Aeneid Book 6, lines 886 - 901

The portals of sleep

by Virgil

When Aeneas has completed his tour of the Elysian fields and learnt from Anchises, his father, what lies ahead of him in Italy, Anchises shows him the way back to the upper world and both Aeneas’s underworld journey and the sixth book of the Aeneid come to an end.

Why does Anchises send his son through the gate by which the infernal powers send out false dreams and nightmares, and not through the other where true dreams issue? There is no definite answer: perhaps Virgil is making a subtle point that might have been clearer to a Roman audience than to us; perhaps this is a loose end that he might have reconsidered had he lived to give his poem the final revision that we are told he planned.

See the illustrated blog post here.

To follow the story of Aeneas in sequence, use this link to the full Pantheon Poets selection of extracts from the Aeneid. See the next episode here.

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Sic tota passim regione vagantur
aeris in campis latis atque omnia lustrant.
quae postquam Anchises natum per singula duxit
incenditque animum famae venientis amore,
exim bella viro memorat quae deinde gerenda,
Laurentisque docet populos urbemque Latini,
et quo quemque modo fugiatque feratque laborem.
Sunt geminae Somni portae, quarum altera fertur
cornea, qua veris facilis datur exitus umbris,
altera candenti perfecta nitens elephanto,
sed falsa ad caelum mittunt insomnia Manes.
his ibi tum natum Anchises unaque Sibyllam
prosequitur dictis portaque emittit eburna;
ille viam secat ad navis sociosque revisit.
Tum se ad Caietae recto fert litore portum.
ancora de prora iacitur; stant litore puppes.

So they wander in the wide expanse of dimness
over the whole region, observing everything.
Then Anchises led his son through every detail
and fired his mind with longing for fame to come,
then tells him of the wars later to be fought,
the Laurentine tribes and the city of Latinus,
and how he can avoid or bear each ordeal.
There are two gates of Sleep, one said to be of horn,
through which true dreams are given an easy way,
and a shining one finished in snow-white ivory,
but here the powers send up false, bad dreams.
Speaking thus, Anchises brings his son with the Sibyl
and sends them through the ivory gate. He makes his
swift way to the ships and joins his men. Then he sails
directly for the port of Caieta. The anchor is cast
from prows; sterns stand along the shore.

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More Poems by Virgil

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