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Alfred J. Church

The Burning of the Ships—The Coming to Italy

W HILE the Trojans were busy with the games, Juno was busy doing them a great mischief, for she saw that they were now very near to the end of their wanderings, that is to say, the land of Italy. And the mischief was this, to burn their ships.

The women sat by themselves near the ships, making a great wailing for Anchises. And as they looked at the sea they thought to themselves: "Surely we have travelled enough; surely we have had enough of the sea: would it not be far better that we should have a city in which to dwell?"

Now Juno had sent down her messenger Iris to do this business for her. So when Iris knew what the women were thinking, she took the shape of a Trojan woman, Beroë by name, and went among them and said: "Surely, my sisters, it would have been better for us if we had been killed by the Greeks when they took the city of Troy. Seven summers have come and gone since we left our native country, and we are still wandering over sea and land. We seek this land of Italy, but it seems to be always flying before us, and we never see it. Here we have friends and kinsfolk. Why should we not build here a city? Why should we not burn these accursed ships which carry us hither and thither? Last night I saw in a dream the prophetess Cassandra. She seemed to say to me: 'Here is Troy; here is the home for which you are seeking.' And as she said this, she put a torch in my hand. See now the altars here, and the fire upon them." And she caught a torch from the altar, and threw it at the ships.

But another woman, who had been nurse to the sons of King Priam, cried out: "Women of Troy, this is not Beroë who is speaking to you. Beroë I left just now, very sick and much vexed that she could not come to this our meeting here. No; this is not Beroë. Look how she walks, and what shining eyes she has." The women stood in doubt, not knowing what to do. They would have liked to stay where they were, and yet they knew that they were called to the land of Italy. But while they doubted, they saw Iris going up to heaven by the path of the rainbow, and they cried out: "It is a goddess who has spoken to us!" And a great rage came upon them; every one of them caught up a torch from the altars, and ran and set fire to the ships. In a moment the flames ran over the benches and the oars and the stems of pine. Some one ran at once to the Trojans as they sat looking at the games, and told them what was going on: they themselves, too, saw a great cloud of smoke coming up from the sea. Ascanius heard of the matter while he was leading his host, and immediately he galloped down to the shore. When he got to the ships, he cried out: "What are you doing? This is not the camp of the Greeks that you are burning. You are burning your own hopes. See, I am your own Ascanius." And he took his helmet from his head, and stood bareheaded before them. After him came Æneas and the other Trojans, as fast as they could. And when the women thought of what they had done, they were much ashamed of their behaviour, and sought to hide themselves. But not the less did the fire burn the ships, nor could the Trojans, when they tried to put it out, do any good. Then Æneas rent his garments and cried out: "O Jupiter, if thou carest for us at all, save our ships, lest we perish altogether. But if thou art angry, and if I have done wrong, slay me with thy thunderbolt, but save my people."

While he was still speaking, a great storm came up from the south, with thunder and lightning and a great rain. So the fire was put down. Nevertheless, four of the ships were burnt entirely.

Æneas was much troubled at these things, and thought in himself what he had better do. Should he stay in Sicily, where he had friends?—for though the Fates called him to Italy, yet there was ever something to hinder his going. Then a certain priest, a wise man, one who knew better than all others the mind of the gods, said to him: "Surely we must go to the place whither the gods call us. That it is not lawful to doubt. Nevertheless, you may think of something that shall help us in our present need. I would have you ask advice from King Acestes, for he is your friend, and not only so, but of the same race as we are. See now; four ships have been burnt, and there are too many people here for such as are left. And see again; some do not like the thing which you purpose to do. There are old men and women who are weary of the sea; there are some that are weak; and there are some whose courage fails them. Let King Acestes, if he will, take these for himself. Let him build a city for them, and call it Acesta after his own name." But before he could do anything in the matter the night came, and Æneas went to his bed. While he slept he saw his father in a dream. The old man said: "My son, Jupiter has sent me to you. Take the advice which has been given you, for it is good. Choose out the best and strongest of your people to go with you, for you will have to do with a strong and fierce people in this land of Italy to which you go. But first come and see me in the place where I dwell below the earth. The Sibyl, whose abode is in Cumæ, will show you the way; there you shall hear all that shall come to you and to your children after. And now I must go, for the morning is coming."

So Æneas took counsel with the chief of the Trojans, and with King Acestes. And the king was willing to do the thing that Æneas asked of him. So they made a division of the people. Those that were strong and brave were to go with Æneas, and those who were weak and doubtful and faint-hearted were to stay. So Æneas marked out the boundaries of the city with a plough, and King Acestes set everything in order.

On the ninth day, after much feasting, Æneas and his men departed, not without many tears from those who were going and those who were left behind. And when the south wind blew softly, they set sail; and the god of the sea gave them a smooth passage. So they came to the land of Italy, to Cumæ, the dwelling of the Sibyl. The men pushed the ships on to the beach, turning their foreparts to the sea, and making them fast with anchors and ropes. While they were busy with this Æneas went up to the temple. It was a wonderful place which Dædălus himself had built when he came to Italy from the island of Crete. For Dædălus had made wings for himself and for Icarus his son, and so had fled from Crete when King Minos would have killed him. He himself came safe, but his son, flying too high in the air, had the wax melted from his wings, and so fell into the sea and was drowned. And Dædălus had set forth all the story of the things that had happened in Crete, carving all the figures in stone. Only when he came to set forth the death of his son, his heart failed him, so great was his grief.

Then the Sibyl, who was a prophetess, told Æneas something of what should happen to him in the land of Italy. And when he had heard her prophecy, he said: "O Lady, I have something more to ask of you. My father, Anchises, has bidden me, not once or twice, but many times, to go down to the place where he dwells among the dead. Will you, therefore, be my guide, for you know the way?"

The Sibyl said: "It is easy to go down to the dwellings of the dead, but it is hard to come back. Nevertheless, if it is lawful for you to go, then I will go with you. And this is how you may know whether it is lawful. There is in the very middle of a wood hard by a tree on which there grows a bough of gold. If you can find this bough, and if, when you have found it, you are able to pluck it from its place, then you may know that it is lawful for you to go."

So Æneas went into the wood, and the doves of his mother went before him, guiding him to the place where the golden bough was growing. And when he saw it, he put out his hand, and plucked it, and it came off at once. Then he went back to the Sibyl, and the two went together. Now the things which they saw are told elsewhere. It will be sufficient to say in this place, that Æneas found his father in the happy place which they called the Elysian Fields. Very glad were they to meet again. And Anchises showed his son a long line of his descendants who should be in the time to come. There were the kings of Alba, and Romulus, who should build the great city of Rome, and Brutus, who should set that city free when tyrants were ruling over it, and wise men who should make laws, and soldiers who should win great victories—a most noble company. "See," he said, "your children's children. Others shall carve the face of men in marble, or mold it in bronze more skilfully; others shall be more eloquent in speech, and know better the rising and setting of the stars. It is the work of your children's children to rule the world."

So Æneas, when he had seen and heard these things, went up again to the world above.