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Aeneid

from Book 6

[The Sibyl of Cumae has just led Aeneas into the underworld, where he hopes to meet the shade of his dead father, Anchises. Having found the Golden Bough to secure his entrance, he first sees unhappy souls waiting for passage across the River Styx.]

4.  aut videt aut videsse putat per nubila luna

Then he spots Leucus
………….his Lycian admiral
and Orontes
………….both pissed off
………….at their lack of
………….proper burial

And there’s Palinurus! who got caught
………….star-gazing and fell off the ship
Aeneas can scarcely recognize his haggard
face at first, then knowing him says
……………………..‘Palinurus
………….which of the gods snatched you
………….from the ship and drowned you
……………………..at sea? Tell me
………….was the oracle bullshitting
………….when he promised
……………………..safe passage?’

He replies:
……………………..‘Apollo’s oracle didn’t lie to you
…………………………………general
……………………..nor did any god
…………………………………drag me down.
………….The tiller came right off
………….in my hand and took me
………….over the side with it
……………………..I swear
………….nothing freaked me out more
………….than the thought of leaving you
………….with no pilot
……………………..no way to steer
………….the ship on such harsh waters.
………….From there I swam
……………………..three nights sucking down
………….waves   until at last
………….I glimpsed        Italy
………….reaching land   I clung to
………….a cliff    when
………….some local bastards
………….not knowing any better
………….took me for      a rich asshole
………….set upon me
…………………………………with knives
………….Now
……………………..the tide tosses me
………….around like garbage
………….I beg you by your son and father
………….the light you see by and air
……………………..you breathe
………….find me and bury my body
……………………..or
………….if that’s too tall an order
………….ask your divine Mom how—–
………….lift me out of this shit
………….and carry me across the water
………….to the other side so that
………….I might find rest in death
……………………..at last.’

The Sibyl takes this one.

………….‘Palinurus
……………………..where do you get the balls
……………………..to ask such a thing?
………….Stop whining.   Seize
………….these words instead and take solace
…………………………………in this:
……………………..Far and wide
………….through neighbouring cities
………….they’ll propitiate your bones
………….building a tomb and making sacrifice
………….and the name Palinurus will
………….adorn it forever.’

Palinurus feels his sadness ease
………….at this news
………….and the thought
………….of giving his name to the land
………….brings some joy.

But
………….when the ferryman spots them coming
………….towards the river he’s pissed—–
……………………..‘Stop right there!’ he yells
………….‘Whoever you are
……………………..don’t come into my house
……………………..the right to bear arms
………….ends at this river
………….this is a place of shadows
………….sleep and night
……………………..it’s against the law
………….to step aboard this ship while breathing—–
………….bad enough
………….I had to haul Hercules
………….Theseus           and Pirithous
………….sons of gods and strong
……………………..as fuck.
………….Hercules caused trouble by chaining up
………….Cerberus and dragging him
………….from Hell, trembling – those other two guys
……………………..absconded with Pluto’s queen.’

‘Calm down’
………….says the Sibyl
‘We’re not here to stir up
any shit – for all we care
Cerberus can keep barking his heads off
frightening bloodless souls
………….and chaste Proserpina can stay behind
………….her uncle’s door. Trojan Aeneas
………….marked by piety and arms
comes to hell to see his dad.
………….If that kind of devotion
……………………..doesn’t grab you,
………….check this out.’

And she whips out the bough from her cloak.

Then the ferryman’s sore feelings
are soothed. He’s blown away by this wondrous gift
for the fated maiden, and he clears the deck
of hell’s ship and takes them on board.
The leaky skiff groans under their weight
………….Cerberus
barks from his three throats
the Sibyl tosses him a biscuit
………….loaded with drugs – he opens his maws
………….in mad hunger and scarfs them down
………….then lies knocked out along the
………….mouth of the cave.
…………………………………Aeneas
………….hops over him – at once
………….they hear wailing – dead babies!
………….snatched from the suckling breast
……………………..then
………….the falsely condemned
……………………..then
………….suicides
……………………..beyond them
………….the wailing woods
where souls still cry love
………….he sees
……………………..Phaedra and Procrim
……………………..mournful Eriphyle
…………………………………showing the raw wounds from her
…………………………………………….angry son
……………………..Evadne and Pasiphae
…………………………………Laodamia
……………………..and one formerly a boy
…………………………………now a woman
……………………..Caeneus
………….destined to change again
……………………..to her
……………………..old form

among those
………….lovely Dido
fresh from her death
Aeneas like one who sees
or thinks he see the new moon
through the clouds       spots her
………….wandering in the dark
………….crying
he speaks from sweet love:

 

 

5.  melioribus utere fatis

‘Infelix Dido
………….was it true what I heard—–
………….that you took your own sword and…
………….Fuck!    Why?
……………………..I swear
………….by the stars      by the gods
……………………..and whatever honour
………….I have, I never
………….meant to hurt you
………….but the gods
………….want what they want.
………….That’s why
………….I’m down here mucking through
………….shadows and blackest night—–
………….not to flee from you – and I can’t believe
………….you’d believe that, either.
………….Where are you rushing off to?
……………………..STOP.
………….This is the last time I’ll
……………………..ever see you.’

She pays him as much mind
………….as a bug on a windshield
………….her eyes staring daggers
………….through
………….and away from him
………….as she moves past
………….letting her silence
………….say it all.

Harsh
………….thinks Aeneas
………….and follows a long way
………….into the gloom where she hooks up
………….with Sychaeus her former husband
………….who matches her
……………………..in sorrow and love.

But soon enough he reaches
the final field where
war heroes swarm
………….around him

dead Trojans he groans
to face – these guys
can’t get enough of him
crowding around on either side
as he walks and
peppering him with questions:

………….‘What’re you doing here?
……………………..Why’d you come?’
Seeing his armour flash the Greeks
turn tail                        some of them opening their mouths
………….with a weak cry that dies
………….in their flaccid throats

Then Aeneas spots
……………………..DEIPHOBUS
………….his brother
……………………..totally
…………………………………fucked up in every way

facemangledhandschewedupearstornnosegnawednavelpusoozingopenwound

so that

Aeneas barely recognizes this cowering thing
………….and calls out to him:
……………………..‘Mighty Deiphobus
………….best of Troy’s blood
………….who did this to you?
………….Word came on that fated night
………….that you fell in a general
………….heap of the dead—–
……………………..since
………….I couldn’t find you
………….I built a memorial
………….on the Rhotacian shore
………….calling your name and laying down
………….your arms in that place.’

Deiphobus:
………….‘You don’t owe me anything.
………….We’re good. But
………….if you want to know
………….it was Helen who sunk me—–
………….my face is her handiwork—–
………….for you recall how we passed
………….that last night in foolish ecstasy
………….(we can’t not remember):
………….When we danced the awful horse          pregnant with arms
………….into our own city          she led
………….the Trojan women in feigned sacred rites
………….holding a huge torch
………….to signal the cocksuckers
………….from the tower
unlucky
………….we slept the sleep of the dead
………….while that remarkable bitch snuck out
………….all the weapons ­– even the blade
………….I kept beneath my pillow
……………………..she called
………….Menelaus hoping to get back
……………………..in the good graces of her
……………………..old lover
………….…why go on?   Ulysses burst in
………….with his thugs… gods
………….repay them if the lips I ask with
……………………..hold any piety.
………….But enough about me – what the fuck
………….are you doing here?’

By this point dawn’s coming
……………………..‘HEY’
………….the Sibyl chimes in
……………………..‘We should call it a night.
………….The road splits off in two ways ­– to the right
……………………..Elysium
………….but the left’s where the wicked get
……………………..what’s coming to them.’

‘No need to snap at me, great priestess’
………….says Deiphobus, ‘Go,
………….go enjoy your better fates.’

 

6. si linguae centum sint oraque centum, ferrea vox

Aeneas looks back then and sees
………….hell for real

…………………………………river     seething with flames              turns   on
…………………………………resounding rocks         huge door            stone
…………………………………pillars no human nor  god could   move    iron
…………………………………tower       Fury       girdled       in    gory   robe
…………………………………keeps watch      groan and roar of cruel    lashes
…………………………………creaking            of iron  clanking          shackles
…………………………………         AENEAS            freezes drinking   all this
…………………………………in        what evil is this O maiden tell me   what
…………………………………punishments are these who kicks up   such       a
…………………………………horrific  sturm              und                   drang?

The Vates clues him in:
………….‘Renowned chief          no one’s allowed in there
………….but when Hecate put me in charge of
………….the Avernian grove she unfolded all
………….the gods’ punishments – Rhadamanthus of Gnosius
………….holds most harsh dominion doling out
………….pain to those who put off until death
………….the task of atonement
…………………………………Immediately
………….the avenger Tisiphone shakes
………….her scourge driving the impious
………….onward             her left hand stretching forth
………….with snakes      while she calls to
………….her cruel sisters                       then
………….the gates creak open on their awful-
………….sounding hinges – see who sits there
………….guarding the entry?       Cruelest Hydra
………….with fifty giant maws     then Tartarus
………….himself lies prone as far as the eye can see
………….into the shadows          here
………….the ancient race of young Titans
………….cut down by Jove’s thunder turn
……………………..and burn

………….there are so many other miserable fucks
……………………..like Tityos
………….son of the Almighty Earth
………….whose body covers nine acres
………….a huge vulture endlessly gnaws
………….his liver                        tearing open his guts
………….(which grow right back) and tearing
………….them open again           there’s Phlegyas
………….who has to sit under a rock that’s always
………….about to fall – and Tantalus
………….for whom there’s a big spread
………….fit for a king – but every time he gets near it
………….a Fury leaps up with a torch screaming
………….its ass off
……………………..Here are those who
………….hated their brothers      hit their folks
………….lied to their kids                       hoarded gold
…………………………………(that’s the largest crowd)
………….adulterers         deserters          fools
………….all these await punishment – don’t even ask
………….what it will be – Theseus, hopelessly fucked,
………….sits and will sit forever ­– Phlegyus screams
………….over and over: “Learn Justice and Don’t Scorn the Gods!”
………….Look: If I had a hundred tongues
………….a thousand mouths      and a throat of iron
………….I couldn’t begin to tell you all their crimes
………….and their just desserts… But hurry:
………….here’s the part where you hand over the gift.’

Aeneas hangs the bough in the doorway as ordered
………….and having done this they
……………………..descend
………….into the blessed grove
………….the home of those enjoying
………….the afterlife in beatitude

7.   ac velut in pratis ubi apes aestate serena

Here folks breathe easier the air
adorning hills in purple light reveling in
their own sun and stars
………….some romp
………….in grass                        cutting
………….capers and wrestling
………….others dance
………….sing songs
……………………..ORPHEUS
………….keeping time on
………….an ivory lyre
Here are the Greatest Trojan Heroes born in the good old days
………….Ilus and Assaracus and Dardanus
…………………………………Founder of Troy
This is so cool
………….Aeneas thinks gaping at their weapons and chariots
these guys still get off on
arms and horses like they did while living

There are folks picnicking on the lawn
dancing and singing songs of praise
………….men who suffered wounds fighting
………….for mother and country
holy priestesses who lived in chastity
………….pious priests whose words
………….Apollo deemed worthy
those who made their time on earth count
and are worth remembering in death:
………….all these have snowy bands entwining their brows

They gather round the Sibyl who hollers at them
………….Musaeus above all:
………….‘Tell me happy shades,
………….especially you, best of all poets—–
………….Where does Anchises hang out?
………….We came for him, having crossed
……………………..all of hell.’

………….Musaeus responds:
………….‘No one sticks to just one spot. We’ve got
………….the run of the place, we lounge on
………….riverbanks and chill in meadows.
………….But if you really want to find him,
………….walk this way.’

Father Anchises is deep in the green valley
………….as it happens, surveying
all the souls as they rise to the light
counting off all his dear descendants and
what fate holds for them in life and love
and war – when he sees Aeneas coming
through the meadow he throws up his hands
crying and says ‘You made it, finally!
Come here, let me look at you!

I was watching the whole time
as you weathered every storm
and I worried that you’d get stuck
in Carthage with that woman.’

………….Aeneas replies: ‘Dad
it was your sad imago
that drove me over the edge
of the world ­– give me your hand
and don’t stop hugging me.’

Thus speaking he bawls his eyes out
………….three times
he throws his arms around his dad’s neck
………….three times
his arms pass through
………….the empty image like wind or water
……………………..or dreams

Meanwhile Aeneas sees
………….in the surrounding grove
the homes and quiet Lethe flowing
………….countless
……………………..SOULS
………….flying like bees in
………….soft summertime lighting on
different flowers                       the field
hums   with their buzzing
all this gives Aeneas the willies—–
he looks at his father

‘They’re spirits’ Anchises says,
‘fate owes new skin
once they’ve drunk deep of forgetfulness.
In fact I’m eager to show you
the long line of my progeny to come
that we might both be all the more psyched
to reach Italy.’

‘O Father         do you really mean to tell me
these ghosts soar up and rejoin our sluggish world
………….in flesh and bone?
………….How?’

Anchises says
………….‘I’ll tell you
……………………..
kid
………….
and not hold anything back—–
…………………………………
First
………….
came sky
……………………..land
…………………………………sea
………….lit by    moon
…………………………………and sun
………….the great                       SPIRIT
……………………..nourishing all of them infused with
……………………..mind moving through
……………………..the whole mass—–
………….From this comes all the races of men
……………………..animals                        flying things
………….monsters          beneath the sea’s
……………………..marbled surface
………….all
……………………..have a fiery force
……………………..from heaven bound up in their
…………………………………origins—–
………….but bodies packed with harmful toxins blunt their progress
………….and dead limbs hold them back
……………………..—–for from this body comes
……………………..dread   desire
…………………………………suffering    ecstasy
………….nor does it let you perceive
……………………..all there is of heaven
………….shut up as you are
……………………..in shadows and blindness

………….so when life lets go at the end
………….neither all their miseries nor
………….all their diseases entirely leave
……………………..and for a long time
………….all this stuff hardens
………….deep inside                  therefore
………….they’re tormented by old ills
………….and suffer punishment – some
……………………..are stretched thin
………….to blow in the breeze    others
………….have the worked-in sin
………….washed away in a giant whirlpool
………….or burned out by fire
……………………..every one of us
…………………………………………….suffers
……………………..in our own way
…………………………………………….then
………….we’re sent through Elysium and
………….a handful of us reach
………….the happy fields – until one day
………….after a long time we complete
………….the circle          the sin’s burned
………….out of us and we’re released
………….pure     feeling-spark
………….flying into sweet air
……………………..and
………….when a thousand years go by
……………………..all these
………….rise again crossing the river so
………….memory’s wiped clean and they
……………………..fall
………….into bodies once more.’

As Anchises speaks to his son
………….he and Aeneas and the Sibyl stand
………….atop a mound amidst a huge crowd
………….scanning the teeming faces

‘Now come, let me spin out your destiny.’