Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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

Sinon's Tale

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 900 words.

While the Trojans are debating what to do with the giant wooden horse, some Trojan shepherds come running up - they have captured a member of the Greek army, a man named Sinon. Sinon, however, is a double-agent: he is going to pretend to hate the Greeks, when in reality he is acting on behalf of the Greeks, sent there with a story full of lies that is intended to persuade the Trojans to bring the wooden horse into their city. Sinon pretends to beg the Trojans for mercy, for protection: when in fact he is bringing about their destruction.

See, meanwhile, some Trojan shepherds, shouting loudly,
dragging a youth, his hands tied behind his back, to the king.
In order to contrive this, and lay Troy open to the Greeks,
he had placed himself in their path, calm in mind, and ready
for either course: to engage in deception, or find certain death.

The Trojan youth run, crowding round, from all sides,
to see him, and compete in mocking the captive.

Listen now to Greek treachery, and learn of all their crimes
from just this one. Since, as he stood, looking troubled,
unarmed, amongst the gazing crowd,
and cast his eyes around the Phrygian ranks,
he said: "Ah! What land, what seas would accept me now?
What's left for me at the last in my misery, I who have
no place among the Greeks, when the hostile Trojans,
themselves, demand my punishment and my blood?"

At this the mood changed and all violence was checked.
We urged him to say what blood he was sprung from,
and why he suffered: and tell us what trust could be placed
in him as a captive. Setting fear aside at last he speaks:

"O king, I'll tell you the whole truth, whatever happens,
and indeed I'll not deny that I'm of Argive birth:
this first of all: if Fortune has made me wretched,
she'll not also wrongly make me false and a liar.
If by any chance some mention of Palamedes's name
has reached your ears, son of Belus, and talk
of his glorious fame, he whom the Pelasgians,
on false charges of treason, by atrocious perjury,
because he opposed the war, sent innocent to his death,
and who they mourn, now he's taken from the light:
well my father, being poor, sent me here to the war
when I was young, as his friend, as we were blood relatives.

"While Palamades was safe in power, and prospered
in the kings' council, I also had some name and respect.
But when he passed from this world above, through
the jealousy of plausible Ulysses (the tale's not unknown)
I was ruined, and spent my life in obscurity and grief,
inwardly angry at the fate of my innocent friend.
Maddened I could not be silent, and I promised, if chance allowed,
and if I ever returned as a victor to my native Argos,
to avenge him, and with my words stirred bitter hatred.

"The first hint of trouble came to me from this, because of it
Ulysses was always frightening me with new accusations,
spreading veiled rumours among the people, and guiltily
seeking to defend himself. He would not rest till, with Calchas
as his instrument - but why I do unfold this unwelcome story?
Why hinder you? If you consider all Greeks the same,
and that's sufficient, take your vengeance now: that's what
the Ithacan wants, and the sons of Atreus would pay dearly for."

Then indeed we were on fire to ask, and seek the cause,
ignorant of such wickedness and Pelasgian trickery.

Trembling with fictitious feelings he continued, saying:
"The Greeks, weary with the long war, often longed
to leave Troy and execute a retreat: if only they had!
Often a fierce storm from the sea land-locked them,
and the gale terrified them from leaving:
once that horse, made of maple-beams, stood there,
especially then, storm-clouds thundered in the sky.
Anxious, we send Eurypylus to consult Phoebus's oracle,
and he brings back these dark words from the sanctuary:
'With blood, and a virgin sacrifice, you calmed the winds,
O Greeks, when you first came to these Trojan shores,
seek your return in blood, and the well-omened sacrifice of an Argive life.'
When this reached the ears of the crowd, their minds were stunned,
and an icy shudder ran to their deepest marrow:
who readies this fate, whom does Apollo choose?

"At this the Ithacan thrust the seer, Calchas, into their midst,
demanding to know what the god's will might be,
among the uproar. Many were already cruelly prophesying
that ingenious man's wickedness towards me, and silently saw
what was coming. For ten days the seer kept silence, refusing
to reveal the secret by his words, or condemn anyone to death.
But at last, urged on by Ulysses's loud clamour, he broke
into speech as agreed, and doomed me to the altar.
All acclaimed it, and what each feared himself, they endured
when directed, alas, towards one man's destruction.

"Now the terrible day arrived, the rites were being prepared
for me, the salted grain, and the headbands for my forehead.
I confess I saved myself from death, burst my bonds,
and all that night hid by a muddy lake among the reeds,
till they set sail, if as it happened they did.
And now I've no hope of seeing my old country again,
or my sweet children or the father I long for:
perhaps they'll seek to punish them for my flight,
and avenge my crime through the death of these unfortunates.
But I beg you, by the gods, by divine power that knows the truth,
by whatever honour anywhere remains pure among men,
have pity on such troubles, pity the soul that endures undeserved suffering."

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

  • who captured the Greek Sinon and brought him to Troy?
  • why had the Greeks decided to kill Sinon as a human sacrifice?
  • how did Sinon escape from the Greeks?

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