Brant: In the Underworld VIII

Aeneas and the Sibyl find Anchises talking to a group of shades in the Fields of Elysium (679-83). Anchises hurries toward his son with outstretched arms (684-6). On the left, around the river Lethe [Letheus] are several winged figures, spirits who have been promised second bodies. They drink the water of the Lethe, so that they may begin life in the upper world forgetful of their past life (703-15). The setting is luscious, with flourishing trees and large flowers, to give the sense of abundance and peace associated with the Elysian Fields.

Woodcut illustration from the “Strasbourg Vergil,” edited by Sebastian Brant: Publii Virgilii Maronis Opera cum quinque vulgatis commentariis expolitissimisque figuris atque imaginibus nuper per Sebastianum Brant superadditis (Strasbourg: Johannis Grieninger, 1502), fol. 278v, executed by an anonymous engraver under the direction of Brant.


Sebastian Brant (1458-1521) was a humanist scholar of many competencies. Trained in classics and law at the University of Basel, Brant later lectured in jurisprudence there and practiced law in his native city of Strasbourg. While his satirical poem Das Narrenschiff won him considerable standing as a writer, his role in the transmission of Virgil to the Renaissance was at least as important. In 1502 he and Strasbourg printer Johannes Grüninger produced a major edition of Virgil’s works, along with Donatus’ Life and the commentaries of Servius, Landino, and Calderini, with more than two hundred woodcut illustrations. (Annabel Patterson)

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