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."

Virgil.Conington's Translation.

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 parent stem."

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 fillets.

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 fro.

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 sun!

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 the gate.

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 the proud."

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.