Virgil: Aeneid — “The Fall of Troy”

Chapter 2: The Fall of Troy

Everyone fell silent and stared at Aeneas, who sat in a seat of honor. Aeneas said, “Queen, you ask me to renew a terrible sorrow. You ask me to tell how the Greeks conquered Troy, once a great city but now destroyed. I was there, and I saw horrors. No one who was a witness can refrain from crying at the memory of the fall of the city — not even a Greek, not even Ulysses, the Greek with the hardest heart.

“Now night is falling, but if you want to hear my story and the story of the fall of Troy, I will tell it.

“In the tenth year of the Trojan War, the Greeks were exhausted. So many years had passed. But Minerva gave them the skill to build the Trojan Horse. It was huge, hollow, and wooden. The Greeks pretended that it was an offering for a safe voyage back to Greece, but that was a lie. The Greeks picked their best and bravest warriors, and they hid them and their weapons in the hollow Trojan Horse.

“Within sight of Troy is the island of Tenedos. The Greeks sailed away from Troy and hid behind the island. We Trojans thought that the Greeks had gone back to Greece and that we had won the war. We were wrong. It was all a trick.

“But we opened the gates and walked onto the plain before Troy. We wandered the abandoned camps of the Greeks. We stood on the shore. We stood where Achilles had pitched his tents. We looked over the place where the Greeks had drawn their ships out of the sea. We looked at the battlefield, the place of killing.

“Some Trojans looked at the Trojan Horse, a gift for Minerva, the unwed virgin goddess. Thymoetes urged the Trojans, ‘Drag the Horse inside the walls of Troy!’ The fate of Troy and the end of Troy were coming closer.

“But some Trojans resisted moving the Horse inside the city walls. Capys and other Trojans, saner than Thymoetes, advised, ‘Either throw the Horse into the sea or set it on fire! Or else break open the Horse and see whether warriors are inside!’

“Some Trojans sided with Thymoetes; some Trojans sided with Capys.

“Laocoön, a priest of Neptune, arrived from Troy. He said to the Trojans, ‘Are you insane? Do you really believe that the treacherous Greeks have sailed back to Greece? Do you trust any Greek gift? You know the reputation of Ulysses. Do you trust that he has left Troy? This Horse either hides Greek warriors inside, or it will be used to batter our walls, or it has some other treacherous purpose. Do not trust that the Trojan Horse is harmless. I do not trust the Greeks, especially when they are giving gifts.’

“Laocoön hurled his spear at the Trojan Horse. It struck the Horse’s side, which echoed, showing that the Horse was hollow. Fate opposed us Trojans, and our own wits also opposed us. If not, we would have listened to Laocoön and broke open the Horse, and Troy would still be a rich center of civilization today.

“Suddenly, in the midst of the arguments the Trojans made, both pro and con, for destroying the Horse or taking it inside the walls of Troy, some Trojan shepherds brought a Greek man to Priam, our king. They had come across him by what they thought was accident, and they had captured him.

“It was a trick. The Greek had made sure that he would be captured. He had a purpose that demanded that he be captured. He wanted to lie to us Trojans and ensure our destruction and the destruction of our city.

“He was a liar, but he was a courageous liar. If his lies had not been believed, he would have died.

“Young Trojan males came up to him and mocked him, and he stood there, helpless, and groaned. Looking at the Trojans who surrounded him, he said, ‘What will happen to me now? There is no safe place anywhere for me. Not on land. Not on sea. The Greeks want me dead. So do the Trojans.’

“We Trojans are a merciful people. Instead of killing him, we asked him for his story: ‘Who are you? What is your birth? Who is your family? What is your story?’

“He replied, lying, ‘I will tell you all, and all of it is truth. Fortune may be against me, but I won’t allow Fortune to make me — Sinon — a liar. You may have heard of the Greek named Palamedes, whom the other Greeks charged with treason — falsely. He was innocent of treason, but he opposed the Trojan War. Because of that, the Greeks put him to death, an action they regretted later. I am related by blood to Palamedes, and I opposed the charge of treason. A young man, I had come to Troy as the companion of Palamedes. As long as he had the respect of the Greeks, they gave me some respect as well. Once they had killed Palamedes, I was no longer treated with respect.

“‘Ulysses, whose treachery you well know, hated me. I had opposed the charge of treason made against Palamedes, and now, grieving his death, I swore aloud that if I ever returned to Greece I would get revenge for his death. I swore an oath that I would do this.

“‘From that moment, Ulysses tormented me by making charge after charge against me and by starting rumor after rumor about me. He was mainly guilty of the death of Palamedes, and he wanted to ensure that I would not get the revenge that I had sworn to get. Ulysses was determined that I would die at Troy, and so he formed a plan with the prophet Calchas.

“‘But do I need to tell you what happened next? If you think that all Greeks are guilty and deserve to die, then kill me now. That would make Ulysses happy. Agamemnon and Menelaus would even pay you to kill me.’”

Ulysses had hated Palamedes because Palamedes was responsible for making Ulysses go to the Trojan War. Ulysses had not wanted to leave his home island of Ithaca, and so when the Greeks came to recruit him for the war, he pretended to be insane and plowed his land with salt. Palamedes guessed that he was faking insanity, and he put Ulysses’ infant son, Telemachus, in front of the plow. Rather than kill his son, Ulysses turned aside the plow, proving that he was sane.

Aeneas continued, “We Trojans wanted to hear the rest of his story. We did not know exactly how treacherous a Greek could be.

“Trembling, he continued to tell his lying story: ‘After ten long years of fighting, the Greeks grew tired of the war. They wanted it to be over. They wanted a respite from war. How I wish that they had immediately returned home to Greece! But when they wanted to set sail, the waves and the winds were against them. Even after we built this Horse you see before you, the waves and winds were unfavorable for sailing back home to Greece.

“‘Therefore, we sent Eurypalus to consult the oracle of Apollo. Oracles can foretell the future and can tell how to gain the favor of the gods. We sought the knowledge of what we should do to ensure favorable waves and winds. Eurypalus brought back the words of the oracle: “When you sailed to Troy, you sacrificed a human being to ensure favorable waves and winds. Now that you want to sail back home to Greece, you must sacrifice a human to ensure favorable waves and winds.”

“‘News of the oracle’s words spread among all the Greeks. Someone must be sacrificed. Whose life did the gods demand? Who would be the human sacrifice?

“‘Ulysses brought the prophet Calchas before the Greeks and demanded that he tell whom the gods wanted to be the sacrifice. The Greek warriors also wanted to know. Even then, the Greek warriors thought that I would be the sacrificial victim because of Ulysses’ hatred of me.

“‘For ten days, the prophet Calchas refused to name the sacrificial victim. Finally, he seemed to give in to the demands of Ulysses, but actually it was a part of their plan. He named me as the sacrificial victim. The Greek warriors were happy — none of them would be the one to die. They were happy to live, and they were happy that I was the one who was supposed to die.

“‘The day set for the human sacrifice soon arrived. The Greeks prepared to sacrifice me. They performed the religious rites, they got ready the salted meal, and they tied the sacred bands around my head. But I escaped. I broke the bonds holding me and ran away and hid all night in a marsh until they set sail.

“‘I have no hope now of ever returning to Greece and seeing my children and my father. Maybe the Greeks will punish them because the Greeks failed to sacrifice me.

“‘Pity me, king. I have suffered what no man deserved to suffer.’

“Sinon cried, and we Trojans pitied him. We Trojans are merciful. We Trojans have the quality of clementia: mercy. Priam ordered that the bonds that the shepherds had put on Sinon be removed. Priam then said to the lying Greek, ‘From now on, you are a Trojan. Please, answer my questions. Why did the Greeks build this huge Horse? What is the Horse’s purpose? Is it a gift to the gods, or is it a weapon of war?’

“Sinon’s hands were now free from his bonds. He raised his arms and prayed, ‘Bear witness, stars and sun and gods. Bear witness, altar and knives and the other implements of human sacrifice. Bear witness that I am right to break my oath to the Greeks to fight against Troy. Bear witness that I am right to detest the Greeks. Bear witness that I am right to reveal the purpose of the Trojan Horse. Trojans, keep your promise to me that I will be one of you — a Greek no longer — and I will tell you the truth about the Horse.

“‘The Greeks’ hopes of conquering Troy have always rested on the good will and the help of Minerva. But her good will toward the Greeks came to an end when Ulysses and Diomedes snuck into Troy and stole the Palladium, the sacred statue of Minerva belonging to you Trojans. Ulysses and Diomedes killed several guards in Troy, and when they reached the Palladium, they touched it with bloody hands — a sacrilege and affront to Minerva. From that moment, Minerva no longer helped the Greeks.

“‘Minerva sent omens to show the Greeks that they had offended her. When Ulysses and Diomedes brought the sacred statue into the Greeks’ camp, fire shot forth from the statue’s eyes. Sweat ran down the statue. Minerva herself, bearing her shield and spear, appeared to the Greeks three times.

“‘The prophet Calchas knew that Minerva was offended. He knew that she no longer had good will toward the Greeks. He knew that she had withdrawn her help from the Greeks.

“‘He advised the Greeks, “You cannot conquer Troy unless you first return to Greece and make amends to the goddess. Take the Palladium to Greece, propitiate the goddess, and then bring the Palladium back to the plain before Troy.”

“‘The Greeks obeyed him. They set sail for Greece. They have left Troy — temporarily. They plan to acquire new weapons, persuade the gods to be on the Greeks’ side, and then return to Troy and defeat you.

“‘Calchas also ordered the Greeks to build this Horse. It is an offering to Minerva. The Greeks hope that she will forgive them for the theft of the Palladium.

“‘Calchas ordered that the Horse be built on a massive scale so that you Trojans could not take the Horse inside the city’s walls. Calchas knew that you Trojans would either desecrate the Horse or respect it. If you should desecrate the Horse — this offering to the goddess — disaster will come to you and your city and your futures. But if you should respect the Horse — this offering to the goddess — and bring it inside your walls, then you will take the war to Greece. Instead of Greece attacking Troy, Troy and the rest of Asia will attack Greece. So says the prophet Calchas.’

“We believed Sinon, the lying Greek. Achilles could not defeat the Trojans, ten years of war could not defeat the Trojans, the thousand ships that the Greeks had brought to Troy could not defeat the Trojans, but our good nature and our pity for the tears of Sinon ended up defeating us. Our clementia ended up defeating us.

“An omen from the gods also defeated us. Laocoön was sacrificing a bull at the altar of Neptune when out of the sea came two huge sea-snakes. Their crests were the color of blood, and the Trojans ran away from them. Each sea-snake coiled itself around one of Laocoön’s young sons. Each sea-snake bit the young boy it was killing. Laocoön tried to save his sons. He ran to the sea-snakes and slashed at them with his sword. The sea-snakes trapped him in their coils, wrapping themselves around his waist and his throat. Laocoön tried to push them away. He could not. He screamed, but his screams did not sound human. He sounded like a bull that had been wounded at the sacrificial altar. The bull had not been quickly killed. The ax did not hit a mortal spot. A wounded bull will fight to escape from the altar.

“Having killed Laocoön and his two sons, the sea-snakes went to the shrine of Minerva at Troy and vanished under her shield.

“We Trojans were afraid. We believed that Laocoön had offended the gods. We believed that he deserved the punishment that the gods had given him. Laocoön had thrown his spear at the Trojan Horse, desecrating it.

“We did not know that the gods were determined that Troy should fall.

“We Trojans shouted, ‘Haul the Trojan Horse to the temple of Minerva inside the city of Troy. Let us honor the goddess.’

“We Trojans worked to make that happen. The Trojan Horse was too big to fit through the gates, so we tore down part of our own walls to enlarge the opening so that the Horse could come inside the city. We put rollers under the Horse and we tied ropes around its neck so that we could drag the Horse inside Troy.

“Trojan boys and girls were happy. They sang and danced as the Horse rolled toward the city gates.

“Four times the Horse came to a halt, and four times the armor of the Greek warriors hidden inside clanged, but we Trojans were deaf, blind, insane, ill-fated. We kept working until we had the Horse inside Troy.

“Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, prophesized the fall of Troy, and she prophesized correctly, but no one believed her. Later I learned that she had promised the god Apollo that she would sleep with him if he gave her the power of prophecy. He swore an inviolable oath that he would give her that gift, but she reneged on her promise and would not sleep with him. Because Apollo had sworn an inviolable oath, he was forced to give her the gift of prophecy, but he gave her an additional ‘gift’: She would prophesize correctly, but no one would ever believe her prophecies until after the events she had foretold had actually occurred.

“We Trojans foolishly believed that this was a day of joy, a day to be celebrated. We decorated the city with festive garlands.

“Night came. We Trojans, wearied by our celebrations, slept. The Greeks sailed back to Troy from the island of Tenedos. They arrived at their campsites that they knew very well. The Greeks sent up a flare that signaled Sinon to go to the Trojan Horse and let out the Greek warriors, who slid down a rope to the ground. The warriors inside the Horse were Thessandrus, Sthenelus, Ulysses, Acamas, Thoas, Pyrrhus (Achilles’ son, who is also known as Neoptolemus), Machaon, Menelaus, and Epeus, who had built the Horse. The city was quiet, it had few guards, and the Greek warriors killed those guards and opened the gates to let the waiting Agamemnon and his Greek warriors inside the city.

“I was asleep, and I dreamed that Hector, the greatest warrior of the Trojans and one of the warriors whom Achilles had killed, came to me. Tears streamed down his face, and he looked the way that he had looked when Achilles had dragged his corpse behind the chariot. I saw the holes that Achilles had pierced in Hector’s ankles so that he could tie his corpse to the chariot and then drag the corpse on the ground. Hector did not look the way he had looked when he proudly wore Achilles’ armor that he had stripped from the corpse of Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend. He did not look the way that he had looked when the Trojans had set fire to one of the Greeks’ ships. He looked the way he had looked when he had been defeated and killed. His beard was matted, his hair was bloody, and his body displayed many wounds.

“I dreamed that I talked to Hector, saying, ‘We Trojans are happy that you have returned to us. We have missed you. You were always our best hope for defeating the Greeks. But what is wrong? Your face and body are bloody and wounded.’

“Hector groaned and said to me, ‘Now is the time for you to escape from the fires of the city. Troy has fallen. The Greeks have conquered our city. You have served your king and your city valiantly, but it was not enough. If anyone could have saved Troy, it would have been me. Now, you must preserve the city’s household gods. Take them with you as you escape from the Greeks and leave Troy. Sail the sea and found a new city where the household gods can reside.’

“In my dream, I saw Hector carry the image of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, away.

“Noise came from the city. Cries of pain filled the air. I was asleep in my father’s palace, which was located in a place with trees, away from the main city, but the noise woke me up. I climbed up on the roof and listened. I heard a roar. It sounded like fire burning a field of wheat or like a flooding and rapidly flowing river dragging full-grown trees into its waters. A shepherd can hear such a roar and be amazed. I understood immediately the treachery of the Greeks.

“I saw the house of Deiphobus. It was on fire, and it crashed to the ground. The house next to his — the house of Ucalegon — had also caught on fire. I saw the fires reflected in the water of the sea. I heard the sound of fighting warriors and of trumpets.

“I seized my armor and weapons. The city had fallen, but I wanted to kill Greeks. If I had to die that night, I wanted to go down fighting. To die defending your city is a noble death.

“I saw Panthus, a priest of Apollo. He was carrying the holy items used in the worship of Apollo. He held the hand of his little grandson as they tried to escape.

“I asked, ‘Panthus, where are the Trojan warriors? Where are they making their last stand?’

“Panthus groaned and said, ‘It’s all over. Troy has fallen. Troy no longer exists. The glory of Troy has vanished. Jupiter now gives glory to the Greeks, who are burning our homes. The Trojan Horse was filled with Greek warriors. Sinon exults as our city burns. Our gates are open wide so that the Greeks can easily enter. Greeks fill our streets and use their weapons. A few Trojans — only a few — are fighting back. They cannot last long.’

“I headed toward the fighting, toward the cries of war. I met other Trojans: Rhipeus, Epytus, Hypanis, Dymas, and Coroebus, who had come to Troy to marry Cassandra. Not even he understood her prophecies.

“We were ready to do battle and kill Greeks. I told them, ‘This is a battle we cannot win. Look around, and you will see that the gods have deserted us and gone over to the side of the Greeks. But let us send some Greeks to the Land of the Dead. We know that we are defeated and we cannot live. Let us not fear the arrival of death because death has already arrived for us.’

“We moved on. We were like a pack of wolves whose hunger drives them to kill so that they can feed their young. Shielded by darkness, we went into the center of the city.

“We saw so much slaughter. We saw so many dead bodies — not just in homes and on the streets but on the altars of the gods as well. The Greeks should have respected the gods at whose altars the Trojans had taken refuge — the Greeks did not.

“Not only Trojans died. Many Trojans sent Greeks to the Land of the Dead.

“The first Greek we saw was Androgeos, who was with his warriors. He was happy and celebrating, and he mistook us for Greeks. He called to us, ‘Hurry up. Kill some Trojans. Do some looting. You’re late. You must have just come from the ships.’

“Suddenly, Androgeos realized that we were not Greeks. We had given him no friendly words. He was like a man who walks in the woods and steps on a snake that gets into biting position. Androgeos cringed away from us and tried to flee.

“We attacked. The Greeks panicked, and we killed them. In this first encounter with Greeks, we were completely triumphant.

“Coroebus said, ‘Trojans, let us trick the Greeks. Let’s use these dead Greeks’ distinctive shields and their weapons. That way, the Greeks will think that we are Greeks, and we can surprise them with death. Why shouldn’t the Greeks supply Trojans with shields and weapons that they can use to kill Greeks?’

“Coroebus put on the armor of Androgeos: his helmet and shield. He also strapped a Greek sword on his hip. We other Trojans also commandeered Greek armor and weapons. Rhipeus and Dymas armed themselves with the possessions of the warriors they had just killed.

“We kept encountering Greeks and killing them. Some Greeks turned coward and fled back to their ships. Other Greeks climbed the rope dangling from the Trojan Horse so that they could hide themselves in its womb.

“But the gods were against us. We saw Cassandra — she was a prisoner, and her hands were tied. Greeks were dragging her by her hair from the temple of Minerva. Later I learned that Little Ajax had raped the virgin Cassandra in the temple — an outrage to Minerva, a virgin goddess. Because Cassandra was in the temple of Minerva, she was under the protection of the goddess. Little Ajax did not respect Minerva.

“Because Cassandra could not raise her hands to the heavens, she raised her eyes. Her fiancé, Coroebus, was infuriated by the sight of the Greeks leading her away as a slave, and he hurled himself at them, knowing that he would die.

“We followed Coroebus, and now we suffered disaster. Our fellow Trojans saw our Greek helmets and shields, and they attacked us. From the roof of the temple, Trojans threw spears at us, thinking that we were enemy soldiers. Our ruse tricked both the Greeks and our fellow Trojans.

“Not only did the Trojans attack us, but so did the Greeks. Briefly, we freed Cassandra, but Little Ajax, Agamemnon, Menelaus, and other Greek soldiers attacked us. We were attacked from above and from all sides.

“The Greeks were as fierce as a whirlwind that howls in the forests. The Greeks were as dangerous as the high waves created by Nereus, the father of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, and the other sea-nymphs.

“We had routed many Greeks, but now they regrouped and fought against us, aware that the Greek helmets and Greek shields we wore were lies, aware that the common language we shared with them had a different sound when spoken by Trojans.

“We were outnumbered, and Coroebus was the first Trojan whom the Greeks killed. Peneleus killed him, and Coroebus fell onto the altar of Minerva. Next to die was Rhipeus, the most righteous man in Troy, the Trojan most devoted to justice. Even so, the gods allowed him to die.

“Hypanis and Dymas also died at the end of weapons, but the weapons were in the hands of Trojans. In the chaos of a falling city, the weapons of friendly warriors can be as dangerous as the weapons of enemy warriors.

“Even Panthus, the priest of Apollo, whom I had seen trying to flee the city, fell. Apollo did not save him.

“I survived, but I swear that I did not stay away from the fighting. I sought the enemy, and I killed the enemy. If I had been fated to die that night, fate would have easily found a way for me to die.

“Two other Trojans were still alive with me. Iphitus was an old man, and his old age slowed him down. Pelias was also slow because Ulysses had wounded him. We made our way to the palace of Priam.

“At the palace, a battle roared! Here was death, frequent and in many violent forms. Mars, the god of war, enjoyed the blood and the battle.

“The Trojans were on the roof, being assaulted by the Greeks. On the ground, the Greeks made a tortoise shell of their shields for protection. They also climbed ladders, trying to reach the roof, each carrying a shield on his left arm for protection and climbing higher with his right arm.

“The Trojans ripped off pieces of the roof — tiles and wooden beams — to hurl down on the Greeks climbing the ladders. The Trojans knew that they wouldn’t last much longer. Other Trojans defended the doors below. These Trojans also had little time left to live.

“I ran to the palace, eager to defend it.

“In the palace of Priam is a secret passageway that Andromache, the wife of Hector, used to take their son, Astyanax, to visit his grandparents Priam and Hecuba. I used the passageway to climb up to the roof, where Trojans were throwing their spears.

“On the roof was a tower. We used tools to detach it from the roof, and then we tipped it over to crash it onto the Greeks. But more Greeks came to replace those we had killed. The battle continued; we had no respite.

“I saw Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles. Pyrrhus was like a snake that had hibernated and now had come forth to be a danger to men. He had been absent for most of the Trojan War but came to Troy after his father had died. Pyrrhus stood at the front gates with Periphas and Automedon, who had been Achilles’ charioteer.

“The Greeks hurled fire onto the roofs. Pyrrhus grabbed an ax and started attacking the doors that led inside the palace. He attacked the doorposts and the doors, and he opened a breach that led inside the palace. Pyrrhus and other Greek warriors saw the Trojan guards who were defending our king.

“Inside the palace was despair. The women, afraid, were crying. Mothers did not know where to go to find safety.

“Pyrrhus and other Greeks kept battering the doors. The doors split and caved in. They fell. The palace was open to the enemy.

“The Greeks rushed in and killed the Trojan guards. The Greeks were everywhere. From a hole we had made in the roof when we were tearing it apart to find things to throw on the enemy, I was able to see everything.

“No flooding river bursting its dikes and overflowing its banks and sweeping away animals and barns could match the flood that was the Greeks sweeping away the Trojan resistance.

“In the palace, I saw Pyrrhus, and I saw Agamemnon and Menelaus. I saw Hecuba, the wife of Priam, with her hundred daughters and daughters-in-law. And I saw Priam.

“Fire was destroying much of the palace. The fifty bridal-bedchambers in the palace fell to fire. Whatever parts of the palace that did not fall to fire fell to the Greeks.

“Do you want to know how Priam died? I can tell you. I saw him die. I wish I had not.

“When Priam realized that the Greeks were inside Troy and were conquering the city, he put on his armor, which he had not worn for decades. As he put it on, his hands shook with old age. He strapped his sword to his hip, and then he went to meet the enemy.

“Inside the palace was an altar, a shrine to the household gods. Hecuba and her daughters had fled there in hopes to find refuge. They were like doves that a storm has thrown to the ground. Hecuba saw her aged husband wearing armor and carrying a spear and said to him, ‘Armor and weapons are useless now. Not even our son Hector, if he were alive, could save us. Come to the altar. It is our last and our best hope. Either we will live under the protection of our household gods, or if the Greeks disrespect the gods, we will die here, together.’

“Hecuba took her husband’s hands and led him to the altar.

“But Polites, one of their young sons, ran into the room, pursued by Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles. He was already badly wounded by Pyrrhus, who wanted to finish killing him. Polites reached his parents and the altar, Pyrrhus speared him, and then Polites vomited blood and died.

“Angered by the death of yet another of his sons, Priam said to Pyrrhus, ‘You are vicious! I hope that the gods repay you for your outrage! You have forced me to witness the death of my son at the altar! You say that you are the son of Achilles? You lie! Achilles was capable of goodness. He honored me when I was a suppliant, and he allowed me to ransom the corpse of my son Hector so I could give him a proper funeral. He allowed me to return safely home to Troy with the body of my son.’

“Priam then threw his spear with all the strength he had at Pyrrhus. It feebly struck his shield and did no damage.

“Pyrrhus told Priam, ‘I want you to take news to Achilles, my father, down in the Land of the Dead. Tell him about my outrages and my bad character. Now it is time for you to die!’

“Pyrrhus dragged Priam to the altar. Priam’s feet slipped on the blood of his son. Pyrrhus grabbed Priam’s hair with one hand, and with the other hand he plunged his sword all the way to the hilt in Priam’s side. Hecuba witnessed the death of her husband. So did their daughters.

“So died Priam, king of Troy. So died Troy itself. Priam had ruled Asia, but now it was as if he were a headless corpse lying without a name on a shore.

“Seeing the death of Priam reminded me of my own father — the two men were the same age. I also thought of my wife, Creusa, and my son, Ascanius. They were alone in our house without a warrior to defend them. I looked around. I was alone. The other Trojans had died. They had fallen in battle or had been overcome by the fires.

“I was the only Trojan warrior left there, and suddenly I saw Helen of Troy in the light of the fires destroying Troy. She was clinging to the image of Vesta, hoping for protection from the goddess. She was silent, hoping that no one would notice her. She was terrified of the Trojans, whose city had fallen because of her, and she was terrified of her husband, whom she had deserted.

“Helen had good reason to be terrified. I wanted to kill her.

“Why should Helen live when Troy, its king, and its warriors had fallen? Why should Helen live when Troy’s women and children were going to become slaves?

“Should Helen be allowed to go back to Sparta and live an easy life, served by Trojan slaves? No.

“Killing a woman is not honorable. Warriors receive no fame for killing a woman. But Helen being Helen, she should die. Her death would bring comfort to conquered Trojans.

Furor — the passion of rage — conquered me, and I moved with my sword toward Helen, but my mother, Venus, stood before me. I saw her clearly. She wore no disguise. She is a goddess, and she appeared before me as a goddess. She was and is beautiful.

“Venus grabbed my hand and said to me, ‘You are feeling grief and anger. You are feeling furor. But leave Helen and look for your father. Do you know whether your wife and your son are still alive? The Greeks are all around them.

“‘While you have been gone, I have been protecting them. If I had not, they would be dead by now. Either the fires or the Greeks would have killed them.

“‘Why is the city falling? Not because of Helen or Paris, but because of the gods, who are tearing apart your city.

“‘I will give you special sight. Usually, the sight of mortal men is faulty. Mortal men are blinded by mist. I will sweep away the mist so that you can see the gods and you will learn that what I am saying is true.

“‘The mist is gone. Now look and see clearly. Look at the foundation stones of Troy. Neptune himself is breaking them; he is destroying the foundation of Troy.

“‘Now see Juno. She was the first god to reach the Scaean Gates. She led the Greek warriors inside Troy.

“‘Look at the heights of Troy. There Minerva and Jupiter are putting courage into the hearts of the Greek warriors. They want the Greeks to kill the Trojans.

“‘Run. Save your life. I will help you.’

“She vanished. I realized that she had spoken the truth. The gods themselves were destroying Troy. Neptune was tearing down Troy the way that woodsmen chop down and topple a proud, tall tree that has stood for ages, but conquered by the wounds the woodsmen inflict on it, it falls.

“My mother led the way, and I climbed down from the roof of Priam’s palace, avoiding fire and enemy spears. I made my way to my home and my family.

“I found my father. I wanted to carry him to safety. If he stayed in Troy, he would die. But I had a chance to carry him out of Troy and to the safety of the mountains.

“But my father refused to go.

“My father said to me, ‘You, your wife, and your son are young. Save yourselves. I am old. If the gods had wanted me to continue to live, they would not have allowed Troy to be destroyed. I would still have a home here. I have already witnessed one sack of Troy. I was alive when Hercules conquered Troy because its king, Laomedon, refused to give him the horses he had earned. I survived one sack of Troy. I need not survive another — I am too old to go into exile. Leave me here, and let me die. The Greeks will not allow me to live. My corpse will not be buried, but I prefer even that to exile. For many years now, I have been crippled. I boasted that Venus loved me. Jupiter heard me, grew angry that a mortal should make such a boast, and threw a thunderbolt at me to kill me. Venus pushed the thunderbolt aside so that it did not kill me, but it crippled me. My legs are useless, and I have lived long enough.’

“We pleaded with him — I, my wife, and my son — but he was determined to die. My duty was to my father, and I would not leave him. I prepared to die defending him.

“I told my father, ‘Do you think that I would leave you? Never! If you are determined to die here, the rest of our family and I will also die here. Soon the son of Achilles, Pyrrhus, will arrive. He will be willing to kill all of us. Already, the blood of Priam is on his body, as is the blood of Priam’s son Polites whom Pyrrhus slaughtered on an altar in front of his father, whom he also slaughtered on an altar.

“‘My mother, your wife, told me to come back here. Why? So I could see my father, my wife, and my son slaughtered on an altar? So I could see their blood mingling on the floor?

“‘At least I can kill some Greeks before I die. I will have Greek company as I go down to the Land of the Dead.’

“I strapped my sword to my hip again and took up my shield. I was leaving the house when my wife, Creusa, knelt with my son before me and grabbed my knees and supplicated me: ‘If you are going away so that you can die, take us with you. Let us face death together. Don’t leave us. Your duty is to defend us. You should not leave us alone and let the Greeks find us.’

“My wife cried. I had no good choice. My father refused to leave the house.

“Suddenly, the gods sent us an omen. My son’s head appeared to be on fire. He wore a crown of fire. Afraid for our son, we tried to put out the fire — but the fire did not burn him. Our son was in no danger.

“My father interpreted the omen. It was a good omen. The omen meant that my son would become a king.

“My father raised his arms and prayed to the king of gods and men, ‘Jupiter, send us another sign — one that will confirm this omen.’

“Immediately, thunder sounded on the right — the lucky sign. Also, a star fell from the sky and landed on Mount Ida — a sign that we should go there.

“My father changed his mind because of the omens. He said, ‘Let us leave immediately. I am willing to go wherever the gods send me. Keep Ascanius, my grandson and your son, safe. You and he have a destiny.’

“My father was ready to leave. Just in time. The fires were growing stronger and closer.

“I told my father, ‘I will carry you on my back. I will carry you to safety. Ascanius, my son, stay by my side. Creusa, my wife, follow me a little way behind. Servants, listen to me. Past the walls of Troy are a grave-mound and an old shrine to the goddess Ceres. The shrine has an old cypress tree growing by it. That will be our meeting place. Get to it by whatever route you can — we should not all take the same route. Father, carry the household gods. I am covered with blood, and it would be sacrilegious for me to touch them with bloody hands.’

“I put a lion’s skin on my shoulders and then lifted my father and our household gods. I took my son by the hand, and my wife followed us. By taking my son by the hand and leading him, I was taking the future with me. By taking my father and our household gods with me, I was taking part of the past with me. My wife did not make it out of Troy. Some of the past we cannot take with us.

“We walked along paths, seeking an escape from the city. I had not been afraid of Greek weapons. I had not been afraid to face death. But now I was terrified for my family. I wanted my family to stay alive. We got near the gates, and I thought that we were all safe, but suddenly I heard warriors approaching, and my father told me, ‘Run! I see the warriors’ weapons!’

“I ran. Blindly. I did not look back. At some time and some place, my wife was no longer behind me. She may have gotten lost in the darkness and the confusion. She may have been overcome by exhaustion. I made my way to the shrine dedicated to Ceres, and then I learned that my wife was not with me. I raved. I blamed the gods. I blamed every mortal, including myself. I hid my father and my son in a valley along with other Trojans who had escaped, and then I went back to Troy to look for my wife. Once again, I took the chance of losing my life.

“I went back to the walls and the rear gates through which we had exited Troy. I retraced the path we had taken out of the city. I went back to my home in case my wife had returned there. There I saw only Greeks and fire. I went to the palace of Priam, and in the courtyard I saw Phoenix and Ulysses standing guard over the loot they had taken — valuable religious items. Also in the courtyard were mothers and children who would soon be portioned out as slaves. I returned to the Trojan streets and risked calling aloud my wife’s name: ‘Creusa!’ No reply. I called her name again. No reply.

“And then I saw my wife’s ghost, larger than she had been while alive. I was afraid. She spoke to me, ‘Aeneas, my husband and my love, do not grieve. My death and the fall of Troy occurred because of the will of the gods. The gods did not want you and me to be together after the fall of Troy. Jupiter will not allow that.

“‘Let me prophesize to you. You will now have a long exile. You will sail the seas until you reach the land called Hesperia: the Land of the West. There you will see the Tiber River. It will be a land of rich soil and hardy people. You will find a kingdom there and a wife.

“‘Don’t mourn me. I will not be taken as a slave to serve a Greek master. Cybele, the Great Mother of Gods, has kept my body on Trojan soil.

“‘Farewell, and take care of our son, whom we love.’

“Those were the last words she ever spoke to me. Three times I tried to hug her. Three times I hugged nothing. I was not able to touch her ghost — it dissipated each time I tried.

“Her ghost was gone. I went back to my father and son, and I saw many Trojans who had fled the city and come to the shrine of Ceres. They needed a leader, and they were ready to follow me. Dawn was approaching. The Greeks had taken the city — Troy was no more.

“I lifted up my father, and I led the Trojan exiles away from the city and toward the safety of the mountains.

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