Vergil, Aeneid II 567-587

Iamque adeō super ūnus eram, cum līmina Vestae

servantem et tacitam sēcrētā in sēde latentem

Tyndarida aspiciō; dant clāram incendia lūcem

errantī passimque oculōs per cūncta ferentī.570

Illa sibi īnfestōs ēversa ob Pergama Teucrōs

et Danaüm poenam et dēsertī coniugis īrās

praemetuēns, Trōiae et patriae commūnis Erīnys,

abdiderat sēsē atque ārīs invīsa sedēbat.

Exārsēre ignēs animō; subit īra cadentem575

ulcīscī patriam et scelerātās sūmere poenās.

'Scīlicet haec Spartam incolumis patriāsque Mycēnās

aspiciet, partōque ībit rēgīna triumphō?

coniugiumque domumque patrēs nātōsque vidēbit

Īliadum turbā et Phrygiīs comitāta ministrīs?580

Occiderit ferrō Priamus? Trōia ārserit ignī?

Dardanium totiēns sūdārit sanguine lītus?

Nōn ita. namque etsī nūllum memorābile nōmen

fēmineā in poenā est, habet haec victōria laudem;

exstīnxisse nefās tamen et sūmpsisse merentēs585

laudābor poenās, animumque explēsse iuvābit

ultrīcis flammae et cinerēs satiāsse meōrum.'

I chanced to see Helen hiding at the entrance of the temple of Vesta, where she had taken refuge fearing the wrath both of the Trojans and the Greeks. A passionate desire came over me to slay her as I thought of her returning in queenly state to Sparta while my country lay in ashes. “Surely,” I was saying to myself, “vengeance demands that I should kill even a woman” (Page).

These lines are absent from all the best MSS. Servius tells us that they were struck out by Tucca and Varius, the editors of the Aeneid, probably because Vergil himself had struck his pen through them, meaning to re-cast them. They are thoroughly Vergilian, and without them the transition is extremely abrupt. But perhaps the strongest argument for retaining them is the obvious reference to them in the speech of Venus which follows (594–601) (Storr). Aeneas could hardly see Helen from the roof, and does not descend until 632. On the other hand the passage is very fine and thoroughly Vergilian: and perhaps Vergil wrote it before the second book had assumed its present shape. If Vergil did not write it, who did? (Sidgwick). In my opinion this is a first attempt, lacking the final revisions of the poet, and for this reason it was set aside by Vergil himself, or omitted by his editor Varius; it clearly exhibits the form and many features of Vergil’s style, and it is so coherent with the narrative as a whole that it seems to be the product of one and the same conception (Conte).

567: iamque adeō: “and so now,” barely enclitic (Sidgwick); “now at last” (Howson); “and just at this moment” (G-K). super ūnus eram: super…eram is tmesis (AG 640) for supereram, “I alone survived” (Pharr).

567–568: līmina Vestae servantem: “lurking in the entrance of Vesta’s temple” (Comstock); “keeping close to,” for the sake of sanctuary (G-K). Servantem, i.e., “keeping” in the sense of close uninterrupted abiding, rather than of protecting (Carter).

568: Notice the accumulation: tacitam, sēcrētā, latentem, all emphasizing the idea—“silent, hiding in the dark recess” (Sidgwick). Take tacitam as an adverb, “silently” (Carter).

569: Tyndarida: = Helenam, a feminine patronymic (AG 244), Greek accusative form (AG 81) of Tyndaris, “daughter of Tyndarus” (Pharr). According to others, Helen was the daughter of Leda and Jupiter (Storr). Paris carried her off from her husband Menelaus king of Sparta (or joint king of Argos), the cause of the Trojan War (Sidgwick). dant clāram incendia lūcem: explains why Aeneas could see Helen (Pharr). The light of the burning city shone into the temple and rendered her visible in her hiding place (Carter).

570: errantī: supply mihi (Pharr). As Aeneas only descends at line 632 we must suppose him still on the roof: it is on the roof that he is “wandering and casting his glance everywhere over all things” in vague uncertainty what to do, when he sees Helen (Page). passim oculōs…ferentī: “as I cast my glance hither and thither” (Comstock). Now that he is hastening home, Aeneas is anxious to escape the Greeks (Carter).

571: illa: Helen; “she, fearing for herself the Trojans who were hostile to her on account of the overthrow of Troy” (H-H). sibi…praemetuēns: the rare word praemetuō, “forecasting in her fear” (G-K); “fear anticipating the consequences” (Conington); “dreading,” i.e., in advance (G-K), suggests two ideas, (1) fear of a thing, here of “the hostile Trojans etc.” (2) a desire to take precautions against the evil anticipated (in which case it takes a dative of the person on whose behalf the “cautious fear” is shown). Here it has both constructions, for sibi does not go with infestōs but with praemetuēns, its position being due to the Latin tendency to bring pronouns together—“she in cautious fear for herself, yes, fearing the hatred of the Trojans…” (Page). ēversa Pergama: “Troy’s overthrow” (Comstock).

572: Danaum: = Dana[ōr]um by syncope; subjective genitive (AG 348) with poenam (Pharr), i.e., punishment “inflicted by the Greeks” (Sidgwick). dēsertī coniugis: = Menelaī; subjective genitive (AG 348) with īrās. Menelaus hesitated at first whether to kill Helen with his own hand; but her old fascination prevailed, and later she appears in the Odyssey in full honor as his queen (G-K).

573: Erīnys: “curse,” “scourge” (Comstock), lit. one of the Erinyes.

574: ārīs: supply in, ablative of place where (AG 421) (Pharr); i.e., on the steps of the altar (Carter). invīsa: this word may either be (1) the participle of invideō, “she was crouching, a hateful [being],” or (2) from in- and vīsus—“she was crouching [so as to be] unseen.” (The word is so used by Caesar and Cato (Sidgwick)). Vergil’s use of the word in 601 and 647 as “hateful” is strongly in favor of the former meaning here: moreover it is very harsh to describe her as “sitting unseen” at the very moment she is discovered, whereas the description of her as “hateful” naturally precedes the outburst of hate described in the next line (Page).

575: exarsēre ignēs animō: “the fire [of anger] kindled in my soul” (Page). subit īra: supply mentem meam; “an angry longing prompts [me],” followed by the complementary infinitives (AG 456) ulcīscī  and sūmere (Pharr), which may be taken in apposition with īra (Conington). Īra impies a “desire” for revenge (Sidgwick), “a wrathful impulse” (Comstock).

576: scelerātās sūmere poenās: “to take unholy vengeance” (Storr); “to exact” or “inflict the punishment for her crime.” Scelerātās poenās = sceleris poenās (Pharr). A strong instance of the transferred adjective: the “guilt” is transferred from the wicked woman to the vengeance: “exact the penalty of guilt” (Sidgwick). The punishment is called “accursed” because he was about to inflict it on one who was a suppliant at the altar, and a woman to boot (Carter).

 577: scīlicet: lends a scornful (Sidgwick) and ironical tone (Carter): “doubtless,” “of course,” marking strongly the indignant bitterness of the words which follow. The sentence is really affirmative in form, and its interrogative character is imported to it by the tone in which it is uttered. Conington renders it “So she is to see Sparta again in safety?” (Page). The question particle is often omitted in rapid narration (Comstock). Spartam patriāsque Mycēnās: is here put for “Greece.” Vergil is fond of putting the particular for the general (Chase). Tyndarus, father of Helen, was king of Sparta till he resigned the throne to his son-in-law (Storr). According to Vergil’s usual version, Menelaus was king of Sparta, his brother Agamemnon king of Mycenae. This is the Homeric tale. Aeschylus makes Agamemnon and Menelaus both joint kings in Argos (Mycenae was close to Argos and is often confused with it). Here Vergil seems to mix the two tales (Sidgwick).

578: partō triumphō: ablative absolute (AG 419). Pario is frequently used with such expressions as: honōrem parere, laudem parere, decus parere, victōriam parere (Conington). ībit rēgīna: “she will march as a queen” (Storr); “she will go in queenly state,” i.e., not as a captive, like the other women of Troy (Howson).

579: coniugium: “wedlock” and so “her husband” (Page); abstract for concrete (Howson). domum: = familiam suam (Chase). patrēs: = parentēs suōs; apparently only Tyndarus the father of Helen was alive (Page). This line has been objected to for various trivial reasons: e.g. that Helena has only one child, Hermione; that coniugium is abstract; that patrēs has no -que, etc. But really it is perfectly natural, especially in the mouth of a foe, who cannot be expected to know the domestic history of Helena (Sidgwick). According to Euripides (Orestes 473) Tyndarus and Leda are represented as being alive after the death of Clytemnestra, but Homer (Odyssey 11.298) introduces Leda in the shades (H-H). nātōs: Homer gives her only one daughter, Hermione; Hesiod adds a son, Nicostratus.

580: turbā…comitāta ministrīs: ablatives of accompaniment (AG 413) with the participle comitāta, which, though deponent, here has a passive meaning, as often in poetry (Sidgwick); “attended by a throng and attendants” (Comstock). Īliadum: “of Trojan women” (Chase); the captive Trojan women would become her “attendants” (ministrīs) (Page).

581–582: occiderit, ārserit, sūdārit: the future perfect is often used to express indignation that an event spoken of as future should be realized (H-H). Translate as “Shall it be for this [i.e., that this result might follow] that Priam has fallen by the sword?” Wagner notices the balance of the three questions aspiciet? ībit? vidēbit? with the three questions occiderit? ārserit? sūdārit? and that they correspond to one another in inverse order: her home happy / my king murdered; she in triumph / Troy in flames; she safe at Sparta / the Dardan coast reeking with blood (Page).

582: totiēns: “so many times,” referring to the whole course of the war (Conington). sūdārit: = sūdāverit by syncope (Chase): “reeked” (Storr).

583: nōn ita: supply erit: “it shall not be!” (Pharr). nūllum memorābile nōmen: “no glory worth remembering” (G-K).

584: fēmineā in poenā: adjectives ending in –eus are often equivalent to an objective genitive (Carter): “punishment [exacted] of a woman” (Howson); “punishment [wrought on a] woman” (Carter); “in taking vengeance on a woman” (Sidgwick). habet: “brings with it” (H-H). victōria: supply fēminea, “victory [over a woman]” (Pharr).

585–586: exstinxisse…laudābor: = laudābor quod exstinxī, or quī exstinxerim (Chase): “I shall be praised for having destroyed…” (Pharr). Laudābor is here = cum laude dīcar and so is followed by an infinitive (Page). The perfect infinitive is used for quod with perfect indicative, “for having…” (Comstock). sumpsisse merentēs…poenās: “for having exacted punishment from [one] deserving it” (Chase); “to have exacted punishment which she deserves” (Comstock).

585: nefās: = nefāriam, contemptuously (Chase); = nefastam, “the wicked one” (H-H); “guilt,” put with great force for “a guilty creature” (Page).

586–587: animumque…meōrum: “and it shall be my joy to have filled my soul with avenging fire [or “fury”] and to have satisfied the ashes of my kindred” (Page). iuvābit: used impersonally with explēsse (= explēvisse by syncope) et satiāsse (= satiāvisse by syncope) (Pharr): “it will give me pleasure to have....”

587: ultrīcis flammae: genitive with the special verb expleō: “to have sated my soul with the vengeful flame” (Pharr). The expression “avenging flame” (ultrīcis flammae) is vigorous and perfectly clear, the ideas of “fire” and “fury” being closely akin (Chase). Conington observes that the collocation of flammae…cinerēs is not a happy one (Howson). The genitive is not infrequent after words of “filling” in Latin (AG 409), though the ablative is the commoner usage. The genitive becomes more frequent later, perhaps through the influence of Greek (Sidgwick). cinerēs satiāsse: = satiā[vi]sse by syncope, “to have appeased” (Chase). Vengeance is imagined to be a satisfaction to the spirits of the dead, a very old idea (G-K). meōrum: used substantively, “of my [people]” (Pharr).


super: (adv.), above, 4.684, et al.; above, from above, 10.384; moreover, 4.606; besides, 1.29; more than enough, 2.642; remaining, surviving, left (with ellipsis of esse), 3.489, et al.; still (or above), 4.684; of time, in, during, 9.61.

Vesta, ae, f.: Vesta, daughter of Saturn, and granddaughter of Vesta, wife of Coelus; goddess of the hearth and household, 2.296, et al.; (meton.), the hearth, the fire.

sēcrētus, a, um: separated, apart, retired, solitary, 2.299; secret; unnoticed, 4.494. (sēcernō)

Tyndaris, idis, f.: a daughter of Tyndarus; Helen, 2.569.

incendium, iī, n.: a burning, conflagration; flame, fire, 2.706; desolation, 1.566; fiery material, firebrand, 9.71. (incendō)

passim: (adv.), here and there, in all directions; everywhere, 2.364, et al. (passus)

īnfestus, a, um: infested; unsafe, hostile, inimical, 2.571; dangerous, mortal, 2.529; fatal, pernicious, destructive, 5.641.

ēvertō, vertī, versus, 3, a.: to upturn, 1.43; overthrow, demolish, destroy, 2.603.

Pergama, ōrum, n., Pergamum, ī, n., and Pergamus (-os), ī, f.: 1. The citadel or walls of Troy, 3.87; Troy, 4.344, et al. 2. The Trojan citadel of Helenus in Epirus, 3.336.

Teucrī, ōrum, m.: the Trojans, descendants of Teucer, 1.38, et al.; adj., Teucrian, Trojan, 9.779, et al. (Teucer)

Danaī, ōrum, m.: the Greeks, 2.327.

praemetuō, 3, a. and n.: to fear beforehand, dread, 2.573.

Trōia, ae, f.: 1. Troy, the capital of the Troad, 2.625, et al. 2. A city built by Helenus in Epirus, 3.349. 3. A part of the city of Acesta in Sicily, 5.756. 4. The name of an equestrian game of Roman boys, 5.602.

Erīnys, yos, f.: a fury, 2.337; pest, scourge, curse, 2.573.

abdō, didī, ditus, 3, a.: to put away; with the point or place where, in the abl. alone or with a prep., the acc. with prep., or the dative; to hide, shut up, 1.60; to bury, plunge, thrust, 2.553.

invīsus, a, um: unseen, 2.574.

exārdēscō, ārsī, ārsus, 3, inc. n.: to begin to burn; (fig.), to be roused to anger; kindle, burn, 2.575; 5.172.

subeō, iī, itus (p. subiēns, euntis), 4, n. and a.: to go or come under, into, or up to; alone, or with acc. and prep., or with dat.; without a case, come up, 2.216; go under, bend, stoop down under, 10.522; come after; follow, 2.725; take one's place, 12.471; enter, 1.171; come into or upon the mind, suggest itself, occur, 2.560; with acc. and prep., go, advance towards, 8.359; with dat., come or go up to, down to, into, 5.203; succeed to, 5.176; come after, follow, 10.371; with acc., approach, enter, 1.400; go under a burden, bear, with abl. of instrument, 2.708; go under the yoke, draw, 3.113; enter the mind of, strike, occur to, 9.757; approach, reach, 3.512; approach, 7.22; meet, encounter, 10.798; attack, 9.344.

ulcīscor, ultus sum, 3, dep. a.: to take revenge for, to avenge, 2.576.

scelerō, no perf., ātus, 1, a.: to make impious; desecrate, pollute, 3.42; p., scelerātus, a, um, foul with crime; polluted, impious, wicked, 2.231; accursed, 6.563; pertaining to the guilty or to guilt, due to wickedness, 2.576; sacrilegious, 9.137. (scelus)

Sparta, ae, f.: Sparta, or Lacedaemon, in Laconia.

incolumis, e: (adj.), uninjured; unharmed, safe, 2.88.

patrius, a, um: adj. (pater), pertaining to one's father or ancestors; a father's, 2.658; paternal, natural to a father, 1.643; exacted by a father, 7.766; due to, felt for a father or parent, 9.294; ancestral, hereditary, 3.249; of one's country, native, 3.281; belonging to the nation, of the country, 11.374.

Mycēnae, ārum, and Mycēna, ae, f.: Mycenae, an ancient city of Argolis; the abode of Danaus, Pelops, and Agamemnon, 1.284, et al.

rēgīna, ae, f.: a queen, 1.9; princess, 1.273. (rēx)

triumphus, ī, m.: the grand procession at Rome awarded to a victorious general; a victory, 2.578.

coniugium, iī, n.: a joining together; marriage, wedlock, 4.172; (meton.), husband, wife, consort, 2.579; 3.296. (coniungō)

Īlias, adis, f.: a daughter of Ilium or Troy; pl., Īliades, um, Trojan women, 1.480.

Phrygius, a, um: Phrygian, Trojan, 1.381; subst., Phrygiae, ārum, f., Phrygian or Trojan women, 518. (Phryx)

comitor, ātus sum, 1. dep. a.: to accompany, attend, follow, 3.660; p., comitātus, a, um, attended, accompanied, 1.312, et al. (comes)

minister, trī, m.: a subordinate; an attendant, minister, waiter, servant, 1.705; helper, creature, tool, agent, 2.100. (cf. minus)

occidō, cidī, cāsus, 3, n.: to go down; set; fall, perish, 2.581; die. (ob and cadō)

Priamus, ī, m.: 1. Priam, son of Laomedon, king of Troy, 1.458, et al. 2. A Trojan youth, son of Polites and grandson of King Priam, 5.564.

Dardanius, a, um: adj. (Dardanus), Dardanian, Trojan, 5.711; subst., Dardanius, iī, m., the Dardanian; the Trojan, 12.14.

totiēns (totiēs): num. adj. (tot), so many times, so often, 1.407, et al.

sūdō, āvī, ātus, 1, n. and a.: to sweat, w. abl., 2.582, et al.; ooze out, distill.

etsī: (conj.), even if, although, though, 2.583.

memorābilis, e: adj. (memorō), deserving to be remembered; memorable, remarkable, famous, honorable, 2.583.

fēmineus, a, um: adj. (fēmina), pertaining to women; female, 9.142; a woman’s, of a woman, 2.584; of women, 4.667; fit for a woman, 12.53.

exstinguō, stīnxī, stīnctus, 3, a. (pluperf. extīnxem, for extīnxissem, 4.606): to extinguish, put out, quench, 8.267; blot out, extinguish, 6.527; extirpate, kill, destroy, 4.682; p., exstīnctus, a, um, lost, 4.322.

mereō, uī, itus, 2, a. and n.: to deserve, merit, 2.585; earn, gain, win, 11.224; deserve well, 6.664; bene merēre, to deserve well, 4.317.

expleō, plēvī, plētus, 2, a.: to fill completely; fill up; gorge, 3.630; satisfy, 1.713; finish, complete, 1.270; w. gen., satiate, glut, 2.586.

ultrīx, īcis: adj. (ulcīscor), avenging, 2.587.

satiō, āvī, ātus, 1, a.: to satisfy; appease, 2.587. (satis)

meī, m. pl.: my kindred, friends, countrymen, descendants, etc., 2.587, et al.; mea, ōrum, n., my possessions, enjoyments, 12.882. (mē)

Text Read Aloud
Maps and Images
article Nav

Suggested Citation

Christopher Francese and Meghan Reedy, Vergil: Aeneid Selections. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-947822-08-5.