Then, for the first time, brutal horror beset me on all sides

Thanks to the sprawl of associations from Troilus and Cressida I took up The Aeneid last night. And this evening, in an effort to get my wife on board a simultaneous reading, I read her most of Aeneas’ account of Troy’s fall. She fell asleep as always so I’m not sure it landed (to be fair, we were in bed). Regardless, I found the translation – by Frederick Ahl, whom I once had as professor – more enjoyable than what I remember of the now semi-standard Fitzgerald so at least someone benefited. Here is Priam’s death at 2.226-263:

‘Look, one of Priam’s sons, named Polites, has just escaped Pyrrhus’
Murderous hand. Past enemy lines, dodging spears, he is fleeing
Down through long colonnades and is crossing the now empty courtyard
Wounded. But hot on his heels, and intent on inflicting the death-blow
Pyrrhus pursues, and he’s now within arm’s reach, he’s thrusting his javelin.
Lurching in front of the faces and eyes of his parents, Polites
Finally crumples and spews out life in a fountain of dark blood.
Priam, at this point, though already trapped in a circle of killing,
Can’t hold back. For he doesn’t suppress all his wrath, he proclaims it.
“You will pay dear for this crime,” he declares, “you will pay for this outrage.
If any power in heaven feels righteous concern in such matters,
May gods show you the thanks you deserve, pay you back in the proper
Coinage for staging my son’s death here, and for making me watch it,
You have disfigured a father’s face with the blood of his son’s death.
You are no child of Achilles, you liar. He never mistreated
Priam, his foe, like this! He blushed for shame, he respected
Rights that are granted a suppliant, he showed good faith by returning
Hector’s blood-drained corpse for interment, and me to my kingdom.”
Once he’d spoken, the elderly man made a feeble strike with a powerless
Spear. And it fell, with a clang, on the bronze shield, instantly halted,
Then dangled limply down from the top of its central embossment.
Pyrrhus replied: “You’ll report this, then, to my father Achilles,
Fully, in person. Remember to tell of my grisly actions!
Call Neoptolemus just what he is: a degenerate bastard.
Now: die.”
‘While he was speaking, he pounced on the quivering Priam
Dragged the king, slipping in pools of his own son’s blood, to the altar,
Grabbed his hair, yanked back his head with his left, with his right drew his gleaming
Sword which he then buried up to the hilt in the flank of the old king.
So ended Priam’s role, as prescribed by the fates. His allotted
Exit made him a spectator at Troy’s Fires, Pergamum’s Ruin,
This man once in command of so many countries and peoples,
Ruler of Asia! He’s now a huge trunk lying dead on the seashore,
Head torn away from his shoulders, a thing without name, a cadaver.
‘Then, for the first time, brutal horror beset me on all sides.
Rooted me down stock-still. Stealing into my mind came my cherished
Father’s face as I watched that king, just his age, being butchered,
Gasping his life out. Then in stole the thought of Creusa, deserted,
Thoughts of my home being plundered, the fate of my little Iulus.

And the Latin:

Ecce autem elapsus Pyrrhi de caede Polites,
unus natorum Priami, per tela, per hostis
porticibus longis fugit, et vacua atria lustrat
saucius: illum ardens infesto volnere Pyrrhus
insequitur, iam iamque manu tenet et premit hasta.
Ut tandem ante oculos evasit et ora parentum,
concidit, ac multo vitam cum sanguine fudit.
Hic Priamus, quamquam in media iam morte tenetur,
non tamen abstinuit, nec voci iraeque pepercit:
“At tibi pro scelere,” exclamat, “pro talibus ausis,
di, si qua est caelo pietas, quae talia curet,
persolvant grates dignas et praemia reddant
debita, qui nati coram me cernere letum
fecisti et patrios foedasti funere voltus.
At non ille, satum quo te mentiris, Achilles
talis in hoste fuit Priamo; sed iura fidemque
supplicis erubuit, corpusque exsangue sepulchro
reddidit Hectoreum, meque in mea regna remisit.”
Sic fatus senior, telumque imbelle sine ictu
coniecit, rauco quod protinus aere repulsum
e summo clipei nequiquam umbone pependit.
Cui Pyrrhus: “Referes ergo haec et nuntius ibis
Pelidae genitori; illi mea tristia facta
degeneremque Neoptolemum narrare memento.
Nunc morere.” Hoc dicens altaria ad ipsa trementem
traxit et in multo lapsantem sanguine nati,
implicuitque comam laeva, dextraque coruscum
extulit, ac lateri capulo tenus abdidit ensem.
Haec finis Priami fatorum; hic exitus illum
sorte tulit, Troiam incensam et prolapsa videntem
Pergama, tot quondam populis terrisque superbum
regnatorem Asiae. Iacet ingens litore truncus,
avolsumque umeris caput, et sine nomine corpus.
At me tum primum saevus circumstetit horror.
Obstipui; subiit cari genitoris imago,
ut regem aequaevum crudeli volnere vidi
vitam exhalantem; subiit deserta Creüsa,
et direpta domus, et parvi casus Iuli.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s