Aeneid (Conington 1866)/Book 2
Each eye was fixed, each lip compressed,
When thus began the heroic guest:
'Too cruel, lady, is the pain,
You bid me thus revive again;
How lofty Ilium's throne august
Was laid by Greece in piteous dust,
The woes I saw with these sad eyne,
The deeds whereof large part was mine:
What Argive, when the tale were told,
What Myrmidon of sternest mould,
What foe from Ithaca could hear,
And grudge the tribute of a tear?
Now dews precipitate the night,
And setting stars to rest invite:
Yet, if so keen your zeal to know
In brief the tale of Troy's last woe,
Though memory shrinks with backward start,
And sends a shudder to my heart,
I take the word.
Worn down by wars,
Long beating 'gainst Fate's dungeon-bars,
As year kept chasing year,
The Danaan chiefs, with cunning given
By Pallas, mountain-high to heaven
A giant horse uprear,
And with compacted beams of pine
The texture of its ribs entwine.
A vow for their return they feign
So runs the tale, and spreads amain.
There in the monster's cavernous side
Huge frames of chosen chiefs they hide,
And steel-clad soldiery finds room
Within that death-producing womb.
An isle there lies in Ilium's sight,
And Tenedos its name,
While Priam's fortune yet was bright,
Known for its wealth to fame:
Now all has dwindled to a bay,
Where ships in treacherous shelter stay.
Thither they sail, and hide their host
Along its desolated coast.
We thought them to Mycenæ flown,
And rescued Troy forgets to groan.
Wide stand the gates: what joy to go
The Dorian camp to see,
The land disburthened of the foe,
The shore from vessels free!
There pitched the Trojan squadron, there
Achilles' tent was set:
There, drawn on land, their navies were,
And there the battle met.
Some on Minerva's offering gaze,
And view its bulk with strange amaze:
And first Thymœtes loudly calls
To drag the steed within our walls,
Or by suggestion from the foe,
Or Troy's ill fate had willed it so.
But Capys and the wiser kind
Surmised the snare that lurked behind:
To drown it in the whirling tide,
Or set the fire-brand to its side,
Their sentence is: or else to bore
Its caverns, and their depths explore.
In wild confusion sways the crowd:
Each takes his side and all are loud.
Girt with a throng of Ilion's sons,
Down from the tower Laocoon runs,
And, 'Wretched countrymen,' he cries,
'What monstrous madness blinds your eyes?
Think you your enemies removed?
Come presents without wrong
From Danaans? have you thus approved
Ulysses, known so long?
Perchance—who knows?—these planks of deal
A Grecian ambuscade conceal,
Or 'tis a pile to o'erlook the town,
And pour from high invaders down,
Or fraud lurks somewhere to destroy:
Mistrust, mistrust it, men of Troy!
Whate'er it be, a Greek I fear,
Though presents in his hand he bear.'
He spoke, and with his arm's full force
Straight at the belly of the horse
His mighty spear he cast:
Quivering it stood: the sharp rebound
Shook the huge monster: and a sound
Through all its caverns passed.
And then, had fate our weal designed
Nor given us a perverted mind,
Then had he moved us to deface
The Greeks' accursed lurking-place,
And Troy had been abiding still,
And Priam's tower yet crowned the hill.
Now Dardan swains before the king
With clamorous demonstration bring,
His hands fast bound, a youth unknown,
Across their casual pathway thrown
By cunning purpose of his own,
If so his simulated speech
For Greece the walls of Troy might breach,
Nerved by strong courage to defy
The worst, and gain his end or die.
The curious Trojans round him flock
With rival zeal a foe to mock.
Now listen while my tongue declares
The tale you ask of Danaan snares,
And gather from a single charge
Their catalogue of crimes at large.
There as he stands, confused, unarmed,
Like helpless innocence alarmed,
His wistful eyes on all sides throws,
And sees that all around are foes,
'What land,' he cries, 'what sea is left,
To hold a wretch of country reft,
Driven out from Greece, while savage Troy
Demands my blood with clamorous joy?'
That anguish put our rage to flight,
And stayed each hand in act to smite:
We bid him name and race declare,
And say why Troy her prize should spare.
Then by degrees he laid aside
His fear, and presently replied:
'Truth, gracious king, is all I speak,
And first I own my nation Greek:
No—Sinon may be Fortune's slave;
She shall not make him liar or knave.
If haply to your ears e'er came
Belidan Palamedes' name,
Borne by the tearful voice of Fame,
Whom erst, by false impeachment sped,
Maligned because for peace he pled,
Greece gave to death, now mourns him dead,—
His kinsman I, while yet a boy,
Sent by a needy sire to Troy.
While he yet stood in kingly state,
Mid brother kings in council great,
I too had power: but when he died,
By false Ulysses' spite belied,
(The tale is known) from that proud height
I sank to wretchedness and night,
And brooded in my dolorous gloom
On that my guiltless kinsman's doom:
Not all in silence—no, I swore,
Should Fortune bring me home once more,
My vengeance should redress his fate,
And speech engendered cankerous hate.
Thence dates my fall: Ulysses thence
Still scared me with some fresh pretence,
With chance-dropt words the people fired,
Sought means of hurt[errata 1], intrigued, conspired.
Nor did the glow of hatred cool,
Till, using Calchas as his tool—
But why a tedious tale repeat,
To stay you from your morsel sweet?
If all are equal, Greek and Greek,
Enough—your tardy vengeance wreak;
My death will Ithacus delight,
And Atreus' sons the boon requite.'
We press, we yearn the truth to know
Nor dream how doubly base our foe:
He, faltering still and overawed,
Takes up the unfinished web of fraud.
'Oft had we planned to leave your shore,
Nor tempt the weary conflict more.
O, had we done it! sea and sky
Scared us as oft, in act to fly:
But chiefly when completed stood
This horse, compact of maple wood,
Fierce thunders, pealing in our ears,
Proclaimed the turmoil of the spheres.
Perplexed, Eurypylus we send
To question what the fates portend,
And he from Phœbus' awful shrine
Brings back the words of doom divine:
'With blood ye pacified the gales,
E'en with a virgin slain,
When first ye Danaans spread your sails,
The shores of Troy to gain:
With blood ye your return must buy:
A Greek must at the altar die.'
That sentence reached the public ear,
And bred the dull amaze of fear:
Through every heart a shudder ran,
'Apollo's victim—who the man?'
Ulysses, turbulent and loud,
Drags Calchas forth before the crowd,
And questions what the immortals mean,
Which way these dubious beckonings lean:
E'en then were some discerned my foe,
And silent watched the coming blow.
Ten days the seer, with bated breath,
Restrained the utterance big with death:
O'erborne at last, the word agreed
He speaks, and destines me to bleed.
All gave a sigh, as men set free,
And hailed the doom, content to see
The bolt that threatened each alike
One solitary victim strike.
The death-day came: the priests prepare
Salt cakes, and fillets for my hair:
I fled, I own it, from the knife,
I broke my bands and ran for life,
And in a marish lay that night,
While they should sail, if sail they might.
No longer have I hope, ah me!
My ancient fatherland to see,
Or look on those my eyes desire,
My darling sons, my greyhaired sire:
Perhaps my butchers may requite
On their dear heads my traitorous flight,
And make their wretched lives atone
For this, the single crime I own.
O, by the Gods, who all things view,
And know the false man from the true,
By sacred Faith, if Faith remain
With mortal men preserved from stain,
Show grace to innocence forlorn,
Show grace to woes unduly borne!'
Moved by his tears, we let him live,
And pity crowns the boon we give:
King Priam bids unloose his cords,
And soothes the wretch with kindly words:
'Whoe'er you are, henceforth resign
All thought of Greece: be Troy's and mine:
Now tell me truth, for what intent
This fabric of the horse was meant;
An offering to your heavenly liege?
An engine for assault or siege?'
Then, schooled in all Pelasgian shifts,
His unbound hands to heaven he lifts:
'Ye slumberless, inviolate fires,
And the dread awe your name inspires!
Ye murderous altars, which I fled!
Ye fillets that adorned my head!
Bear witness, and behold me free
To break my Grecian fealty;
To hate the Greeks, and bring to light
The counsels they would hide in night,
Unchecked by all that once could bind,
All claims of country or of kind.
Thou, Troy, remember ne'er to swerve,
Preserved thyself, thy faith preserve,
If true the story I relate,
If these, my prompt returns, be great.
'The warlike hopes of Greece were stayed,
E'en from the first, on Pallas' aid:
But since Tydides, impious man,
And foul Ulysses, born to plan,
Dragged with red hands, the sentry slain,
Her fateful image from your fane,
Her chaste locks touched, and stained with gore
The virgin coronet she wore,
Thenceforth the tide of fortune changed,
And Greece grew weak, her queen estranged.
Nor dubious were the signs of ill
That showed the goddess' altered will.
The image scarce in camp was set,
Out burst big drops of saltest sweat
O'er all her limbs: her eyes upraised
With minatory lightnings blazed;
And thrice untouched from earth she sprang
With quivering spear and buckler's clang.
'Back o'er the ocean!' Calchas cries:
'We shall not make Troy's town our prize,
Unless at Argos' sacred seat
Our former omens we repeat,
And bring once more the grace we brought
When first these shores our navy sought.'
So now for Greece they cross the wave,
Fresh blessings on their arms to crave,
Thence to return, so Calchas rules,
Unlooked for, ere your wonder cools.
Premonished first, this frame they planned
In your Palladium's stead to stand,
An image for an image given
To pacify offended Heaven.
But Calchas bade them rear it high
With timbers mounting to the sky,
That none might drag within the gate
This new Palladium of your state.
For, said he, if your hands profaned
The gift for Pallas' self ordained,
Dire havoc—grant, ye powers, that first
That fate be his—on Troy should burst:
But if, in glad procession haled
By those your hands, your walls it scaled,
Then Asia should our homes invade,
And unborn captives mourn the raid.'
Such tale of pity, aptly feigned,
Our credence for the perjurer gained,
And tears, wrung out from fraudful eyes,
Made us, e'en us, a villain's prize,
'Gainst whom not valiant Diomede,
Nor Peleus' Larissæan seed,
Nor ten years' fighting could prevail,
Nor navies of a thousand sail.
But ghastlier portents lay behind,
Our unprophetic souls to blind.
Laocoon, named as Neptune's priest,
Was offering up the victim beast,
When lo! from Tenedos—I quail,
E'en now, at telling of the tale—
Two monstrous serpents stem the tide,
And shoreward through the stillness glide.
Amid the waves they rear their breasts,
And toss on high their sanguine crests:
The hind part coils along the deep,
And undulates with sinuous sweep.
The lashed spray echoes: now they reach
The inland belted by the beach,
And rolling bloodshot eyes of fire,
Dart their forked tongues, and hiss for ire.
We fly distraught: unswerving they
Toward Laocoon hold their way;
First round his two young sons they wreathe,
And grind their limbs with savage teeth:
Then, as with arms he comes to aid,
The wretched father they invade
And twine in giant folds: twice round
His stalwart waist their spires are wound,
Twice round his neck, while over all
Their heads and crests tower high and tall.
He strains his strength their knots to tear,
While gore and slime his fillets smear,
And to the unregardful skies
Sends up his agonizing cries:
A wounded bull such moaning makes,
When from his neck the axe he shakes,
Ill-aimed, and from the altar breaks.
The twin destroyers take their flight
To Pallas' temple on the height;
There by the Goddess' feet concealed
They lie, and nestle 'neath her shield.
At once through Ilium's hapless sons
A shock of feverous horror runs:
All in Laocoon's death-pangs read
The just requital of his deed,
Who dared to harm with impious steel
Those planks of consecrated deal.
'The image to its fane!' they cry:
'So soothe the offended deity.'
Each in the labour claims his share:
The walls are breached, the town laid bare:
Wheels 'neath its feet are fixed to glide,
And round its neck stout ropes are tied:
So climbs our wall that shape of doom,
With battle quickening in its womb,
While youths and maidens sing glad songs,
And joy to touch the harness thongs.
It comes, and, glancing terror down,
Sweeps through the bosom of the town.
O Ilium, city of my love!
O warlike home of powers above!
Four times 'twas on the threshold stayed:
Four times the armour clashed and brayed.
Yet on we press with passion blind,
All forethought blotted from our mind,
Till the dread monster we install
Within the temple's tower-built wall.
E'en then Cassandra's prescient voice
Forewarned us of our fatal choice,
That prescient voice, which Heaven decreed
No son of Troy should hear and heed.
We, careless souls, the city through,
With festal boughs the fanes bestrew,
And in such revelry employ
The last, last day should shine on Troy.
Meantime Heaven shifts from light to gloom,
And night ascends from Ocean's womb,
Involving in her shadow broad
Earth, sky, and Myrmidonian fraud:
And through the city, stretched at will,
Sleep the tired Trojans, and are still.
And now from Tenedos set free
The Greeks are sailing on the sea,
Bound for the shore where erst they lay,
Beneath the still moon's friendly ray:
When in a moment leaps to sight
On the King's ship the signal light,
And Sinon, screened by partial fate,
Unlocks the pine-wood prison's gate.
The horse its charge to air restores,
And forth the armed invasion pours.
Thessander, Sthenelus, the first,
Slide down the rope: Ulysses curst,
Thoas and Acamas are there,
And great Pelides' youthful heir,
Machaon, Menelaus, last
Epeus, who the plot forecast.
They seize the city, buried deep
In floods of revelry and sleep,
Cut down the warders of the gates,
And introduce their conscious mates.
It was the hour when Heaven gives rest
To weary man, the first and best:
Lo, as I slept, in saddest guise,
The form of Hector seemed to rise,
Full sorrow gushing from his eyes;
All torn by dragging at the car,
And black with gory dust of war,
As once on earth,—his swoln feet bored,
And festering from the inserted cord.
Ah! what a sight was there to view!
How altered from the man we knew,
Our Hector, who from day's long toil
Comes radiant in Achilles' spoil,
Or with that red right hand, which casts
The fires of Troy on Grecian masts!
Blood-clotted hung his beard and hair,
And all those many wounds were there,
Which on his gracious person fell
Around the walls he loved so well.
Methought I first the chief addressed,
With tears like his, and labouring breast:
'O daystar of Dardanian land!
O faithful heart, unconquered hand!
What means this lingering? from what shore
Comes Hector to his home once more?
Ah! since we saw you, many a woe
Has brought your friends, your country low;
And weary eyes and aching brow
Are ours that look upon you now!
What cause has marred that clear calm mien,
Or why those wounds, so ghastly green?'
He answers not, nor recks him aught
Of those the idle quests I sought;
But with a melancholy sigh,
'Ah, goddess-born,' he warns me, 'fly!
Escape these flames: Greece holds the walls;
Proud Ilium from her summit falls.
Think not of king's or country's claims:
Country and king, alas! are names:
Could Troy be saved by hands of men,
This hand had saved her then, e'en then.
The gods of her domestic shrines
That country to your care consigns:
Receive them now, to share your fate:
Provide them mansions strong and great.
The city's walls, which Heaven has willed
Beyond the seas you yet shall build.'
He said, and from the temple brings
Dread Vesta, with her holy things,
Her awful fillets, and the fire
Whose sacred embers ne'er expire.
Meantime throughout the city grow
The agonies of wildering woe:
And more and more, though deep in shade
My father's palace stood embayed,
The tumult rises on the ear,
And clashing armour hurtles fear.
I start from sleep, the roof ascend,
And with quick heed each noise attend.
E'en as, while southern winds conspire,
On standing harvests falls the fire,
Or as a mountain torrent spoils
Field, joyous crop, and oxen's toils,
And sweeps whole woods: the swain spell-bound
Hears from a rock the unwonted sound.
O, then I saw the tale was true:
The Danaan fraud stood clear to view.
Thy halls already, late so proud,
Deiphobus, to fire have bowed:
Ucalegon has caught the light:
Sigeum's waves gleam broad and bright.
Then come the clamour and the blare,
And shouts and clarions rend the air:
I clutch my arms with reeling brain,
But reason whispers, arms are vain:
Yet still I bum to raise a power,
And, rallying, muster at the tower:
Fury and wrath within me rave,
And tempt me to a warrior's grave.
Lo! Panthus, scaped from death by flight,
Priest of Apollo on the height,
His gods, his grandchild at his side,
Makes for my door with frantic stride—
'Ha! Othrys' son, how goes the fight?
What forces muster at the height?'
I spoke: he heaves a long-drawn breath:
''Tis come, our fated day of death.
We have been Trojans: Troy has been:
She sat, but sits no more, a queen:
Stern Jove an Argive rule proclaims:
Greece holds a city wrapt m flames.
There in the bosom of the town
The tall horse rains invasion down,
And Sinon, with a conqueror's pride,
Deals fiery havoc far and wide.
Some keep the gates, as vast a host
As ever left Mycenæ's coast:
Some block the narrows of the street,
With weapons threatening all they meet:
The stark sword stretches o'er the way,
Quick-glancing, ready drawn to slay,
While scarce our sentinels resist,
And battle in the flickering mist.'
So, stirred by Heaven and Othrys' son,
Forth into flames and spears I run,
Where yells the war-fiend, and the cries
Of slayer and slain invade the skies.
Bold Rhipeus links him to my side,
And Epytus, in arms long tried:
And Hypanis and Dymas hail
And join us in the moonbeam pale,
With young Corœbus, Mygdon's child,
Who came to Troy with yearning wild
Cassandra's love to gain,
And, prompt to yield a kinsman's aid,
His troop with Priam's hosts arrayed:
All wretch, whom his demented maid
Had warned, but warned in vain!
So, when I saw them round me form,
And knew their blood was pulsing warm,
I thus began: 'Brave spirits, wrought
To noblest temper, all for naught,
If desperate venture ye desire,
Ye see our lost estate:
Gone from each fane, each secret shrine,
Are those who made this realm divine:
The town ye aid is wrapt in fire:
Come—rush we on our fate.
No safety may the vanquished find
Till hope of safety be resigned.'
So valour grew to madness. Then,
Like gaunt wolves rushing from their den,
Whom lawless hunger's sullen growl
Drives forth into the night to prowl,
The while, with jaws all parched and black,
Their famished whelps expect them back,
Amid the volley and the foe,
With death before our eyes, we go
On through the town, while darkness spreads
Its hollow covert o'er our heads.
What witness could recount aright
The woes, the carnage of that night,
Or make his tributary sighs
Keep measure with our agonies?
An ancient city topples down
From broad-based heights of old renown:
There in the street confusedly strown
Lie age and helplessness o'erthrown,
Block up the entering of the doors,
And cumber Heaven's own temple-floors.
Nor only Teucrian lives expire:
Sometimes the spark of generous fire
Revives in vanquished hearts again,
And Danaan victors swell the slain.
Dire agonies, wild terrors swarm,
And Death glares grim in many a form.
First, with a train of Danaan spears,
Androgeos in our path appears:
He deems us comrades of his own,
And hails us thus with friendly tone:
'Bestir you, gallants! why so slack?
See here, while others spoil and sack
The burning town, your tardy feet
But now are coming from the fleet!'
He said: the vague replies we make
Reveal at once his dire mistake:
He sees him fallen among the toils,
And voice and foot alike recoils.
As trampling through the thorny brake
The heedless traveller stirs a snake
And in a sudden fear retires
From that fierce head, those gathering spires,
E'en so Androgeos at the sight
Was shrinking back in palsied fright.
We mass our arms, and close them round:
Surprised, and ignorant of the ground,
Their scattered ranks we breathless lay,
And Fortune crowns our first essay.
Flushed with wild joy, Corœbus cries,
'See Fortune, beckoning from the skies!
When she to safety points the way,
What can we better than obey?
Come, change we bucklers, and advance
Each with a Grecian cognizance.
Who questions, when with foes we deal,
If craft or courage guides the steel?
Themselves shall give us arms to wield.'
He speaks, and from Androgeos tears
His plumy helm and figured shield,
Girds on an Argive sword, and wears.
And Rhipeus, Dymas, and the rest
Soon in the new-won spoils are dressed.
Mixed with the Greeks, we pass unknown,
'Neath heavenly favours not our own,
Wage many a combat in the gloom,
And many a Greek send down to doom.
Some seek the vessels and the shore:
Some, smit with fear more low,
Climb the huge horse, and hide once more
Within the womb they know.
Alas! a mortal may not lean
On Heaven, when Heaven averts its mien.
Ah see! the Priameian fair,
Cassandra, by her streaming hair
Is dragged from Pallas' shrine,
Her wild eyes raised to Heaven in vain—
Her eyes, alas! for cord and chain
Her tender hands confine.
Corœbus brooked not such a sight,
But plunged infuriate in the fight.
We follow him, as blindly rash,
And, forming, on the spoilers dash:
When from the summit of the fane,
Or ere we deem, a murderous rain
Of Trojan darts our force o'erwhelms,
Misguided by those Argive helms.
Then, groaning deep their prey to lose,
The rallied Danaans round us close:
Fell Ajax and the Atridan pair
And all Thessalia's host were there:
As when the tempest sounds alarms,
And winds conflicting rush to arms,
Notus and Zephyr join the war,
And Eurus in his orient car:
The lashed woods howl: hoar Nereus raves,
And troubles all his realm of waves.
They too, whom erst in dusk of night
Our cunning practice turned to flight,
Come forth: our lying arms they know,
And in our tones perceive a foe.
At once they crush us, swarm on swarm:
And first beneath Peneleos' arm,
The warlike goddess' shrine before,
Corœbus welters in his gore.
Then Rhipeus dies: no purer son
Troy ever bred, more jealous none
Of sacred right: Heaven's will be done.
Dymas and Hypanis are slain,
By comrades cruelly mista'en;
Nor pious deed, nor Phœbus' wreath,
Could save thee, Panthus, from thy death.
Ye embers of expiring Troy,
Ye funeral flames of all my joy,
Bear witness, in your dying glow,
I shunned nor dart nor fronting foe,
And had it been my fate to bleed,
My hand had earned the doom decreed.
Thence forced, to other scenes we flee,
Pelias and Iphitus with me,
This laden with his years and slow,
That halting from Ulysses' blow:
For hark! the growing tumult calls
For rescue to the palace halls.
O, there a giant battle raged!
Who saw it sure had thought
No war in Troy was elsewhere raged[errata 2],
No deaths beside were wrought:
So fierce the fray our eyes that met,
The Danaans streaming to the roof,
And every gate by foes beset,
Screened by a penthouse javelin-proof.
Close to the walls the ladders cling:
From step to step the assailants spring,
E'en by the doors: a shield enfolds
Their left: their right a corbel holds.
The Dardans, reckless in despair,
The turrets and the roofs uptear
(E'en to such weapons Fortune drives
Brave patriots, struggling for their lives),
And hurl the gilded beams below,
The pride of ages long ago;
While others on the threshold stand,
And guard the entry, sword in hand.
My heart leaps up, the halls to save,
And help the vanquished to be brave.
A secret postern-gate was there,
Which oped behind a thoroughfare
Through Priam's courts: in happier day
Andromache would pass that way
Alone, to greet the royal pair,
And lead with her her youthful heir.
By this the palace roof I gain,
Whence our poor Trojans, all in vain,
Were showering down their missile rain.
With sheer descent, a turret high
Rose from the roof into the sky,
Whence curious gazers might look down
And see the camp, the fleet, the town:
This, where the flooring timbers join
The stronger stone, we undermine
And tumble o'er: it falls along,
Down crashing on the assailant throng:
But other Danaans fill their place,
And darts and stones still rain apace.
Full in the gate see Pyrrhus blaze,
A meteor, shooting steely rays:
So flames a serpent into light,
On poisonous herbage fed,
Which late in subterranean night
Through winter lay as dead:
Now from its ancient weeds undressed,
Invigorate and young,
Sunward it rears its glittering breast
And darts its three-forked tongue.
There at his side Automedon,
True liegeman both to sire and son,
And giant Periphas, and all
The Scyrian youth assail the wall
And firebrands roofward dart:
Himself the first with two-edged axe
The brazen-plated doors attacks,
And makes their hinges start:
Now through the heart of oak he drives
His weapon, and a loophole rives.
There stands revealed the house within,
Where the long hall retires:
The stately privacy is seen
Of Priam and his sires,
And on the threshold guards appear
In warlike pomp of shield and spear.
But far within the palace swarms
With tumult and confused alarms:
The deep courts wail with women's cries:
The clamour strikes the spangled skies.
Pale matrons run from place to place,
And clasp the doors in wild embrace.
Strong as his father, Pyrrhus strains,
Nor bar nor guard his force sustains:
The hacked door reels 'neath blow on blow,
Breaks from its hinges, and lies low.
Force wins her footing: in they rush,
The Danaan hordes, the foremost crush,
And deluge with an armed tide
The spacious level far and wide.
Less fierce when, breaking from its bounds,
The water surges o'er the mounds,
Down pours it, tumbling in a heap,
O'er all the fields with headlong sweep,
And whirls before it fold and sheep.
These eyes beheld fell Pyrrhus there
Intoxicate with gore,
Beheld the curst Atridan pair
Within the sacred door,
Beheld pale Hecuba, and those
The brides her hundred children chose,
And dying Priam at the shrine
Staining the hearth he made divine.
Those fifty nuptial chambers fair,
That promised many a princely heir,
Those pillared doors in pride erect,
With gold and spoils barbaric decked,
Lie smoking on the ground: the Greek
Is potent, where the fires are weak.
Perhaps you ask of Priam's fate:
He, when he sees his town o'erthrown,
Greeks bursting through his palace-gate
And thronging chambers once his own,
His ancient armour, long laid by,
Around his palsied shoulders throws,
Girds with a useless sword his thigh,
And totters forth to meet his foes.
Within the mansion's central space,
All bare and open to the day,
There stood an altar in its place,
And, close beside, an aged bay,
That drooping o'er the altar leaned,
And with its shade the home-gods screened.
Here Hecuba and all her train
Were seeking refuge, but in vain,
Huddling like doves by storms dismayed,
And clinging to the Gods for aid.
But soon as Priam caught her sight,
Thus in his youthful armour dight,
'What madness,' cries she, 'wretched spouse,
Has placed that helmet on your brows?
Say, whither fare you? times so dire
Bent knees, not lifted arms require:
Could Hector now before us stand,
No help were in my Hector's hand.
Take refuge here, and learn at length
The secret of an old man's strength:
One altar shall protect us all:
Here bide with us, or with us fall.'
She speaks, and guides Iris trembling feet
To join her in the hallowed seat.
See, fled from murdering Pyrrhus, runs
Polites, one of Priam's sons:
Through foes, through javelins, wounded sore,
He circles court and corridor,
While Pyrrhus follows in his rear
With outstretched hand and levelled spear;
Till just before his parents' eyes,
All bathed in blood, he falls and dies.
With death in view, the unchilded sire
Checked not the utterance of his ire:
'May Heaven, if Heaven be just to heed
Such horrors, render worthy meed'
He cries 'for this atrocious deed,
Which makes me see my darling die,
And stains with blood a father's eye.
But he to whom you feign you owe
Your birth, Achilles—'twas not so
He dealt with Priam, though his foe:
He feared the laws of right and truth;
He heard the suppliant's prayer with ruth;
Gave Hector's body to the tomb,
And sent me back in safety home.'
So spoke the sire, and speaking threw
A feeble dart, no blood that drew:
The ringing metal turned it back,
And left it dangling, weak and slack.
Then Pyrrhus: 'Take the news below,
And to my sire Achilles go:
Tell him of his degenerate seed,
And that and this my bloody deed.
Now die:' and to the altar-stone
Along the marble floor
He dragged the father, sliddering on
E'en in his child's own gore:
His left hand in his hair he wreathed,
While with the right he plied
His flashing sword, and hilt-deep sheathed
Within the old man's side.
So Priam's fortunes closed at last:
So passed he, seeing as he passed
His Troy in flames, his royal tower
Laid low in dust by hostile power,
Who once o'er land and peoples proud
Sat, while before him Asia bowed:
Now on the shore behold him dead,
A nameless trunk, a trunkless head.
O then I felt, as ne'er before,
Chill horror to my bosom's core.
I seemed my aged sire to see,
Beholding Priam, old as he,
Grasp out his life: before my eyes
Forlorn Creusa seemed to rise,
Our palace, sacked and desolate,
And young Iulus, left to fate.
Then, looking round, the place I eyed,
To see who yet were at my side.
Some by the flames were swallowed: some
Had leapt to earth: the end was come.
I stood alone, when lo! I mark
In Vesta's temple crouching dark
The traitress Helen: the broad blaze
Gives me full light, as round I gaze.
She, shrinking from the Trojans' hate
Made frantic by their city's fate,
Nor dreading less the Danaan sword,
The vengeance of her injured lord,—
She, Troy's and Argos' common fiend,
Sat cowering, by the altar screened.
My blood was fired: fierce passion woke
To quit Troy's fall by one sure stroke.
'What? to Mycenæ shall she go,
A conqueress, in a pageant show,
See home, sire, children, spouse again
With Phygian menials in her train?
Good Priam slaughtered? Troy no more?
The Dardan plains afloat with gore?
No—though no glory be to gain
From vengeance on a woman ta'en,
Yet he that rids the world of guilt
May claim the praise of blood well spilt:
'Twere joy to satiate righteous ire,
And slake my country's funeral fire.'
Thus was I raving, past control,
In aimless turbulence of soul,
When sudden dawning on the night
(Ne'er had I known her face so bright)
My mother flashed upon my sight,
Confessed a goddess, with the mien
And stature that in heaven are seen:
Reproachfully my hand she pressed,
And thus from roseate lips addressed:
'My son, what cruel wrongs excite
Your wrath to such pernicious height?
What mean you by this madness? where
Left you that love to me you bear?
And will you not at least inquire
What fate betides your time-worn sire?
If your Creusa still survive?
If young Ascanius be alive?
All these are trembling as for life,
With Grecian bands around them rife,
And, but for me, had sunk o'erpowered
By flame, or by the sword devoured.
Not the loathed charms of Sparta's dame,
Nor Paris, victim of your blame,—
No, 'tis the Gods, the Gods destroy
This mighty realm, and pull down Troy.
Behold! for I will purge the haze
That darkles round your mortal gaze
And blunts its keenness—mark me still,
Nor disobey your mother's will—
Here, where you see huge blocks unfixed
And dust and smoke in whirlwind mixed,
Great Neptune with his three-forked mace
Upheaves the ramparts from their place,
And rocks the town from cope to base.
Here Juno at the Scæan gates,
Begirt with steel, impatient waits,
And clamorous from the navy calls
Her comrades to the captured walls
Look back—see Pallas o'er the tower
With cloud and Gorgon redly lower.
E'en Jove to Greece his strength affords,
And fights from heaven 'gainst Dardan swords.
Then fly, and give the struggle o'er;
Myself will guard you, till once more
You stand before your father's door.'
She spoke, and vanished from my sight,
Lost in the darkness of the night.
Dire presences their forms disclose,
And powers of terror, Ilium's foes.
That vision showed me Neptune's town
In blazing ruin sinking down:
As rustics strive with many a stroke
To fell some venerable oak;
It still keeps nodding to its doom,
Still bows its head, and shakes its plume,
Till, by degrees o'ercome, one groan
It heaves, and on the hill lies prone.
Down from my perilous height I glide,
Safe sheltered by my heavenly guide,
So thread my way through foes and fire:
The darts give place, the flames retire.
But when I gained Anchises' door
And stood within my home once more,
My sire, whom I had hoped to bear
Safe to the hills with chiefest care,
Refused to lengthen out his span
And live on earth an exiled man.
'You, you,' he cries 'bestir your flight,
Whose blood is warm, whose limbs are light
Had Heaven not willed my life to cease,
Heaven would have kept my home in peace.
Enough, that I have once been saved,
Survivor of a town enslaved.
Now leave me: be your farewell said
To this my corpse, and count me dead.
My hand shall win me death: the foe
Such mercy as I need will show,
Will strip my spoils, and pass for brave.
He lacks not much that lacks a grave.
Long have I lived to curse my birth,
A useless cumberer of the earth,
E'en from the day when Heaven's dread sire
In anger scathed me with his fire.'
So talked he, obstinately set:
While we, our eyes with sorrow wet,
All on our knees, wife, husband, boy,
Implore—O let him not destroy
Himself and us, nor lend his weight
To the incumbent load of fate!
He hears not, but refuses still,
Unchanged alike in place and will.
Desperate, again to arms I fly,
And make my wretched choice to die:
For what deliverance now was mine,
What help in fortune or design?
'What? leave my sire behind and flee?
Such words from you? such words to me?
The watch that guards a parent's lip,
Lets it such dire suggestion slip?
If Heaven in truth has willed to spare
No relic of a town so fair,
If you and all wherein you joy
Must burn to feed the flames of Troy,
See there, Death waits you at the door:
See Pyrrhus, steeped in Priam's gore,
Repeats his double crime once more:
The son before his father's eyes,
The father at the altar dies.
O mother! was it then for this
I passed where fires and javelins hiss
Safe in thy conduct, but to see
Foes in my home's dear sanctuary—
All murdered, father, wife, and child,
Each in the other's blood defiled?
My arms! my arms! the fatal day
Calls, and the vanquished must obey;
Return me to the Danaan crew!
Let me the yielded fight renew!
No; one at least these walls contain
Who will not unavenged be slain.'
Once more I gird me for the field,
And to my arm make fast my shield,
And issue from the door—when see!
Creusa clings around my knee,
And offers with a tender grace
Iulus to his sire's embrace:
'If but to perish forth you fare,
Take us with you your fate to share:
But if you hope that help may come
From sword and shield, first guard your home.
Think, think to whom you leave your child,
Your sire, and her whom bride you styled.'
So cried she, and the tearful sound
Was filling all the chambers round,
When sudden in the house we saw
A sight for wonderment and awe:
Between us while Iulus stands
'Mid weeping eyes and clasping hands,
Lo! from the summit of his head
A lambent flame was seen to spread,
Sport with his locks in harmless play,
And grazing round his temples stray.
We hurrying strive his hair to quench,
And the blest flame with water drench.
But sire Anchises to the skies
In rapture lifts voice, hands, and eyes:
'Vouchsafe this once, almighty Jove,
If prayer thy righteous will can move.
And if our care have earned us thine,
Give aid, and ratify this sign.'
Scarce had the old man said, when hark!
It thundered left, and through the dark
A meteor with a train of light
Athwart the sky gleamed dazzling bright.
Right o'er our palace-roof it crossed,
Then in Idæan woods was lost,
Still glittering on: a fiery trail
Succeeds, and sulphurous fumes exhale.
At this my sire his form uprears,
Salutes the gods, the star reveres:
'Lead on, blest sign! no more I crave:
Gods, save my house, my grandchild save!
You sent this augury of joy;
Where you are present, there is Troy.
I yield, I yield, nor longer shun
To share the exile of my son.'
He ceased: and near and yet more near
The loud flame strikes on eye and ear.
'Come, mount my shoulders, dear my sire:
Such load my strength shall never tire.
Now, whether fortune smiles or lowers,
One risk, one safety shall be ours.
My son shall journey at my side,
My wife her steps by mine shall guide,
At distance safe. What next I say,
Attend, my servants, and obey.
Without the city stands a mound
With Ceres' ruined temple crowned:
A cypress spreads its branches near,
Hoar with hereditary fear.
Part we our several ways, to meet
At length beside that hallowed seat.
You, father, in your arms upbear
Troy's household gods with duteous care:
For me, just scaped from battle-fray,
On holy things a hand to lay
Were desecration, till I lave
My body in the running wave.'
So saying, in a lion's hide
I robe my shoulders, mantling wide,
And stoop beneath the precious load:
Iulus fastens to my side,
His steps scarce matching with my stride:
My wife behind me takes her road.
We travel darkling in the shade,
And I, whom through that fearful night
Nor volleyed javelins had dismayed
Nor foemen hand to hand, in fight,
Now start at every sound, in dread
For him I bore and him I led.
And now the gates I neared at last,
And all the journey seemed o'erpast,
When trampling feet my ear assail;
My father, peering through the gloom,
Cries 'Haste, my son! O haste! they come:
I see their shields, their glittering mail.'
'Twas then, alas! some power unkind
Bereft me of my wildered mind.
While unfrequented paths I thread,
And shun the roads that others tread,
My wife Creusa—did she stray,
Or halt exhausted by the way?
I know not—parted from our train,
Nor ever crossed our sight again.
Nor e'er my eyes her figure sought,
Nor e'er towards her turned my thought,
Till when at Ceres' hallowed spot
We mustered, she alone was not,
And her companions, spouse and son,
Looked round, and saw themselves undone.
Ah, that sad hour! whom spared I then,
In my wild grief, of gods and men?
What woe, in all the town o'erthrown,
Thought I more cruel than my own?
My father and my darling boy,
And, last not least, the gods of Troy,
To my retainers I confide
And in the winding valley hide,
While to the town once more I go,
And shining armour round me throw,
Resolved through Troy to measure back
From end to end[errata 3] my perilous track.
First to the city's shadowed gate
I turn me, whence we passed so late,
My footsteps through the darkness trace,
And cast my eyes from place to place.
A shuddering on my spirit falls,
And e'en the silence' self appals.
Then to my palace I repair,
In hope, in hope, to find her there:
In vain: the foes had forced the door,
And flooded all the mansion o'er.
Fanned by the wind, the flame upsoars
Roof-high; the hot blast skyward roars.
Departing thence, I seek the tower,
The ruined seat of Priam's power.
There Phœnix and Ulysses fell
In the void courts by Juno's cell
Were set the spoil to keep;
Snatched from the burning shrines away,
There Ilium's mighty treasure lay,
Rich altars, bowls of massy gold,
And captive raiment, rudely rolled
In one promiscuous heap;
While boys and matrons, wild with fear,
In long array were standing near.
With desperate daring I essayed
To send my voice along the shade,
Roused the still streets, and called in vain
Creusa o'er and o'er again.
Thus while in agony I pressed
From house to house the endless quest,
The pale sad spectre of my wife
Confronts me, larger than in life.
I stood appall'd, my hair erect,
And fear my tongue-tied utterance checked,
While gently she her speech addressed,
And set my troubled heart at rest:
'Why grieve so madly, husband mine?
Nought here has chanced without design:
Fate and the Sire of all decree
Creusa shall not cross the sea.
Long years of exile must be yours,
Vast seas must tire your labouring oars;
At length Hesperia you shall gain,
Where through a rich and peopled plain
Soft Tiber rolls his tide:
There a new realm, a royal wife,
Shall build again your shattered life.
Weep not your dear Creusa's fate:
Ne'er through Mycenæ's haughty gate
A captive shall I ride,
Nor swell some Grecian matron's train,
I, born of Dardan princes' strain,
To Venus' seed allied:
Heaven's mighty Mother keeps me here:
Farewell, and hold our offspring dear.'
Then, while I dewed with tears my cheek,
And strove a thousand things to speak,
She melted into night:
Thrice I essayed her neck to clasp:
Thrice the vain semblance mocked my grasp,
As wind or slumber light.
So now, the long, long night o'erpast,
I reach my weary friends at last.
There with amazement I behold
New-mustering comrades, young and old,
Sons, mothers, bound from home to flee,
A melancholy company.
They meet, prepared to brave the seas
And sail with me where'er I please.
Now, rising o'er the heights of Ide,
Shone the bright star, day's orient guide:
The Danaans swarmed at every door,
Nor seemed there hope of safety more:
I yield to fate, take up my sire,
And to the mountain's shade retire.