HOMAGE TO ANCHISES
[Vergil, in his AENEID (IV, 42-602), gives the following description of the funeral games in Sicily in honor of his father Anchises, who was buried there. Vergil would have been a very good sports announcer on radio or TV, if he had lived in our time, with his vivid play-by-play descriptions.]
When the next day dawned, Aeneas called his companions together and, standing on a small mound, he made this announcement:
"Oh, great Trojans, descendants of the gods, exactly a year has passed since we buried in the ground the body and bones of my beloved father and consecrated altars of grief to his spirit. Unless I am badly mistaken, this is the exact date, a day which I shall always consider a sad memorial day, for such is the will of the gods. If I were an exile in Africa or a prisoner in Greek Mycenae, nevertheless I would conduct these ceremonies every year and bring offerings to the altars for him. But we happen to be in a friendly country at the very spot where the ashes and bones of my father are buried. This too, I think, was the will of the gods. So come and let us all honor my father with happy ceremonies. Let us ask for favorable winds to take us to our destination; and let us assure my father (to his pleasure, I hope) that after a city has been built there we will dedicate temples in his honor. When the ninth day from today dawns and reveals the fruitful earth to mortals, there will be games held: a boat race and a foot race, and discus and javelin throwing, and archery."
[This talk is followed by libations of wine and animal sacrifices in honor of Anchises, Aeneas' father].
On the eagerly awaited ninth day the horses of the sun god ushered in a bright and beautiful day. News of the event had spread through the neighboring peoples and they gathered along the coastline in great numbers -- some to watch the Trojans and others to enter the competition.
First of all, the awards were put out on display: sacred tripods and fresh garlands, and prizes for the winners -- weapons, and scarlet robes, and monetary prizes in silver and gold. Then a trumpet sounded the signal that it was time for the games to begin.
The first contest was a boat race for four of the choice ships in the fleet. Mnestheus was captain of the ship Shark; Gyas had the Chimaera, a ship as large as a city, so large that three banks of oars were needed to move her; Sergestus had the big Centaur; and Cloanthus' boat was the sea-blue Scylla.
Far out in the water lies a rock which swollen waves hide in stormy weather, but in calm weather its smooth surface rises above the water, making a pleasant resting place for the sun-loving gulls. Here Aeneas sets up an oak bough to mark the turning point in the race. It is to this place where the sailors must row, then make their turn and double back to shore. The positions of the ships in the race are chosen by lot.
The captains are resplendent in the scarlet and gold of full-dress uniforms. The sailors wear crowns of poplar leaves, and their shoulders, rubbed with oil, glisten. They sit down at their rowing benches, their arms tense as they grasp the oars. Eagerly they await the starting signal, their hearts beating fast with excitement and a keen desire for victory. The trumpet gives the starting signal, and with loud yelling they all start rowing forward immediately from their starting places. The water is churned to thick foam. At first, they are side by side as the sea is split by the prows and stirred up by the oars. Chariots move no faster when they leave the starting point at the race tracks, and the charioteers, leaning forward, whip their teams of horses and shake the reins. As the boat race gets underway, the woods and shoreline resound with the cheers and shouts of the spectators, favoring one or another of the contestants; and the hills echo their uproar.
Gyas moves into first place. Cloanthus is second, with a better crew but a ship slowed by its size. Behind them the Shark and the Centaur are almost even, with first one and then the other taking the lead. They were all about to reach the rock which was their turning point when Gyas yelled to his pilot Menoetes, "Why the hell are you steering so far to the right? Hug the marker, and let your oars just miss the rocks. Let the others keep farther out."
But Menoetes, fearing hidden rocks, headed for open water. "Why are you going so far out?" Gyas yelled again. "Keep close to the rocks, Menoetes." Gyas kept screaming for him to pull in because he could see Cloanthus closing the space between them and taking the inside track. Then Cloanthus edged between Gyas' ship and the resounding rocks and moved into the lead. He made the turn safely and reached open water again. Now intense anger filled the body of Gyas. Tears filled his eyes and, ignoring the rules of decent behavior and his own and his companions' safety, he grabbed the cautious Menoetes and threw him headlong into the sea. He took over the rudder himself and, yelling orders to his crew, he steered for the shore, while poor old Menoetes slowly came to the surface of the water and swam with difficulty to a dry cliff on the rock where he sat down in his dripping clothes to get dry. The Trojans got a good laugh out of his dunking and swimming and spitting salt water.
This incident raised the hopes of the other two racers, Sergestus and Mnestheus, that they might pass the floundering Gyas. Sergestus got less than half the ship's length ahead of Mnestheus as they neared the rock, but the Shark was pushing hard. Mnestheus walked back and forth among his men, urging them on. "Ply those oars, you fellow-countrymen of the mighty Hector, Trojans whom I chose as the best to be my crew. Work body and soul, and show the spirit that has taken us through rough waters and sand bars. As much as I would like to, we can't win; but at least let's not come in last!" They did their best, breathing hard, while rivers of sweat ran down their tired bodies. Then a lucky break came their way. Sergestus, crazy with eagerness, pressed too close to a projecting rock and sideswiped it. The oars were smashed, and the prow was lifted clear out of the water. The sailors started yelling and, with poles and broken oars, tried to shove the ship back into the water. Mnestheus, happy to have got such an unexpected break, was directing the Shark into the open sea, skimming along with the speed of the wind; and soon Mnestheus had left the stranded Sergestus and his crew struggling to get off the rock, and yelling for help. Then the Shark caught up with and passed Gyas and his Chimaera, wallowing wildly without a pilot. Only Cloanthus is ahead of the Shark now; and the uproar from the audience doubles, as they cheer for the underdog. Mnestheus' men take hope from their unexpected good luck, and they strive for victory -- something that a little time before seemed impossible. They can because they think they can! And they would have won, or at least tied for first place if Cloanthus had not resorted to prayer, promising rich sacrifices to the gods of the sea if they would help him. They heard his prayers and, with their help, he swept into the harbor as the winner.
With a loud voice the herald announced Cloanthus the winner, and put on his head the green laurel wreath of victory. There was silver and wine for the sailors of all the ships, and a steer for each ship. The skippers got special prizes: the winner was given a robe decorated with scarlet and gold, with a mythological story woven into the cloth, the story of the boy Ganymede out hunting with his hounds when Jupiter's eagle swooped down and carried him away; Mnestheus, in second place, was given an intricately made coat of armor, interlaced with gold, which had been taken by Aeneas from a Greek leader whom he had killed during the Trojan War. The third prize consisted of two bronze cauldrons and some embossed silver bowls.
The prizes had been awarded, and the laurel-crowned victors had already left with their booty when Sergestus' ship came limping into port, battered and with broken oars. It had to use sails to reach home. Sergestus was the laughingstock of the crowd, but Aeneas did not forget his promise to give every participant an award. His prize was a slave girl from Crete, very skilled in weaving, along with her infant twin boys, who would grow up into fine workers.
With the boat race over, Aeneas heads for a grassy plain with wooded hills surrounding a racecourse in the valley. The crowd comes trooping after him and sits down on the bleachers. Again Aeneas tempts people to participate by putting on display a group of great prizes. Both the Trojans and the Sicilians are attracted to compete. The Trojans Nisus and Euryalus come forward first. Euryalus is an unusually handsome young fellow, and Nisus is the boy's most devoted friend; next comes Diores, a member of the Trojan royal family; then come Salius and Patron, Sicilians originally from two different sections of Greece; then two native Sicilians, Penopes and Helymus; and many others, whose names time has erased. Aeneas stands on a little mound in the center of the racecourse and speaks:
"No participant will go away without an award. I shall give to each one two Cretan arrows gleaming with polished steel, and a two-edged ax embossed with silver. Everyone gets these prizes, but the first three runners will also be given an olive wreath to wear. The winner will also ride home a horse equipped with splendid trappings; for second place there will be an Amazonian quiver with Thracian arrows, and a wide gold belt with a jeweled buckle; the one who comes in third will leave happy with a Greek helmet."
The runners take their places and, when the starting signal is given, they dash immediately down the track like rain from a stormcloud. Nisus is far in the lead, moving quicker than the winds or lightning. Second (but a long way back) is Salius, and some distance behind him, Euryalus is third. Helymus is behind Euryalus, and right on his heels is Diores. There is a little crowding in this area or he would have gone past Helymus. And now the race is almost over, and the exhausted runners are nearing the finish line when Nisus has the misfortune of slipping in some blood which had got spilled on the racetrack when a sacrificial bull had been killed nearby. Nisus, already glorying in his thought of victory, does not notice this, and when he steps into it he slides, staggers, and falls flat on his face. But he keeps his wits about him and thinks about his friend Euryalus. Lifting himself a little bit, he "accidentally" rolls over in the slimy sand -- right in the path of Salius, who tumbles head over heels into this mess. Euryalus flashes by, an easy winner, thanks to his friend's help. Helymus comes in second and Diores third. Salius immediately starts yelling, "Foul!" and insists that he was robbed of the first prize, which should be given to him. But the crowd favors Euryalus, who is young and better-looking -- and now crying. Diores loudly backs Euryalus' claim -- for who would get the helmet if Salius won first prize?
Aeneas ends the argument: "The race will stand as run; you get your prizes as first proposed; no one will alter the order. However, one thing I can and will do: give a consolation prize to our unfortunate friend." Thereupon he gave Salius a shaggy lion-skin with gilded claws.
Then Nisus spoke up: "If you are giving awards to those who had misfortune, what does Nisus deserve? I had the race won until Lady Luck gave me the same bad deal she handed Salius!" As he said this, he turned and showed his body and face, filthy from his fall. Aeneas, laughing, ordered another prize for him, a shield designed and crafted by the artist Didymaon, stolen at one time by the Greeks from a temple of Neptune, but later recovered -- a worthy prize for this remarkable young man.
After the presentation of all the racing awards was finished, Aeneas put out the prizes for the boxing match and said, "Now, whoever has enough courage and fighting spirit, step forward and put on the boxing gloves." The prizes were a young bull decked with gold and ribbons for the winner, a sword and a beautiful helmet for the loser. Without hesitation Dares stands up, and a nervous whisper goes through the crowd. They recall that at the funeral games for Hector this man had challenged the huge champion Butes and had struck him down and left him on the yellow sand to die. Now Dares walks into the ring, shakes his broad shoulders to loosen the muscles, warms up a little -- a left, a right, a left -- in shadow-boxing. Who will oppose him? No one in this throng dares to take him on and put on the boxing gloves. So Dares stood in front of Aeneas, assuming that he was the victor by default. With his left hand he grabbed the bull by a horn and said, "Aeneas, if no one dares take a chance against me, how long must I stand around waiting? Give the order for me to lead away my prize."
The Trojans all applauded, but Acestes, the king of Sicily, turned to Entellus, who was sitting next to him on the grass, and he reprimanded him, "Entellus, was I mistaken in formerly considering you the greatest of heroes? Will you sit here tamely and let these nice prizes be taken away without a contest? Was it futile for the godlike Eryx to have been your teacher? Was it meaningless for you to win all those prizes and trophies that you have?"
In answer Entellus said, "Oh, I still love glory and praise, and I am not lacking in courage. But I am too old, the blood in my old body is cold, and my strength is not what it used to be. That braggart has one thing, youth, and how he revels in it! If I were his age I would not need prizes like bulls or helmets to get me into the fight." From somewhere he produced the boxing gloves of Eryx and tossed them into the ring, all stiff and heavy, seven layers of hide with insewn lead and iron. Everybody was astounded, especially Dares, who drew back, wanting no part in a fight against these. Aeneas picks them up, turning them over and over to examine them. The elderly Entellus made this comment: "These are nothing in comparison to the gloves that Hercules used when he boxed here. These are the gloves that Eryx, Aeneas' half-brother, wore years ago. You can still see the blood and stains of brains on them. He wore them in his match with Hercules. In fact, I myself used to wear them when I was younger and unchallenged by Time, the invincible rival. But if the Trojan Dares refuses to accept these gloves for me, it's all right. Let him also get rid of his Trojan gloves. We will fight on an equal basis. Aeneas will check fairness for Dares and Acestes for me." Saying this, he threw off his cloak, and stripped himself down to his great limbs, bones, and muscles, and stood there a giant in the ring. Aeneas brought them matched pairs of gloves.
They take their positions, each standing on the balls of his feet, with arms upraised. They spar, they lead, they watch for openings. The younger Dares is much better in footwork; old Entellus has to rely on power and strength, although his knees are shaky and his wind is not what it used to be. They throw punches, and many miss; some, with a solid thump, land on ribs or chest. Temples and ears feel the breeze from a miss, or the jaws rattle when a punch lands. Entellus stands flat-footed, wasting no motion, his watchful eyes alert. Dares, feinting, like one attacking a city, tries this approach, then that, dancing around in varied but vain attack. Entellus, rising to his full height, draws back his right. But Dares, seeing it coming, slips aside. Entellus, landing on nothing but air, is thrown off balance and comes down heavily, flat on his face. Both the Sicilians and the Trojans rise to their feet, yelling to the high heavens. Acestes rushes in to raise his comrade in pity and sorrow. But this veteran fighter is not slowed one bit. His rage and shame awaken in him a consciousness of his strength. He gets up and chases Dares all over the ring; and his punches -- left, right, left, right -- rattle like hailstones on a roof. He batters Dares, spins him halfway around with one hand, then clouts him straight with the other one. At last Aeneas steps in and stops the fight, with a word of comfort for the exhausted Dares: "Unlucky fellow, have you lost your mind? Can't you realize that divine powers are giving your opponent strength? Give in to the will of the gods."
They drag Dares to the ships, with his knees caving in under him, and his head rolling from side to side while he spits out blood and teeth. They leave the victory and the bull for Entellus. He, all pumped up with his victory, called out: "Watch this, Aeneas and you other Trojans, and discover two things: (1) how strong I was when I was younger, and (2) what kind of death you kept Dares from meeting." Then, standing in front of the bull that had been his prize, he drew back his right hand, poised it, and sent it smashing between the horns, splashing brains on the bones. The animal, trembling, fell dying on the ground. Then Entellus said, "Eryx, I give this life (a better one than Dares') as a sacrifice to you. And so, as a victor, I now retire and lay aside my gloves forever."
Immediately after this, Aeneas called for those who wanted to enter an archery contest. He announced what the prizes would be. Then as a target, from the top of the mast on Serestus' ship, a fluttering dove was suspended by a cord. Four people entered this contest. The order in which they would shoot was decided by having their names shaken from a helmet. Hippocoon's name came out first; next was Mnestheus, a winner in the boat race, still wearing his green olive garland; the third was Eurytion, the brother of Pandarus, who had broken the truce with the Greeks during the Trojan War by firing an arrow in the days of "cease fire"; the last name in the helmet was Acestes, willing to try his hand against younger men. They bend their pliant bows and each man draws from his quiver an arrow. First Hippocoon's arrow flew through the wind from his twanging bowstring. It struck the mast, which trembled, and the bird flapped its wings in terror. Everybody cheered. Mnestheus aimed a little higher but, pitying the bird, he did not hit it. Instead, he cut the knot and the cord that bound the bird to the mast, and it sped free toward the South. Eurytion, ready and waiting, called on his brother (the patron saint of archers) to help him. He let fly his arrow and transfixed the dove flying under the dark clouds. She fell to earth lifeless, the arrow still piercing her body. No prize was left for Acestes but, just to prove his skill, he shot his arrow as high as he could. And a miracle happened, for the arrow flying into the clouds caught fire and flew blazing across the sky like a comet. Everyone, both Trojan and Sicilian, was frightened, and the seers began working on an interpretation of this omen. Aeneas embraced Acestes and loaded him with gifts, saying, "Take these, for the king of heaven wishes your exceptional skill to be recognized. This embossed bowl belonged to Anchises, given to him by the Thracian king Cesseus as a token of everlasting friendship." On Acestes' brow he placed a green laurel wreath, hailing him as winner over all the rest; and no one begrudged him the honor, not even Eurytion, who had killed the bird. Mnestheus was judged next after Eurytion for cutting the cord, and even Hippocoon was given a prize for hitting the mast. No one was forgotten.
But Aeneas, even before the contest was quite completed, called to him the guardian and friend of the young Ascanius and whispered to him because he wanted the next event to be a surprise to the spectators, "Go tell Ascanius that, if the boys are all set and the horses ready, he should now present himself and them, in arms, in honor of his grandfather." Meanwhile, Aeneas himself walked among the crowd and asked them to move back and leave the racecourse clear and the field open. The boys rode in, handsome on bridled horses, in exact formation before the eyes of their fathers. Both the Sicilians and Trojans applauded in admiration. The garlands, worn according to custom, weighted down the boys' hair; they carried spears made of cornel wood with iron tips; and some of them had brightly polished quivers on their shoulder; around their necks were gold chains.
There were three captains, each followed by a group of twelve other boys. One of the captains was Priam, son of Polites and grandson of Troy's King Priam. He rode on a Thracian horse, with a white spot on its brow and on one of its fetlocks. Another captain was Atys, a very close friend of Ascanius. And the last one was Ascanius himself, riding on a Carthagenian horse, which Dido had given him as a token of her affection. The other youngsters rode Sicilian horses.
The Trojans greet the entrance of the boys with loud applause, seeing reflections of the fathers in the sons. The youngsters, unaccustomed to public performances, are embarrassed by their enthusiastic reception. They rode full circle once. Then, when a crack of the whip was given as the signal, they parted into their three groups, went galloping off, returned, wheeled, made a mock charge with lances poised. They marched and counter-marched, troops intermingled with troops in mimic battle, mimic retreat, and mimic peace. Their moves were as complicated as the passageways of the labyrinth in Crete, but the Trojan boys performed these intricate maneuvers, wove in and out, in conflict and flight and sport, as happy as dolphins leaping in the waters off Africa.
Ascanius, when he grew up, made it a tradition to hold this ceremony in honor of his grandfather after he established his own town, Alba Longa, in Italy, teaching the young boys there the skills that he had learned as a young boy.
[The games are now over, and Vergil "turns off the microphone" and changes the subject to the mischief that the women have been up to while the men were attending these athletic events].
This paraphrase from the Latin is the work of Bernice L. Fox, a professor emerita of Monmouth College. She is grateful to the poetic translation of the AENEID made by Rolfe Humphries for some of the phraseology.
Monmouth, Illinois, 1989
This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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