Astyages's Weblog

April 25, 2012

Virgil’s Aeneid 33

Filed under: Uncategorized — astyages @ 11:37 am
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Virgil’s Aeneid

Part 33:

The boxing done, and the prizes awarded, Aeneas orders an archery competition to close the games. With his own hands, he raises the mast of Sergestheus’ shattered galley upon the shore, tying a fluttering dove to the top as a living target. The rival archers advanced in a line; their turn to shoot decided by drawing lots from a helmet: The first chosen bore the name of Hippocoon, for whom the crowd cheered. The next was Young Mnestheus, who had lately been crowned with naval honors. The third was named Eurytion, followed by his almost as famous brother, Pandarus, whom Pallas had urged to break the treaty and shoot at the Greeks. Finally, at the bottom of the helmet, Acestes’ lot remained the last, for he would not let his age restrain him from youthful sports.

Soon all bend their trusty bows with vigor and string them; each chosing an arrow from his quiver.

Hippocoon’s arrow was the first: the feathered weapon cut it’s way forcefully through the liquid air, to stand fixed in the mast, while the fearful pigeon flutters in her bands and the tree trembles and the shouts of the happy crowd rend the vaulted skies. Then Mnestheus places his arrow into position and, lifting his eyes, aims above the target; but his glancing shot misses the dove, yet so narrowly that he cuts the cord which fastens the fluttering bird by the foot. Thus released, the dove flies away, beating the skies with her flapping wings. But Eurytion was standing with an arrow already nocked and his bow already bent, and, invoking his brother god, he eagerly lets fly; his arrow’s fatal point reaching the dove as she flees: Leaving her life aloft, she strikes the ground lifeless and its owner retrieves his arrow.

Acestes remains, grumbling at his lot, having had no turn he thus has no prize to show for his trouble. Yet he sends a shaft shooting upward, for the sake of displaying the archer’s art and to boast of his bow; and the feathered missile gave a dire omen, as was decided after the event by the augurs, for, chafed by the speed, it caught fire as it flew and trailed a plume of following flames as it ascended; burning ever more brightly it mounts the sky and marks its shiny path like a falling meteor, to either vanish in the wind or else to decay, burnt out by the fierceness of its own blaze.

The Trojans and Sicilians, staring wildly, start to tremble,  and turn their wonder into fearful prayer. The Dardan prince, however, smiled and enclosed Acestes in a close embrace and then honored him with a gift more valuable than the rest of the prizes put together. Turning aside the bad omen and refusing to confess his own fears, he addressed the archer thus, “This is the work of the gods; it is they who have wrought this miracle; they have awarded you the prize even without the lot. Accept this goblet, embossed with figured gold, which the Thracian Cisseus gave my father a long time ago: Receive this pledge of ancient friendship, which I justly give to my second sire.” And as the trumpets cheerfully sound, he proclaims him victor and crowns him with laurels. Nor did the good Eurytion envy Acestes his prize, even though he had transfixed the pigeon. The man who had cut the line was awarded the gifts reserved for second place while the third prize went to the archer whose arrow had pierced the mast.

*****       *******       *****

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