Astyages's Weblog

May 15, 2011

Virgil’s Aeneid, part 22


David L Rowlands


But anxious cares had already seized the queen; she fed an unseen flame within her veins; the heroes valor, his deeds and his noble birth inspired her soul with love and fanned this secret fire. His words, his looks, imprinted on her heart, fed this passion, increasing its sting. Now, when the purple morn had chased away the shadows and the day was full, she first sought her sister and thus, in mournful accents eased her mind:

“My dearest Anna, what new dreams frighten my laboring soul! What visions of the night disturb my quiet and distract my mind with strange ideas of our Trojan guest. His worth, his actions and his air of majesty; I declare he must be descended from the gods! Fearful men are degenerate, but his birth is well asserted by his mind. Then… what he suffered, when betrayed by Fate! What brave attempts he made to save Troy from falling… Such were his looks and so gracefully he spoke, that, were I not so hurt by my first disastrous marriage that I have resolved never to risk a second… yet to this one error I may yield again; for, ever since Sichaeus was untimely slain, no man but this one has ever been able to stir the fixed foundation of my stubborn heart. And, to confess my frailty, to my shame, I find within myself the same stirrings I felt for my former love. But let the earth open up and swallow me; let me descend into the abyss; first let avenging Jove, with flames from on high strike down this body and fling my soul into the nether regions, condemned to lie in endless night with the ghosts, before I break the vow I swore. No! He who had my vows shall keep them forever; for whom I loved on earth I worship in his grave.”

And saying this, the tears gushed from her eyes and stopped her speech. Her sister replied thus:

“Oh, sister, dearer to me than the vital air I breathe, will you bequeath your blossoming years to grief? Condemn yourself to waste your lonely life in woes, without the joys of being a mother or a wife? Do you think these tears, this pompous train of woe, are of any value whatsoever to the dead? I grant that, while your sorrows were still fresh, it well became a woman and a queen to neglect the vows of Tyrian princes, to scorn Hyarbas and reject his love, together with that of all the Lybyan lords with mighty names… But will you fight against pleasure? This little spot of land, bestowed on us by Heaven, is hemmed in on every side with warlike foes; Gaetulian cities here; fierce Numidians right on your frontiers; even in the deserts there are the Syrtes, while Barcaean troops besiege the narrow coast… and from the seas Pygmalion threatens to send more. Propitions Heaven, and gracious Juno, lead this wandering navy to your needful aid: How will your empire spread, your city raise, from such a union, and with such allies? Pray for the favor of the gods and leave the conduct of the rest to love. Continue your hospitality towards the Trojan, and try to think of reasons for them to stay, at least until these storms and winter winds shall cease to threaten, and until they have repaired their shattered fleet.”

These words, coming from a sister and a friend, easily dissolved her famous scruples, and her passion burned with a new fury. Inspired with hope, they pursued their project, sacrificing a chosen ewe of two years old to Ceres, Bacchus, and the God of Day; with a special preference for Juno’s power, for Juno ties the nuptial knot and makes the marriage joys. The beauteous queen stands before her altar, and holds the golden goblet in her hands, a milk-white heifer she adorns with flowers, and pours the ruddy wine betwixt her horns, and, while the priests invoke the gods with prayer, she feeds their altars with Sabaean incense, renewing the sacrifice every hour, anxiously viewing the entrails. But what priestly rites, what pious rite, or what vows can avail to cure a bleeding heart? A gentle fire she feeds within her veins, where the soft god reigns secure, in silence.

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