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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Fall of Troy
By Virgil (70–19 B.C.)
 
        
From the ‘Æneid’: Translation of Sir Charles Bowen
  
  [Priam’s palace is sacked, and the old king himself is slain, with his son, by Pyrrhus Neoptolemus, Achilles’s youthful heir. The episode is part of the long story related by Æneas in Carthage to Dido the queen.]

FORWARD we fare,
Called to the palace of Priam by war-shouts rending the air.
 
Here of a truth raged battle, as though no combats beside
Reigned elsewhere, no thousands about all Ilion died.
Here we beheld in his fury the war-god; foemen the roof        5
Scaling, the threshold blocked with a penthouse, javelin-proof.
Ladders rest on the walls, armed warriors climb by the door
Stair upon stair, left hands, to the arrows round them that pour,
Holding a buckler, the battlement ridge in the right held fast.
Trojans in turn wrench loose from the palace turret and tower;        10
Ready with these, when the end seems visible,—death’s dark hour
Closing around them now,—to defend their lives to the last.
Gilded rafters, the glory of Trojan kings of the past,
Roll on the enemy. Others, with javelins flashing fire,
  Form at the inner doors, and around them close in a ring.        15
  Hearts grow bolder within us to succor the palace, to bring
Aid to the soldier, and valor in vanquished hearts to inspire.
 
There was a gate with a secret door, that a passage adjoined
Thridding the inner palace—a postern planted behind.
Here Andromache, ill-starred queen, oft entered alone,        20
Visiting Hector’s parents, when yet they sate on the throne;
Oft to his grandsire with her the boy Astyanax led.
Passing the covered way to the roof I mount overhead,
Where Troy’s children were hurling an idle javelin shower.
  From it a turret rose, on the topmost battlement height        25
  Raised to the stars, whence Troy and the Danaan ships and the white
Dorian tents were wont to be seen in a happier hour.
With bright steel we assailed it, and where high flooring of tower
Offered a joint that yielded, we wrenched it loose, and below
Sent it a-drifting. It fell with a thunderous crash on the foe,        30
Carrying ruin afar. But the ranks close round us again,
Stones and the myriad weapons of war unceasingly rain.
 
Facing the porch, on the threshold itself, stands Pyrrhus in bright
Triumph, with glittering weapons, a flashing mirror of light.
As to the light some viper, on grasses poisonous fed,        35
Swollen and buried long by the winter’s frost in his bed,
Shedding his weeds, uprises in shining beauty and strength,
Lifts, new-born, his bosom, and wreathes his slippery length,
High to the sunlight darting a three-forked flickering tongue,—
Periphas huge strides near, and the brave Automedon, long        40
  Charioteer to Achilles, an armor-bearer to-day.
All of the flower of Scyros beside him, warriors young,
  Crowd to the palace too, while flames on the battlement play.
Pyrrhus in front of the host, with a two-edged axe in his hand,
Breaches the stubborn doors, from the hinges rends with his brand        45
Brass-clamped timbers, a panel cleaves, to the heart of the oak
Strikes, and a yawning chasm for the sunlight gapes at his stroke.
Bare to the eye is the palace within: long vistas of hall
Open; the inmost dwelling of Priam is seen of them all:
Bare the inviolate chambers of kings of an earlier day,        50
And they descry on the threshold the armed men standing at bay.
 
Groaning and wild uproar through the inner palace begin;
Women’s waitings are heard from the vaulted cloisters within.
Shrieks to the golden stars are rolled. Scared mothers in fear
Over the vast courts wander, embracing the thresholds dear,        55
Clasping and kissing the doors. On strides, as his father in might,
Pyrrhus: no gate can stay him, nor guard withstand him to-night;
Portals yield at the thunder of strokes plied ever and aye;
Down from the hinges the gates are flung on their faces to lie.
Entry is broken; the enemy’s hosts stream inwards and kill        60
All in the van, each space with a countless soldiery fill.
Not so rages the river, that o’er its barriers flows
White with foam, overturning the earth-built mounds that oppose,
When on the fields as a mountain it rolls, by meadow and wold,
Sweeping to ruin the herd and the stall. These eyes did behold        65
Pyrrhus maddened with slaughter; and marked on the sill of the gat
Both the Atridæ brethren. I saw where Hecuba sate,
Round her a hundred brides of her sons,—saw Priam with blood
Staining the altar-fires he had hallowed himself to his god.
Fifty his bridal chambers within,—each seeming a sweet        70
Promise of children’s children,—in dust all lie at his feet!
Doors emblazoned with spoils, and with proud barbarian gold,
Lie in the dust! Where flames yield passage, Danaans hold!
 
“What was the fate,” thou askest, “befell King Priam withal?”
When he beholds Troy taken, his gates in confusion fall,        75
Toes in the heart of his palace, the old man feebly essays
Round his trembling shoulders the armor of bygone days;
Girds, now harmless forever, his sword once more to his side;
Makes for the midst of the foemen, to die as a chieftain had died.
Deep in the palace heart, and beneath heaven’s canopy clear,        80
Lay a majestic altar; a veteran bay-tree near
Over it hung, and in shadow inclosed the Penates divine.
Hecuba here, and her daughters, in vain surrounding the shrine,—
Like doves swooping from heaven in a tempest’s gloom to the ground,
Sate all huddled, and clinging the god’s great images round!        85
When in the arms of his youth she beheld her Priam arrayed—
“What wild purpose of battle, my ill-starred husband,” she said,
“Ails thee to don these weapons, and whither fondly away?
Not such succor as thine can avail us in this sad day:
No man’s weapons,—if even our Hector came at the call.        90
Hither, I pray thee, turn. One shrine shall shelter us all,
Else one death overwhelm us.” She spake, then reaching her hand,
Gently the old man placed by the hallowed gods of his land.
 
Lo! from the ravaging Pyrrhus, Polites flying for life,
One of the sons of the king! Through foes, through weapons of strife,        95
Under the long colonnades, down halls now empty, he broke,
Wounded to death. On his traces aflame with murderous stroke,
Pyrrhus—behind—the pursuer! Behold, each minute of flight,
Hand outreaching to hold him, and spear uplifted to smite!
When in his parents’ view and before their faces he stood,        100
Fainting he fell; in a torrent his life poured forth with his blood!
Then—though about and around him already the death-shade hung—
Priam held not his peace, gave rein to his wrath and his tongue!
“Now may the gods, thou sinner, for this impiety bold—
If there still be an eye in the heaven these deeds to behold—        105
Pay thee,” he cried, “all thanks that are owed thee, dues that are meet,—
Thou who hast made me witness mine own son die at my feet,
Yea, in the father’s presence the earth with slaughter hast stained.
Not this wise did Achilles, the sire thou falsely hast feigned,
Deal with his enemy Priam. His heart knew generous shame,        110
Felt for a suppliant’s honor, a righteous suppliant’s claim,—
Hector’s lifeless body to lie in the tomb he restored;
Home to my kingdom sent me, to reign once more as its lord.”
The old man spake, and his weapon, a harmless, impotent thing,
Hurled; on the brass of the buckler it smote with a hollow ring,        115
Hung from the eye of the boss all nerveless. Pyrrhus in ire—
“Take these tidings thou, and relate this news to my sire:
Seek Pelides and tell him the shameless deeds I have done;
Fail not to say his Pyrrhus appears a degenerate son!
Die meanwhiles.” And the aged king to the altar he haled,        120
Trembling, and sliding to earth in his own son’s blood as he trailed;
Twined in the old man’s tresses his left, with his right hand drew
Swiftly the sword, to the hilt in his heart then sheathed it anew.
This was the story of Priam,—the end appointed that came,
Sent by the Fates,—to behold as he died Troy’s city aflame,        125
Pergama falling around him, who once in his high command
Swayed full many a people, in pride ruled many a land,
Asia’s lord. He is lying a giant trunk on the shore,
Head from his shoulders severed, a corpse with a name no more.
 
 
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