Aeneid Book 11, lines 539 - 566

The infant Camilla

by Virgil

This extract from Book 11 of the Aeneid follows some important developments which have swung the fortunes of war in the favour of Aeneas and the Trojans. After the battle for the Trojan camp, in which Prince Pallas has been killed, Aeneas has made an offer to his adversaries to settle the conflict by single combat with Turnus. On the Latin side, efforts to make new alliances have failed, and King Latinus is regretting going to war. In council, Turnus’s rivals raise Aeneas’s offer of single combat, and encourage the King’s inclination to offer Aeneas peace, suggesting that he also give him his daughter, Lavinia’s, hand in marriage. Turnus reacts with his characteristic anger and barely controlled violence, but no sooner has he said he is prepared to accept Aeneas’s challenge than news arrives that Aeneas is advancing, and the Latin council breaks up in confusion. Hurrying off to arm, Turnus has met Camilla, a warrior-queen and protegée of Diana, Goddess of the hunt, who has arrived offering her and her followers’ help. As the two lay plans for the battle against Aeneas’s advancing force, Virgil tells the story of Camilla and her origins.

The English is by the poet John Dryden. See the illustrated blog post here.

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Pulsus ob invidiam regno virisque superbas
Priverno antiqua Metabus cum excederet urbe,
infantem fugiens media inter proelia belli
sustulit exsilio comitem, matrisque vocavit
nomine Casmillae mutata parte Camillam.
ipse sinu prae se portans iuga longa petebat
solorum nemorum: tela undique saeva premebant
et circumfuso volitabant milite Volsci.
ecce fugae medio summis Amasenus abundans
spumabat ripis, tantus se nubibus imber
ruperat. ille innare parans infantis amore
tardatur caroque oneri timet. omnia secum
versanti subito vix haec sententia sedit:
telum immane manu valida quod forte gerebat
bellator, solidum nodis et robore cocto,
huic natam libro et silvestri subere clausam
implicat atque habilem mediae circumligat hastae;
quam dextra ingenti librans ita ad aethera fatur:
“alma, tibi hanc, nemorum cultrix, Latonia virgo,
ipse pater famulam voveo; tua prima per auras
tela tenens supplex hostem fugit. accipe, testor,
diva tuam, quae nunc dubiis committitur auris.”
dixit, et adducto contortum hastile lacerto
immittit: sonuere undae, rapidum super amnem
infelix fugit in iaculo stridente Camilla.
at Metabus magna propius iam urgente caterva
dat sese fluvio, atque hastam cum virgine victor
gramineo, donum Triviae, de caespite vellit.

Her father Metabus, when forc’d away
From old Privernum, for tyrannic sway,
Snatch’d up, and sav’d from his prevailing foes,
This tender babe, companion of his woes.
Casmilla was her mother; but he drown’d
One hissing letter in a softer sound,
And call’d Camilla. thro’ the woods he flies;
Wrapp’d in his robe the royal infant lies.
His foes in sight, he mends his weary pace;
With shout and clamors they pursue the chase.
The banks of Amasene at length he gains:
The raging flood his farther flight restrains,
Rais’d o’er the borders with unusual rains.
Prepar’d to plunge into the stream, he fears,
Not for himself, but for the charge he bears.
Anxious, he stops a while, and thinks in haste;
Then, desp’rate in distress, resolves at last.
A knotty lance of well-boil’d oak he bore;
The middle part with cork he cover’d o’er:
He clos’d the child within the hollow space;
With twigs of bending osier bound the case;
Then pois’d the spear, heavy with human weight,
And thus invok’d my favor for the freight:
‘Accept, great goddess of the woods,’ he said,
‘Sent by her sire, this dedicated maid!
Thro’ air she flies a suppliant to thy shrine;
And the first weapons that she knows, are thine.’
He said; and with full force the spear he threw:
Above the sounding waves Camilla flew.
Then, press’d by foes, he stemm’d the stormy tide,
And gain’d, by stress of arms, the farther side.
His fasten’d spear he pull’d from out the ground,
And, victor of his vows, his infant nymph unbound;