Aeneid Book 2, lines 526 - 558

The death of Priam

by Virgil

The Greeks have broken into the Trojan royal palace where King Priam and his Queen helplessly look on at the destruction of their realm. Aeneas, still recounting the fall of the city to Queen Dido of Carthage, witnesses Priam’s fate. See the blog post with Jean Baptiste Regnault’s painting here.

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Ecce autem elapsus Pyrrhi de caede Polites,
unus natorum Priami, per tela, per hostis
porticibus longis fugit et vacua atria lustrat
saucius. illum ardens infesto vulnere Pyrrhus
insequitur, iam iamqe manu tenet et premit hasta.
ut tandem ante oculos evasit et ora parentum,
concidit et multo vitam cum sanguine fudit.
hic Priamus, quamquam in media iam morte tenetur,
non tamen abstinuit nec voci iraeque pepercit:
“at tibi pro scelere” exclamat, “pro talibus ausis
di, si qua est caelo pietas quae talia curet,
persolvant grates dignas et praemia reddant
debita, qui nati coram me cernere letum
fecisti et patrios foedasti funere vultus.
at non ille, satum quo te mentiris, Achilles
talis in hoste fuit Priamo; sed iura fidemque
supplicis erubuit corpusque exsangue sepulcro
reddidit Hectoreum meque in mea regna remisit.”
sic fatus senior telumque imbellum sine ictu
coniecit, rauco quod protinus aere repulsum,
et summo clipei nequiquam umbone pependit.
cui Pyrrhus, “ referes ergo haec et nuntius ibis
Pelidae genitori. illi mea tristia facta
degeneremque Neoptolemum narrare memento.
nunc morere.” Hoc dicens altaria ad ipsa trementem
traxit et in multo lapsantem sanguine nati,
implicuitque comam laeva, dextraque coruscum
extulit ac lateri capulo tenus abdidit ensem.
haec Priami finis fatorum; hic exitus illum
sorte tulit Troiam incensam et prolapsa videntem
Pergama, tot quondam populis terrisque superbum
regnatorem Asiae. iacet ingens litore truncus
avulsumque umeris caput et sine nomine corpus.

Now here, escaped from Pyrrhus’s slaughter,
Polites, son of Priam, through foes and spears runs along
the galleries and through the empty halls, injured.
After, burning for the deathstroke, comes Pyrrhus,
seems even now to have him, thrusts with his spear.
Finally as he came before his parents’ very eyes
he fell and poured out his life in a gush of blood.
Here Priam, though in the jaws of death,
did not hold back or spare his voice or his ire:
“May the Gods, if any decency in heaven cares for
such things, give you fit thanks and the reward
you deserve for your iniquity, daring such crimes,
making me watch before my eyes a son killed
and befouling parents’ faces with butchery.
Achilles, who you lie was your father, did not
behave so though my enemy, but blushed for
the rights and faith of a supplicant, gave back for burial
Hector’s bloodless body and returned me to my realm.”
With that, he feebly cast his harmless spear, which,
bounced right off by the ringing bronze,
hung uselessly from the end of the shield boss.
Pyrrhus replied: “You will take the message yourself
as a messenger to Achilles my father. Remember to tell
him all about my wicked deeds and his son’s degeneracy.
Now die!” He drags Priam trembling to the very altars,
slipping in the blood of his son which was everywhere;
winding his left hand in his hair, with his right he drew
and plunged to the hilt in Priam’s side his flashing sword.
That was the close of Priam’s fortunes; the lot he bore,
to see Troy ablaze and its power fallen, once the proud
ruler of so many lands and peoples of Asia.
His great trunk lies on the shore, head hewn
from his shoulders, a corpse without a name.