Aeneid/IX. The Siege

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VIII.The Site of Rome Aeneid
IX. The Siege
written by Virgil, translated by A. S. Kline
X. The Relief and Battle



While all these things were happening in various places,
Saturnian Juno sent Iris from heaven to brave Turnus,
who chanced to be sitting in a sacred valley, a grove to Pilumnus
his father. To him Thaumas’s daughter spoke, from her rosy lips:
‘Turnus, see, the circling days, unasked, have brought
what you wished, but what no god dared to promise.
Aeneas leaving the city, his friends and ships,
seeks the Palatine kingdom, and Evander’s house.
Unsatisfied he has reached Corythus’s furthest cities,
and, gathering men from the country, arms Lydian troops.
Why wait? Now is the time to call on horse and chariot.
End all delays: seize their camp, in its confusion.’
She spoke, and rose into the sky on level wings,
tracing a vast arc against the clouds in her flight.
The youth knew her, raised both his hands to the heavens,
and sent these words after her as she flew:
‘Iris, glory of the sky, who sent you down through
the clouds, to me, on earth? Where does this sudden
bright moment spring from? I see the sky split apart
at its zenith, and the stars that roam the pole. I follow
so mighty an omen, whoever calls me to arms.’
Saying this he went to the river and scooped water
from the surface of the stream, calling often
to the gods, and weighting the air with prayers.
Now the whole army, rich in horses, rich in ornate clothes,
and gold, was engaged in moving over the open fields:
Messapus controlling the front ranks, Tyrrhus’s sons
the rear, Turnus, the leader, in the centre of the line:
like the deep Ganges, swelling in silence, through
his seven placid streams, or Nile when his rich stream
inundates the fields, soon sinking down into his course.
The Trojans suddenly see a black dust cloud
gathering there, and darkness rising over the plain.
Caicus shouted first from the forward rampart:
‘What’s that rolling mass of black fog, countrymen?
Bring your swords, quickly: hand out spears: mount the walls:
ah, the enemy is here!’ With a great clamour the Trojans
retreated through the gates, and filled the ramparts.
For Aeneas, wisest in warfare, had commanded, on leaving,
if anything chanced in the meantime, they were not to dare
to form ranks or trust themselves to the open field: they were
only to guard the camp and walls, safe behind the ramparts.
So, though anger and shame counselled the troops to fight,
still they shut the gates and followed his orders,
awaiting the enemy, armed, within their hollow turrets.
But Turnus had galloped forward ahead of his slow column,
accompanied by twenty chosen horsemen, and reached
the city unexpectedly: a piebald Thracian horse carried him,
a golden helmet with a crimson crest protected his head.
‘Men,’ he shouted, ‘is there anyone who’ll be first with me
among the enemy – ? Look,’ and twirling a javelin sent it
skyward to start the fight, and rode proudly over the field.
His friends welcomed him with a shout, and followed
with fearful battle-cries: marvelling at the Trojan’s dull souls,
not trusting themselves to a level field, nor facing men
carrying weapons, but hugging the camp. He rode to and fro
wildly round the walls, seeking a way in where there was none.
Like a wolf, lying in wait by a full sheepfold, that snarls
by the pens at midnight, enduring the wind and rain,
the lambs bleating safe beneath their mothers,
and rages against the prey out of reach, fierce and persistent
in its anger, tormented by its dry, bloodless jaws,
and the fierceness of its long-increasing hunger:
so as Turnus scanned the wall and camp, the Rutulian’s anger
was alight, and indignation burned in his harsh marrow.
How could he try and enter, and hurl the penned-up
Trojans from their rampart, and scatter them over the plain?
He attacked the ships, that lay close to a flank of the camp,
defended by earthworks, and the flowing river,
calling out to his exultant friends for fire,
and fervently grasped a blazing pine-brand in his hand.
Then they set to (urged on by Turnus’s presence)
and all the men armed themselves with dark torches.
They stripped the hearths: the smoking branches threw
a pitchy glow, and Vulcan hurled the cloud of ashes to heaven.
O Muse, what god, turned away such fierce flames
from the Trojans? Who drove such savage fires from the ships?
Tell me: belief in the story’s ancient, its fame is eternal.
In the days when Aeneas first built his fleet on Phrygian Ida
and prepared to set out over the deep ocean,
they say the Mother of the gods herself, Berecyntian Cybele,
spoke so to great Jupiter: ‘My son, lord of Olympus,
grant what your dear mother asks of you in request.
There was a pine-forest a delight to me for many years
a grove on the summit of the mountain, where they brought
offerings, dark with blackened firs and maple trunks.
I gave these gladly to the Trojan youth, since he lacked
a fleet: now, troubled, anxious fear torments me.
Relieve my fears, and let your mother by her prayers ensure
they are not destroyed, shattered by voyaging or violent storm:
let their origin on our mountain be of aid to them.’
Her son, who turns the starry globe, replied:
‘O, my mother, to what do you summon fate? What do you seek
for them? Should keels made by mortal hands have eternal rights?
Should Aeneas travel in certainty through uncertain
dangers? To what god are such powers permitted?
No, one day when they’ve served their purpose,
and reached an Italian haven, I’ll take away, from those
that escape the waves, and bear the Trojan chief
to Laurentine fields, their mortal shape, and command
them to be goddesses of the vast ocean, like Doto, Nereus’s
child, and Galatea, who part the foaming sea with their breasts.’
He spoke, and swore his assent, by his Stygian brother’s rivers,
by the banks that seethe with pitch on the black abyss,
and with his nod shook all Olympus.
So the day he had promised came, and the Fates fulfilled
their appointed hour, when Turnus’s injury to the sacred fleet
prompted the Mother to defend them from the flames.
At first a strange light flared to the watchers, and a huge cloud
was seen to travel across the sky from the east,
with bands of her Idaean attendants: then a terrible voice
rang through the air, echoing among the Trojan and Rutulian lines:
‘Trojans, don’t rush to defend the ships, or take up arms.
Turnus can burn the ocean, sooner than my sacred pines. Go free,
you Goddesses of the sea: your mother commands it.’ And at once
each ship tore her cable loose from the bank: they dipped their noses
like dolphins, and sought the watery deep. Then (strange wonder)
as many virgin shapes re-surfaced, and swam about the sea.
The Rutulians were amazed in mind, Messapus himself
was awe-struck, his horses panicked: and even the noisy flow
of the river halted, as Tiber retreated from the deep.
But brave Turnus’s confidence never wavered:
and he raised their spirits as well, and chided them:
‘These marvels are aimed at the Trojans, Jupiter himself
has deprived them of their usual allies: those didn’t wait
for Rutulian missiles and fires. So the seas are impassable
for the Trojans, and they have no hope of flight: other regions
are lost to them, and this land is in our hands, so many
thousands of Italy’s peoples are in arms. I’m not afraid
of all the fateful omens from the gods these Phrygians
openly boast of: enough has been granted to Venus and the Fates,
since the Trojans have reached Ausonia’s fertile fields.
I have my own counter destiny, to root out the guilty race,
that has snatched my bride, with the sword. That’s a sorrow
that doesn’t touch Atrides alone, nor is Mycenae alone allowed
to take up arms. ‘But to die once is enough.’? To have sinned
before should be enough for these men, to whom confidence
in a dividing wall, and slight obstacles to death, defensive moats,
grant courage, to utterly detest well-nigh the whole tribe
of women. Did they not witness the work of Neptune’s
hands, the battlements of Troy, sink in flames? But you,
O chosen ones, which of you is ready to uproot the ramparts
with your steel, and invade their terrified camp with me?
I don’t need Vulcan’s arms, or a thousand ships,
against Trojans. Let all Etruria join them now in alliance.
They need not fear darkness, or cowardly theft
‘of their Palladium, killing guards on the citadel’s heights’,
we won’t hide in the dark belly of a horse:
I intend to circle their walls in broad daylight with fire.
I’ll make them concede its not Greeks, Pelasgic youth,
they’re dealing with, whom Hector held till the tenth year.
Now, since the best part of the day’s gone, men,
refresh yourselves with what’s left, pleased with work
well done, and look forward to starting the battle.
Meanwhile the order was given to Messapus to picket
the gates alertly with sentries and ring the ramparts with flames.
Fourteen Rutulians were chosen to guard the walls
with their men, each with a hundred soldiers
under them, purple-plumed and glittering with gold.
They ran about, took turns on watch, or lifted
the bronze bowls and enjoyed their wine,
stretched out on the grass. The fires shone,
while the guards spent the watchful night in games.
The armed Trojans held the heights, looking down
on this from above, and also with anxious fears,
checked the gates, built bulwarks and bridges,
and disposed their weapons. Mnestheus and brave Serestus,
whom Aeneas their leader appointed to command the army
and state, if adversity ever required it, urged them on.
Sharing the risk, the whole company kept watch and served
in turn, at whatever point was to be guarded by each.
Nisus, bravest of warriors, son of Hyrtacus, was a guard
at the gates, he whom Ida the huntress had sent
to accompany Aeneas, agile with javelin and light darts,
and Euryalus was with him, than whom none was
more beautiful among the Aenedae, or wearing Trojan armour,
a boy, whose unshaven face, showed the first bloom of youth.
One love was theirs, and they charged side by side into battle:
now they were also guarding the gate at the same sentry-post.
Nisus said: ‘Euryalus, do the gods set this fire in our hearts,
or does each man’s fatal desire become godlike to him?
My mind has long urged me to rush to battle, or high
adventure, and is not content with peace and quiet.
You see what confidence the Rutulians have in events:
their lights shine far apart, and they lie drowned in sleep
and wine, everywhere is quiet. Listen to what I’m now
thinking, and what purpose comes to mind. The army
and the council all demand Aeneas be recalled,
and men be sent to report the facts to him.
If they were to grant what I suggest to you (the glory
of doing it is enough for me) I think I could find a way,
beyond that hill, to the walls and ramparts of Pallanteum.’
Euryalus was dazzled, struck by a great desire for glory,
and replied to his ardent friend at once, like this:
‘Nisus, do you shun my joining in this great deed,
then? Shall I send you into such danger alone?
That’s not how my father Opheltes, seasoned in war,
educated me, raising me among Greek terrors
and Troy’s ordeals, nor have I conducted myself so
with you, following noble Aeneas and the ends of fate.
This is my spirit, one scornful of the day, that thinks
the honour you aim at well bought with life itself.’
Nisus replied: ‘Indeed I had no such doubts of you,
that would be wrong: not so will great Jupiter, or whoever
looks at this action with favourable gaze, bring me back to you
in triumph: but if (as you often see in such crises)
if chance or some god sweeps me to disaster,
I want you to survive: your youth is more deserving of life.
Let there be someone to entrust me to earth, my body
rescued from conflict, or ransomed for a price,
or if Fortune denies the customary rites, to perform
them in my absence, and honour me with a stone.
And don’t let me be a cause of grief to your poor mother,
my boy, who alone among many mothers dared to follow
you, without thought of staying in great Acestes’s city.’
But the lad said: ‘You weave your excuses in vain,
my purpose won’t change or yield to yours. Let’s hurry’,
and he roused guards, who came up to take their place:
leaving his post he walked by Nisus’s side to seek the prince.
Every other creature, throughout the land, was easing
its cares with sleep, its heart forgetful of toil:
the Trojans’ chief captains, the pick of their manhood,
were holding council on the most serious affairs of state,
what to do, and who should go now as messenger to Aeneas.
They stood, between the camp and the plain, leaning
on their long spears, holding their shields. Nisus and Euryalus,
together, begged eagerly to be admitted at once:
the matter being important, and worth the delay. Iulus was first
to welcome the impatient pair, and ordered Nisus to speak.
So the son of Hyrtacus said: ‘Followers of Aeneas, listen
with fair minds, and don’t judge my words by our years.
The Rutulians are quiet, drowned in sleep and wine.
We ourselves have seen a place for a sortie: it opens
in a fork of the road by the nearest gate to the sea.
There’s a gap between the fires, and black smoke rises
to the stars. If you allow us to seize the chance,
you’ll soon see us back again burdened with spoils
after carrying out vast slaughter. The road will not
deceive us as we seek Aeneas and Pallanteum’s walls.
In our frequent hunting through the secret valleys
we’ve seen the outskirts of the city, and know the whole river.’
To this Aletes, heavy with years and wise in mind, replied:
‘Gods of our fathers, under whose power Troy lies,
you do not intend to obliterate the Trojan race as yet
since you bring us such courage in our young men and such
firm hearts.’ So saying, he took them both by the shoulder
and hand while tears flooded his cheeks and lips.
‘What possible prize could I consider worthy
to be granted you men for such a glorious action?
The gods and tradition will give you the first
and most beautiful one: then good Aeneas, and Ascanius,
who’s untouched by the years and never unmindful
of such service, will immediately award the rest.’
Ascanius interrupted: ‘Rather I entreat you both, Nisus,
since my well-being depends on my father’s return,
by the great gods of our house, by the Lar of Assaracus,
and by grey-haired Vesta’s innermost shrine, I lay
all my fortune and my promise in your lap, call my father back,
give me a sight of him: there’s no sorrow if he’s restored.
I’ll give you a pair of wine-cups, all of silver, with figures
in relief, that my father captured when Arisba was taken,
and twin tripods, two large talents of gold,
and an antique bowl Sidonian Dido gave me.
If we truly manage to capture Italy, and take the sceptre,
and assign the spoils by lot, you have seen the horse
golden Turnus rode, and the armour he wore, I’ll separate
from this moment, from the lots, that same horse, the shield,
and the crimson plumes as your reward, Nisus.
Moreover my father will give you twelve women
of choicest person, and male captives all with their own armour,
and, beyond that, whatever land King Latinus owns himself.
But now I truly welcome you wholly to my heart, Euryalus,
a boy to be revered, whose age I come closer to in time,
and embrace you as a friend for every occasion.
I’ll never seek glory in my campaigns without you:
whether I enjoy peace or war, you’ll have my firmest trust
in word and action.’ Euryalus spoke like this in reply:
‘No day will ever find me separated from such
bold action: inasmuch as fortune proves kind
and not cruel. But I ask one gift above all from you:
I have a mother, of Priam’s ancient race, unhappy woman,
whom neither the land of Troy, nor King Acestes’s city
could keep from accompanying me. I leave her now,
ignorant of whatever risk to me there might be,
and of my farewell, since ( this night and your
right hand bear witness) I could not bear
a mother’s tears. But I beg you, comfort
her helplessness and aid her loss. Let me carry
this hope I place in you with me, I will meet all dangers
more boldly.’ Their spirits affected, the Trojans
shed tears, noble Iulus above all, and this image
of filial love touched his heart. Then he said:
‘Be sure I’ll do everything worthy of your great venture.
She’ll be as my mother to me, only lacking her name Creusa:
no small gratitude’s due to her for bearing such a son.
Whatever the outcome of your action, I swear by this life,
by which my father used once to swear: what I promised
to you when you return, your campaign successful,
that same will accrue to your mother and your house.’
So he spoke, in tears: and at the same time stripped the gilded
sword from his shoulder, that Lycaon of Cnossos had made
with marvellous art, and equipped for use with an ivory sheath.
Mnestheus gave Nisus a pelt, taken from a shaggy lion,
loyal Aletes exchanged helmets. They armed, and left
immediately: and the whole band of leaders, young and old,
escorted them to the gate as they went, with prayers.
And noble Iulus too, with mature mind and duties
beyond his years, gave them many commissions
to carry to his father: but the winds were to scatter
them all, and blow them vainly to the clouds.
Leaving, they crossed the ditches, seeking the enemy camp
in the shadow of night, destined yet to first bring many deaths.
They saw bodies in drunken sleep, stretched here and there
on the grass, chariots tilted upwards on the shore, men, among
wheels and harness, and weapons and wine-cups lying about.
Nisus, Hyrtacus’s son, spoke first, saying:
‘Euryalus, now the occasion truly calls for a daring
right hand. This is our road. You must see that no arm’s
raised against us at our back, and keep watch carefully:
I’ll deal destruction here, and cut you a wide path.’
So he spoke, and checked his speech, and at once
drove his sword at proud Rhamnes, who chanced to be
breathing deeply in sleep, piled with thick coverlets,
He was King Turnus’s best-beloved augur, and a king
himself, but he could not avert destruction with augury.
Nisus killed three of his servants nearby, lying careless
among their weapons, and Remus’s armour bearer, and his charioteer,
found at the horses’ feet: he severed lolling necks with his sword.
Then he struck off the head of their lord himself, and left
the trunk spurting blood, the ground and the bed drenched
with dark warm blood. And Lamyrus too, and Lamum,
and young Serranus, noted for his beauty, who had sported
much that night, and lay there limbs drowned by much wine –
happy if he’d carried on his game all night till dawn:
So a starving lion churning through a full sheepfold, (driven
by its raging hunger) gnaws and tears at the feeble flock
mute with fear, and roars from its bloodstained mouth.
Nor was Euryalus’s slaughter any less: he too raged, ablaze,
and among the nameless crowd he attacked Fadus,
and Herbesus, and Abaris, while they were unconscious:
and Rhoetus, but Rhoetus was awake and saw it all,
but crouched in fear behind a huge wine-bowl. As he rose,
in close encounter, Euryalus plunged his whole blade
into Rhoetus’s chest, and withdrew it red with death. Rhoetus
choked out his life in dark blood, and, dying, brought up wine
mixed with gore: the other pressed on fervently and stealthily.
Now he approached Messapus’s followers: there he saw
the outermost fires flickering, and the horses, duly tethered,
cropping the grass: Nisus (seeing him carried away
by slaughter and love of the sword’s power) said briefly:
‘Let’s go, since unhelpful dawn is near. Enough: vengeance
has been satisfied: a path has been made through the enemy.’
They left behind many of the men’s weapons
fashioned from solid silver, and wine-bowls and splendid hangings.
Euryalus snatched Rhamnes’s trappings, and gold-studded
sword-belt, gifts that wealthy Caedicus had once sent to Remulus
of Tibur, expressing friendship in absence: he when dying
gave them to his grandson as his own, and after his death in turn
the Rutulians captured them during the war in battle: now
Euryalus fitted them over his brave shoulders, though in vain.
Then he put on Messapus’s excellent helmet with its handsome
plumes. The left the camp and headed for safety.
Meanwhile riders arrived, sent out from the Latin city,
while the rest of the army waited in readiness,
on the plain, bringing a reply for King Turnus:
three hundred, carrying shields, led by Volcens.
They were already near the camp, and below the walls,
when they saw the two men turning down a path on the left:
his helmet, gleaming in the shadow of night, betrayed
the unthinking Euryalus, and reflected back the rays.
It was not seen in vain. Volcens shouted from his column:
‘You men, halt, what’s the reason for your journey? Who are you,
you’re armed? Where are you off to?’ They offered no response,
but hastened their flight to the woods, trusting to the dark.
The riders closed off the known junctions, on every side,
and surrounded each exit route with guards.
The forest spread out widely, thick with brambles
and holm-oaks, the dense thorns filling it on every side:
there the path glinted through the secret glades.
Euryalus was hampered by shadowy branches, and the weight
of his plunder, and his fear confused the path’s direction.
Nisus was clear: and already unaware had escaped the enemy,
and was at the place later called Alba from Alba Longa
(at that time King Latinus had his noble stalls there)
when he stopped, and looked back vainly for his missing friend.
‘Euryalus, unhappy boy, where did I separate from you?
Which way shall I go?’ he said, considering all the tangled tracks
of the deceptive wood, and at the same time scanning
the backward traces he could see, criss-crossing the silent thickets.
He heard horses, heard the cries and signals of pursuit:
and it was no great time before a shout reached his ears
and he saw Euryalus, betrayed by the ground and the night,
confused by the sudden tumult, whom the whole troop
were dragging away, overpowered, struggling violently in vain.
What can he do? With what force, or weapons, can he dare
to rescue the youth? Should he hurl himself to his death among
the swords, and by his wounds hasten to a glorious end?
He swiftly drew back his spear arm and gazing upwards
at the moon above, prayed, with these words:
‘O you, goddess, O you, Latona’s daughter, glory of the stars,
and keeper of the woods, be here and help us in our trouble.
If ever my father, Hyrtacus, brought offerings on my behalf
to your altars, if ever I added to them from my own hunting,
hung them beneath your dome, or fixed them to the sacred eaves,
let me throw their troop into confusion, guide my spear through the air.’
He spoke and flung the steel, straining with his whole body.
The flying javelin divided the shadows, struck Sulmo’s back,
as he turned, and snapped, the broken shaft piercing the heart.
He rolled over, a hot stream pouring from his chest,
and deep gasps shook his sides, as he grew cold.
They gazed round them, in every direction. See, Nisus,
all the more eager, levelled another spear against his ear.
While they hesitated, the javelin hissed through both
of Tagus’s temples, and fixed itself still warm in the pierced
brain. Fierce Volcens raged, but could not spy out the author
of the act, nor any place that he could vent his fire.
He rushed at Euryalus with his naked sword, as he
cried out: ‘In the mean time you’ll pay in hot blood
and give me revenge for both your crimes.’
Then, truly maddened with fear, Nisus shouted aloud, unable
to hide himself in the dark any longer, or endure such agony:
On me, Rutulians, turn your steel on me, me who did the deed!
The guilt is all mine, he neither dared nor had the power:
the sky and the all-knowing stars be witnesses:
he only loved his unfortunate friend too much.’
He was still speaking, but the sword, powerfully driven,
passed through the ribs and tore the white breast.
Euryalus rolled over in death, and the blood flowed
down his lovely limbs, and his neck, drooping,
sank on his shoulder, like a bright flower scythed
by the plough, bowing as it dies, or a poppy weighed
down by a chance shower, bending its weary head.
But Nisus rushed at them, seeking Volcens
above all, intent on Volcens alone.
The enemy gathered round him, to drive him off,
in hand to hand conflict. He attacked none the less, whirling
his sword like lightning, until he buried it full in the face
of the shrieking Rutulian, and, dying, robbed his enemy of life.
Then, pierced through, he threw himself on the lifeless body
of his friend, and found peace at last in the calm of death.
Happy pair! If my poetry has the power,
while the House of Aeneas lives beside the Capitol’s
immobile stone, and a Roman leader rules the Empire,
no day will raze you from time’s memory.
The victorious Rutulians, gaining new plunder, and the spoils,
weeping carried the lifeless Volcens to the camp.
Nor was there less grief in that camp when Rhamnes
was discovered, drained of blood, and so many other leaders,
killed in a single slaughter, with Serranus and Numa. A huge
crowd rushed towards the corpses and the dying, and the place
fresh with hot killing, and foaming streams full of blood.
Between them they identified the spoils, Messapus’s
gleaming helmet, and his trappings re-won with such sweat.
And now Aurora, early, leaving Tithonus’s saffron bed,
sprinkled her fresh rays onto the earth. And now
as the sun streamed down, now as day revealed all things,
Turnus armed himself, and roused his heroes to arms:
they gathered their bronze-clad troops for the battle,
each his own, and whetted their anger with various tales.
They even fixed the heads of Euryalus and Nisus
on raised spears (wretched sight), and followed
behind them, making a great clamour.
The tough sons of Aeneas had fixed their opposing lines
on the left side of the ramparts (the right bordered on the river)
and they held the wide ditches and stood grieving
on the high turrets: moved as one, made wretched by seeing the heads
of men they know only too well transfixed and streaming dark blood.
Meanwhile winged Rumour, flying through the anxious town,
sped the news, and stole to the ears of Euryalus’s mother.
And suddenly all warmth left her helpless bones,
the shuttle was hurled from her hands, the thread unwound.
The wretched woman rushed out and sought the ramparts
and the front line, shrieking madly, her hair dishevelled:
she ignored the soldiers, the danger, the weapons,
then she filled the heavens with her lament:’
‘Is it you I see, Euryalus? You who brought peace
at last to my old age, how could you bring yourself
to leave me alone, cruel child? Why did you not give
your poor mother the chance for a final goodbye
when you were being sent into so much danger?
Ah, you lie here in a strange land, given as prey to the carrion
birds and dogs of Latium! I, your mother, did not escort you
in funeral procession, or close your eyes, or bathe your wounds,
or shroud you with the robes I laboured at night and day
for you, soothing the cares of old age at the loom.
Where shall I go? What earth now holds your body,
your torn limbs, your mangled corpse? My son,
is this what you bring home to me? Is this why I followed you
by land and sea? O Rutulians, if you have feelings, pierce me:
hurl all your spears at me: destroy me above all with your steel:
or you, great father of the gods, pity me, and with
your lightning bolt, hurl this hated being down to Tartarus,
since I can shatter this cruel life no other way.’
This wailing shook their hearts, and a groan of sorrow swept
them all: their strength for battle was numbed and weakened.
She was igniting grief and Idaeus and Actor,
at Ilioneus’s order, with Iulus weeping bitterly,
caught her up, and carried her inside in their arms.
But the war-trumpet, with its bronze singing, rang out
its terrible sound, a clamour followed, that the sky re-echoed.
The Volscians, raising their shields in line, ran forward,
ready to fill in the ditches, and tear down the ramparts:
Some tried for an entrance, and to scale the wall with ladders,
where the ranks were thin, and a less dense cordon of men
allowed the light through. The Trojans accustomed to defending
their walls by endless warfare, hurled missiles at them
of every sort, and fended them off with sturdy poles.
They rolled down stones too, deadly weights,
in the hope of breaking through the well-protected ranks,
which under their solid shields, however, rejoiced
in enduring every danger. But soon even they were inadequate
since the Trojans rolled a vast rock to where a large formation
threatened, and hurled it down, felling the Rutulians
far and wide, and breaking their armoured shell.
The brave Rutulians no longer cared to fight blindly,
but tried to clear the ramparts with missiles.
Elsewhere, Mezentius, deadly to behold, brandished
Tuscan pine, and hurled smoking firebrands:
while Messapus, tamer of horses, scion of Neptune,
tore at the rampart, and called for scaling ladders.
I pray to you, O Calliope, Muses, inspire my singing
of the slaughter, the deaths Turnus dealt with his sword
that day, and who each warrior was, that he sent down to Orcus,
and open the lips of mighty war with me,
since, goddesses, you remember, and have the power to tell:
There was a turret, tall to look at, with high access-ways,
and a good position, that all the Italians tried with utmost power
to storm, and to dislodge with the utmost power of their efforts:
the Trojans in turn defended themselves with stones
and hurled showers of missiles through the open loopholes.
Turnus was first to throw a blazing torch and root the flames
in its flank, that, fanned by a strong wind, seized
the planking, and clung to the entrances they devoured.
The anxious men inside were afraid, and tried in vain
to escape disaster. While they clung together and retreated
to the side free from damage, the turret suddenly
collapsed, and the whole sky echoed to the crash.
Half-dead they fell to earth, the huge mass following,
pierced by their own weapons, and their chests impaled
on the harsh wood. Only Helenor and Lycus managed
to escape: Helenor being in the prime of youth, one
whom a Licymnian slave had secretly borne to the Maeonian king,
and sent to Troy, with weapons he’d been forbidden,
lightly armed with naked blade, and anonymous white shield.
When he found himself in the midst of Turnus’s thousands,
Latin ranks standing to right and left of him,
as a wild creature, hedged in by a close circle of hunters,
rages against theirs weapons, and hurls itself, consciously,
to death, and is carried by its leap on to the hunting spears,
so the youth rushed to his death among the enemy,
and headed for where the weapons appeared thickest.
But Lycus, quicker of foot, darting among the enemy
and their arms reached the wall, and tried to grasp
the high parapet with his hands, to reach his comrades’ grasp.
Turnus following him closely on foot, with his spear,
taunted in triumph: ‘Madman, did you hope to escape
my reach?’ He seized him, there and then, as he hung,
and pulled him down, with a large piece of the wall,
like an eagle, carrier of Jove’s lightning bolt, soaring high,
lifting a hare or the snow-white body of a swan in its talons,
or a wolf, Mars’s creature, snatching a lamb from the fold,
that its mother searches for endlessly bleating. A shout rose
on all sides: the Rutulians drove forwards, some filling
the ditches with mounds of earth, others throwing burning brands
onto the roofs. Ilioneus felled Lucetius with a rock, a vast fragment
of the hillside, as he neared the gate, carrying fire, Liger
killed Emathion, Asilas killed Corynaeus, the first skilled
with the javelin, the other with deceptive long-range arrows:
Caenus felled Ortygius, Turnus victorious Caeneus, and Itys
and Clonius, Dioxippus and Promolus, and Sagaris, and Idas
as he stood on the highest tower, and Capys killed Privernus.
Themillas had grazed him slightly first with his spear, foolishly
he threw his shield down, and placed his hand on the wound:
so the arrow winged silently, fixed itself deep in his left side,
and, burying itself within, tore the breathing passages
with a lethal wound. Arcens son stood there too in glorious
armour, his cloak embroidered with scenes, bright with Spanish blue,
a youth of noble features, whom his father Arcens had sent,
reared in Mars’s grove by Symaethus’s streams,
where the rich and gracious altars of Palicus stand:
Mezentius, dropping his spears, whirled a whistling sling
on its tight thong, three times round his head, and split
his adversary’s forehead open in the middle, with
the now-molten lead, stretching him full length in the deep sand.
Then they say Ascanius first aimed his swift arrows
in war, used till now to terrify wild creatures in flight,
and with his hand he felled brave Numanus,
who was surnamed Remulus, and had
lately won Turnus’s sister as his wife.
Numanus marched ahead of the front rank,
shouting words that were fitting and unfitting
to repeat, his heart swollen with new-won royalty
and boasting loudly of his greatness:
‘Twice conquered Trojans aren’t you ashamed to be besieged
and shut behind ramparts again, fending off death with walls?
Behold, these are the men who’d demand our brides through war!
What god, what madness has driven you to Italy?
Here are no Atrides, no Ulysses, maker of fictions:
a race from hardy stock, we first bring our newborn sons
to the river, and toughen them with the water’s fierce chill:
as children they keep watch in the chase, and weary the forest,
their play is to wheel their horses and shoot arrows from the bow:
but patient at work, and used to little, our young men
tame the earth with the hoe, or shake cities in battle.
All our life we’re abraded by iron: we goad our bullocks’
flanks with a reversed spear, and slow age
doesn’t weaken our strength of spirit, or alter our vigour:
we set a helmet on our white hairs, and delight
in collecting fresh spoils, and living on plunder.
You wear embroidered saffron and gleaming purple,
idleness pleases you, you delight in the enjoyment of dance,
and your tunics have sleeves, and your hats have ribbons.
O truly you Phrygian women, as you’re not Phrygian men,
run over the heights of Dindymus, where a double-reed
makes music for accustomed ears. The timbrels call to you,
and the Berecynthian boxwood flute of the Mother of Ida:
leave weapons to men and abandon the sword.’
Ascanius did not tolerate such boastful words and dire warnings,
but facing him, fitted an arrow to the horsehair string, and,
straining his arms apart, paused, and first prayed humbly to Jove
making these vows: ‘All-powerful Jupiter, assent to my bold attempt.
I myself will bring gifts each year to your temple,
and I’ll place before your altar a snow-white bullock
with gilded forehead, carrying his head as high as his mother,
already butting with his horns, and scattering sand with his hooves.’
The Father heard, and thundered on the left
from a clear sky, as one the fatal bow twanged.
The taut arrow sped onwards with a dreadful hiss,
and passed through Remulus’s brow, and split the hollow
temples with its steel. ‘Go on, mock at virtue with proud words!
This is the reply the twice-conquered Phrygians send the Rutulians’:
Ascanius said nothing more. The Trojans followed this
with cheers, shouted for joy, and raised their spirits to the skies.
Now, by chance, long-haired Apollo, seated in the cloudy
skies, looked down on the Italian ranks and the town,
and spoke to the victorious Iulus as follows:
‘Blessings on your fresh courage, boy, scion of gods
and ancestor of gods yet to be, so it is man rises
to the stars. All the wars that destiny might bring
will rightly cease under the rule of Assaracus’s house,
Troy does not limit you.’ With this he launched himself
from high heaven, parted the living air, and found
Ascanius: then changed the form of his features
to old Butes. He was once armour-bearer to Trojan
Anchises, and faithful guardian of the threshold:
then Ascanius’s father made him the boy’s companion.
As he walked Apollo was like the old man in every way,
in voice and colouring, white hair, and clanging of harsh
weapons, and he spoke these words to the ardent Iulus:
‘Enough, son of Aeneas, that Numanus has fallen to your bow
and is un-avenged. Mighty Apollo grants you this first glory,
and does not begrudge you your like weapons:
but avoid the rest of the battle, boy.’ So Apollo
spoke and in mid-speech left mortal sight
and vanished far from men’s eyes into clear air.
The Trojan princes recognised the god and his celestial
weapons, and heard his quiver rattling as he flew.
So, given the god’s words and his divine will, they stopped
Ascanius, eager for the fight, while themselves returning
to the battle, and openly putting their lives at risk.
The clamour rang through the towers along the whole wall,
they bent their bows quickly and whirled their slings.
The whole earth was strewn with spears: shields and hollow
helmets clanged as they clashed together, the battle grew fierce:
vast as a rainstorm from the west, lashing the ground
beneath watery Auriga, and dense as the hail the clouds hurl
into the waves, when Jupiter, bristling with southerlies,
twirls the watery tempest, and bursts the sky’s cavernous vapours.
Pandarus and Bitias, sons of Alcanor from Ida, whom Iaera
the wood-nymph bore in Jupiter’s grove, youths tall
as the pine-trees on their native hills, threw open the gate
entrusted to them by their leader’s command, and, relying on
their weapons, drew the Rutulian enemy within the walls.
They themselves stood in the gate, in front of the towers to right
and left, steel armoured, with plumes waving on their noble heads:
just as twin oaks rise up into the air, by flowing rivers,
on the banks of the Po, or by delightful Athesis, lifting
their shaggy heads to the sky, and nodding their tall crowns.
When they saw the entrance clear the Rutulians rushed through.
At once Quercens and Aquicolus, handsome in his armour,
Tmarus, impulsive at heart, and Haemon, a son of Mars,
were routed with all their Rutulian ranks, and took to their heels,
or laid down their lives on the very threshold of the gate.
Then the anger grew fiercer in their fighting spirits,
and soon the Trojans gathering massed in the same place,
and dared to fight hand to hand, and advance further outside.
The news reached Turnus, the Rutulian leader, as he raged
and troubled the lines in a distant part of the field, that the enemy,
hot with fresh slaughter, were laying their doors wide open.
He left what he had begun, and, roused to savage fury,
he ran towards the Trojan gate, and the proud brothers.
And first he brought Antiphates down with a spear throw,
(since he was first to advance), bastard son of noble Sarpedon
by a Theban mother: the Italian cornel-wood shaft flew through
the clear air and, fixing in his belly, ran deep up into his chest:
the hollow of the dark wound released a foaming flow,
and the metal became warm in the pierced lung.
Then he overthrew Meropes and Erymas with his hand,
and then Aphidnus, then Bitias, fire in his eyes, clamour
in his heart, not to a spear (he would never have lost his life
to a spear) but a javelin arrived with a great hiss, hurled
and driven like a thunderbolt, that neither two bulls’ hides
nor the faithful breastplate with double scales of gold
could resist: the mighty limbs collapsed and fell,
earth groaned and the huge shield clanged above him.
So a rock pile sometimes falls on Baiae’s Euboic shore,
first constructed of huge blocks, then toppled into the sea:
as it falls it trails havoc behind, tumbles into the shallows
and settles in the depths: the sea swirls in confusion,
and the dark sand rises upwards, then Procida’s
lofty island trembles at the sound and Ischia’s isle’s
harsh floor, laid down over Typhoeus, at Jove’s command.
At this Mars, powerful in war, gave the Latins strength
and courage, and twisted his sharp goad in their hearts,
and sent Rout and dark Fear against the Trojans.
Given the chance for action, the Latins came together
from every side, and the god of battle possessed their souls.
Pandarus, seeing his brother’s fallen corpse, and which side
fortune was on, and what fate was driving events,
pushed with a mighty heave of his broad shoulders
and swung the gate on its hinges, leaving many a comrade
locked outside the wall in the cruel conflict: but the rest
he greeted as they rushed in and shut in there, with himself,
foolishly, not seeing the Rutulian king bursting through
among the mass, freely closing him inside the town,
like a huge tiger among a helpless herd.
At once fresh fire flashed from Turnus’s eyes
his weapons clashed fearfully, the blood-red plumes
on his helmet quivered, and lightning glittered from his shield.
In sudden turmoil the sons of Aeneas recognised that hated form
and those huge limbs. Then great Pandarus sprang forward,
blazing with anger at his brother’s death, shouting:
This is not Queen Amata’s palace, given in dowry, or the heart
of Ardea, surrounding Turnus with his native walls.
You see an enemy camp: you can’t escape from here.’
Turnus, smiling, his thoughts calm, replied to him:
‘Come then, if there’s courage in your heart, close with me:
you can go tell Priam that, here too, you found an Achilles.’
He spoke. Pandarus, straining with all his force, hurled
his spear rough with knots and un-stripped bark:
the wind took it, Saturnian Juno deflected
the imminent blow, and the spear stuck fast in the gate.
Turnus cried: ‘But you’ll not escape this weapon
my right arm wields with power, the source of this weapon
and wound is not such as you.’: and he towered up, his sword
lifted, and, with the blade, cleft the forehead in two between
the temples, down to the beardless jaw, in an evil wound.
There was a crash: the ground shook under the vast weight.
Pandarus, dying, lowered his failing limbs and brain-spattered
weapons to the ground, and his skull split in half
hung down on either side over both his shoulders.
The Trojans turned and fled in sudden terror,
and if Turnus had thought at once to burst the bolts
by force, and let in his comrades through the gates,
that would have been the end of the war and the nation.
But rage and insane desire for slaughter drove him,
passionate, against the enemy. First he caught Phaleris
and Gyges whom he hamstrung, then flung their spears,
which he seized, at the backs of the fleeing crowd.
Juno aided him in strength and spirit. He sent
Halys and Phegeus, his shield pierced, to join them,
then Alcander and Halius, Noemon and Prytanis
unawares, as they roused those on the walls to battle.
As Lynceus calling to his comrades moved towards him,
he anticipated him with a stroke of his glittering sword
from the right-hand rampart, Lynceus’s head, severed
by the single blow at close quarters, fell to the ground
with the helmet some distance away. Then Amycus,
that threat to wild creatures, than whom none was better
at coating spears and arming steel with poison,
and Clytius, son of Aeolus, and Cretheus, friend to the Muses,
Cretheus the Muses’ follower, to whom song and lyre
and striking measures on the strings were always a delight,
always he sang of horses, of soldiers’ weapons and battles.
At last the Trojan leaders, Mnestheus and brave Serestus,
hearing of this slaughter of their men, arrived to see
their troops scattered and the enemy within.
Mnestheus shouted: ‘Where are you running to, off where?
What other walls or battlements do you have, but these?
O citizens, shall one man, hemmed in on all sides by ramparts,
cause such carnage through this our city, and go unpunished?
Shall he send so many of our noblest youths to Orcus?
Cowards, have you no pity, no shame, for your wretched
country, for your ancient gods, for great Aeneas?’
Inflamed by such words they were strengthened, and they halted,
densely packed. Turnus little by little retreated from the fight,
heading for the river, and a place embraced by the waves.
The Trojans pressed towards him more fiercely, with a great clamour,
and massed together, as a crowd of hunters with levelled spears
close in on a savage lion: that, fearful but fierce, glaring in anger,
gives ground, though fury and courage won’t let it turn its back,
nor will men and spears allow it to attack, despite its wish.
So Turnus wavering retraced his steps
cautiously, his mind seething with rage.
Even then he charged amongst the enemy twice,
and twice sent them flying a confused rabble along the walls:
but the whole army quickly gathered en masse from the camp,
and Saturnian Juno didn’t dare empower him against them,
since Jupiter sent Iris down through the air from heaven,
carrying no gentle commands for his sister, if Turnus did not leave
the high Trojan ramparts. Therefore the warrior, overwhelmed
by so many missiles hurled from every side, couldn’t so much as
hold his own with shield and sword-arm. The helmet protecting
his hollow temples rang with endless noise, the solid bronze gaped
from the hail of stones, his crest was torn off, and his shield-boss
couldn’t withstand the blows: the Trojans, with deadly Mnestheus
himself, redoubled their rain of javelins. Then the sweat ran all over
Turnus’s body, and flowed in a dark stream (he’d no time to breathe)
and an agonised panting shook his exhausted body.
Then, finally, leaping headlong, he plunged down into the river
in full armour. The Tiber welcomed him to its yellow flood
as he fell, lifted him on its gentle waves, and, washing away
the blood, returned him, overjoyed, to his friends.