D L Rowlands
“Armed once again, I wield my glittering sword, while my other hand carries my heavy shield as I rush forth to seek the abandoned battlefield. I went, but sad Creusa, who was lying across the threshold barring my passage, embraced my knees, and when I would have left, showed me my feeble sire and my tender son. ‘If death be your design,’ said she, ‘at least take us along with you to share your destiny. If there is any further hope in arms then surely it would be best to maintain this place; these pledges of your love. To whom do you expose the lives of your father and your sons… and mine; your now forgotten wife?’
And while she thus filled the house with her clamor, our hearing is diverted by our eyes: For, while I held my son, in the short time between our kisses and our last embrace, strange to relate, from Iulus’ head rose a lambent flame, which gently spread around his brows and temples. Amazed, we prepare to quench the sacred fire with water, but old Anchises, well versed in omens, reared his hands to heaven, and proffered this request: ‘If any vows can bend your will, mighty Jove, if piety can commend prayers, confirm the glad presage which you have been pleased to send us.’
“Scarce had he said this, when, on our left, we hear a rattling peal of thunder roll in the air and there shot a streaming lamp along the sky which seemed to fly on the winged lightning; from over the roof the blaze began to move and, trailing, vanished on the Idaean forest. It swept a path in heaven and shone a guide, then died in a steaming stench of sulphur. With suppliant hands the good old man implored the gods’ protection, and adored their star. ‘Now, now,’ said he, ‘my son, no more delay! I yield, I follow where Heaven shows the way. Keep, O my country gods, our dwelling place and guard this relic of the Trojan race. This tender child; these omens are your own, and you can restore the ruined town. At least accomplish what your signs foretell; I am prepared to go…’ he said, as the crackling flames rose around us, driving sparkles dancing along the sky. The winds conspired with Vulcan’s rage and the flood of fire rolls near our palace. ‘Haste, my dear father, this is no time to wait!’ I carry the old man on my shoulders willingly, that whatever happened, his life would be in my care; we would share one death; or one deliverance. ‘I shall lead our little son by the hand, and you, my faithful consort, shall follow us.
“Next, you, my servants, heed my strict commands: Outside the walls there stands a ruined temple, once sacred to Ceres; nearby a venerable cypress shoots up her head on high, long kept by religion; we’ll divide into small parties and make our way there. Your guiltless hands, father, can hold our country gods, the relics and the bands, since for me to bear such holy things would be impious, red as I am with slaughter and new from war, ’til I can clease myself in some living stream, of the guilt of dire debate and blood spilt in battle.’
“Thus, ordering all that prudence could provide, I clothe my shoulders with a lions’ skin, then, take on my bending back the welcome load of my dear father; while Ascanius hung on to my better hand and with uneven paces we tripped along; Creusa keeping behind. We deliberately strayed through every dark and devious way. I, who just before had boldly and dauntlessly born the Grecian darts and lances, am now seized with fear at every shadow; not for myself, but for the charge I bear, til at last we arrive at a ruined gate and seem secure; past all danger. But suddenly we hear the frightful noise of tramping feet. My father, looking through the shadows fearfully, cried out, ‘Haste, haste, my son! The foe are near! I can see their armor and their swords!’
“Some hostile god must have robbed me of my senses for some unknown offense; for while I took my flight through winding ways, always seeking the shelter of the gloom and shadows, alas! I lost Creusa; hard to tell whether she was killed or sat weary somewhere, or wandered in fear, but she was lost to me forever; and I didn’t know or even think about it until I met my friends at Ceres’ now deserted temple. No one else was missing; only she deceived her friends, her son and wretched me… What mad expressions did my tongue utter! Whom did I not, of gods or men, accuse! This fatal blow pained me more than all I had felt before from ruined Troy. Stung with my loss, and raving now, I abandoned my now forgotten care. Bereft of counsel, comfort and hope, I sheathe my body in shining armour once more and leave my sire, my son and my country gods.
“My limbs felt no wounds, nor I any fear of death as I run headlong to the burning walls now seeking for the danger I’d been obliged to shun, I retraced my steps of the previous night. Everything I saw was frightful and full of horror; I dreaded even the silence of the night. I made my way to my father’s house, hoping to find her there, but instead I met the cruel Greeks: The house was filled with foes and beset with flames, which driven by the wind, spread whole sheets of fire through the air to the roofs. I ran from there to Priam’s palace, searching the citadel and the deserted court, then pass by Juno’s temple, unobserved by a group of Grecian guards who had taken possession of it.
“There Phoenix and Ulysses watched their prey as they conveyed all their city’s wealth inside the temple; the spoils from ransacked houses and golden bowls from sacred altars, taken from the tables of the gods along with all the pompous purple garments of the priest. A long file of wretched youths and captive matrons stand outside the porch with bound hands.
“Then, with uncontrollable madness I shout Creusa’s name through all the silent streets until at length she hears and suddenly appears out of the shadowy night, no more Creusa, no more my wife, but a pale spectre, larger than her living self. Aghast, astonished and struck dumb with fear, I stood while the bristles rose on the back of my neck and my hair stiffened. Then the ghost began to soothe my grief with these words, ‘No tears nor cries can give the dead relief; desist, my much-loved lord from indulging your pain; you bear no more than what the gods have ordained for you. Neither my fates, nor the great controller of the sky, will permit me to fly from hence, and they have decreed long wandering ways for you, on land hard labors and a length of sea… then after many painful years, you will land on Latiums happy shore, where the gentle Tiber beholds from his bed flowery meadows and fleecing folds. There your toils will end, and there your fates will provide for you a quiet kingdom and a royal bride. There Fortune shall restore the Trojan line and you will weep no more for your lost Creusa. Fear not that I shall watch, in servility the imperious looks of some proud Grecian dame; or, stooping to the victor’s lust, disgrace my goddess mother or my royal family. And now, farewell! The parent of the gods restrains my fleeting soul… I trust our children to your care.’ She said, as she glided past unseen. I strove to speak but horror tied my tongue as three times I tried in vain to fling my arms about her neck, and thrice deceived, hung on empty embraces, as, light as an empty dream at the break of day, or as a gust of wind, she vanished…
“Thus having passed the night in fruitless effort, I returned to my worried friends amazed by how their number had grown. Men and matrons mixed, young and old had collected a together a wretched exiled crew, appointed with arms and treasure, resolved and willing, under my command, to risk all hazards. As the Morn began to display her rosy cheeks from Ida and Phosphor led the day: the Greeks took their post before the gates and all pretense of late relief was lost; I unwillingly retreat, and, loaded up, convey my aging father up the hill.
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