Vergil's Aeneid, Books 2-3

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


Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

And then, wonder of wonders, Aeneas finds that he is following in the footsteps of Odysseus! One of the companions of Odysseus comes running out of the woods, filthy and dirty and desperate. His name is Achaemenides. He had been with Odysseus when they fought the Cyclops, but he had somehow been left behind on the island when Odysseus and his companions sailed away. Yes, this is one of those "companions of Odysseus," those poor guys who always seem to die along the way as Odysseus valiantly makes his way home. This poor Greek begs the Trojans for mercy as he tells them the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops.

Now the next day was breaking with the first light of dawn,
and Aurora had dispersed the moist shadows from the sky,
when suddenly the strange form of an unknown man came out
of the woods, exhausted by the last pangs of hunger,
pitifully dressed, and stretched his hands in supplication
towards the shore. We looked back. Vile with filth, his beard uncut,
his clothing fastened together with thorns: but otherwise a Greek,
once sent to Troy in his country's armour.

When he saw the Dardan clothes and Trojan weapons, far off,
he hesitated a moment, frightened at the sight,
and checked his steps: then ran headlong to the beach,
with tears and prayers: "The stars be my witness,
the gods, the light in the life-giving sky, Trojans,
take me with you: carry me to any country whatsoever,
that will be fine by me. I know I'm from one of the Greek ships,
and I confess that I made war against Trojan gods,
if my crime is so great an injury to you, scatter me
over the waves for it, or drown me in the vast ocean:
if I die I'll delight in dying at the hands of men."

He spoke and clung to my knees, embracing them
and grovelling there. We urged him to say who he was,
born of what blood, then to say what fate pursued him.
Without much delay, my father Anchises himself gave
the young man his hand, lifting his spirits by this ready trust.

At last he set his fears aside and told us:
"I'm from the land of Ithaca, a companion of unlucky Ulysses,
Achaemenides by name, and, my father Adamastus being poor,
(I wish fate had kept me so!) I set out for Troy.
My comrades left me here in the Cyclops' vast cave,
forgetting me, as they hurriedly left that grim
threshold. It's a house of blood and gory feasts,
vast and dark inside. He himself is gigantic, striking against
the high stars - gods, remove plagues like that from the earth! -
not pleasant to look at, affable to no one.
He eats the dark blood and flesh of wretched men.
I saw myself how he seized two of our number in his huge hands,
and reclining in the centre of the cave, broke them
on the rock, so the threshold, drenched, swam with blood:
I saw how he gnawed their limbs, dripping with dark clots
of gore, and the still-warm bodies quivered in his jaws.
Yet he did not go unpunished: Ulysses didn't suffer it,
nor did the Ithacan forget himself in a crisis.

"As soon as the Cyclops, full of flesh and sated with wine,
relaxed his neck, and lay, huge in size, across the cave,
drooling gore and blood and wine-drenched fragments
in his sleep, we prayed to the great gods, and our roles fixed,
surrounded him on all sides, and stabbed his one huge eye,
solitary, and half-hidden under his savage brow,
like a round Greek shield, or the sun-disc of Phoebus,
with a sharpened stake: and so we joyfully avenged
the spirits of our friends. But fly from here, wretched men,
and cut your mooring ropes. Since, like Polyphemus,
who pens woolly flocks in the rocky cave, and milks their udders, there are
a hundred other appalling Cyclopes, the same in shape and size,
everywhere inhabiting the curved bay, and wandering the hills.

"The moon's horns have filled with light three times now,
while I have been dragging my life out in the woods, among the lairs
and secret haunts of wild creatures, watching the huge Cyclopes
from the cliffs, trembling at their voices and the sound of their feet.
The branches yield a miserable supply of fruits and stony cornelian cherries,
and the grasses, torn up by their roots, feed me.
Watching for everything, I saw, for the first time, this fleet
approaching shore. Whatever might happen, I surrendered myself
to you: it's enough for me to have escaped that wicked people.
I'd rather you took this life of mine by any death whatsoever."

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

  • how was the Greek Achaemenides left behind on this island?
  • what had the Cyclops done to Achaemenides's companions?
  • how long has Achaemenides been living on the island?

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