Virgil, Aeneid VII.107-134

The Trojans fulfil a prophecy

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29 BCE to 19 BCE
Literary genre: 
Epic and Poetry
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The conclusion of the first half of the Aeneid saw Aeneas venture into the underworld to meet with his father, Anchises, in Elysium, where he was given a history of the future Romans his people will sire. Book VII commences the latter portion of the epic, which will be mostly concerned with a war between the Trojans and the Latins. As the book opens, Aeneas and the Trojans sail into the mouth of the River Tiber, indicating to the reader that the fleet has reached its fated destination of Italy, and fulfilling the prophecy of the sibyl in book VI that Aeneas would find another River Xanthus, which she equates to the Tiber (VI.88-89). Aeneas himself, however, does not initially recognise the importance of his location. It is only due to a joke made by Ascanius that Aeneas comprehends the significance of where they have landed. Exhausted from their voyaging, The Trojans rest on the river banks and enjoy a feast of fruits eaten on top of flatbread, which they subsequently also consume. Ascanius, jests that they have effectively eaten their tables, as the flatbreads had held the rest of their food. At this point, Aeneas, in a state of shock, exclaims that this very event signals their arrival at the Trojans’ future home, in accordance with a prophecy given to him by his father.

As Kristopher Fletcher points out (Finding Italy, p. 221-227), Aeneas’s ignorance cements the importance of prophecy in the Trojan’s colonisation of the Latin land, as the physical place itself only becomes significant once divine sanction transforms it. The somewhat light-hearted fulfilment of this prophecy brings not only great relief to the Trojans, as they have avoided what they previously assumed to be a period of famine, but their journey has now been ratified, and can finally cease. What once seemed like a dark prophecy, predicting a time of great hunger and misery for the Trojans, is revealed not only to be completely harmless, but the very indicator that they should settle on the land they sit on. The origin of the prophecy that the Trojans will ‘eat their tables’ is somewhat problematic hermeneutically, as in book III.255 the Harpy Celaeno offers it, while Aeneas attributes it to his father. This may be an attempt to show that while hostile characters (such as the Harpies) give bad news, all that is positive and connected with the truth of Aeneas’s destiny comes from trusted, friendly sources. This is the view of Kristopher Fletcher, who argues that by associating the prophecy with Anchises and having it brought to his attention by Ascanius, all three generations of Aeneas’s family are brought into the equation, highlighting the importance of his ancestry in the founding of Rome.

Aeneas now instructs his crew to spread out, search the locale, and investigate its inhabitants (verses 129-135). Whatever and whoever they find, however, is almost irrelevant, as now that the Trojans understand they are on their divinely promised land, their entitlement to settle will win out over the rights of any present rulers.

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