Virgil, Aeneid VIII.26-65

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The river god, Tiberinus, confirms the Trojans have arrived in Italy

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29 BCE to 19 BCE
Literary genre: 
Epic and Poetry
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After the Trojans have landed on the Italian shore, Aeneas sends an envoy to the Latin king (VII.148-273), who knows precisely who his visitors are, having been informed of their imminent arrival by portents (VII.69-106). Ilioneus, the Trojan spokesman, pleads with the king for hospitality, insisting that the fates have driven them into Latin land. To support his claim, Ilioneus cites the instructions given to Aeneas by the Penates at the start of the Trojans wanderings, that Apollo requires they must settle in Hesperia (Italy), the land from where Dardanus, the ancestor of the Trojans, came (III.154-171). Even earlier, however, the Tiber is listed as an important landmark for the Trojans by the ghost of Creusa, Aeneas’s wife who perished in the escape from burning Troy, who promises that prosperity awaits in the land of Hesperia, where the “Lydian river Thybris flows” (II.782). The Trojans, therefore, have been in long anticipation of the discovery of the River Tiber, which not only marks the end of their voyage, but the location of future Rome.

In the earlier books of the epic, the Greek names “Lydian Thybris” and “Hesperia” are used, rather than “Tiber” and “Italy”, the former in reference to the ancient association of the Lydians with the Tyrrhenians (Etruscans) that we find in Herodotus, Histories, I.94.2 When in VIII.242 Ilioneus speaks of the “Tyrrhenian Thybris,” it makes clear that the Trojans finally understand Creusa’s prophecy, and have made the association with the land they have now arrived at. With war between the Latins and the Trojans on the horizon, the river god Tiberinus now appears to Aeneas in a dream, welcoming him to Italy and introducing himself as one of the local deities. The river’s name change in the latter half of the Aeneid, from “Thybris” to “Tiberinus” (seen also at VII.30), signifies the start of a transformation from the Trojan past (Francis Cairns suggests “Thybris” may recall Troy’s fields of Thymbra and its river Thymbrius – see Strabo, Geography, XIII.1.36) to the Roman future.

The voice from the Tiber assures Aeneas that he has reached his prophesied home, which is permanent (certa), and illustrates this through a reutterance of a prophecy originally heard in III.389-393, which stated that the presence of a white sow nursing thirty piglets would mark the location of the city Aeneas is to found. Tiberinus states that he will offer his assistance to the Trojans by way of guiding them along his waters (contrasting with the hostile sea waters that they have faced thus far). He also advises Aeneas to make peace with Juno, offering her sacrifices and pleading for a cessation of her campaign against the Trojans. Once victory over the Latins has been achieved, the Trojans will pay tribute to Tiberinus for his assistance. This marks the beginning of a relationship between the Trojans and the gods of their new home. As Riggs Smith suggests (The Primacy of Visions, p. 49), in identifying himself explicitly to Aeneas by his physical features (“I am… the blue Tiber, river best beloved of Heaven”), Tiberinus reminds Aeneas and the reader that the Trojan’s destined land – Rome – is now becoming very much a reality, and finally observable, rather than simply a figment of prophecy.

Tiberinus’s greeting at the beginning of his speech, which identifies the Trojans as a “divine race” (VIII.36), emphasises in no uncertain terms that not only do they have a god-given right to settle on this land, but moreover, their arrival has been long anticipated. The river god claims that his land has been waiting for this promised people to free it from hostiles and rightfully instate Troy’s legacy. When viewed from an imperial ideological perspective, the impression is given that the founding of the new city (which we can parallel here with the new era of Augustus) is both divinely intended, and provides welcome relief to a people who have been troubled by unrest. 

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Virgil, Aeneid VIII.26-65
Author(s) of this publication: Kimberley Fowler
Publishing date: Fri, 07/29/2016 - 14:24
Visited: Sun, 10/01/2023 - 05:29

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