This painting, by the Italian artist Salvator Rosa (c. 1615–1673), re-creates a scene from The Aeneid—an epic poem by the Roman poet Virgil (c. 70-19 BCE) that narrates the journey of the Trojan refugee, Aeneas, from Troy to his new homeland in Italy. In this scene, the worn and weary Aeneas is visited by Tiber, the divine personification of the river on which the city of Rome would one day be built. Virgil described this scene in book eight of his poem:
“The dead of night.
Over the earth all weary living things, all birds and flocks
were fast asleep when captain Aeneas, his heart racked
by the threat of war, lay down on a bank beneath
the chilly arc of the sky and at long last
indulged his limbs in sleep. Before his eyes
the god of the lovely river, old Tiber himself,
seemed to rise from among the poplar leaves,
gowned in his blue-grey linen fine as mist
with a shady crown of reeds to wreath his hair,
and greeted Aeneas to ease him of his anguish”
(Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 8, approximately lines 27-36)
It is a scene of fate and prophecy that Virgil wrote. Rome was destined to one day be built along Tiber’s river, and, according to legend, it would be the descendants of Aeneas who would found the city. Such is the scene that Salvator Rosa translated from poetry to paint.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.