First Georgic [excerpt]

When spring begins and the ice-locked streams begin
To flow down from the snowy hills above
And the clods begin to crumble in the breeze,
The time has come for my groaning ox to drag
My heavy plow across the fields, so that 
The plow blade shines as the furrow rubs against it.
Not till the earth has been twice plowed, so twice
Exposed to sun and twice to coolness will
It yield what the farmer prays for; then will the barn
Be full to bursting with the gathered grain,
And yet if the field's unknown and new to us,
Before our plow breaks open the soil at all,
It's necessary to study the ways of the winds
And the changing ways of the skies, and also to know
The history of the planting in that ground,
What crops will prosper there and what will not.
In one place grain grows best, in another, vines;
Another's good for the cultivation of trees;
In still another the grain turns green unbidden.

More by Virgil

The Aeneid, Book VI, [First, the sky and the earth]

                                                              "First,
the sky and the earth and the flowing fields of the sea,
the shining orb of the moon and the Titan sun, the stars:
an inner spirit feeds them, coursing through all their limbs,
mind stirs the mass and their fusion brings the world to birth.
From their union springs the human race and the wild beasts,
the winged lives of birds and the wondrous monsters bred
below the glistening surface of the sea. The seeds of life—
fiery is their force, divine their birth, but they
are weighed down by the bodies' ills or dulled
by earthly limbs and flesh that's born for death.
That is the source of all men's fears and longings,
joys and sorrows, nor can they see the heavens' light,
shut up in the body's tomb, a prison dark and deep.
                                                              "True,
but even on that last day, when the light of life departs,
the wretches are not completely purged of all the taints,
nor are they wholly freed of all the body's plagues.
Down deep they harden fast—they must, so long engrained
in the flesh—in strange, uncanny ways. And so the souls
are drilled in punishments, they must pay for their old offenses.
Some are hung splayed out, exposed to the empty winds,
some are plunged in the rushing floods—their stains,
their crimes scoured off or scorched away by fire.
Each of us must suffer his own demanding ghost.
Then we are sent to Elysium's broad expanse,
a few of us even hold these fields of joy
till the long days, a cycle of time seen through,
cleanse our hard, inveterate stains and leave us clear
ethereal sense, the eternal breath of fire purged and pure.
But all the rest, once they have turned the wheel of time
for a thousand years: God calls them forth to the Lethe,
great armies of souls, their memories blank so that
they may revisit the overarching world once more
and begin to long to return to bodies yet again."

The Aeneid, Book IV, [So, you traitor]

"So, you traitor, you really believed you'd keep
this a secret, this great outrage? Steal away
in silence from my shores? Can nothing hold you back?
Not our love? Not the pledge once sealed with our right hands?
Not even the thought of Dido doomed to a cruel death?
Why labor to rig your fleet when the winter's raw,
to risk the deep when the Northwind's closing in?
You cruel, heartless—Even if you were not
pursuing alien fields and unknown homes,
even if ancient Troy were standing, still,
who'd sail for Troy across such heaving seas?
You're running away—from me? Oh, I pray you
by these tears, by the faith in your right hand—
what else have I left myself in all my pain?—
by our wedding vows, the marriage we began,
if I deserve some decency from you now,
if anything mine has ever won your heart,
pity a great house about to fall I pray you,
if prayers have any place—reject this scheme of yours!
Thanks to you, the African tribes, Numidian warlords
hate me, even my own Tyrians rise against me.
Thanks to you, my sense of honor is gone,
my one and only pathway to the stars,
the renown I once held dear. In whose hands,
my guest, do you leave me here to meet my death?
'Guest'—that's all that remains of 'husband' now.
But why do I linger on? Until my brother Pygmalion
batters down my walls? Or Iarbas drags me off, his slave?
If only you'd left a baby in my arms—our child—
before you deserted me! Some little Aeneas
playing about our halls, whose features at least
would bring you back to me in spite of all,
I would not feel so totally devastated,
so destroyed."

                          The queen stopped but he,
warned by Jupiter now, his gaze held steady,
fought to master the torment in his heart. At last
he ventured a few words: "I. . . you have done me
so many kindnesses, and you could count them all.
I shall never deny what you deserve, my queen,
never regret my memories of Dido, not while I
can recall myself and draw the breath of life.
I'll state my case in a few words. I never dreamed
I'd keep my flight a secret. Don't imagine that.
Nor did I once extend a bridegroom's torch
or enter into a marriage pact with you.
If the Fates had left me free to live my life,
to arrange my own affairs of my own free will,
Troy is the city, first of all, that I'd safeguard,
Troy and all that's left of my people whom I cherish.
The grand palace of Priam would stand once more,
with my own hands I would fortify a second Troy
to house my Trojans in defeat. But not now.
Grynean Apollo's oracle says that I must seize
on Italy's noble land, his Lycian lots say 'Italy!'
There lies my love, there lies my homeland now.
If you, a Phoenician, fix your eyes on Carthage,
a Libyan stronghold, tell me, why do you grudge
the Trojans their new homes on Italian soil?
What is the crime if we seek far-off kingdoms too?

       "My father, Anchises, whenever the darkness shrouds
the earth in its dank shadows, whenever the stars
go flaming up the sky, my father's anxious ghost
warns me in dreams and fills my heart with fear.
My son Ascanius . . . I feel the wrong I do
to one so dear, robbing him of his kingdom,
lands in the West, his fields decreed by Fate.
And now the messenger of the gods—I swear it,
by your life and mine—dispatched by Jove himself
has brought me firm commands through the racing winds.
With my own eyes I saw him, clear, in broad daylight,
moving through your gates. With my own ears I drank
his message in. Come, stop inflaming us both
with your appeals. I set sail for Italy—
all against my will."

                                     Even from the start
of his declaration, she has glared at him askance,
her eyes roving over him, head to foot, with a look
of stony silence. . . till abruptly she cries out
in a blaze of fury: "No goddess was your mother!
No Dardanus sired your line, you traitor, liar, no,
Mount Caucasus fathered you on its flinty, rugged flanks
and the tigers of Hyrcania gave you their dugs to suck!
Why hide it? Why hold back? To suffer greater blows?
Did he groan when I wept? Even look at me? Never!
Surrender a tear? Pity the one who loves him?
What can I say first? So much to say. Now—
neither mighty Juno nor Saturn's son, the Father,
gazes down on this with just, impartial eyes.
There's no faith left on earth!
He was washed up on my shores, helpless, and I,
I took him in, like a maniac let him share my kingdom,
salvaged his lost fleet, plucked his crews from death.
Oh I am swept by the Furies, gales of fire! Now
it's Apollo the Prophet, Apollo's Lycian oracles:
they're his masters now, and now, to top it off.
the messenger of the gods, dispatched by Jove himself.
comes rushing down the winds with his grim-set commands.
Really! What work for the gods who live on high,
what a concern to ruffle their repose!
I won't hold you, I won't even refute you—go!—
strike out for Italy on the winds, your realm across the sea.
I hope, I pray, if the just gods still have any power,
wrecked on the rocks mid-sea you'll drink your bowl
of pain to the dregs, crying out the name of Dido
over and over, and worlds away I'll hound you then
with pitch-black flames, and when icy death has severed
my body from its breath, then my ghost will stalk you
through the world! You'll pay, you shameless, ruthless—
and I will hear of it, yes, the report will reach me
even among the deepest shades of Death!"

The Aeneid, Book I, [A grove stood in the city]

A grove stood in the city, rich in shade,
Where storm-tost Tyrians, past the perilous brine,
Dug from the ground, by royal Juno's aid,
A war-steed's head, to far-off days a sign
That wealth and prowess should adorn the line.
Here, by the goddess and her gifts renowned,
Sidonian Dido built a stately shrine.
All brazen rose the threshold; brass was round
The door-posts; brazen doors on grating hinges sound.

Here a new sight Aeneas' hopes upraised,
And fear was softened, and his heart was mann'd.
For while, the queen awaiting, round he gazed,
And marvelled at the happy town, and scanned
The rival labours of each craftsman's hand,
Behold, Troy's battles on the walls appear,
The war, since noised through many a distant land,
There Priam and th' Atridae twain, and here
Achilles, fierce to both, still ruthless and severe.

Pensive he stood, and with a rising tear,
"What lands, Achates, on the earth, but know
Our labours? See our Priam! Even here
Worth wins her due, and there are tears to flow,
And human hearts to feel for human woe.
Fear not," he cries, "Troy's glory yet shall gain
Some safety." Thus upon the empty show
He feeds his soul, while ever and again
Deeply he sighs, and tears run down his cheeks like rain.

He sees, how, fighting round the Trojan wall,
Here fled the Greeks, the Trojan youth pursue,
Here fled the Phrygians, and, with helmet tall,
Achilles in his chariot stormed and slew.
Not far, with tears, the snowy tents he knew
Of Rhesus, where Tydides, bathed in blood,
Broke in at midnight with his murderous crew,
And drove the hot steeds campward, ere the food
Of Trojan plains they browsed, or drank the Xanthian flood.

There, reft of arms, poor Troilus, rash to dare
Achilles, by his horses dragged amain,
Hangs from his empty chariot. Neck and hair
Trail on the ground; his hand still grasps the rein;
The spear inverted scores the dusty plain.
Meanwhile, with beaten breasts and streaming hair,
The Trojan dames, a sad and suppliant train,
The veil to partial Pallas' temple bear.
Stern, with averted eyes the Goddess spurns their prayer.

Thrice had Achilles round the Trojan wall
Dragged Hector; there the slayer sells the slain.
Sighing he sees him, chariot, arms and all,
And Priam, spreading helpless hands in vain.
Himself he knows among the Greeks again,
Black Memnon's arms, and all his Eastern clan,
Penthesilea's Amazonian train
With moony shields. Bare-breasted, in the van,
Girt with a golden zone, the maiden fights with man.