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February 25, 2012

Virgil’s Aeneid, by Astyages

Filed under: Virgil's Aeneid 31 — astyages @ 4:54 pm
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Virgil’s Aeneid
by
DL Rowlands

(Part 31)

From there the Trojan hero made his way into the neighboring plain, whose mountainous perimeter’s sides were shaded with surrounding woods. Right in the middle of this plain stood a natural amphitheater, which, rising slowly by small degrees, overlooked the ground below. High on a silver throne sat the leader, attended in solemn state by a numerous train. Here was both the start and the finishing line of the race; the goal for all those who loved to race and whose desire of honor and renown had prompted them to contend for the prize and who now entered in no particular order; Trojans mixed in with Sicilians:

First Nisus appears, with Euryalus; a boy of blossoming years, who was gifted with a sprightly grace and crowned with equal beauty. Diores, from Priam’s proud race, was next, then Salius, together with Patron, took their places; Patron’s birthplace was in Arcadia and Salius was an Acharnanian. Then came two Sicilian youths, the swift Helymus and the lovely Panopes by name; both jolly huntsmen who were bred in the forest and claimed old Acestes as their head; along with many others of less renown, whom time had not yet given over to fame.

To these, in words which gained general approbation, the hero thus explained his thoughts:

“One common largesse is designed for all: (the vanquished and the victor shall be joined). Two darts of polished steel with Gnosian wood and a silver-studded axe were to be bestowed on each of the first three winners along with an olive-wreath, though the first of these also wins a stately steed, adorned with all the trappings. The runner-up would be given the quiver of an Amazonian dame, well supplied with Thracian arrows, and a golden belt to gird his manly side, to which a sparkling diamond was sown. “The third will have to be content with a Grecian helmet,” he said.

The runners took their appointed places, to await the expected sign with beating hearts, as, all starting at once, they leave the barrier, spreading out, they flew as if on the wings of the wind to seize the distant goal their greedy eyes pursued. Shooting out from the crowd swift Nisus surpassed all; neither storms nor thunder could equal half his speed! Next, though following at a distance, came Salius, with Euryalus behind him. Then came Helymus, who vied for position with young Diores, who paced him step for step and almost side by side, their shoulders almost touching; leaving little or nothing to choose between them.

Now, spent, they approach the goal at last, when the over-eager Nisus, hapless in his haste, first slipped, then, slipping, fell down upon the plain; a loser despite being covered in the blood of newly-sacrificed oxen. The careless would-be victor had not marked his way and, treading in a treacherous puddle, his heels flew up and he fell on the grassy ground, besmeared now with filth as well as the holy gore. Not mindless of this then, nor of the sacred bonds of friendship, Euryalus strove to cross his immediate rival’s hope and caught Salius’ foot as he rose so that Salius too now lay stretched out upon the plain, as Euryalus, leaving the crowd behind him, springs into the lead to seize the prize; and as he leaves the crowd further and further behind him, loud peals of applause attend him as the victor finally reaches the goal, his rival vanquished by his friend. Next came Helymus, and then Diores, made third in fame by these two misfortunes. But Salius enters the prince’s presence, and loudly calling for justice, deafens and disturbs the crowd, urging that his cause be heard in the court, he pleads that the prize was wrongfully conferred. The crowd, however, favor Euryalus, some say on account of his blossoming beauty and his tender years, with which he had bribed the judges for the promised prize. Beside Salius, Diores fills the court with loud cries, reaching in vain for the prize that would be his if first place were to be awarded to Salius.

Finally the prince intervened: “Let there be no dispute! I shall award the prize where Fortune has placed it! But give me leave to mend Fortune’s errors and allow me to show some pity to my deserving friend!” As he said this he drew from among the spoils a lions hide, with a ponderous shaggy mane and huge golden paws and gives it to Salius. Nisus, seeing this gift, is envious and grieves, “If falling is to rise by you, then what prize may Nisus claim of your bounty, who merited the fame and rewards of the first-place winner? In falling we were both equally tasked by Fortune… would Fortune provide so well for my fall?” With this he pointed to his face and showed his hands and his clothes, all smeared with sacrificial blood.

The father of the people smiled indulgently and had an ample shield brought, of wondrous art and wrought by Didymaon, and long-since brought in triumph from Neptune’s bars. After giving this to Nisus, he divides the rest, expressing equal justice in all his gifts.

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

November 4, 2011

Virgil’s Aeneid, Part 30

Filed under: Virgil's Aeneid 30 — astyages @ 11:26 pm
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Virgil’s Aeneid

by

DL Rowlands

(Part 30)

Now came the desired day! The skies were bright with the rosy luster of the rising sun: the neighboring people, roused by the local gossip of Trojan feasts and the name of the great Acestes, fill the crowded shore with their acclamations, partly to behold, and partly to prove their skill. First they place their gifts on public display: green laurel wreaths and palms to grace the victors. Within the circle lie arms and tripods, ingots of gold and silver, piled in heaps and vests embroidered with Tyrian dye. The trumpets’ clangor then proclaims the feast and all prepare for their appointed games. First four galleys carrying an equal number of rowers appear, advancing in the watery lists. The speedy Dolphin, that outstrips the wind, bore Mnestheus, father of the Memnian line. Gyas commands the vast bulk of the Chimaera, which stands like a floating city with its rising towers, with three Trojans tugging at every oar, in three degrees and three banks the sailors bore the roar of the billows beneath the sturdy strokes of their oars.

Sergesthus, who began the Sergian race took the leading place in the great Centaur, while Cloanthus, who draws his Trojan blood from Cluentius, stood on the sea-green Scylla. Standing out to see, against the foaming shore, there stands a rock; covered by the waves in storms, but when it is clear even its lower parts are visible. In peace below the gentle waters flow, while the cormorants above lie basking in the sun. On this the hero fixed an oak in his sight, as a landmark to guide his mariners while to bear with this the seamen stretch their oars. Then they steer round the rock to return to their starting-point. The places among the crew were decided by lot. Resplendent above all the others were the leaders of each ship, in his Tyrian vestments. The common crew crowned their temples with wreaths made from poplar branches to shade their sweaty brows: Their naked shoulders shine, besmeared with oil. All take their seats and await the starting signal. They grip their oars and every panting breast is alternately raised by hopes and depressed with fears.

The clangor of the trumpet gives the signal and at once they start, advancing in a line: the sailors rend the starry skies with their shouts; lashed by their oars the smoky billows rise as the briny main sparkles and the vexed ocean fries. Exactly in time they row, with equal strokes; at once the brushing oars and the brazen prow dash up the sandy waves and open the depths below. No fiery courser in any chariot race invaded the field with half so swift a speed; no fierce driver lends the lash with more fury, and before the blow descends, bends his pliant body low to the wheels.

The crowd choose their pick from among the contestants and noisily discuss their hopes and fears; aiding their favored side with their eager shouts as their cries, murmurs and clamors mixed into a noisy hum which resounded from the woods to the hills. Amist the loud applause from the shore the race started: Gyas, outstripping the rest, gained an early lead, while Cloanthus, better manned, pursued him fast, but the size of the galley, with its numerous masts, checked his haste. The Centaur and the Dolphin advance in a line abreast as their sailors brush the sea with equal oars; now the mighty Centaur seems to lead and now the speedy Dolphin gets ahead; now, board to board the rival vessels row as the billows wash the skies and the ocean groans beneath. They reach the mark! Proud Gyas and his team ride in triumph; the victors of the main; but, steering round, he orders his pilot to stand more close to shore, skimming along the beach.

Menoetes heard the order, “Let others bear to sea!” but he feared this shore’s secret rocky shelves, and in his caution he sought the deep and still steered aloof. With louder cries the captain calls once more: “Bear to the rocky shore and shun the main!” As he spoke he saw the bold Cloanthus astern, draw near the shelvings. Betwixt the mark and him stood the Scylla, plowing the flood in a tighter turn as he passed the mark and, wheeling hard about, gained the lead. Gyas blasphemed the gods, devoutly swore, cried out for anger and tore his hair. Mindless of others’ lives, such was his rising rage, and careless of his own, he threw the trembling dotard to the deck, then he hoisted him up and threw him overboard as he seized the helm while his fellows cheered as he turned short, madly steering upon the shelves. With only his head visible above the waves, the plunging pilot, clogged with his clothes and cumbered with his years swims ashore and, now dripping wet, painfully climbs the cliff as the crowd that saw him fall and float again shout from the distant shore and laugh aloud to see his heaving breast disgorge the briny draught.

The crews of the following Centaur and Dolphin renew their vanished hopes of victory; while Gyas lags, they rekindle the race to reach the mark. Sergestheus takes the place as Mnestheus pursues, and as they turn around the mark, comes up not half his galley’s length behind. Then on deck he appears amidst his mates, cheering their drooping courage: “My friends, and before that, Hector’s followers, exert your vigor; tug the laboring oar; stretch to your strokes, my still unconquered crew, whom I drew from the flaming walls of Troy. Let me find in this, our common interest, that same strength of hand, that same courage of mind as when you stemmed the strong Malean flood and rowed over the Syrtes’ broken billows! I seek not to gain the foremost palm… Ah! No! That is hopeless; let those whom the gods ordain enjoy it! But to be last… the lags of all the race! At least you can redeem yourselves and me from that disgrace.”

Now, one and all, they tug against the sea; they row at the full stretch and shake the brazen prow. The sea beneath them sinks; their laboring sides are swelled, and sweat runs guttering down in tides. Chance aids their daring with an unhoped-for success; Sergesthus, eager to push his beak between the rival galley and the rock, locks in the unwieldy Centaur. The vessel struck and with the dreadful shock shivered her oars and broke her head. The trembling rowers arise from their banks and, anxious for themselves, renounce the prize. With iron poles they heave her off the shores and gather their floating oars from the sea. The crew of Mnestheus, with elated minds urge their success and call the willing winds as they ply their oars and cut their liquid way in larger compass on the roomy sea. As when the dove, roused in fright, forsakes her rocky hold and shakes her sounding wings, the cavern rings with clattering as she flies out, leaving her troubles behind her as she cleaves the skies: At first she flutters but at length she springs to smoother flight and shoots upon her wings: So Mnestheus cuts the sea in the Dolphin; and, flying with a momentum that assists his way, they soon pass Sergesthus in the Centaur, wedged in the rocky shoals and stuck fast, vainly imploring the victor’s aid as he tries to row with shattered oars.

Then Mnestheus bears down on Gyas and outstrips him; the ship, without a pilot, yields the prize. Unvanquished, Scylla now remains alone ahead of him and her he pursues, straining with all his strength as shouts arise from the favoring multitude to which applauding Echo replies. Shouts, wishes and applause run rattling through the skies. These clamors the Scylla hears with disdain, for they begrudge their competitors’ this praise and even more so the possibility of being robbed of their reward: Resolved to hold their own, they mend their pace; all obstinate to win the race or die in the attempt. Its morale lifted with their success, the Dolphin ran swiftly, for they can conquer, who believe they can. Both urge their oars and fortune supplies them both; and perhaps both would have shared an equal prize, but then Cloanthus stretches his hands out over the sea and demands succor from the watery powers: “Gods of the liquid realms on which I row! If you grant me the victor’s laurels I shall sacrifice a snow-white bull on your shore and his entrails, cast as an offering into the sea along with ruddy wine, thrown from golden goblets, shall return my gratitude for your gift.” The choir of nymphs, and Phorcus, with the virgin Panopea, heard his vow from below; and old Portunus, with his broad hand, gave the galley a mighty push which sped it, swift as a shaft or a winged wind, towards the land and, darting to the port, obtains the prize.

The herald summons all and then declares Cloanthus the winner of the naval games. The prince crowns the victor’s head with laurel and three fat steers are led to his vessel; the ship’s reward, with generous wine besides, along with sums of silver, which the crew divide amongst themselves. The leaders are distinguished from the crew; the victor is honored with a noble vestment, in which gold and purple each strive to outdo the other in the costliness of its needlework; there Ganymede is wrought with living art, chasing a trembling deer through Ida’s groves; breathless he seems, yet eager for the hunt, when in open view, the bird of Jove, diving on his prey, carries the boy off in his crooked talons. In vain, with gazing eyes and uplifted hands, his guards behold him soaring through the skies as barking dogs vainly pursue his flight.

Mnestheus was declared the second victor and shared the second prize: A coat of mail, once worn by the brave Demoleus, until the braver Aeneas tore it from his shoulders in single combat on the Trojan shore. This was ordained for Mnestheus to possess, for his defense in war and for ornament in peace. The gift was rich and glorious to behold, but it was so heavy due to the weight of its golden plates that two servants could scarce sustain the weight between them. Yet, even thus loaded, Demoleus had pursued and lightly seized the Trojan train. The third reward consisted of two goodly bowls of massy silver, richly wrought with prominent figures; and two brass caldrons brought from Dodona.

Thus rewarded by the hero, they all bind their conquering temples with purple bands. And now Sergesthus, clearing from the rock, brings back his shock-shattered galley. Forlorn she looked, without oars as, with encouragement shouted by the crowd, she made to shore; as when a snake, surprised upon the road has her body crushed by the load of the heavy wheels; or with a mortal wound, her belly is bruised and trodden into the ground, she crawls along in vain, with loosened coils; still fierce above, she brandishes her tongue; glares with her eyes and bristles with her scales, but trails her unsound parts grovelling behind her in the dust: So the Centaur tends slowly towards the port. But what she lacks in oars is amended by sails. Yet the prince, happy that his galley has been saved, rewards the unhappy chief with the beautiful Cretan slave, Pholoe, and her equally lovely twins.

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

April 25, 2011

Virgil’s Aeneid, Part 21

 

Virgil’s Aeneid

by

DL Rowlands

 

(Part 21)

Scarce had the day revealed the rising sun, scarce had his heat dispelled the pearly dews, when from the woods there bolts, before our very eyes, a creature somewhere between a mortal and a sprite. So thin, so ghastly meager and so pale; so bare of flesh that the scarcely resembled a man. This think, a tattered, seemed to implore our pious aid from the distance, pointing to the shore. We look behind, then view his shaggy beard; his clothes tagged with thorns and his limbs besmeared with filth. The rest, in mien, in habit and in face, appeared Greek, and such indeed he was. From a distance, when he saw that we were Trojans and he knew us as foes, he cast on us a fearful look, paused and stood still; then all at once began to stretch his limbs, trembling as he ran. As soon as he approached, he fell to his knees and thus, with tears and sighs, calls for pity.

‘Now, by the powers above, and by what we share of Nature’s common gift, this vital breath, oh Trojans, take me away from here! I beg no more; just take me far from this unhappy place. It is true I am a Greek, and I further admit that I was among your foes who besieged Troy… If my death is due for such demerits, then I’ll plead for this abandoned life no more, but let my tears obtain only one favor; that you throw me headlong into the swelling sea, since my crime demands nothing more than death; I shall die content to die by human hands…”

Speaking thus on his knees, he embraced my knees: I bade him boldly to tell us his story, how he came to be in his present state, his lineage and his name, what it was that he was so afraid of, and where he came from. The good Anchises raised him with his hand, and thus encouraged, he answered our questions:

‘I came from Ithaca; my native soil; to Troy. Achaemenides is my name. My poor father sent me with Ulysses… (Oh, how I wish that I’d stayed at home, content in my poverty!) But, fearful for themselves, my companions left me forsaken as a sacrifice in the Cyclops’ den. The cave, though large, was dark; the dismal floor was paved with mangled limbs and putrid gore. Our monstrous host, an immense beast, lifts his head and stares at the skies. His voice bellows and horrid is his hue; ye gods! Remove this plague from mortal sight! The joints of slaughtered wretches are his food and his wine is their streaming blood. These very eyes saw when with his huge hand he seized two captives from our Grecian band, and, stretched on his back, he dashed their broken bodies against the rocks to crush their bones. The pavements swims with the purple of their spouting blood as the dire glutton grinds their trembling limbs.

‘Ulysses could not bear such a fate unrevenged; nor was he thoughtless about his own unhappy situation; for, gorged on flesh and drunk with human wine, the giant now lay supine, fast asleep, snoring aloud and belching indigested foam and gobbets of meat from his maw. We pray, then cast lots and surround the monstrous body that was stretched along the ground. Each as he could approach him, lends a hand to bore out his eyeball with a flaming branch. Beneath his frowning forehead lay his eye, for the gods had given him only one, but that was a globe so large that it filled his face, like the sun’s disc, or like a Grecian shield. The stroke succeeds; and down the pupil bends: this was the vengeance we obtained for our slaughtered companions.

‘But haste, oh unhappy wretches, make haste to fly! Cut your cables and lean on your oars! As vast as Polyphemus appears, this hated island bears a hundred more of his kind. Like him they shut their woolly sheep in caves; like him they keep their herds on the tops of the mountains; and like him they stalk from mountainside to mountainside… It has been three months since, hiding in the wilderness, I have dragged my loathsome days with mortal fear, lodging in deserted caverns at night. Often from the rocks I see the dreadful prospect of the huge Cyclops, like a walking tree; and from afar I hear his thundering voice resound; his trampling feet shaking the solid earth. Cornels and salvage berries of the wood, along with roots and herbs, have been my meager food, as I searched all around for some means of escape. Finally I saw your happy ships appear and on those I fixed my hopes; I ran to these and it is all I ask, that you shun this cruel race; and that whatever death you see fitting for me, you bestow upon me yourselves.’

Scarce had he said this, when we saw the giant shepherd stalking on the mountain’s brow; leading his flock down to the shore: A monstrous bulk, blind and deformed, his staff a trunk of pine to guide his steps; his ponderous whistle dangling from his neck. His flock attend their lord closely; this the only comfort allowed to him by his hard fortune. As soon as he reached the shore and touched the waves, he washes the guttering blood from his hollowed eye, gnashes his teeth and groans and then strides forward through the seas; their topmost billows scarcely reaching his waist.

Seized with a sudden fear, we run to sea, cut our cables and haste silently away, bringing the well-deserving stranger with us. Then, buckling to the work, we divide the seas with our oars. The giant heard the splashing, however, and when he found our vessels beyond his reach he strode onward, vainly essaying the Ionian deep, but daring to wade no further. With that he roared aloud: the dreadful cry shakes earth, and air, and seas; the billows fly before the bellowing noise to distant Italy. The neighboring Aetna trembled; its winding caverns echoing the sound. His brother Cyclops hear the yelling and rushing down the mountains now crowd the shore. We saw their stern, distorted visages from a distance; the one-eyed glance that vainly threatened war. A dreadful council they made, their heads so lofty that the misty clouds fly about their foreheads; higher even than the towering tree of Jove, or Diana’s tallest cypresses.

New pangs of mortal fear assail our minds; we tug at every oar and hoist up every sail to take advantage of the friendly winds. Forewarned by Helenus, we strive to avoid Charybdis’ gulf on the one side and Scylla on the other; an equal fate appearing on either side. Tacking to the left we free ourselves from fear, for, from Pelorus’ point the north wind arose, driving us back past the rocky mouth of the swift Pantagias. From there we make our way by Thapsus and the winding bays of Megara; this passage shown to us by Achaemenides, retracing the course he had already run.

Right over against Plemmyrium’s watery strand, there lies an island once named Ortygia. Ancient legends report that, led by Love, Alpheus found there a secret underground passage from Greece, which led to the bedchamber of the beauteous Arethusa and, mingling here, they roll in the same sacred bed. As Helenus had advised us, we next adored Diana’s sacred name, as protector of the island. With prosperous winds we pass the quiet sounds of still and fruitful land of Elorus; then, doubling Cape Pachynus, from whose rocky shore, extending to the sea, we survey the town of Camarine in the distance; her fenny lake undrained by Fate’s decree.

We pass in sight of the Geloan fields, and see the walls where mighty Gela was; then Agragas, crowned with lofty summits, long renowned for its race of warlike steeds; we pass the palmy land of Selinus but widely avoid the shores of Lilybaea, whose coast is unsafe because of secret rocks and shifting sands. At length the weary fleet arrived on shore, where we were received at Drepanum’s unhappy port. Here, after endless hardships, having been tossed by raging storms and driven from every coast, spent with age, I lost my dear, dear father: the ease of my cares and the solace of my grief… saved through a thousand toils, but saved in vain. The prophet who had revealed my future woes to me had kept this one, the greatest and worst of them, concealed; and dire Celaeno, whose foreboding skill denounced all else, was silent on this matter. This was my last labor; some friendly god conveyed us from there to your blessed abode.”

Thus the royal guest told the intently-listening queen of all his toils and wanderings and, concluding here, he retired to rest.

*****     *******     *****

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