Orpheus, the legendary singer and musician, and his beloved Eurydice had not been together long before she was bitten by a snake and died. In his despair, Orpheus went down to the Underworld in order to gain her release from the land of the dead. His venture, however, ended in failure..
Vergil tells the story in the Georgics, but as it was well known, he does not give the full narrative. Instead, he describes the main scenes: the grieving Orpheus, his descent into the Underworld, the effect of his singing, and the final tragic parting with Eurydice.
Ipse cava solans aegrum testudine amorem te, dulcis coniunx, te solo in litore secum, 465
te veniente die, te decedente canebat,
Taenarias etiam fauces, alta ostia Ditis, text P. Vergili Maronis Opera, ed. R. A. B. Mynors
(Oxford Classical Texts, 1969) meter hexameter [ § m 1 ]
ipse ca|va so|lans || aeg|rum tes|tudin(e) a|mdrem te, dul|cis con|iunx || te | sol(o) In | litore | secum
The legend was Greek and presents traditional Greek beliefs about life after death (see"Roman Beliefs About an Afterlife," page 78).
464 Ipse he himelf, i.e., Orpheus (-1 m.), who has been mentioned in the preceding narrative; take cava (hollow) with testudine (testudo testudinis f. tortoise shell), instrumental abl. [§g47]—according to legend, the original lyre was made from a tortoise shell from which the animal had been removed, hence cava, with a hollow tortoise shell; solans (solor -arl comfort) governs aegrum ... amorem—his love was ailing because he had lost Eurydice (Eurydices f.—the name, like the legend, is Greek).
465f. te ... te (the repetition is for effect) is the object of canebat, whose subject is ipse in 1. 464; dulcis coniunx voc.; take solo with litore; secum = cum se; veniente die ... [die] decedente (decedd -ere here set) abl. of time when [§g37], trans, when day was rising (lit., coming), when it was setting; canebat imperf. to express habitual action in the past [§g62] used to sing of
467 For the Greeks, the Underworld was a vast cavern inside the earth, where mortals went after dying, and Orpheus now enters it to rescue Eurydice; Taenarias (with fauces) adj. of Taenarus, a promontory in southern Greece where there was a cave supposed to lead down to the Underworld; fauces (faucium f.pl.) jaws, mouth, i.e., the caves narrow entrance; etiam here even; alta ostia Ditis is in apposition [§g52] to Taenarias fauces; ostia pi. for sg. [§g53] (ostium -(i)l n. entrance); Ditis gen. of Dis, another name for Pluto, the king of the Underworld.
468 Take caligantem (callgo -are be dark/gloomy) with lucum (lucus -I m. grove); nigra formidine (formido formidinis f .fear) abl. of cause [§g48]; trans, the grove et caligantem nigra formidine lucum ingressus, Manisque adiit regemque tremendum nesciaque humanis precibus mansuescere corda. 470
at cantu commotae Erebi de sedibus imis umbrae ibant tenues simulacraque luce carentum, quam multa in foliis avium se milia condunt, vesper ubi aut hibernus agit de montibus imber, matres atque viri defunctaque corpora vita 475
magnanimum heroum, pueri innuptaeque puellae, impositique rogis iuvenes ante ora parentum, gloomy with (lit., by reason of) black fear—we are to think of the grove as between the Taenarian cave and the actual gates of the Underworld. 469Î. ingressus (having entered; ingredior -i) governs the preceding accusatives; Mânls acc.pl. of Mânes Mânium m.pl. the Shades [of the dead]; adiit (adeô adire approach) governs Mânis, rëgem, and corda; ... -que ... -que both ... and ...; tremendum (gerundive [§G79] of tremô -ere) fearsome; take nescia with corda hearts not knowing [how]; hûmânis precibus (instrumental abl. [§G47]) mansuescere (mansuescô -ere) to become gentle through human prayers—the hearts are those of the rulers of the Underworld, not of the Mânes. 47if. at but; take cantû (instrumental abl. [§G47]; cantus -us m. song) with commotae (commoveô -ere agitate, stir), which agrees with umbrae (nom. pl., 1. 472; Shades [of the dead], here = Mànës); Erebi dé sëdibus imis from the deepest (imus) abodes (sëdës sëdis f.) of Erebus (Erebus -i m. another name for the Underworld); ibant (eô ire) began to go (inceptive imperf. [§g62]—its subject is umbrae ... simulacraque); with umbrae take tenuës (tenuis insubstantial)—the Shades are so described because they are merely shadowy outlines of what they had been in life; simulâcra (simulacrum -i n. ghost)... carentum ( = carentium; gen. pi. of the pres. pple. of careô -ère lack, which takes the abl., hence luce), trans, the ghosts of those lacking the light [of day] (another way of describing the Shades).
473 Lit., as (quam) many [as] the thousands of birds hide ..., i.e., as numerous as the thousands of birds that hide ...; folium -(i)i n. leaf; avium gen. pi. of avis avis f. bird; milia nom. pl. of mille thousand; condunt (condô -ere hide) governs së.
474 vesper ((no gen.) m. evening) ubi (postponed [§G4j; here when) = ubi vesper [est]; hibernus ... imber (imbris m.) winter rain; agit drives (i.e., the birds).
475f. The nouns in the nominative are in apposition to umbrae ... simulacraque (1. 472) and describe some of the inhabitants of the Underworld; in the phrase dëfuncta corpora vïtâ magnanimum (= magnanimôrum [§G95]) hërôum (gen. pi. of hërôs hèrôos m. a Greek noun, hero), the sense tells us that vïtâ is abl. and is governed by dëfuncta (dëfungor -ï + abl. be finished with)—as the Shades of the dead are shadows, not bodies, corpora here must refer to their shapes, trans. the figures of brave heroes [who had] finished with life; innuptae unmarried. 477 impositi (impônô -ere) rogis (dat. pi. of rogus -i m.) placed on funeral pyres; ante + acc, in front of; ôra (acc. pi. of ôs oris n.) here faces; parentum gen, pi. of parens parentis m./f.parent.
quos circum limus niger et deformis harundo
Cocyti tardaque palus inamabilis unda alligat et novies Styx interfusa coercet. 480
quin ipsae stupuere domus atque intima Leti
Tartara caeruleosque implexae crinibus anguis
Eumenides, tenuitque inhians tria Cerberus ora,
478 quos, the object of alligat and coercet (1. 480), has as its antecedents the inhabitants of the Underworld just described; circum here an adv., lit., round about; limus -I m. mud; niger black; deformis ugly; harundo harundinis f. reed.
479f. Cocytus (-1 m.) and Styx (Stygis f.) were two of the five Underworld rivers; Cocyti possessive gen. [§Gi8] with limus and harundo; tarda ... unda instrumental abl. [§G47] with sluggish water; palus (paludis f.) swamp; inamabilis loathsome; alligat (alligo -are restrict, confine) has three subjects but agrees only with the nearest [§G58], palus; take novies (adv. nine times) with interfusa (lit.,poured in between); coerced -ere confine—in order to prevent the dead from escaping, the Underworld is, for Vergil, surrounded by the Cocytus with its mud and reeds (since they had nowhere to flow, the Underworld rivers were always imagined as being sluggish); this circular course is referred to by circum (1.478), which is here best translated by in a circle; as an additional disincentive against attempts to escape, at the entrance to the Underworld the Styx was novies interfusa, lit., poured nine times in between (the Underworld and the world of the living); trans, the Styx with its nine intervening streams (i.e., its eight loops)—compare Dante's epic Divine Comedy, where Vergil is Dante's guide through the nine circles of hell; Vergil does not mention the other three Underworld rivers here.
48 iff. quin indeed, in fact; ipsae agrees with domus (nom. pi.); stupuere (= stupu-erunt) 3 pi. perf. ind. act. stuped -ere be stunned (the subjects of stupuere are domus, Tartara, and Eumenides); intima Let! Tartara Death's (Letum -1 n.) innermost region, Tartara (neuter nom. pi.; usually Tartarus in English) was the lowest part of the Underworld—the power of Orpheus' singing (cf. 1. 471) was such that it stirred even inanimate things, and hence not only the inhabitants of the Underworld but even their dwellings and Tartarus itself were affected; Tartarus was the section of the Underworld reserved for egregious wrongdoers, who were punished under the supervision of the three Furies (the Eumenides; Eumenis Eumenidos f. a Greek noun); the latter, to present a suitably horrific appearance, had blue snakes in their hair, hence caeruleos (blue) implexae (implecto -ere intertwine) crinibus (abl. pi. of crinis crlnis m. hair) anguis (acc. pi. of anguis anguis m./f. snake), lit., intertwined with respect to blue snakes in [their] hair, i.e., with blue snakes intertwined in [their] hair (caeruleos ... anguis acc. of respect [§Gi5]); tenuit inhians (inhio -are gape) tria (neuter acc. pi. of tres) Cerberus (-1 m.) ora (os oris n. here mouth), lit., gaping Cerberus held his three mouths, i.e., Cerberus held his three mouths agape—Cerberus was the three-headed dog stationed at the gates of the Underworld.
atque Ixionii vento rota constitit orbis.
iamque pedem referens casus evaserat omnis, 485
redditaque Eurydice superas veniebat ad auras pone sequens (namque hanc dederat Proserpina legem), cum subita incautum dementia cepit amantem, ignoscenda quidem, scirent si ignoscere Manes:
restitit, Eurydicenque suam iam luce sub ipsa 490
immemor, heu! victusque animi respexit. ibi omnis
484 Ixionii (adj. of Ixion Ixlonis m.) ... rota (-ae f. wheel) ... orbis (gen. sg. of orbis orbis m. here rotation) lit., the wheel of Ixionian rotation, i.e., the revolving wheel of Ixion—Ixion was a mortal who attempted to seduce Juno and was punished in Tartarus by being spread-eagled on a constantly turning wheel; vento (instrumental abl. [§g47]) constitit (consisto -ere) stopped with the wind—the wind stopped and so did Ixion's wheel, which the wind caused to turn.
485 iamque and now—Vergil jumps to the final scene of the story; pedem (pes pedis m.) referens (refero -ferre) lit., bringing back [his] foot, i.e., returning; casus (acc. pi. of casus -us m. here danger) ... omnis is the object of evaserat (evado -ere), trans, he (i.e., Orpheus) had escaped all dangers.
486 reddita (given back; reddo -ere) agrees with Eurydice (nom. sg.); superas ... ad auras lit., to the upper breezes, i.e., to the upper world.
487 pone adv. behind; namque emphatic form of nam for—the parenthetical clause gives the reason why Eurydice was behind Orpheus; Proserpina Proserpine, wife of Pluto and queen of the Underworld; legem here condition—this was that Orpheus should not look at Eurydice until they were both back in the upper world.
488 cum (when) is followed by the indicative; subita (sudden)... dementia (-ae f. madness) is the subject of cepit (capid -ere here seize); incautum ... amantem the unwary lover (amans amantis m./f.).
489 Take ignoscenda (gerundive [§g 79] of ignosco -ere,pardonable) with dementia; quidem indeed; scirent imperf. subjunctive of scio scire, here know how; si is postponed [§g 4]; Manes here refers to the rulers of the Underworld; this line is a condensed form of [which would have been] pardonable if the Shades knew how to pardon, with both verbs in the subjunctive [§g94],
49o£ restitit (resisto -ere here stop (intr.))—the understood subject is Orpheus; Eurydicen (Greek acc. of Eurydice) is qualified by suam (his own) and is the object of respexit (respicio -ere look back at); iam here already; luce (lux lucis f.) sub ipsa = sub luce ipsa under the light itself—Orpheus has stepped out of the tunnel to the Underworld, but Eurydice, because she is walking behind, is still in it; immemor forgetful; heu! interjection alas!; victus (vinco -ere) animi (locative [§G5i]) lit., conquered in mind, i.e., with mind overcome; ibi then; take omnis with labor (1. 492).
effusus labor atque immitis rupta tyranni foedera, terque fragor stagnis auditus Avernis. ilia "quis et me" inquit'miseram et te perdidit, Orpheu, quis tantus furor? en iterum crudelia retro fata vocant, conditque natantia lumina somnus. iamque vale: feror ingenti circumdata nocte invalidasque tibi tendens, heu non tua, palmas." dixit et ex oculis súbito, ceu fumus in auras commixtus tenuis, fugit diversa, ñeque ilium
492f. Supply est with effusus (effiindo -ere here waste) and with auditus, sunt with rupta; labor here effort; take immitis (gen. sg., cruel) ... tyranni (tyrannus -i m. tyrant) with foedera (pi. for sg. [§G53]; foedus foederis n. treaty, agreement); ter adv. three times; fragor fragoris m. crash; stagnis (stagnum -i n.) ... Avernis abl. of place where [§g 38] in the Underworld swamps—Avernus, another name for the Underworld, is used here as an adjective.
494ff. ilia, i.e., Eurydice; quis ... quis tantus furor what so great madness (quis is repeated for emphasis), trans, what terrible madness; et me ... miseram et te both unhappy me and you; inquit (3 sg. perf. ind. act. inquam) said; perdidit (3 sg. perf. ind. act, perdo -ere) destroyed; Orpheu voc.; furor furoris m. madness; en interjection behold!, see!; iterum again; take crudelia with fata, cruel fates; retro adv. back; supply me with vocant—the fates are said to call Eurydice back because what the gods (here, those of the Underworld) willed always coincided with what was fated; condo -ere here close; natantia pres. pple. of nato -are swim; lumina (lumen luminis n.) here eyes.
497 vale farewell; feror 1 sg. pres. ind. pass, fero ferre here carry off; take ingenti (ingens (ingentis) here thick) ... nocte (instrumental abl. [§047]) with circumdata (circumdo -are surround).
498 Take inyalidas (weak) with palmas (palma -ae f. here hand); tibi to you—in poetry, the dative can be used to express motion toward [§g 35]; tendo -ere stretch; heu! non tua alas! not yours, i.e., no longer yours—the understood subject is ego (Eurydice).
499f. ex oculis from [his] eyes; subito suddenly; ceu in the same way as, like; take fumus (-1 m. smoke) and commixtus (commisceo -ere mix) together; in auras ... tenuis with (lit., into) the thin breezes—Eurydice becomes an insubstantial Shade once again; fugit perf. of fugid -ereflee; diversa lit., turned in the opposite direction, but trans, in the opposite direction (i.e., back to the Underworld).
50if. Orpheus (ilium in 1. 500, which is the object of vidit in 1. 502) is described as prensantem (prenso -are clutch at) nequiquam umbras (here, the shadows in the tunnel) (vainly clutching at shadows) and multa volentem (void velle wish) dicere (wishing to say many [things]); take praeterea (thereafter) with vidit, whose understood subject is still Eurydice—they would never see each other again, since they would not be reunited when Orpheus died (such reunion is a Christian notion); the age-old belief, which is reflected in the story, was that the Shades of prensantem nequiquam umbras et multa volentem dicere praeterea vidit: nec portitor Orci amplius obiectam passus transire paludem.
<s Vergil Georgia 4.464-503
the dead were devoid of both thought and emotion and so could not resume any relationship of the upper world; the portitor (portitoris m. ferryman) Orel (Or-cus -I m. another name for the Underworld) was Charon, who transported the dead in his boat across the swamp formed by one of the infernal rivers. 503 amplius/wrtfoen again; take obiectam (obicio -ere put in front) with paludem, lit., the swamp put in front (i.e., of anyone who wanted to pass), but trans, the swamp that stood in [his] way; with passus (perf. pple. of patior pat! here allow) supply est.
Hie Queen and the Schoolboy
In Elizabethan England, children were taught Latin from a very early age. At the end of their schooling, they had acquired a knowledge of the language beyond that of most of today's undergraduates. The queen herself, Elizabeth I, had received such an education at the hands of private tutors and was able to read Latin fluently by the age of sixteen.
At the time, corporal punishment was considered an essential part of the learning process. This is borne out by a story of the queen's visit to a boys school, where she asked a pupil if he had ever been beaten. The clever boy replied immediately by quoting Vergil:
Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem. Aeneid 2.3
O queen, you hid [me] recall unspeakable grief.
This is the first line of Aeneas' response to Dido's request to hear the story of Troy's fall and his own sufferings, but the schoolboy meant it to refer to his own beatings. Her Majesty was no doubt pleased with the school's teaching methods and impressed with the boy's proficiency in Latin.
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