Aeneid Book 10. lines 885 - 908

King Mezentius meets his match

by Virgil

As the battle between Trojans and Latins rages on, Mezentius, the Etruscan King who has been expelled for his cruelty and taken refuge with Turnus, comes face to face with Aeneas and is wounded by him. Mezentius’s son, Lausus, intervenes. Mezentius is saved, but Lausus, fighting on in spite of Aeneas’s warnings, is killed. On learning this, Mezentius returns to the battle, determined to join his son in death. As Book 10 of the Aeneid closes, he achieves his aim: as this extract begins, he exchanges final words with Aeneas and gives battle. The English is from John Dryden’s translation.

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‘desine, nam venio moriturus et haec tibi porto
dona prius.’ dixit, telumque intorsit in hostem;
inde aliud super atque aliud figitque volatque
ingenti gyro, sed sustinet aureus umbo.
ter circum astantem laevos equitavit in orbis
tela manu iaciens, ter secum Troius heros
immanem aerato circumfert tegmine silvam.
inde ubi tot traxisse moras, tot spicula taedet
vellere, et urgetur pugna congressus iniqua,
multa movens animo iam tandem erumpit et inter
bellatoris equi cava tempora conicit hastam.
tollit se arrectum quadripes et calcibus auras
verberat, effusumque equitem super ipse secutus
implicat eiectoque incumbit cernuus armo.
clamore incendunt caelum Troesque Latinique.
advolat Aeneas vaginaque eripit ensem
et super haec: ‘ubi nunc Mezentius acer et illa
effera vis animi?’ contra Tyrrhenus, ut auras
suspiciens hausit caelum mentemque recepit:
‘hostis amare, quid increpitas mortemque minaris?
nullum in caede nefas, nec sic ad proelia veni,
nec tecum meus haec pepigit mihi foedera Lausus.
unum hoc per si qua est victis venia hostibus oro:
corpus humo patiare tegi. scio acerba meorum
circumstare odia: hunc, oro, defende furorem
et me consortem nati concede sepulcro.’
haec loquitur, iuguloque haud inscius accipit ensem
undantique animam diffundit in arma cruore.

He said; and straight a whirling dart he sent;
Another after, and another went.
Round in a spacious ring he rides the field,
And vainly plies th’ impenetrable shield.
Thrice rode he round; and thrice Aeneas wheel’d,
Turn’d as he turn’d: the golden orb withstood
The strokes, and bore about an iron wood.
Impatient of delay, and weary grown,
Still to defend, and to defend alone,
To wrench the darts which in his buckler light,
Urg’d and o’er-labor’d in unequal fight;
At length resolv’d, he throws with all his force
Full at the temples of the warrior horse.
Just where the stroke was aim’d, th’ unerring spear
Made way, and stood transfix’d thro’ either ear.
Seiz’d with unwonted pain, surpris’d with fright,
The wounded steed curvets, and, rais’d upright,
Lights on his feet before; his hoofs behind
Spring up in air aloft, and lash the wind.
Down comes the rider headlong from his height:
His horse came after with unwieldy weight,
And, flound’ring forward, pitching on his head,
His lord’s incumber’d shoulder overlaid.
From either host, the mingled shouts and cries
Of Trojans and Rutulians rend the skies.
Aeneas, hast’ning, wav’d his fatal sword
High o’er his head, with this reproachful word:
“Now; where are now thy vaunts, the fierce disdain
Of proud Mezentius, and the lofty strain?”
Struggling, and wildly staring on the skies,
With scarce recover’d sight he thus replies:
“Why these insulting words, this waste of breath,
To souls undaunted, and secure of death?
‘T is no dishonor for the brave to die,
Nor came I here with hope of victory;
Nor ask I life, nor fought with that design:
As I had us’d my fortune, use thou thine.
My dying son contracted no such band;
The gift is hateful from his murd’rer’s hand.
For this, this only favor let me sue,
If pity can to conquer’d foes be due:
Refuse it not; but let my body have
The last retreat of humankind, a grave.
Too well I know th’ insulting people’s hate;
Protect me from their vengeance after fate:
This refuge for my poor remains provide,
And lay my much-lov’d Lausus by my side.”
He said, and to the sword his throat applied.
The crimson stream distain’d his arms around,
And the disdainful soul came rushing thro’ the wound.


More Poems by Virgil

  1. Aeneas arrives in Italy
  2. Aeneas sees Marcellus, Augustus’s tragic heir
  3. Virgil begins the Georgics
  4. Aeneas saves his son and father, but at a cost
  5. Storm at sea!
  6. Hector visits Aeneas in a dream
  7. The Aeneid begins
  8. The natural history of bees
  9. Vulcan’s forge
  10. How Aeneas will know the site of his city
  11. The death of Priam
  12. The farmer’s happy lot
  13. The infant Camilla
  14. Aeneas’s vision of Augustus
  15. Juno throws open the gates of war
  16. Aeneas rescues his Father Anchises
  17. Charon, the ferryman
  18. The death of Euryalus and Nisus
  19. Virgil predicts a forthcoming birth and a new golden age
  20. Dido and Aeneas: Hell hath no fury …
  21. Aeneas’s ships are transformed
  22. A Fury rouses Turnus to war
  23. More from Virgil’s farming Utopia
  24. Juno is reconciled
  25. Rumour
  26. Dido falls in love
  27. The Harpy’s prophecy
  28. The death of Pallas
  29. Dido’s release
  30. Turnus the wolf
  31. The death of Dido.
  32. Anchises’s ghost invites Aeneas to visit the underworld
  33. Turnus at bay
  34. The Trojan Horse enters the city
  35. Dido and Aeneas: royal hunt and royal affair
  36. Aeneas finds Dido among the shades
  37. The Trojans prepare to set sail from Carthage
  38. New allies for Aeneas
  39. Aeneas learns the way to the underworld
  40. Turnus is lured away from battle
  41. Aeneas joins the fray
  42. Aeneas’s oath
  43. Omens for Princess Lavinia
  44. The journey to Hades begins
  45. Laocoon and the snakes
  46. Love is the same for all
  47. Aristaeus’s bees
  48. King Latinus grants the Trojans’ request
  49. Laocoon warns against the Trojan horse
  50. Aeneas tours the site of Rome
  51. Sea-nymphs
  52. Help for Father Aeneas from Father Tiber
  53. Souls awaiting punishment in Tartarus, and the crimes that brought them there.
  54. In King Latinus’s hall
  55. Aeneas reaches the Elysian Fields
  56. The Syrian hostess
  57. Virgil’s perils on the sea
  58. Rites for the allies’ dead
  59. Mercury’s journey to Carthage
  60. Aeneas is wounded
  61. The portals of sleep
  62. The farmer’s starry calendar
  63. The Fury Allecto blows the alarm
  64. Palinurus the helmsman is lost
  65. Signs of bad weather
  66. Mourning for Pallas
  67. Jupiter’s prophecy
  68. Fire strikes Aeneas’s fleet
  69. The Trojans reach Carthage
  70. Catastrophe for Rome?
  71. Virgil’s poetic temple to Caesar
  72. Aeneas prepares to tell Dido his story
  73. Aeneas comes to the Hell of Tartarus