Saturday, July 18, 2009

Æneas and the Cyclops

The Æneid of Virgil (Book III, 622-783)

"Veiled at her shrines in Phrygian hood we stand,
And chief to Juno, mindful of the seer,
Burnt-offerings pay, as pious rites demand.
This done, the sailyards to the wind we veer,
And leave the Grecians and the land of fear.
Lo, there Tarentum's harbour and the town,
If fame be true, of Hercules, and here
Lacinium's queen and Caulon's towers are known,
And Scylaceum's rocks, with shattered ships bestrown.

"Far off is seen, above the billowy mere,
Trinacrian Ætna, and the distant roar
Of ocean and the beaten rocks we hear,
And the loud burst of breakers on the shore;
High from the shallows leap the surges hoar,
And surf and sand mix eddying. 'Behold
Charybdis!' cries Anchises, ''tis the shore,
The dreaded rocks that Helenus foretold.
Row, comrades, for dear life, and let the oars catch hold.'

"He spake, 'twas done; and Palinurus first
Turns the prow leftward: to the left we ply
With oars and sail, and shun the rocks accurst.
Now curls the wave, and lifts us to the sky,
Now sinks and, plunging in the gulf we lie.
Thrice roar the caverned shore-cliffs, thrice the spray
Whirls up and wets the dewy stars on high.
Thus tired we drift, as sinks the wind and day,
Unto the Cyclops' shore, all weetless of the way.

"It was a spacious harbour, sheltered deep
From access of the winds, but looming vast
With awful ravage, Ætna's neighbouring steep
Thundered aloud, and, dark with clouds, upcast
Smoke and red cinders in a whirlwind's blast.
Live balls of flame, with showers of sparks, upflew
And licked the stars, and in combustion massed,
Torn rocks, her ragged entrails, molten new,
The rumbling mount belched forth from out the boiling stew.

"Here, while from Ætna's furnaces the flame
Bursts forth, Enceladus, 'tis said, doth lie,
Scorched by the lightning. As his wearied frame
He shifts, Trinacria, trembling at the cry
Moans through her shores, and smoke involves the sky.
There all night long, screened by the woods, we hear
The dreadful sounds, and know not whence nor why,
For stars are none, nor planet gilds the sphere;
Night holds the moon in clouds, and heaven is dark and drear.

"Now rose the Day-star from the East, and cleared
The mists, that melted with advancing Morn,
When suddenly from out the woods appeared
An uncouth form, a creature wan and worn,
Scarce like a man, in piteous plight forlorn.
Suppliant his hands he stretches to the shore;
We turn and look on tatters tagged with thorn,
Dire squalor and a length of beard,--what more,
A Greek, to Troy erewhile in native arms sent o'er.

"He scared to see the Dardan garb once more
And Trojan arms, stood faltering with dismay,
Then rushed, with prayer and weeping, to the shore.
'O, by the stars, and by the Gods, I pray,
And life's pure breath, this light of genial day,
Take me, O Teucrians; wheresoe'er ye go,
Enough to bear me from this land away.
I once was of the Danaan crews, I know,
And came to Trojan homes and Ilion as a foe.

"'For that, if that be such a crime to you,
O strew me forth upon the watery waste,
And drown me in the deep. If death be due,
'Twere sweet of death by human hands to taste.'
He cried, and, grovelling, our knees embraced,
And, clasping, clung to us. We bid him stand
And tell his birth and trouble; and in haste
Himself the sire Anchises pledged his hand,
And he at length took heart, and answered our demand.

"'My name is Achemenides. I come
From Ithaca. To Troy I sailed the sea
With evil-starred Ulysses, leaving home
And father, Adamastus;--poor was he,
And O! if such my poverty could be.
Me here my thoughtless comrades, hurrying fast
To quit the cruel threshold and be free,
Leave in the Cyclops' cavern. Dark and vast
That house of slaughtered men, and many a foul repast.

"'Himself so tall, he strikes the lofty skies
(O gods, rid earth of such a monstrous brood!),
None dare with speech accost, nor mortal eyes
Behold him. Human entrails are his food.
Myself have seen him, gorged with brains and blood,
Pluck forth two comrades, in his cave bent back,
And dash them till the threshold swam with blood,
Then crunch the gobbets in his teeth, while black
With gore the limbs still quivered, and the bones did crack:

"'Not unavenged; nor brave Ulysses deigned
To brook such outrage. In that hour of tyne
True to himself the Ithacan remained.
When, gorged with food, and belching gore and wine,
With drooping neck, the giant snored supine,
Then, closing round him, to the gods we pray,
Each at his station, as the lots assign,
And where, beneath the frowning forehead, lay,
Huge as an Argive shield, or like the lamp of day,

"'His one great orb, deep in the monster's head
We drive the pointed weapon, joy'd at last
To wreak such vengeance for our comrades dead.
But fly, unhappy Trojans, fly, and cast
Your cables from the shore. Such and so vast
As Polyphemus, when the cave's huge door
Shuts on his flocks, and for his night's repast
He milks them, lo! a hundred Cyclops more
Roam on the lofty hills, and range the winding shore.

"'Now thrice the Moon hath filled her horns with light,
And still in woods and lonely dens I lie,
And see the Cyclops stalk from height to height,
And hear their tramp, and tremble at their cry.
My food--hard berries that the boughs supply,
And roots of grass. Thus wandering, as I scanned
The distant ocean with despairing eye,
I saw your ships first bearing to the land,
And vowed, whoe'er ye proved, the strangers' slave to stand.

"'Enough, these monsters to escape; O take
My life, and tear me as you will from day,
Rather than these devour me!'--Scarce he spake,
When from the mountains to the well-known bay,
The shepherd Polyphemus gropes his way;
Huge, hideous, horrible in shape and show,
And visionless. A pine-trunk serves to stay
And guide his footsteps, and around him go
The sheep, his only joy and solace of his woe.

"Down came the giant, wading in the main,
And rinsed his gory socket from the tide,
Gnashing his teeth and moaning in his pain.
On through the deep he stalks with awful stride,
So tall, the billows scarcely wet his side.
Forthwith our flight we hasten, prickt with fear,
On board--'twas due--we let the suppliant hide,
Then, mute and breathless, cut the stern-ropes clear,
Bend to the emulous oar, and sweep the whitening mere.

"He heard, and turned his footsteps to the sound.
Short of its mark the huge arm idly fell
Outstretched, and swifter than his stride he found
The Ionian waves. Then rose a monstrous yell;
All Ocean shudders and her waves upswell;
Far off, Italia trembles with the roar,
And Ætna groans through many a winding cell,
And trooping to the call the Cyclops pour
From wood and lofty hill, and crowding fill the shore.

"We see them scowling impotent, the band
Of Ætna, towering to the stars above,
An awful conclave! Tall as oaks they stand,
Or cypresses--the lofty trees of Jove,
Or cone-clad guardians of Diana's grove.
Fain were we then, in agony of fear,
To shake the canvas to the winds, and rove
At random; natheless, we obey the seer,
Who past those fatal rocks had warned us not to steer,

"Where Scylla here, and there Charybdis lies,
And death lurks double. Backward we essay
Our course, when lo, from out Pelorus flies
The North-Wind, sent to waft us on our way.
We pass the place where, mingling with the spray,
Through narrow rocks Pantagia's stream outflows;
We see low-lying Thapsus and the bay
Of Megara. These shores the suppliant shows,
Known from the time he shared his wandering chieftain's woes.

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