Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

Week 5: Ancient Rome - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The Trojan Horse: Laocon's Warning

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

Just like Ulysses, Aeneas is a refugee from Troy, cast ashore by a stormy sea. In the same way that Ulysses ended up telling the story of his adventures to an audience of Phaeacians in the court of King Alcinous, Aeneas ends up telling his adventures to an audience of Libyans in the court of Queen Dido, who is building a new city at Carthage. Dido is deeply moved by the story of Aeneas' adventures, and the two of them go on to have a disastrous love affair - when Aeneas finally leaves Carthage in order to continue his journey to Italy, Dido will kill herself. But that is in the future: right now, Aeneas is about to begin his story, and Dido is about to fall in love...

They were all silent, and turned their faces towards him intently.
Then from his high couch our forefather Aeneas began:

'O queen, you command me to renew unspeakable grief,
how the Greeks destroyed the riches of Troy,
and the sorrowful kingdom, miseries I saw myself,
and in which I played a great part. What Myrmidon,
or Dolopian, or warrior of fierce Ulysses, could keep
from tears in telling such a story? Now the dew-filled night
is dropping from the sky, and the setting stars urge sleep.
But if you have such desire to learn of our misfortunes,
and briefly hear of Troy's last agonies, though my mind
shudders at the memory, and recoils in sorrow, I'll begin.

After many years have slipped by, the leaders of the Greeks,
opposed by the Fates, and damaged by the war,
build a horse of mountainous size, through Pallas's divine art,
and weave planks of fir over its ribs:
they pretend it's a votive offering: this rumour spreads.
They secretly hide a picked body of men, chosen by lot,
there, in the dark body, filling the belly and the huge
cavernous insides with armed warriors.
Tenedos is within sight, an island known to fame,
rich in wealth when Priam's kingdom remained,
now just a bay and an unsafe anchorage for boats:
they sail there, and hide themselves, on the lonely shore.
We thought they had gone, and were seeking Mycenae
with the wind. So all the Trojan land was free of its long sorrow.

The gates were opened: it was a joy to go and see the Greek camp,
the deserted site and the abandoned shore.
Here the Dolopians stayed, here cruel Achilles,
here lay the fleet, here they used to meet us in battle.
Some were amazed at virgin Minerva's fatal gift,
and marvel at the horse's size: and at first Thymoetes,
whether through treachery, or because Troy's fate was certain,
urged that it be dragged inside the walls and placed on the citadel.

But Capys, and those of wiser judgement, commanded us
to either hurl this deceit of the Greeks, this suspect gift,
into the sea, or set fire to it from beneath,
or pierce its hollow belly, and probe for hiding places.

The crowd, uncertain, was split by opposing opinions.
Then Laocoon rushes down eagerly from the heights
of the citadel, to confront them all, a large crowd with him,
and shouts from far off: 'O unhappy citizens, what madness?
Do you think the enemy's sailed away? Or do you think
any Greek gift's free of treachery? Is that Ulysses's reputation?
Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood,
or it's been built as a machine to use against our walls,
or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above,
or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don't trust this horse.
Whatever it is, I'm afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.'

So saying he hurled his great spear, with extreme force,
at the creature's side, and into the frame of the curved belly.
The spear stuck quivering, and at the womb's reverberation
the cavity rang hollow and gave out a groan.
And if the gods' fate, if our minds, had not been ill-omened,
he'd have incited us to mar the Greeks hiding-place with steel:
Troy would still stand: and you, high tower of Priam would remain.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what was hidden inside the wooden horse?
  • where did the Greeks hide their ships?
  • why was Laocoon afraid of the wooden horse?

Source: A.S.Kline, translator. Vergil's Aeneid (2002). Weblink. Kline has made his English translation of Vergil's Aeneid freely available over the Internet.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM