THE SIBYL BECOMES GRAY AND DECREPITAfter Aeneas had passed by all those
and seen to his right hand the distant walls
guarding the city of Parthenope,
he passed on his left hand a mound,
grave of the tuneful son of Aeolus.
Landing on Cumae's marshy shore, he reached
a cavern, home of the long lived Sibylla,
and prayed that she would give him at the lake,
Avernus, access to his father's shade.
She raised her countenance, from gazing on
the ground, and with an inspiration given
to her by influence of the god, she said,
“Much you would have, O man of famous deeds,
whose courage is attested by the sword,
whose filial piety is proved by flame.
But, Trojan, have no fear. I grant your wish,
and with my guidance you shall look upon
the latest kingdom of the world, shall see
Elysian homes and your dear father's shade,
for virtue there is everywhere a way.”
She spoke, and pointed out to him a branch
refulgent with bright gold, found in the woods
of Juno of Avernus, and commanded him
to pluck it from the stem. Aeneas did
what she advised him. Then he saw the wealth
of the dread Orcus, and he saw his own
ancestors, and beheld the aged ghost
of great Anchises. There he learned the laws
of that deep region, and what dangers must
be undergone by him in future wars.
Retracing with his weary steps the path
up to the light, he found relief from toil
in converse with the sage Cumaean guide.
While in thick dusk he trod the frightful way,
“Whether you are a deity,” he said,
“Or human and most favored by the gods,
to me you always will appear divine.
I will confess, too, my existence here
is due to your kind aid, for by your will
I visited the dark abodes of death,
and I escaped the death which I beheld.
For this great service, when I shall emerge
into the sunlit air, I will erect
for you a temple and will burn for you
sweet incense kindled at the altar flame.”
The prophetess looked on him and with sighs,
“I am no goddess,” she replied, “nor is
it well to honor any mortal head
with tribute of the holy frankincense.
And, that you may not err through ignorance,
I tell you life eternal without end
was;offered to me, if I would but yield
virginity to Phoebus for his love.
And, while he hoped for this and in desire
offered to bribe me for my virtue, first
with gifts, he said, ‘Maiden of Cumae choose
whatever you may wish, and you shall gain
all that you wish.’ I pointed to a heap
of dust collected there, and foolishly
replied, ‘As many birthdays must be given
to me as there are particles of sand.’
“For I forgot to wish them days of changeless youth.
He gave long life and offered youth besides,
if I would grant his wish. This I refused,
I live unwedded still. My happier time
has fled away, now comes with tottering step
infirm old age, which I shall long endure.
You find me ending seven long centuries,
and there remain for me, before my years
equal the number of those grains of sand,
three hundred harvests, three hundred vintages!
The time will come, when long increase of days
will so contract me from my present size
and so far waste away my limbs with age
that I shall dwindle to a trifling weight,
so trifling, it will never be believed
I once was loved and even pleased a god.
Perhaps, even Phoebus will not recognize me,
or will deny he ever bore me love.
But, though I change till eye would never know me,
my voice shall live, the fates will leave my voice.”