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.

Acting as a priest, the Trojan Helenus, now by a favourable reverse of fortunes the ruler of Achilles’s former kingdom, makes a curious prophecy that centres on a white sow with thirty piglets. Perhaps he had covered his head to officiate at the sacrifice, as was the later Roman custom. The Roman shown here is the Emperor Augustus, dressed as the Pontifex Maximus (High Priest). Hear the poem in Latin with an English translation here.

The River Tiber has stilled his flow so that Aeneas with two ships can row upstream to meet a potential ally, King Evander of the Arcadians – whose city, Pallanteum, now stands where Rome will be in time to come. Evander gives a guided tour and welcomes Aeneas into his home, where previous visitors have included Hercules himself. The illustration is from a 5th century manuscript of Virgil in the Vatican.

Hear the Latin and follow in English here.