Astyages's Weblog

March 6, 2011

Virgil’s Aeneid, part 19

Filed under: Virgil's Aeneid, #19 — astyages @ 4:25 pm
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Virgil’s Aeneid

Edited by

DL Rowlands

(Part 18)

Having said this he bids us put to sea, so we loose our hawsers from shore and obey, and soon we pursue our watery way with swelling sails, steering our course past Zacynthian woods and then past rocky Neritos; we fly from Ithaca’s detested shore, with a curse for the land which bore dire Ulysses. At length we see Leucate’s cloudy top and the temple of the Sun, which is worshiped by sailors. Resolved to breathe a while from our past labors, we cast our crooked anchors from the prow and hasten joyfully to the little city.

Here, safe beyond our hopes, we repay our vows to Jove, the guide and patron of our way, following the customs of our country, and renew Trojan games on Actian shores. Our youth besmear their naked limbs with oil and compete at wrestling; pleased to have sailed so long before the wind and to have left so many Grecian towns behind us. The sun had now fulfilled his annual course, and Boreas displayed his strength on the sea: I fixed the brazen shield of the vanquished Abas upon the temple’s lofty door; the verse under my name and action says: ‘These arms Aeneas took from conquering Greeks.’

Then I command the men to weigh anchor; the seamen once more ply their sweeping oars as we fly through the smoking billows. We soon lost sight of high Phaecia and skimmed along Epirus’ rocky coast. Then we bend our course to Chaonia’s port and landed, to ascend Buthrotus’ heights. Here wondrous deeds loudly proclaimed their fame: How Helenus had revived the Trojan name and now reigned in Greece; that Priam’s captive son succeeded Pyrrhus in both his bed and his throne; and fair Andromache, restored by fate, was once more happy in a Trojan marriage.

I leave my galleys riding at anchor in the harbor, longing now to see the new Dardanian court. By chance the mournful Queen was at that moment solemnising her former husband’s funeral. Green altars of turf had been raised and these she crowned with gifts, while sacred priests stand in order all around, and thrice sound the name of the hapless Hector. The grove itself resembled Ida’s wood, and the river resembled the Simois. But as I drew nearer and she beheld my shining armor and my Trojan shield; astonished at the sight, the vital heat forsakes her limbs; her veins no longer beat; she faints; she falls; and with scarcely recovering strength and a faltering tongue, eventually she speaks:

‘Are you alive, O goddess-born?’ she said, ‘Or, if a ghost, then where is Hector’s shade?’ At this she cried out loud, fearfully, as with broken words, I made this reply, ‘You see all of me that remains; I live, if it is living to loathe the light. No phantom, but I live a wretched existence, not unlike the fate of Hector’s wife… What have you suffered since you lost your lord? And what strange blessing has now restored you? Are you still Hector’s or has the memory of Hector been erased in Pyrrhus’ bed?’”

After a modest pause, with downcast eyes, and in a lowly tone, she began thus:

‘Oh, only happy maid of Priam’s race! Whom death delivered from the hand of our foes; commanded to die on Achilles’ tomb and not, like us, condemned to live on in harsh captivity, or to lie in a haughty master’s arms. Unhappily, we were borne away in Grecian ships; we bore the victor’s lust and sustained their scorn. Thus I submitted to the lawless pride of Pyrrhus, though I was more of a maidservant than a wife to him. Possessing all, he forsook my bed and sought instead to wed Helen’s lovely daughter, Hermione. Then he assigned me to the Trojan, Helenus, uniting his two slaves in equal marriage until young Orestes, pierced with a deep despair and longing to redeem the girl who had been promised to him, slew the ravisher before Apollo’s altar. By Pyrrhus’ death we regained the kingdom: at least half of it remained with Helenus. Our part, from Chaon, he calls, Chaonia and names his town’s rising walls after Pergamus. But you… what fates have landed you on our coast? What gods have sent you? Or what storms tossed? Is young Ascanius still alive and healthy, saved from the ruins of unhappy Troy? Oh, tell me how is he bearing the loss of his mother? He always showed so much promise, even for his youthful years and how much like Hector he looked!’ As she spoke her speech was mixed with mournful cries and from her eyes trickled fruitless tears.”

At length her lord descends upon the plain in pomp; attended by a numerous entourage; receives his friends and leads them to the city, shedding tears of joy amidst his welcome. Proceeding on I see another Troy, though on a smaller scale. A rivulet by the name of Xanthus ran through it and I once again embraced the Scaean gate. My friends were entertained in porticoes, and feasts and pleasures reigned throughout the city; the tables filling the spacious halls and golden bowls of sparkling wind were constantly passed around. Two days we passed in mirth, till friendly winds began to fill our swelling sails… The I went to the royal seer and began thus, ‘Oh, though who knowest beyond the reach of man, who knows what the heavens and the stars decree; who was taught unerring prophecy by Phoebus from his own tripod and his holy tree; who art skilled in the ways of birds and understand what auspices their notes and flights signify; Oh, say, for all religious rites predict a happy voyage and a prosperous end; so far every power and omen has directed my course to Italy, but only dire Celaeno, from the gods, fatally forbodes a dismal famine… Oh, say what dangers I must first avoid; what toils I must endure and what course I must run.”

***** ******* *****

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