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Stories from the Latin Classics

The works of many Roman writers were well known in Roman Britain and their dramatic stories drawn from ancient mythology were greatly enjoyed. We have specially chosen three famous stories for CD.ROM Roman Britain. In each one you can hear part of the story read in the original Latin by an expert who has studied how the language would have actually sounded.

Vergil's Aeneid

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The poet Vergil, who lived in the 1st century BC, was one of the great Roman authors who was well known in Britain. His most famous work is The Aeneid.
Mosaic from Low Ham villa (Somerset) showing scenes from the story of Dido and Aeneas in the Aeneid by Vergil. Right: the ships carrying Aeneas and his men arrive at Carthage. Top centre: Aeneas (left) and Dido (right) are brought together by Cupid disguised as Ascanius, Aeneas's son, sent by Venus. Left: Dido and Aeneas go out hunting on horseback. Bottom centre: Dido and Aeneas embrace in the cave while sheltering from a storm. Centre: Venus flanked by cupids holding lighted torches. Somerset County Museum Service
The Aeneid tells the story of an heroic prince named Aeneas who fled from the famous ancient city of Troy (in what is now Turkey) after it was destroyed by the Greeks. He set off on a journey across the Mediterranean Sea which eventually took him to Italy where he founded a town called Lavinium in the same region as the one where Rome itself would be built.
During his travels Aeneas had many adventures. On one occasion he was shipwrecked on the north African coast near the city of Carthage which was ruled by the beautiful Queen Dido.
The goddess Venus feared that her rival the goddess Juno, queen of heaven, would turn the Carthaginians against Aeneas and prevent him reaching Italy. To prevent this Venus caused Aeneas to fall in love with Dido by sending Cupid to her disguised as Aeneas's son Ascanius.
Dido entertained Aeneas by taking him out hunting in the woods. Juno created a great storm in which she meant Dido and Aeneas to be thrown together, alone! She expected that Aeneas would then return Dido's love and feel he had to stay in Carthage. In the storm Dido and Aeneas sheltered in a cave and this is how Vergil describes what happened:
Vergil Aeneid IV 165-171
speluncam Dido dux et Troianus eandem
deueniunt. prima et Tellus et pronuba Iuno
dant signum; fulsere ignes et conscius aether
conubiis summoque ulularunt uertice Nymphae.
ille dies primus leti primusque malorum
causa fuit; neque enim specie famaue mouetur
nec iam furtiuum Dido meditatur amorem.
'Dido and the Trojan prince came to the same cave. The primitive earth and Juno, goddess of marriage, gave the signal. Lightning flashed, heaven consented to the marriage and from their place on high the Nymphs cried out. That day was the beginning of ruin and evil; Dido had now no thought for appearances or her good name and the love she dwelt on was no longer a secret'.
After this Jupiter, king of heaven, reminded Aeneas that his destiny was to go on to Italy. Aeneas abandoned Dido and continued on his journey. Angry and heartbroken, Dido committed suicide.

Livy, The Early History of Rome

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The writer Titus Livius, known to us as Livy, lived from about 59BC to AD17, and devoted his life to writing a history of Rome.
Mosaic showing the twins Romulus (who founded Rome) and Remus and the wolf who suckled them, found in the Roman town at Aldborough (North Yorkshire). Leeds Museums
At the beginning he tells of the founding of Rome by Romulus and his twin brother Remus. They were the sons of Mars, the god of war, and Rhea Silvia, a princess who lived in Alba Longa, a city in central Italy. Because she was a priestess, Rhea Silvia was forbidden to have children and the king condemned her and her sons to drown in the River Tiber. Luckily the boys' cradle was washed up on the river bank. Here is how Livy describes what happened next:
Livy I 4,6
vastae tum in his locis solitudines erant. tenet fama cum fluitantem alveum, quo expositi erant pueri, tenuis in sicco aqua destituisset, lupam sitientem ex montibus qui circa sunt ad puerilem vagitum cursum flexisse; eam submissas infantibus adeo mitem praebuisse mammas ut lingua lambentem pueros magister regii pecoris invenerit - Faustulo fuisse nomen ferunt.
'At the time there was a huge wilderness there and they say that when the river receded and left the basket carrying the twins on dry land, a thirsty she-wolf from the nearby mountains came to where the babies were crying. She offered them her teats and was so gentle that the king's herdsman, who was called Faustulus, found her licking them with her tongue'.
After their rescue by Faustulus, the boys grew up in his home and then left Alba Longa to found their own city. However, they soon quarrelled about where to build it and what to call it. Livy describes the story of the brothers' quarrel :
volgatior fama est ludibrio fratris Remum novos transiluisse muros; inde ab irato Romulo, cum verbis quoque increpitans adiecisset, 'sic deinde, quicumque alius transiliet moenia mea,' interfectum.
'A better-known story tells how Remus, to mock his brother, jumped over the new walls. Romulus was angry. 'This is what will happen to anyone else who jumps over my walls' he shouted and killed his brother'.
This is why Rome is called Rome!

Ovid's Metamorphoses

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The Roman poet Ovid lived from 43BC - AD17. The story of the seizure of Europa is a Greek myth which he retold in Metamorphoses, a series of poems about people and gods being transformed from one shape to another.
Mosaic from Lullingstone Roman villa (Kent) showing the princess Europa riding on the back of the god Jupiter who is disguised as a white bull. On either side are cupids. The inscription refers to a passage in Vergil's Aeneid. English Heritage
Europa was a beautiful princess of the Phoenicians, people who lived in what is now Lebanon on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. The god Jupiter, the king of heaven, fell in love with Europa. He changed himself into a bull so that he could mix with a herd of cattle which had come down to the beach where Europa and her friends were playing. Encouraged by his tameness, Europa climbed onto Jupiter's back. This is how Ovid describes what happened next:
Ovid Metamorphoses II 864-876
et nunc adluit viridique exsultat in herba,
nunc lates in fulvis niveum deponit harenis;
paullatimque metu dempto modo pectora praebet
virginea palpanda manu, modo cornua sertis
impedienda novis; ausa est quoque regia virgo
nescia, quem premeret, tergo considere tauri,
cum deus a terra siccoque a litore sensim
falsa pedum primo vestigia ponit in undis;
inde abit ulterius mediique per aequora ponti
fert praedam: pavet haec litusque ablata relictum
respicit et dextra cornum tenet, altera dorso
inposita est; tremulae sinuantur flamine vestes.
'Now he danced around and played on the green turf, now lay down, all snowy white on the yellow sand. Gradually the princess lost her fear, and with her innocent hands she stroked his breast when he offered it for her caress, and hung fresh garlands on his horns until finally she ventured to mount the bull little knowing on whose back she was resting. Then the god drew away from the shore by easy stages, first planting the hooves that were part of his disguise in the surf at the water's edge, and then proceeding farther out to sea, until he bore his booty away over the wide stretches of mid ocean. The girl was sorely frightened and looked back at the sands behind her, from which she had been carried away. Her right hand grasped the bull's horn, the other rested on his back, and her fluttering garments floated in the breeze'.
(Source: Ovid, The Metamorphoses, translated with introduction by M.M.Innes, 1955 (Penguin)
In the picture you can see two cupids (love spirits), one holding the bull's tail to try and hold him back, and the other holding a lighted torch and encouraging the bull. Eventually Jupiter took Europa off to the island of Crete. Here he turned himself into a man and declared his love for her.
The inscription can be translated in this way: 'If jealous Juno had seen the white bull swimming like this she would have had greater cause to go to the Hall of the Winds'. This refers to Vergil's poem The Aeneid in which the goddess Juno had asked for a storm to shipwreck the hero Aeneas. As Jupiter's jealous wife Juno would have had even greater reason to ask for a storm if she had seen him with Europa!
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