A lot of weeping interrupts Aeneas’ ekphrastic encounter with Dido’s murals (1.453-93). One passage stands out in particular: “sunt lacrimae rerum” (1.462) is of the “most quoted and controversial utterances in Vergil’s poem” (Warton 253); it’s “probably the most famous line of the Aeneid after the first, and surely one of the oddest” (Stewart 116); “there are wide differences as to the meaning of this line” (Keith 398). Brooks Otis claimed that “the lacrimae rerum are really Dido’s tears; the temple and freeze were obviously her own doing.”
The genitive “rerum” is what makes this so labile: [There] are tears [for] things; [There] are tears [of] things; [There] are tears [from] things.
Here are a few different translations to ponder:
Sarah Ruden (our edition, which attempts a line-for-line translation, requiring great compression): “tears of pity for a mortal world.”
Robert Fagles: “The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.”
Robert Fitzgerald: “they weep here / For how the world goes, and our life that passes / Touches their hearts.”
Abigail Heald posits that Renaissance poets figured their own writing through “through identification with the suffering heroines of classical history and myth.”
Mural of tears from a 6th grade art class