AENEAS IN HADES
BY V. C. TURNBULL
"The journey down to the abyss
Is prosperous and light;
The palace gates of gloomy Dis
Stand open day and night;
But upward to retrace the way,
And pass into the light of day,—
There comes the stress of labor—this
May task a hero's might."
Æneas, in the course of his wanderings, landed on
the shores of Cumæ in Italy. Here he sought out
the Sibyl, the inspired prophetess who dwelt in a cave
behind the temple of Apollo, and gave forth to inquirers
the answers of the god. High destinies she promised
Æneas, but not without many further trials.
Æneas, undismayed, besought the Sibyl to guide him
on his way: "O Priestess, it has been told that here are
the gates of the lower world. Open for me, I beg of you,
that portal, for I long greatly to speak once more with
my dear father. I bore him on my shoulders from flaming
Troy, and in all my voyages he accompanied me,
facing, though infirm, the terrors of sea and sky. Nay,
more, it was at his bidding that I came a suppliant to thy
temple. Have pity upon us both, O Sybil, and enable
us to meet once more."
Then the Sibyl, in reply, warned Æneas that though
many went down with ease into the Abode of the Dead,
few—very few, and they the specially favored of the
gods—returned therefrom. "But if," she went on, "you
are determined to dare the desperate enterprise, seek
out in this dark wood a tree that hides one branch all
golden. This bough is sacred to Proserpine, Queen of the
Lower World, and to her must you bear it as a gift.
Without it no living being may enter the Lower World.
Pluck it, and if the Fates have willed it so, it will yield
at a touch, else no mortal force can wrest it from its
So Æneas and Achates plunged into the primeval forest
near which the Sibyl dwelt. They had not gone far
when two doves alighted on the sward hard by. Then
Æneas was glad, for he knew them to be the birds of his
mother Venus, and he besought his mother that her
messengers might guide him on his way. And the doves
flitted on before them till they lighted at last on a lofty
tree, amid the boughs of which Æneas discerned the gleam
of gold. This was the Golden Bough, growing like
mistletoe from the oak, and there was a tinkle in the air
as the breeze rustled the golden foil. Joyfully Æneas
broke it from the trunk, and bore it back to the dwelling
of the Sibyl.
Then the priestess led the way back into the gloomy
wood, halting before a cavern, vast and hideous with
its yawning black mouth, from which exhaled so poisonous
a breath that no bird could cross it unhurt. Here
Æneas and the Sibyl offered sacrifices to the Gods of
the Lower World. At sunrise the ground began to
rumble beneath their feet, and a baying of hell-dogs
rolled up from the chasm.
"Avaunt, ye profane!" cried the priestess, "and,
Æneas, do thou draw thy sword and march boldly forward;
now is the hour to try thy mettle."
So saying, she plunged into the dark cavern, and
Æneas, following, entered the world of the dead.
In a desolate country on the outskirts of the spirit-world
they saw the forms of Grief and vengeful Cares;
here dwelt disconsolate Old Age, Fear, Famine, Death,
and Toil. Murderous War was here, and frantic Discord,
whose viperous locks are bound with bloody
All these they passed, coming to the turbid flood
Acheron, on which the ferryman Charon, a grisly, unkempt
graybeard, with eyes of flame, plied to and
On the banks of the river stood a great company of
ghosts, matrons and men, boys and maidens, numerous
as swallows flying south, or leaves before the autumn
wind. They stood praying to be taken into the boat,
and stretching their hands towards the farther shore;
but the sullen boatman would take only a few, choosing
whom he would. Then, in reply to his questions, the
priestess told Æneas that the bodies of those whom the
boatman refused had been left unburied upon earth,
wherefore these ghosts were doomed to flutter for a
hundred years along the shores of Acheron before Charon
would consent to ferry them across.
By this time they had reached the landing-stage, and
the priestess beckoned to Charon; he refusing at first to
carry a mortal across that river till she showed him the
Golden Bough. At the sight of this Charon came at
once with his boat, pushing out the ghosts that sat
therein to make room for Æneas. Groaning beneath the
weight of a mortal the boat was well-nigh swamped, but
at length the priestess and the hero were safely landed
on the farther shore.
But now at the gate stood Cerberus, the three-headed
dog, making those realms resound with his barking. To
him the priestess threw an opiate of honey-cakes, and
he, snatching at it with his three mouths, lay down to
sleep, thus permitting them to pass.
Now to their ears came the wails of infants, ghosts of
those who had been bereft of sweet life even at their
mother's breast. Next came those who had been condemned
to death unheard or falsely charged. Full justice
they now received; Minos the judge metes out to
each his proper sentence.
After these Æneas came upon a group of those unhappy
ones who with their own hands had destroyed
their lives. Ah, gladly now would they endure poverty
and toil could they but revisit the kindly light of the
Now Æneas entered a region named the Fields of
Mourning, inhabited by the ghosts of those who had died
for love. And among them, in a wood, Æneas saw, or
deemed he saw, dim as the new moon in a cloudy sky,
the form of Dido, still pale from her death-wound.
Tears in his eyes, he addressed her sad ghost with loving
words as of old: "So, as I feared, it was true, the
message of those funeral fires. And was I, alas! the
cause of your death? O Queen, believe that it was
against my will that I left thy coasts! Unwilling, I
swear, by the behest of the gods did I leave thee, even as
now, by the same behest, I tread the land of darkness
and despair. Ah, tarry but a little! 'Tis our last farewell."
So he spoke, seeking to soothe the injured shade. But
she, with averted eyes, stood still as a statue of stone.
Then in silent scorn she fled to seek her first lord,
Sichæus, who answers sorrow with sorrow.
Thence to the farthest fields they passed the haunts
of heroes slain in battle; and here Æneas greeted many
comrades of early days. But when the ghosts of
Agamemnon's Greek army beheld the mighty hero, his
arms gleaming through the shades, they quaked, and
many fled as erstwhile before to their ships, while others,
trying to raise the war-cry, could utter only "the bat-like
shrilling of the dead."
A pitiful shade, with marred visage and mangled body,
approached them, and Æneas recognized the ghost of
Deiphobus, son of Priam, and asked of his cruel fate;
and Deiphobus poured forth the long tale of his wife's
treachery, and how he had been foully slaughtered in
his sleep. Long had they thus conversed, but the Sibyl
plucked Æneas by the robe and warned him: "Night
falls apace; 'tis time to go. Thou hast come to the
parting of the ways. Here lie Elysium and the fields
of the blessed, and there, to the left, Tartarus and the
tortures of the damned." And even now Æneas descried
vast prisons inclosed with a triple wall, round which the
river Phlegethon rolled its threefold floods of flame,
while rocks whirled roaring down the stream. Over
against the stream stood a massive gateway, whose
adamantine columns defied all force of men or gods,
and above the gate rose a tower of iron. Here sat the
Fury Tisiphone, watching all who entered. And from
within the gate came groans and the whistling of scourges
and the clanking of chains.
Æneas asked what meant this woful wailing, and the
Sibyl replied: "None innocent may cross that threshold.
There Rhadamanthus judges the dead, and avenging
Tisiphone scourges the guilty. Within the gate rages
the Hydra with fifty gaping mouths. Downward sinks
the pit, twice as deep as the heavens are high. In it
groan the Titans, hurled down with thunderbolts, and
the giants, Otus and Ephialtes, who strove to overturn
the throne of Jupiter himself. There lies Tityus, o'er
nine roods outstretched, and eternally does a vulture tear
his liver with her beak. Over some hangs a rock threatening
ever to fall; before others a bounteous banquet is
continually spread, but the hands that they stretch to
take the food are evermore struck back by the Furies.
Some roll a huge stone, others are bound to the revolving
wheel. Here lie they who heaped up riches for
themselves, an unnumbered multitude; here also they
who hated their brothers or lifted cruel hands against
their parents. Take warning by their fate, and ask no
further concerning their awful doom."
Thus warned, Æneas went forward in silence, and at
the direction of the Sibyl he offered the Golden Bough at
Now came they at length to the regions of joy, the
green retreats and happy groves of Elysium. An ampler
ether and a purer light invest these fields, for the blessed
have their own sun and stars. In jousts and races, in
dance and song, they fleet the golden hours, a blessed
company of bards and patriots, paladins and victors in
the races. Among them Æneas marked Ilus, a former
king of Troy, and Dardanus, that city's founder. Their
chariots were empty, their spears stood fixed in the
ground, their horses fed at large throughout the plain,
for the ruling purpose in life survives the grave.
There, in a sequestered dale, stood Anchises surveying
the souls that were to revisit earth once more, among
them his own offspring yet unborn. But when he saw
Æneas moving to meet him, with outstretched arms and
tearful eyes he cried: "O my son, my son, hast thou come
to me indeed? Am I permitted to see thy face and hear
thy well-known voice once more?" And Æneas answered,
weeping also: "Give me thy hand, my father,
and take me to thy breast." Thrice he strove to throw
his arm round his father, thrice the phantom slipped from
his embrace, thin as the fluttering breeze or like a dream
of the night. Gazing around him he saw in a wooded
glade numberless peoples and tribes, hovering above the
brakes like bees in summer-time, and he inquired of his
sire what these might be.
Then Anchises taught Æneas many wonderful things
concerning the state of departed souls in Elysium and
the future of the Trojan race. And touching the first,
he said that after suffering many things the evil of their
natures was washed or burned away, and they passed
to Elysium, there to dwell for a thousand years. "All
these," he continued, "are then summoned forth by the
gods in a great body to the river Lethe, wherein they
leave all memory of the past and again become willing
to return into mortal bodies."
Saying this, he led Æneas to the summit of a hill from
which they who were to be born could be seen passing
in an endless file before them.
"See you," he said, "that youth leaning on a pointless
spear? He shall be Silvius, the child of thy old age,
and shall reign over Alba Longa. Behold there Romulus,
the founder of Rome, the city of the seven hills, he shall
rule the world. The graybeard behind him is Numa,
the lawgiver, and next comes Tullus, the warrior. Those
that follow are the proud Tarquins. There, too, is
Brutus, unhappy man, who shall give liberty to Rome;
and, unhappy father! whose inflexible justice shall doom
to death his guilty sons."
All these and many others who sprang from Æneas'
loins, did Anchises point out, crying as he ended: "To
you, O Romans, be it given to rule the nations, to dictate
terms of peace, to spare the humbled, and to crush
Last they watched the great Marcellus, the terror of
the Gauls, the conqueror of Carthage.
Then Æneas asked: "What youth is he, O father, who
walks by his side in shining armor; but his countenance
is sad, his eyes fixed upon the ground? Is he a
son, or haply a grandson?"
And Anchises wept as he replied: "Alas, my son, for
the sorrows of thy kindred! Dear child of pity! could'st
thou but burst thy fate's invidious bar, our own Marcellus
thou! Ah! woful shall be the day of his death!
Could he but live none had faced his onset. Bring lilies—lilies
in handfuls; let me heap bright flowers on the
shade unborn, and pay at least this empty tribute."
Thus they passed through Elysium, Anchises showing
and explaining all to Æneas, firing him with the
thoughts of future fame, and instructing him how to act
throughout the struggles of his remaining life. Then,
when all had been shown and said, Father Anchises sent
back his son Æneas and the Sibyl to the mortal world
by that shining Ivory Gate where through pass the dreams
that visit the slumbers of men.