Aeneid for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church

Aeneas and Anchises

Aeneas from his place on the roof saw all these things, for they were done in the open court that was in the middle of the palace. He saw them, indeed, but he could give no help, being but one against many. But the sight of the old man lying dead made him think of his own father, and so of his wife Creüsa, and of his little son Ascanius, and how he had left them at home alone and without defence. As he thought to himself: "Shall I not return to them, for here I can do nothing?" he turned his eyes and saw Helen in the temple of Vesta. She was sitting by the altar, hoping to be safe in the holy place. She was greatly afraid, fearing the Trojans, upon whom she had brought ruin, and her husband whom she had deceived. When Æneas saw her he was full of rage; and he said to himself: "Shall this wicked woman go safe to Sparta? Shall she see again her home and her children, taking, it may be, women of Troy to be her handmaidens? Shall Troy be burnt and King Priam be slain, and she, who is the cause of all this trouble, come to no harm? It shall not be; I myself will kill her. There is no glory in such a deed; who can get honour from the death of a woman? Nevertheless I shall be taking vengeance for my kinsfolk and my countrymen."

But while he thought these things in his heart, there appeared to him his mother, Venus, in such a shape as he had never seen her before, not like to a woman of the earth, but tall and fair, as the gods who dwell in Heaven see her. Venus said to him: "What means this rage, my son? Have you no thought for me? Have you forgotten your old father Anchises, and your wife, and your little son? Surely the fire had burnt them up long ago, if I had not cared for them, and preserved them. And as for Helen, why are you angry with her? It is not she, it is not Paris, that has brought this great city of Troy to ruin; it is the anger of the gods. See now; I will take away the mist that is over your eyes. Look there; see how Neptune, god of the sea, is overthrowing the walls with his three-forked spear, and is rooting up the city from its foundations! See there, again, how Juno stands in the great gate of the city, with a spear in her hand, and great hosts of Greeks from the ships! See how Minerva sits upon the citadel, with a storm cloud round her, and her awful shield upon her arm! See how Father Jupiter himself stirs up the enemies of Troy! Fly, my son; I will be with you, and will not leave you till you reach your father's house." When she had so spoken she vanished into the night.

Then Æneas looked, as his mother bade him, and saw the dreadful forms of gods, and how they were destroying the city, and all the place seemed, as he looked, to be sinking down into the fire. Just as an oak in the mountains, at which the woodmen cut with their axes, bows its head, with its branches shaking round about it, till at last, after bearing many blows, it falls at once, and crashes down the side of the mountain, so Troy seemed to fall. When he had seen this, he turned to go to his own home. His mother was by his side, though he could not see her, and he passed through the flames, and was not hurt, nor did the spear of the enemy wound him.

When he got to his home, he thought first of the old man, his father, and said to him: "Come now, let me carry you away from this city, to a safe place among the hills." But Anchises would not go. He did not wish to live in some strange country when Troy had been destroyed. "No," he said; "do you, who are strong and who have many days to live, fly. I will stay. If the gods had wished me to live, they would have preserved this place for me. It is enough for me, yea, more than enough, that already I have seen this city taken, and lived. Say good-bye to me, therefore, as you would say good-bye to a dying man. Death I will find myself, or, at least, the enemy will find it for me, when they come. Already I have lived too long."

So Anchises spoke, nor could they persuade him to change his mind, though his son, and his son's wife, and even the little child Ascanius begged him with many tears. When Æneas saw that he could not change the old man's purpose, he said to himself: "What shall I do? I will go back to the battle and die. Oh, my father, did you think that I would leave you and fly? This was a thing surely that you should never have said. If the gods will have it that nothing of Troy should be left; if it is your will that you and I and all your house should perish with the city; be it so. The way to bring this to pass is easy. Pyrrhus will soon be here, Pyrrhus red with the blood of King Priam, Pyrrhus who slays the son in the sight of his father, and the father at the altar. Was it for this, O Venus my mother, that you brought me safe through the flames, and thrust aside the spears of the enemy, that I might see my father and my wife and my son lie in one heap, slaughtered by the enemy? Comrade, give me my arms; we will go back to the battle, and die there, as brave men should."

Then he put on his armour, and took up his spear. But as he was going out of the door, his wife Creüsa threw herself on the ground and caught his feet. She held out to him the child Ascanius, and cried: "If you are going back to the battle that you may die there, then take your wife and child with you. For why should we live when you are dead? But if you have any hope that arms may help us, stay here, and guard your father and your wife and your son."

While she was speaking there happened a most wonderful thing. A fire was seen to shine upon the head of the child Ascanius, to play round his long curls, and to sparkle on his forehead. His father and his mother saw it, and were astonished. At first they thought that it was a real fire, and would have fetched water with which to put it out. But when the old man Anchises, who was wise in such matters, saw it, he was very glad, for he knew that this was no common fire, but a token of other things, that the child was dear to the gods. He looked up to heaven, and cried: "O Father Jupiter, if thou hearest prayer at all, hear me now, and give us a sign." While he was speaking, there was heard a great clap of thunder on the left hand, and a star was seen to shoot through the skies, leaving a long trail of light behind it, passing over the city, till it was hidden behind the woods of Ida. When the old man saw this he rose from the place where he was sitting, and bowed his head, and said: "I will make no more delay; lead on, and I will follow; O gods of my country, save my house, and my grandson. This sign came from you."

Then said Æneas, for the fire was coming nearer, and the light growing brighter, and the heat more fierce: "Climb, dear father, on my shoulders; I will carry you, nor shall I be tired by the weight. We will be saved, or we will perish together. The little Ascanius shall go with me, and my wife shall follow behind, but not too near." Then he turned to the servants, and said: "Men of my house, listen to me. You know that as one goes out of the city there is a tomb and a temple of Ceres in a lonely place, with an old cypress tree close by. That is the place where we will meet. Each by different ways, not all together, that we may not be seen by the enemy. And do you, my father, take in your hands the images of the household gods. My hands are red with blood, and I must not touch holy things till I have washed them in running water."

Then he put a lion's skin upon his shoulders and stooped down, and the old man Anchises climbed upon them. And the boy Ascanius laid hold of his hand, keeping pace with his father as best he could with his little steps. And Creüsa followed behind. So he went, with many fears. He had not been afraid of the swords and spears of the enemy, but now he was full of fear for them who were with him, father and wife and child. But when he had nearly got to the gates of the city there happened a dreadful thing. There was heard a great sound of feet in the darkness; and the old man cried: "Fly, my son, fly; they are coming. I see the flashing of shields and swords." So Æneas hurried on, but his wife was separated from him. Whether she lost her way, or whether she was tired and sat down to rest herself, no one knew. Only Æneas never saw her again; nor did he know that she was lost, till all the company met at the appointed place, and she alone was not among them. It seemed a most grievous thing to him, and he made loud complaints against both gods and men. Then he told his comrades that they must take care of the old man and of Ascanius, and that he would go and search for his wife. So he went first to the gate by which he had come out of the city. Then he went to his house, thinking that by some chance she might have gone back there. He found the house indeed, but the Greeks were there, and it was nearly burnt. After this he went to the citadel and to the palace of King Priam. Her he saw not, but he saw in the temple of Juno Ulysses and Phœnix keeping guard over the spoil, treasure from the temples, and cups of gold, and beautiful robes, and long lines of prisoners, women and children. And still he looked for his wife, going through all the streets of the city, and calling her name aloud. While he was doing this her image seemed to stand before him. It was she, and yet another, so tall and beautiful did she seem. And the spirit said: "Why are you troubled? These things have come about by the will of the gods. Jupiter himself has ordered that your Creüsa should not sail across the seas with you. You have a long journey to make, and many seas to cross till you come to the land of Hesperia, to the place where the river Tiber flows softly through a fair and fertile land. There you shall have great prosperity, and shall marry a wife of royal race. Weep not for your Creüsa, and do not think that I shall be carried away to be the bond slave of some Greek lady. Such a lot would not be fitting for one who comes, as I come, from the race of the kings of Troy and for her who was the daughter-in-law of Venus. The mother of the gods keeps me in this land to be her servant. And now farewell. Think sometimes of me, and love the child Ascanius, for he is your child and mine."

So spake the spirit; but when Æneas would have answered, it vanished out of his sight. Three times did he try to put his arms round her, and three times it seemed to slip away from him, being thin and light as air. And now the night was far spent and the morning was about to break. So he went back to his comrades and found, much to his joy, that there were many more than he had hoped to find, a great company of men and women, all ready to follow him wherever he might lead them. And now the morning star, which goes before the sun, rose over Mount Ida, and Æneas, seeing that the Greeks were in possession of Troy, and that there was no hope of help, again took his father on his shoulders, and went his way to the mountains, his people following him.