In time past, Vulcan the fire-God has made armour for Achilles, the greatest fighter of all, at the request of his Mother, Thetis. Now, as Aeneas slumbers in Pallanteum, the town now occupying the future site of Rome, Vulcan’s wife and Aeneas’s mother, Venus, uses her charms to persuade him to do the same for her son. It is a distinction that will mark out Aeneas beyond other mortal warriors. After a night of love, Vulcan wakes early and sets off for his forge beneath Mount Etna, where he finds his Cyclops-blacksmiths hard at work on one of a batch of thunderbolts for Jupiter.
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insula Sicanium iuxta latus Aeoliamque
erigitur Liparen fumantibus ardua saxis,
quam subter specus et Cyclopum exesa caminis
antra Aetnaea tonant, validique incudibus ictus
auditi referunt gemitus, striduntque cavernis
stricturae Chalybum et fornacibus ignis anhelat,
Volcani domus et Volcania nomine tellus.
hoc tunc ignipotens caelo descendit ab alto.
ferrum exercebant vasto Cyclopes in antro,
Brontesque Steropesque et nudus membra Pyragmon.
his informatum manibus iam parte polita
fulmen erat, toto genitor quae plurima caelo
deicit in terras, pars imperfecta manebat.
tris imbris torti radios, tris nubis aquosae
addiderant, rutuli tris ignis et alitis Austri.
fulgores nunc terrificos sonitumque metumque
miscebant operi flammisque sequacibus iras.
parte alia Marti currumque rotasque volucris
instabant, quibus ille viros, quibus excitat urbes;
aegidaque horriferam, turbatae Palladis arma,
certatim squamis serpentum auroque polibant
conexosque anguis ipsamque in pectore divae
Gorgona desecto vertentem lumina collo.
‘tollite cuncta’ inquit ‘coeptosque auferte labores,
Aetnaei Cyclopes, et huc advertite mentem:
arma acri facienda viro. nunc viribus usus,
nunc manibus rapidis, omni nunc arte magistra.
praecipitate moras.’ nec plura effatus, at illi
ocius incubuere omnes pariterque laborem
sortiti. fluit aes rivis aurique metallum
vulnificusque chalybs vasta fornace liquescit.
ingentem clipeum informant, unum omnia contra
tela Latinorum, septenosque orbibus orbis
impediunt. alii ventosis follibus auras
accipiunt redduntque, alii stridentia tingunt
aera lacu; gemit impositis incudibus antrum;
illi inter sese multa vi bracchia tollunt
in numerum, versantque tenaci forcipe massam.
Between the Sicilian coast and Aeolian Lipare
towers an island of smoking rocks, under which
a cavern and chambers hollowed by the forges
of the Cylopes resound, the boom of mighty blows
on anvils echoes back with the hiss of smelting
iron and the fire roars in the furnaces. It is
Vulcan’s home, Volcania is the island’s name,
and the fire-Lord stooped to it from high heaven.
Cyclopes were working iron in the vast cave, Brontes
and Steropes, and Pyragmon, naked as he worked.
They had in hand, part done, part unfinished, one
of the many thunderbolts that the Father hurls
to earth from all over the heavens. They had put in
three rings of pelting hail, three of soaking cloud,
and three each of ruddy fire and racing South-wind.
Now they were adding fearful flashes and crashes,
and wrath backed up with blazing fire. Elsewhere
they were building Mars a chariot on swift wheels,
such as he uses to rouse up men and cities;
and working hard to adorn the panic-breathing aegis,
Minerva’s weapon when angered, with serpent-scales
and gold, and Medusa herself and her knotted snakes
on the goddess’s breast, neck severed and eyes lolling.
“Set your work aside and put it all away, Cyclopes
of Etna, and pay careful attention,” Vulcan said,
“there are arms to be made for a fierce warrior. We need
strength, deft hands and all our skill to guide us.
No delay!” Straight away, the Cyclopes divided the work
equally between them, and bent to their tasks more keenly
than ever. Bronze and gold flow in streams,
and wounding steel melts in the vast furnace. They shape
a mighty shield, one to bear all that the Latins can throw,
fastening seven circles one on top of another. Some
draw drafts of air into the windy bellows and blast them
out again, others quench the shrieking bronze; the cave
groans under its freight of anvils; others lift their arms
with all their might, keeping rhythm between them
and striking as the tongs grip and turn the glowing metal.