All fell silent, and fixed their eyes attentively upon him. Then father Aeneas from his tall couch began:
"Your Majesty, the pain you tell me to revive is not something that can easily be spoken of - how the Danaans overthrew the wealth of Troy and its royal family for which we mourn, and things which I personally saw to my cost and of which I was a major part. Who in telling such a tale even if one of the Myrmidons or Dolopians or a soldier of steel-hearted Ulysses could keep himself from tears? Besides, the night's dew is already falling from the sky, and the setting stars urge sleep. But if such is your passion to learn of our misfortunes, and hear briefly of the final agony of Troy, although my mind shudders at the memory, and shies away from the grief, I shall begin.
Battered by war, and let down by the fates, with now so many years slipping past, the leaders of the Danaans built a mountain-like horse, thanks to the immortal assistance of Pallas, and clad its flanks with beams of silver-fir. They pretended it was an offering for a speedy homecoming: this was the story that was spread. They picked men by lot and, unobserved, hid them in its dark interior, closely packing the vast hollow belly with armed troops.
There is an island, Tenedos, clearly visible from Troy: most celebrated and rich in resources while Priam's kingdom lasted - now there's just the bay with its unreliable anchorage for ships. This was where the Greeks sailed to, and hid on the deserted shore. We assumed they had gone home, making for Mycene with the wind behind them. And so all Troy shook itself free from its long agony. The gates were opened: we were pleased to visit the Dorian camp and the abandoned beach. Here was the Dolopian contingent; here brutal Achilles strutted; here was the place for the fleet, and here they used to compete in line of battle.
Some of us gasped at the deadly gift from the virgin Minerva, and marvelled at the hugeness of the horse. Thymoetes was first to suggest it be brought inside the walls and stationed on the acropolis: was it through treachery, or was Troy's fate already working against us?
But Capys had a better idea: he ordered us to push this example of the Greeks' treachery and their suspect gifts into the sea, or light fires underneath to set it ablaze, or drill into the hollow womb and probe for hiding-places. The people, unsure [what to do], were split into opposing factions.
At the head of a large crowd, in plain view of everyone, Laocoön, in a blazing temper, came rushing down from the acropolis, and from far off started shouting:
"What colossal madness is this, you pitiful people? Do you really believe the enemy have sailed away? Do you think the Greeks make any gifts which are not tricks? Is this the Ulysses you know? Either Greeks are hidden secreted within this wood, or this is a device to attack our walls: it will spy on our homes and roll down upon the city, or it is some other kind of boobytrap. Trojans, do not trust the horse. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks - especially bringing gifts."
[TOP]So saying, with tremendous force he launched his massive spear at its flank, aiming at the curving woodwork of the beast's belly. There it stuck, shuddering, and the cavernous hollows reverberated and groaned as it struck the pregnant womb. And, if the will of the gods had not been against us, and our own will had not faltered, he would have thrust the weapon through and disgraced the Greeks cowering in their lair: Troy would now be standing, and the high acropolis of Priam would be there still.
Suddenly some Trojan shepherds with great commotion were dragging a young man with his hands chained behind his back towards the king. He had deliberately given himself up to them as they approached - they didn't know who he was - in order to make this very thing happen, and betray Troy to the Achaeans. Relying on his nerve, he was ready for either outcome; to succeed in his deception, or to face certain death. From all directions the young men of Troy, in their eagerness to see him, rushed up and crowded round to compete in mocking the prisoner. Learn now the two-facedness of the Greeks - from one bad example know them all. For as he stood bewildered and defenceless, the focus of our attention, he stared round at the Trojan ranks and said:
"Is there a place on land or sea which can shelter me? What is in store for a creature like me? There is no place for me anywhere among the Greeks, and now the Trojans hate me too and demand my blood in vengeance."
Our hearts were won over by his misery, and all the aggression was knocked out of us. We encouraged him to say what family he came from, and what his story was: he should tell us why we should trust him now that he had been caught.
He finally overcame his fear and said this:
“Your majesty”, he began, “I shall be confessing the whole truth to you, however improbable it may be. First of all: I shall not deny that I am an Argive by birth; even though Fortune has made Sinon a pitiable wretch, she will not, vicious though she is, make him also deceitful or untruthful.
"Perhaps by chance in conversation the name of Palamedes son of Belus has reached your ears, and the glory that goes with his reputation, the innocent man whom the Pelasgians sent to his death through a scandalous verdict based on false testimony, because he tried to veto the war, though now he is taken from the light they grieve for him. It was to him here that my father, a poor man, sent me – as we were relatives - from my early years to be his companion. While he remained secure in his leadership, and was valued at the leaders' conferences, I too maintained a name of sorts and some esteem. But after, thanks to the jealousy of that liar Ulysses (I speak of things you know), he passed from the world of men, I was picked upon and began to eke out an existence in obscurity and misery, nursing my anger at the fate of my innocent friend.
"Out of my mind, I did not keep quiet, and I promised, that if ever, with the war won, I got back to Argos, my homeland, I would be his avenger, and with my words I stirred up deep hatred. From then on I was on the slippery slope to ruin; from then on Ulysses was always terrorising me with new accusations; from then on he started spreading untrue stories among the ordinary troops, and, due to his guilt, to look for ammunition to use against me. And he did not rest until with his agent Calchas – but why am I pointlessly rehashing this evil business? Why am I wasting time? If you tar all Argives with the same brush, and it's enough to hear that I am one, give me the punishment that was always my due: this is what the Ithacan would want, and what the sons of Atreus would pay handsomely for.”
Then we were really on fire to interrogate him and find out the motives behind it all; ignorant of the extent of the villainy, and of the Greek mind. He continued, trembling and with feigned sincerity:
"Often the Danaans longed to abandon Troy and put their efforts into getting away, and, exhausted, leave the lengthy war behind. If only they had done so! Often harsh wintry weather kept them off the sea, and Auster deterred them from setting out. Particularly now, when the finished horse with its maple-wood cladding stood ready, did storm-clouds fill the whole sky with noise of thunder. In our anxiety, we sent Eurypylus to consult the oracle of Apollo, and he brought back this doom-laden response from the temple:
'It was with blood, Greeks, when first you set out for the coast of Troy, that you calmed the winds: a young girl was slaughtered. It is with blood that your homecoming must be won: a Greek life must be sacrificed.'
"When this news reached the ears of the ordinary people, our hearts went numb, and an icy shiver ran through the marrow of our bones, [as we wondered] whose fate was sealed, who Apollo would demand.
"At this point, with great fuss, the Ithacan pulled the prophet Calchas into our midst. He demanded the meaning of the gods' revelations. Many were already predicting that the schemer's brutal crime would involve me, and inertly watching to see what the outcome would be. For twice five days he kept silent, and with draped head refused to single out anyone or mark them down for death. Reluctantly, at last, forced by the Ithacan's hectoring demands, he formally spoke out, and sentenced me to the altar. All approved, and accepted the fears each had felt for himself being commuted to the death of a single wretch.
"And now the black day arrived. The sacrificial items were being prepared: the salted grain, and the head-band round my temples. I snatched myself away from death - I admit it - and broke free of my chains. I lay concealed all night in a muddy pool in the dark in the reeds, waiting until they sailed, if sail they were going to. I no longer held any hope of seeing my ancestral homeland, or darling children, or the father I'd missed for so long: probably the Greeks would demand them in punishment for my escape, and purge my guilt with their death, poor wretches.
"I appeal to you by the gods, and by the powers that know the truth, and by any uncorrupted decency which may still exist among mankind: pity my pain, have pity for a soul who suffers things he does not deserve."
Thanks to this ruse, and the skill of the devious Sinon, the story was believed, and we whom neither Diomedes nor Thessalian Achilles, neither ten years nor a thousand ships could tame, were led captive by tricks and crocodile tears.
[TOP]At this point another blow, more momentous and much more fearsome was delivered to us pitiful wretches which shocked our unsuspecting minds. Laocoön, chosen by lot as priest of Neptune was sacrificing a huge bull at the appropriate altar. Suddenly, from Tenedos, through the calm waters twin sea-serpents (I shudder at the memory) breasted the swell and in unison made for the beach. Their necks were held stiffly above the waves, and their blood-red crests towered over the water: the rest of them churned the sea behind, as their bodies looped in a long series of undulations. A noise was produced as the salt-water foamed: and already they were homing in on the land, their blazing eyes flecked with blood and fire as they licked their hissing jaws with flickering tongues.
We retreated, pale at the sight. They made a beeline for Laocoön. First each snake enfolded one of his two small sons, and as they snaked round them bit off the pathetic limbs and devoured them. After this, they seized Laocoön himself, as he brought weapons to help them, and immobilised him with their massive coils. Now they had wrapped themselves twice round his waist, and looped his neck twice with their scaly bodies, while they towered above him with their heads and tall necks. All the time he was trying to prise the knots apart with his hands, his priest's headband soaked with slime and black venom; all the time his ghastly shrieks filled the air. It was like the bellowing when the wounded bull escaped from the altar and shrugged off the badly-aimed axe from its shoulder. But the two snakes made off, slithering towards the temple on the height, the citadel of heartless Minerva, and found protection under the goddess's feet and beneath the circle of her shield.
Then indeed a fresh panic crept into all our palpitating hearts, and they said that Laocoön deserved to have paid for his crime, for damaging the sacred wood with his spear-point, and aiming his evil lance at the horse's back. The clamoured for the image to be towed to its rightful position, and for the goddess's power to be appeased.
We breached the walls and exposed the buildings of the city. Everyone readied themselves for the task and slid rollers under the feet, and tied ropes of hemp round its neck. The deadly engine, pregnant with armed men mounted our walls. Boys and unmarried girls sang hymns around us, delighted to touch the rope with their hands. The horse crawled on, and came to rest menacingly in the centre of the city.
[TOP]Meanwhile the heavens revolved, and night rushed in from the stream of Oceanus, wrapping in deep shadow the earth and the sky and the guile of the Myrmidons. The Trojans, scattered along the fortifications, were quiet. Sleep hugged their tired bodies. And now the Argive vanguard, ships in line, was heading out from Tenedos under the friendly silence of the complaisant moon, making for the familiar landing-places. The king's ship displayed a fire-signal, and Sinon, protected by the unfair fates, thief-like loosened the pine-wood beams and released the bottled-up Danaans from their womb. The horse, opened up, discharge them to the fresh air and joyfully from the wooden cave emerged Thessandrus and Sthenelus, leading the way, then Ulysses the man of terror, sliding down the rope which had been dropped, and Acamas, and Thoas and Neoptolemus grandson of Peleus, and noble Machaon, and Menelaos, and Epeos, the actual builder of the device. They penetrated a city buried in sleep and wine. The sentries were cut down, once the gates were open, they welcomed in all their friends and joined forces, as planned.It was the time of night when sleep begins to overtake us helpless mortals - and the gods' priceless gift slips into us. As I sleep, there, before my eyes Hector seemed to materialise, in his deep misey streaming with tears. He lookes as he did when he had been dragged behinnd Achilles' chariot, caked with blood and black filth, his feet swollen where they'd been slit to take the strap. Alas what was he? How changed from the Hector who returned resplendent in Achilles' armour, or after hurling Trojan firebrands at the Danaan ships. His beard was matted, his hair stiff with blood - showing off those countless wounds he received being dragged around the walls of the city of his fathers.
[TOP]Meanwhile the walls began to echo with confused sounds of pain, growing louder and louder, and although my father Anchises' house was secluded, set back behind trees, the din grew more distinct, a noise that conjured up the horror of battle. I was roused from my sleep, and I ran up on to the highest part of the roof and stood there, straining my ears. It was like when fire bites into a cornfield, fanned by the wild south wind; or when a raging torrent sweeping from the mountains and devastating the fields, destroys the ripe crops - wasting the oxen's efforts - and uproots the trees; while a puzzled shepherd safe on his hilltop hears the distant rumble. Now our trustingness was shown up, the The Greeks' treachery was revealed. Already Deiphobus' fine house had collapsed, no match for the power of the fire-god; already Ucalegon's next door was ablaze. The wide straits of Sigeum reflected the burning. Men were shouting and trumpets were blaring. In an insane impulse, I grabbed up my weapons; not that armed resistance made any sense - but I had a wild impulse to rally a group of men to fight, and storm the acropolis with my friends. A mad rage overwhelmed common sense: "to die in battle is glorious" -this phrase drove me on.
Then suddenly there was Panthus,who'd come unscathed through the Greek barrage. He was a son of Othrys, priest of Apollo's temple on the citadel. He was holding his holy emblems of office, and was hanging on to the images of his defeated gods and dragging his young grandson along as he rushed in panic for the gates.
"Where is the action? Which strongpoint are we making our stand on?"I'd hardly got the words out when he came back at me:
"It's here - the final hour - Troy's time is up. As Trojans we no longer exist : Troy is history; so too is all the might and glory of the Trojan race. Jupiter, in cold blood, has gone over to the Greeks. Our city is in flames, and the Danaans are triumphant. The towering Horse bestrides the walls disgorging warriors, and Sinon fans the flames revelling in his victory. Others are massing where the gates stand open - all the countless thousands who came from mighty Mycene; others - weapons at the ready - have blocked the narrow alleys. A ring of steel waits poised for the kill, swords glinting. The front line of sentries is just holding out - but they are fighting blind."
With these words from Panthus, and driven by the power of the gods, I am swept into the fray, and into the flames, guided by a grim instinct for revenge, and the noise and the shouting which filled the air. I am joined by Rhipheus, and that great fighter Epytus, shapes revealed by the moonlight; and Hypanis and Dymas fall in beside me, as does young Coroebus son of Mygdon. He happened to have arrived in Troy only a few days ago. He was madly in love with Cassandra, and was bringing reinforcements to Priam as his future son-in-law. Poor wretch, who could not grasp the meaning of his fiancée's frenzied warnings. When I saw them battle-ready, I said a few words: [TOP]
"Young men, so brave for a cause which is lost; if you are so hungry to follow me to certain death, make sure you see the situation for what it is. All the gods on whom our power depended have gone, deserting their temples and altars. The city you are trying to rescue is already burning down: let us die! Let us plunge in where the fight is thickest. The only safe place for the defeated is where there is no hope of safety."
Thus mad rage boosted the young men's courage. Then, like wolves on the prowl in a fog at night, driven to follow blindly wherever insatiable hunger takes them and by the thought of their cubs left behind with parched throats, we made our way through the missiles, through the enemy right into the centre of the city towards certain death. Black night enveloped us with its cloak of darkness.
Who could put into words the horror of that night and describe the pains of death, or could weep enough tears to match the agony? An ancient city, for centuries ruler of an empire, fell. Everywhere lay lifeless corpses - in the streets, in the houses, in the temples. And it was not only the Trojans who were paying the price with their blood; occasionally the defeated regained their courage, and it was the turn of the victorious Greeks to fall. Everywhere there was torment, everywhere panic and death in a myriad shapes.
The first Greek to bump into us, with a full company of men, was Androgeos - casually assuming we were friendly troops. He actually shouted out a comradely greeting:
"Get a move on, lads! Hurry up or it'll all be over : the acropolis is already burning and you've only just got here from your ships . The others are looting among the ruins."
So he spoke, and at once he sensed from the lack of response that he'd fallen among the enemy. His voice dried, and he stepped backwards. Like a man who's not noticed a snake in the undergrowth, and as he puts his weight on it suddenly jumps back in panic as it rears up angrily showing its steel-grey head, so Androgeos tried to get away in cold fear at what he'd seen. We charged, and overwhelmed them with a rush of weapons - we massacred them, ignorant as they were of the terrain, and rigid with fright. Fortune smiled on our first venture. Now it was that Coroebus, flushed with success, cried
"Friends, Lady Luck has shown us a way to save ourselves; let's take our cue from her: let us swap shields, and put on Greek armour! Who cares whether what's done in battle is courage or cunning? These Greeks shall give their weapons to us."Saying no more he started putting on Androgeos' plumed helmet, and picked up his shield with its conspicuous badge, and belted on his Greek sword. So did Rhipheus, and so did Dymas, and so did all the young men, laughing. Each man equipped himself from the newly-acquired booty. We pushed on, blending with the Greeks, protected by their gods. In the dark, like blind men, we blundered into fight after fight, and many were the Greeks we consigned to the death god. Some of them ran back to their ships and to seek the familiar beach ; [TOP]others in pure terror were not ashamed to climb back into the horse and cower in its comforting belly.
Unfortunately you cannot put your faith in gods who have rejected you. It was then we saw Priam's daughter, Cassandra, being dragged by the hair from the actual sanctuary of Minerva. She was flashing her eyes in fury towards heaven - in vain - only her eyes could make the appeal, as her gentle hands were chained together. Coroebus could not bear this sight. Like a man berserk he hurled himself at the Greeks, to inevitable death. We all followed, surging forward packed tightly together. Now was the first time we came under attack from our own side: we were sprayed with missiles from high on the roof of the temple. This led to mass slaughter as a result of the look of our weapons and our helmet crests which made them mistake us for Greeks. The Greeks, furiously resisting the rescue of the girl, rallied and charged us; Ajax was the most terrifying, with the two sons of Atreus [Agamemnon and Menelaus], and the whole Dolopian contingent. Like winds in competition when a hurricane has struck: Zephyrus, Notus and Eurus, revelling in his horses, clash together. The forests howl, and foam-flecked Nereus runs amok with his trident and churns the sea to its depths. We even recognised some of those we had overpowered in the darkness and pursued all over the city - they were the first to see through our false colours. Our language had also given us away. From then on we were hopelessly outnumbered. Coroebus was the first to fall - near the altar of the war goddess at the hands of Peneleus. Rhipheus fell too - he was the most just of all Trojans, and the most devoted servant of the law; not that this made any difference to the gods. There died Hypanis and Dymas, run through by their own friends, and you, Panthus, were not saved by your unquestioned goodness, or the holy emblems of Apollo. Ashes of Troy, and the flames which wiped out my race - I call you to witness that as you burned my city to nothing, I never avoided the spears of the Greeks, or missed an opportunity to fight them; and I earned the death which fate said I could not have.
Then we got separated : with me were Iphitus and Pelias - Iphitus was quite an old man, while Pelias was slowed by a wound which Ulysses had given him. Guided by the shouting, we made straight for Priam‘s palace. Here we saw a truly epic battle - in comparison with this the fights elsewhere were nothing, the deaths all over the town were insignificant. We saw Mars uncaged as the Greeks occupied the outbuildings, and the entrance was under threat from assault by a tortoise. Ladders clutched at the palace walls, and the attackers footed the bottom rungs right by the doorway - as they climbed they held their protecting shields on their left arms, while they grabbed on to the cornice. The Trojans on the roof ripped off tiles and pushed down turrets to provide ammunition in a last desperate bid to save themselves from the inevitable. They hurled down gilded roof-timbers, once the pride of ancient Troy. Others, their swords drawn, blocked the way in, packed tightly together to defend the entrance.[TOP] With fresh confidence men ran to bring reinforcements to the royal palace, to relieve the defenders, and inject energy of their own into the lost cause.
There was a way in, round the back, a secret entrance leading to a passage which connected the various apartments of Priam's family. In normal times this had been the way poor Andromache used often to go by herself to call on her in-laws, or take her son Astyanax to visit his grandfather. Using this I got right to the top of the roof, from where Trojans were desperately hurling down their ineffective missiles. Here there was a tower rising above the roof with a sheer drop on one side. It was a vantage-point from which we used to look out over the whole city, as well as the Greek ships and their camp. By hacking with crowbars at a weak point where a floor had been inserted, we managed to loosen it and topple it over. It broke up and rained destruction as it crashed down on the Greeks below. But there were plenty more to take their place, and there was no let up in the barrage of missiles and stones . At the main entrance, right in the doorway, was Pyrrhus, the triumphant warrior, resplendent in his glittering bronze armour. He was lke a snake, which has hidden all through the hard winter underground, bloated on its diet of poison, which splits its skin to reveal its glossy new set of scales, and now slithers slimily in to the light, its underbelly rearing up in the sunlight, with its triple-forked tongue flickering between its fangs. With Pyrrhus were huge Periphas, and Achilles' squire and driver Automedon, together with all the contingent from Scyros. They closed in on the palace, hurling firebrands at the roof. Pyrrhus himself, right at the front, wielding a twin-bladed axe, chopped through the strong door, and ripped the hinges clean off the bronze doorposts. Hacking through a panel he opened up a split in the stout oak, making a great gaping hole. The interior of the palace with its vista of long corridors lay open to view. Open too were the private quarters - Priam's home, and home of the long line of kings before him, while his entrance porch filled up with a queue of waiting warriors. From inside the palace drifted the confused sounds of weeping and panic: the corridors echoed with the sounds of sobbing and screaming women - the noise filled the blazing night sky. Frightened and disorientated women stumbled about the huge building, or clung to the doorposts, hugging them pathetically.
There stood Pyrrhus - the iamage of his violent father. No bolts or guards could stop him. The door gave way to the prolonged battering, and the hinges pulled the posts away from the wall. Brute force had won a passage. The Greeks flooded into the ante-chamber and butchered the guards. It was worse than when a thundering river bursts its banks and surges over its embankments swamping the farmland in its fury and all across the valley sweeping away buildings and animals. [TOP]I myself saw Neoptolemus crazed with blood-lust, and the two sons of Atreus, there in the entrance. I saw, too, Hecuba, and her hundred princesses, and Priam polluting with his own blood the altar which his sacrifices had made holy. Those fifty bed-chambers - a dynasty's investment in its future - were wrecked, the splendid gold decorations and proud trophies ripped down. Anywhere not in the grip of fire was under Greek control. Now I was the only survivor. Suddenly I see her, standing by the door of Vesta's shrine and hiding quietly in this secret place - Helen, the daughter of Tyndareus. The bright fires light up everything for me as I wander randomly and gaze about me. She was terrified of the hate due her from the Trojans whose city had been overthrown and as terrified of Greek vengeance, and the anger of her abandoned husband - a disaster to her own homeland and to Troy. She had gone to ground, lurking - a thing detested - at the altar. Fires blazed up in my own spirit - a passion to avenge my city and punish Helen the whore.
"Shall she look again on her home in Sparta or Mycenae unscathed? Shall she return in triumph like a queen? Shall she resume her marriage and see her home and husband, family and children - attended by a retinue of Trojan girls as slaves? Will this be what Priam died for? Will this be why Troy went up in flames? Was it for this the Dardan shore was drenched with blood so many times? No! Although there is no glory in punishing a woman, no honour to be had in such a deed, I shall get the credit for ridding the world of an evil, for carrying out a just execution, and I shall enjoy the pleasure of revenge and satisfy the ashes of my dead countrymen".
So ran my thoughts. I turned wildly upon her, but at that moment, clear, before my eyes - never before so clear - in a pure light stepping before me, radiant through the darkness, my loving mother came : immortal, tall, and lovely as the gods in heaven know her. Catching me by the hand, she held me back, then her rosy lips parted and she said:
"Son, why let your suffering drive you to lose all self-control? Where is your feeling for me, for us? Isn't your priority to go back to your own home, where you left your father, old and exhausted, or to find out if your wife, Creusa is alive, and your young son, Ascanius. [TOP]They are all cut off by the Greek advance, and if it hadn't been for my protection, fire would have taken them, or swords would be stained by their blood. You must not blame the hated beauty of the Spartan Tyndarid, or even Paris. It was the gods who showed no mercy; it is they who are casting Troy down from her splendour and power. Now look! For I shall wrest away all the dank and gloomy mist surrounding you which veils and dulls your mortal vision. You must not fear a mother‘s command, nor decline to obey her bidding. There, where you see masses of masonry scattered, stones wrenched from stones, and smoke and dust billowing upwards together, there Neptune himself is at work shattering the walls and the foundations dislodged by his mighty trident, and tearing the whole city from its site. Over there stands Juno most furious in the van before the Scaean Gates, and with her sword at her side and violence in her heart she is calling the marching ranks of her friends from the Greek ships. Look round! On the citadel‘s height sits Tritonian Pallas, light glaring from her garment of cloud and the merciless Gorgon-head on her breast. Even the Supreme Father gives renewed courage, strength and victory to the Greeks, and inspires the gods themselves to fight against the arms of Troy. Son, make your escape and flee. Put an end to the striving. I will be near you everywhere, and set you safe at your father's door".>
She finished and then vanished into the dense shadows of the night. And there were revealed, oh, shapes of dread, the giant powers of gods not friendly to my Troy. And in truth all Ilium was now, visibly before me, settling into the fires, and Neptune's own Troy, uprooted, was overturning; like an ancient rowan-tree high up among the mountains, which, hacked with stroke after stroke of iron axes by farmers vying all round to dislodge it, begins to tremble and continues threatening while the crest shakes and the high boughs sway, till gradually vanquished it gives a final groan, and at last overcome by the wounds and wrenched from its place it trails havoc down the mountain-side. I climbed down from the roof, and with the goddess guiding me won my way between the flames and the foes. The weapons let me through; the fires drew back from me. But when I reached the threshold of the ancient building which was my father‘s home, he, whom l had been dearly hoping to find and carry, as my first care, high up into the mountains, refused to go on living in exile after Troy had been razed from the earth.
"You others , he said, "your blood does not run the slower for the years, and your strength is unimpaired and still has the vitality which nature gave it. It is for you to hurry your escape. As for me, if the Dwellers in Heaven had wished me to live on, they would have saved my home here for me. I have a1ready once seen Troy sacked and once survived our city‘s capture. That is enough, and more. Ah, say your goodbyes to me as I lie here just as 1 am. I shall find death in my own way. The enemy will show pity to me: their thoughts will be set on the spoils. As for burial - that will be a small price to pay; suffering as I do under Heaven‘s hatred, my age has been prolonged to no purpose through the years, ever since He who is Father of Gods and King of Men blasted me with the winds of his thunder-stroke and touched me with its fire".[TOP]
So he spoke, firm in his resolution, and could not be shaken. We on our side, my wife Creusa, Ascanius, and all our household, wept bitterly and told him with entreaties that he, the head of our family, must not dream of dragging all our hopes down with him like this, and so weighting against us still more the doom which bore so heavily upon us. But he still refused, and would not stir from his seat or change his purpose. Bitterly disappointed and longing only for death, I was a1ready starting towards my arms again, for what else could I do and what alternative was open?
"Were you", I said, "my own father, really expecting me to leave the house and desert you here? Could a father's lips have expressed so shocking a thought ? If the Powers Above have willed that out of all this great city nothing shall remain, if your resolve is fixed, and if you mean to add the death of yourself and your kin to the ruin descending on Troy, the door to such a death stands wide open. Pyrrhus will soon be here fresh from the pool of Priam‘s blood, he who massacres a son before his father‘s eyes and then slays the father at an altar. But, O my gentle Mother, is it for this that you have been rescuing me and guarding me amid the fires and the weapons, for me to see the enemy inside my very home, and Ascanius and my father, and Creusa at their side, falling like sacrifices in one another‘s blood? Quick, comrades! Bring me arms. The vanquished are summoned to meet their life‘s end. Let me go back to the Greeks. Let me return to the battle md fight once more. We shall not all die this day unavenged!"
Now I was buckling on my sword, slipping my left arm into the shield strap and adjusting my shield. But as I was on the point of leaving the house, there in the doorway was Creusa. She stopped me, clasping my feet and holding out our little son Iulus to his father.
"If", she cried, "you go forth to die, take us also, quickly, to face with you whatever may happen. But if what you have seen of the fighting leads you to suppose that there is still any hope for us in resuming battle, your first care should be the defence of our home here. Otherwise, to whom will you leave our little Iulus, your father, and me, whom you once called your wife?"
Loud was her appeal, and all the house was ringing with her words of anguish, when suddenly a miracle occurred. For there between the faces of the two distressed parents, and between their hands as they held him, the light cap worn by the little boy caught fire, and a bright flame, harmless to the touch, licked his soft hair, and played about his forehead. We moved quickly, trembling in alarm; we shook his hair to quench the flame, and tried to put out the holy fire with water. But my father Anchises raised his eyes to the stars in joy, and stretching his palms towards the sky said,
"Jupiter Almighty, if any prayer can change your will, look down on us this once. We make one prayer only, and if our righteousness has earned some favour, give us now your presage, and confirm this sign."
Scarcely had the aged prince so spoken, when with a sudden crash came thunder on the left, and a shooting star trailing a firebrand slid from the sky through the dark and darted downwards in brilliant light. Now we saw it glide above the roof of our house, sharply revealing the roads, and then, still burning bright, hide in the forests of Mount Ida. It left a long luminous streak in its wake, and far around a sulphur-smoke was seen to rise. [TOP]My father was convinced. Raising himself and looking upwards he prayed to our gods and worshipped the holy star:
"Ah, there is no reluctance now. I follow, Gods of our Race, and wherever you lead, there shall I be. Save our house; and save my grandson. Yours is this hallowed sign, and in your power Troy rests. And, son, for my part, I give way. I consent to go at your side".
My father had spoken. But now through the town the roar of the fire came louder to our ears, and the rolling blaze brought its hot blast closer.
"Well then, dear Father, I said, "come now, you must let thern lift you onto my back. I will hold my shoulders ready for you; this labour of love will be no weight to me. Whatever chances may await us, one common peril and one salvation shall be ours. Iulus must walk beside me, and my wife shall follow at a safe distance in our footsteps. Now you others, my servants, attend to what I say. As you leave the city, there is a hillock with an ancient and deserted shrine of Ceres and by it an aged cypress-tree held in reverence by our forefathers for many years. We shall meet at this point approaching by different routes. Now you, father, take up the gods of our ancestral home, our holy symbols. I cannot touch them without sin, until I have washed my hands in a living spring, for coming as I do straight from the fury of war, I have fresh blood still on them".
So saying, I covered my broad shoulders and bowed neck with a cloak and a tawny lion's skin, and took up my burden. Young Iulus linked his hand in mine, and followed his father, taking two paces to my one. Behind came my wife. I, who for so long had been unmoved by having weapons aimed at me, or Greeks bunched in threatening array, was now frightened by every puff of wind: every sound had me holding my breath - scared in equal measure for my companion and my burden. And now I was nearing the gates and seemed to have passed safely along every street, when suddenly I thought I heard the regular sound of marching feet approaching, and my father, peering through the blackness, shouted "Son! Run, my son, they're getting closer! I can see their shields flashing and the glint of bronze."
As I panicked, some indescribable force - a far from friendly one - stole whatever was left of my wits. For while I pushed on following the unfamiliar route, straying from the district whose streets I knew, tragically my wife Creüsa disappeared, snatched from me by some brutal twist of fate - whether she lost her way, or just sank down exhausted, I never found out. But from that moment I never saw her again. I did not look round or realise that she'd gone: I never gave her a thought until we reached the ancient mound of Ceres - the holy spot which was our rendezvous. When we were all finally reassembled here, only one woman was not present. Not her friends, not her son, not her husband - none of us had missed her. Was there anyone - man or god - that I did not curse in my impotent rage? There was nothing during the entire destruction of my city that I found harder to stomach.
I handed over Ascanius, my father Anchises, and the holy guardian images from Troy to my friends, taking them to shelter in a steep-sided gully. I found my way back into the city, strapping on my shining armour. The task ahead: to relive all we had survived so far, and retrace our entire escape-route through Troy, exposing myself once more to mortal peril. I made first towards the walls, heading for the shadowy outline of the gate through which I'd passed, following the footprints leading back - which I could pick out clearly illuminated by the glow despite the darkness. Everywhere I looked I imagined something to fear, while the silence alone bred terror.
From there I went back to our home, in case, just in case she had returned there: the Greeks had broken in, and were in possession of the entire house. The fire was now licking greedily around the rooftops, fanned by the wind. The flames had an easy victory, the heat swirled in hot gusts. I pressed on, and once again roamed through Priam's palace and the Upper City: already in the abandoned colonnades - under the watchful gaze of Juno - Phoenix and brutal Ulysses, commisioned as sentries, were keeping guard over the loot. This is the spot where all Troy's treasure, stripped from the temples now burnt down, was being piled high: the gods' tables, bowls embossed with gold and stolen finery. Close by children and their fear-stricken mothers stood in a wide circle, watching. Despite all this, I forced myself to give voice through the dark. I filled the streets with my bawling, in my anguish - though it was futile - shouting over and over again for Creüsa. As I called her name, and plunged randomly in and out of the buildings of the city there came before my eyes a sad apparition - the phantom of Creüsa herself, the perfect likeness, as she seemed, of the wife I'd known. I was dumbstruck: my hair stood on end, and my voice stuck in my throat. Then she spoke, calming my terrors with these words:
"My dear sweet husband, what good is there in giving way to this selfish exhibition of grief? All that has happened has happened under the gods' supervision. It is not ordained that you take Creüsa with you on your travels: the ruler of Olympus does not sanction it. For you there waits a long exile: you must leave your furrowed tracks all over the vast plain of the sea. You will come then to Hesperia, where Lydian Tiber flows, winding amid populous farmland like an army at peace. There success awaits: a kingdom and a bride of royal blood. Wipe way your tears for the Creüsa you once loved: I shall not have to see the places where the sneering Myrmidons or Dolopians live, or skivvy to their mothers, married as I was to a Dardan, and daughter-in-law to Venus. Instead the mighty mother of the gods keeps me here, on these shores. Farewell now; keep alive our love for the son we share."
So saying, she left me. I was in tears, and still had much I wanted to say. But she faded from my sight, and vanished into the air. Thre times I tried to put my arms round her: three times as I unsuccesfully tried to hold her did her substance slip through my fingers, just like a soft breeze or an evanescent dream. And so - as night was ending - I returned to my friends. I discovered there had been a huge influx of new companions. I was amazed how many: older women and their husbands, young people marshalled for departure, a pathetic throng. From all over they had come together both mentally prepared and with their possessions lined up: ready for whatever lands I might chose to lead them to across the sea. By now the Morning Star was rising over the ridges on the top of Mount Ida, and welcoming in the day. The Greeks held the approaches to the gates under surveillance, and there was no hope of reinforcement. I yielded to circumstance and, hoisting my father on to my back, made for the hills.
AMW Westmoorings-by-the Sea, Port of Spain, Trinidad October 2003.