Skip to main content

Publius Vergilius Maro-Virgil’s Salian Hymn To Hercules

Modern re-enactment of the Danse of the Salii. Picture by Martina Cammerata.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is an hymn devoted to Hercules excerpted from Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, Chapter VIII, section 285 to 306-‘A masterpiece so remarkable by its precision, by the energy of the style; only Horace could claim second with his Ode 19 from book II of his Carmina‘ (Tissot)-The texts we used are: ‘Vergil, Aeneid’, A Translation into English prose by by A. S. Kline, © Copyright 2002 & ‘Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics Of Vergil’,  edited and translated by J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900 for the original Latin.



‘…The lengthy ceremonies in Hercules’ honor that Evander and his Arcadians perform at the prehistoric Ara Maxima in Pallanteum reach a climax with the hymn that the Salian priests sing at Aeneid 8.285-305. This paper analyzes that carmen, with attention to hymnic structure, intertextuality, and the larger contexts of Virgil’s epic narrative, Roman religion, and Augustan culture.

The Salian hymn to Hercules is a remarkable passage, the only hymnic text in the Aeneid, and, as far as I know, the first hymn in Latin heroic epic.

Complementing this innovation are other striking aspects, all interrelated. Virgil here stages a version of a traditional cultic song-the Salian Hymn-which was said to he unintelligible in his own day. His Carmen Saliare is itself extraordinary in formal terms. That Salii honor Hercules at Rome likewise surprises. Moreover, in reflecting upon the significance of Salian hymnody in contemporary Rome, Virgil simultaneously highlights the Augustan dimension of Evander’s festival for Hercules.’

JOHN F. MILLER, in ‘Virgil’s Salian hymn to Hercules’.


Artist impression of Salii @ Eagle and Dragon Publishing.


I-Virgil-Aeneid. 8-285/306
‘Salian Hymn to Hercules’

§ 8.285‘…Then the Salii, the dancing priests, came to sing round
the lighted altars, their foreheads wreathed with sprays
of poplar, one band of youths, another of old men, who praised
the glories and deeds of Hercules in song: how as an infant he strangled
the twin snakes in his grip, monsters sent by Juno his stepmother:
how too he destroyed cities incomparable in war,
Troy and Oechalia: how he endured a thousand hard labours
destined for him by cruel Juno, through King Eurystheus:

You, unconquerable one, you slew the cloud-born Centaurs,
bi-formed Hylaeus and Pholus, with your hand: the monstrous
Cretan Bull: and the huge lion below the cliffs of Nemea.
The Stygian Lake trembled before you: Cerberus, Hell’s guardian,
lying on half-eaten bones in his blood-drenched cave:
No shape, not Typheus himself, armed and towering
upwards, daunted you: your brains were not lacking
when Lerna’s Hydra surrounded you with its swarm of heads.
Hail, true child of Jove, a glory added to the gods,
visit us and your rites with grace and favouring feet.

Such things they celebrated in song, adding to all this
Cacus’s cave, and the fire-breather himself.
All the grove rang with sound, and the hills echoed.
§ 8.306 Then they all returned to the city, the sacred rites complete.


Artist impression of the Salii performing the ritual dance to honor Mars. @ Eagle and Dragon Publishing.


Original Latin

tum Salii ad cantus incensa altaria circum
populeis adsunt evincti tempora ramis,
hic iuvenum chorus, ille senum; qui carmine laudes
Herculeas et facta ferunt: ut prima novercae
monstra manu geminosque premens eliserit angues,
ut bello egregias idem disiecerit urbes,
Troiamque Oechaliamque, ut duros mille labores
rege sub Eurystheo fatis Iunonis iniquae

Tu nubigenas, invicte, bimembris
Hylaeeumque Pholumque, manu, tu Cresia mactas
prodigia et vastum Nemeae sub rupe leonem.
Te Stygii tremuere lacus, te ianitor Orci
ossa super recubans antro semesa cruento;
nec te ullae facies, non terruit ipse Typhoeus,
arduus arma tenens; non te rationis egentem
Lernaeus turba capitum circumstetit anguis.
Salve, vera Iovis proles, decus addite divis,
et nos et tua dexter adi pede sacra secundo.

Talia carminibus celebant; super omnia Caci
speluncam adiciunt spirantemque ignibus ipsum.
Consonat omne nemus strepitu collesque resultant.
Exim se cuncti divinis rebus ad urbem
perfectis referunt.

Salii carrying the sacred Ancilia. @ Wikimedia Commons.
This engraving from Antoine Court de Gebelin’s ‘Monde Primitif’, volume IV, depicts the verso of a coin minted for the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. It depicts the Salian shields, as king Numa designed them. They were called ‘Ancilia’.



II- Salian Hymns fragments from Marcus Terentius Varro in his ‘De Lingua Latina’, 7.26, 27

Marcus Terentius Varro, ‘On the Latin Language’ (Books 5-7 only), edited and translated by Roland Grubb Kent (1877-1952), published by the Loeb Classical Library in 1938.


Cozevi oborieso. Omnia vero ad Patulc<ium> commisse<i>.

Ianeus iam es, duonus Cerus es, du<o>nus Ianus.

Ven<i>es po<tissimu>m melios eum recum…

Divum em pa cante, divum deo supplicate.


English translation

O Planter God,[a] arise. Everything indeed have I committed unto (thee as) the Opener.

Now art thou the Doorkeeper, thou art the Good Creator, the Good God of Beginnings.

Thou’lt come especially, thou the superior of these kings …

Sing ye to the Father of the Gods, entreat the God of Gods.



III- Salian Hymns fragments preserved by Quintus Terentius Scaurus in his ‘De Orthographia’ (fragment 6 by Maurenbrecher’s numbering), published by Heinrich Keil in Scriptores de orthographia, the 7th volume of his Grammatici Latini (Teubner, 1880):


cum tonas, Lucetie, prae te tremunt

English translation

When thou thunderest, O god of Light (Jupiter), men tremble before thee


 IV- Salian Hymn To Janus fragments, edited and translated by Prof. George Hempl, University of Michigan:

Archaic Latin 

coceulodorieso • omia uo adpatula coemisse ian cusianes duonus ceruses •
dunus ianus ueniet po melios eum recum •

English translation 

Come forth with the cuckoo ! Truly all things dost thou make open.
Thou art JanusC uriatius,t he good creatora rt thou.
Good Janus is coming, the chief of the superior rulers.

Comment: It thus appears that we have three lines -not necessarily consecutive – of the hymn that the Salian priests sang to Janus, when, armed and bearing the ancilia, they marched with songs and dances about the city and its sacred places during the month of March. This is just the time when the cuckoo passes over the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe and is universally hailed as the first harbinger of spring. So the ancient Italian deity Janus,1 who opens up all things, who causes the spring to flow and the seed to germinate, Cerus, the benign creator, is invited to come with the cuckoo and usher in the spring.

From ‘Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association’ Vol. 31 (1900), pp. 182-188 (7 pages) Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Link below.

Artist impression of the Temple of Mars Ultor. @ Eagle and Dragon Publishing.


About Virgil: 🌿 About the Salii: 🌿And: 🌿 And:🌿Virgil’s Aeneid’s English translation by A. S. Kline :🌿 / More about the modern re-enactment of the danse of the Salii:🌿 JOHN F. MILLER, ‘Virgil’s Salian hymn to Hercules’ full article: 🌿George Hempl’s full article :
Publius Vergilius Maro-Virgil’s Salian Hymn To Hercules

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

all rights reserved Via Hygeia 2022