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.

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