A Boxing Match
from Vergil’s Aeneid, V.
FORWARD TO"A BOXING MATCH"
paraphrased by Garrett W. Theissen,
Pressly Professor of Chemistry
This translation was made to supplement an adult-class Church School study on Paul’s first Corinthian letter. Therein Paul speaks of himself under the figure of a fighter who does not "beat the air." Paul seems to have been a spectator at some of the Greek and Roman athletic and gladiatorial events of his day.
The cestus, or weighted boxing glove, was already a thing of remote antiquity in Paul’s day. In contrast to the modern padded boxing glove, it increased the lethal tendency of the sport. This often made the referee’s decision simpler and fairer: the contestant who remained alive had won!
The practice of celebrating funerals with games, often sanguinary, was also an ancient pre-Roman practice. The Dares-Entellus match was staged in Sicily by Aeneas to honor his father Anchises, buried there earlier. It was one event among many.
Aeneas, goddess-born, arose to say
"If men be here, strong in their hearts and brave,
Let them stand forth, and lift fists gloved for fight."
He then announced the guerdon; a bull calf
Bedecked with gold, and garlanded beside;
And then as second consolation prize
A sword and noble helmet. Hearing this,
Dares offered himself, a man of might.
A murmur rose; his victories were known.
Dares alone with Paris dared match fists;
And had he not slugged Butes’ mighty frame
At Hector’s tomb, so Butes fell and died?
So Dares lifted up his massive head
Erect for battle; his broad shoulders hunched,
His arms thrust out; his fists flailing the air.
Another champion needed! None stood forth
Nor dared to face the big man and his power.
Then Dares claimed a victory by default.
And marched up to Aeneas, and laid hold
Of the young bull’s left horn; and thus he spake:
"O Divine Leader! Since none here will dare
The battle’s issue, why do you delay?
The bull is mine! Pray bid me lead him hence!"
His friends agreed, and asked that it be done.
The local king Acestes, on the grass
Reclining near Entellus’ mighty hulk
Reproached the latter:"You, Entellus, once
Hailed mightiest of our heros, will you then
Surrender, with no contest, such rich gifts?
Your divine teacher, Eryx, how he fought!
And must we now invoke his name in vain?
Your house is hung with trophies, and your fame
Rings loud through all this Sicily I rule!"
Entellus answered to him:"’Tis not fear
That checks my love of glory and good gain,
‘Tis rather age, that chills my slowing blood.
My powers lessen. Had I but the youth
This scoundrel has, and trusts, I would rise up,
Prize or no prize, and meet his challenge here."
Thus speaking, he tossed out two weighted gloves
Of crushing size, which the great Eryx used
In slugging bouts, in which he often was,
And put the thongs thereof about his wrists.
Bystanders marvelled; the big weighted gloves
Were formed of cowhide, binding lead and iron.
Dares, the challenger, viewed them with bulging eyes,
And then stepped back; Aeneas saw the gloves,
Considering well their looming bulk and weight;
And old Entellus spake Aeneas thus:
"Who would not quail before the very gloves
Of Hercules, which Dares has on here?
Thy brother Eryx once these weapons wore,
Behold them spattered with men’s blood and brains;
He thus opposed great Hercules; and I
Have known them well, before jealous old age
Robbed me of strength, and thinned my graying hair;
But if Dares of Troy will not now face
These gloves I wear, and if Aeneas will
And King Acestes, let us equalize.
I will not use the cestus Eryx wore,
So fear not, Dares! but you on your own part
Must lay aside your Trojan boxing gloves."
He then threw off the double cloak he wore
Because of age, revealing a vast frame,
Big-boned and muscled; and in towering bulk
Stepped forth to mid-arena. Aeneas then
Provided equal gloves for both; they put them on
And straightway fell to fighting. First, their heads
They guarded, striking fists with fists alone.
Dares, the younger, moved more deftly, while
The other, heavier, larger, paced about,
Not wholly strong and wholly sure of step.
Each fighter bruised the other many times.
The cracks of blows on ribs and chests resound;
The flailing fists spare neither ears nor brows;
And cheekbones snap as some fair blow drives home.
Heavy Entellus stands unmoved by all,
His mass alone his weapon now; his eyes
Are closing, while his adversary, swift
Dances around and strikes from every side,
Like a besieging army‘round a fort.
Entellus raises up his mighty right
To strike down from above; his swift young foe
Perceives the blow intended and escapes;
Entellus vainly strikes upon a void,
Then crumples forward, like a tree torn loose
Upon a mountain; a great shout goes up
And King Acestes rushes in to lift
His helpless subject, who had fought for him.
Entellus roused himself; he rushed back in
Aflame with wrath, and drove his youthful foe
Around the ring; his rights and lefts crashed home
With no respite; like hailstones rained the blows.
Aeneas, fatherly, stepped in to cool
Entellus’ rising wrath; Dares he pulled.
From out the ring, and called the battle done.
He told Dares:"The gods are on his side;
To them yield, not to him!" They therefore stopped.
His comrades gather round the beaten dares,
And lead him to the ship; he reels along
With swollen features and a head that lolls
From side to side, and with distorted mouth
From which, from time to time, drop blood and teeth.
The battered hero there receives his prize.
The sword and helmet; and he yields the palm
And the bull calf, the first prize, to his foe.
His conqueror, with pride swelled to the full
There bade Aeneas and the Trojan band
Bear witness to his strength and that Dares
Had by them, barely, just been saved from death.
He then stepped up to his first prize, the calf,
Drew back his mighty right and loosed a blow
that dropped the bull calf dead with shattered skull;
And from his heart he spake thus forth in prayer.
"O valiant Eryx! here I offer you
A sacrifice more pleasing than the death
Of Dares who has faced me here in fight!
Accept of it, and may your shade find peace!"