing it is not just poetical, but also political – to establish that Rome’s origins and mission were divine, and so were those of its new ruler, Augustus. These first words assert that Aeneas, a near relative of King Priam, founded the state that became Rome, and brought with him the protection of the patron Gods of Troy. Later, Virgil will establish Aeneas as the ancestor of Julius Caesar and the Emperor Augustus. As Venus is Aeneas’s mother, this shows that the Caesars are descended from a God (Julius had already been posthumously deified in 42 BCE). Lavinium was the location of Aeneas’s first Italian settlement. This was followed by another settlement at Alba (hence the mention of “Alban fathers”) and finally by the foundation of Rome.

The mention of the anger of Juno, wife of Jupiter the King of the Gods, is a reference to the mythical origin of the Trojan War, the “judgement of Paris”. Paris, simultaneously a royal Trojan prince and a shepherd, was invited to judge a beauty contest between Juno, Venus the Goddess of love and Minerva the goddess of wisdom. Each goddess offered a bribe: he chose Venus’s as she promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. His choice gained him the (married) Helen of Troy, started the Trojan War and earned Trojans the “unforgetting anger of Juno”, who was the patron god of marriage as well as a very poor loser. She will be on Aeneas’s case as the Aeneid continues.

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Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam fato profugus Lavinaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram,
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem
inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum
Albanique patres atque altae moenia Romae.
Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso
Quidve dolens regina deum tot volvere casus
insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
impulerit. Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?

I sing of arms, and the man who first from Troy’s shores
exiled by fate came to Italy and Lavinium’s
shores, he who suffered so much on land, and tossed
on the deep by the power of the Gods above, for the
unforgetting anger of divine Juno,And in war, until
he could found a city and bring the Gods to Latium,
whence Alban fathers, Latin race and walls of lofty Rome.
Muse, tell me why, for what slight, what grudge Juno
made a man famous for virtue bear so many disasters’
face so many troubles? Is there
such great anger in the minds of Gods?