Aeneid Book 4, lines 393 - 411

The Trojans prepare to set sail from Carthage

by Virgil

Aeneas and his men obey the will of the Gods by preparing to leave Carthage: abandoned, Dido watches from the citadel. The contrast between the sadness of the opening and conclusion and the liveliness of the preparations in between is very effective. The description of the ants is a good example of Virgil’s flair for describing the animal world: they may be small, but the way in which he uses the metre strikingly conveys their seriousness and bustle.

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At pius Aeneas, quamquam lenire dolentem
solando cupit et dictis avertere curas,
multa gemens magnoque animum labefactus amore
iussa tamen divum exsequitur classemque revisit.
tum vero Teucri incumbunt et litore celsas
deducunt toto navis. natat uncta carina,
frondentisque ferunt remos et robora silvis
infabricata fugae studio.
migrantis cernas totaque ex urbe ruentis:
ac velut ingentem formicae farris acervum
cum populant hiemis memores tectoque reponunt,
it nigrum campis agmen praedamque per herbas
convectant calle angusto; pars grandia trudunt
obnixae frumenta umeris, pars agmina cogunt
castigantque moras, opere omnis semita fervet.
quis tibi tum, Dido, cernenti talia sensus,
quosve dabas gemitus, cum litora fervere late
prospiceres arce ex summa, totumque videres
misceri ante oculos tantis clamoribus aequor!

Though pious Aeneas would like to console her in her
grief and allay her cares with words, he follows the orders
of the Gods and returns to the fleet, lamenting, his mind distraught with his great love. Then the Trojans truly set to, and haul the high ships down across the entire shore. Painted with pitch, the keel
is afloat, in their haste to get away, the men bring oars with leaf still on them and unworked timbers from the woods. You could see them on the move, pouring out of the city on all sides, like ants, when, thinking of winter, they plunder a huge pile of grain and bring it to their nest, the black column marches through the grass of the fields, carrying their booty on the narrow path; some, shoulders set to big grains, push them on, some drive the column and chide delays, and the whole path seethes with effort. What did you feel then, Dido, seeing such sights, what cries of distress did you give as you looked out from your high citadel over the ferment wide across the shore, and saw the whole of the sea churned by such a stir!