Astyages's Weblog

October 12, 2011

Virgil’s Aeneid, Part 29

Virgil’s Aeneid


DL Rowlands

(Part 29)



Meanwhile, the Trojan cuts his watery way, fixed on his voyage through the curling sea; then, casting his eyes backward, he was astonished to see on the Punic shore the mounting blaze. The cause was unknown, yet his mind quickly divined the fate of Dido from the fire. He understood the stormy souls of women and the secret springs which move their eager passions; how capable they were of dying for an injured love.

The Trojans draw dire auguries from this until the fires and the shores could no longer be seen and only the seas and skies filled their horizons; an empty space above, a floating field around them. But soon the heavens were overcast with shadows; a swelling cloud hung hovering overhead, livid it looked, as if threatening a storm; then night and horror deformed the ocean’s face. The pilot, Palinurus cried aloud, “Those gathering clouds presage terrible weather ahead; already the tempest roars! Stand to your tackle, mates, and stretch your oars; furl your swelling sails, and luff to the wind!”

The frightened crew do as they are ordered. Then, to his fearless chief he said, “Though Jove himself has promised that we shall reach Italy, Heaven itself could not stem the torrent of this raging sea. Mark how the shifting winds are rising from the west, and how dark the sky has become! Our shaken vessels cannot withstand such a pounding, let alone make headway against such a tempest. ‘Tis fate itself that diverts our course, and we must obey. Not far from here, if I observe the stars aright, lies the coast of Sicilia, which we might reach with our oars.” Aeneas then replied, “It’s true we strive in vain against the seas and the wind; shift your sails; I’ll be content to make the shores of Sicilia, whose hallowed earth contains the bones of Anchises, and where a prince of Trojan lineage reigns!” The course now resolved, they scud along before the western wind to reach the assigned port.

Meanwhile, Acestes, from a lofty vantage point, beheld the fleet descending on the land; and, not unmindful of his ancient race, he eagerly ran down the cliff to embrace the hero, clad in rough Libyan vestments and carrying a pointed javelin in either hand. His mother was a dame of Dardan blood; his father a Sicilian by the name of Crisinius; he welcomes his returning friends with a feast from his homely stores.

Now, when the following morn had chased the flying stars away and light had restored the day, Aeneas called the Trojan troops around and spoke to them from a small rise: “Offspring of heaven, divine Dardanian race! It has been a full year to the day since this isle has held my father’s ashes; a day forever sad, forever dear. Even if we had been banished to barren Gaetulia, or caught on the Grecian seas or hostile lands I would celebrate this day with annual games; with gifts piled high on altars, and holy fires: But since this happy storm has driven our fleet, (not, I think without the will of Heaven) upon these friendly shores, which hide Anchises’ blessed remains, let us joyfully perform the honors that are his due, and pray for prosperous winds to renew our voyage. Pray that we might soon celebrate the name of great Anchises in towns and temples of our own with yearly games which may spread the renown of our gods with the sports of our race. Acestes is pleased to grace our celebrations with royal gifts: two steers the king bestows on every ship; his gods and ours shall equally share your vows. Besides this, in nine days’ time, provided the weather is good, I intend to grace the day with solemn sports: Light galleys shall run a watery race on the seas; while others shall run a footrace to see who is the swiftest; and others still shall contend with their twanging bows. The strong, armed with iron gauntlets, shall stand in combat on the beach. Let all be present at the games we have prepared and joyful victors shall earn a just reward. But now we shall crown ourselves with garlands to assist the rites.” He said, and, by way of example, bound his brows with myrtle.

Then Helymus and old Acestes, led by his example, each adorned his head. Thus young Ascanius, with a sprightly grace, tied his temples and all the Trojans did likewise. Aeneas then advanced amidst the crowd, which followed him by thousands through the flowery plain, to the tomb of Anchises; and when they reached it he poured two bowls of sparkling wine, two bowls of milk and two bowls of blood from sacrificed bulls onto the sacred ground as an offering to Bacchus. And thus, to his father’s ghost, he spoke aloud: “Hail, oh ye holy manes! Hail once more, paternal ashes, now reviewed in vain! The gods did not permit that you should reach the promised shores of Italy, or Tiber’s flood, wherever it is, with me!”

Scarce had he finished his prayer when a speckled serpent began to glide from the tomb; his huge bulk rolled on seven high coils; blue was the breadth of his back, streaked with scaly gold: Thus, riding on his coils, he seemed to move along like a rolling fire, which singed the grass. Through his body ran more various colors than Iris’s bow as it drinks the sun. Between and around the rising altars, the sacred monster shot along the ground: Playing harmlessly amidst the bowls, he tasted the holy food with his flickering tongue, and thus fed, the wondrous guest retired to rest within the tomb.

The pious prince, surprised at what he saw, renewed the funeral honors with much more zeal, doubting not that this was a spirit and guardian of his father’s sepulcher. According to the rites, he slew five sheep and as many swine and sable steers. New wine he generously poured from the goblets, invoking the presence of his father’s ghost. The glad attendants come in a long procession, offering their gifts at the tomb of the great Anchises: some add more oxen to the sacrifice, from which others divide the meat; some sacrifice horses on the grass while others blow on fires to broil their entrails.

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

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