3.4 Vergil, Aeneid, Book 2, Lines 559–620

10 min readmarch 6, 2023

Mick Polito

Mick Polito

AP Latin 🏛

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Lines 559-620

Unit 3 concludes as the Greeks are plundering the city of Troy. In an attempt to defend the city while ignoring Hector’s plea to flee the city, Aeneas puts his own life as well as those of other Trojans on the line. He particularly does so in Priam’s palace as Pyrrhus, a Greek king, begins an assault. After all of the destruction, Vergil captures the emotions of Aeneas and how he should persevere from this situation in this batch of lines.
Check out the full set of lines in Latin here if you'd like, but we'll break down the lines that we think are most important below: Vergil, Aeneid, Book 2 Lines 559 to 620!
Before we dive into breaking down the Latin lines into text so that we can more clearly comprehend the story, we will answer some questions based on the designated skill categories! The skill categories for these lines are Reading and Comprehension, Contextualization, and Argumentation, so be aware of that when you answer these questions and read these lines.

Lines 615-620

Iamque adeō super ūnus eram , cum līmina Vestae
servantem et tacitam sēcrētā in sēde latentem
Tyndarida aspiciō ; dant clāra incendia lūcem
errantī passimque oculōs per cūncta ferentī.
illa sibi īnfestos ēversa ob Pergama Teucrōs
et Danaum poenam et deserti coniugis iras
praemetuēns ,Trōiae et patriae commūnis Erīnys,
abdiderat sēsē atque ārīs invīsa sedēbat.
  1. Based on knowledge of Greek and Latin texts, which TWO Greek epics have Helen made an appearance in before?
  2. Based on knowledge of Roman culture, what is the term of the six prominent priestesses that watched over the Temple of Vesta?
  3. What was Helen’s role in the Trojan War?
  4. Translate in context line 3-4 (dant...ferenti).
  5. How does Vergil’s perception of Helen in the Aeneid differ from that of Homer’s Iliad during the Sack of Troy?

Answers (Don't peek!👀)

  1. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
  2. Vestal Virgins: The Vestal Virgins or the Vestals were recognized for the success and protection of Rome for supposedly not allowing the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta to go out. The Vestal Virgins would take a thirty-year pledge of chastity in order to devote themselves to the correct and observed rituals while also ignoring social obligations of the time of marrying and bearing children as well. The celebration of Vestalia between June 7th and June 15th was the major festival for Vesta, the goddess of health.
  3. Helen is largely associated with helping precipitate the start of the Trojan War: Helen of Troy was the daughter of Jupiter, the king of all gods, and is famously known to be the most beautiful person in the world. From Vergil’s Aeneid, we learn that Helen was abducted by Theseus, and competition for her hand in marriage grew on account of her beauty. Menelaus’s gifts were more heavily favored amongst the rest of her suitors and they married. Out of respect, all of the former suitors agreed on the Oath of Tyndareus, which stated that the other suitors would provide a military defense to the husband if Helen was ever stolen. In Homer’s Iliad at the Judgement of Paris, Jupiter asks Paris to judge the most beautiful goddesses: Juno, Minerva, or Venus. Venus offered Helen to Paris in return for his favor, and as a result, Paris would ultimately choose Venus. Helen was thus carried off to Troy and seduced by Paris. The Greeks would start the Trojan War in response since they set out to reclaim her from Troy, and fulfill the above-mentioned oath.
  4. ...The shining flames awarded to me wandering and enduring my eyes all about through everything: Let’s break this down step-by step. Clara, meaning shining, and incendia, meaning flames, are both nominative neuter plural and will start off the sentence, translating as The shining flamesDant is a third-person plural present active indicative of do, dare, meaning to give or award. Therefore, Dant translates to awarded here. Lucem is the accusative singular of lux meaning lightErranti is in the dative which comes from the third-declension participle errans, meaning wandering. Simply, it translates to me wanderingFerenti follows a similar pattern as erranti in means of both being dative and coming from a third-declension participleFerenti is derived from fero meaning endure, so ferenti translates to to me bearingOculos is the accusative plural of oculus meaning eye. In brief, oculos translates exactly like the nominative. Per cuncta is in the accusative since per, meaning through is a proposition that takes the accusative caseCuncta is an accusative neuter plural of cunctus meaning all about. Let’s jump to the next word first before we put that all together. Passimque is passim with a que added, with the -que suffix translating as andPassim is an adverb that means everything. So, the final section translates as all about through everything.
  5. Vergil’s Aeneid describes Helen’s story from a treacherous stance where Helen stimulated Bacchic rituals with a group of Trojan women once the Trojan horse entered the city where she would signal the Greeks from the thresholds of Vesta. Homer’s Iliad describes Helen’s story as playing with the hearts of the Greek soldiers within the Trojan horse as she imitated the voice of the soldier’s lovers. Helen is lonely and in need of sanctuary while Troy begins to burn. The Greeks and Trojans were then prepared to stone her to death, and Menelaus, her husband, who even said that he was the person designed to kill his unfaithful wife, was caused by her beauty to drop his sword and not kill her.

Lines 615-620

iam summās arcēs Trītōnia, respice, Pallas
īnsēdit [nimbō] effulgēns et [Gorgone] saeva.
ipse pater Danaīs animōs vīrēsque secundās
sufficit, ipse deōs [in Dardana] suscitat arma.
ēripe, nāte, fugam fīnemque impōne labōrī;
nusquam aberō et tūtum [patriō] tē [līmine] sistam.‘
Translate these lines as literally as possible.

Translation (don’t peek👀!)

Now, look, Tritonian Pallas, sits on the loftiest towers, glaring from the storm-cloud, and fierce with her Gorgon breastplate. Father Jupiter himself supplies the Greeks with spirits, and favorable strengths, himself arouses the gods against the Trojan army. Hasten your departure, son, and put a halt to your efforts. I will not leave you, and I will set you safe at your father’s door.
Remember if you have different words than we did, that’s perfectly acceptable! Just make sure they have the same meaning attached to them

Breakdown of Lines 559-620 🔎

  • As Pyrrhus leads the Greek assault on Priam’s palace, Vergil focuses the attention back onto Aeneas on top of Priam’s palace as he scans over all of the destruction that transpired in Troy.
  • After everything that Aeneas does in order to defend the city of Troy and after experiencing the death of Priam, he finally has time for emotion to take over. “Fierce terror gripped me,” Aeneas says, as he is horrified by the Trojan defeat. Aeneas was aghast as he now remembered the “image of my dear father...with a cruel wound breathing his life away.”
  • Aeneas continues to think about three further things: his wife “abandoned”, his home “plundered”, and the fate of his little son Julus, later to be known as Ascanius, the legendary king of Alba Longa. Aeneas now switches his approach to the “troops that were around me.” All of the tired soldiers have deserted Aeneas and have either fallen to their death or were burned up.
  • The next section is the Helen Episode, which has historians argue the validity of these lines as it was edited within the reign of Augustus in order to remove “superfluous bits.” However, we still read on! Aeneas is now sacredly alone as he spots Helen, the most beautiful person in the world, and the one who brought about the beginning of the Trojan War at the Temple of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and fertility, seeking sanctuary. The “fires give me light” as the undying holy fire permits Aeneas to “wandering and enduring my eyes all about through everything.”
Helen's abduction by Paris begins her journey to Troy. Image Courtesy of Francesco Primaticcio
  • Helen is afraid of the Trojans’ hostility after the overthrow of Pergamon while she also fears “the punishment from the Greeks” since her departure caused the Trojan War in the first place and “the angers of her abandoned husband" will of course get back to her. Nobody views Helen favorably anymore as she is a shared “fury” between Troy and the Greeks, and, known as “the hated thing,” she hides herself at the altars.
  • Fire begins to burn in Aeneas's soul, he feels the rage to avenge Troy and the wishes to exact wicked punishments. Simply put, Aeneas burns to kill Helen. Aeneas’s internal monologue begins as he wonders if Helen will see Sparta and her “native Mycenae” again unharmed considering the fact that she is now the "hated thing" of both sides of the war. Helen will “go as queen” after this military victory and be able to see “her house and husband, her parents and children” with a crowd of Trojan women and Phrygian servants. Will Priam have died, will Troy be burned by fire, and will the Dardanian shore be soaked again and again with blood for no reason with Aeneas doing nothing about it, Aeneas questions.
  • These events wouldn’t have happened without consequence for Helen. For Aeneas, there’s no great glory in Helen’s punishment, nor will this killing earn much merit. However, Aeneas reasons that Helen's crimes and sins have dehumanized herself so much so that that “quenching wickedness” would be a “deserving punishment.”
  • Aeneas finishes by stating that it will be pleasing to “fill my soul with the flame of revenge” and “avenge the ashes of my people.” Filled with an enraged mind and uttering such words that he had just been saying, his “dear mother”, Venus, came to him “never before so clear to his eyes.”
Aeneas pursuing Helen in the Temple of Vesta. Image Courtesy of Artnet
  • The revelation shows how carried away Aeneas is as he still stands on the roof of Priam’s palace. Venus radiated with pure light in the night (see what we did there), revealing herself fully as a goddess in the way that other gods/goddess would perceive her as, unlike how she was disguised to Aeneas in Book 1.
  • Aeneas was halted and restrained by Venus, grabbing his “right hand" as she began to speak from her “red mouth.” Venus addresses Aeneas wondering “what great grief” aroused these “uncontrolled angers.” Venus asks why Aeneas is raging, and where the “care for us”, meaning his family, has vanished. Venus reminds Aeneas of his family, which he already began thinking about after the death of Priam, but this time, she asks why Aeneas hasn't been looking for them instead of worrying about the situation with Helen.
  • Venus concludes her appearance by addressing the consequences that could ensue. The Greek forces “surround them all” and if “my concern [for them] stops," they will be engulfed by flames or drained by the sword. Aeneas must now come to their rescue. In an attempt to drive Aeneas’s mind off of Helen, Venus asserts that neither Helen nor Paris, the Greek prince who abducted Helen, is to blame for the knocking “Troy from its peak” but instead the “ruthlessness of the gods” is the sole instigator.
Aeneas and his family fleeing Troy. Image Courtesy of Pompeo Batoni
  • Venus understands that Aeneas might not believe her at first, so she needs to explain with evidence why the gods should be blamed. Venus removes “the whole drawn-over cloud” that “dims your mortal vision” in order to remove the barriers between the mortals and the gods so that they can see everything that’s happening clearly. Venus says that Aeneas should not fear “what your mother commands” nor to “refuse to obey her instructions.” Venus now shows Aeneas the “shattered structures” and the rocks of the wall tumbling into the city as the smoke bellows with “dust mixed in.”
  • The most important part of her evidence is the fact that the gods are within the action of destroying the city as well. “Neptune is jostling the walls and the foundations shifted by his powerful trident” as the whole city is torn from its roots. Neptune opposes the Trojans, even though he helped build these great walls, with the assistance of Apollo, since the father of King Priam, Laomedon, didn’t pay. Venus motions Aeneas’s view to another goddess, Juno, near the Scaean gates, Troy’s most famous gates which were near the Greek camp. Juno was leading destruction against Troy, calling upon the troops from the ships in rage.
  • Lastly, Pallas Minerva is “glaring from the storm-cloud” from the “loftiest towers” with her “Gorgon breastplate,” the head of Medusa, as her appearance becomes hidden. However, Jupiter’s role is emphasized and reinforced by “supplying the Greeks with spirits, and favorable strengths” and “arousing the gods against the Trojan army.” It was the divine plan that Troy fell apparently based on this evidence, and Jupiter makes sure he follows the fates.
  • For these reasons, to end her address, Venus commands Aeneas to leave and drop his labor of going after Helen, and she reminds him that although the other gods/goddesses are against him, she (Venus) will always be watching after him.

The Ending

Image Courtesy of Giphy
Well, that’s all you need to know for Unit 3! We hope you enjoyed reading the Aeneid just as much as we did. Now, we'll be heading back to Caesar's Gallic War for Unit 4. Keep working hard as you learn/review this content with us. Here we go!
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