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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 June 2023

Christopher Metcalf*
The Queen's College, Oxford
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This note shows that Virgil's description of Fama at Aen. 4.173 is inspired by Sappho, fr. 44.12 Voigt.

Shorter Notes
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After the pseudo-marriage of Aeneas and Dido in Virgil's Aeneid, Fama spreads the news among the Libyan suitors (4.173):

extemplo Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes.

It seems to have escaped notice that this phrase and its context are inspired by a Sapphic verse on the marriage of another Trojan prince, Hector, to Andromache (fr. 44.12 Voigt):

φάμα δ’ ἦλθε κατὰ πτ̣όλιν εὐρύχο̣ρ̣ο̣ν φίλοις.

Virgil's magnas it Fama per urbes is a word-for-word translation of φάμα δ’ ἦλθε κατὰ πτ̣όλιν εὐρύχο̣ρ̣ο̣ν, magnas being a well-attested though probably not strictly literal interpretation of εὐρύχορον that relies on a perceived derivation from χῶρος (‘of broad spaces’) rather than from χορός (‘of broad dancing-floors’).Footnote 1 Commentators typically compare the Virgilian verse to personifications of Rumour in Homer, particularly Ὄσσα δ’ ἄρ’ ἄγγελος ὦκα κατὰ πτόλιν ᾤχετο πάντῃ, | μνηστήρων στυγερὸν θάνατον καὶ κῆρ’ ἐνέπουσα (Od. 24.413–14), which is certainly relevant as a verbal parallel to the image of Rumour spreading through a city swiftly (ὦκα/extemplo).Footnote 2 Thematically, however, the resemblance is not close, since the Homeric passage involves at most a frustrated hope for marriage (on the part of the suitors, cf. Od. 1.225–6, 6.270–84, 23.133–51). Sappho's poem on the wedding of Hector and Andromache not only supplies εὐρύχο̣ρ̣ο̣ν as the model for magnas, which Od. 24.413 lacks, but also, and more importantly, presents a clear thematic link to the episode in the Aeneid: both passages are concerned with the (pseudo-)marriage of a Trojan prince (Hector/Aeneas) to a foreign bride (Andromache/Dido) in an exotic location (Troy/Carthage), and both unions will end prematurely owing to historical-mythical events of a higher order that are dictated by fate (the fall of Troy/the mission to Italy).

The correspondence is more broadly significant as a particularly clear piece of evidence for Sappho's presence in the Aeneid, which scholarship has only recently begun to detect.Footnote 3 Book 4 opens with metaphorical descriptions of female passion ultimately traceable to Sappho (‘love as a wounding battle’, ‘love as fire’: Aen. 4.1–2, cf. Sappho, frr. 1.27–8, 31.9–10), and so at this early stage of Dido's romance with Aeneas the Sapphic reference is very suitable. Yet the news of the wedding will spread, not to the Trojan φίλοι but to the hostile local suitors, recalling Nausicaa's fear of a φῆμιν ἀδευκέα on the part of the Phaeacians if she were seen to marry a foreigner (Hom. Od. 6.273).Footnote 4 The poet's comment on Dido's culpa, in her belief that she is now married to Aeneas (Aen. 4.172), leads the reader to expect a reversal in the manner of a tragic (rather than lyric) victim of love, and eventually the Sapphic love-metaphors become real, in Dido's suicide by a fatal stab on an actual pyre (4.630–66). At that point Rumour again spreads the news (concussam bacchatur Fama per urbem, 4.666) and thus makes explicit the foreboding undertone that was contained in the memory of Hector and Andromache's ill-fated wedding at her earlier appearance (magnas it Fama per urbes, 4.173).


1 See LfgrE s.v. εὐρύχορος for glosses that render the epithet as μεγάλη in reference to cities. Beyond this, the Greek aorist (ἦλθε) is the expected counterpart to Virgil's historic present (it) in epic-style narrative (cf. M.L. West, Hellenica [Oxford, 2011–2013], 1.266), and therefore the only real discrepancy is the slight shift from singular to plural (πτ̣όλιν/urbes).

2 See most recently Binder, G., P. Vergilius Maro: Aeneis. Ein Kommentar (Trier, 2019), 3 vols.Google Scholar, 2.307, and most fully Pease, A.S., Publi Vergili Maronis Aeneidos liber quartus (Cambridge, MA, 1935), 211–13Google Scholar. Hardie, P., Rumour and Renown: Representations of Fama in Western Literature (Cambridge, 2012), 86–7 n. 31Google Scholar cites the Sapphic verse only as an ‘earlier example of the report of a wedding’, and notes neither the verbal nor the thematic parallels (see below; I owe this reference to Prof. S. Harrison). On the association between wedding and Rumour in early Greek poetry, see Neri, C., Saffo, testimonianze e frammenti (Berlin and Boston, 2021), 639CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Budelmann, F., Greek Lyric: A Selection (Cambridge, 2018), 143CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Prodi, E.E., ‘Sappho’, in Thomas, R.F. and Ziolkowski, J.M. (edd.), The Virgil Encyclopedia (Malden, Mass., 2014), 1118–19Google Scholar; Harrison, S., ‘Shades of Sappho in Vergil’, in Thorsen, T.S. and Harrison, S. (edd.), Roman Receptions of Sappho (Oxford, 2019), 137–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and, for general context, Morgan, L., ‘Sappho at Rome’, in Finglass, P.J. and Kelly, A. (edd.), The Cambridge Companion to Sappho (Cambridge, 2021), 290302CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 See Hardie (n. 2), 86–7 n. 31 on this and further epic models.