reading Virgil, if you cannot read Latin yet : I of III / by Anthony Gibbins

At the end of last year, I was playing around with a model for introducing the Aeneid to folks who can’t read Latin yet. I don’t have time to pursue this hoc tempore at this time, but I thought I’d share the format in case anyone else sees value in it. No doubt they could do with an edit, but I will present them as is. Over three posts I will cover lines 1-49. nb: Contrary to custom, I will post them UNDER the picture and translation. They are quite long.

‘A thief or thieves?’ Monas asks. ‘Yes,’ the woman responds. ‘The thief, having placed [my] suitcase in a dumpster, fled.’


arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit

litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto

vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;

multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem,

inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum,

Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae.                                 lines 1-7


arma virumque cano: The poet introduces his theme in the broadest sense. cano I sing of. But of what does he sing? He sings of two things, conjoined by placing –que and after the last. The first is arma military arms (and by Metonymy war). The second is virum a man. I sing of arms and a man. As we will come to learn, the man is Aeneas. The wars are those of Italy and Troy.

Troiae qui primus ab oris Italiam Laviniaque venit litora: The Relative Pronoun qui who refers to Aeneas. A man who venit came. And he came primus first. He came ab oris Troiae from the coasts of Troy Italiam to Italy –que and Lavinia litora to the Lavinian shores. If you don’t know the story, Aeneas was a Trojan refugee who found a new home in Italy. He built a city named Lavinium, and one day his descendants would found Rome.

fato profugus: This phrase describes Aeneas. He is profugus an exile fato due to Fate.

multum ille et terris iactatus et alto: Aeneas is referred to by the Pronoun ille he. He was iactatus tossed about. And he was tossed about multum a lot. Where did this happen? It happened in two locations and Virgil uses the expression et…et… to make this clear. The repetition of et and has no exact parallel in English, so it is often translated both…and…. Back to the story. He was tossed about et terris both on lands et alto and on the deep. The deep, as in English, is a reference to the sea.

vi superum: He was tossed about vi by the force superum of those above. Those above are the gods.

saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram: And he was tossed about ob on account of memorem the unforgetting iram anger saevae Iononis of savage Juno. Juno, of course, is the queen of the gods.

multa quoque et bello passus: The Adverb quoque also suggests that there is more to come. Indeed, passus he suffered multa many things. et is a versatile Conjunction.  Here we might think of it as as well. He also suffered many things et bello in war as well.

dum conderet urbem inferretque deos Latio: He was tossed about and suffered dum until he achieved two things. Until conderet he founded urbem a city –que and inferret he carried in deos the gods Latio into Latium. Latium is the region in Italy in which he founded Lavinium. A distinction; the gods which he carried into Latium where not those same gods by whose force he was tossed about. They were gods without a home whom he was bringing with him from the ruins of Troy.

genus unde Latinum, Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae: Some crucial information concerning Lavinium and Latium. Virgil says of both unde from which [came] genus Latinum the Latin people –que and Albani patres the Alban fathers atque and moenia the city walls altae Romae of lofty Rome. Who are the Alban fathers? After the death of Aeneas, his son Iulus Ascanius will found a second city, called Alba Longa. It is in Alba Longa that Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, will be born. Did you notice that alto/altae means both deep and tall? It’s not a big deal, don’t let it confuse you.


Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso,

quidve dolens, regina deum tot volvere casus

insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores

impulerit. tantaene animis caelestibus irae?                                                lines 8-11


Musa, mihi causas memora: Virgil calls on the Musa Muse. The Muses are believed to know the truth and to speak truth to poets. It is not uncommon to invoke them at the beginning of a poem. Muse, mihi memora recall for me causas the causes. Virgil wants to know the causes for something. Let’s read on.

quo numine laeso quidve dolens: This is not an easy expression, so we will just be super-literal; quo what numine divine majesty [of hers] laeso having been offended –ve or dolens grieving quid what. There is a suggestion here that perhaps Juno’s dignity has been offended or that she is grieving some hurt.

regina deum tot volvere casus virum, tot adire labores impulerit: And here it is. Muse, tell me the reason [why] regina deum the queen of the gods impulerit forced virum a man volvere to endure tot so many casus calamities [and] adire to take on tot labores so many labors.

insignem pietate: These two words belong in the previous section, but I moved them out to draw your attention. insignem distinguished is an Adjective describing virum. But distinguished for what? Distinguished pietate for his pietas. And what is pietas? It is an appropriate sense of duty towards homeland, family and even the gods. Why did the queen of the gods force a man distinguished for his pietas to endure so many calamities and take on so many labours? This is the question that the poet puts to the Muse.

tantaene animis caelestibus irae? The –ne at the end of the first word has no translatable meaning; it indicates that the sentence is a question.   [Are there] tantae such great irae angers animis caelestibus in celestial souls?


urbs antiqua fuit, Tyrii tenuere coloni,

Karthago, Italiam contra Tiberinaque longe

ostia, dives opum studiisque asperrima belli;

quam Iuno fertur terris magis omnibus unam

posthabita coluisse Samo; hic illius arma,

hic currus fuit; hoc regnum dea gentibus esse,

si qua fata sinant, iam tum tenditque fovetque.                               lines 12-18


urbs antiqua fuit, Karthago: Here begins the Muse’s response. fuit there was urbs antiqua an ancient city Karthago Carthage. The significance of this would be lost on no Roman. Carthage had been Rome’s opponent in trade, expansion and war for numerous centuries. It sat on the north coast of Africa and was a city said to be loved by Juno. And in 146BC (one thousand years after this story is set, and a century and a half before it was written) the Romans completely raised it to the ground.

Tyrii tenuere coloni: Tyrii coloni Tyrian colonists tenuere held [it]. Carthage that is. Tyre was a famous city on the coast of Phoenicia, modern Lebanon. How Phoenician colonists came to hold a city in North Africa, we will learn in Book II.

Italiam contra Tiberinaque longe ostia: The location of Carthage. longe far off contra opposite Italiam Italy –que and Tiberina ostia the Tiberian mouths. That is, the mouth(s) of the Tiber River, on which sits the Roman city.

dives opum studiisque asperrima belli: More on Carthage. dives rich opum of resources -que and asperrima very harsh studiis in enthusiasms belli of war.

quam Iuno fertur terris magis omnibus unam coluisse: The Relative Pronoun quam which is a reference to Carthage. Which unam alone Iuno fertur Juno is said coluisse to have cherished magis more omnibus terris than all lands.

posthabita Samo: posthabita Samo Samos having been held as inferior. Samos, an island off the coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), was home to one of the most famous temples of the ancient world, the Heraeum. Hera is the Greek equivalent of Juno.

hic illius arma, hic currus fuit: hic here illius arma her arms, hic here currus [her] chariot fuit used to be. I like to imagine that in Carthage there had been a temple where Juno’s weapons and chariot were on display, but I don’t know whether there is any suggestion of this among archaeologists or historians.

hoc regnum dea gentibus esse iam tum tenditque fovetque: iam already tum then dea the goddess que both tendit strives –que and fovet cherishes hoc this esse to be regnum a kingdom gentibus for the nations.

si qua fata sinant: And here is the rub. si if qua by any means fata the Fates sinant might allow (it).