Aeneid Book 6, lines 236 - 268

The journey to Hades begins

by Virgil

With extensive blood sacrifice and dark ritual, the door to the underworld is opened and Aeneas and the Sibyl plunge in.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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His actis propere exsequitur praecepta Sibyllae.
spelunca alta fuit vastoque immanis hiatu,
scrupea, tuta lacu nigro nemorumque tenebris,
quam super haud ullae poterant impune volantes
tendere iter pennis: talis sese halitus atris
faucibus effundens supera ad convexa ferebat.
quattuor hic primum nigrantis terga iuvencos
constituit frontique invergit vina sacerdos,
et summas carpens media inter cornua saetas
ignibus imponit sacris, libamina prima,
voce vocans Hecaten caeloque Ereboque potentem.
supponunt alii cultros tepidumque cruorem
succipiunt pateris. ipse atri velleris agnam
Aeneas matri Eumenidum magnaeque sorori
ense ferit, sterilemque tibi, Proserpina, vaccam;
tum Stygio regi nocturnas incohat aras
et solida imponit taurorum viscera flammis,
pingue super oleum fundens ardentibus extis.
ecce autem primi sub limina solis et ortus
sub pedibus mugire solum et iuga coepta moveri
silvarum, visaeque canes ululare per umbram
adventante dea. ‘procul, o procul este, profani,’
conclamat vates, ‘totoque absistite luco;
tuque invade viam vaginaque eripe ferrum:
nunc animis opus, Aenea, nunc pectore firmo.’
tantum effata furens antro se immisit aperto;
ille ducem haud timidis vadentem passibus aequat.
Di, quibus imperium est animarum, umbraeque silentes
et Chaos et Phlegethon, loca nocte tacentia late,
sit mihi fas audita loqui, sit numine vestro
pandere res alta terra et caligine mersas.

This done, he promptly carries out the Sybil’s instructions.
There was a cave, deep and grim with its huge gulf
and rough, protected by the black lake and its shadows,
over which no bird could safely wing its way:
such was the breath that, pouring from its jaws,
raised itself to the dome of the heavens.
First, the priestess stood here four black-backed
bullocks, poured wine on their brows, and cutting
the topmost bristles between the horns, put them
on the holy fire as first offerings, calling aloud
on Hecate, potent both in heaven and in Erebus.
others use the knives and catch the hot blood
in dishes. Aeneas himself kills with his sword
a black-fleeced lamb for the mother of the Furies and
her great sister, and a barren cow for you, Proserpina;
next he makes a night altar to the King of the Styx
and places the complete entrails of the bulls on the
flames, pouring rich oil on the burning innards.
Look! Just as the first sun was on the point of rising,
The ground underfoot began to roar and the wooded
ridges to move, and dogs were seen howling through
the gloom at the Goddess’s arrival. “Stand away,
away, profane ones!” shouts the seer, “Leave the grove
entirely! You, Aeneas, take the path, draw your sword
from its sheath! Time for spirit and a stout heart!”
With that she plunged in fury into the open cavern;
Stepping boldly, he keeps pace with his guide. Gods
whose sway is over spirits, silent shadows, and Chaos
and Phlegethon, places hidden in the breadth of night,
may I be allowed to tell what I heard, under your auspices
to broach things buried deep in earth and darkness.


More Poems by Virgil

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