Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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

Aeneas Gathers his Comrades

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

The battle is now about to grow fierce, and you will see more examples of a poetic device called "epic simile", when there is a long and elaborate description totally unrelated to the action at hand - a description of an animal, or perhaps of a natural phenomenon like clouds or rain, or a description of farming or dancing - and then a comparison is made between that description and the action at hand. Here you will find a Greek soldier who stumbles into Aeneas and the Trojan forces and realizes his mistake too late, like a man who stumbles across a snake: "Like a man who unexpectedly treads on a snake in rough briars, as he strides over the ground, and shrinks back in sudden fear..."

Now, see, Panthus escaping the Greek spears,
Panthus, son of Othrys, Apollo's priest on the citadel,
dragging along with his own hands the sacred relics,
the conquered gods, his little grandchild, running frantically
to my door: "Where's the best advantage, Panthus, what position
should we take?" I'd barely spoken, when he answered
with a groan: "The last day comes, Troy's inescapable hour.
Troy is past, Ilium is past, and the great glory of the Trojans:
Jupiter carries all to Argos: the Greeks are lords of the burning city.
The horse, standing high on the ramparts, pours out warriors,
and Sinon the conqueror exultantly stirs the flames.
Others are at the wide-open gates, as many thousands
as ever came from great Mycenae: more have blocked
the narrow streets with hostile weapons:
a line of standing steel with naked flickering blades
is ready for the slaughter: barely the first few guards
at the gates attempt to fight, and they resist in blind conflict."

By these words from Othrys' son, and divine will,
I'm thrust amongst the weapons and the flames,
where the dismal Fury sounds, and the roar, and the clamour rising to the sky.
Friends joined me, visible in the moonlight, Ripheus,
and Epytus, mighty in battle, Hypanis and Dymas,
gathered to my side, and young Coroebus, Mygdon's son:
by chance he'd arrived in Troy at that time,
burning with mad love for Cassandra, and brought help,
as a potential son-in-law, to Priam, and the Trojans,
unlucky man, who didn't listen to the prophecy
of his frenzied bride! When I saw them crowded there
eager for battle, I began as follows: "Warriors, bravest
of frustrated spirits, if your ardent desire is fixed
on following me to the end, you can see our cause's fate.
All the gods by whom this empire was supported
have departed, leaving behind their temples and their altars:
you aid a burning city: let us die and rush into battle.
The beaten have one refuge, to have no hope of refuge."

So their young spirits were roused to fury. Then,
like ravaging wolves in a dark mist, driven blindly by the cruel rage
of their bellies, leaving their young waiting with thirsty jaws,
we pass through our enemies, to certain death, and make our way
to the heart of the city: dark night envelops us in deep shadow.

Who could tell of that destruction in words, or equal our pain
with tears? The ancient city falls, she who ruled for so many years:
crowds of dead bodies lie here and there in the streets,
among the houses, and on the sacred thresholds of the gods.
Nor is it Trojans alone who pay the penalty with their blood:
courage returns at times to the hearts of the defeated
and the Greek conquerors die. Cruel mourning is everywhere,
everywhere there is panic, and many a form of death.

First, Androgeos, meets us, with a great crowd of Greeks
around him, unknowingly thinking us allied troops,
and calls to us in friendly speech as well:
"Hurry, men! What sluggishness makes you delay so?
The others are raping and plundering burning Troy:
are you only now arriving from the tall ships?"

He spoke, and straight away (since no reply given was
credible enough) he knew he'd fallen into the enemy fold.
He was stunned, drew back, and stifled his voice.
Like a man who unexpectedly treads on a snake in rough briars,
as he strides over the ground, and shrinks back in sudden fear
as it rears in anger and swells its dark-green neck,
so Androgeos, shuddering at the sight of us, drew back.
We charge forward and surround them closely with weapons,
and ignorant of the place, seized by terror, as they are,
we slaughter them wholesale. Fortune favours our first efforts.

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

  • what does Aeneas learn when he reaches the heart of the city?
  • what does Aeneas urge his friends to do?
  • how do Aeneas and the Trojans overwhelm the Greek Androgeos and his soldiers?

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