My year 12 class have been studying the sixth book of Virgil’s Aeneid for their HSC this year. It’s a mysterious and evocative part of Virgil’s poem, in which the hero, Aeneas, descends to the underworld to visit his father. The other day we read Virgil’s description of the Elysium, the place of the blessed. This is how he describes it:
His demum exactis, perfecto munere divae,
devenere locos laetos et amoena virecta
fortunatorum nemorum sedesque beatas.
largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit
purpureo, solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.
pars in gramineis exercent membra palaestris,
contendunt ludo et fulva luctantur harena;
pars pedibus plaudunt choreas et carmina dicunt.
arma procul currusque virum miratur inanis;
stant terra defixae hastae passimque soluti
per campum pascuntur equi.
conspicit, ecce, alios dextra laevaque per herbam
vescentis laetumque choro paeana canentis
inter odoratum lauris nemus, unde superne
plurimus Eridani per silvam volvitur amnis.
When this rite was at last performed and his duty to the goddess was done, they entered the land of joy, the lovely glades of the fortunate woods and the home of the blest. Here a broader sky clothes the plains in glowing light, and the spirits have their own sun and their own stars. Some exercise their limbs on grassy wrestling grounds- they compete in sport and wrestle on the golden sand. Others pound the earth with their feet in dance, and sing songs.
Aeneas admires from a distance their armour and empty chariots. their spears stand, fixed in the ground, and their horses wander free on the plain, cropping the grass.
Then suddenly he sees others on the left and on the right, feasting on the grass, singing in chorus a joyful hymn to Apollo, all through a grove of fragrant laurels, where the mighty river Eridanus winds its way through the woods to the world above.
(Aeneid 6.637-44, 51-3, 56-9)
Here's an interesting article which compares Virgil's description of the underworld to that of Homer in book XI of the Odyssey, and also contains a glossary of names and places mentioned in book VI of the Aeneid.