Aeneid Book 9, lines 410 - 449

The death of Euryalus and Nisus

by Virgil

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.

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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.


More Poems by Virgil

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