National Epics
By Kate Milner Rabb

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Public Domain Books

Selection From the Aeneid


While Aeneas, finding the Latins hostile to him, sailed up the Tiber in search of allies, the troops he left behind under Ascanius were attacked by Turnus, and their slight fortifications besieged. They were sorely pressed, and longed to be able to inform Aeneas of their need.

  Nisus was guardian of the gate,
  No bolder heart in war’s debate,
  The son of Hyrtacus, whom Ide
  Sent, with his quiver at his side,
  From hunting beasts in mountain brake
  To follow in Aeneas’ wake:
  With him Euryalus, fair boy;
  None fairer donned the arms of Troy;
  His tender cheek as yet unshorn
  And blossoming with youth new-born.
  Love made them one in every thought:
  In battle side by side they fought;
  And now in duty at the gate
  The twain in common station wait.
  “Can it be Heaven,” said Nisus then,
  “That lends such warmth to hearts of men,
  Or passion surging past control
  That plays the god to each one’s soul?
  Long time, impatient of repose,
  My swelling heart within me glows,
  And yearns its energy to fling
  On war, or some yet grander thing.
  See there the foe, with vain hope flushed!
  Their lights are scant, their stations hushed:
  Unnerved by slumber and by wine
  Their bravest chiefs are stretched supine.
  Now to my doubting thought give heed
  And listen where its motions lead.
  Our Trojan comrades, one and all,
  Cry loud, Aeneas to recall,
  And where, they say, the men to go
  And let him of our peril know?
  Now if the meed I ask they swear
  To give you–nay, I claim no share,
  Content with bare renown–
  Meseems, beside yon grassy heap
  The way I well might find and keep,
  To Pallanteum’s town."
  The youth returns, while thirst of praise
  Infects him with a strange amaze:
  “Can Nisus aim at heights so great,
  Nor take his friend to share his fate?
  Shall I look on, and let you go
  Alone to venture ’mid the foe?
  Not thus my sire Opheltes, versed
  In war’s rude toil, my childhood nursed,
  When Argive terror filled the air
  And Troy was battling with despair:
  Nor such the lot my youth has tried,
  In hardship ever at your side,
  Since, great Aeneas’ liegeman sworn,
  I followed Fortune to her bourne:
  Here, here within this bosom burns
  A soul that mere existence spurns,
  And holds the fame you seek to reap,
  Though bought with life, were bought full cheap.”

  “Not mine the thought,” brave Nisus said,
  “To wound you with so base a dread:
  So may great Jove, or whosoe’er
  Marks with just eyes how mortals fare,
  Protect me going, and restore
  In triumph to your arms once more.
  But if–for many a chance, you wis,
  Besets an enterprise like this–
  If accident or power divine
  The scheme to adverse end incline,
  Your life at least I would prolong:
  Death does your years a deeper wrong.
  Leave me a friend to tomb my clay,
  Rescued or ransomed, which you may;
  Or, e’en that boon should chance refuse,
  To pay the absent funeral dues.
  Nor let me cause so dire a smart
  To that devoted mother’s heart,
  Who, sole of all the matron train,
  Attends her darling o’er the main,
  Nor cares like others to sit down
  An inmate of Acestes’ town."
  He answers brief: “Your pleas are naught:
  Firm stands the purpose of my thought:
  Come, stir we: why so slow?"
  Then calls the guards to take their place,
  Moves on by Nisus, pace with pace,
  And to the prince they go.
  All other creatures wheresoe’er
  Were stretched in sleep, forgetting care:
  Troy’s chosen chiefs in high debate
  Were pondering o’er the reeling state,
  What means to try, or whom to speed
  To show Aeneas of their need.
  There stand they, midway in the field,
  Still hold the spear, still grasp the shield:
  When Nisus and his comrade brave
  With eager tones admittance crave;
  The matter high; though time be lost,
  The occasion well were worth the cost,
  Iulus hails the impatient pair,
  Bids Nisus what they wish declare.
  Then spoke the youth: “Chiefs I lend your ears,
  Nor judge our proffer by our years.
  The Rutules, sunk in wine and sleep,
  Have ceased their former watch to keep:
  A stealthy passage have we spied
  Where on the sea the gate opes wide:
  The line of fires is scant and broke,
  And thick and murky rolls the smoke.
  Give leave to seek, in these dark hours,
  Aeneas at Evander’s towers,
  Soon will you see us here again
  Decked with the spoils of slaughtered men.
  Nor strange the road: ourselves have seen
  The city, hid by valleys green,
  Just dimly dawning, and explored
  In hunting all the river-board."
  Out spoke Aletes, old and gray:
  “Ye gods, who still are Ilium’s stay,
  No, no, ye mean not to destroy
  Down to the ground the race of Troy,
  When such the spirit of her youth,
  And such the might of patriot truth."
  Then, as the tears roll down his face,
  He clasps them both in strict embrace:
  “Brave warriors! what rewards so great,
  For worth like yours to compensate?
  From Heaven and from your own true heart
  Expect the largest, fairest part:
  The rest, and at no distant day,
  The good Aeneas shall repay,
  Nor he, the royal youth, forget
  Through all his life the mighty debt."
  “Nay, hear me too,” Ascanius cried,
  “Whose life is with my father’s tied:
  O Nisus! by the home-god powers
  We jointly reverence, yours and ours,
  The god of ancient Capys’ line,
  And Vesta’s venerable shrine,
  By these dread sanctions I appeal
  To you, the masters of my weal;
  Oh, bring me back my sire again!
  Restore him, and I feel no pain.
  Two massy goblets will I give;
  Rich sculptures on the silver live;
  The plunder of my sire,
  What time he took Arisba’s hold;
  Two chargers, talents twain of gold,
  A bowl beside of antique mould
  By Dido brought from Tyre.
  Then, too, if ours the lot to reign
  O’er Italy by conquest ta’en,
  And each man’s spoil assign,–
  Saw ye how Turnus rode yestreen,
  His horse and arms of golden sheen?
  That horse, that shield and glowing crest
  I separate, Nisus, from the rest
  And count already thine.
  Twelve female slaves, at your desire,
  Twelve captives with their arms entire,
  My sire shall give you, and the plain
  That forms Latinus’ own domain.
  But you, dear youth, of worth divine,
  Whose blooming years are nearer mine,
  Here to my heart I take, and choose
  My comrade for whate’er ensues.
  No glory will I e’er pursue,
  Unmotived by the thought of you:
  Let peace or war my state befall,
  Thought, word, and deed, you share them all."
  The youth replied: “No after day
  This hour’s fair promise shall betray,
  Be fate but kind. Yet let me claim
  One favor, more than all you name:
  A mother in the camp is mine,
  Derived from Priam’s ancient line:
  No home in Sicily or Troy
  Has kept her from her darling boy.
  She knows not, she, the paths I tread;
  I leave her now, no farewell said;
  By night and this your hand I swear,
  A parent’s tears I could not bear.
  Vouchsafe your pity, and engage
  To solace her unchilded age:
  And I shall meet whate’er betide
  By such assurance fortified."
  With sympathy and tender grief
  All melt in tears, Iulus chief,
  As filial love in other shown
  Recalled the semblance of his own:
  And, “Tell your doubting heart,” he cries,
  “All blessings wait your high emprise:
  I take your mother for my own,
  Creusa, save in name alone,
  Nor lightly deem the affection due
  To her who bore a child like you.
  Come what come may, I plight my troth
  By this my head, my father’s oath,
  The bounty to yourself decreed
  Should favoring gods your journey speed,
  The same shall in your line endure,
  To parent and to kin made sure."
  He spoke, and weeping still, untied
  A gilded falchion from his side,
  Lycaon’s work, the man of Crete,
  With sheath of ivory complete:
  Brave Mnestheus gives for Nisus’ wear
  A lion’s hide with shaggy hair;
  Aletes, old in danger grown,
  His helmet takes, and gives his own.
  Then to the gates, as forth they fare,
  The band of chiefs with many a prayer
  The gallant twain attends:
  Iulus, manlier than his years,
  Oft whispering, for his father’s ears
  Full many a message sends:
  But be it message, be it prayer,
  Alike ’tis lost, dispersed in air.

  The trenches past, through night’s deep gloom
  The hostile camp they near:
  Yet many a foe shall meet his doom
  Or ere that hour appear.
  There see they bodies stretched supine,
  O’ercome with slumber and with wine;
  The cars, unhorsed, are drawn up high;
  ’Twixt wheels and harness warriors lie,
  With arms and goblets on the grass
  In undistinguishable mass.
  “Now,” Nisus cried, “for hearts and hands:
  This, this the hour our force demands.
  Here pass we: yours the rear to mind,
  Lest hostile arm be raised behind;
  Myself will go before and slay,
  While carnage opes a broad highway."
  So whispers he with bated breath,
  And straight begins the work of death
  On Rhamnes, haughty lord;
  On rugs he lay, in gorgeous heap,
  From all his bosom breathing sleep,
  A royal seer by Turnus loved:
  But all too weak his seer-craft proved
  To stay the rushing sword.
  Three servants next the weapon found
  Stretched ’mid their armor on the ground:
  Then Remus’ charioteer he spies
  Beneath the coursers as he lies,
  And lops his downdropt head;
  The ill-starred master next he leaves,
  A headless trunk, that gasps and heaves:
  Forth spouts the blood from every vein,
  And deluges with crimson rain,
  Green earth and broidered bed.
  Then Lamyrus and Lamus died,
  Serranus, too, in youth’s fair pride:
  That night had seen him long at play:
  Now by the dream-god tamed he lay:
  Ah, had his play but matched the night,
  Nor ended till the dawn of light!
  So famished lion uncontrolled
  Makes havoc through the teeming fold,
  As frantic hunger craves;
  Mangling and harrying far and near
  The meek, mild victims, mute with fear,
  With gory jaws he raves.
  Nor less Euryalus performs:
  The thirst of blood his bosom warms;
  ’Mid nameless multitudes he storms,
  Herbesus, Fadus, Abaris kills
  Slumbering and witless of their ills,
  While Rhoetus wakes and sees the whole,
  But hides behind a massy bowl.
  There, as to rise the trembler strove,
  Deep in his breast the sword he drove,
  And bathed in death withdrew.
  The lips disgorge the life’s red flood,
  A mingled stream of wine and blood:
  He plies his blade anew.
  Now turns he to Messapus’ band,
  For there the fires he sees
  Burnt out, while coursers hard at hand
  Are browsing at their ease,
  When Nisus marks the excess of zeal,
  The maddening fever of the steel,
  And checks him thus with brief appeal:
  “Forbear we now; ’t will soon be day:
  Our wrath is slaked, and hewn our way."
  Full many a spoil they leave behind
  Of solid silver thrice refined,
  Armor and bowls of costliest mould
  And rugs in rich confusion rolled.
  A belt Euryalus puts on
  With golden knobs, from Rhamnes won,
  Of old by Caedicus ’t was sent,
  An absent friendship to cement,
  To Remulus, fair Tibur’s lord,
  Who, dying, to his grandson left
  The shining prize: the Rutule sword
  In after days the trophy reft.
  Athwart his manly chest in vain
  He binds these trappings of the slain;
  Then ’neath his chin in triumph laced
  Messapus’ helm, with plumage graced,
  The camp at length they leave behind,
  And round the lake securely wind.

  Meanwhile a troop is on its way,
  From Latium’s city sped,
  An offshoot from the host that lay
  Along the host in close array,
  Three hundred horsemen, sent to bring
  A message back to Turnus, king,
  With Volscens at their head.
  Now to the camp they draw them nigh,
  Beneath the rampart’s height,
  When from afar the twain they spy,
  Still steering from the right;
  The helmet through the glimmering shade
  At once the unwary boy betrayed,
  Seen in the moon’s full light.
  Not lost the sight on jealous eyes:
  “Ho! stand! who are ye?” Volscens cries,
  “Whence come, or whither tend?"
  No movement deign they of reply,
  But swifter to the forest fly,
  And make the night their friend.
  With fatal speed the mounted foes
  Each avenue as with network close,
  And every outlet bar.
  It was a forest bristling grim
  With shade of ilex, dense and dim:
  Thick brushwood all the ground o’ergrew:
  The tangled ways a path ran through,
  Faint glimmering like a star.
  The darkling boughs, the cumbering prey
  Euryalus’s flight delay:
  His courage fails, his footsteps stray:
  But Nisus onward flees;
  No thought he takes, till now at last
  The enemy is all o’erpast,
  E’en at the grove, since Alban called,
  Where then Latinus’ herds were stalled:
  Sudden he pauses, looks behind
  In eager hope his friend to find:
  In vain: no friend he sees.
  “Euryalus, my chiefest care,
  Where left I you, unhappy? where?
  What clue may guide my erring tread
  This leafy labyrinth back to thread?"
  Then, noting each remembered track,
  He thrids the wood, dim-seen and black.
  Listening, he hears the horse-hoofs’ beat,
  The clatter of pursuing feet.
  A little moment–shouts arise,
  And lo! Euryalus he spies,
  Whom now the foemen’s gathered throng
  Is hurrying helplessly along.
  While vain resistance he essays,
  Trapped by false night and treacherous ways.
  What should he do? what force employ
  To rescue the beloved boy?
  Plunge through the spears that line the wood,
  And death and glory win with blood?
  Not unresolved, he poises soon
  A javelin, looking to the Moon:
  “Grant, goddess, grant thy present aid,
  Queen of the stars, Latonian maid,
  The greenwood’s guardian power;
  If, grateful for success of mine,
  With gifts my sire has graced thy shrine,
  If e’er myself have brought thee spoil,
  The tribute of my hunter’s toil,
  To ornament thy roof divine,
  Or glitter on thy tower,
  These masses give me to confound,
  And guide through air my random wound."
  He spoke, and hurled with all his might;
  The swift spear hurtles through the night:
  Stout Sulmo’s back the stroke receives:
  The wood, though snapped, the midriff cleaves.
  He falls, disgorging life’s warm tide,
  And long-drawn sobs distend his side.
  All gaze around: another spear
  The avenger levels from his ear,
  And launches on the sky.
  Tagus lies pierced through temples twain,
  The dart deep buried in his brain.
  Fierce Volscens storms, yet finds no foe,
  Nor sees the hand that dealt the blow,
  Nor knows on whom to fly.
  “Your heart’s warm blood for both shall pay,"
  He cries, and on his beauteous prey
  With naked sword he sprang.
  Scared, maddened, Nisus shrieks aloud:
  No more he hides in night’s dark shroud,
  Nor bears the o’erwhelming pang:
  “Me, guilty me, make me your aim,
  O Rutules! mine is all the blame;
  He did no wrong, nor e’er could do;
  That sky, those stars attest ’t is true;
  Love for his friend too freely shown,
  This was his crime, and this alone."
  In vain he spoke: the sword, fierce driven,
  That alabaster breast had riven.
  Down falls Euryalus, and lies
  In death’s enthralling agonies:
  Blood trickles o’er his limbs of snow;
  “His head sinks gradually low”:
  Thus, severed by the ruthless plough,
  Dim fades a purple flower:
  Their weary necks so poppies bow,
  O’erladen by the shower.
  But Nisus on the midmost flies,
  With Volscens, Volscens in his eyes:
  In clouds the warriors round him rise,
  Thick hailing blow on blow:
  Yet on he bears, no stint, no stay,
  Like thunderbolt his falchion’s sway:
  Till as for aid the Rutule shrieks
  Plunged in his throat the weapon reeks:
  The dying hand has reft away
  The life-blood of its foe.
  Then, pierced to death, asleep he fell
  On the dead breast he loved so well.

  Blest pair! if aught my verse avail,
  No day shall make your memory fail
  From off the heart of time,
  While Capitol abides in place,
  The mansion of the Aeneian race,
  And throned upon that moveless base
  Rome’s father sits sublime.
      Conington’s Translation, Book IX.


Preface  •  The Râmâyana  •  The Story of the Râmâyana  •  Selections From the Râmâyana  •  The Story of the Mahâ-Bhârata  •  Selections From the Mahâ-Bhârata  •  The Iliad  •  The Story of the Iliad  •  Selections From the Iliad  •  The Story of the Odyssey  •  Selections From the Odyssey  •  The Kalevala  •  The Story of the Kalevala  •  Selections From the Kalevala  •  Selection From the Aeneid  •  Beowulf  •  The Story of Beowulf  •  Selection From Beowulf  •  Selections From the Nibelungen Lied  •  The Story of the Song of Roland  •  Selections From the Song of Roland  •  The Story of the Shah-Nameh  •  Selections From the Shah-Nameh  •  The Story of the Poem of the Cid  •  Selections From the Poem of the Cid  •  The Divine Comedy - The Hell  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Hell  •  The Divine Comedy - The Purgatory  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Purgatory  •  The Divine Comedy - The Paradise  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Paradise  •  Selections From the Divine Comedy - Count Ugolino  •  Selection From the Orlando Furioso  •  The Lusiad  •  The Story of the Lusiad  •  Selections From the Lusiad  •  The Jerusalem Delivered  •  The Story of the Jerusalem Delivered  •  Selection From the Jerusalem Delivered  •  The Story of Paradise Lost  •  Selections From Paradise Lost  •  Apostrophe to Light  •  The Story of Paradise Regained  •  Selection From Paradise Regained