Virgil’s Aeneid, by Astyages
(With apologies to regular readers for the lengthy wait between episodes; I’m hoping things will calm down enough in the new year to be able to post more regularly. In the meantime it seems that a few of the more recently posted episodes have ‘gone astray’… so I shall start by reposting these; perhaps it may be a good opportunity to re-acquaint yourselves with your place in the story… ~ Astyages)
The race thus ended, and the prizes awarded, once again the prince addresses the attentive crowd: “If there be here anyone with courage enough to dare the gauntlet-fight with bared limbs and body, to sustain his opposite in open view and stand forth the champion then we shall renew the games. I propose two prizes to be divided thus: A bull with gilded horns, tied with golden fillets shall be the portion of the winner, while a sword and helm shall cheer the loser’s grief.”
Then, in the lists, haughty Dares appears with head erect and stalking stride; his nervous arms wielding the weighty gauntlet as loud applauses echo through the field. Dares alone stood hand to hand in matched combat against the mighty Paris; the same, at Hector’s funeral challenged the gigantic Amycian, Butes and by the stroke of his resistless hand stretched his vast bulk upon the ground. Such was Dares; and as such, he strode along, drawing the wonder of the gazing crowd by displaying his brawny back and ample breast. He lifts his arms around his head, throwing empty blows which whistle through the air. A match is sought for him but throughout the trembling band no-one dares answer the challenge. Presuming upon his force, his sparkling eyes already devour the promised prize; he claims the bull with irreverent insolence, and, having seized his horns, accosts the prince:
“If none dares to oppose my matchless valor, how long must I wait for foes? Permit me, chief, to lead off this uncontested prize without further delay.”
The crowd assents as the proud challenger demands to prize, and echo his cause with their redoubled shouts. Acestes, fired with just disdain to see the palm usurped without a victory, reproached Entellus, who was sitting beside him and had heard, unmoved, the Trojan’s pride, thus:
“Once, but in vain, a champion of renown; can you so tamely bear to see the ravished crown born off in triumph before your eyes? And do you now, for fear, shun the danger of the fight? Where now is our Eryx? Where now that god who taught your thundering arm the game? Where now is your baffled honor? Where the spoil that filled your house and the fame that filled our island?”
Entellus replies thus: “My soul is unchanged, unmoved with fear and still moved by martial fame; but my chill blood is now curdled in my veins and I’m scarce the shadow of the man I once was. Oh, that I were in my prime again; that prime which this boaster now displays so vainly. The brave, who defy this decrepit age, should feel my force, without the promised prize!”
Thus said, and rising at the word, he threw two ponderous guantlets down in open view; gauntlets which Eryx was wont to wield in fight and to sheath his hands with on the battlefield. Seized with fear and wonder the crowds behold the gloves of death, with seven distinguished folds of tough bull hides; the space within is spread with iron, or with loads of heavy lead: Dares himself was daunted at the sight and, renouncing his challenge, refused to fight. The hero stands astonished at the weight of the ponderous engines, which he now holds, poised in his hands.
“I wonder what you would have said,” Entellus said, “had you seen the guantlets of Alcides… or had you viewed that stern debate upon this unhappy field! This which I bear were those used by your brother Eryx; still marked with battered brains and mingled gore. With these he long withstood the arm of Heracles; and these I wielded while my blood was warm… when this languished frame was moved by better spirits, before age had unstrung my nerves or time had crowned my head with snow. But if the challenger refuses these arms, or cannot wield their weight; or dares not to use them; if great Aeneas and Acestes accede to his request, then I shall resign these guantlets; let us fight with equal weapons and let him have cause to fear, since I resign my right…”
This said, Entellus strips off his quilted coat, bearing his body in preparation for the strife; composed of mighty bones and brawn he makes a towering object on the sands. Then just Aeneas supplied both contestants with equal arms, which they tied around their shoulders to their wrists. Both stand on tiptoe with their arms aloft at full extent, their bodies bent indwards whilst trying to keep their heads as far as possible from the aimed blows of their foe as, with clashing guantlets, they provoke the war; one relying on his youth and pliant limbs and the other relying on strength and his giant size. But this latter is stiff with age; his motions are slow; he heaves for breath and staggers to and fro, whilst clouds of smoke blow loudly from his nostrils. Yet with equal success they strike and ward; their ways different, but alike in their art.
Before and behind the blows are dealt; around their hollow sides the rattling thumbs resound. A storm of well-intended strokes flies with fury, narrowly missing temples, ears and eyes; but not always missing for often the sweeping stroke of the gauntlet smashes into crackling jaws. Heavy with age, Entellus stands his ground, but with his ducking body avoids the wound; his hand and his watchful eye keeping an even pace; while Dares crosses here and there, constantly shifting his position and like a captain who beseiges some strong-built castle on rising ground, views all the approaches with observant eyes, vainly trying this and that and relying more on industry than force.
With hands on high, Entellus threatens the foe; but Dares watches the motion from beneath and slips aside, shunning the descending blow. Entellus thus wastes his forces on the wind and, thus deprived of the stroke he had intended, fell heavy and headlong to the ground; his heavy limbs embracing his ancient mother. So falls a hollow pine, that had long stood on Ida’s height, or in the woods of Erymanthus, torn from its roots.
The different nations rise to their feet and their shouts and murmurs rend the sky as Acestes runs with eager haste to raise up the fallen companion of his youth. Dauntless he rose and returned to the fight; his cheeks now glowing with shame and his eyes burning with fury. Disdain and conscious virtue fired his breast as he now presses his foe with redoubled force, laying on a load with either hand and driving the Trojan over the plain. Nor does he stop or pause to allow for rest or even for breath, but storms of strokes descend about his head, a rattling tempest and a hail of blows.
But now the prince, who saw the wild increase of wounds, commands the combatants to stop; binding Entellus’ wrath and bids them be at peace. First he spoke to the Trojan, exhausted by his toil, and soothed his sorrow for the shame he’d suffered. “What fury seized my friend? The gods were propitious to him and averse to thee, having given his arm superior force to yours… it is madness to contend against such divine strength.”
The gauntlet fight thus ended, his faithful friends bore the unhappy Dares away from the shore: his mouth and nostrils poured with blood and he spat blood out of his mouth along with pounded teeth. Faintly he staggered through the hissing crowd, hanging his head and trailing his legs along. The sword and helmet are carried by his train, but the ox and the palm of victory remained with his foe.
The champion then came before Aeneas, proud of his prize, but prouder of his fame:
“Oh, goddess-born, and you, my Dardanian host, mark with attention and forgive me if I brag; learn what I was by what remains; and know from what impending fate you saved my foe.”
Sternly he spoke, and then confronts the bull; and aiming his deadly stroke full on his ample forehead, the deadly stroke descended and pierced the skull. Down drops the best, not needing a second blow, but sprawls in its death pangs on the ground. Then he spoke thus: “In Dares’ stead I offer this. Eryx, accept a nobler sacrifice; take the last gift my withered arms can give: Thy gauntlets I resign, and here renounce the field.”
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