Astyages's Weblog

August 31, 2011

Virgil’s Aeneid, Part 27

Virgil’s Aeneid

by

DL Rowlands

(Part 27)

‘It was dead of night, when the eyes of weary bodies are closed in balmy sleep; the winds no longer whispering through the woods and even the tides are too still to make the murmuring of waves. The stars move around in their silent order and Peace covers the earth with her soft and downy wings. The flocks and herds and the multicolored fowl which haunt the woods or swim in the weedy pools lay stretched securely on the quiet earth, forgetting the labors of the past day. All else partake of natures common gift, but the furious Dido alone is awake; unable to find neither sleep nor ease. Sleep flees her eyes as quiet flees her heart; despair, and rage, and love divide her heart; despair and rage holding some of it, but love the greater portion. Thus she said in her secret mind:

What shall I do? What succor is there for me? Become a suppliant to Hyarba’s pride? And take my turn, to court and be spurned? Shall I go with this ungrateful Trojan, forsaking an empire to serve a foe? I gave him refuge, and relieved his train, ’tis true, but am I sure to be received? Does gratitude have any place in Trojan souls? Laomedon still lives in all his race! Then, should I seek this churlish crew alone, or pursue their flying sails with my fleet? The only forces I have are those who I recently drew reluctantly from their native shore; will they embark again for my sake to endure the seas once more, quitting this, their second Tyre? Rather invade thy guilty breast with steel and take the fortune though thyself hast made. Your pity, sister, first seduced my mind, or seconded too well what I had planned. Had I never known these dearly-bought pleasures; had I continued free, and still my own person, avoiding love, I would not have found despair, but shared the common air with savage beasts; like them, I might have led a lonely life, not mourned by the living, nor disturbing the dead.”

On these thoughts she brooded in her anxious breast, whilst on board his ship, the Trojan found rest easier to come by. Having made his decision to sail and made everything ready for his early departure, he passed the night in sleep, in which the winged god once more appeared to him, in the same youthful guise as before, invading his ears with this new alarm:

Are you sleeping, oh goddess-born? And can you forget your needful cares so near a hostile town, beset with foes? Do you not hear the western gales which invite your passage and fill your sails? She harbors a furious hatred in her breast, and you shall discover the dire effects too late; she is fixed on revenge and determined to die… You must make haste to flee from here, while you still have the power to do so! The sea will soon be covered with ships and the shore will be kindled with blazing firebrands. You must prevent her rage, while dark of night still obscures the skies; and sail before morning’s first light appears. Who knows what hazards your delay might bring? A woman’s mind is various and very changeable!” Then, in the dream, Hermes once again took flight aloft in the invisible air, disappearing into the darkness of the night.

Warned a second time by the celestial messenger, the pious prince hastily arose in fear, then immediately roused his drowsy crew: “Haste to your oars! Weigh your crooked anchors and spread your flying sails! Stand to sea! A god commands us: he stood before my eyes and urged us once again to speedy flight! Oh, sacred power, whatsoever power you are! To your blessed orders I resign my heart. Lead the way; protect thy Trojan followers, and prosper the design thy will commands!”

As he said this, he drew forth his flaming sword and divided the anchor-rope with his thundering arm, inspiring in his crew an emulating zeal: They run; they snatch and headlong they rush into the main in their haste to leave behind the deserted beach as they brush the liquid seas with laboring oars.

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

Now Aurora had left her saffron bed, and beams early of light were spreading across the heavens, when the queen’s wakeful eyes watched the dawn from a tower. She looked seaward and saw that the sea was empty; the last of the ships barely visible now as they disappeared over the horizon. Stung with despite and furious with despair she struck her trembling breast and tore her hair,

And shall the ungrateful traitor go, forsaking my land and betraying my love?” she said, “Shall we not arm ourselves? Not rush from every street in the city to follow him… to sink and burn his perjured fleet? Haste! Haul my galleys out and pursue the foe! Bring flaming torches! Set sail and row swiftly! What have I said? Where am I? Fury turns my brain and burns my distempered bosom. Then, when I gave my person and my throne would have been a better time to have shown this hatred and this rage! See now the promised faith, the vaunted name, the pious man who rushed through the fires to preserve his gods and carry the burden of his feeble father to the Phrygian shore! I should have torn him limb from limb and thrown the pieces in the sea; or left his remains exposed in the woods. I should have destroyed his friends and set the boy on a fire to burn before his father’s eyes! Events are doubtful, which wait on battles, yet where’s the doubt to souls secure of their fate? My Tyrians, at their injured queen’s command would have tossed their fires amid the Trojans and at once extinguished all the faithless; and I myself, in the vengeance of my shame, should have fallen upon the funeral pyre to feed its flames.

Thou, Sun, who sees everything at once in the world beneath; thou, Juno, guardian of the nuptial vows; and thou, Hecate, hearken from your dark abodes! Ye furies, fiends and violated gods, all you powers, invoked with Dido’s dying breath, listen to her curses and avenge her death! If, as Jove commands and the Fates ordain, the ungrateful wretch should find the Latian lands, let a race of untamed and haughty foes oppose his peaceful entrance with dire arms! Oppressed by numbers in an unequal field, let his men be discouraged and himself expelled; let him run from place to place seeking succor, torn from his subjects and his son’s embrace! But first let him see his friends slain in battle and lament their untimely fate in vain; and when at length the cruel war shall end, let him buy his peace under hard conditions; and do not even then let him enjoy his kingship, but let him fall untimely by some hostile hand, to lie unburied on the barren earth.

These are my prayers and this is my dying will; and you, my Tyrians, fulfill every curse! Proclaim perpetual hatred and mortal war against the prince, the people and the Trojan name! These grateful offerings bestow on my grave; let the hostile nation know neither fellowship nor love! Now and henceforward in every future age, when rage excites your arms and strength supplies it, let some avenger of our Libyan blood arise with fire and sword to pursue their perjured breed; let our arms, our seas, our shores be opposed to them; and let the same hate descend on all our heirs!”

This said, she weighs within her anxious mind, the means of cutting short her odious days. Then, to Sichaeus’ nurse (for her own was dead when she had left her country) she said, “Go, Barce, call my sister, and let her prepare the solemn rites of sacrifice; bring the sheep and the atoning offerings, sprinkle her body with living drops from the crystal spring; then let her come and with sacred fillets bind thy hoary brow. Thus will I pay my vows to Stygian Jove and end the cares of my disastrous love; then cast the Trojan’s image on the fire and as that burns, so too shall my passions also die.”

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

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