Vergil, Aeneid IV 693-705

Tum Iūnō omnipotēns longum miserāta dolōrem

difficilēsque obitūs Īrim dēmīsit Olympō

quae luctantem animam nexōsque resolveret artūs.695

Nam quia nec fātō meritā nec morte perībat,

sed misera ante diem subitōque accēnsa furōre,

nōndum illī flāvum Prōserpina vertice crīnem

abstulerat Stygiōque caput damnāverat Orcō.

Ergō Īris croceīs per caelum rōscida pennīs700

mīlle trahēns variōs adversō sōle colōrēs

dēvolat et suprā caput astitit. 'Hunc ego Dītī

sacrum iussa ferō tēque istō corpore solvō':

Sīc ait et dextrā crīnem secat, omnis et ūnā

dīlāpsus calor atque in ventōs vīta recessit.705

Manuscripts: M 693-699, 700-705 | P 693, 694-705 

Juno in pity sends Iris from heaven to cut off the fatal lock and end her pain (Page).

694: difficilēs obitūs: “her hard departure” (F-B); Juno acts to save Dido from having to wander about after death until the balance of her allotted time is completed; now at death she may pass directly to her abode in the underworld. The plural obitūs avoids hiatus with the following vowel (Pease). Īrim dēmīsit: The rainbow is supposed to be caused by the descent of Iris from heaven to earth (Frieze). In the case of women, the thread of life was usually supposed to be cut by Proserpina (see line 698). Iris was the messenger of Juno (G-K); she is here sent to do what is usually done by Proserpina (Chase). Olympō: supply, ablative of place from which (AG 221).

695: quae luctantem…resolveret: “to disengage the struggling spirit from the close-locked limbs (G-K); “to unfetter her struggling soul from the clinging limbs.” The soul was supposed to be intertwined with the body, and so to have difficulty in disentangling itself (Page). nexōs: “that cling to it” (Chase). resolveret: subjunctive in a relative clause of purpose (AG 531). Iris was sent down “to free the spirit, and the members (or body) joined (with the spirit)” or that she might release one from the other (Frieze).

696: fātō: “in the course of nature” as opposed to a violent death (Page); “in the course of fate,” i.e., by a natural death (F-B). meritā nec morte: “nor by a death that was her desert” (nec is postponed, as in 4.33 Veneris nec praemia). Vergil’s judgment here is explicit; and we must remember that when Aeneas meets Dido’s ghost in the lugentes campi (6.442 ff.), she is among those who died for love, not among those who had killed themselves (Austin).

697: ante diem subitōque…: the two kinds of death here indicated are contrasted with the two referred to in 696. She died not fātō, but ante diem; and suddenly, not as might have been foreseen (F-B). As she herself had prayed that Aeneas might die (4.620) (Austin).

698–9: nōndum illī flāvam vertice crīnem abstulerat: “not yet had Proserpina taken from her head the golden lock”; illī is dative of separation (AG 381) (Page) or dative of possession (AG 373) (Comstock) or both. As a few hairs were plucked from the head of the victim before sacrifice, so the “fatal lock” must be cut from the crown (vertice) before death (G-K). flāvum…crīnem: Dido’s hair has been described as flāventēs in 590 (F-B).

699: damnāverat: “had consigned”; the force of nōndum is continued (F-B). Orcō: i.e., Pluto (Comstock); dative after damnāverat by a poetical construction as if addīxerat had been used (G-K).

700: croceīs: the color of light (F-B). rōscida: “dewy.” Iris is the rainbow, spiritualized (F-B).

701: mīlle…colōrēs: i.e., the rainbow, which in Homer is not an attribute of Iris the divine messenger, though called by the same name (G-K). The poet, with exquisite art, lightens up the terrible and gloomy scene with which the book closes by this beautiful touch, and amid the leaden hues of death he throws the bright colors of the rainbow (Harper/Miller). trahēns: “trailing” (Comstock); “drawing out” the long line of color (G-K). adversō sōle: “against the sun,” or opposite to it, as the rainbow must be (Page). Literally, “from the sun opposite” (F-B). Ablative absolute denoting cause (AG 420) (Pharr).

702: hunc: supply crīnem (Page).

703: sacrum: with Dītī, “an offering to Pluto” (Comstock). iussa: supply ā Iūnōne, “as bidden (by Juno)” (F-B). istō: = tuō (Pharr).

704: ūnā: = simul (Comstock); “at the same time” (G-K).

705: dīlāpsus: supply est, “fled” (Comstock). in ventōs…: “her life passed into the air.” The soul was identified with the breath (anima, spiritus) and at death vanished into the air (Pharr). “Life,” “breath,” “spirit,” “anima are all so closely connected in human speech that poets naturally speak of life passing “into the winds” (Page). This short scene, with the beautiful picture of Iris, serves the artistic purpose of giving a restful close to the tragedy. Note the smoothness imparted to the last words by alliteration, ventōs vīta (F-B).


Iūnō, ōnis, f.: Juno, the Sabine and Roman name for the wife and sister of Jupiter, daughter of Saturn, 1.4, et al.; Iūnō īnferna, the Juno of the lower world, Proserpine, 6.138.

omnipotēns, entis: adj. (omnis and potēns), all-powerful, almighty, 1.60; supreme, sovereign, 10.1; subst., The Almighty, 4.220.

miseror, ātus sum, 1, dep. a.: to express, manifest, or feel pity for; compassionate, pity, 1.597. (miser)

obitus, ūs, m.: a going to; an encountering one's time, day, or death; destruction, death, 4.694. (obeō)

Īris, idis, f., acc. Īrim: Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, daughter of Thaumas and Electra, and messenger of the gods above, 4.694, et al.

dēmittō, mīsī, missus, 3, a.: to send down, 1.297; shed, 6.455; let down into, receive, admit, (of the mind or the senses), 4.428; consign, condemn, 2.85; convey, conduct, 5.29; transmit, hand down, 1.288; dēmittere mentem, to lose heart, sink into despair, 12.609.

Olympus, ī, m.: Olympus, the name of several mountains in Greece and Asia Minor, the most famous of which was Mount Olympus in the northeastern part of Thessaly; the home of the superior gods; heaven, Olympus, 1.374; referring to the gods, 8.533.

lūctor, ātus sum, 1, dep. n.: to struggle, strive, contend, 1.53; wrestle, 6.643; w. inf., 12.387.

nectō, nexuī, or nexī, nexus, 3, a.: to tie, bind, fasten, 4.239; bind together or round, 1.448; join, unite, of soul and body, 4.695; (fig.), of arguments, 9.219.

resolvō, solvī, solūtus, 3, a.: to untie, loosen, unbind, 3.370; break apart, 9.517; dispel, 8.591; of the lips, open, 3.457; of the body, relax, unbend, extend, 6.422; of separation of body and spirit, dissolve, separate, release, 4.695; unravel, disclose, 6.29; break, violate, 2.157.

artus, ūs, m.: a joint of the body of man or beast, 5.422; a limb, 2.173, et al.; part, member, 6.726; frame, body, 9.490. (generally in the pl., except in later writers)

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.

meritus, a, um: having deserved, deserving, 3.667; (pass.), deserved, merited, 4.611; due, 5.652. (mereō)

pereō, iī, itus, īre, irreg. n.: to go out of sight; to be lost, undone, 4.497; perish, 2.660; die, 2.408.

subitus, a, um: having come up suddenly; unexpected, sudden, 2.692; suddenly, 3.225. (subeō)

accendō, ī, cēnsus, 3, a.: to set fire to, light up, enkindle, 5.4; enrage, exasperate, incense, 1.29; incite, rouse, 4.232. (ad and candō, rel. to candeō)

flāvus, a, um: (adj.), yellowish; yellow, 7.31; gold-tinted, golden, 1.592; 4.559; yellow-haired, golden-haired; pale green, 5.309.

Prōserpina, ae, f.: Proserpina, daughter of Jupiter and Ceres, carried away by Pluto from Enna in Sicily, and made queen of Hades, 4.698, et al.

vertex, icis, m.: a whirl; whirlpool, 7.567; vortex, 1.117; whirling column of flame, 12.673; the top, crown of the head, the head, 1.403; summit, top, 1.163; mountain summit, height, 3.679; ā vertice, from on high, from above, 1.114. (vertō)

crīnis, is, m.: the hair, 1.480; train of meteors, 5.528; (often in the pl.), the hairs of the head, the hair.

Stygius, a, um: adj. (Styx), pertaining to the Styx; of Hades; Stygian, 4.638, et al.

Orcus, ī, m.: Orcus, the lower world, Hades, 4.242; personif., the god of the lower world, Orcus, Dis, Pluto.

croceus, a, um: adj. (crocus), of saffron; saffron-colored, yellow, 4.585.

rōscidus, a, um: adj. (rōs), covered with dew; dewy, 4.700; wet, 7.683.

penna (pinna), ae, f.: a feather, 12.750; wing, pinion, 3.258; in the form pinna, a pinnacle, battlement, palisade, 7.159.

dēvolō, āvī, ātus, 1, n.: to fly down, 4.702.

adstō, stitī, 1, n.: to stand at, near, or upon; alight, 1.301; stand, 9.677; be present, 3.150; stand or be ready, 3.123; impend, 3.194.

Dīs, ītis, m.: Pluto, the ruler of Hades, 4.702, et al.

iubeō, iussī (fut. perf. iussō for iusserō, 11.467), iussus, 2, a.: to order, request, usually w. inf., freq.; bid, 2.3; ask, invite, 1.708; will, wish, desire, 3.261; direct, enjoin, admonish, 3.697; persuade, advise, 2.37; to clear by command, 10.444; w. subj., 10.53.

secō, secuī, sectus, 1, a.: to cut, freq.; cut off, 4.704; engrave, carve, 3.464; cut through, cleave, 5.218, et al.; of the channel of a river, 8.63; sail through, pass, 8.96; speed, 6.899; shape out mentally, form, 10.107.

ūnā: (adv.), in one place or at one time, together with, at once, at the same time, 3.634, et al.; with -que following, 11.864.

dīlābor, lāpsus sum, 3, dep. n.: to slip, glide, fall apart; depart, pass away, 4.705.

calor, ōris, m.: warmth, heat, vital heat, 4.705. (caleō)

recēdō, cessī, cessus, 3, n.: to go back, retire, withdraw, 12.129; recede, retreat, 2.633; stand apart, retire, 2.300; depart, 2.595; disappear, 3.72; vanish, 5.526.

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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.