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.

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