Prophecy and omens

Omens and prophecy are everywhere in classical literature, as this selection from the work of Virgil shows.

In Book 2 of the Aeneid, the priest, Laocoon, foretells here all too correctly that misfortune will follow if the Trojans bring the wooden horse left by the Greeks into their city.

As Troy falls, Aeneas’s father, Anchises, at first prefers death to escape until omens from the Gods persuade him here that his descendants can be saved and achieve great things.

Thwarted by Aeneas and the Trojans, the leader of the monstrous Harpies predicts here that they will meet hardship so severe that they will gnaw their tables (fortunately the threat will turn out to be exaggerated).

The priest-King Helenus prophesies during Aeneas’s travels here that a white sow will show him the site of the future city of Alba that his son, Ascanius will found.

As Aeneas prepares for his journey to the underworld, the terrifying Cumaean Sibyl prophesies here that his path to settlement in Italy will lie through suffering and war.

As Aeneas arrives in Italy at last, his coming is heralded here by omens involving a swarm of bees and an alarming accident to Princess Lavinia as she sacrifices with the King, her father.

Finally, the prophecy here in one of Virgil’s Eclogues, or pastoral poems, of a birth heralding a future golden age, seen by later Christian ages as possibly foretelling the nativity of the Christ, may be a celebration of a great dynastic marriage.