Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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

The Greeks Take the City

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 650 words.

You are going to see the names of many different characters as the battle unfolds, but you do not need to worry about that so much: the people you need to look for are Aeneas (of course!), and Neoptolemus (also called Pyrrhus). Neoptolemus is the son of the Greek hero Achilles who was killed by the Trojan prince Hector. And even Hector is also going to make an appearance here, as a ghost...

And now the Greek phalanx of battle-ready ships sailed
from Tenedos, in the benign stillness of the silent moon,
seeking the known shore, when the royal galley raised
a torch, and Sinon, protected by the gods' unjust doom,
sets free the Greeks imprisoned by planks of pine,
in the horses' belly. Opened, it releases them to the air,
and sliding down a lowered rope, Thessandrus, and Sthenelus,
the leaders, and fatal Ulysses, emerge joyfully
from their wooden cave, with Acamas, Thoas,
Peleus's son Neoptolemus, the noble Machaon,
Menelaus, and Epeus who himself devised this trick.
They invade the city that's drowned in sleep and wine,
kill the watchmen, welcome their comrades
at the open gates, and link their clandestine ranks.
It was the hour when first sleep begins for weary mortals,
and steals over them as the sweetest gift of the gods.

See, in dream, before my eyes, Hector seemed to stand there,
saddest of all and pouring out great tears,
torn by the chariot, as once he was, black with bloody dust,
and his swollen feet pierced by the thongs.
Ah, how he looked! How changed he was
from that Hector who returned wearing Achilles's armour,
or who set Trojan flames to the Greek ships!
His beard was ragged, his hair matted with blood,
bearing those many wounds he received dragged around the walls of his city.
And I seemed to weep myself, calling out to him,
and speaking to him in words of sorrow:

"Oh light of the Troad, surest hope of the Trojans,
what has so delayed you? What shore do you come from
Hector, the long-awaited? Weary from the many troubles
of our people and our city I see you, oh, after the death
of so many of your kin! What shameful events have marred
that clear face? And why do I see these wounds?'
He does not reply, nor does he wait on my idle questions,
but dragging heavy sighs from the depths of his heart, he says:
"Ah! Son of the goddess, fly, tear yourself from the flames.
The enemy has taken the walls: Troy falls from her high place.
Enough has been given to Priam and your country: if Pergama
could be saved by any hand, it would have been saved by this.
Troy entrusts her sacred relics and household gods to you:
take them as friends of your fate, seek mighty walls for them,
those you will found at last when you have wandered the seas."

So he speaks, and brings the sacred headbands in his hands
from the innermost shrine, potent Vesta, and the undying flame.
Meanwhile the city is confused with grief, on every side,
and though my father Anchises's house is remote, secluded
and hidden by trees, the sounds grow clearer and clearer,
and the terror of war sweeps upon it.

I shake off sleep, and climb to the highest roof-top,
and stand there with ears strained:
as when fire attacks a wheat-field when the south-wind rages,
or the rushing torrent from a mountain stream covers the fields,
drowns the ripe crops, the labour of oxen,
and brings down the trees headlong, and the dazed shepherd,
unaware, hears the echo from a high rocky peak.
Now the truth is obvious, and the Greek plot revealed.
Now the vast hall of Deiphobus is given to ruin
the fire over it: now Ucalegon's nearby blazes:
the wide Sigean straits throw back the glare.
Then the clamour of men and the blare of trumpets rises.
Frantically I seize weapons: not because there is much use
for weapons, but my spirit burns to gather men for battle
and race to the citadel with my friends: madness and anger
hurl my mind headlong, and I think it beautiful to die fighting.

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

  • when did the Greeks come out of the horse?
  • who appeared to Aeneas in a dream and told him what was happening?
  • what does Aeneas do when he wakes up after the dream?

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