Vergil, Aeneid II 453-468

Līmen erat caecaeque forēs et pervius ūsus

tēctōrum inter sē Priamī, postēsque relictī

ā tergō, īnfēlīx quā sē, dum rēgna manēbant,455

saepius Andromachē ferre incomitāta solēbat

ad socerōs et avō puerum Astyanacta trahēbat.

Ēvādō ad summī fastīgia culminis, unde

tēla manū miserī iactābant inrita Teucrī.

Turrim in praecipitī stantem summīsque sub astra460

ēductam tēctīs, unde omnis Trōia vidērī

et Danaüm solitae nāvēs et Achāïca castra,

adgressī ferrō circum, quā summa labantīs

iūnctūrās tabulāta dabant, convellimus altīs

sēdibus impulimusque; ea lāpsa repente ruīnam465

cum sonitū trahit et Danaüm super agmina lātē

incidit. Ast aliī subeunt, nec saxa nec ūllum

tēlōrum intereā cessat genus.

453-505: Aeneas gets on to the roof of Priam’s palace by means of a back entrance, and joins in dislodging a tower on to the besiegers. But they still come on, and Pyrrhus breaches the gates; the Greeks pour into the palace and massacre the Trojans (Williams).

469: vestibulum: a space before the door, most probably. But Vergil uses these words, limen, fores, vestibulum, ianua, postes, with some freedom, naturally (Sidgwick). the open space before the door of a Roman house. Some derive it from ve-sti-bu-lum, “a place for standing outside:” from ve-sto (H-H). primo: freely “the verge of” (C-R 1918). Pyrrhus: his name means in Greek “red-haired,” and the following line, with its description of light and glitter, hints at the etymology (Williams).

470: exsultat: indicates the swift movements of the warrior (Frieze). probably referring to both his actions and his state of mind (C-R 1918). Equivalent, in fact, to pugnat exsultans (Anthon). telis...aena: hendiadys (G-K). luce coruscus aena: i.e. the light reflected from his brazen armor (Bennett).

471: The elaboration of Virgil’s art is very clear here when contrasted with Homer’s natural simplicity. Notice how the simile serves to bring out (1) the youthful vigour of Pyrrhus, (2) the malignancy of his attack, (3) the exceeding brightness of his appearance (Page). The simile is founded very closely on one in Il. xxii. 93, in which Hector is compared to an angry snake (Howson). This simile is in Virgil’s richest manner, with the details piled up to give colour and insolent strength; the serpent knows that its prey cannot escape, and Pyrrhus will presently seize Priam with equal inexorability (Austin 1964). qualis ubi coluber: = talis qualis coluber est ubi (F-B). “just as when a snake"; literally, “such as a snake, when it” (Bennett). in lucem: the verb is defered, and when it comes (convolvit, 474) in lucem is taken up and repeated in ad solem (Sidgwick). limiting convolvit in line 474, and further explained by ad solem. The phrase is introduced thus early in the sentence in order to emphasize the parallel between luce (line 470) and in lucem (Bennett). mala gramina pastus: middle use (C-R 1918). poisonous plants would be more rank and potent in early spring (G-K). It was a common belief among the ancients that the snake drew its venom from the food on which it fed (H-H). The serpent was supposed to acquire its venom from the food it ate on reviving in the spring (P-H).

472: frigida: with bruma, not terra (C-R 1918). effectively juxtaposed with sub terra, cold with snugness; frigida bruma tegebat (“the cold winter wrapped him up”) is a striking oxymoron (Austin 1964). tumidum: He is supposed to be swollen by eating venomous herbs (Frieze).

473: Note the accelerated rhythm of the line (F-B). positis novus exuviis: positis = depositis (Carter). “fresh, having sloughed off its old skin"; positis exuviis is an Ablative Absolute, giving the cause of novus. The logical relationship is emphasized by placing novus between the two members of the phrase (Bennett). an image of renewing one’s youth which often suggested itself to ancient fancy (G-K). Virgil in his country life had probably often seen what he describes (Page). The run-on to the fourth foot gives the line a curiously brisk, sliding effect; the words form a single unit of combined cause and result (Austin 1964). novus...iuventa: probably with a reference to his other name Neoptolemus (...”young warrior”) which is used 501 (Page). Perhaps too we may connect the renewed snake (novus) with the renewal of Achilles in Neoptolemus (which in Greek means “new war”) (Williams). nitidus: with the implication of health and fitness (Austin 1964). iuventa: a poetic form, first used by Catullus; Virgil uses the ablative, and sometimes the genitive, to avoid the metrically intractable oblique cases of iuventus (but he regularly has the nominative iuventus, not iuventa: the relation of senecta to senectus is similar) (Austin 1964).

474: convolvit: gives the coiling as well as the gliding motion, and the line is very smooth (ictus and accent coincide in four of the feet) (Austin 1964).

475: ad solem: This is not the same as in lucem l. 471, which refers to its coming out from beneath the earth (C-R 1918). linguis micat ore trisulcis: i.e. darts its forked tongue in and out of its mouth (Bennett). The use of the plural linguis is probably intentional: the tongue moves so quickly that it seems several tongues. The tongue of a serpent has only two not three forks (Page). Further trisulcis continues the marked t-alliteration of the passage (Austin 1964).

476: Periphas: not otherwise know (Carter). agitator equorum: Homeric (H-H).

477: Automedon: charioteer of Achilles, often mentioned in Homer. After Achilles’s death, he became armor-bearer to his son Pyrrhus (Carter). Scyria pubes: Pyrrhus’s mother, Deidamia, was the daughter of king Lycomedes of Scyros (one of the islands in the Cyclades). Pyrrhus led the troops from this island (Carter). followers of Pyrrhus, from the island of Scyros (now Skyro), one of the Cyclades, which was ruled over by Lycomedes, the grandfather of Pyrrhus (Frieze). Pyrrhus had not participated in the war until the death of his father Achilles. After that event he was brought with his followers by Ulysses from Scyros, where he had been educated by his mother (Bennett).

478: tecto: AG 370. “the dwelling,” not, as often, the roof. The spondaic rhythm of this and the following line is indicative of great effort (F-B). flammas: “brands,” “embers"; perhaps fire-darts, like the malleoli of Cic. Cat. i. 32 (Knapp).

479:  The massed spondees, and the rhythm of ipse inter primos, suggests determined attack (Austin 1964). ipse: Pyrrhus (Bennett). bipenni: a double axe (Carter).

480: It is difficult to say whether this is meant to be a precise description with full and natural details of breaking open a door: or whether the phrases are varied and forcible expressions for the general notion. Assuming the former, which with an artist like Vergil is more probably, he first hews at the whole structure (limina), tears the posts (postes) from their sockets, cuts open the panel (trabs) and hacks away the oak of the door (Sidgwick). The hinges (cardines) in a Roman house were not as with us fastened to the side of the door, but were pivots working in sockets, one in the lintel (limen superum) and the other in the sill (limen). The doors were double doors (valvae) (H-H). limina: the lintel and threshold, for the door (Frieze). perrumpit...vellit: The present denotes the continuance of the act, or the attempt to break, and wrench, not the completion of the act (Frieze). cardine: a pivot-hinge let into the upper and lower casing (G-K).

481-482: iamque...cavavit...dedit: not adding new facts, but explaining the statement already made in limina perrumpit (Bennett).

481: aeratos: notice the emphatic position (C-R 1918). The doors were of wood, but covered with plates of bronze (Chase).

482: ore: limits fenestram; “an opening with a broad mouth” (Frieze). Perhaps ingentem refers to the length, lato...ore to the breadth of the fenestra (Knapp). fenestram: used of any sort of “opening,” a window in a house, a slit in a wall for hurling weapons through (Stat. Th. x. 536), holes in the ears for ear-rings (Juv. i. 104), openings in a dove-cote (Colum. viii. 8. 1) (Austin 1964).

483-484: The rhythm of line 483 is haunting, with its absence of main caesura in third or fourth foot (cf. 12.619): the repetition apparet, apparent at the beginning of both lines and both sentences draws the attention arrestingly to this repugnant military profanation of the domestic scene (Williams).

483: The line has no strong caesura either in the third or the fourth foot, and no caesura at all in the fourth: the effect is a metrical picture of a vista, stretching far into the distance. A rhythm like this, together with diaeresis at the end of the second foot, is very rare: for such a diaeresis see 29, 30, 229, 300, 466 (the only other examples in this book, none of them with this particular caesura-effect) (Austin 1964). apparet: Through this opening the great central apartments are at once visible to the Greeks; for the vestibule admitted directly to the courts, which were connected by open passages, so that the eye could range through the whole at one view (Frieze). domus intus: the atrium of the house, in contrast on the one hand to the vestibulum (l. 469), and on the other hand to the domus interior (l. 486), or rooms farther within (Carter). atria: the general arrangements of a Roman house are apparently kept in view (G-K).

484: veterum penetralia: the pathos is heightened by the suggestion that this privacy, now ruthlessly violated, had been respected by a local people for so many generations (C-R 1918).

485: armatos: the armed guards defending the vestibule, mentioned in 449 (Frieze). vident: refers to the Greeks (Frieze). sc. Grai (F-B). this is generally taken to mean “they (the Greeks) see armed men,” i.e. the Trojans inside on guard (449, 492); but the imagery of the previous lines requires that the subject of vident should be the Trojans inside, Priam and those around him (Williams). in limine primo: i.e. those nearest the outside (G-K).

486 f.: The dactylic rhythm of 486 and 488 reflects the terrible confusion and grief depicted. In the latter verse note the onomatopoetic word ululant, the many r sounds, and the frequent diaereses. The dactyls of 498 describe the rush of water (F-B).

486: at: marks a change in the narrative (H-H).

487: gemitu...miscetur: The form would be, gemitus in domo miscetur, miserque tumultus (Anthon). miscetur: in its true Vergilian sense of “confusion” (Sidgwick). cavae...aedes: the second court, or square, around which the more private apartments were built, was often called cavaedium (Frieze). plangoribus: Strictly, the word refers to the beating of the breast by the hands (Knapp).

488: ululant: often said of a woman’s shriek of grief as vagire is of an infant’s wail (H-H). The verb ululo properly means, to send forth a wild cry or howl. It is then applied generally to sounds of lamentation and wo [sic], more particularly such as proceed from females (Anthon). cavae (“hollow”) helps to produce the effect of the noise (Williams). aurea: if this is not a constant epithet, its force must lie in the contrast between the distracted house of Priam and the bright stars where dwelt the ever-blessed gods (C-R 1918). there is a tragic contrast between the brilliant heavens above and the terrible scene below (F-B).

489: tectis: = in tectis (H-H).

490: oscula: i.e. of farewell (G-K).

491: vi patria: with the impetuosity inherited from his father, the wrathful Achilles (Frieze). claustra: the bars that still remained after an opening had been cut in the door (C-R 1918).

492: sufferre: sc. eum; “withstand” him, i.e. Pyrrhus (Carter). lit. “support,” i.e. “stay” him, resist him (Sidgwick). ariete: three syllable (G-K). pronounced here ar-ye-te...The battering-ram, perhaps, in its primitive form, is meant; that is, a long stick of timber, wielded by men without the aid of machinery (Frieze). As a matter of fact the battering-ram belongs to a later age (C-R 1918). not here strictly a battering-ram, but whatever he used to batter with; (probably the trabs, line 481) (Chase). crebro: not many battering-rams, but repeated blows of one (G-K).

494: Observe alliteration and forcible brevity: “might makes a way” (Sidgwick). fit via: i.e. the door yields (G-K). aditus: cognate object: “they burst an entrance” (H-H). As rumpunt is properly intransitive, aditus is an inner object, an accusative of the effect produced (F-B). trucidant: It suggests business-like, matter-of-fact butchery (Austin 1964).

495: milite: as a collective noun. See on 20 (Frieze).

496: The simile is based on Hom. Il. 5.87f (Williams). non sic: only a more effective way of making the comparison: Pyrrhus’ violence was greater than that of a bursten dam (Sidgwick). implying that the simile is not quite adequate (C-R 1918). “with far less violence” (Howson). aggeribus ruptis: The Po in many places was kept within its channel, like the lower Mississippi at the present day, by embankments; and Vergil was familiar with the disastrous floods produced by a crevasse, or breach in the dike (Frieze).

497: exiit: i.e., from its channel (Frieze). evicit: stronger than the simple vicit (Carter). moles: i.e. dykes, etc. (G-K).

498: The line has an admirable rhythm; the pause at furens is barely felt, and there is a rushing movement to the fourth foot (Austin 1964). in: “over” (C-R 1918). furens: gives the main point of the simile. Note its late position (Knapp). cumulo: The use of the abl. of manner in this slightly unusual way is thoroughly Vergilian (Sidgwick).

499: vidi ipse: Aeneas, who had been repelling the storming party of Greeks from the battlements, was compelled to witness the entrance of Neoptolemus and the other assailants at the gate, without the power to render help (Frieze). Cf. 5, where the words mark the trustworthiness of the speaker: here they claim the sympathy of his hearers (Page). furentem caede: as we should say, “drunk with blood” (Page).

500: geminos...Atridas: Agamemnon and Menelaus (Carter).

501: nurus: here, both for the daughters and daughters-in-law of Hecuba (Frieze). according to Homer (Iliad 6, 244), Priam had fifty sons and fifty daughters. The hundred mentioned here must refer to both daughters-in-law and daughters (H-H). per: “amid” (C-R 1918).

503: thalami...spes...postes: Not in apposition, but describing the same object in its different aspects (Storr). illi: AG 297b

504: barbarico: because the gold and spoils which adorned the door-posts were trophies captured from foreign or barbarian enemies of the Trojans. It was customary to hang such spoils on the door-posts of houses, as well as temples (Frieze). i.e. of the East. Aeneas here speaks from a Roman point of view (G-K). i.e. part of the spoils taken from hostile tribes. Possibly Virgil may mean merely “oriental,” “Trojan,” forgetting that the Trojan Aeneas is speaking (Carter). = Phrygio, Asiatico, according to the associations of Greek and Roman writers. So in the passage of Ennius, which Virgil is obviously following, Andromache says of Trojan forces, adstante ope barbarica, as Aeneas here calls Trojan gold barbaricum (P-H).

505: qua deficit ignis: they destroyed, by plundering, everything which the fire did not destroy (Carter).


foris, is, f.: a door; often in the pl. with reference to double doors, 1.505; door or entrance. (rel. to θύρα)

pervius, a, um: adj. (per and via), that can be passed through; unobstructed, free; common, 2.453.

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.

postis, is, m.: a post; doorpost, jamb, 3.287; door, 2.480. (rel. to pōnō)

īnfēlīx, īcis: (adj.), unlucky; unfortunate, luckless, unhappy, 1.475, et al.; sad, miserable, 2.772; of ill omen, ill-starred, ill-boding, fatal, 2.245; unfruitful.

Andromachē, ae, f.: wife of Hector, 2.456.

incomitātus, a, um: (adj.), unattended; alone, 2.456.

socer, erī, m.: a father-in-law, 6.830, et al.; pl., socerī, ōrum, parents-in-law, parents, 2.457.

avus, ī, m.: a grandfather, grandsire, 2.457; sire, father, ancestor, 6.840.

Astyanax, actis, m.: Astyanax, the son of Hector and Andromache, put to death by Ulysses after the capture of Troy, to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy which said that Troy should be restored by him, 2.457.

ēvādō, vāsī, vāsus, 3, n. and a.: to go out, forth, or up; ascend, 2.458; come in flight, 2.531; come forth from, w. the idea of danger surmounted; (w. acc.), to escape the dangers of, 2.731; escape, 5.689; 6.425; w. dat., 11.702; 9.99.

fastīgium, iī, n.: that which is carried to a point or apex; the apex or point of a pediment; a gable, upper part of a house; roof, pinnacle, battlement, 2.444; slope of a trench; (fig.), chief point, 1.342. (fastīgō)

culmen, inis, n.: a top, summit, height, 2.290; house top, ridge, roof, 2.458. (cf. columna)

manus, ūs, f.: the hand, 1.487; freq.; (meton.), action, movement of the hand; work, art, handiwork, 3.486; prowess, heroic deed, action, 2.434; force, violence, 2.645; a collection of persons; a band, crew, troop; an army, 2.29; forces, 5.623; multitude, 6.660; pl., manūs, workmen, 11.329; dare manūs, to yield, 11.558; extrēma manus, the finishing hand or touch, 7.572.

iactō, āvī, ātus, 1, freq. a.: to throw often or much; toss to and fro; toss, freq.; hurl, cast, 2.459; thrust out, 5.376; aim, 5.433; (fig.), throw out words, utter, say, 1.102; of the mind, revolve, meditate, 1.227; sē iactāre, boast, exalt one's self, rejoice, glory, 1.140; prae sē iactāre, to make pretense of, 9.134; p., iactāns, antis, arrogant, assuming, ambitious, 6.815. (iaciō)

inritus, a, um: baffled in calculation or purpose; ineffectual, unavailing; useless, vain, 2.459. (2. in- and ratus)

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

turris, is, f.: a tower, 2.445, et al.

praeceps, cipitis: adj. (prae and caput), head foremost; headlong, 2.307; deep, 11.888; hurried, hasty, quick, speedy, 4.573; flying, running swiftly, 2.516; 3.598; rash, impetuous, fiery, 9.685; prolept., ready to sink, 10.232; subst., praeceps, n., a steep, precipice, verge, 2.460; in praeceps, headlong; downwards, 6.578.

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.

Danaī, ōrum, m.: the Greeks, 2.327.

Achāicus (poet., Achāius), a, um: of Achaia; Achaean; Greek, 2.462. (Achāia)

aggredior, gressus sum, 3, dep. n. and a.: attempt, dare, with inf., 2.165; to advance toward; attempt, 3.38; attack, 9.325; assail, hew, 2.463; accost, address, 3.358. (ad and gradior)

circum: (adv.), about, around; (prep. with acc.), around, about.

labō, āvī, ātus, 1, n.: to give way, begin to yield; totter, 2.492; of the mind, waver, 4.22; falter, flag, despond, 12.223.

iūnctūra, ae, f.: a joining; joint, 2.464. (iungō)

tabulātum, ī, n.: a planking; floor, platform, story, 2.464. (tabula)

convellō, vellī, vulsus, 3, a.: to pull violently; pluck, tear, pull up, 3.24; wrench forth, 12.774; cut off, 6.148; p., convulsus, a, um, rent, shattered, 1.383; convulsed, 5.143.

impellō, pulī, pulsus, 3, a.: to push, thrust, drive to or upon; push onward, impel, 5.242; push, open, 7.621; smite, 1.82; ply, 4.594; put in motion, urge on, 8.3; shoot, 12.856; move, disturb, 3.449; (w. inf.), lead on, impel, induce, persuade, 2.55; force, compel, 1.11.

lābor, lapsus sum, 3, dep. n.: to slide, glide down, or slip, freq.; fall down, 2.465; ebb, 11.628; pass away, 2.14; descend, 2.262; glide, sail, skim along, 8.91; flow, 3.281; fall, perish, 2.430; decline, 4.318; faint, 3.309.

repēns, entis: (adv.), suddenly, unexpectedly, 1.594.

ruīna, ae, f.: a falling down; fall, overthrow; convulsion, commotion, destructive force, 1.129; onset, shock, 11.613; pl., ruin, overthrow, destruction, 1.238; dare, trahere ruīnam, to fall in ruins, 2.310; bring destruction, 12.454. (ruō)

sonitus, ūs, m.: a sounding; noise, 2.732, et al.; roaring, 2.209; thunder, 6.586. (sonō)

lātē: (adv.), widely; far and wide, 1.21; on all sides, far around, 1.163; all over, 12.308. (lātus)

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.

nec or neque: (adv. and conj.), and not; neither, nor, 1.643, et al.; in prohibition, 3.394, et al.; neque (nec) — neque (nec), neither — nor, 5.21, et al.; nec — et, or -que, may be rendered neither — nor, 12.801; 2.534; nec nōn, and also, nor less, 6.183; nec nōn et, and also, 1.707.

intereā: (adv.), amid these things; meanwhile, in the meantime, 1.418, et al.

cessō, āvī, ātus, 1, intens. n.: to remit action; stay, linger, rest; be inactive, 1.672; cease, 2.468; delay, 6.51; impers., cessātum est, delay has been made, has happened, 11.288. (cēdō)

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Suggested Citation

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