Astyages's Weblog

December 13, 2012

Virgil’s Aeneid part 33

Filed under: Virgil's Aeneid #33 — astyages @ 5:32 pm
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By Astyages

Part 33:

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

Soon all bend their trusty bows with vigor and each chose an arrow from his quiver.

Hippocoon’s was the first, as the feathered weapon cut it’s forceful way through the liquid air to stand now, fixed in the mast, while the fearful pigeon flutters in her bands and the tree trembled, while the shouts of the pleased crowd rend the vaulted skies. Then Mnestheus placed his arrow into position and, lifting his eyes, aimed above the target; but his glancing blow missed the dove, yet by such a narrow margin that he cut the cord which fastened the flitting bird by the foot. The captive thus released, flies away, beating the skies with flapping wings. But Eurytion stood with his bow already bent, and having first invoked his brother god, let fly his winged shaft with eager haste and its fatal message reached her as she fled: Leaving her life aloft, she strikes the ground and its owner retrieves his arrow from the wound. Acestes, grumbling at his lot, still remains, having had no shot and so no prize to show for his trouble. Yet he sends a shaft shooting upward, for the sake of displaying the archer’s art and boast of his bow. The feathered arrow gave a dire portent, as was judged after the event by the augurs:

Chafed by the speed, it caught fire as it flew and trailed a plume of following flames as it ascended; kindling it mounts the sky and marks its shiny way like a falling meteor, to vanish in the wind or decay, burnt out by its own blaze.

The Trojans and Sicilians stare wildly and, trembling, turn their wonder into prayer. The Dardan prince, hodwever, put on a smiling face and enclosed Acestes in a close embrace; then, honoring him with gifts more valuable than the rest of the prizes put together. Turning aside the bad omen and refusing to confess his own fears, addressed the archer thus, “The gods have wrought this miracle; they have awarded you the prize without the lot. Accept this goblet, rough 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 him his prize, even though it was he who had transfixed the pigeon in the sky. He who had cut the line was graced with the gifts awarded to second place and the third prize went to he whose arrow had pierced the mast.

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