Aeneid Book 3, lines 231 - 267

The Harpy’s prophecy

by Virgil

Aeneas tells the Carthaginian Queen Dido how, driven from Troy, he and his followers build a fleet, and, when the winter is over, set off to found a new city. The way is hard, and their wanderings last for years. There are abortive attempts to settle in Thrace and Crete: omens indicate that they are in the wrong place, but for a long time what the gods truly wish becomes no clearer. Finally, Troy’s gods reveal to Aeneas in a dream that the city will be in Italy. At last there seems to be certainty, but another sinister prophecy will complicate matters. Making landfall on an island, the Trojans help themselves to untended cattle without knowing that they belong to the Harpies, birds with women’s heads and murderous talons, who foul everything that they touch. In this extract, the Trojans think at first that they have driven the Harpies off.

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Instruimus mensas arisque reponimus ignem;
rursum ex diverso caeli caecisque latebris
turba sonans praedam pedibus circumvolat uncis,
polluit ore dapes. sociis tunc arma capessant
edico, et dira bellum cum gente gerendum.
haud secus ac iussi faciunt tectosque per herbam
disponunt ensis et scuta latentia condunt.
ergo ubi delapsae sonitum per curva dedere
litora, dat signum specula Misenus ab alta
aere cavo. invadunt socii et nova proelia temptant,
obscenas pelagi ferro foedare volucres.
sed neque vim plumis ullam nec vulnera tergo
accipiunt, celerique fuga sub sidera lapsae
semesam praedam et vestigia foeda relinquunt.
una in praecelsa consedit rupe Celaeno,
infelix vates, rumpitque hanc pectore vocem:
‘bellum etiam pro caede boum stratisque iuvencis,
Laomedontiadae, bellumne inferre paratis
et patrio Harpyias insontis pellere regno?
accipite ergo animis atque haec mea figite dicta,
quae Phoebo pater omnipotens, mihi Phoebus Apollo
praedixit, vobis Furiarum ego maxima pando.
Italiam cursu petitis ventisque vocatis:
ibitis Italiam portusque intrare licebit.
sed non ante datam cingetis moenibus urbem
quam vos dira fames nostraeque iniuria caedis
ambesas subigat malis absumere mensas.’
dixit, et in silvam pennis ablata refugit.
at sociis subita gelidus formidine sanguis
deriguit: cecidere animi, nec iam amplius armis,
sed votis precibusque iubent exposcere pacem,
sive deae seu sint dirae obscenaeque volucres.
et pater Anchises passis de litore palmis
numina magna vocat meritosque indicit honores:
‘di, prohibete minas; di, talem avertite casum
et placidi servate pios.’ tum litore funem
deripere excussosque iubet laxare rudentis.

We set up the tables and light fresh fire on the altars;
from the other part of the sky and their hidden lairs
again the noisy crowd circle the prey with taloned feet
and foul the food with their mouths. I call my men
to arms, to wage war with the horrid tribe.
They obey at once and lay swords and shields
hidden in the grass. So when they swooped, screaming
along the curving shore, Misenus gave the signal
from a high lookout on a bronze horn.
My men set to, and try by a strange warfare
to maim the foul seabirds with steel.
But their feathers took no harm from the attack, their
backs took no wounds, and quickly soaring to the sky
they leave behind their half-eaten prey and foul traces.
One of them, Celaeno, alighted on a high rock,
a prophet of doom, and spat out these words:
“war, then, you bring us for our slaughtered cattle,
and butchered calves, Trojans, war, prepared to drive
the innocent Harpies from our fatherland?
Listen well and remember these words, given by
the mighty Father to Apollo, and by Apollo to me,
that I, mightiest of the Furies, now reveal to you.
You have summoned the winds and head for Italy: to Italy
you shall go and be granted landfall. But you will not
wall in your promised city before dire hunger and
the wrong done by your bloody attack on us
makes you eat your tables, and gnaw them with
your jaws.” And, taking wing, she flew to the forest.
My men’s blood ran cold and froze with sudden fear:
their spirits fell, and they bade me seek peace,
no longer with weapons, but with vows and prayers,
be the Harpies goddesses or fell and horrid birds.
Father Anchises, stretching out his hands from
the shore invokes the great gods and offers the due
tributes: “ O Gods, frustrate these threats, avert such
disaster, peacefully save the righteous.” Then he orders
the cable loosed from the shore and the sheets shaken free.


More Poems by Virgil

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