A famous quote of Dido's from Aeneid 4.625 is

exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor

of which my preferred poetic translation is Fitzgerald's

Rise up from my bones, avenging spirit

However, I've seen the translation done several ways, and some of them use 'ashes' instead of 'bones' presumably for ossibus. I'm under the impression from a Latin dictionary that ossibus refers strictly to bones. So why are there variant translations of this seemingly simple word?

I guess there are two sub-questions, any of which could answer the main question:

  • Did the meaning of ossibus change over time? If so, what was the meaning of the word at the time of Virgil's writing.
  • Is 'ashes' used only in translations where they want the two syllables for poetic meter or something?

1 Answer 1


Perseus offers two English translations of Aeneid, including your passage.

Theodore C. Williams, 1910, writes:

Arise, Out of my dust, unknown Avenger, rise!

John Dryden writes:

Rise some avenger of our Libyan blood

They both take poetic license in expressing the same idea. The word os indeed means only bones, not ashes. The point is not taking it literally. I think the Latin original and the two English translation are equivalent: here "ashes", "bones", and "blood" mean the same thing (metonymically).

  • Except that Dryden does not say "rise FROM our blood"; he says "rise, some avenger OF our Libyan blood". "Of" goes with "avenger".
    – fdb
    Apr 13, 2018 at 10:42

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