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.

This selection is composed of extracts in narrative order from each of the twelve Books of Virgil’s great epic devoted to the glory and divine origins of Rome and Aeneas’s descendant the Emperor Augustus. Each extract has a link to a blog post containing an image, so that the selection provides an illustrated, concise guide to the poem as a whole.

Book 1
With an echo of Homer, Virgil sets the scene and introduces Aeneas, ancestor of the Emperor Augustus and son of the Goddess Venus.

The Aeneid begins

Troy has fallen: Aeneas and some of his Trojan comrades are blown by a storm to North Africa, where he is anxious about his missing ships and men but is reassured by his mother Venus in disguise.

The omen of the swans

Venus has told Aeneas the story of Queen Dido, who is founding a new city, Carthage. As he arrives there, he sees signs that make him hope for a friendly reception.

The Trojans reach Carthage.

Book 2
Aeneas is well received: at Dido’s request, he tells his story, beginning with the sack of Troy.

Aeneas begins his story

The Greeks have gone, leaving a strange wooden horse.

The Trojan Horse

The priest Laocoon pays a terrible price for warning the Trojans against the horse.

The death of Laocoon

The Trojans seal their fate by bringing the wooden horse into the city.

The Trojan Horse enters the city.

As Aeneas sleeps, the ghost of the dead Hero, Hector, warns him that the sack of the city has begun.

Hector’s appearance to Aeneas

Priam, the Trojan King, meets his end.

The death of Priam.

Anchises, Aeneas’s father, is reluctant to escape, but divine signs persuade him.

Anchises is persuaded.

Aeneas escapes with his son, Ascanius and his father through the chaos as Troy falls, but his wife, Creusa, is lost.

Aeneas saves his father but loses his wife.

Use this link to see and hear a selection of extracts from Friedrich Schiller’s brilliant German version of Books two and four of the Aeneid.
Book 3
Aeneas and other survivors build a fleet and sail with the sacred relics of Troy to found a new city. They clash with the Harpies, winged monsters who predict hardship to come.

The Harpies.

The Trojans are entertained by Helenus, a Trojan prince who has won a Greek kingdom, and receive a more welcome prophecy.

How Aeneas will recognise the site of his city.

Book 4
Queen Dido falls in love with the heroic newcomer, Aeneas.

Dido falls in love.

On a sumptuous hunt, Dido and Aeneas shelter from a great storm in a cave, where they consummate their love.

An affair begins.

The news spreads.

Rumour.

The Gods send their messenger, Mercury, to remind Aeneas that his destiny is to found a new Troy in Italy, and instruct him to leave Carthage and Dido.

Mercury’s message.

Dido learns what is afoot and confronts Aeneas.

Dido’s anger.

With a heavy heart, Aeneas obeys the instruction of the Gods and continues with preparations to set sail.

Aeneas prepares to leave.

Stricken with grief, Dido stabs herself with Aeneas’s sword as he sails away.

A mortal wound for Dido.

Death does not come easily, but the Gods finally grant Dido release. The scene has been set for bitter war to be waged between Rome and Carthage in centuries to come.

Dido’s release.

Book 5

Anchises dies and is buried with great honour. A year later, he is commemorated with solemn games and contests. Then, weary of wandering, some of the Trojan women try to burn Aeneas’s ships.

Fire threatens the fleet.

Most of the ships are saved with Venus’s help: and Aeneas and an elite band of companions will continue their mission, while the weak remain behind. But before he reaches Italy, Aeneas learns that he is to pay a visit to the underworld.

Aeneas sails on.

Aeneas’s ships sail on, but his helmsman Palinurus is lost at sea.

Palinurus.

Book 6

In Sicily, Aeneas meets the Cumaean Sibyl, the seeress who guards the entrance to the underworld. She warns him of what he must face.

The Sibyl’s prophecy.

The key for entry to the underworld is a golden bough, which Aeneas must find.

The golden bough.

Due preparation and sacrifice made, Aeneas and the Sibyl begin their journey.

The journey begins.

They encounter Charon, the ferryman who sails the souls of the dead to Hades across the river Styx.

Charon.

Once over the Styx, Aeneas has a sad meeting with the ghost of Queen Dido.

Dido among the shades.

Aeneas and the Sibyl come to the gates of Tartarus.

At the gates of Tartarus.

The Sibyl reveals to Aeneas the crimes that have brought the damned to Tartarus and the punishments that await them.

Crime and punishment.

They pass on to the Elysian Fields, the home of the blessed, and are received by Anchises.

The reunion of Aeneas with his father.

Anchises shows Aeneas a pageant of Rome’s future glory, including his great descendant, the Emperor Augustus.

Augustus, and Rome’s future greatness.

There is sadness too: Aeneas is shown Marcellus, Augustus’s heir, who is destined to die before he can succeed him.

Marcellus, the lost heir.

Aeneas and the Sibyl return to Earth through the gates through which dreams and visions pass between the upper and lower worlds.

The portals of sleep.

Book 7

In Italy, King Latinus learns from strange portents that his only child Lavinia is destined to found a mighty race through marriage to a non-Italian.

Omens for Lavinia.

Meanwhile, Aeneas lands and explores the situation.

The Trojans reconnoitre.

Ambassadors from Aeneas asking permission to settle peacefully are received by King Latinus in his ancestral hall.

Latinus’s hall.

After careful thought, Latinus grants the Trojans’ request, and also offers the hand of his daughter.

Latinus’s offer.

Aeneas’s and Troy’s arch-enemy Juno, Queen of the Gods, stirs up those who are unhappy with these developments. They include Turnus, leader of the neighbouring Rutuli, who hoped to marry the King’s daughter himself and is a favourite of Latinus’s Queen.

The seeds of war.

An innocent but fateful mistake by Aeneas’s son Ascanius leads to violence between the Latins and the Trojans, fanned by Juno and her agent the Fury Allecto.

Blood is shed.

Again with Juno’s help, the outbreak develops into a fully-fledged war.

Juno opens the gates of war.

Book 8

The God of the river Tiber tells Aeneas where he can find allies and smooths the path for his ships.

Father Tiber.

Arriving in Pallanteum, Aeneas finds a welcome although the people are of Greek (Arcadian) stock. The city occupies the future site of Rome.

The Rome of the future.

Meanwhile, Aeneas’s mother, Venus, persuades her husband Vulcan to make him new armour in his bustling workshop.

Vulcan’s forge.

In Pallanteum, King Evander offers Aeneas what modest reinforcements he can, tells him where he may find others, and entrusts to him his son, Pallas.

A new companion.

Like that of Achilles, its Homeric predecessor, Aeneas’s new shield is richly illustrated, in his case with scenes of Rome’s future glory.

The shield of Aeneas.

Book 9

In Aeneas’s absence, Turnus is attacking the Trojan camp, and is outraged at the defensive tactics with which he is met.

Turnus the raging wolf.

The timbers of Aeneas’s ships came from a wood sacred to the Goddess Cybele. When Turnus tries to burn them, she magically transforms them into sea-nymphs.

A new life for Aeneas’s ships.

The hard-pressed Trojans send two outstanding warriors to take news of their plight to Aeneas through the enemy’s lines: they win honour, but are discovered and slain.

Euryalus and Nisus.

In the fight for the Trojan camp, Turnus finds himself shut inside: after taking a heavy toll of Trojan lives he is hard-pressed, but escapes by leaping into the river.

Turnus escapes.

Book 10

Sailing back with reinforcements, Aeneas is met by the nymphs that were formerly his ships, who tell him of the Trojans’ danger and speed him on his way.

The Sea-Nymphs’ message.

Bearing his new, divine armour, Aeneas returns, to the delight of the Trojans and the dismay of the enemy, and soon makes his presence felt on the battlefield.

Aeneas joins the fray.

King Evander’s son, Pallas, however, takes on Turnus and is killed; Turnus takes a trophy which later will cost him dearly.

The death of Pallas.

Knowing that Turnus is not a match for Aeneas, Juno takes the first of many steps to avoid a single combat between them by using a phantom to decoy Turnus away from danger.

Turnus is lured away.

Turnus’s ally Mezentius is an ex-king whose enemies have been recruited to Aeneas’s side: after his son is mortally wounded saving him from Aeneas, he rides out seeking death in battle.

Mezentius seeks death.

Book 11

Aeneas mourns for Pallas and prepares to send his body home to his father, King Evander.

Mourning for Pallas.

Aeneas and his new ally, Tarchon, honour their fallen comrades.

A funeral for the Trojan dead.

Among Turnus’s allies is Camilla, a doomed warrior-maiden dedicated to Diana, the Goddess of the hunt.

The childhood of Camilla.

Book 12

It seems that Juno can delay single combat between Aeneas and Turnus no longer. As they prepare, Aeneas swears to live in justice and equality with the Italians if he wins.

Aeneas’s oath.

But Juno’s agent yet again delays the fight by causing a general engagement, in violation of the truce. Aeneas calls for calm, but is wounded by a stray arrow and leaves the field.

Aeneas is wounded.

Aeneas’s wound is treated with help from his mother, Venus. As he comes face to face again with Turnus and gains the advantage, Jupiter orders his wife Juno to take no further steps against Aeneas and his manifest destiny. Satisfied by Jupiter’s promise that the Italians will not be subject to the Trojans, but merge with them in one Italian people, she finally lays her anger against Aeneas and the Trojans aside.

Juno is reconciled.

Beaten and wounded, Turnus submits to Aeneas. Aeneas is moved at first by Turnus’s plea for his life, but then sees that Turnus is wearing a swordbelt that he took as a trophy from Pallas’s corpse. He takes revenge for Pallas by killing Turnus and the Aeneid ends. For the long term, as all the Gods now accept, the prospect of future greatness for Rome and Augustus, Aeneas’s descendant, is now assured: the immediate future offers hope through a dynastic marriage and the co-existence of Trojans and Italians in peace and justice.

The death of Turnus.