Astyages's Weblog

March 12, 2011

Virgil’s Aeneid, Part 19

Filed under: Virgil's Aeneid, #19 — astyages @ 11:16 pm
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'The prophet first sacrificed to the greater gods...'

By Theseustoo 

(Part 19)

The prophet first sacrificed to the greater gods and implores their pardon, then, unbinding the fillets from his holy head, he next led me, full of religious doubts and with an awful sense of dread, to Phoebus. Then, possessed by his god, in front of the shrine, these divine words proceeded from his divine mouth:

‘Oh, goddess-born, Heaven’s will, as revealed in the augury, displays greater omens for good than for ill foreshows your voyage and directs thy course; Thy fates conspire but Jove himself protects thee. Of many things, some few I will explain, so that you may avoid the worst dangers at sea, and so that you may finally reach your promised destination. The rest the fates have concealed from Helenus and Juno’s angry power forbids us to tell. First then, that happy shore, which seems so near, will fly far from your deluded wishes; long tracts of sea shall divide your hopes from Italy; for you must cruise along Sicilian shores then steer your navy round the Italian coast and, after this, veer towards Circe’s island; and finally, before your new foundations rise, you must pass the Stygian lake and view the skies of the nether regions! Now mark the signs of future ease and rest and make sure you remember them: When, in the shady shelter of a wood, and near the side of a gentle river, that shalt behold a sow upon the ground encircled by thirty sucking young; the dam and her snow-white offspring shall bestow their name on thy city and there your labours and your woes shall be over. Nor need you let the threat of famine trouble your mind, for Phoebus will assist and fate will find the way. You must not let your course be bent towards the ill-boding coast of far-off Epirus; those parts are all held by our Grecian foes; the savage Locrians infest this shore and there the fierce Idomeneus builds his city while his army guards the Salentinian fields; and on the mountan’s brow stands Petilia, which Philoctectes and his troops commands. When thy fleet has landed on the shore, and the priests are offering their holy vows to the gods, then hide your eyes with a purple veil, lest hostile faces desecrate the sacrifice. Commend these rites and customs to the rest, that they may be passed on to your pious race!’

‘When you leave here, the wind, which already blows towards Sicily, shall bear you to the straits where proud Pelorus opens a wider way; tack to the larboard and stand off to sea; veer starboard sea and land. The Italian shore and fair Sicilia’s coast were one before an earthquake caused their separation: the roaring tides broke through the passage which now divides Sicily from the Italian mainland. Now rising cities stand in long order; and fruitful fields: so much can time invade the mouldering work that beauteous Nature makes. Far on the right, her currents hide the foul Scylla, while the roaring Charybdis presides on the left, and sucks in the tides in her greedy whirlpool, then spouts them from below; driven with fury, the waves mount up and wash the face of heaven. But Scylla, from her den draws the sinking vessel into her eddies with open jaws then dashes on the rocks; a human face and a virgin’s bosom hide the disgrace of her dolphin-tail as her obscene parts descend below the waves. Then it is safer to bear off to sea and coast past Pachynus, though this will cost you more delay, than to get too close to misshapen Scylla or hear the loud yell of her watery wolves.

‘Besides, if Helenus is worthy of any faith, and if prophetic Phoebus tells me true, do not forget this precept of your friend, which I must therefore once more repeat. Above all, adore great Juno’s name; pay vows to her; implore her aid. Let gifts to the mighty queen be designed and mollify her haughty mind with your prayers. Thus at length your passage shall be free and you shall land safely in Italy. When you arrive at Cumae and see the flood of the black River Avernus you will find the mad prophetic Sybil. In a dark cave, reclined on rocks she sings the fates and, in her frantic fits, inscribes the notes and names on paper; and what she commits to paper, she then lays in order and displays them before the caverns entrance. They lie unmoved unless a blast of wind arises and the leaves are borne aloft into the air, when she ceases her meditations, not bothering to gather up her scattered verses from the rocks; nor to set in order what the wind has dispersed. Thus, many who are unsuccessful in their search for answers to their questions, upbraid the madness of this visionary maiden and leave the mystic shade with loud curses.

‘Do not think it a waste of time to stay a while, even though your companions chide you for your lengthy delay; even though pleasant and favorable winds seem to invite you to put to sea and stretch your sails. But beg the sacred priestess to tell you your fate in spoken words, and not to write it. She will show the fierce Italian people, and all thy wars and all thy future trials; what you may avoid; and what you must undergo. She shall direct thy course and instruct thy mind, teaching you how to find the course to your happy shores. This is all Heaven allows me to tell you; now leave us in peace; you must faithfully pursue the Sybil’s advice and, by the strength of Trojan arms, restore the Trojan state!’

When the priest has thus given his friendly advice, he gave me my liberty along with rich gifts that he had prepared from his bountiful treasure: heavy gold and polished ivory along with Dononaean cauldrons were put on board our ships and every ship was furnished with a store of silver. To me, he sent a trusty coat of mail with three gold chains; for both use and ornament, along with the helm of Pyrrhus with its flourishing plume and waving crest… Nor was my father forgotten, nor my friends; and he sends large numbers of recruits for my navy; men, horses, captains, arms and all manner of warlike provisions; supplies, new pilots and new sweeping oars. Meantime, my sire commands to hoist our sails, lest we should lose the first auspicious winds.

The prophet blessed the parting crew and finally with words like these, embraced his ancient friend: ‘Happy old man, the care of the gods above, whom heavenly Venus honored with her love, twice preserving your life when Troy was lost, behold from afar the long-wished for Ausonian coast: Land there, but take the long way round and land on the rear; for that land in front is all forbidden ground. The shore Phoebus has designed for you lies farther away, concealed from view. Go hence and happily seek your new abodes, blessed in a son, and favored by the gods: For I do but prolong your stay with useless words and the southern gales have summoned you away.

The queen was equally saddened by our parting and her generosity was no less bountiful than that of her Trojan lord. To my son she brought a noble present of a robe, embroidered with flowers in golden thread, a Phrygian vest and besides this loads him with many gifts of precious texture; the pride of Asian craftsmanship.

‘Accept,’ she said, these tokens of love, which I wove in my youth, with happier hands; and treasure these trifles for the sake of the giver. It is I who can make the last present Hector’s wife can make. You recall my lost son, Astyanax, to mind; in you I can see his form and features; his eyes sparkled with just such a lively flame! And your build is like his… and your movements too; and had Heaven been so pleased, he would have been about your years…”

***** ********* *****


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