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The Aeneid


(written approximately in the year 19 BC)

Translated in 1885 to English by J. W. MacKail, M.A. Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, England.

The Aeneid follows the legend of Aeneas from the last day of Troy up to Aeneas' victory and the fusion of Trojans and Latins into one people. The content of the poem is as follows:

Book I : Juno is unable to forget her hatred towards the remnant of the Trojan people, and a storm, arranged by the goddess, shatters Aeneas' ship as he escapes from the fallen city, and compels him to put ashore in Africa, near Carthage. Aided by Venus, his mother, Aeneas receives a warm welcome from the queen of the city, Dido. Dido is also an exile, and responds sympathetically to Aeneas' plight, asking him to tell his story. (Right : Scene from Vat.Lat.3867 : The Tempest)

Book II contains Aeneas' account : during the destruction of Troy, aided by divine protection, he had succeeded in fleeing alone with his aged father, Anchises, his little son, and the penates (his household gods and the symbol of a race's continuity). However he has lost his wife, Creusa.

Aeneas' account continues in Book III. Having left the Troad the Trojans realise, after various uncertainties and problems, that a new country awaits them in the west. After describing several miraculous happenings, Aeneas finishes his account with the death of his aged father Anchises.

Book IV : The tragic story of Dido's love for Aeneas. The Carthaginian queen, abandoned by Aeneas who must follow the course intended by fate, kills herself, cursing Aeneas and prophesying eternal hatred between Carthage and the descendants of the Trojans.(Below : Dido and Aeneas ride out to hunt, 4th century A.D.)

Book V : The Trojans make a stop in Sicily. Most of the book is taken up describing the funeral games held in honour of Anchises.

Book VI : The Trojans arrive at Cumae, in Campania, where Aeneas is obliged to consult the Sibyl who instructs him to gain access to the Underworld, the realm of the dead. There he meets various people from his past : Deiphobus, who died at Troy, Dido, who committed suicide because of her love for him, the ill-starred pilot Palinurus, and his father Anchises, who reveals to him the distant future. The world of the dead also contains the heroes of the future, and Virgil describes the leaders who will make Roman history.

Book VII : Uplifted by this vision and the advice of his father, Aeneas disembarks at the mouth of the Tiber, and, on the basis of the signs that have been foretold, recognises this as the promised land. He proceeds to make a pact with king Latinus, to guarantee the safe and peaceful future of both peoples. However Juno sends Allecto, the demon of discord, against the pact; assailed by Allecto, Latinus' wife Amata and the Rutulian prince Turnus, who was betrothed to Latinus' daughter, stir up a war between the two peoples. With the first incident the pact is broken, and the dynastic marriage that has been arranged between Aeneas and Lavinia, Latinus' daughter, is called off. A powerful coalition of Latin peoples marches on the Trojan camp, whilst Lavinia is cast as a new Helen, caught at the centre of the conflict.

Book VIII : Aeneas finds himself in difficulties, and upon divine advice sails up the Tiber with a small band of men. Here, in the place where the foundations of Rome will stand, he finds the support of Evander, the king of a small nation of Arcadians. Along with Evander's son, Pallas, Aeneas proceeds to secure a far more powerful ally : the Etruscan coalition that has risen up against Mezentius, the cruel tyrant of Caere, now expelled, who was an ally of Turnus. The divine aid for Aeneas culminates in the gift of a set of armor made by Vulcan, the shield of which is decorated with scenes from future Roman history.

Book IX During Aeneas' absence the Trojan camp finds itself in a critical situation in the war against Turnus, who obtains a partial victory. The courageous nocturnal attack on the Latin camp, which causes the deaths of Nisus and Euryalus, yields no results.

Book X Aeneas returns with his allies at the eleventh hour, bursts in on the fighting and tips the balance of the war. However Turnus kills the young Pallas, Aeneas' ally and protege, in single combat and strips him of his sword belt, which he wears as a reminder of his victory. In exchange Aeneas kills Mezentius, Turnus' strongest ally.

Book XI After his first victory, Aeneas mourns the death of Pallas. Aeneas' peace offerings to Turnus yield no result, and the Rutulian prince once again joins in battle against the Trojans. In a huge cavalry engagement another Latin hero perishes - the virgin warrior Camilla.

Book XII Wearied by so many failures to gain a decisive victory, Turnus decides to face Aeneas in single combat. The nymph Juturna, again as a result of Juno's meddling, causes the brief truce to fail, and the battle begins once again. When the victory of the Trojans is certain, Juno is reconciled with Jupiter and obtains his agreement that there will remain no trace of the Trojan name in the Latin people. Aeneas defeats Turnus in a duel, and hesitates over whether to spare his life until he catches sight of Pallas' sword belt, which Turnus is wearing, and kills him in a burst of anger.


There is something grotesque in the idea of a prose translation of a poet, though the practice is become so common that it has ceased to provoke a smile or demand an apology. The language of poetry is language in fusion; that of prose is language fixed and crystallised; and an attempt to copy the one material in the other must always count on failure to convey what is, after all, one of the most essential things in poetry,—its poetical quality. And this is so with Virgil more, perhaps, than with any other poet; for more, perhaps, than any other poet Virgil depends on his poetical quality from first to last. Such a translation can only have the value of a copy of some great painting executed in mosaic, if indeed a copy in Berlin wool is not a closer analogy; and even at the best all it can have to say for itself will be in Virgil's own words, Experiar sensus; nihil hic nisi carmina desunt.

In this translation I have in the main followed the text of Conington and Nettleship. The more important deviations from this text are mentioned in the notes; but I have not thought it necessary [Pg vi]to give a complete list of various readings, or to mention any change except where it might lead to misapprehension. Their notes have also been used by me throughout.

Beyond this I have made constant use of the mass of ancient commentary going under the name of Servius; the most valuable, perhaps, of all, as it is in many ways the nearest to the poet himself. The explanation given in it has sometimes been followed against those of the modern editors. To other commentaries only occasional reference has been made. The sense that Virgil is his own best interpreter becomes stronger as one studies him more.

My thanks are due to Mr. Evelyn Abbott, Fellow and Tutor of Balliol, and to the Rev. H. C. Beeching, for much valuable suggestion and criticism.

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