Virgil Aeneid 2.708-40 (Contributed by Carla Jennings)

I think that this is one of the most moving passages in The Aeneid. It focuses on Aeneas trying to save his family which is not only something very poignant but also quite surprising given that it comes in a story in part focused on battles and war where you don’t necessarily get to see the family and endearing side of men. Aeneas is depicted as carrying his elderly father on his shoulders and holding his young son’s hand as he tries to escape the city which is burning around them. Virgil enables the reader to picture this emotive moment clearly thanks to his vivid description and language. I also think that the fact that Aeneas is seen fleeing with his father, son and the Penates reflects the things that Romans considered to be important.

Carla Jennings (A Level student)

“Ergo age, care pater, cervici imponere nostrae;
ipse subibo umeris, nec me labor iste gravabit;
quo res cumque cadent, unum et commune periclum,
una salus ambobus erit. Mihi parvus Iulus
sit comes, et longe servet vestigia coniunx:
vos, famuli, quae dicam, animis advertite vestris.
Est urbe egressis tumulus templumque vetustum
desertae Cereris, iuxtaque antiqua cupressus
religione patrum multos servata per annos.
Hanc ex diverso sedem veniemus in unam.
Tu, genitor, cape sacra manu patriosque Penatis;
me, bello e tanto digressum et caede recenti,
attrectare nefas, donec me flumine vivo
Haec fatus, latos umeros subiectaque colla
veste super fulvique insternor pelle leonis,
succedoque oneri; dextrae se parvus Iulus
implicuit sequiturque patrem non passibus aequis;
pone subit coniunx: ferimur per opaca locorum;
et me, quem dudum non ulla iniecta movebant
tela neque adverso glomerati ex agmine Grai,
nunc omnes terrent aurae, sonus excitat omnis
suspensum et pariter comitique onerique timentem.
Iamque propinquabam portis, omnemque videbar
evasisse viam, subito cum creber ad auris
visus adesse pedum sonitus, genitorque per umbram
prospiciens; “Nate” exclamat, “fuge nate, propinquant.
Ardentis clipeos atque aera micantia cerno!”—
Hic mihi nescio quod trepido male numen amicum
confusam eripuit mentem. Namque avia cursu
dum sequor, et nota excedo regione viarum,
heu, misero coniunx fatone erepta Creüsa
substitit, erravitne via, seu lassa resedit,
incertum; nec post oculis est reddita nostris.


Therefore come, dear father, put yourself on my neck;
I will support you with my shoulders, nor will this effort weigh me down
However things fall out, a single and shared danger,
A single safety there will be for us both. Young Iulus will be
My companion, and my wife will watch over our footsteps from behind.
You, slaves, turn your attention to what I shall say.
When leaving the city there is a hill and the old temple
Of abandoned Ceres, and next to it an old cypress tree
Watched over by the devotion of our fathers for many years.
We will come to this one place from different ways.
You, father, grasp the sacred things and the ancestral gods of home with your hand;
It is a crime for me to hold them, having departed from such a war
And recent slaughter, until I wash myself in flowing water.’
Having spoken this, I spread over my bowed neck and wide shoulders
as a robe the tawny pelt of a lion,
And I bent down under my burden; little Iulus clasped my right hand
And followed his father with his unequal steps;
My wife came behind us: we are carried through dark places;
And as for me, whom a short while ago no hurled spears
were terrifying, nor massed Greeks coming out of their hostile battle-line,
Now all winds are frightening me, every sound startles me
As in suspense I fear equally for my comrade and my burden.
And now I was drawing near to the gates, and I seemed
to have escaped detection along the whole journey, when suddenly to our ears repeatedly came the sound of feet, and my father, looking through
The shadows shouted ‘Son, flee, son, they are approaching.
I see flaming shields and flashing bronze!’
Then I know not what unfriendly god, while I was hesitating,
Disordered and tore away judgement from me. For while in my flight I followed
unknown paths, and went out from the familiar region of the streets
Alas, whether my wife Creusa, snatched by cruel fate,
Stopped, or wandered from the street or wearily sat down,
It is uncertain; nor after was she returned to our sight.


Aeneas flees burning Troy, Federico Barocci, 1598


Translation by Carla Jennings.

Teaching Ideas

  • Literature: Importance of word order e.g enclosing order ‘oculis est reddita nostris’ and emphatic positioning of ‘periculum’ to highlight danger
  • Grammar: participles of different tenses, the passive
  • History: The idea of the importance of fathers in Ancient Rome – how this is reflected in the text (i.e with Aeneas saving his father, and saving himself to an extent for his son’s sake)
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