Vergil, Aeneid IV 173-197

Extemplō Libyae magnās it Fāma per urbēs,

Fāma, malum quā nōn aliud vēlōcius ūllum:

mōbilitāte viget vīrēsque adquīrit eundō,175

parva metū prīmō, mox sēsē attollit in aurās

ingrediturque solō et caput inter nūbila condit.

Illam Terra parēns īrā inrītāta deōrum

extrēmam, ut perhibent, Coeō Enceladōque sorōrem

prōgenuit pedibus celerem et pernīcibus ālīs,180

mōnstrum horrendum, ingēns, cui quot sunt corpore plūmae,

tot vigilēs oculī subter (mīrābile dictū),

tot linguae, totidem ōra sonant, tot subrigit aurēs.

Nocte volat caelī mediō terraeque per umbram

strīdēns, nec dulcī dēclīnat lūmina somnō;185

lūce sedet custōs aut summī culmine tēctī

turribus aut altīs, et magnās territat urbēs,

tam fictī prāvīque tenāx quam nūntia vērī.

Haec tum multiplicī populōs sermōne replēbat

gaudēns, et pariter facta atque īnfecta canēbat:190

vēnisse Aenēān Trōiānō sanguine crētum,

cui sē pulchra virō dignētur iungere Dīdō;

nunc hiemem inter sē lūxū, quam longa, fovēre

rēgnōrum immemorēs turpīque cupīdine captōs.

Haec passim dea foeda virum diffundit in ōra.195

Prōtinus ad rēgem cursūs dētorquet Iarbān

incenditque animum dictīs atque aggerat īrās.

Manuscripts: M 173-174, 175-197 | P 173-184, 185-197 | R 173-180

173–97: Rumor flies through Libya–Rumor, a winged monster of huge growth and speed, covered with eyes, tongues, and ears–and tells the tale of Dido’s passion everywhere, but above all to Iarbas, Dido’s rejected suitor (Page). This description of Fāma acts as an interlude, covering the passage of time and enabling Vergil to tell Aeneas’ fall from grace more objectively. Vergil may have a painting in mind, as some have thought (Austin).

173 ff: Fāma: Note the emphatic anaphora of the word in lines 173 and 174. “Rumor” is a personification which is very common in poetry, from Homer down (F-B). Various features in Vergil’s description are borrowed from the picture of Eris in Iliad 4.442–443, and Fama is suggestive of his own account of Allecto in Aen. 7.324–445 (Pease). How far Vergil is successful in proceeding to an elaborate description of this strange figure is dubious. It is impossible to express many abstract qualities in a visible form. Symbolical figures, when they endeavor to represent more than a simple idea, soon become grotesque, and so while we can conceive Rumor as a bird, and also conceive a bird with an eye on every feather, yet the conception of a bird with an equal number of tongues and ears becomes ludicrous (Page).

174: malum quā nōn aliud velōcius ūllum: “of all evils most swift.” Quā is ablative of comparison (AG 406) (F-B). “Fame, than whom (there is) no other pest (malum) more swift” (Chase).

175: mōbilitāte viget, etc.: mōbilitāte is surely an ablative of cause (AG 404); “Quick movement lends it vigor and it gathers strength as it goes” (Stephenson); “with speed she waxes strong” (Austin); “is refreshed by (her) speed and wins force by going.” Whereas all other creatures flag the faster, and grow weaker the farther they go, with Rumor it is the reverse. The language is from Lucretius 6.340 (mobilitatem … crescit eundo) where the poet is describing the increasing momentum of a falling body and speaking quite literally (Page). eundō: “in the going” an instrumental ablative gerund (AG 507), not far off in meaning from a present participle (“while going”). The ancestry of the modern Romance participial forms becomes evident (Austin).

176: parva metū prīmō…: “dwarfed at first in fear, presently she rears…” (Page). Vergil has in mind Homer’s picture of Strife (Iliad 6.442 f.): “small in crest at first, but later raises her head up to heaven, while she treads upon the earth” (Austin). We all know how scandalous gossip grows (F-B). metū: ablative of cause (AG 404) (Chase). prīmō: best taken as an adverb, or at any rate as an adverbial use of the adjective, “small and shrinking at first” (Stephenson). When a rumor first springs up, it is reported with something of doubt and timidity (Frieze).

177: For similar exaggerations, see 1.103: fluctusque ad sidera tollit; 1.379; 2.488: ferit aurea sidera clamor; Horace, Odes 1.1.36: sublimi feriam sidera vertice; Ovid, Met. 7.61: vertice sidera tangam. Cf. also the modern term “skyscraper” (Pease).

178: Terra parēns, īrā inrītāta deōrum: “incited with anger against (or towards) the gods” (Frieze). According to the legend Earth produced the Giants because of her anger with the gods for their treatment of the Titans (Page). īrā: ablative of cause (AG 404). deōrum: objective genitive with īrā (AG 348) (Pharr).

179–80: extrēmam…sorōrem prōgenuit: “brought forth last…as their sister” (Page). Coeō Enceladōque: Coeus was a Titan, while Enceladus was a Giant. Vergil disregards the distinction (F-B). The two sets of beings, both being children of Earth and both warring against heaven, are often confused (Page). The horrible associations of Rumor are stressed (Austin). Enceladō: in 3.578–582 Vergil states that he is said to be (fama est) buried under Mt. Etna (Pease). ut perhibent: “as the story goes,” a very common usage of the verb (Austin).

180: pernicibus: qualifies both pedibus and alīs (Stephenson). Note the swift rhythm and the hard, clattering consonants (Austin).

181–182: cui quot sunt corpore plūmae tot, etc.: cui, dative of the possessor (AG 373); “who for every feather on her body has a watchful eye below.” Vergil seems to have the peacock in mind. His Fāma sees everything and, as the next line shows, hears everything and tells everything as well (F-B). For every feather there is an eye, a tongue, and an ear (Frieze). This line’s elisions and rhythm make a violent and ungainly picture (Austin).

181: monstrum: the word monstrum (from monēre) describes phenomena or beings so abnormal as to appear supernatural warnings (Pease). horrendum: the adjective is also applied to such objects as the Cyclopes (3.659) or the Hydra (6.288), as well as to the Sibyl (6.10) and her uncanny prophecies (6.99).

182: oculī: supply sunt (Frieze).

183: tot, totidem, tot: emphatic repetition (anaphora) (F-B). subrigit aurēs: subrigere (“to raise or prick up”) (not a common word) is the transitive form of surgere. Vergil does not use it elsewhere (Austin). So also arrigere and ērigere aurēs commonly occurs (Page).

184–186: nocte…lūce: Note the emphatic position of these guiding words (Page).

184: nocte volat: the suggestion is that of a bat (Pease). caelī mediō terraeque: = inter caelum et terram, “midway between heaven and earth,” mediō is substantival, literally, “in the mid-space between sky and earth,” (F-B). Here she can see all that is happening (Austin).

185: strīdēns: The reference is perhaps to the buzz of rumor (G-K): “hissing”; the word may describe the sound of its flight (cf. l. 397 strīdentibus alīs) but more probably describes its cry. Strīdere is used of a hard grating sound (Page). The verb expresses most commonly the whizzing sound of a missile (5.502) or wheels (G. 3.356) or of trees in the wind (2.418), the hissing of hot metals dipped in water (8.420) or of a hydra (6.28), the whistling of a gale (1.102), the sound of waves flowing back from the beach (G. 4.262), the buzz of insects (G. 4.310), or the whirring of wings (Aen. 1.397), as here (Pease). dēclīnat lūmina somnō: “nor bows to sleep her eyes” (Chase). somnō: ablative of manner (AG 412) (Frieze).

186: lūce: “by day” (F-B). sedet custōs: “keeping watch” (G-K); “sits sentinel,” on the watch for anything that may happen (Page). tēctī: here signifies the private dwelling, as opposed to turribus, “palaces”, or “public buildings” (Frieze). Some see an opposition between culmine tēctī and turribus altīs as between “cottage roof” and “palace towers,” but this seems fanciful (Page).

187: aut: postponed to accommodate the meter (G-K). territat: i.e., by the consciousness that she is watching them (G-K). This verb seems to belong otherwise to comedy and prose; its use in poetry appears to be a Virgilian innovation (Austin).

188: tam...quam: literally “as (much)” (F-B); “as often as” (G-K). fictī prāvīque etc.: “reporting truth, but loving to deal with distorted fiction” (Stephenson); “clutching false and foul no less than reporting truth.” Some take tenāx with nūntia, “a persevering messenger as well of false as true,” but the order seems against this (Page). Fictī, prāvī, vērī are all excellent instances of the use of neuter adjectives as substantives especially to express abstract ideas, such as “falsehood,” “depravity,” and “truth.” The objective genitive (AG 349) is common with adjectives ending in –āx, e.g. capāx, edāx, rapāx (Page). prāvī: “crooked, warped”; the essence of Rumor is its warped mixture of truth and lies (see also line 190) (Austin).

189: tum: “now”; while Aeneas was at Carthage (Frieze). populōs: the various peoples of Africa (not “people”) (Austin).

189–90: replēbat...canēbat: the imperfect for repeated action (AG 470) (Austin).

190: gaudēns: “she it was then that kept filling the nations with her manifold tattle, delighting in it” (Austin). facta atque infecta: “now fable, and now fact” (Rhoades); “fact and falsehood” (F-B); literally “things done and things not done” (G-K). The assonance (both here and in canēbat...replēbat) effectively suggests the way in which Fāma keeps hammering away remorselessly (Austin).

191–2: vēnisse Aenēan etc.: indirect discourse (AG 580): the principal clauses, vēnisse Aenēan and eōs fovēre hiemem, are accusative with infinitive.

191: crētum: a passive participle from the intransitive crescō (mainly a poetic use) with ablative of origin Trōiānō sanguine (AG 403) (Austin).

192: cui...Dīdō: “whom Dido, in all her beauty, thinks fit to take as her wedded lord”; “to whom in marriage”; virō “as a husband” (Pease). Here, Dido’s beauty is in contrast to her conduct, as Fāma reports it (Austin). dignētur: present subjunctive in a relative clause within indirect discourse (AG 580) (Frieze). iungere: complementary infinitive with dignētur (AG 456) (G-K).

193: hiemem fovēre…: the basic sense of fovēre is that of keeping warm and comfortable. They “keep the winter warm”, i.e., they pass it together comfortably. Vergil means that their love has made them oblivious to externals, they are “snug” and happy together—and the cold in their lonely hearts has gone too; such a picture of other people’s happiness would be an easy target for the malignant, as Fāma knew so well (Austin). Hiemem fovēre = hiemem inter voluptātēs transigere, “to pass the winter amidst pleasure” (Frieze); “that now through all the winter’s length in wantonness they fondle one another, careless of their kingdoms, the captives of foul lust.” The words describe the devotion of the lovers with malignant exaggeration (Page). quam longa: supply sit; “all its livelong time,” subjunctive in indirect discourse (AG 592) (Austin). “they are making the whole winter long a time of wantonness” (G-K).

194: regnōrum immemorēs: regnōrum = the kingdoms of both, i.e., Carthage and Italy (F-B). genitive with an adjective of memory (AG 349); the words, and the whole passage 191–4, show what Vergil means by facta atque infecta above: it is true that Aeneas has come to Carthage, and that Dido is living with him; but lūxū (“amid luxury”) and turpīque cupidine captōs (“enthralled by vile passion”) is a malicious twist to the truth, and so is immemorēs (Austin).

195: passim: she first does her duty to the public, and as soon as that is finished (prōtinus) flies off to inflame Iarbas (Stephenson). dea foeda: “loathsome Rumor” (Frieze). virum...ōra: = Dea foeda diffundit haec in ōra virum (Chase). Virum = virōrum; “into the mouths of men” (Frieze). Note that he writes in ōra, not in aurēs: the populī do not only hear the tattle, but it is on their lips and they keep passing it on (Austin).

196: cursūs dētorquet: “swerves in her course,” making a dead set at Iarbas, the one person who could do the most harm (Austin). Iarban: Iarbas is a mythical figure, as his descent from Aammon and a nymph indicates (4.198), with no other family connections save a daughter, Asbyte, mentioned by Silius Italicus, Punica 2.58. He ruled over one or more African tribes variously identified as Gaetuli (Aen. 4.326), Maxitani, Numidae, Mauri, Mazici, Libyans, and others named by Silius (2.56–64), thus corresponding to one of those semibarbarous princes who in Vergil’s own day surrounded the confines of the Roman Empire and gave to their peoples a little of its culture. The name also appears as that of an historical Numidian king of the time of Pompey (Plutarch, Life of Pompey 12.4). According to one form of the legend it was to avoid the advances of Iarbas that Dido committed suicide (Justin 18.6, Serv. Aen. 1.340, 4.335). According to Ovid, Fasti 3.551–556 and Silius 8.50–56, after the death of Dido Iarbas seized her kingdom (Pease).

197: animum: “feelings” (Austin). aggerat īrās: a variation of incenditque animum dictīs. Aggerāre means “to pile up” (like an agger); Vergil prefers the plural accusative (īrās) to the singular; the plural suggests repeated “fits of anger” or “angry actions” (Austin).


extemplō: (adv.), immediately, forthwith, at once, directly, 6.210. (ex and tempus)

Libya, ae, f.: Libya; northern Africa; by poetic license, Africa, 1.22, et al.

fāma, ae, f.: report, rumor, 1.532; tradition, 7.765; renown, name, fame, 1.463; glory, 9.195; fame, reputation, honor, 4.91; personified as a goddess, Fame, Rumor, 4.173. (cf. φήμη, report)

malum, ī, n.: an evil, a misfortune, calamity, adversity; suffering, woe, misery, 1.198; misdeed, crime, sin, wickedness, 6.739; pest, curse, scourge, 4.174; mischief, poison, 7.375.

vēlōx, ōcis: (adj.), swift, fleet, 4.174; quick, ready, 5.444.

mōbilitās, ātis, f.: movableness; swiftness, speed, velocity, 4.175. (mōbilis)

vigeō, 2, n.: to be active, lively, vigorous; to flourish, be strong, 2.88; excel, 4.175.

adquīrō, quīsīvī, quīsītus, 3, a.: to seek in addition; gain, 4.175. (ad and quaerō)

premō, pressī, pressus, 3, a.: to press, freq.; tread upon, 2.380; trample, 5.331; press together, close, 6.155; press after, pursue, 1.324; overflow, overwhelm, 1.246; press upon, 2.530; follow up in speech, 7.119; stab, slay, 9.330; hem in, 11.545; suppress, keep down, conceal, 1.209; 12.322; obscure, withdraw, 4.81; restrain, curb, 1.63; check, discourage, 11.402; repress, 4.332; subject, reduce, oppress, 1.285; premere vestīgia, arrest the footsteps, 6.197; plant one's footsteps on, tread on (with abl. of place), 11.788.

attollō, 3, a.: to lift or raise up, throw, cast up, 3.574; rear, build, 2.185; (fig.), to rouse, excite, 2.381; with se, lift one’s self or itself, 4.690; come into view, appear, 3.205; (fig.), arise, be exalted, 4.49; (pass.), attollī, to rise, 5.127. (ad and tollō)

solum, ī, n.: the bottom or ground of anything; soil, earth, ground, 1.367, et al.; land, 3.698; foundation, 10.102; the water beneath a ship, as its support; the water, sea, 5.199; support, table, 7.111.

nūbilus, a, um: adj. (nūbēs), cloudy; subst., nūbilum, ī, cloudy weather; pl., nūbila, ōrum, clouds, 3.586.

terra, ae, f.: the earth; a land, country, 3.13; land as opposed to sea or water, 1.598, et al.; to air, sky, 4.184, et al.; ground, 1.395; an estate, a farm, 6.811; pl., terrae, ārum, lands, for the sing., 6.18; the world, all lands, 4.607; orbis terrārum, the world, the whole earth, 1.233; sub terrās, to the lower world, 4.654; terram petere, to fall upon the ground prostrate in awe and fear, 3.93; in death, 10.489.

inrītō, āvī, ātus, 1, a.: to exasperate, provoke, 4.178.

perhibeō, uī, itus, 2, a.: to hold persistently; maintain, assert; say, report, 4.179. (per and habeō)

Coeus, ī, m.: one of the Titans, and father of Latona, 4.179.

Enceladus, ī, m.: Enceladus, a giant, son of Caelus and Terra, 3.578; 4.179.

prōgignō, genuī, genitus, 3, a.: to beget; bear, bring forth, 4.180.

pernīx, īcis: (adj.), nimble, fleet, swift, agile, 4.180, et al.

āla, ae, f.: a wing, 1.301; the feather of an arrow, 9.578; the wing of an army; cavalry, 11.730; troop, battalion, 11.604; horsemen, mounted huntsmen, 4.121.

mōnstrum, ī, n.: the thing which warns; an omen, a portent, 3.26; supernatural token, sign, 12.246; a prodigy, marvel, wonder, terror, 3.583; monster, 2.245. (moneō)

horrendus, a, um: to be shuddered at; dreadful, fearful, 2.222; awe-inspiring, venerable, 6.10; strange, wonderful, 8.565; fierce, warlike, 11.507. (horreō)

quot: (interrog. and rel. adj. indecl.), how many? so or as many as, 4.181, et al.

plūma, ae, f.: the soft under-feather; a soft feather; plume, feather, 3.242; plumage, 11.771.

vigil, ilis: adj. (vigeō), awake, on the watch; sleepless, 4.182; perpetual, 4.200; subst., vigil, ilis, m., a watchman, guard, sentinel, 2.266, et al.

subter: (prep. w. acc. and abl.), below, beneath, under, 3.695; beneath, 4.182. (sub)

mīrābilis, e: adj. (mīror), wonderful, extraordinary, wondrous, admirable, 1.652, et al.; strange, 2.680.

totidem: (num. adj. pron., indecl.), just, even so many; as many, 4.183, et al.

subrigō, 3, a.: to raise up, erect, 4.183; cf. surgō. (sub and regō)

nox, noctis, f.: night, freq.; darkness, 1.89; dark cloud, black storm-cloud, 3.198; sleep, 4.530; death, 12.310; personif., Nox, Night, the goddess of night, 3.512.

volō, āvī, ātus, 1, n.: to fly, 1.300, et al.; of rumor, to be spread rapidly, noised or spread abroad, 3.121.

medium, iī, n.: medium, iī, n., the middle, midst, 2.218; the intervening space, 6.131; ad medium, in the middle of the body, 12.273; in medium, into the midst, in public; before them, 5.401; for the common weal, 11.335.

strīdeō, 2, n., and strīdō, strīdī, 3: to produce a grating or shrill sound; to creak, 1.449; gurgle, 4.689; rustle, 1.397; whiz, roar, 1.102; hiss, 8.420; twang, 5.502.

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.

dēclīnō, āvī, ātus, 1, a. and n.: to turn down or away; of the eyes, to close in sleep, 4.185.

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

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

territō, 1, freq. a.: to fill with alarm; affright, alarm, 4.187. (terreō)

fīctum, ī, n.: falsehood, 4.188. (fingo)

prāvus, a, um: (adj.), crooked; subst., prāvum, ī, n., perverseness, wrong, evil, falsehood, 4.188.

tenāx, ācis: adj. (teneō), holding on or fast; tenacious; adhering to, persistent in, w. gen., 4.188.

nūntia, ae, f.: a messenger, 4.188.

vērum, ī, n.: that which is true; truth, justice, right, 2.141.

multiplex, plicis: adj. (multus and plicō), having many folds, 5.264; manifold, various, 4.189.

repleō, plēvī, plētus, 2, a.: to fill again; fill up, fill, 2.679, et al.

pariter: (adv.), equally, 2.729; also, in like manner, in the same manner, on equal terms, 1.572; side by side, 2.205; at the same time, 10.865; pariter — pariter, 8.545. (pār)

īnfectus, a, um: not done; unworked, unwrought, 10.528; unfinished, unconsummated, 10.720; not actual; untrue, 4.190; of a covenant, not made, unmade, 12.243; broken, 12.286.

veniō, vēnī, ventus: to come, freq.; come forth; approach, 6.755; rise, appear, 1.353; dawn, 10.241; to present one's self or itself, 5.344; descend, spring from, 5.373; impers., ventum est, we, they came or have come, 4.151.

Aenēās, ae, m.: 1. A Trojan chief, son of Venus and Anchises, and hero of the Aeneid, 1.92. 2. Aenēās Silvius, one of the Alban kings, 6.769.

Trōiānus, a, um: adj. (Trōia), Trojan, 1.19; subst., Trōiānus, ī, m., a Trojan, 1.286; pl., Trōiānī, ōrum, m., the Trojans, 5.688.

dīgnor, ātus sum, 1, dep. a.: (w. acc. and abl.), to deem worthy of, 1.335; w. inf., think, fit, deign, 4.192; p., dīgnātus, a, um, with pass. meaning, deemed worthy of, honored by, 3.475. (dīgnus)

Dīdō, ūs or ōnis, f.: Dido, daughter of Belus, king of Phoenicia, who fled from her brother Pygmalion to Africa, where she founded the city of Carthage, 1.299.

lūxus, ūs, m.: excess, extravagance; luxury, sumptuousness, magnificence, 1.637; wanton pleasure, sensuality, 4.193.

foveō, fōvī, fōtus, 2, a.: to keep warm; (fig.), foster, protect, cherish, 1.281; soothe, 12.420; caress, make love to, 1.718; rest, incline, 10.838; to toy away, enjoy, 4.193; cherish, hope, long, desire, 1.18.

immemor, oris: (adj.), not remembering, without memory, oblivious, 6.750; unconscious, 9.374; reckless, heedless, 2.244; often w. gen., unmindful, forgetful of, 5.39.

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

diffundō, fūdī, fūsus, 3, a.: to pour round about, pour out, 10.908; diffuse; spread, multiply, 7.708; to put in disorder, dishevel, 1.319; spread abroad, 4.195.

dētorqueō, torsī, tortus, 2, a.: to turn from; turn off, away, or aside, 5.165; bend, turn, 4.196; return, turn back, 5.832.

Iarbās, ae, m.: a king of the Mauretani in Numidia, and suitor for the hand of Dido, 4.36.

incendō, cendī, cēnsus, 3, a.: to set fire to, burn, 2.353; kindle, 3.279; illuminate, 5.88; (fig.), of the mind, fire, inflame, 1.660; arouse, rouse to action, 5.719; excite, irritate, enrage, madden, provoke, 4.360; disturb, rend, fill, 10.895.

dictum, ī, n.: a thing said; word, 1.197; command, precept, injunction, 1.695; promise, 8.643. (dīcō)

aggerō, āvī, ātus, 1, a.: to pile up; (fig.), increase, aggravate, 4.197. (agger)

article Nav

Suggested Citation

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