The Aeneid, Book IX

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The Trojans under Siege

Meanwhile Juno sent Iris to Turnus to tell him that Aeneas had left his camp seeking allies from Evander and elsewhere. Now was the time for Turnus to attack Aeneas’ camp in his absence. Turnus mobilised his army towards the camp. The Trojans took up position within the camp but, on Aeneas’ orders, did not fight them: Turnus and twenty horsemen charged towards the gates, surprised and angry that the Trojans did not retaliate. Instead he decided to set fire to the moored Trojan fleet.

However, Cybele, the Mother Goddess, turned the ships into sea nymphs, having been promised by Jupiter this would happen. Turnus encouraged his men by saying the Trojans now had no means of escape; he was not worried by what was fated for Aeneas as that destiny had been fulfilled when he set foot in Italy; Turnus’ destiny was to kill the people who robbed him of his bride; the Trojans’ walls could not save them now just as Troy’s walls had not. He then set up guards round the outside of Aeneas’ camp. The Trojans in turn set up guards on the walls.

Changing Stories: Ovid's Metamorphoses on canvas, 78 – Aeneas in ...
Cybele turns the Trojan fleet into nymphs. Folio 71 from the Vergilius Vaticanus

Guarding the gate were Nisus and Euryalus, two friends who were inseparable, Nisus a formidible warrior, Euryalus younger but less experienced. Nisus persuaded Iulus and the Trojan leaders to allow them to make their way through the Rutilian camp at night and find Aeneas to tell him of their situation and, for their bravery, they were promised many precious gifts if they were successful. As they approached the Rutilians Nisus asked Euryalus to guard his rear while he cleared a path through the sleeping enemy by killing all that he met, like a lion killing sheep. Following Nisus, Euryalus also killed those in his path, taking pieces of armour as plunder including the helmet of Messapus.

At that moment three hundred Latin cavalry led by Volcens were approaching the Rutilian camp with messages for Turnus. They spotted Nisus and Euryalus because Euryalus’ helmet shone in the moonlight. When challenged by Volcens Nisus and Euryalus fled into a wood. Nisus escaped but Euryalus lost his way and was captured by the Latins. Nisus turned back to rescue him. He threw his spear and killed two Latins, Sulmo and Tagus. Volscens killed Euryalus in revenge and so Nisus attacked and killed Volscens, himself dying at the hands of the Latins as he did so. The heads of Nisus and Euryalus were impaled on spears and paraded before the walls of the Trojan camp the next morning. Euryalus’ mother was mad with grief when, from the ramparts, she saw her son’s head.

Nisus and Euryalus by Jean-Baptiste Roman 1827.

The Rutilians, led by Turnus, attacked the Trojan walls whilst the Trojans threw huge blocks of stone and weapons at them. The Rutilians destroyed with fire one of the Trojan towers and were gaining the upper hand. As Numanus, a Rutilian, jeered at the Trojans Ascanius shot his first arrow in war and killed him, raising the spirits of the Trojans. Apollo praised Ascanius and then, disguised as Butes, his grandfather’s armour bearer, he told Ascanius to withdraw from the fighting. Emboldened two Trojans, Pandarus and Bitias, opened the camp gates. The Rutilians rushed in but were either killed or fled. The tide of battle turned again when Turnus rushed up and killed Bitias. Pandarus closed the gates again, shutting out some of the Trojans but shutting in Turnus. Pandarus and Turnus fought and Pandarus was killed by a blow from Turnus’ sword. Turnus then began to kill other Trojans until Mnestheus shamed the Trojans because they were not fighting back against one man. When the Trojans rallied Turnus withdrew, jumping into the river to escape.

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