The Golden Bough (mythology)


The golden bough by Wenceslaus Hollar, 17th century

The Golden Bough is one of the episodic tales written in the epic Aeneid, book VI, by the Roman poet Virgil (70–19 BC), which narrates the adventures of the Trojan hero Aeneas after the Trojan War.[1][2]


While Troy was being destroyed in its last battle against the Greeks, Aeneas left the city and led a quest to find a new homeland in the western Mediterranean.[3] In this mission, guided by the prophet Helenus, Aeneas arrived in Italy where he intended to found a city for his people. Once there, Deiphobe, the Sibyl of Cumae, then an old woman over seven hundred years old, at the Temple of Apollo, consented to escort him on a journey into the underworld to comply with his wish to see the shade of his deceased father.[1][4]

Aeneas and Charon by Wenceslaus Hollar, 17th century.

Before entering the underworld, Deiphobe told Aeneas he must obtain the bough of gold which grew nearby in the woods around her cave, and must be given as a gift to Proserpina, the queen of Pluto, king of the underworld. In the woods, Aeneas's mother, the goddess Venus, sent two doves to aid him in this difficult task, and these helped him to find the tree. When Aeneas tore off the bough, a second golden one immediately sprang up, which was a good omen, as the sibyl had said that if this did not happen the coming endeavor would fail.[1][5]

Soon after they started their descent into the Underworld, the Sibyl showed the golden bough to Charon who only then allowed them to enter his boat and cross the Stygian river. On the other side, she cast a drugged cake to the three-headed watchdog Cerberus, who swallowed it and fell asleep.[6] Once in the Underworld, Aeneas tried talking to some shades, and listened to the Sibyl speak of places, like Tartarus, where he saw a large prison, fenced by a triple wall, with wicked men being punished, and bordered by the fiery river Phlegethon. At Pluto's palace, Aeneas put the golden bough on the arched door, and went through to the Elysian Fields, the abode of those who led just and useful lives.[1][7]

Deiphobe leading Aeneas in the underworld by Claude Lorrain, circa 1673.

Anchises, the father of Aeneas, was finally located in the green and sunny Elysium, where the beautiful river Eridanus flows. Aeneas attempted three times to hug his father, but had no success as his father's shade was like thin air, or empty dreams.

In spite of this, they had a happy encounter and Anchises told his son about the nearby river Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, on the other side of which were a multitude of spirits waiting to be born on Earth. Over there were those who would be the descendants of Aeneas, and those who would live in the future Roman Empire, such as Romulus, Camillus, Marcellus, and the Caesars. Anchises gave advice to Aeneas, and then led him to the ivory gate, one of the gates of "Sleep", by which they return to Earth.[1][8]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Stookey, Lorena Laura (2004); p. 67.
  2. ^ Clarke, Michael (2007).
  3. ^ Clarke, Michael (2007); pp. 15-18.
  4. ^ Clarke, Michael (2007); pp. 42-43.
  5. ^ Clarke, Michael (2007); p. 44.
  6. ^ Clarke, Michael (2007); pp. 45-46.
  7. ^ Clarke, Michael (2007); pp. 47-48.
  8. ^ Clarke, Michael (2007); pp. 48-49.


  • Clarke, Michael (2007). Story of Aeneas. Echo Library. ISBN 978-1-4068-4617-1.
  • Stookey, Lorena Laura (2004). Thematic guide to world mythology. Greenwood. ISBN 0-313-31505-1.
  • Monti, Richard C. (1981). The Dido Episode and the Aeneid: Roman Social and Political Values in the Epic. Brill Academic Pub. ISBN 90-04-06328-5.