Aeneid, Book 5: Aeneas and his Pilot Palinurus
Reading time: 2 minutes. Word count: 400 words.
now dew-wet Night had just reached her zenith
in the sky: the sailors relaxed their limbs in quiet rest
stretched out on the hard benches beneath the oars:
when Sleep, gliding lightly down from the heavenly stars,
parted the gloomy air, and scattered the shadows,
seeking you, bringing you dark dreams, Palinurus,
though you were innocent: the god settled on the high stern,
appearing as Phorbas, and poured these words from his mouth:
'Palinurus, son of Iasus, the seas themselves steer
the breezes blow steadily, this hour is granted for rest.
Lay down your head and rob your weary eyes of labour.
For a little while, I myself will take on your duty for you.'
Palinurus, barely lifting his gaze, spoke to him:
'Do you tell me to trust the sea’s placid face,
the calm waves? Shall I set my faith on this monster?
Why should I entrust Aeneas to the deceptive breeze,
I whom a clear sky has deceived so often?'
So he spoke and clinging hard
to the tiller
never relaxed his hold, and held his sight on the stars.
Behold, despite his caution, the god shook a branch,
wet with Lethe’s dew, soporific with Styx’s power,
over his brow, and set free his swimming eyes.
The first sudden drowse had barely relaxed his limbs,
when Sleep leant above him and threw him headlong
into the clear waters, tearing away the tiller
and part of the stern, he calling to his friends often, in vain:
while the god raised his wings in flight into the empty air.
The fleet sailed on its way over the sea, as safely as before,
gliding on, unaware, as father Neptune had promised.
And now drawn onwards it was close to the Sirens’s cliffs, tricky
of old, and white with the bones of many men, (now the rocks,
far off, boomed loud with the unending breakers) when the leader
realised his ship was wallowing adrift, her helmsman lost,
and he himself steered her through the midnight waters,
sighing deeply, and shocked at heart by his friend’s fate:
“Oh, far too trustful of the calm sea, and the sky,
you’ll lie naked, Palinurus, on an unknown shore.'
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MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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