The Aeneid Part II - Descent into the Underworld Aeneas is like many others from mythic literature who have had to go to the underworld, which can generally be interpreted as “ego death” prior to an expansion in consciousness and power. Others from Greek and Roman myths who went to the underworld include Odysseus, Theseus, Hercules, Orpheus, Ceres/Demeter, Pollux, and Psyche. Helenus had told Aeneas to seek the Sibyl of Cumae as soon as he reached Italy because she is the wisest woman in the world and can help him in getting the information he needs about founding Rome and fulfilling the prophecy. (The Sibyl, who is equivalent for the Romans to the Delphic Oracle of the Greeks, was once beloved of Apollo, who offered her anything she desired; she wished for eternal life, which he granted, but without eternal youth. In later literature, the Sibyl had dried and desiccated until she had to be carried in a cricket cage—but she’s still in good shape when she meets Aeneas.) When he finds the Sibyl she tells him he must go to the underworld where he’ll learn all he needs to know from his father Anchises. She sends him first to find the golden bough that will allow him admittance to Hades. (According to Sir James Frazer, the golden bough figures in the mythic worship of Diana; the priest of her sacred wood in which the bough grows must protect the bough; should anyone come to fight him, he must fend them off with his life; if he is overcome, the one who kills him must become the new priest. The bough may be mistletoe, which has both healing and poisonous properties; by “sympathetic magic,” the possessor of the bough can bring in gold, because of the bough’s golden color.) The doves of Venus lead him to it, and once he has it in hand, the Sibyl slaughters four black bullocks as a sacrifice to Hecate (see above that Hecate is another form of the moon goddess Diana, but worshipped principally at the dark of the moon—perhaps this explains her connection in later times to witchcraft). Once in the underworld Aeneas and the Sibyl encounter some abstract ideas that have been anthropomorphized: Disease, Care (Worry), Hunger, War, Discord, etc. (This sounds a little like a prefiguring of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” from the Revelation of St. John of Patmos.) Charon, the ferryman on the two great rivers of the Underworld, Cocytus and Acheron, takes them into his boat when he sees the golden bough. They placate Cerberus, the dog that guards the way, with cake that has a sleeping potion in it. Next they see Minos, one of Europa’s sons, who is now judging the dead. In particular they encounter the wailing of dead babies, who have experienced untimely deaths, and those who have been falsely accused, and in the Fields of Mourning, they encounter those unhappy lovers who have killed themselves. There Aeneas encounters Dido again and apologizes to her for leaving her, but she is very angry and won’t speak to him. Then they come to a fork in the road. To the left is Rhadamanthus, also a son of Europa, who punishes the wicked. To the right are the Elysian Fields where the blessed dead exist and where Aeneas will find his father Anchises. First he must leave the golden bough at the crossroads on a wall that faces the fork in the road. * Anchises takes Aeneas to the River of Lethe, which has the water of forgetfulness. Souls who will come into life must drink before they incarnate. Anchises shows Aeneas their descendants, who will be the mighty Romans. Then he gives him advice on how to establish his home in Italy and overcome the trials and hardships ahead. This passage is important; it shows a belief in reincarnation, which was in fact a belief of the early Christian church (the Pythagoreans believed in reincarnation, as did some other groups in the ancient world) and because it again emphasizes the prophecy Aeneas will fulfill. It suggests that those who will reincarnate and become Aeneas’s descendants are all from the “blessed dead,” good men in their past lives who will become just rulers and citizens of the future Rome, and hence the most worthy to be rulers of the world. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily