Vergil, Aeneid VI 893-901

Sunt geminae somnī portae, quārum altera fertur

cornea, quā vērīs facilis datur exitus umbrīs,

altera candentī perfecta nitēns elephantō,895

sed falsa ad caelum mittunt īnsomnia Mānēs.

Hīs ibi tum nātum Anchīsēs ūnāque Sibyllam

prōsequitur dictīs portāque ēmittit eburnā,

ille viam secat ad nāvēs sociōsque revīsit.

Tum sē ad Cāiētae rēctō fert līmite portum.900

Ancora dē prōrā iacitur; stant lītore puppēs.

Manuscripts: M 893-900, 901 | P 893-900, 901 | R 893-900, 901

Aeneas and the Sibyl depart through the ivory exit of Hades to the upper world. Aeneas hastens to his fleet, sets sail once more and soon lands at Caieta in Latium, the final goal of his journey and the destined end of his wanderings (Pharr).

893: geminae portae: This description of the horn and ivory gates is taken from the words of Penelope to Odysseus (Odyssey 19.562–567) (G-K):
Two portals are there for their [i.e., dreams’] shadowy shapes,
Of ivory one, and one of horn. The dreams
That come through the carved ivory deceive
With promises that never are made good;
But those which pass the doors of polished horn,
And are held of men, are ever true. (M-H).

The adoption of this idea enables Vergil to avoid making Aeneas return to earth by the same road, and to bring him back, as it were suddenly and mysteriously, without further description. Homer’s distinction is between truthful and lying dreams; Vergil’s between vērae umbrae, “real spirits” that appear in sleep, and falsa īnsomnia, “delusive dreams.” His object probably is to reproduce Homer with a slight poetical variety, rather than to imply any definite doctrine about spirits and dreams (P-H). somnī: = somniōrum, which would here be unmetrical (Knapp). fertur: supply esse, = dīcitur [esse] (Pharr): “it is reported [to be]” (G-K). Vergil speaks at second hand, following the legend (Carter).

894: cornea: “of horn” (Comstock). vērīs umbrīs: “real spirits” that appear in sleep (Comstock).

895: candentī perfecta nitēns elephantō: take perfecta adverbially (perfectē) with nitēns: “gleaming with the polish of dazzling ivory” (Conington), literally “made gleaming” (F-B). Ablative of material (AG 403) (Pharr). Elephantō is “ivory” by metonymy.

896: sed: supply per hanc (Knapp). The gate is more elegant, but the dreams are false which come out through it (Carter). falsa īnsomnia: “delusive dreams” (Comstock); “false visions,” i.e. of the shades, not the shades themselves (F-B). Falsa probably refers both to the quality of the apparition and to the message that it brings (Conington). mittunt: i.e. through the ivory gate (F-B).

897–898: hīs ibi tum: supply dictīs with hīs (Bennett): attendant circumstances, situation, or result may be expressed by the ablative, usually with a modifier, and without a preposition (but sometimes with cum) (Pharr). Tum goes back to the thought of 890–892 (Bennett).

898: portā eburnā: ablative of route by which (Pharr) (AG 429.4a): “by the ivory gate.”

899: ille: = Aenēās, not Anchises (G-K). These concluding verses are of little importance in themselves, but give a parting scene corresponding to the landing described at the opening of the book. They also serve the artistic purpose of furnishing a quiet close after an intensely emotional passage (F-B). secat: “takes” (Comstock).

900: Caiētae: Caieta, a coastal town in Latium (modern Gaeta) named after Aeneas’ old nurse (Carter). The mention of Caieta has been objected to as inconsistent with the opening of the next Book, where it is said that the death of Caieta, Aeneas’ nurse, was the occasion of the name. But this is natural and Virgilian enough (Conington). rectō līmite: “by straight passage.” Ablative of route / the way by which (see note on portā eburnā, 898) (Bennett) (AG 429.4a). He follows the line of coast, and it takes him to Caieta (Conington).


geminus, a, um: (adj.), twin, 1.274, et al.; twofold, 6.203; double, two, 4.470; pl., geminī, ae, a, twin, 2.500; two, 1.162.

somnus, ī, m.: sleep, slumber, 1.680, et al.; a dream, 1.353; night, 1.470, et al.; personif., Somnus, the god of sleep, 5.838, et al.

corneus, a, um: adj. (cornū), of horn, 6.894.

exitus, ūs, m.: a going or coming out; departure, exit, passage, 6.894; event, 5.523; end, death, 2.554.(exeō)

candeō, uī, 2, n.: to be of pure whiteness; p., candēns, entis, white, 4.61; at white heat; glowing, 3.573; 12.91.

perficiō, fēcī, fectus, 3, a.: to make completely; finish, complete, 6.745; perform, 3.178; p., perfectus, a, um, worked, wrought, executed, 5.267; fulfilled, 3.548. (per and faciō)

nitēns, entis: shining, glittering, sparkling; bright, 1.228; (fig.), sleek, well-fed, 3.20.

elephantus, ī, m.: an elephant; (meton.), ivory, 3.464.

īnsomnium, iī, n.: that which comes in sleep; a dream, 4.9.

Mānēs, ium, m.: the deities of the lower world, 6.896; gods or powers below, 12.646; the spirits or souls of the dead in Hades; ghosts, shades, Manes, 3.63; penalties of the lower world, punishments, expiations, purgatory, 6.743; abode of the dead, 4.387; infernal regions, the world below, 10.820.

Anchīsēs, ae, m.: son of Capys and Themis, and father of Aeneas by Venus, 2.687, et al.

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.

Sibylla, ae, f.: a prophetess, a sibyl; the Cumaean sibyl, Deiphobe, 3.452, et al.

prōsequor, secūtus sum, 3, dep. a.: to follow on after; follow, pursue, 6.476; attend, 3.130; greet, 11.107; without an object, go on, 2.107.

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

ēmittō, mīsī, missus, 3, a.: to send forth, 6.898; hurl, throw, shoot, 11.676.

eburnus, a, um: adj. (ebur), of ivory; ivory, 6.647; ivory-hilted, 11.11.

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.

revīsō, 3, a. and n.: to look at again; visit again, return to see; return to, 2.760; revisit, 3.318.

Cāiēta, ae, f.: 1. The nurse of Aeneas, 7.2. 2. A town and haven of Latium, named after the nurse of Aeneas (now Gaëta), 6.900.

portus, ūs, m.: a port, harbor, haven, 1.159, et al; (fig.), 7.598.

ancora, ae, f.: an anchor, 1.169.

prōra, ae, f.: the extreme forward part of a ship; the prow, 1.104.

puppis, is, f.: the hinder part of a ship; the stern, 5.12; (by synecdoche), a vessel, boat, ship, 1.69; (meton.), crew, 8.497.

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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.