Aeneid Book 1, lines 387 - 409

Venus’s swans

by Virgil

Struck by a terrible storm plotted by Juno, the arch-enemy of Troy, Aeneas has reached the north coast of Africa with a mere remnant of his fleet, of which fourteen ships are missing. Exploring, he meets someone who appears to be a Phoenician girl, dressed for hunting. In this disguise, Aeneas’s mother, Venus, tells him that in this land the Phoenician Queen Dido, widowed and driven from her homeland, is founding a new city. She also interprets the sight of fourteen swans escaped from an eagle as a favourable oracle about his missing ships. Despite the good news, Aeneas is distressed at the separation that seems forever set between himself and his immortal mother.

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‘Quisquis es, haud, credo, invisus caelestibus auras
vitalis carpis, Tyriam qui adveneris urbem.
perge modo, atque hinc te reginae ad limina perfer,
namque tibi reduces socios classemque relatam
nuntio, et in tutum versis aquilonibus actam,
ni frustra augurium vani docuere parentes.
aspice bis senos laetantis agmine cycnos,
aetheria quos lapsa plaga Iovis ales aperto
turbabat caelo; nunc terras ordine longo
aut capere, aut captas iam despectare videntur:
ut reduces illi ludunt stridentibus alis,
et coetu cinxere polum, cantusque dedere,
haud aliter puppesque tuae pubesque tuorum
aut portum tenet aut pleno subit ostia velo.
perge modo, et, qua te ducit via, dirige gressum.’
dixit, et avertens rosea cervice refulsit,
ambrosiaeque comae divinum vertice odorem
spiravere, pedes vestis defluxit ad imos,
et vera incessu patuit dea. Ille ubi matrem
adgnovit, tali fugientem est voce secutus:
‘Quid natum totiens, crudelis tu quoque, falsis
ludis imaginibus? Cur dextrae iungere dextram
non datur, ac veras audire et reddere voces?’

“Whoever you are, you do not, I believe, draw the breath of life despised by the Gods, newcomer to the Tyrian city. But hasten, and press on to the Queen’s door, for I tell you that your comrades are rescued and your fleet brought back to you and to safety by a change in the wind, unless it was in vain and my parents deluded who taught me augury. See those fourteen joyful swans in line, which, stooping from the heights of heaven, the eagle of Jupiter was harrying in the sky; now in a long column they land, or look down on those already landed; as they, safe again, exult on clapping wings, and have wheeled about the sky and broken into song, just so your ships and the youth of your people are either in port already or coming to harbour under full sail. Haste now, and where your way leads you, direct your steps.” As she finished and turned away, from her rosy neck a brilliance shone, her ambrosial hair breathed down a divine fragrance, her dress flowed right to her feet, and in her movement could be seen the true Goddess. Aeneas, when he knew his mother, as she vanished called out after her: “Why so often are even you cruel and make sport of me, your own son, with lying illusions? Why may we not clasp hand in hand and hear and speak to each other in our own true voices?”


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