Aeneid Book II

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B O O K T W O The Final Hours of Troy S nence . All fell hushed, their eyes fixed on Aeneas now as the founder of his people, high on a seat of honor, set out on his story: " Sorrow, unspeakable sorrow, Q1 my queen, you ask me to bring to life once more, how the Greeks uprooted Troy in all her power, our kingdom mourned forever. What horrors I saw, a tragedy where I played a leading role myself. Who could tell such things-not even a Myrmidon, a Dolopian, or comrade of iron-hearted Ulysses- and still refrain from tears? And now, too, 10 the dank night is sweeping down from the sky and the setting stars incline our heads to sleep . But if you long so deeply to know what we went through, to hear, in brief, the last great agony of Troy, much as I shudder at the memory of it all- 1 shrank back in grief-I'll try to tell it now . . . 74

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/ 1 3-40] B O OK TW O : THE FINAL HOURS OF TROY 75 " Ground down by the war and driven back by Fate, the Greek captains had watched the years slip by until, helped by Minerva 's superhuman skill, Q2 they built that mammoth horse, immense as a mountain, 20 lining its ribs with ship timbers hewn from pine . An offering to secure safe passage home, or so they pretend, and the story spreads through Troy. B ut they pick by lot the best, most able -bodied men and stealthily lock them into the horse's dark flanks till the vast hold of the monster's womb is packed with soldiers bristling weapons . "Just in sight of Troy an island rises, Tenedos, famed in the old songs, powerful, rich, while Priam's realm stood fast. Now it's only a bay, a treacherous cove for ships. 30 Well there they sail, hiding out on its lonely coast while we thought-gone ! Sped home on the winds to Greece . So all Troy breathes free, relieved of her endless sorrow. We fling open the gates and stream out, elated to see the Greeks' abandoned camp, the deserted beachhead. Here the D olopians formed ranks- "Here savage Achilles pitched his tents- " Over there the armada moored and here the familiar killing- fields of battle . S ome gaze wonderstruck at the gift for Pallas, the virgin never wed-transfixed by the horse, 40 its looming mass, our doom. Thymoetes leads the way. 'Drag it inside the walls, ' he urges, 'plant it high on the city heights ! ' Inspired by treachery now or the fate of Troy was moving toward this end. B ut Capys with other saner heads who take his side, suspecting a trap in any gift the Greeks might offer, tells us: ' Fling it into the sea or torch the thing to ash or bore into the depths of its womb where men can hide ! ' The common people are split into warring factions . "But now, out in the lead with a troop of comrades, so

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76 VIRGI L : THE AENEID [4 1-6 7] down Laocoon runs from the heights in full fury, calling out from a distance : 'Poor doomed fools, have you gone mad, you Troj ans? You really believe the enemy's sailed away? Or any gift of the Greeks is free of guile? Is that how well you know Ulysses? Trust me, Q3 either the Greeks are hiding, shut inside those beams, or the horse is a battle-engine geared to breach our walls, spy on our homes, come down on our city, overwhelm us­ or some other deception's lurking deep inside it. 60 Troj ans, never trust that horse. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks, especially bearing gifts. ' " In that spirit, with all his might he hurled a huge spear straight into the monster's flanks, the mortised timberwork of its swollen belly. Q uivering, there it stuck, and the stricken womb came booming back from its depths with echoing groans . If Fate and our own wits had not gone against us, surely Laocoon would have driven us on, now, to rip the Greek lair open with iron spears 70 and Troy would still be standing- proud fortress of Priam, you would tower still ! " S uddenly, in the thick of it all, a young soldier, hands shackled behind his back, with much shouting Troj an shepherds were haling him toward the king. They'd come on the man by chance, a total stranger. He'd given himself up, with one goal in mind: to open Troy to the Greeks and lay her waste . He trusted to courage, nerved for either end, to weave his lies or face his certain death . 80 Young Troj an recruits, keen to have a look, came scurrying up from all sides, crowding round, outdoing each other to make a mockery of the captive . Now, hear the treachery of the Greeks and learn from a single crime the nature of the beast . . . Haggard, helpless, there in our midst he stood,

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[68-96] B OO K TWO : TH E FINAL HOURS O F TROY 77 all eyes riveted on him now, and turning a wary glance at the lines of Troj an troops he groaned and spoke : 'Where can I find some refuge, where on land, on sea? What's left for me now? A man of so much misery ! 90 Nothing among the Greeks, no place at all. And worse, I see my Troj an enemies crying for my blood . ' " His groans convince us, cutting all our show of violence short. We press him: 'Tell us where you were born, your family. What news do you bring? Tell us what you trust to, such a willing captive . ' '"All of it, my king, I'll tell you, come what may, the whole true story. Greek I am, I don't deny it. No, that first. Fortune may have made me a man of misery but, wicked as she is, 1 00 Q4 she can't make Sinon a lying fraud as well. " 'Now, perhaps you've caught some rumor of Palamedes, B elus' son, and his shining fame that rings in song. The Greeks charged him with treason, a trumped- up charge, an innocent man, and j ust because he opposed the war they put him to death, but once ',h e's robbed of the light, they mourn him sorely. Now I was his blood kin, a youngster when my father, a poor man, sent me off to the war at Troy as Palamedes' comrade . Long as he kept his royal status, holding forth 1 10 in the councils of the kings, I had some standing too, some pride of place . B ut once he left the land of the living, thanks to the j ealous, forked tongue of our Ulysses­ you're no stranger to his story-I was shattered, I dragged out my life in the shadows, grieving, seething alone, in silence . . . outraged by my innocent friend's demise until I burst out like a madman, swore if I ever returned in triumph to our native Argos, ever got the chance I'd take revenge, and my oath provoked a storm of hatred. 1 20

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78 VIRGIL: THE AENEID [97-12 1] That was my first step on the slippery road to ruin . From then on, Ulysses kept tormenting me, pressing charge on charge; from then on, he bruited about his two- edged rumors among the rank and file . Driven by guilt, he looked for ways to kill me, he never rested until, making C alchas his henchman- but why now? Why go over that unforgiving ground again? Why waste words? If you think all Greeks are one, if hearing the name Greek is enough for you, it's high time you made me pay the price . 1 30 How that would please the man of Ithaca, how the sons of Atreus would repay you ! ' "Now, of course, we burn to question him, urge him to explain- blind to how false the cunning Greeks could be . All atremble, he carries on with his tale, lying from the cockles of his heart: " 'Time and again the Greeks had yearned to abandon Troy-bone - tired from a long hard war-to put it far behind and beat a clean retreat. Would to god they had. But time and again, as they were setting sail, 1 40 the heavy seas would keep them confined to port and the Southwind filled their hearts with dread and worst of all, once this horse, this mass of timber with locking planks, stood stationed here at last, the thunderheads rumbled up and down the sky. So, at our wit's end, we send Eurypylus off to question Apollo's oracle now, and back he comes from the god's shrine with these bleak words: " With blood you appeased the winds, with a virgin's sacrifice when you, you Greeks, first sought the shores of Troy. 1 so With blood you must seek fair winds to sail you home, must sacrifice one more Greek life in return . " '"As the word spread, the ranks were struck dumb and icy fear sent shivers down their spines . Whom did the god demand? Who'd meet his doom?

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[122-50] B O O K TWO : THE FINAL HOURS OF TROY 79 Just that moment the Ithacan haled the prophet, C alchas, into our midst-he'd twist it out of him, what was the gods' will? The army rose in uproar. Even then our soldiers sensed that I was the one, the target of that Ulysses' vicious schemes- 1 60 they saw it coming, still they held their tongues. For ten days the seer, silent, closed off in his tent, refused to say a word or betray a man to death. B ut at last, goaded on by Ulysses' mounting threats but in fact conniving in their plot, he breaks his silence and dooms me to the altar. And the army gave consent. The death that each man dreaded turned to the fate of one poor soul: a burden they could bear. " 'The day of infamy soon came . . . the sacred rites were all performed for the victim, 1 70 the salted meal strewn, the bands tied round my head. B ut I broke free of death, I tell you, burst my shackles, yes, and hid all night in the reeds of a marshy lake, waiting for them to sail-if only they would sail ! Well, no hope now of seeing the land where I was born or my sweet children, the father I longed for all these years . Maybe they'll wring from them the price for my escape, avenge my guilt with my loved ones ' blood, poor things. I beg you, king, by the Powers who know the truth, by any trust still uncorrupt in the world of men, 1 80 pity a man whose torment knows no bounds. Pity me in my pain. I know in my soul I don't deserve to suffer. ' Q5 " He wept and won his life-o ur pity, too. Priam takes command, has him freed from the ropes and chains that bind him fast, and hails him warmly: 'Whoever you are, from now on, now you've lost the Greeks, put them out of your mind and you'll be one of us. B ut answer my questions. Tell me the whole truth. Why did they raise up this giant, monstrous horse? 1 90 Who conceived it? What's it for? its purpose?

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80 VIRGI L : THE AENEID [1 51-77] A gift to the gods? A great engine of battle? ' " He broke off. Sinon, adept at deceit, with all his Greek cunning lifted his hands, j ust freed from their fetters, up to the stars and prayed: 'Bear witness, you eternal fires of the sky and you inviolate will of the gods ! B ear witness, altar and those infernal knives that I escaped and the sacred bands I wore myself: the victim. It's right to break my sworn oath to the Greeks, 200 it's right to detest those men and bring to light all they're hiding now. No laws of my native land can bind me here . Just keep your promise, Troy, and if I can save you, you must save me too- if I reveal the truth and pay you back in full. '"All the hopes of the Greeks, their firm faith in a war they'd launched themselves had always hinged on Pallas Athena 's help . B ut from the moment that godless D iomedes, flanked by Ulysses, the mastermind of crime, 210 attacked and tore the fateful image of Pallas out of her own hallowed shrine, and cut down the sentries ringing your city heights and seized that holy image and even dared touch the sacred bands on the virgin goddess' head with hands reeking blood­ from that hour on, the high hopes of the Greeks had trickled away like a slow, ebbing tide . . . They were broken, beaten men, the will of the goddess dead set against them. Omens of this s he gave in no uncertain terms. 220 They'd hardly stood her image up in the Greek camp when flickering fire shot from its glaring eyes and salt sweat ran glistening down its limbs and three times the goddess herself-a marvel- blazed forth from the ground, shield clashing, spear brandished. The prophet spurs them at once to risk escape by sea : "You cannot root out Troy with your Greek spears unless

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/1 78-203] B O O K TWO : THE FINAL H O U R S O F TROY 81 you seek new omens in Greece and bring the god back here"­ the image they'd borne across the sea in their curved ships. So now they've sailed away on the wind for home shores, 230 j ust to rearm, recruit their gods as allies yet again, then measure back their course on the high seas and back they'll come to attack you all off guard . Q6 '" So Calchas read the omens . At his command they raised this horse, this effigy, all to atone for the violated image of Pallas, her wounded pride, her power-and expiate the outrage they had done . B ut he made them do the work on a grand scale, a tremendous mass of interlocking timbers towering toward the sky, so the horse could not be trundled 240 through your gates or hauled inside your walls or guard your people if they revered it well in the old, ancient way. For if your hands should violate this great offering to Minerva, a total disaster-if only god would turn it against the seer himself !-will wheel down on Priam's empire, Troy, and all your futures. B ut if your hands will rear it up, into your city, then all Asia in arms can invade Greece, can launch an all- out war right up to the walls of Pelops. 250 That's the doom that awaits our sons' sons . ' "Trapped by his craft, that cunning liar Sinon, we believed his story. His tears, his treachery seized the men whom neither Tydeus' son nor Achilles could defeat, nor ten long years of war, nor all the thousand ships. "But a new portent strikes our doomed people Q7 now-a greater omen, far more terrible, fatal, shakes our senses, blind to what was coming. Laocoon, the priest of Neptune picked by lot, was sacrificing a massive bull at the holy altar 260 when-I cringe to recall it now-look there ! Over the calm deep straits off Tenedos swim

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82 V I R G I L : THE AENEID [204-36] Q7 twin, giant serpents, rearing in coils, breasting the sea - swell side by side, plunging toward the shore, their heads, their blood-red crests surging over the waves, their bodies thrashing, backs rolling in coil on mammoth coil and the wake behind them churns in a roar of foaming spray, and now, their eyes glittering, shot with blood and fire, flickering tongues licking their hissing maws, yes, now they're about to land. We blanch at the sight, we scatter. 270 Like troops on attack they're heading straight for Laocoon­ first each serpent seizes one of his small young sons, constricting, twisting around him, sinks its fangs in the tortured limbs, and gorges . Next Laocoon rushing quick to the rescue, clutching his sword- they trap him, bind him in huge muscular whorls, their scaly backs lashing around his midriff twice and twice around his throat-their heads, their flaring necks mounting over their victim writhing still, his hands frantic to wrench apart their knotted trunks, 280 his priestly bands splattered in filth, black veno � and all the while his horrible screaming fills the skies, bellowing like some wounded bull struggling to shrug loose from his neck an axe that's struck awry, to lumber clear of the altar . . . Only the twin snakes escape, sliding off and away to the heights of Troy where the ruthless goddess holds her shrine, and there at her feet they hide, vanishing under Minerva 's great round shield. "At once, Q8 I tell you, a stranger fear runs through the harrowed crowd. 2 90 Laocoon deserved to pay for his outrage, so they say, he desecrated the sacred timbers of the horse, he hurled his wicked lance at the beast's back. 'Haul Minerva 's effigy up to her house, ' we shout, ' Offer up our prayers to the power of the goddess ! ' We breach our own ramparts, fling our defenses open, all pitch into the work. Smooth running rollers we wheel beneath its hoofs, and heavy hempen ropes we bind around its neck, and teeming with men-at-arms

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[23 7-64] B O O K TWO : THE FINAL H O U R S OF TROY 83 the huge deadly engine climbs our city walls . . . 3 00 And round it boys and unwed girls sing hymns, thrilled to lay a hand on the dangling ropes as on and on it comes, gliding into the city, looming high over the city's heart. " Oh my country ! Troy, home of the gods ! You great walls of the Dardans long renowned in war ! "Four times it lurched to a halt at the very brink of the gates-four times the armor Q9 clashed out from its womb. B ut we, we forged ahead, oblivious, blind, insane, we stationed the monster fraught with doom on the hallowed heights of Troy. 3 10 Even now Ca ssandra revealed the future, opening lips the gods had ruled no Trojan would believe . And we, poor fools-on this, our last day-we deck the shrines of the gods with green holiday garlands all throughout the city . . . "But all the while the skies keep wheeling on and night comes sweeping in from the Ocean Stream, in its mammoth shadow swallowing up the earth, and the pole star, and the treachery of the Greeks . D ead quiet. The Troj ans slept on, strewn throughout their fortress, weary bodies embraced by slumber. 320 But the Greek armada was under way now, crossing over from Tenedos, ships in battle formation under the moon 's quiet light, their silent ally, homing in on the berths they know by heart- when the king's flagship sends up a signal flare, the cue for Sinon, saved by the Fates' unj ust decree, and stealthily loosing the pine bolts of the horse, he unleashes the Greeks shut up inside its womb . The horse stands open wide, fighters in high spirits pouring out of its timbered cavern into the fresh air: 3 30 the chiefs, Thessandrus, Sthenelus, ruthless Ulysses rappeling down a rope they dropped from its side, and Acamas, Thoas, Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, captain Macha on, Menelaus, Epeus himself,