Aeneid for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church

Nisus and Euryalus

Juno did not fail to see how she might do harm to the Trojans. "Now," said she to herself, "now is the time, while their chief is away, and while their camp is but half-finished." So she sent Iris her messenger to Prince Turnus with these words: "The chance which neither I nor anyone else, whether god or man, could promise you has come of itself, or time has brought it. Æneas has gone away to the city of Evander, hoping to make him his ally. He has left his ships and his camp, which is but half-finished. Take the chance and attack them." Turnus was offering sacrifice, and when he turned about he saw a rainbow, for the rainbow is the way by which Iris goes to and fro, when she carries the messages of the gods. Then Turnus called his army together, and set forth, marching towards the camp which the Trojans had pitched by the sea-shore.

The men who were watching on the wall saw a great cloud of dust, and one of them cried: "To arms, my friends! make ready to defend the camp; the enemy is at hand." Then the Trojans shut the gates, and manned the walls. For Æneas had said: "Do not fight in the plain, whatever may happen: the enemy are too strong for you; keep behind the walls."

Turnus, riding on a Thracian horse, came up to the wall, and threw his spear over it. So he began the siege. Then he rode round the camp, looking for some place where he might make his way in. Just so a wolf will prowl round a sheepfold at night, and the lambs bleat inside, being safe by their dams, and the beast, being wild with hunger, grows more and more mad as he hears them. So Turnus raged round the camp, looking for a weak place by which he might enter. But he could find none, and the Trojans would not come forth. Then he thought to himself: "Well; if I cannot come at them, cowards as they are, I will at the least burn their ships;" for the ships were drawn up by the sea-shore, close to the camp. So he called for torches, and rushed to the ships, holding one ready lighted in his hand, and all the people followed him. Then there happened a very strange thing indeed. Seven years before, when Æneas was building his ships on the plain between the sea and Mount Ida, the mother of the gods said to Jupiter: "My son, you see that Æneas is building himself ships with the pines that grow on my mountain of Ida. This pleases me well; the pines I have given him. But I do not like to think that, being mine, they should be broken by winds and waves when they sail across the seas. Grant, therefore, I pray you, that these ships may be safe against all storms." Jupiter answered: "My mother, you ask what cannot be. Mortal ships cannot be made immortal. They, too, must stand the chances of winds and waves"—and so it was that some were wrecked as Æneas sailed from Sicily to Carthage, and some were burnt in Sicily—"but this you shall have. Such as shall come safe to the land of Italy shall not perish, for I will change them into nymphs of the sea." And so it happened now: before even Turnus and his men could come at the ships, the cables by which they were held were broken, and the ships seemed to move of their own accord, and as they moved they became nymphs of the sea, for every ship a nymph.

All men, Trojans and Latins alike, were astonished to see this thing, and not a little afraid. But Turnus was not afraid: "This," he cried, "is a marvel indeed, but it is a marvel that means ill for these strangers. Their ships flee from us. Yes, and mark you—they will not be able to get away from us. They talk of fate; yes, it was their fate to come to Italy, and it is my fate to destroy them. They are walking in their old ways. Paris stole a wife from Greece, Æneas comes to steal a wife from me. Do they think that this wall will protect them? Did the walls of Troy defend it? And yet these were built by Neptune. And now, who is coming with me to storm their camp? We will not do it in the night; we will not do it by stealth. We do not need a horse of wood to creep into their town. Hector kept back the youth of Greece for ten long years, but the youth of Italy is of another kind."

But by this time it was dark, and nothing could be done. So Turnus set King Messāpus to watch the gate of the camp, and fourteen chiefs of Italy, each with a hundred men, to watch the walls. As for the rest, they sat down to eat and drink.

When it was near to midnight, Nisus, the keeper of the gate—the same that but for his slipping had won the foot-race—said to his comrade Euryălus: "I am bent on doing something this night. Whether the thing comes from the gods, or from my own heart, I do not know, but something I must do. Do you see how bad a watch the enemy are keeping, how some are asleep and some are drunken? Can I not carry the news to Æneas, and so win great honour and reward? Do you see that hill yonder? By that lies the way to the city of Evander."

Euryălus answered: "You are right; it would be a glorious thing to go on such an errand. But you shall not go alone. I will not be left here, O Nisus. My Father did not bring me up to suffer such disgrace, nor have I so behaved that you should think of it. And as for life, who would not die for the chance of winning such honour?"

"Nay," said Nisus, "I did not think for one moment that you would hold back. But this was in my mind. If I come to my end in this affair, then Euryălus will buy back my body from the enemy. Or, if this may not be, he will, at the least, pay the honours that are due to the dead. And then, dear lad, think of your mother. When all the other mothers of Troy chose to stay behind with King Acestes in the land of Sicily, she alone, for she loved you, came with us to the land of Italy."

But Euryălus said: "All this is idle talk. You cannot turn me back, for my purpose to go is fixed. Let us make haste and do the thing." So they roused two of their comrades to take their places, and went to see the chiefs who had the charge of the camp. These were holding counsel together, standing in the open space that was in the middle of the camp, and leaning on their spears. Nisus said: "My lords, I have something to say, and it is a matter that cannot wait." "Speak on," said Ascanius. Then said Nisus: "The enemy are not keeping any watch. Some are sleeping, and others are drunken; the watch-fires are not kept alight. It is in my mind that we two should make our way to Æneas, to the city of Evander. On our way we can kill many of the enemy, and take much spoil from them; but, chief of all, we can tell Æneas of what has happened here. All this we can do easily, if we have but good luck. As for the way, we know it well, for we have hunted in these parts." Then said one of the chiefs: "Troy has not perished altogether, if it still has such sons as you." And Ascanius said: "Bring back my father, and all will be well. As for your rewards, they shall be worthy of you. You, Nisus, if we conquer this land of Italy, shall have the horses and the arms of Turnus, and captives, both men and women, those that you shall choose for yourself, and the land that that now belongs to King Latinus. As for you, Euryălus, you shall come next to myself in all things."

Then said Euryălus: "There is one thing that I would ask. I have a mother. She is of the race of Priam. I cannot say good-bye to her, for I could not bear to see her tears. Do you care for her, if she should lose me." Ascanius said: "She shall be as a mother to me." Then he gave him his own sword with an ivory sheath, and others gave other things to the two. And all the chiefs went with them to the gates, making many prayers and vows for their success. And Ascanius gave them many messages to take to his father.

Then they crossed the ditch which was round the wall of the camp, and went among the enemy. By this time even those who had been set to watch were asleep, for they thought the Trojans to be so weak that there was no need to trouble about them. First Nisus slew a man, Rhamnes by name. He was counted to be a wise prophet who knew what was going to happen, but he did not know of his own death. Then he came to where a chief named Remus lay sleeping; near him were his three servants and the driver of his chariot. All these Nisus killed, and Remus last of all. Many others he slew, and Euryălus coming behind him did the same. But when they came to the tents of King Messāpus, Nisus thought to himself: "We are forgetting our business. The love of killing is too much for us." And he said to his companion: "It is enough: the day breaks; we have made our way through the enemy; let us seek Æneas." So they went on their way. Much spoil they left behind them; but Euryălus put upon his head the helmet of Messāpus, which he had taken from the side of the king where he lay sleeping.

Now it so happened that a certain chief, Volscens by name, was coming with three hundred horsemen from the city to the camp. One of them caught sight of the helmet which Euryălus was wearing, for it glittered in the light of the moon. And he told it to Volscens; and Volscens cried: "Who are you? Whither are you going?"

But the two made no answer, thinking of nothing but how they might escape. So Volscens told his men to watch the wood, which was very thick with trees and brambles. This they did. Nevertheless, Nisus got through it, and might have got away had he wished so to do. But when he came to the stalls where King Latinus kept his cattle, he found that he was alone. Then, for he could not bear to get away leaving his dear companion behind, he entered the wood again and searched it through. After a while he heard the noise of horsemen coming near. So hiding himself in a thicket, he looked, and behold Euryălus was in the middle of the company. He was trying to escape, but could not. Then Nisus said to himself: "May be, if I can kill some of them, the rest, not knowing how their comrades are slain, will be scattered, and Euryălus will escape." So, having first prayed to Diana for help, he threw his spear. The spear struck one Sulmo on the back. It pierced right through him to the very heart, and he fell dead on the ground. While they looked, there came another spear out of the hiding-place of Nisus. This struck another of the horsemen—this time on the head—and killed him. Volscens was furious to see such a thing, that his men were killed he knew not how, and he cried out against Euryălus: "Well, you at least shall suffer for these things," and he flew at him. This Nisus could not bear to see. He came out from his hiding-place, crying: "I am the man who did this: turn your swords on me. He did not, nay, he could not do such deeds. He did but follow his friend." But it was of no use. Volscens drove his sword into the side of Euryălus. In a moment the blood poured out all over him, and his head drooped, like a wild flower in the field when the plough goes over it, or a poppy in the garden when its stalk is broken. When Nisus saw this, he had but one thought in his heart: "Let me die, so that at the least I may kill this Volscens." And he rushed at him, and, for all that his comrades could do to help him, drove his sword right into his mouth and killed him. Then, being himself pierced with many wounds, he fell dead on the body of his friend.