With Aeneas’s camp under siege by his enemy Turnus, King of the Rutuli, two friends and lovers, Nisus and Euryalus, volunteer to find him and bring him back from his diplomatic mission. Passing Turnus’s lines, they find many of his warriors helpless from sleep and wine. They pause to kill many and to take trophies before continuing on their mission. To judge from the address that Virgil makes to the pair at the end of this piece, this slaughter of the defenceless seemed a nobler exploit to his age than it might now, but, in the age of Tarantino movies and computer war games, perhaps we should not feel too superior. The friends become separated, and, with the arrival of a troop of horsemen on their way to join Turnus, their way is blocked and the younger, Euryalus, is captured. The older, Nisus, concealed in the shadows, is tortured by anxiety. Praying to the Moon to guide his aim, as this extract begins he prepares to attack the force that is holding Euryalus.
See the illustrated blog post here.
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Dixerat et toto conixus corpore ferrum
conicit. hasta volans noctis diverberat umbras
et venit aversi in tergum Sulmonis ibique
frangitur, ac fisso transit praecordia ligno.
volvitur ille vomens calidum de pectore flumen
frigidus et longis singultibus ilia pulsat.
diversi circumspiciunt. hoc acrior idem
ecce aliud summa telum librabat ab aure.
dum trepidant, it hasta Tago per tempus utrumque
stridens traiectoque haesit tepefacta cerebro.
saevit atrox Volcens nec teli conspicit usquam
auctorem nec quo se ardens immittere possit.
‘tu tamen interea calido mihi sanguine poenas
persolves amborum’ inquit; simul ense recluso
ibat in Euryalum. tum vero exterritus, amens,
conclamat Nisus nec se celare tenebris
amplius aut tantum potuit perferre dolorem:
‘me, me, adsum qui feci, in me convertite ferrum,
o Rutuli! mea fraus omnis, nihil iste nec ausus
nec potuit; caelum hoc et conscia sidera testor;
tantum infelicem nimium dilexit amicum.’
talia dicta dabat, sed viribus ensis adactus
transadigit costas et candida pectora rumpit.
volvitur Euryalus leto, pulchrosque per artus
it cruor inque umeros cervix conlapsa recumbit:
purpureus veluti cum flos succisus aratro
languescit moriens, lassove papavera collo
demisere caput pluvia cum forte gravantur.
at Nisus ruit in medios solumque per omnis
Volcentem petit, in solo Volcente moratur.
quem circum glomerati hostes hinc comminus atque hinc
proturbant. instat non setius ac rotat ensem
fulmineum, donec Rutuli clamantis in ore
condidit adverso et moriens animam abstulit hosti.
tum super exanimum sese proiecit amicum
confossus, placidaque ibi demum morte quievit.
Fortunati ambo! si quid mea carmina possunt,
nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo,
dum domus Aeneae Capitoli immobile saxum
accolet imperiumque pater Romanus habebit.
He spoke, and with all his body’s might hurled the steel.
the flying spear cleaves the shades of night, strikes
the back of Sulmo, turned away, and, breaking there,
transfixes his midriff with the splintered shaft. He rolls,
touched by the chill of death, streaming hot blood from
his chest and heaving his loins with convulsive gasps.
The others, turning, peer about; Nisus, all the wilder,
was poising a second spear above his ear: as they hesitate,
the spear hits Tagus crashing through both temples, and
sticks there, warmed by the brains it is lodged in.
Volcens rages madly, not able anywhere to see who made
the throw, or where in his fury he can launch an attack.
“But meanwhile, you will pay the penalty in hot blood
for both!”, he cried, as he went for Euryalus, sword out.
Out of his wits with real horror, Nisus cries out,
unable to hide in the shadows any longer
or bear so great a pain, “here, it was me, I did it,
turn your weapon against me, Rutulians! The deception
was all mine: he made no move, nor could he;
I swear by this sky and these stars that know the truth;
he merely loved an unhappy friend too well!”
But he called in vain: with a violent thrust, the sword
runs Euryalus through the ribs, lays open his white breast.
He collapses in death, gore runs all over his fair
limbs and his neck, drooping, rests upon his shoulder:
as when a crimson flower languishes dying, cut off
by the plough, or poppies bend their necks and drop
their heads, when weighed down by heavy rain.
Nisus charges headlong, goes just for Volcens
among them all, waits just for Volcens, around whom
the rest rally and press forward, closing from all sides:
Nisus comes on the faster, his stroke like a thunderbolt,
until he buried his sword full in the face of the yelling
Rutulian and dying, took his enemy’s life. Then,
pierced through, he cast himself onto the lifeless body,
and there finally lay quiet in peaceful death.
Happy pair! If my songs can achieve it, no day ever shall
take you from the remembrance of the ages, whilst
the House of Aeneas shall stand by the immoveable rock
of the Capitol and the Roman Father wield imperial power.