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