Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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

The Battle for the Palace

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 500 words.

You are about to witness what the Greeks called an "aristeia", or a heroic military exploit, by the warrior Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus), the son of Achilles. Even though Vergil is writing about a mythological battle in the distant past, the way he describes the carnage and destruction reflects his awareness of the brutal and horrifying battles that had troubled Rome all the years of his life, until finally Augustus Caesar brought an end to the decades of civil war.

Here's a great battle indeed, as if the rest of the war were nothing,
as if others were not dying throughout the whole city,
so we see wild War and the Greeks rushing to the palace,
and the entrance filled with a press of shields.
Ladders cling to the walls: men climb the stairs under the very doorposts,
with their left hands holding defensive shields
against the spears, grasping the sloping stone with their right.

In turn, the Trojans pull down the turrets and roof-tiles
of the halls, prepared to defend themselves even in death,
seeing the end near them, with these as weapons:
and send the gilded roof-beams down, the glory
of their ancient fathers. Others with naked swords block
the inner doors: these they defend in massed ranks.
Our spirits were reinspired, to bring help to the king's palace,
to relieve our warriors with our aid, and add power to the beaten.

There was an entrance with hidden doors, and a passage in use
between Priam's halls, and a secluded gateway beyond,
which the unfortunate Andromache, while the kingdom stood,
often used to traverse, going, unattended, to her husband's parents,
taking the little Astyanax to his grandfather.
I reached the topmost heights of the pediment from which
the wretched Trojans were hurling their missiles in vain.
A turret standing on the sloping edge, and rising from the roof
to the sky, was one from which all Troy could be seen,
the Danaan ships, and the Greek camp: and attacking its edges
with our swords, where the upper levels offered weaker mortar,
we wrenched it from its high place, and sent it flying:
falling suddenly it dragged all to ruin with a roar,
and shattered far and wide over the Greek ranks.
But more arrived, and meanwhile neither the stones
nor any of the various missiles ceased to fly.

In front of the courtyard itself, in the very doorway of the palace,
Pyrrhus exults, glittering with the sheen of bronze:
like a snake, fed on poisonous herbs, in the light,
that cold winter has held, swollen, under the ground,
and now, gleaming with youth, its skin sloughed,
ripples its slimy back, lifts its front high towards the sun,
and darts its triple-forked tongue from its jaws.

Huge Periphas, and Automedon the armour-bearer,
driver of Achilles's team, and all the Scyrian youths,
advance on the palace together and hurl firebrands onto the roof.
Pyrrhus himself among the front ranks, clutching a double-axe,
breaks through the stubborn gate, and pulls the bronze doors
from their hinges: and now, hewing out the timber, he breaches
the solid oak and opens a huge window with a gaping mouth.
The palace within appears, and the long halls are revealed:
the inner sanctums of Priam, and the ancient kings, appear,
and armed men are seen standing on the very threshold.

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

  • where does Aeneas find the fiercest fighting?
  • who is leading the Greek attack on Priam's palace?
  • how do the Greeks get inside the palace?

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