Important Quotations Explained
1. I sing of warfare and a man at war.
From the sea-coast of Troy in early days
He came to Italy by destiny,
To our Lavinian western shore,
A fugitive, this captain, buffeted
. . .
Till he could found a city and bring home
His gods to Laetium, land of the Latin race,
The Alban lords, and the high walls of Rome.
Tell me the causes now, O Muse, how galled
. . .
From her old wound, the queen of gods compelled him—
. . .
To undergo so many perilous days
And enter on so many trials. Can anger
Black as this prey on the minds of heaven?
With these opening lines of the Aeneid, Virgil enters the epic tradition in the
shadow of Homer, author of the Iliad, an epic of the Trojan War, and the Odyssey, an epic of the
Greek hero Ulysses' wanderings homeward from Troy. By naming his subjects as “warfare and a
man,” Virgil establishes himself as an heir to the themes of both Homeric epics. The man,
Aeneas, spends the first half of the epic wandering in search of a new home and the second half
at war fighting to establish this homeland. Lines 2 through 4 summarize Aeneas's first mission in
the epic, to emigrate from Troy to Italy, as a fate already accomplished. We know from Virgil's
use of the past tense that what he presents is history, that the end is certain, and that the epic will
be an exercise in poetic description of historical events. In the phrase “our Lavinian . . . shore,”
Virgil connects his audience, his Roman contemporaries, to Aeneas, the hero of “early days.”
Even though we do not learn Aeneas's name in these lines, we learn much about him. The fact
that Aeneas's name is withheld for so long—until line 131—emphasizes Aeneas's lack of
importance as an individual; his contribution to the future defines him. He is a “fugitive” and a
“captain” and therefore a leader of men. That he bears responsibility to “bring home / His gods”
introduces the concept of Aeneas's piety through his duty to the hearth gods of Troy. Most
important, we learn that Aeneas is “a man apart, devoted to his mission.” Aeneas's detachment
from temporal and emotional concerns and his focus on the mission of founding Rome, to which
Virgil alludes in the image of walls in line 12, increase as the epic progresses.
In this opening passage, Virgil mentions the divine obstacle that will plague Aeneas throughout