After travels which have already lasted many years since Troy fell, Aeneas and his companions have been blown off course to North Africa by a storm arranged by the Trojans’ enemy, the Goddess Juno. They have reached Carthage, later Rome’s great rival and enemy, newly founded by Dido, a Phoenician exile. Here, the sight of sculptures showing the Trojan War gives Aeneas hope of a sympathetic reception. Achates is Aeneas’s right-hand man. “Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt” is one of the Aeneid’s most famous lines. In context the words can have a fairly restricted meaning (the locals can be moved by misfortune and the fragility of mortal life), but they are also often quoted as a very economical wider summing-up of the whole human predicament.
To follow the story of the Aeneid in sequence, use this link to navigate from the foot of Virgil’s poet page.
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Lucus in urbe fuit media, laetissimus umbrae,
quo primum iactati undis et turbine Poeni
effodere loco signum, quod regia Iuno
monstrarat, caput acris equi: sic nam fore bello
egregiam et facilem victu per saecula gentem.
hic Iunoni templum ingens Sidonia Dido
condebat, donis opulentum et numine divae,
aerea cui gradibus surgebant limina, nexaeque
aere trabes, foribus cardo stridebat aënis.
hoc primum in luco nova res oblata timorem
leniit, hic primum Aeneas sperare salutem
ausus et adflictis melius confidere rebus.
namque sub ingenti lustrat dum singula templo
reginam opperiens, dum quae fortuna sit urbi
artificumque manus intra se operumque laborem
miratur, videt Iliacas ex ordine pugnas
bellaque iam fama totum vulgata per orbem,
Atridas Priamumque et saevum ambobus Achillem.
constitit, et lacrimans “quis iam locus,” inquit, “Achate,
quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris?
en Priamus! sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi;
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
solve metus; feret haec aliquam tibi fama salutem.”
sic ait atque animum pictura pascit inani
multa gemens, largoque umectat flumine vultum
In the midst of the city was a grove, lovely with shade,
where first the Phoenicians, tossed by wave and wind,
dug up the token that royal Juno had revealed, the head
of a fiery horse, a sign that the race would excel in war
and prosper in their life down the centuries. Here
Sidon’s Dido was building a huge temple to Juno, blessed
with rich gifts and the Goddess’s holy presence, its steps
ending at a brazen threshold, the posts braced with bronze
and the hinges creaking on the gates, also of bronze.
Here first in this grove something he encountered
relieved his fears, here first he dared hope for safety
and, difficult as his fortunes were, to trust more in them.
For as he looks round in the huge temple,
waiting for the Queen, wondering at the city’s opulence,
at the skill of the craftsmen and the interplay of their
works, he sees the battles of Troy set out in order, the wars
now spread by fame throughout the world, the sons
of Atreus, Priam, and Achilles, savage to them both.
He stopped, and “What place now”, he said, “Achates,
What region in the world is not full of our labour?
Look, there is Priam! Here still are his tributes of praise;
tears for his lot, and mortal affairs touch the mind.
Relax your fears: this fame will bring you some safety”.
He spoke, and fed his spirit on the empty pictures, sighing
heavily, the tears flowing heavily down his cheeks.