'Stop hoping you will change the will of the gods by praying'

Line 376 of Aeneid - Book Six, this is probably the best line in the best book of Vergil's epic.

These terrible words are spoken by the Sibyl, the priestess of Apollo who leads Aeneas down to the underworld, to Palinurus, the hapless helmsman who was taken by Neptune as an offering in return for the Trojan's safe passage to Italy.

Palinurus has just asked Aeneas to take him with him on his journey across the Styx to the rest of the underworld, thus violating the divine command that the unburied should never cross the river. This line is the climax of the Sibyl's rebuke, and though it is followed by a consolation for the helmsman that he will be remembered forever, the impact of this line is so great that it almost completely swallows the subsequent ones.

The line itself is a Virgilian masterwork. The d-f-d-f pattern in the first four words and the emphasis created by the metre, with 'desine' and 'precando' especially stressed, create an astonishingly strong line which remains in the mind long after the memories of the rest of the book have faded. It is hardly surprising, then, that it has been quoted so often. Dante, that famous Virgilian, makes a reference1 to it in The Divine Comedy.

Perhaps most notably, this line was quoted by Seneca to reinforce his Stoic ideals:

quid fles? quid optas? perdis operam. desine fata deum flecti sperare precando. rata et fixa sunt et magna atque aeterna necessitate ducuntur: eo ibis quo omnia eunt.2
'Why do you weep? What do you want? You are wasting your time. Stop hoping you will change the will of the gods by praying. It is settled and fixed and led by great and eternal necessity: You will go where everyone else is going.'
This is indeed a line that strongly reinforces the theory that Vergil subscribed to the Stoic philosophy.

By all accounts, a terrible line which should not be read by the emotionally vulnerable. To be valued and treasured as something truly spectacular, but never to be underestimated.

One day I will say this to the Pope.

1 - Dante: Purgatorio Canto VI, ll. 28-29

2 - Seneca: Epistulae Morales , Liber IX, LXXVII.