Virgil, Aeneid VII.59-106

The prophecy of Aeneas’s arrivalin Latium

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29 BCE to 19 BCE
Literary genre: 
Epic and Poetry
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As book seven of the Aeneid commences, The Trojans land on the Italian shores of Latium. They do not yet realise it (but soon will in verses 107-134), but they have finally reached the intended site of future Rome. Immediately prior to this passage, the narrator has given a history of Latium and the divine ancestry of its king, Latinus, the son of Faunus and the nymph Marica, and the great-grandson of Saturn. The poem now describes two omens, in the forms of a swarm of bees and a fire engulfing princess Lavinia’s hair, which occur at the site of a sacred laurel tree, planted by Latinus in the palace courtyard. Michael Putnam sees this episode as representing the metamorphosis of peace (which VII.46 has previously informed us had been long-reigning under Latinus) into war (see Michael Putnam, “Aeneid VII and the Aeneid”). The portent of bees foresees a stranger – the reader, although not king Latinus at this point, understands this to be Aeneas – coming with an army, which will come to rule the citadel. That the princess Lavinia will be a central part of these events is indicated by the vision of her hair catching fire, the prophet claiming that she will find great fame, yet be the cause of a war involving her people. This vision recalls another important miracle at the beginning of the poem, when Iulus, Aeneas’s son, is seen with a flame around his head, which Jupiter then affirms as his sign that Aeneas should lead his people away from burning Troy and seek a new land in which to settle (II.679-704). Fire becomes a signal, then, for the divine sanctioning of the new nation that the Trojans will build, and affirms the divine intent that their descendants - i.e. the Romans – are the destined rulers of the world.

Fearful of what he has seen, king Latinus consults the oracle of his father, Faunus, for an explanation. He is duly told to abandon plans to give his daughter in marriage to a Latin, and to ignore her intended union with Turnus, ruler of the local Rutulian tribe, and the nephew of his wife Amata. Rather, her husband will be one of the strangers who is to come, and their offspring will not only give the Latin people divine heritage (through their connection to Aeneas and his mother Venus), but come to subject the entire world to their power (VII.99-101). Latinus keenly spreads this news throughout his kingdom, while the audience is reminded that the prophesied strangers (the “sons of Laomedon” – i.e. the Trojans) have already arrived on the beaches of Italy.

As Crescenzo Formicula notes (“Dark Visibility: Lavinia in the Aeneid”), Lavinia, despite being merely a young girl completely under the protection of her father at this point, is on a symbolic level (but not a narrative level) the only woman in the Aeneid with any real role in the glorious future that it envisages. Lavinia’s fame and fortune result from her total willingness to ‘give herself to the Trojan-Roman cause’, and ‘absorb Aeneas’ destiny.’ The prophecy given here will ultimately require her to marry her current fiancé’s killer, see her mother commit suicide over his death, accept her future husband (Aeneas) on the throne her father once occupied, and bear the conquerors of the world. 

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