Translated by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada


[For publication and copyright details, please use the following link: Table of Contents. Note that the numbers without brackets refer to the English text; those in square brackets refer to the Latin text.]




[The debate over the arms of Achilles, Ajax presents his case, praising himself and attacking Ulysses; Ulysses responds, listing his accomplishments and criticizing Ajax; the Greek lead-ers award the weapons to Ulysses; Ajax commits suicide; The closing events of the war—the city burned, Priam killed, Astyanax killed, Trojan women led away; Polydorus is killed in Thrace; Achilles’ ghost demands a sacrifice; Polyxena is killed at the altar; Hecuba laments Polyxena’s death and her own life, then discovers the corpse of Polydorus; Hecuba gets revenge on Polymestor; Hecuba is transformed to a dog; Aurora asks Jupiter to honour Memnon; a flock of birds arises out of Memnon’s funeral fire; Aeneas leaves Troy, reaches Delos; Anius tells the story of his daughters; Anius’ cup depicts the story of Orion’s daugh-ters; Aeneas sails to Crete, then through islands in the Ionian sea; Helenus prophesies their future; the Trojan reach Sicily; Scylla and Galatea; Galatea, Acis, and Polyphemus; Polyphemus in love; Acis is transformed; Scylla and Glaucus; Glaucus tells of his transformation, then leaves for Circe’s home.]


Argive leaders sat down in their places,
with common soldiers grouped around them,
standing in a circle. Ajax strode up,                                                      AJAX MAKES HIS CASE
lord of the seven-layered shield, a man
with little patience, quick to grow enraged.
With a fierce look he glanced out at the shore
of Sigaeum and the ships up on the beach.
He stretched his arm and said:


                                           “Those ships there—
we are making our case before those ships,
and Ulysses stands here arguing with me!                                         10
But he did not hesitate to back away
from Hector’s flames, when I stood up to them
and drove them from our fleet.(1) And so for him,
it’s safer to compete with crafty speeches
than battle on with fists. I am not quick                                                            [10]
at using words, and he is slow to act.
Just as I am powerful in battle
and ferocious warfare, that man excels
in talking. But I do not think I need
to give you an account of my great deeds.                                        20
You Greeks all saw them. Let Ulysses here
tell us about his exploits, things he did
when there were no witnesses, those actions
which are known only to the night. The prize
I seek is great—that I concede. But then,
my rival here makes it less valuable.
However great a thing may be, for Ajax
there is no reason to take pride in it,
if Ulysses seeks it, too. And in this contest
that fellow has already got his prize,                                                 30
for when he is defeated, he can say                                                                 [20]
he fought it out with me. As for myself,
if you had any doubts about my courage,
my noble birth is a strong argument.
My father is Telamon, who captured
the walls of Troy, led by brave Hercules,
and reached the shores of Cochis in that ship
from Pagasae.(2) And my father’s father
was Aeacus, who dispenses justice
down there below, among the silent dead,                                       40
where Sisyphus, the son of Aeolus,
still pushes his huge stone. High Jupiter
has acknowledged Aeacus, admitting
he is his son, and therefore Ajax stands
at three removes from Jupiter himself.
And yet, you Greeks, do not let my descent
speak for me in this quarrel, if those bonds
are not shared by me and great Achilles.                                                          [30]
He was my cousin.(3) What I am seeking
is my cousin’s property. As for you,                                                50
Ulysses, who in thieving and deceit
are just like Sisyphus, your ancestor,
why are you striving to involve the name
of a foreign family in the affairs
of those whose blood links them to Aeacus?


Or am I to be denied those weapons
because I took up arms before he did,
without being tricked by an informant?
Or will he seem to be the better man
because he was the last to take them up                                           60
and, by pretending to be mad, refused
to serve in war, until Palamedes,
son of Nauplius, a shrewder warrior
(though less alert about his own well being)
exposed the plot his timid mind devised
and dragged him to a war he had avoided.(4)
Is this man who declined to take up arms
now to collect the finest arms of all?                                                                [40]
Am I, who was the first to face the dangers,
to be dishonoured and denied those gifts                                          70
from my own cousin?


                           How I wish his madness
had been real or we had believed it true
and he had never come as our companion
against the towers of Troy, this fellow
who urges shameful acts on us. For then,
we would not have stranded Philoctetes,
Poeas’ son, on Lemnos, to our disgrace!
Men say that now he hides in forest caves,
shifts stones with his laments, and keeps praying
Laërtes’ son will get what he deserves.                                            80
If there are gods, he does not pray in vain.(5)
So now, alas, a man who swore an oath—                                                     [50]
the same one we did—to join the conflict,
one of our leaders, heir to those arrows
left by Hercules, is broken by disease
and hunger, fed and clothed by flying birds,
and uses arrows Fate reserved for Troy
to shoot at fowl. But still, he is not dead,
for he sailed no further with Ulysses.
Wretched Palamedes would have chosen                                         90
to be left there (he would still be alive
or at least have died without being called
a criminal). That fellow there remembered,
all too vividly, how Palamedes
had exposed his so-called fits of madness
and charged him with betraying the Grecian cause,
something he just made up. He offered proof                                                   [60]
by finding gold he had earlier concealed.(6)
So by abandonment or death, he saps
the strength of Greeks. It is Ulysses’ way,                                        100
and that is why he should be feared.


                                                  And even if
he was more eloquent than faithful Nestor,
I still would not believe that when he left,
abandoning Nestor in that battle,
he did nothing wrong. Nestor was worn out,
and old, and hampered by his horse’s wound,
but when he asked Ulysses for his help,
his comrade moved away.(7) Diomedes,
the son of Tydeus, knows very well
I have not made these accusations up.                                             110
He often shouted out Ulysses’ name
and rebuked his craven friend, charging him
with running away. Gods above look down,                                                    [70]
with their just eyes, on what we humans do!
For, behold, the man who had refused his help
required help. He had abandoned Nestor,
and now he was to be abandoned, too.
The precedent the man himself had set
was now applied to him. He shouted out,
calling to his companions. I ran up.                                                  120
I saw him trembling, pale with fear, afraid
his death was close at hand. I set my shield
so its enormous size would cover him,
as he lay there, and saved his rotten life
(small reason to get any praise for that!).
If you prolong this contest, why not return
to that location, bring back the enemy,
the wound you had, and your usual fear,
then crouch behind my shield, and under it
battle it out with me! Once I’d saved him,                                        130
the wounded man who did not have the strength                                              [80]
to stand erect just scurried off—no wound
prevented him from running at top speed.
Hector then moved up, bringing gods with him
towards the battle. Wherever he charged,
even brave men were afraid, not just you,
Ulysses. That’s how much he terrorized
our ranks. But I picked up a massive rock,
hurled it from far away, and laid him out,
while he was gloating over his success                                             140
in bloody slaughter. When he challenged us
to have one man confront him, I was the one
who fought against him, and you men, you Greeks,
prayed my lot would be the one selected.(8)
Your prayers were answered. And if you ask
how that fight turned out, he did not prevail                                                     [90]
against me.


             Then, look, Trojans are advancing,
with fire and sword and Jupiter, as well,
against Danaan ships. Where is he now,
the eloquent Ulysses? The truth is this—                                          150
I was the one who with this heart of mine
saved a thousand ships, our hope of getting home.
In return for that whole fleet, grant me these arms.
But if you’ll now allow me to speak candidly,
those weapons of Achilles are seeking out
a greater honour than I am—they wish
to be united to my glory. Those arms
are seeking Ajax, not Ajax the arms.
Let that Ithacan Ulysses compare
what I have done with slaughtering Rhesus                                       160
and that coward Dolon, or capturing
a son of Priam, Helenus, or stealing
the image of Minerva.(9) None of these
was done in daylight, and in none of them                                                        [100]
was Diomedes absent. If you award
these weapons for such trifling services,
divide them up and give the greater share
to Diomedes. But why offer them
to that man from Ithaca, who always acts
in secret and unarmed and with his tricks                                         170
deceives an unsuspecting enemy?
The way that helmet made of gleaming gold
shines out so brilliantly will only show
where he is hiding and reveal his plans.
What’s more, that Dulichian head of his,
once he puts on the helmet of Achilles,
will not hold up so great a weight.(10) His arms,
which are not made for war, will find that spear
from Pelion too cumbersome and heavy.
As for the shield embossed with those designs                                 180            [110]
of the vast universe, how will that suit
the left arm of a coward, born to steal?
Why then, you craven fool, seek out a gift
which will just drain your strength? And if the Greeks
give you Achilles’ weapons by mistake,
that will not make your enemies afraid.
They will have a fine excuse to strip you.
Besides, running in flight, the only race
where you surpass all others, you timid wretch,
will be much slower, if you drag with you                                         190
so great a load. Then, too, that shield of yours,
which has been used so rarely in a fight,
is still unharmed. Mine has a thousand cracks
from stopping spears, and I need a new one.
But what’s the point of talking? Let’s end this                                                  [120]
by having people look at us in action!
Why not set those arms of brave Achilles
right in the centre of the Trojan ranks,
then order them to be retrieved from there.
You can adorn the man who brings them back                                 200
with what he has recovered.”


                                                 Ajax finished.
After his last words, the common soldiers
murmured among themselves, until Ulysses,
Laërtes’ warrior son, rose to his feet.
He paused a moment, gazing at the ground.                                          ULYSSES MAKES HIS CASE
Then he raised his eyes, looked at the leaders,
and opened up his mouth to start the speech
they were expecting. His style was graceful
and not ineloquent:


                                                    “If my wishes,
along with yours, you Greeks, had any force,                                   210
we would not be having this great debate
about the doubtful question of an heir,
for then Achilles would have his weapons,                                                       [130]
and we would still have him. But unjust Fate
has taken him from you and me.”


                                                   And here
Ulysses dabbed his eyes, as if he wished
to wipe away a tear.


                                                  “What leader
is more suited to succeed the great Achilles
than the one we have to thank for making sure
that mighty warrior joined up with us.                                               220
Now, you must not denigrate my rival,
because he seems so blunt, for he is dull.
And do not let it hurt my argument
that my shrewd mind has always helped you Greeks.
As for my eloquence, if that is there,
let no man feel upset, for now it pleads
its master’s case—it has often spoken out
on your behalf—and no man should refuse
to use the talents he himself possesses.
Now, as to race and ancestry, those things                                      230            [140]
we did not do ourselves, it’s hard to call
such matters ours. But since Ajax has claimed
he is a great-grandson of Jupiter,
I say my family blood begins with Jove,
and I am just as many steps removed.
Laërtes is my father, his father
was Arcesius, a son of Jupiter,
neither of them guilty of a crime
or condemned to exile.(11) Through my mother,
I can also link myself to Mercury,                                                    240
another noble line. For I have gods
in both my parents’ ancestries.(12) But still,
I am not here asking for these weapons
set out before us, because my mother
gives me, on her side, a more splendid birth,
or because my father is quite guiltless
of his brother’s blood. You must judge this case                                              [150]
by our own merits—provided Ajax
gets no credit just because his father,
Telamon, and Peleus were brothers.                                                250
In dealing with such arms, you should consider,
not bloodlines, but respect for virtuous deeds.
For if what matters is the nearest kin
and closest heir, Peleus is his father,
Pyrrhus is his son. What claim has Ajax?
Let Achilles’ arms be taken away
to Phthia or to Scyros.(13) And Teucer
is just as much a cousin of Achilles
as Ajax is. But does he seek these arms?
And if he did, would you offer them to him?(14)                               260

So, since this contest is one of actions,
and nothing else, I say that I have done
more than I can easily describe in words,                                                        [160]
but still, I will set them out in order.
Achilles’ Nereïd mother Thetis
was aware her son was going to die.
So she concealed her child and dressed him up
in women’s clothes.(15) The use of this disguise
deceived each one of us, including Ajax.
So among a few things women like to buy                                       270
I placed some weapons which would stir the heart
in any man, and when warlike Achilles,
who had not yet thrown off his female clothes,
reached for the spear and shield, I shouted out:


‘Son of a goddess, that doomed citadel,
the Pergamum, is waiting there for you!
Why hesitate to throw down mighty Troy?’


I took him in hand. I sent that brave man                                                          [170]
out to do brave deeds. And so his exploits
are my own. It was my spear that wounded                                     280
warlike Telephus and, once I’d conquered him,
as he was praying for help, I healed him.(16)
The fall of Thebes was my accomplishment,
and give me credit for seizing Lesbos,
and for Tenedos, Chrysa, and Cylla,
Apollo’s cities, and for Scyros, too.(17)
Think of me as the warrior whose hand
knocked down Lyrnessus and its city walls
and razed them to the ground. I will not list
all Achilles’ conquests, but there’s no doubt                                    290
I am the one who brought to you the man
who could kill savage Hector. Thanks to me,
splendid Hector now lies dead! My weapons
found Achilles, and in return for those
I seek his weapons now. I gave him arms
when he was still alive. Now he is dead,                                                          [180]
I want them back.(18)

                                         When Menelaus’ grief
had spread to all the Greeks, a thousand ships
near Euboea filled the bay at Aulis.(19)
But the winds blew from the wrong direction,                                   300
or else there was no wind, and so the fleet
for a long time simply waited. But then,
according to a brutal oracle,
king Agamemnon had to sacrifice
his innocent child to cruel Diana.
But he refused to carry out this act
and even grew angry at the gods themselves.
Although a king, he was a father, too.
I used my skill with words to change his mind,
to shift the affections of a parent                                                       310
towards the public good. The case I made
was difficult, and the judge was biased.                                                           [190]
That I concede (and, as I confess to this,
may the son of Atreus forgive me).(20)
But the popular good, his brother’s cause,
and his regal responsibilities
at last convinced the king that claims of blood
weighed less than public glory. So I was sent
to Clytaemnestra, the young girl’s mother,
not to persuade her by some argument,                                            320
but to use a trick and get her to agree
[that Iphigeneia should come to Aulis.](21)
If Ajax had gone there instead of me,
our sails would still remain without a wind.
Then I was sent as an ambassador
to the Trojan citadel, where I saw
and boldly entered the assembly room
of lofty Troy, still full of warrior men.
I did not flinch but argued for our cause,
as Greece had asked me. I accused Paris,                                       330            [200]
demanded the Trojans give back Helen,
as well as all the property he seized,
and I won the sympathy of Priam
and Antenor, too, Priam’s counsellor.
But Paris and his brothers and those men
under his command who took the plunder
could hardly keep their wicked hands off me.
Menelaus, you know this, for that day
was the first time you and I faced danger
side by side.


                          It would be tedious to describe                               340
the useful things I’ve done with stratagems
and force during the course of this long war.
After those first fights, the hostile Trojans
for a long time stayed inside their city walls,
giving us no chance for open conflict.
But finally, in the tenth year, we fought.
And in that time, Ajax, what did you do,
when the only thing you know is fighting?                                                         [210]
What use were you? By contrast, if you ask
what I did then, I was setting ambushes                                           350
to kill our enemies, digging ditches
by our defensive wall, encouraging
my companions, so they could tolerate
the tedium of protracted warfare
with patient hearts, and handing out advice
on how the soldiers could be fed and armed.(22)
And I was sent wherever I was needed.
Then, lo and behold, king Agamemnon,
deceived while he was sleeping with a dream
sent to him by command of Jupiter,                                                  360
ordered us to abandon our concerns
about the war we had begun [and leave—
to get back in our ships and sail for home.](23)
He justified his orders by appealing
to his dream from Jupiter. But Ajax
should have stopped him. He should have demanded
the destruction of the Trojan citadel
and fought back—the one thing he is good at!                                                 [220]
Why did he not try to stop the soldiers
who were rushing to go home? And why not                                    370
pick up his weapons, set an example
which that fickle crowd of men could follow?
This was not too much to ask from someone
who never speaks except to boast aloud.
But what about the fact that he, too, fled?
Yes, I saw you. The sight made me ashamed,
when you turned tail and started to prepare
the sails of our disgrace. I did not wait
but shouted at you:


                                     ‘What are you doing?
What mad fit, my friends, is pressuring you                                  380
to run from captured Troy? After ten years,
what will you carry home except your shame?’


Grief made me eloquent. With words like these
and others I brought those stampeding men
back from the fleet. The son of Atreus
summoned an assembly of his allies,                                                                [230]
all still in a panic, and, even then,
Ajax, a son of Telamon, did not dare
to utter a word. And yet Thersites
got up the courage to insult the king                                                 390
(I beat him for his vulgar insolence).(24)
I stood and urged my frightened countrymen
to fight our enemies, and with my voice
I gave them back the courage they had lost.
So from that point on, whatever brave things
you saw that fellow over there achieve
are thanks to me, because I was the one
who dragged him back when he was running home.

Besides, who among the Greeks praises you,
Ajax, or seeks your company? In my case,                                      400
Diomedes shares all he does with me.
He backs me up and has always trusted                                                          [240]
Ulysses as a comrade. That is something!
To be picked out of so many thousand Greeks
by Diomedes! I was not compelled
into a fight by any lottery,
and yet, disregarding all the dangers
of the enemy and the night, I went out
and slaughtered Dolon, a Phrygian scout,
whose mission was the very same as ours,                                       410
but not before I forced him to reveal
all the things he knew.(25) That’s how I found out
the plans of the perfidious Trojans.
Once I’d discovered those, there was no need
to keep on looking. I could have come back
to enjoy the promised glory. But no,
not content with that, I searched out the place
where Rhesus pitched his tents and killed him there,                                         [250]
in his own camp, as well as his companions.
Once I had achieved what I was after,                                             420
I rode back in a chariot I captured,
like the victor in a joyous triumph.
Dolon demanded Achilles’ horses
for one night’s work, so if you deny me
Achilles’ weapons, then Ajax may well be
more generous than you.


                                  Why should I list
those men Sarpedon led from Lycia
cut down by my sword?(26) In all that bloodshed,
I killed Coeranus, son of Iphitus,
Alastor and Chromius, Alcandor,                                                     430
Halius, Noëmon, and Prytanis.
I brought death to Thoön, Chersidamas,
Charops, and Ennomos (who was urged on                                                     [260]
by dreadful Fate). Some others less well known
fell at my hand below their city walls.
I have wounds, my friends, honourable ones,
as their location shows.(27) Do not believe
mere empty words. Look!”


                                          And here his hand
pulled aside his clothing.


                                                       “Here is my chest
which has always worked to serve your interests!                             440
But the son of Telamon has lost no blood,
in all those many years, for his companions.
His body has no wounds!(28)


                           And so what if he claims
he used his weapons to fight the Trojans
and Jupiter, as well, before our ships?
I admit he did, for I do not wish                                                                      [270]
to be mean-spirited and criticize
any beneficial deeds. But Ajax
should not get sole credit for those actions
where others played their part. He should give you                           450
some of the honour, too. For Patroclus,
from Actor’s line, who was well protected
because he was the image of Achilles,
drove back the Trojans from the Grecian ships
which were about to be consumed by fire,
along with Ajax, their defender.(29) He thinks
he was the only one who dared confront
the warlike Hector armed. But he forgets
the king, the other leaders, and myself.
He was the ninth to say he’d fight the man,                                       460
and he was picked by chance. But then,
most valiant warrior, how did that fight
turn out? Hector walked away uninjured,
without a single wound!

                                    And now, alas,                                                           [280]
it grieves me to bring back a memory
so full of sorrow—the day Achilles,
the bulwark of the Greeks, was killed. And yet,
no tears, or pain, or fear prevented me
from picking up his body off the ground.
And on these shoulders, these shoulders of mine,                             470
I carried the body of Achilles
and his armour, too, the very weapons
I’m anxious now to carry once again.(30)
I have strength enough for such a burden,
and I have a mind which, you may be sure,
will understand the honour you have done me.
Was it really for this the sea nymph Thetis,
Achilles mother, was so determined
to help her son she brought down from heaven
works of such great artistry, so that Ajax,                                        480            [290]
a crude soldier with no intelligence
could wear them? For he does not understand
what is sculpted on the shield—Ocean, Earth,
high star-filled skies, the Pleiades, Hyades,
the Bear that never moves down to the sea,
the different cities, Orion’s gleaming sword.
He is asking you to give him weapons
[whose meaning Ajax does not even grasp?](31)


And what about how he accuses me
of running from the duties of harsh war                                            490
and coming late into an enterprise
which others had begun? Does he not see
he is denouncing great Achilles, too?
If you consider it a crime to hide
who one really is, both of us did that.
And if delaying makes me culpable,                                                                 [300]
I did join up before Achilles did.
My dear wife detained me—with Achilles
it was his loving mother. We gave them
those early days. The rest we gave to you.                                       500
If I have no defence against that point,
I do not fear a charge which I would share
with that heroic man, who was revealed
thanks to Ulysses’ skill. Ajax played no role
in finding out Ulysses.

                                                    None of us
should be astonished that his foolish tongue
pours insults over me, for he complains
about you, too, and ought to be ashamed.
Was it so wrong for me to falsely charge
the son of Nauplius, yet fine for you                                                 510
to sentence him to death? Palamedes
could not defend himself against a crime                                                          [310]
that was so great and clearly evident.
You not only heard what he was charged with—
you saw his crimes exposed, proved by that bribe!


And I do not deserve to be accused
if Lemnos, Vulcan’s island, is still home
to Philoctetes, the son of Poeas
(since you yourselves agreed to leave him there,
defend what you have done). I won’t deny                                      520
I did convince him to withdraw from war
and hardships of our journey and to try
easing his agonizing pain by resting.
He agreed—and is alive! My advice
not only was provided in good faith
(and my good faith alone would have sufficed)—
it also proved effective. Now our seers
all say that Poeas’ son must be with us                                                            [320]
for Troy to be destroyed. Do not send me!
It would be better if Ajax made the trip                                            530
and with his eloquence calmed down that man
driven mad with rage and sickness, or else
came up with a sly trick to bring him back!
If my mind ever stopped its work for you,
the stream in Simoïs would reverse its flow,
and Ida’s mountain stand there stripped of leaves,
and Achaeans promise help to Trojans,
before the brain in dim-witted Ajax
came up with something useful to the Greeks.
And though you, unyielding Philoctetes,                                           540
are angry at your friends, the king, and me,
and though you never cease pouring curses                                                     [330]
on my head and, in excruciating pain,
long for a chance to have me in your power
and drain my blood—to have your way with me,
as I did then with you—I will still go
and try to bring you back with me. What’s more,
with Fortune’s help, I’ll also get your arrows,
just as I brought back that Trojan prophet,
Helenus, whom I captured, and made known                                  550
what gods had said about the fate of Troy,
just as I stole that statue from the shrine
of Phrygian Minerva, surrounded
by my enemies.(32) And will Ajax now
compare himself with me? We know the Fates
decreed Troy never would be overcome
unless we had that statue. Where was he,                                                        [340]
the valiant Ajax? Where were the proud boasts
of that great man? What made him fearful then?
Why did Ulysses dare move through the sentries,                             560
commit himself to darkness of the night,
and sneak past the sharp swords of the Trojans,
to make his way inside, not just the city walls,
but even their high citadel, as well,
to snatch the goddess from her temple shrine,
and, once I had her, bear her back again
through enemy lines? If I’d not done that,
the left arm of Ajax would bear his shield—
all seven layers of bull’s hide—in vain.
On that night I ensured our victory                                                   570
against the Trojans. On that very night
I conquered their citadels, for my theft
made such a conquest possible.

you can stop your muttering and those looks,                                                  [350]
those attempts to bring up Diomedes.
That deed has earned him his full share of praise!
When you held up your shield before the ships,
you were not alone. You had comrades there,
a crowd of them. But I had only one.
If he did not know that a man who fights                                          580
is of less value than a man who thinks
and that this prize should not be handed out
merely to a fearless, strong right hand,
he, too, might claim Achilles’ weapons.
And lesser Ajax, a more modest man,
would also claim them, and fierce Eurypylus,
and Thoas, illustrious Andraemon’s son.
Meriones would surely make a claim,
as would his fellow countryman from Crete
Idomeneus, and so would Menelaus,                                               590
Agamemnon’s brother. All these leaders
have powerful hands and are my equals                                                           [360]
on the battlefield, and yet they follow
my advice. Your right hand gives useful help
in combat, Ajax, but it needs guidance
from my ingenuity. You have strength,
but no intelligence, while I consider
what the future holds. You can fight in war,
but the son of Atreus and I select
the proper time for battle. While you serve                                       600
only with your body, I use my mind.
The man who steers a ship is valued more
than the man who rows, and the army chief
is far above the soldier in the ranks.
In just that way—and to the same extent—
I am worth more than you. In my body
the mind has greater power than the hands,
for all my energies are focused there.


So now, you warrior chiefs, award those arms                                                [370]
to the man who has stayed on watch for you,                                   610
for all those years I spent with anxious cares.
Grant me this honour as compensation
for all my service. Now my work is done.
I have removed the barriers of Fate,
for I have made it possible to take
high Pergamum, and thus have captured it.
So by our common hopes, by Troy’s doomed walls,
by the gods I snatched away so recently
from Troy, and by whatever still remains
which needs a clever mind to carry out,                                           620
I pray that if there is anything bold
and dangerous still left to undertake,
[if you think, in dealing with Troy’s fate,
we still have things to do], remember me!(33)
And if you do not grant these arms to me,                                                       [380]
give them to her!”


                                     With these words, he pointed
to the fatal statue of Minerva.


Ulysses’ words swayed the group of leaders—                                    AJAX KILLS HIMSELF
the outcome showed what eloquence can do.
The fluent speaker took the brave man’s arms,                                     630
and Ajax, who fought Hector man to man,
who stood so often against sword and fire
and even Jupiter, for the first time
met an enemy he could not repulse—
his rage. Pulling out his sword, he shouted:


“At least this sword is mine! Or does Ulysses
want this for himself, as well? I must use it
on myself, and this sword, so often steeped
in Trojan blood will now drip with its master’s.
And thus no man could ever conquer Ajax                                       640            [390]
except Ajax himself.”


                                   He spoke these words,
then drove his sword into his exposed flesh,
deep inside his chest, which until that time
had never felt a wound.(34) His hand lacked strength
to pull the sword back out, but by itself
his blood expelled the steel. On the green turf
the bloodstained ground produced the purple flower
which earlier had grown out of the wound
of Hyacinthus, the bloom whose petals
in the middle bear those letters common                                                650
to the Spartan lad and to the hero—
a young man’s cry of grief, a warrior’s name.(35)


Victorious Ulysses then set sail for Lemnos,                                          THE WAR ENDS
land of Hypsiplye and famous Thoas.
Long ago the place had been notorious,                                                                [400]
for all women there had killed their husbands.(36)
He was going to collect those arrows,
weapons which had once belonged to Hercules.
And when he brought them and Philoctetes,
their owner, back to the Greeks, then, at last,                                       660
the final acts of that long war took place.
[Troy and Priam fell, and the wife of Priam,
poor Hecuba, when everything was gone,
lost her human form, and in a foreign place,
where the long Hellespont forms a narrow strait,
she fills the air with barking.](37)


                                               Troy was on fire,                                   TROY IS DESTROYED
and the flames had not yet been extinguished.
Jupiter’s altar was still soaking up
the meagre streams of ancient Priam’s blood.
Apollo’s priestess, hauled out by the hair,                                             670            [410]
was holding up her arms in a vain plea
to heaven, and the victorious Greeks
were dragging away the women of Troy,
an enviable prize, as the women,
while they still could, kept gathering in crowds
inside the burning temples, still clutching
their paternal gods. Infant Astyanax                                                      ASTYANAX
was hurled down to his death from those same towers
where he often watched his father Hector.(38)
Andromache, his mother, would point him out                                       680
as he was fighting on his child’s behalf,
protecting his ancestral realm.


                                                               And now,
North Wind was urging Greeks to leave for home,
the sails were flapping in a friendly breeze,
and sailors said they had to take advantage
of the winds. The women of Troy all cried:


“Farewell, Troy. We are being taken away.”                                                   [420]


They kissed the Trojan ground and left behind
their smoking homes. The last one to embark—                                    HECUBA
a wretched sight!—was Hecuba. They found her                                  690
surrounded by the tombs which held her sons,
clinging to their graves and trying to kiss
her children’s bones. Ulysses dragged her off.
But she opened up one grave and carried
Hector’s ashes with her, clutched to her breast,
leaving a lock of hair on Hector’s stone,
a humble offering, her gray hair and tears.


Now, facing Phrygia and Trojan land,                                                   POLYDORUS AND POLYMESTOR
there was a country where Bistonians lived
and Polymestor had a lavish palace.(39)                                                700
Your father, Polydorus, sent you to him
to be brought up in secret, a long way
from the war going on in Troy. A wise plan,
if your father, Priam, had not sent you
with such wealth—a tempting prize, rich enough
to turn an avaricious man to crime.
So when the fortunes of the Trojans fell,
the wicked Thracian king picked up a sword
and drove it into Polydorus’ throat—
into his foster child!—and after that,                                                      710
as if he could get rid of his own crime
by throwing out the corpse, he climbed a rock
and hurled the lifeless body in the sea.


Agamemnon, son of Atreus, moored his fleet                                        ACHILLES AND POLYXENA
on a beach in Thrace, waiting for calm seas                                                          [440]
and more favourable winds. Suddenly
the ground split open, making a wide cleft,
and Achilles’ ghost emerged, as massive
as he used to be in life. His face looked
threatening, like the expression he wore                                                720
the day he pulled his sword on Agamemnon
in that fierce and lawless confrontation.(40)
He called out:


               “So, you Greeks, you’re leaving.
You have forgotten me. Your gratitude
for my courageous acts you buried with me!
Do not let that happen! My funeral mound
must not lack its honours. So to appease
Achilles’ shade, you Greeks must sacrifice
Polyxena, Priam’s child.”(41)


                                          His comrades
obeyed the orders of that ruthless ghost.                                               730
Though she was almost the only comfort
Hecuba still had, they tore Polyxena                                                                     [450]
from her mother’s arms and led the young girl
to Achilles’ burial site. She was strong,
in spite of her misfortune, and kept up
her courage, more than most women do.
But she became a victim, sacrificed
to a pitiless grave. As she stood there,
before the savage altar and witnessed
the harsh rites they were preparing for her,                                            740
she remembered she was Priam’s daughter.
When she saw Achilles’ son standing by,
gripping a sword, and staring at her face,
she said:


                   “Now shed this noble blood. You have
no need to wait. So plunge that sword of yours
deep in my throat or chest.”


                                    Here she exposed
her neck and breast.


                    “You may be sure of this—
Polyxena has no wish to be a slave                                                                  [460]
to any man, and this kind of ritual
will not appease the gods. I only wish                                              750
my mother would not hear about my death.
She worries me, diminishing my joy
in dying. And yet she should be mourning,
not my death, but her own life. Move off,
you men, so I may go to Stygian shades
in freedom, and if my prayer is just,
let no man set his hand on virgin flesh.
Whoever you are trying to appease
by killing me will be more satisfied
with blood from someone free. If my last words                               760
move any of you—and I am no slave                                                              [470]
requesting this, but king Priam’s daughter—
return my body with no ransom paid
back to my mother. For the mournful right
to have a tomb, let her pay, not with gold,
but with her tears. Back in earlier days,
when she still could, she used to pay in gold.”


Polyxena finished. She shed no tears.
The people did that for her. Even the priest
wept as he reluctantly plunged in the knife                                             770
and pierced the breast she offered up to him.
As her knees buckled, she fell to the ground,
but to the very end her face remained
quite fearless, and even as she collapsed,
she took great care to hide those parts of her
that should remain concealed and so maintained                                                   [480]
the honour of her blameless modesty.
The Trojan women took up the body,
counting all the names of Priam’s children
they had mourned and all the bloody killings                                          780
this one house had suffered. They grieved for you,
young virgin girl, and you, too, Hecuba.
Not long ago they called you a king’s wife
and royal parent, the very image
of rich Asia, and now a worthless part
of captured spoils. Victorious Ulysses
would have refused to take you as his slave,
had you not given birth to noble Hector,
who had great trouble finding anyone
who wished to be his mother’s master.                                                 790


Hecuba embraced her daughter’s body,                                               HECUBA LAMENTS
whose spirit, which had been so brave, was gone.
She shed tears over it, the very tears
she had so often wept for her own land,
her children, and her husband, pouring them                                                         [490]
into the young girl’s wound. She kissed her lips,
beat her chest, as she had done so frequently,
and trailed her gray hair in congealing blood.
She tore her breasts and cried out many things,
including this:


                                   “O my child, you are                                     800
your mother’s final grief. What else is left?
My daughter lying here! I see your wound
as my own injury. Look here! This wound
was to make sure I did not lose one child
without some blood being spilled. Still, I thought
you, as a woman, would be spared the steel.
But now, even though you were a woman,
you have fallen to the sword. That same man
who slaughtered so many of your brothers
has killed you, too—Achilles, who ruined Troy                                810            [500]
and left me childless. After that man fell
to those arrows of Paris and Apollo,
I said:


                  ‘Now, at least, we no longer need
to fear Achilles.’


                                          But even in death,
I should have feared him. His very ashes
in his tomb rage against our royal house.
Even from the grave we have felt his hate.
It was for Achilles that I gave birth
to all my children. And now mighty Troy
has fallen. The destruction of our state                                             820
has reached its bitter end. Still, it’s over.
For me alone Troy’s citadel yet stands.
My grief will run its course. Not long ago,
I was the greatest lady of them all,
thanks to my husband, my many children,
all those sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.
Now I am helpless, dragged into exile,
torn from my family’s burial mounds,
a gift for Ulysses’ wife, Penelope,                                                                   [510]
who will point me out to married women                                          830
in Ithaca, as I am spinning wool
she hands to me, and say:


                                          ‘This woman here
is Hector’s famous mother, Priam’s queen.’


After I had lost so many children,
you, Polyxena, were the only one
who would alleviate a mother’s grief.
And now you have been made a sacrifice
at an enemy grave! I bore children
as sacrificial offerings for my foes!
And yet, like iron, I endure. But why?                                              840
Why am I still here? Why am I preserved
by lingering old age. You cruel gods,
why prolong the life of an old woman
who has lived so long, unless your purpose
is to have me witness still more funerals?
Who could have imagined Priam happy                                                           [520]
once Pergamum fell? But he is happy
in his death! He did not see you butchered,
my child, for he left his life and kingdom
both at the same time. I assumed that you,                                       850
a royal child, would have rich burial rites,
your body placed in our ancestral tombs.
But that is not the fortune of this house.
Your funeral gifts will be a mother’s tears
and a pile of foreign sand! We have lost
everything. The only child remaining
is Polydorus, once the youngest son
of our family line, and now a reason
for me to go on living for a while.
We sent him to these shores, entrusting him                                      860            [530]
to Polymestor’s care, a Thracian king.
But why waste all my time with these laments?
I should rinse your savage wound with water
and wash away those dreadful spots of blood
splashed across your face.”


                                         Hecuba said this,
and shuffled off, with an old woman’s gait,
down to the sea shore, pulling her white hair.
She cried:


                “You Trojan women, fetch a jug!”
The poor woman wanted to draw water                                               HECUBA AND POLYMESTOR
from the sea. But there by the shore she saw                                         870
Polydorus’ body thrown up on the beach
with gaping cuts from blades of Thracian swords.
The Trojan women screamed, but Hecuba
was dumb with grief. Pain had swallowed her voice
and dried the tears drops welling in her eyes.
She stood still, like impenetrable rock.                                                                 [540]
At times she fixed her eyes down at the ground,
or raised her haggard face up to the sky.
Then she would look at her son lying there,
at his face and wounds, but mainly at his wounds.                                 880
She felt her anger growing deep inside
and made that rage her weapon. She caught fire,
and, as if she were still queen, set her mind
on vengeance, concentrating all her thoughts
on how she could punish Polymestor.
Just as a lioness rages at the theft
of her unweaned cub and looks for footprints
of an adversary she cannot see,
so Hecuba, mixing her grief with rage,
recalled her courage, cast her age aside,                                                890           [550]
went to Polymestor, who had arranged
the dreadful murder, and asked to see him.
She said she wished to show him stores of gold
she had buried away, so he could give it
to her son. The Thracian king believed her,
and, driven by his usual love of gain,
came to her in private. He spoke to her
with slyly reassuring words:


                                            “Come now,
Hecuba, do not wait. Give me that gift
kept hidden for your son. He’ll get all of it—                                         900
what you are giving now and gave before.
I swear by the gods.”


                       She watched him grimly,
as he uttered this deceitful promise,
and then her simmering rage boiled over.
Calling on her group of captive women                                                                 [560]
to seize hold of Polymestor, she sank
her fingers deep into his treasonous eyes
and gouged his eyeballs out. Rage made her strong.
She plunged her hands, stained with the murderer’s blood,
inside the holes and sucked out, not his eyes                                         910
(for they were gone) but what was in the sockets.
The Thracian folk, angry at the murder                                                 HECUBA IS TRANSFORMED
of their king, started to attack the queen,
hurling stones and weapons. But Hecuba
chased after rocks they threw and snapped at them,
growling harshly. And when she set her jaws
and tried to speak, she barked. The place stills stands.
It’s called Cynossema, the Bitch’s Tomb,
a name derived from things that happened there.
For a long time Hecuba remembered                                                    920            [570]
the ancient evils she had undergone
and still continued howling mournfully
through all the fields of Thrace. Her suffering
moved the Trojans and the enemy Greeks
and all the gods, as well—yes, all of them—
so even Juno, Jove’s wife and sister,
affirmed that Hecuba had not deserved
to end her life that way.


                                            But Aurora,                                             AURORA AND MEMNON
though a supporter of the Trojan cause,
had no time to grieve at these disasters,                                                 930
the fall of Troy and end of Hecuba.
She was troubled with a private sorrow,
a grief closer to home, her missing son,
Memnon. His rose-coloured goddess mother
had seen him slaughtered by Achilles’ spear                                                          [580]
on the Phrygian plains, and seeing that,
her rosy tint which dyes the morning light
grew pale, and the sky was hidden in cloud.
When his body was placed above the fire,
his mother could not bear to witness it.                                                 940
Casting her pride aside, she went to Jove
just as she was, with her hair dishevelled,
fell down at his knees in tears, and said:


“I count for less than all divinities
the golden aether holds (in the whole world
my temples are the rarest of them all).
But I come here a goddess, not asking
you to give me shrines or sacrificial days
or altars hot with fires. Still, if you see                                                             [590]
how much this female goddess does for you,                                    950
when with the light of each new dawn I check
the limits of the night, you might well think
I should get some reward. But Aurora
is not concerned about these matters now
and does not intend to seek those honours
she deserves. My reason for being here
is my son Memnon, who is gone from me.
He fought bravely for his uncle Priam,
though in a losing cause, and, while still young,
fell to great Achilles (so you willed it).(42)                                        960
O supreme ruler of the gods, I beg you—
give him some honour, a consolation
for his death, and relieve his mother’s pain.”

Jupiter nodded his consent. And then,
as Memnon’s high funeral pyre collapsed                                                             [600]
in towering flames, columns of dark smoke                                          THE MEMNONIDES
stained the sky, just as a naiad breathes out
thick river mists which do not let the Sun
shine underneath them. The black ash flew up,
merged to a single body, grew more dense,                                          970
took on a shape, and drew up life and heat
from flames below. Its lightness gave it wings.
At first the form looked something like a bird,
then like a real bird with whirring wings.
Countless sister shapes, born from the same source,
grew beating wings, as well. Three times this flock
flew past the pyre, and three times they called out                                                [610]
in unison. On the fourth flight, the birds
split up into two different clusters,
swooped fiercely in from opposite directions,                                        980
and launched a war, with raging claws and beaks,
until the fight wore out their wings and hearts,
and then, recalling they had been produced
from such a valiant man, their bodies fell
as sacrifices to the buried ashes
of their kinsman. The one from whom these birds
were born so suddenly gave them their name,
for people call them the Memnonides
or Memnon’s offspring. When the Sun has passed
through his twelve signs, they fight and die again                                    990
in a ritual tribute to their father.(43)
Thus, while it seemed to others very sad                                                               [620]
that Hecuba was barking like dog,
Aurora was concerned with her own grief,
and even now she sheds her loving tears
and scatters them as dew through all the world.


But Fates do not allow Troy’s future hopes                                          THE VOYAGES OF AENEAS
to perish with its walls. For Aeneas,
heroic son of Venus, carries off
Troy’s sacred images on his shoulders                                                  1000
and his father, too, Anchises, an old
and sacred burden.(44) From all their riches,
his family piety selects that prize,
along with his young son, Ascanius.
From Antandros the fleet of exiles sails
across the sea, leaving far behind them
the polluted homes of Thrace, that region
still soaking in the blood of Polydorus.(45)
With following winds and steady currents                                                              [630]
he and his group of allies come to Delos,                                              1010
Apollo’s city, where Anius rules,
governing his people, and, as a priest,
managing the rituals of Apollo.
He receives Aeneas in the temple
and in his home and shows him the city,
the celebrated shrine, and the two trees
Latona had once gripped while giving birth.(46)
The men put incense on the flames, pour wine
onto the incense, slaughter oxen,
and burn the entrails, following their rites.                                              1020
Then they move off to the royal palace,
where lofty couches have been set for them.
They eat the gifts of Ceres and drink wine.
At that point virtuous Anchises says:                                                                     [640]


“Chosen priest of Phoebus, I may be wrong,
but the first time I saw your city walls
did you not have four daughters and a son,
if my memory is correct?”


shook his head, bound with fillets of white cloth
around his temples, and answered sadly:                                               1030


“Greatest of heroes, you are not mistaken.                                      THE DAUGHTERS OF ANIUS
You saw me the father of five children,
and now—given the way fickle fortune
changes things for men—you are seeing me
when I am almost childless. For what help
is my absent son to me? He now lives
and, in his father’s name, governs Andros,
an island which derives its name from him.
The Delian god, Apollo, gave him                                                                   [650]
prophetic powers, and to my daughters                                           1040
Bacchus gave other gifts, things well beyond
what anyone might hope for or believe.
For everything my daughters touched was changed
to grain, or streams of wine, or grey-green olives.
So these girls’ touch could serve to make one rich.
When Agamemnon, ravager of Troy,
discovered this, he dragged the girls by force
out of their father’s arms and ordered them
to use their heaven-sent gift to furnish
the Argive fleet (for you should not assume                                      1050
we did not feel, at least to some degree,
the destructive storm you faced). Well, those girls
ran off, each one escaping where she could.                                                    [660]
Two reached Euboea, two went to Andros,
where their brother ruled. Greek soldiers followed
and threatened war unless he gave them up.
Fear overcame his natural affection,
and he handed over his own sisters.
You can forgive their brother’s craven act.
He had no Hector or Aeneas there                                                  1060
to fight for Andros, those two warriors
whose courage kept you fighting for ten years.
But as the Greeks were going to chain them,
those daughters raised their arms (which were still free)
towards the heavens and cried:


                                    ‘Father Bacchus,
bring us your aid!’


                         The god who gave their gift                                                     [670] 
did offer help, if one can call it help                                                 THE DAUGHTERS OF ANIUS ARE TRANSFORMED
to do away with them in some amazing way.
For I could not tell how they lost their shape,
nor can I tell you now. But I do know                                              1070
the end of this bad luck—those girls grew wings
and were transformed, changed into snow-white birds,
those doves whom Venus loves, your goddess wife.”


After they had feasted and passed the time
with tales like this and other conversation,
they left the table and retired to bed.


They rose at dawn and went off to consult
the oracle of Phoebus and were told
to seek their ancient mother, Italy,
and their ancestral shores.(47) King Anius                                             1080
escorted them as they prepared to leave
and offered gifts—a sceptre for Anchises,                                                            [680]
a cloak and quiver for Ascanius,
and a wine bowl for Aeneas, a gift                                                       ANIUS’ WINE BOWL
Anius had been given earlier
by Therses, a Boeotian guest of his,
who lived in Thebes. Therses had sent the bowl,
but Alcon, a man who came from Hyle,
was the artist who produced it. On the surface
he had engraved images depicting                                                         1090
a lengthy story. There was a city.
It was not named, but it had seven gates,
each clearly visible. That detail showed
the place was Thebes. Outside the city walls
were scenes depicting mourning—burial rites,
tombs, fiery funeral pyres, and women
with flowing hair and naked breasts. One could see
nymphs, as well, in tears, weeping for their springs
which had dried up. A bare tree without leaves                                                     [690]
stood out, and goats were chewing on dry stones.                                 1100
And look! In the middle of that city
he has depicted Orion’s daughters,
one slitting her bare throat (the sort of wound
a woman does not give herself), and one
plunging a sword in her courageous heart,
each girl dying to protect her people,
and their two bodies being taken off
in a splendid funeral procession
through the city and burned amid a crowd
of mourners.(48) Then, from the virgin cinders,                                      1110
to make sure their family does not die,
two young men arise, now celebrated
as the Coroni, and lead the funeral march
that carries back their mothers’ ashes.
These were the brilliant pictures he engraved                                                        [700]
in the ancient bronze. On the wine bowl’s rim
was a raised edge of gold acanthus leaves.
The Trojans offered gifts no less expensive—
for the priest a box to store his incense,
a libation bowl, and a shining crown                                                      1120
fashioned with gold and gemstones.


                                               From Delos,                                          AENEAS’ VOYAGE CONTINUES
remembering that, as Trojans, their blood
traced back its origin to Teucer’s line,
they made their way to Crete, but did not stay.(49)
They could not bear the climate of the place.
They left the island of a hundred cities,
hoping to reach some Ausonian port
in Italy.(50) But a fierce storm arose
with threatening seas, and so for refuge
they sailed into the treacherous harbour                                              1130
of the Strophades, and were terrorized
by winged Aëllo, a harpy.(51) From there                                                             [710]
they sailed past Dulichium’s harbour,
past Same, the houses of Neritos,
and the kingdom of devious Ulysses.(52)
They saw Ambracia, a land the gods
once fought about, and the image in stone
of the man who judged their quarrel. The place
is famous now for Apollo’s shrine
commemorating Actium.(53) They passed                                             1140
the land of Dodona which has those oaks
which utter oracles, and the coastal shores
of Chaonian land, where the royal sons
of the Molossian king changed into birds
and thus escaped a fire set by thieves.(54)
After that, they headed to Phaeacia,
a region with rich orchards, and from there
sailed to Epirus and to Buthrotos,                                                                         [720]
a city built like Troy, where Helenus
the Trojan prophet, ruled.(55) From him they learned                             1150
what the future had in store, for Helenus,
a son of Priam, told them everything
he could predict through faithful prophecies.


The Trojans then moved on to Sicily.                                                   AENEAS REACHES SICILY
This island has three headlands pushing out
into the sea. Of these three, Pachynus
faces the rainy south, Lilybaeum
confronts the soft west winds, and Peloros
looks to the northern Bear who never dips
into the sea.(56) The Teucrians sailed here,                                            1160
and, with a helpful current, rowed the fleet
until, as night was coming on, they reached
the sandy shores of Zancle. To their right
loomed Scylla, and on their left, Charybdis,
a restless brute who gobbles down men’s ships                                                    [730]
and spits them out again. Scylla wears a belt
of savage dogs around her dark-skinned gut.
She has a young girl’s face and (if those tales
the poets left are not all just made up)
once long ago she was a virgin girl                                                        1170
whom many suitors courted. But Scylla
rejected all of them. She used to visit
the ocean nymphs—she was their favourite—
and tell them of young men whose love she spurned.


Once when a sea nymph, Galatea, let                                                   ACIS AND GALATEA
Scylla comb her hair, Galatea said:


“At least the kind of men who seek you out,                                                    [740]
Scylla, are not brutal. You can reject them,
as you do, without fear of getting hurt.
But I, a daughter of Nereus, born                                                    1180
to sea-green Doris, and protected, too,
by a crowd of sisters, could not escape
the love of the cyclops Polyphemus
except through pain and sorrow.”


                                                      Here her tears
choked her voice, preventing her from speaking.
With her white fingers, Scylla wiped away
the tears, calmed the goddess down, and said:


“Dearest Galatea, tell me. Do not hide
why you are grieving. You can trust in me.”


The Nereïd then replied to Scylla,                                                         1190
daughter of Crataïs:


                                “Acis was the son                                                            [750]
of Faunus and Symaethis, a sea nymph,
a great joy to his father and his mother,
but even more to me, for he loved me
and no one else.(57) He was a handsome lad,
sixteen years old, with the first downy hair
starting to grow out on his tender cheeks.
I tried to spend every minute with him,
and Polyphemus did the same with me.
If you were to ask, I could not tell you                                             1200
which was stronger in me—love of Acis
or hatred for that cyclops, for I felt
strong passion either way. O Gentle Venus
how powerful your rule is over us!                                                  POLYPHEMUS IN LOVE
For that savage creature Polyphemus,
whom the very forest fears and strangers                                                         [760]
cannot look upon without some danger,
who scorns mighty Olympus and its gods,
now has a sense of what love is and, seized
by fervent passion, burns and quite forgets                                       1210
his flocks and caves. And then, Polyphemus,
you start to worry about how you look
and how to please. You comb your bristling hair
with rakes and love to trim your shaggy beard
with a pruning hook or gaze into a pond
at your wild face and fix how you appear.
Your love of slaughter and your cruelty,
your monstrous thirst for blood—all that is gone.
Ships come and go in safety.


                                         In the meantime,                                     TELEMUS AND POLYPHEMUS
Telemus reached Sicily. He was the son                                          1220           [770]
of Eurymus and had never been deceived
by any omen. He went to Aetna,
met the giant Polyphemus, and said:


‘That one eye in the middle of your forehead
will be taken from you by Ulysses.’


Polyphemus laughed and said:


                                          ‘You are wrong,
you stupidest of prophets. Someone else—
a young girl—has already captured it.’


He spurned the warning. Though it was the truth,
the prophecy was wasted. Polyphemus                                            1230
strode away with massive, heavy footsteps
along the shore and, when he grew tired,
went back to his dark cave.


                                       A wedge-shaped hill
ran a long way out to sea, with ocean waves                                    POLYPHEMUS’ LOVE SONG
lapping along both sides. The wild cyclops
climbed the central ridge, sat down, and took out                                            [780]
his shepherd’s pipe made of a hundred reeds.
His woolly flocks, with no one left to tend them,
came up, too. He laid a pine tree at his feet.
It was his walking staff, but large enough                                         1240
to hold aloft the rigging on a ship.
All the hillside heard his pastoral notes,
as did the sea. I was there, too, hidden
by a rock, lying in my Acis’ arms,
and from a distance heard the cyclops’ song.
What my ears picked up, my mind remembers.
It went something like this:


                                                      ‘O Galatea,
whiter than leaves of snow-white columbine,
more flowery than meadows in full bloom,                                                  [790]
more slender than a splendid alder tree,                                      1250
more bright than glass, more lively than young goats,
more smooth than sea shells worn down by the waves,
more pleasing than the sun in winter time
or shade in summer heat, more beautiful
than apples, a more pleasing sight to see
than lofty plane trees, more dazzling than ice,
sweeter than ripe grapes, softer than swan down
or curdled milk, and, if you do not run from me,
more lovely than well-watered garden parks.
And yet, at the same time, Galatea,                                             1260
you are wilder than young bulls not yet tamed,
harder than old oak, slyer than the sea,
tougher than willow twigs or branching vines,                                              [800]
more stubborn than these crags, more violent
than raging streams, more vain than valued peacocks,
more fierce than fire, more prickly than a thorn,
more vicious than a mother bear with cubs,
more hard of hearing than the ocean waves,
more ruthless than a stepped-on water snake,
and, what, above all, I would like to change,                               1270
you are not only swifter than a stag
being followed by a pack of baying dogs,
but you run faster even than the winds
and the fleeting breeze.

                             But if you knew me well,
you would feel sorry you keep flying off
and curse yourself for holding back like this.
You’d make more effort to stay close to me.
For I live here, and on these mountain slopes                                              [810]
I have caves carved out of natural rock
where you’ll not feel the cold when winter comes                        1280
or the heat in summertime. And I have
fruit-laden branches on my apple trees,
and grapes which look like gold on tailing vines
and purple ones. I save both kinds for you.
You hands will pluck delicious strawberries
born in the shady woods, with autumn plums
and cherries, too—not just the blue-black kind
so full of juice, but full-grown yellow fruit,
the colour of fresh wax. When you are mine,
you will have berries from arbutus trees                                       1290
and chestnuts. All trees will be your slaves.                                                 [820]
This whole flock is mine, and many others
wandering the valleys, with many more
hiding in the woods or penned up in caves.
If you should ask how many beasts there are
I could not tell you. It’s a poor man’s job
to keep a tally of the flock he owns.
And you don’t need to take my word for it
when I praise them all. Your own eyes can see
how they can hardly move those legs of theirs,                            1300
their udders are so full. And there are lambs,
the young ones of the flock, kept in warm folds,
and kids, the same age as the lambs, secure
in other pens. I always have white milk—
some I keep to drink and some to curdle.                                                   [830]
You will have gifts, and not just common ones
anyone can get, like deer or hares or goats
or matching doves or young birds from the trees.
For I picked up a shaggy bear’s two cubs
as pets for you to play with, so alike                                           1310
it’s hard to tell which one of them is which.
I saw them on the mountain top and said:

‘I’ll keep these for my mistress Galatea.’


Now, Galatea, just raise your shining head
from the dark blue sea. Do not spurn my gifts,
but come here now. You know, I saw myself                                             [840]
not long ago by gazing at my image
in clear water. And looking at my shape
was a delight. Just see how big I am!
You like to talk about this Jupiter,                                               1320
whoever he is, who rules in heaven.
His body is no bigger than my own.
And lots of hair hangs down on my stern face
and keeps my shoulders shaded from the sun,
just like a grove of trees. You should not think
this covering of dense and bristling hair
is unattractive. A tree is ugly
when it has no leaves. A horse is ugly,
if it has no tawny mane along its neck.
Feathers cover birds, and a woolly fleece                                   1330
makes sheep look beautiful. Attractive men
have beards and bodies covered in rough hair.                                            [850]
And here, on my forehead, in the centre,
I only have one eye. But it is large,
the size of huge shield. And think of this—
does not the mighty Sun see everything
from high up in the sky? And yet the Sun
has but a single eye.

                                           And in addition,
my father Neptune rules your ocean waves.
I’ll give him to you as a father-in-law.                                         1340
Just pity me and hear me when I pray!
I am your suppliant. I kneel to you,
and no one else. Yet I spurn Jupiter
and heaven and his piercing thunderbolt.
You are the one I fear, Nereïd. Your rage
is crueler to me than a lightning strike.
I’d find it easier to bear your scorn,
if you were running off from everyone.
But how can you reject a cyclops’ love                                                      [860]
and yet love Acis? Why choose his arms                                    1350
instead of mine? Acis may please himself
and you, as well (I wish that was not true),
but, Galatea, if I could get the chance,
he’d find my strength is every bit as great
as my own body! I’d tear out his guts
while he is still alive, rip his limbs apart,
and throw them in the fields, scatter them there
and in your sea (so he could mix with you).
I burn with love. And when you injure me
my flames get fiercer, till Mount Aetna seems                              1360
to have shifted to my heart, for here inside
I carry all its fire. Yet you do not care,
Galatea, you do not care at all.’


After these laments—which were quite useless—                                            [870]
Polyphemus rose (for I could see it all),
and, like a bull who has just lost a cow
and is so furious it can’t stand still,
he wandered in familiar mountain glades
and in the woods. Then the savage monster
spied me and Acis—we did not think he could                                 1370
and so we had not worried. He cried out:


‘I see you! This is the last time you two
will be making love—I’ll make sure of that!’


His voice was huge. He sounded just the way
an angry cyclops should. His savage shouts
made Aetna shudder. I was terrified
and hurled myself into the neighbouring sea.
But my brave Acis, son of Symaethis,
turned round and ran away, crying:


                                        ‘Help me,
Galatea, I beg you. Help me out!                                                1380          [880]
Father, mother—let me in your kingdom!
I’m about to die!’(58)


                               The cyclops followed him.
He hurled a rock torn from the mountain side.                                  ACIS IS TRANSFORMED
Only the furthest tip of stone reached Acis,
but that was still enough to bury him.
I did the one thing Fate would let me do—
made sure that Acis could assert the force
his ancestors once had. Dark red blood seeped out
from underneath the rock. Soon after that,
the redness in the blood began to fade.                                            1390
At first its colour looked just like a stream
disturbed by rain but slowly growing clear.
And then the boulder Polyphemus threw                                                          [890]
split open and a tall and living reed
pushed through the cracks, and from the gaping split
the sound of gushing waters could be heard.
And then, a miracle! All of a sudden,
a youth emerged and rose up to his waist,
with new horns wreathed in waving rushes.
It was Acis, although this youth was larger                                       1400
and all his face was blue. But even so,
it was still Acis changed into a stream,
a river that has kept his ancient name.’


After Galatea finished speaking,                                                           CYLLA AND GLAUCUS
the group of Nereïds broke up and left,
swimming away through tranquil waves. Scylla
did not dare trust herself far out to sea,                                                                 [900]
so she swam back to shore and wandered there
on the thirsty sand without her clothes on
or, when she was tired, found a lonely inlet                                           1410
and cooled herself in its secluded bay.
Then, lo and behold, Glaucus came along,
racing across the surface of the waves.
He had come to live in the ocean deep
not long before, when his limbs were changed
across the sea from Euboea at Anthedon.(59)
When Glaucus caught sight of Scylla, he paused,
his passion roused. He called to her, saying
whatever he thought might stop her running.
But she still sped away—fear made her swift—                                     1420
and reached a mountain top not far from shore.
It had a huge ridge right beside the sea                                                                 [910]
which rose up to a single wooded peak
and leaned out to the water. Here she stopped
and, from a safe location, looked at Glaucus,
not knowing what he was, god or monster.
She marvelled at his colour and his hair,
which concealed his shoulders and clothed his back,
and at his body, which, below the groin,
was a twisting fish. He sensed her watching                                           1430
and, leaning on a rock that stood close by,
spoke out:


       “Young girl, I am not some monster
or ferocious beast, but a god of sea.
Proteus and Triton and Palaemon,
son of Athamas, have no more power
to control the ocean waves than I do.(60)
In earlier days I was a mortal,                                                                         [920]
but still I was devoted to the sea.
Back then I even worked beside it. At times,
I used to haul in nets that trapped the fish                                         1440
or else I sat down on a rock and used
my rod and line.

                      There is a stretch of shore
lying next to pasture land. On one side
is the sea, on the other grassy fields
untouched by two-horned cattle feeding there.
No quiet sheep or shaggy goats had cropped it.
No hard-working bees had ever taken
pollen from the flowers there. No garlands
had been plucked to adorn men’s heads at feasts.
No hand had every mown it with a scythe.                                       1450          [930]
I was the first to sit down on that grass,
drying my soaking nets and setting out
the fish I’d caught. I laid them down in rows,
so I could make a count of those whom chance
had driven to my nets and those whose hopes
had naively landed them on my barbed hook.
What happened next sounds like an untrue tale,
but what advantage would I get from lies?
My fish laid on the grass began to stir.
They wriggled around and moved on land,                                       1460
as if they were now swimming in the sea.
I was surprised, but then, as I waited,
the whole group of them escaped, slipping off
into the sea where they belonged, leaving
their new master and the shore. I was stunned.
What happened had me puzzled for a while.                                                    [940]
I thought about a cause. Was it some god?
Or had some herbal juice brought this about?
I asked myself:

                       ‘What plant has this effect?’


I pulled some of the grass and my teeth chewed                             1470
the blades that I had picked. And once my throat
had swallowed the strange juices down, I felt
a sudden throbbing deep inside my heart,
and my breast was seized with a fierce desire
to be in water. I could not stay there,
so I hurled by body down into the sea,
shouting out:


                                      ‘Farewell land! Never again
will I be coming back!’


                                             The gods of the sea
accepted me. They thought me fine enough
to be included in their company.                                                      1480
So they asked Tethys and Oceanus
to take away whatever mortal parts                                                                 [950]
I might retain, and those two made me pure.
A spell repeated nine times over purged
my wickedness, and I was told to wash
my body in a hundred rivers. Then streams
at once poured out from various sources,
their cleansing waters flowing past my head.
That’s all I can describe of those events,
which were amazing, all I can recall.                                                 1490
My mind remembers nothing of the rest.
When I sensed things once again, my body
had completely changed from what it was before,
and my mind was not the same. At that point,
for the first time, I saw this dark green beard,                                                  [960]
this hair I sweep along through the wide sea,
these massive shoulders and my azure arms,
and these legs curving to a fish with fins.
But still, what use is it to have this body
or give delight to gods who rule the sea,                                           1500
what use is it to be a god myself,
if you don’t even care about these things?”


Glaucus paused, with still more left to say.
But Scylla ran away. The god was hurt,
angry at being rejected. He moved on
towards the marvellous home of Circe,
a daughter of the Titan Helios.






(1) In the Iliad, Hector leads his forces up to the fleet and sets fire to one ship, defended by Ajax. Ulysses was, at this point, wounded and had withdrawn from the fighting. [Back to Text]

(2) This is a reference to the Argonauts, who sailed with Jason in a ship made at Pagasae to Colchis to get back the Golden Fleece. For Ovid’s treatment of the story see 7.1 ff. [Back to Text]

(3) Ajax’s father, Telamon, and Achilles’ father, Peleus, were brothers, both sons of Aeacus. [Back to Text]

(4) The Greek leaders had made a promise to the father of Helen, that they would help the man she married. Menelaus married Helen and, when Paris abducted her, called upon the Greeks to honour their promise. Ulysses tried to avoid going to war by pretending to be mad. The warrior Palamedes exposed Ulysses’ trick, and so he was forced to join the expedition. [Back to Text]

(5) Philoctetes had been bitten by a snake, and his cries of pain and the smell of his wound caused so much trouble in the army, that he was abandoned, en route to Troy, on the island of Lemnos. Philoctetes, as we learn a few lines further on, owned the bow of Hercules, which was needed to capture Troy. For Philoctetes’ role in Hercules’ cremation, see above 9.373. [Back to Text]

(6) Ulysses forged a letter from king Priam of Troy to Palamedes offering gold for his treasonous services, allowed the letter to be discovered, and bribed Palamedes’ servants to hide gold in his camp. Palamedes was stoned to death. [Back to Text]

(7) The reference here is to a battle in which Nestor is left exposed and needs help. Odysseus does not respond to a shout from Diomedes to help Nestor (in Homer it is clear that Odysseus does not hear the shout, not that he has heard and refuses to respond). [Back to Text]

(8) Hector issued a challenge to the Greeks to produce a warrior who would fight him in single combat. A few men volunteered (including Ajax) and the candidate was chosen by a lottery in which each man put a marker in a helmet. The helmet was shaken, and the first lot which fell out determined who would fight Hector. Ajax’s token was the first shaken out. The single combat was ended by the heralds of both armies without a clear winner. [Back to Text]

(9) Rhesus, a Trojan ally, was slaughtered by Diomedes and Ulysses at night while he and his men were asleep. The two Greek also killed Dolon, a spy they captured and questioned. Helenus, a Trojan prince, was captured by the same two men. Ulysses also stole the statue of Minerva, the Palladium, inside Troy, on which the security of the city depended (as he mentions in his response to Ajax). [Back to Text]

(10) Dulichium was part of Ulysses’ kingdom. [Back to Text]

(11) This is a reference to the killing of Phocus, a brother of Peleus and Telamon, for which both Peleus and Telamon were considered guilty and exiled. [Back to Text]

(12) Ulysses’ mother, Anticleia, was the daughter of Autolycus, whose father was Mercury. For the conception of Autolycus, see above 11.478 ff. [Back to Text]

(13) Achilles’ father, Peleus, lived in Phthia, in Thessaly. Achilles’ son, Pyrrhus, was living in Scyros, one of the Cyclades islands, where Achilles had been sent to hide, so that he would not have to go to Troy. [Back to Text]

(14) Teucer was Ajax’s half-brother. They had a common father, Telamon, but different mothers. [Back to Text]

(15) Achilles mother, Thetis, did not want Achilles to join the army going to Troy, so she hid him on Scyros and dressed him up as a girl. The people being deceived are the Greek leaders travelling around to muster warriors for the expedition. [Back to Text]

(16) Telephus, a son of Hercules, was wounded by Achilles’ spear and then cured by the rust on the tip. For an earlier reference to this story see 12.173. [Back to Text]

(17) Tenedos was an island close to Troy. Chrysa, Cylla, and Scyros were also cities in the vicinity of Troy (the island Scyros, where Achilles was hidden, was a different place). The Thebes mentioned was a city in Asia Minor, not the Thebes in Boeotia. [Back to Text]

(18) Ulysses’ first reference to weapons here is to those he used to identify Achilles in Scyros. The second is to Achilles’ divine weapons made by Vulcan (the object of their debate). [Back to Text]

(19) Aulis was a port in Boeotia, Euboea an island facing the port across the bay. The Greek fleet assembled there before sailing to Troy. [Back to Text]

(20) The son of Atreus is Agamemnon, leader of the Greek army. [Back to Text]

(21) Agamemnon needed Clytaemnestra to agree to let their daughter, Iphigeneia, come to Aulis. Ulysses told the queen that Iphigeneia was to go in order to be married to Achilles. I have added line 322 in the English to clarify what Clytaemnestra was agreeing to (there is no suggestion that she agreed to the sacrifice). [Back to Text]

(22) The Greeks erected some fortifications to defend their ships drawn up on the beach. [Back to Text]

(23) I have added a line in the English to clarify Agamemnon’s order to his troops. [Back to Text]

(24) Thersites, a common soldier, was, according to Homer, the ugliest man in the Greek army. He was well known for his scathing insults. [Back to Text]

(25) Dolon had agreed to scout out the Greek position at night in return for the gift of Achilles’ horses once the Trojans defeated the Greeks. Lines 416-7 may be referring to Ajax’s notion that, if he doesn’t get the weapons, they should be divided between Ulysses and Diomedes. [Back to Text]

(26) Sarpedon was a major ally of the Trojans. Lycia is in Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

(27) An honourable wound is one received in the front, as one is facing the enemy. [Back to Text]

(28) According to some traditions, the lion skin Ajax wore made him invulnerable. [Back to Text]

(29) Achilles had quarreled with Agamemnon and withdrawn from the fighting. When Hector fired the first ship, Achilles sent Patroclus into battle dressed in Achilles’ very distinctive armour. The Trojans thought Achilles was returning to battle and were terrified. [Back to Text]

(30) In Homer’s Iliad, recovering the corpse of a fallen comrade and his armour was considered an act of the greatest bravery. It conferred a very high status on the warrior who did it. [Back to Text]

(31) Patroclus was killed wearing the armour of Achilles, which Hector removed. Thetis replaced that armour with divine armour made by Vulcan, god of the forge. Vulcan decorated Achilles’ shield with wonderfully comprehensive symbols of the entire warrior universe. Line 295 has been rejected as spurious by some editors. [Back to Text]

(32) Helenus, a son of Priam, king of Troy, was a prophet. When Ulysses captured him, he told the Greeks they would not be able to capture Troy unless they brought Achilles’ son Pyrrhus (also called Neoptolemus), the bones of Peleus, and Philoctetes (with his weapons) to Troy and, in addition, stole the statue of Minerva (the Palladium) kept in the citadel of Troy. [Back to Text]

(33) Some editors and translators have rejected the words in square brackets. [Back to Text]

(34) According to some traditions, the lion’s skin Ajax wore (which came from Hercules) made him invulnerable, except in one place, the hole where Hercules’s arrow had gone in when he killed the lion. Hence, Ajax’s flesh was “exposed” there. [Back to Text]

(35) The letters on the flower, the hyacinth, were ai ai, put there by Apollo to indicate his grief over the death of Hyacinthus (for Ovid’s treatment of the story, see 10.294 ff. above). The letters are also a close approximation to Ajax’s name in Greek (Aias). [Back to Text]

(36) The women of Lesbos had offended Venus, who then, as punishment, gave them all a nasty smell. When their husbands turned to other women, the wives murdered them. Hypsipyle had saved her father, Thoas, from this slaughter. [Back to Text]

(37) Some editors and translators consider these lines spurious. Hecuba’s story is told later in this book. [Back to Text]

(38) The priestess was Cassandra, a daughter of Priam. Priam was killed by Achilles’ son, Pyrrhus (also called Neoptolemus), at the altar in the temple of Zeus, where he had taken sanctuary. According to tradition, Ulysses took Hector’s baby child Astyanax from his mother and threw him over the walls of Troy. [Back to Text]

(39) Bistonians were a people in Thrace, north of the Hellespont. [Back to Text]

(40) This is a reference to the famous quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon over captured spoils (the opening scene of the Iliad), which led to Achilles’ withdrawal from the fighting. [Back to Text]
(41) Polyxena was the youngest daughter of Priam and Hecuba. In some accounts, she had been captured and befriended by Achilles, who told her about the one vulnerable spot on his body (his heel). Achilles was killed by a poisoned arrow from Paris. It hit him in the heel in an ambush, when he was on his way to meet Polyxena. [Back to Text]

(42) Memnon’s father was Tithonus, a brother of Priam. He had been granted immortality by Aurora, but not freedom from growing old. Memnon was a king in Ethiopia. [Back to Text]

(43) Memnon was worshipped as a god in Egypt, where there was a very famous statue of him. This annual fight of the birds probably refers to a yearly ritual to commemorate the divine hero. [Back to Text]

(44) Aeneas, who was related to the royal family of Troy, was the leader of the Dardanians, allies of the Trojans and closely linked to them (Dardanus was the mythical founder of the Trojan royal family). Aeneas played an important role in the Trojan War. [Back to Text]

(45) Antandros was a coastal city near Troy. [Back to Text]

(46) For the birth of Apollo and Diana on Delos, see above 6.315. [Back to Text]

(47) According to old legends, Dardanus, the founder of the Trojan royal family, originally came from Italy. [Back to Text]

(48) Orion’s daughters sacrificed themselves to save their city from a plague. Orion was a king of Thebes. [Back to Text]

(49) Teucer was the name of an early king of Troy. He had originally moved there from Crete (he is not to be confused with Teucer, the half-brother of Ajax, who is mentioned at line 13.257 above). The Trojans are sometimes called the Teucrians (see 13.1189 below). The “climate” of Crete drove them away because of drought and plague. [Back to Text]

(50) Ausonia is a name for a region of southern Italy. [Back to Text]

(51) A harpy was a flying animal with the face of young girl. The harpies had been chased to the Strophades by two of the Argonauts, Calaïs and Zethes (see above 7.6). The Strophades were islands in the Ionian Sea. [Back to Text]

(52) Dulichium, Same, and Neritos were all part of Ulysses’ territories. [Back to Text]

(53) Three gods (Apollo, Diana, and Hercules) fought over who would be the divine patron of Ambracia. They asked Cragaleus, a man famous for his wisdom, to judge the case. He was persuaded to give the prize to Hercules. Apollo, in anger, turned Cragaleus to stone. The shrine of Apollo was built by Augustus to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, where he decisively defeated Antony and Cleopatra and consolidated his position of political power in Rome. [Back to Text]

(54) Dodona in Epirus was the site of an important shrine to Jupiter. The oak trees there, so people claimed, played an important role in the oracular responses. The children of the Molossian king were changed into birds by Jupiter when thieves set their house on fire. [Back to Text]

(55) The Phaeacians lived in Corcyra (Corfu). [Back to Text]

(56) For Ovid’s account of why the constellation of the Bear does not sink below the level of the sea, see above 2.747 ff. (Juno’s request to Oceanus and Tethys). [Back to Text]

(57) Crataïs was a river in southern Italy, Symaethis a river in Sicily. Faunus was a god of the woods, the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Pan. A cyclops was a giant monster with one eye in the middle of his forehead. Polyphemus is an important character in the Odyssey who attacks and eats some of Odysseus’ men and who is blinded by Odysseus. However in this tale Polyphemus has not yet encounted Odysseus (Ulysses). [Back to Text]

(58) Acis is asking to be allowed to hide in the water to escape from Polyphemus. His mother was the daughter of a river god. Or the father and mother in question might be Galatea’s parents, Nereus and Doris, gods of the sea. [Back to Text]

(59) Anthedon was on the mainland of Greece, facing the island Euboea. [Back to Text]

(60) Palaemon was a young god of the sea. He had once been Melicertes, the mortal child of Ino and Athamas. For Ovid’s account of how the infant Melicertes became Palaemon, see above 4.785 ff. [Back to Text]




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