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‘Of Mortal Men’
The Aeneid of Virgil, Book 1, Part 13
[The orphan hero looks on]
Fame the winds of War have blown
Of his savaged ancestral home
Each effigy lord he recognizes
Priam and Agamemnon he apprises
Fierce Achilles he who defies kings
Memory of battle in his mind rings
.
Even in these alien lands
His folk’s woe painted by many hands
His king Priam unhappy and old
On these mute walls his sorrow told
Trojan grief and Tyrian pity
Memorialized on the walls of this city
.
He saw through eyes in tears
Reading the holocaust of nine years
An empty picture fed his mind
Filled his soul with sad remind
Saw the fainting Grecians yield
Saw trembling Trojans quit the field
Saw Achilles hounding the plain
Saw hooves and wheels over the slain
The tents of Rhesus his mind reviewed
The pale sails betrayed to nightly view
Saw Diomedes whose sword hewed
Guards butchered a chief skewered
Then took the horses of haste
Of Troy they’d taste
Or drink the Xanthian flood [1]
Drowning in a welter of blood
Saw where Troilus defied Achilles
Winging down to Death’s house
Dragged by his neck and hair
Suffering the fate of the hare
His speared form a guttering wound
His blood inscribed the dusty ground
.
Saw Trojan dames in woe’s possession
To Pallas' shrine in long procession
In hopes to reconcile their heavenly foe
Fate’s unwound scroll they didn’t know
With eyes gushing with despair
With beaten breasts and rent hair
Rich vests for presents they bear
To a stern goddess unmoved by prayer
.
He saw in the eye of his memory hall
Achilles ride thrice around the wall
Dragging the butchered hero of Troy
Hector slain with a mirthless joy
.
In effigy Priam bent and old
Offers for his slain son gold
In art so well wrought
A moan from Aeneas it brought
End 13
Notes
-1. Xanthus was a river in Lycia, at the mouth of which was a city of the same name. the name may mean “yellow-haired” or blonde, has been assigned to mortal and mythical beings, most notably a winged horse of the zephyrs. Do note that rivers were often vested with god qualities, as deities, who might actually battle heroes and impregnate mortal women with the seed of a hero. Achilles was said to have fought the river Scamander, and most famously the river Xanthus, a deity which tried to drown Achilles for choking its banks with dead Trojans.
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