Aeneid for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church

The Sack of Troy

Now the Greeks had only made a show of going away. They had taken their ships, indeed, from the place where they had been drawn up on the coast of Troy, but they had not taken them farther than a little island which was close by. There they hid themselves, ready to come back when the signal was given. When it was quite dark the signal was given; a burning torch was raised from the ship of King Agamemnon, which was in the middle of the fleet. When the Greeks saw this they got on board their ships, and rowed across from the island. The moon gave them light, and there was a great calm on the sea. At the same time Sinon opened the door in the Horse of Wood, and let out the chiefs who were hidden in it. And all the time the Trojans were fast asleep, not thinking of any danger.

Now Æneas, who was the chief hope and stay of the Trojans, had a dream. He dreamt that he saw Hector, the brave chief who had been killed by Achilles. He saw him not as he was in the old time, when he came back from the battle, bringing back the arms of Achilles, which he had taken from Patroclus; not as he was when he was setting fire to the ships, and the Greeks could not stand against him, but as he was when he lay dead. He was covered with dust and blood, and his feet were pierced through with thongs, for Achilles had dragged him at the wheels of his chariot three times round the walls of Troy.

When Æneas saw him he forgot all that had happened, and said: "Why have you been so long in coming? We have missed you much, and suffered much because you were not here to help us. But why do you look so miserable? Who has given you these wounds?"

To these questions the spirit made no answer. All that he said was this: "Fly, Æneas, fly, and save yourself from these flames. The enemy is inside our walls, and Troy is lost. The gods would have it so. If any one could have saved the city, I should have done it. But it was not to be. You are now Troy's only hope. Take, then, the gods of your country, and flee across the sea; there some day you shall build another Troy."

And Æneas woke from his sleep, and while he lay thinking about the dream he heard a great sound, and it seemed to him like to the sound of arms. So he rose from his bed, and climbed on the roof, and looked at the city. Just so a shepherd stands upon a hill and sees, it may be, a great fire blown by a strong wind from the south, and sweeping over the corn-fields, or a flood rushing down from the mountains. As he looked he saw the fire burst out first from one great palace and then from another, till the very sea shone with the light of the burning city. Then he knew that what Hector had told him in the dream was true, that the Greeks had made their way into the city. So he put on his armour, though he did not know what he could do. Still, he thought to himself: "I may be able to help Troy in some way; anyhow, I can avenge myself on the enemy; at the least I can die with honour." Just as he was going out of his house the priest of Apollo met him. He was leading his little grandson by the hand, and on his other arm he was carrying an image of the god. When he saw Æneas he cried out: "O Æneas, the glory is gone from Troy; the Greeks have the mastery in the city. Armed men have come out of the Horse of Wood, and thousands have got in by the gates, which that traitor Sinon has opened." While he was speaking, others came up, one of them being young Corœbus, who had come to Troy, hoping to get the prophetess Cassandra for his wife. Æneas said to them: "Brothers, if you are willing to follow me to the death, come on. You see what has happened. The gods who used to guard our city have gone from it; nowhere is any help to be found. Still, we may die as brave men die in battle. Ay, and it may be that he who is willing to lose his life may save it." Then they all followed him, and they went through the city as fierce as hungry wolves when they come down from the mountains.

The first thing that happened was this. A certain Greek chieftain, who had many men with him, met them, and mistook them for his own countrymen. "Make haste, my friends!" he cried; "why are you so late? We are spoiling the city, and you have only just come from the ships." But when they made no answer, he looked again, and saw that he had fallen among enemies. So a man comes upon the snake among the rocks, and when it rises, with great swelling neck, he tries to fly. So the chieftain turned to fly, but the place was strange to him, and he and many of his company were killed. Then Corœbus said: "We have good luck, my friends. Let us now change our shields and put on the armour of the Greeks. Who can blame us for deceiving these Greeks?" Then he took the shield and helmet of the Greek chieftain, who had been slain, and his sword also. The others did the same, and so disguising himself he killed many of the Greeks. Others fled to the ships, and some climbed up again into the Horse of Wood.

As they went through the city they met a number of men who were dragging the prophetess Cassandra from the temple of Minerva, in which she had taken refuge. When Corœbus, who, as has been said, hoped to marry Cassandra, saw this, and how she lifted up her eyes to heaven—her hands she could not lift because they were bound with iron—he was mad with rage, and rushed at the men, seeking to set the girl free, and all the other Trojans followed him. Then there happened a very dreadful thing. There were many Trojans standing on the roofs of temples and houses close by; these men, when they saw Corœbus and the others with the Greek armour on them, which they had taken, took them for Greeks, and threw spears at them and killed many. And the Greeks also began to fight more fiercely than before, and those who had fled to the ships came back again. Altogether they gathered a great company together, and the Trojans, of whom there were but very few, could not stand up against them. Corœbus was killed first of all, and then almost all the others, good and bad, for it was the day of doom for the Trojans. At last Æneas was left with only two companions, one of them an old man, and the other hardly able to move for a wound which Ulysses had given him.

As he stood thinking what he should do, he heard a great shouting, and it seemed to come from the palace of King Priam. So he said to his companions: "Let us go and see whether we can help." And when they got there they found a fiercer battle than any that they had seen before in the city. Some of the Greeks were trying to climb up the walls. They had put ladders against them, and they stood on the steps high up, grasping the edge of the roof in one hand, and holding their shields with the other. And the Trojans, knowing that there was no hope of escaping, tore down the battlements and threw the big stones at the heads of the Greeks. Now Æneas knew of a secret way into the palace. By this Hector's wife Andromaché had been used to come from Hector's palace, bringing her little boy with her to see his grandfather King Priam. So he was able to climb up on to the roof, without being seen by the Greeks, and to join his countrymen who were defending the palace. There was a high tower on the roof, so high that all the city of Troy could be seen from it, and the camp of the Greeks, and the ships. The Trojans broke away the foundations of this tower with bars of iron, and toppled it over, so that it fell upon the Greeks, and killed many of them. But the others pressed on just as fiercely as before, throwing javelins and stones and anything that came to their hands at the Trojans on the roof.

While some were trying to climb up on to the roof, others were breaking down the gates of the palace. The leader of them was the son of Achilles, Pyrrhus by name. He wore shining armour of bronze, and was as bright as a great snake which has slept in his hole all the winter, and when the spring begins, comes out with a new shining skin into the sunshine and lifts his head high and hisses with his forked tongue. He had a great battle-axe, which he held in both his hands, and with this he hewed through the doors; the very door-posts he broke down with it, making what one might call a great window, through which could be seen the great palace within, the hall of King Priam and of the kings who had reigned in Troy before him. And those who were inside also could see the armed men who were breaking in, and they made a great cry; and the women wailed and clung to the doors and pillars, and kissed them, because they thought that they should never see them any more. There were men who had been put to guard the gates, but they could not stop the son of Achilles, for he was as fierce and as strong as his father had been. He and his people were like to a river that is swollen with much rain and bursts its banks, and overflows all the plain. Just so did the Greeks rush into the palace.

When old King Priam saw the enemy in his hall he put on his armour. He had not worn it for many years, so old he was, but now he felt that he must fight for his home. And he took a spear in his hand, and would have gone against the Greeks. But his wife, Queen Hecuba, called to him from the place where she sat. She and her daughter and the wives of her sons had fled to the great altar of the gods of the household, and were clinging to it. They were like to a flock of doves which have been driven by a storm into a wood. The altar stood in an open court which was in the middle of the palace, and a great bay tree stood by, and covered it with its branches. When she saw how her husband had put on his armour, as if he were a young man, she cried to him, saying: "What has bewitched you that you have put on your armour? It is not the sword that can help us to-day; no, not if my own dear Hector, who was the bravest of the brave, were here. It is in the gods and their altars that we must trust. Come and sit with us; here you will be safe, or, at least, we shall all die together."

So she made the old man sit down in the midst of them. But lo! there came flying through the hall of the palace one of the sons of the king, Polites by name. Pyrrhus had wounded him, but the lad had fled, and Pyrrhus was close behind with his spear. And just as he came within sight of his father and his mother he fell dead upon the ground. When King Priam saw this he could not contain himself, but cried aloud, saying: "Now may the gods punish you for this wickedness, you who have killed a son before the eyes of his father and his mother. You say that you are a son of the great Achilles, but when you say it you lie. It was not thus that Achilles treated me. For when he had slain my son Hector, and I went to him to beg the body for burial, he gave it to me for due ransom, and sent me back to my own city without harm."

So did King Priam speak; then he took up a spear and cast it at Pyrrhus, but there was no strength in his blow. It did but shake the shield, not piercing it at all, and falling idly on the ground. Then said the son of Achilles: "Go, tell my father of his unworthy son, and of the wicked deeds which he doeth. And that you may tell him, die!" And as he spoke he caught the old man's white hair with his left hand and dragged him, slipping as he went in the blood of his son, to the altar, and with his right hand he lifted up his sword and drove it, up to the very hilt, into the old man's body. So died King Priam. Once he had ruled over many cities and peoples in the land of Asia, and now, after he had seen his city taken and his palace spoiled, he was slain and his carcass was cast out upon the earth, headless and without a name.