Deep o'er his knee inseam'd, remain'd the scar: Which noted token of the woodland war When Euryclea found, the ablution ceased; Down dropp'd the leg, from her slack hand released: The mingled fluids from the base redound; The vase reclining floats the floor around! Smiles dew'd with tears the pleasing strife express'd Of grief, and joy, alternate in her breast. Her fluttering words in melting murmurs died; At length abrupt—"My son!—my king!" she cried.
Her nap ended, Penelope resumes her conversation with the beggar, telling him she has been favored by a dream portending the death of the suitors. Still, she realizes there are two kinds of dreams,—those that come true issuing from Somnus' palace by the gate of horn, while deceptive dreams pass through an ivory gate. After providing for the beggar's comfort, Penelope retires, and as usual spends most of the night mourning for her absent partner.
Book XX. Sleeping beneath the portico on the skins of the animals slain to feast the horde of suitors, Ulysses sees the maids slip out of the palace to join the suitors, who have wooed them surreptitiously. Then he falls asleep and is visited by Minerva, who infuses new strength and courage in his veins. At dawn Ulysses is awakened by Telemachus, and soon after the house is once more invaded by the suitors, who with their own hands slay the animals provided for their food. Once more they display their malevolence by ill treating the beggar, and taunt Telemachus, who apparently pays no heed to their words.
Book XXI. Meantime Minerva has prompted Penelope to propose to the suitors to string Ulysses' bow and shoot an arrow through twelve rings. Armed with this weapon, and followed by handmaids bearing bow, string, and arrows, Penelope appears in the banquet-hall, where the suitors eagerly accept her challenge. But, after Antinous has vainly striven to bend the bow, the others warily try sundry devices to ensure its pliancy.
Meantime, noticing that the swineherd and one of his companions—upon whose fidelity he counts—have left the hall, Ulysses follows them, makes himself known by means of his scar, and directs them what to do. Then, returning into the hall, he silently watches the suitors' efforts to bend the bow, and, when the last has tried and failed, volunteers to make the attempt, thereby rousing general ridicule. All gibes are silenced, however, when the beggar not only spans the bow, but sends his first arrow through the twelve rings. At the same time the faithful servants secure the doors of the apartment, and Telemachus, darting to his father's side, announces he is ready to take part in the fray.
Then fierce the hero o'er the threshold strode; Stript of his rags, he blazed out like a god. Full in their face the lifted bow he bore, And quiver'd deaths, a formidable store; Before his feet the rattling shower he threw, And thus, terrific, to the suitor-crew: "One venturous game this hand hath won to-day; Another, princes! yet remains to play: Another mark our arrow must attain. Phoebus, assist! nor be the labor vain." Swift as the word the parting arrow sings; And bears thy fate, Antinous, on its wings. Wretch that he was, of unprophetic soul! High in his hands he rear'd the golden bowl: E'en then to drain it lengthen'd out his breath; Changed to the deep, the bitter draught of death! For fate who fear'd amidst a feastful band? And fate to numbers, by a single hand? Full through his throat Ulysses' weapon pass'd, And pierced his neck. He falls, and breathes his last.
Grimly announcing his second arrow will reach a different goal by Apollo's aid, Ulysses shoots the insolent Antinous through the heart and then begins to taunt and threaten the other suitors. Gazing wildly around them for weapons or means of escape, these men discover how cleverly they have been trapped. One after another now falls beneath the arrows of Ulysses, who bids his son hasten to the storeroom and procure arms for them both as there are not arrows enough to dispose of his foes. Through Telemachus' heedlessness in leaving the doors open, the suitors contrive to secure weapons too, and the fight in the hall rages until they all have been slain. Then the doors are thrown open, and the faithless maids are compelled to remove the corpses and purify the room, before they are hanged!
Book XXIII. The old nurse has meantime had the privilege of announcing Ulysses' safe return to his faithful retainers, and last of all to the sleeping Penelope. Unable to credit such tidings,—although the nurse assures her she has seen his scar,—Penelope imagines the suitors must have been slain by some god who has come to her rescue. She decides, therefore, to go down and congratulate her son upon being rid of those who preyed upon his wealth. Seeing she does not immediately fall upon his father's neck, Telemachus hotly reproaches her, but she rejoins she must have some proof of the stranger's identity and is evidently repelled by his unprepossessing appearance. Hearing this, Ulysses suggests that all present purify themselves, don fresh garments, and partake of a feast, enlivened by the songs of their bard. While he is attended by the old nurse, Minerva sheds upon him such grace that, when he reappears, looking like a god, he dares reproach Penelope for not recognizing him. Then, hearing her order that his bed be removed to the portico, he hotly demands who cut down the tree which formed one of its posts? Because this fact is known only to Penelope and to the builder of the bed, she now falls upon Ulysses' neck, begging his pardon. Their joy at being united is marred only by Ulysses' determination soon to resume his travels, and pursue them until Tiresias' prediction has been fulfilled. That night is spent in mutual confidences in regard to all that has occurred during their twenty years' separation, and when morning dawns Ulysses and his son go to visit Laertes.
Book XXIV. Mindful of his office as conductor of souls to Hades, Mercury has meanwhile entered the palace of Ulysses, and, waving his wand, has summoned the spirits of the suitors, who, uttering plaintive cries, follow him down to the infernal regions.
Cyllenius now to Pluto's dreary reign Conveys the dead, a lamentable train! The golden wand, that causes sleep to fly, Or in soft slumber seals the wakeful eye, That drives the ghosts to realms of night or day, Points out the long uncomfortable way. Trembling the spectres glide, and plaintive vent Thin hollow screams, along the deep descent. As in the cavern of some rifty den, Where flock nocturnal bats and birds obscene, Cluster'd they hang, till at some sudden shock, They move, and murmurs run through all the rock: So cowering fled the sable heaps of ghosts; And such a scream fill'd all the dismal coasts.
There they overhear Ajax giving Achilles a minute account of his funeral,—the grandest ever seen,—and when questioned describe Penelope's stratagem in regard to the Web and to Ulysses' bow.
Meanwhile Ulysses has arrived at his father's farm, where the old man is busy among his trees. To prepare Laertes for his return, Ulysses relates one of his fairy tales ere he makes himself known. Like Penelope, Laertes proves incredulous, until Ulysses points out the trees given him when a child and exhibits his scar.
Smit with the signs which all his doubts explain, His heart within him melts; his knees sustain Their feeble weight no more; his arms alone Support him, round the loved Ulysses thrown: He faints, he sinks, with mighty joys oppress'd: Ulysses clasps him to his eager breast.
To celebrate their reunion, a banquet is held, which permits the Ithacans to show their joy at their master's return. Meanwhile the friends of the suitors, having heard of the massacre, determine to avenge them by slaying father and son. But, aided by Minerva and Jupiter, these two heroes present so formidable an appearance, that the attacking party concludes a treaty, which restores peace to Ithaca and ends the Odyssey.
[Footnote 3: The quotations of the Odyssey are taken from Pope's translation.]
[Footnote 4: See chapter on Venus in the author's "Myths of Greece and Rome."]
Latin literature took its source in the Greek, to which it owes much of its poetic beauty, for many of its masterpieces are either translations or imitations of the best Greek writings. There have been, for instance, numerous translations of the Iliad and Odyssey, the first famous one being by the "father of Roman dramatic and epic poetry," Livius Andronicus, who lived in the third century B.C. He also attempted to narrate Roman history in the same strain, by composing an epic of some thirty-five books, which are lost.
Another poet, Naevius, a century later composed the Cyprian Iliad, as well as a heroic poem on the first Punic war (Bellum Punicum), of which only fragments have come down to us. Then, in the second century before our era, Ennius made a patriotic attempt to sing the origin of Rome in the Annales in eighteen books, of which only parts remain, while Hostius wrote an epic entitled Istria, which has also perished. Lucretius' epic "On the Nature of Things" is considered an example of the astronomical or physical epic.
The Augustan age proved rich in epic poets, such as Publius Terentius Varro, translator of the Argonautica and author of a poem on Julius Caesar; Lucius Varius Rufus, whose poems are lost; and, greatest of all, Virgil, of whose latest and greatest work, the Aeneid, a complete synopsis follows. Next to this greatest Latin poem ranks Lucan's Pharsalia, wherein he relates in ten books the rivalry between Caesar and Pompey, while his contemporary Statius, in his Thebais and unfinished Achilleis, works over the time-honored cycles of Thebes and Troy. During the same period Silius Italicus supplied a lengthy poem on the second Punic war, and Valerius Flaccus a new translation or adaptation of the Argonautica.
In the second century of our own era Quintius Curtius composed an epic on Alexander, and in the third century Juvencus penned the first Christian epic, using the Life of Christ as his theme. In the fifth century Claudianus harked back to the old Greek myths of the battle of the Giants and of the Abduction of Persephone, although by that time Christianity was well established in Italy. From that epoch Roman literature practically ceased to exist, for although various attempts at Latin epics were made by mediaeval poets, none of them proved of sufficient merit to claim attention here.
Book I. After stating he is about to sing the deeds of the heroic ancestor of the Romans, Virgil describes how, seven years after escaping from burning Troy, Aeneas' fleet was overtaken by a terrible storm off the coast of Africa. This tempest, raised by the turbulent children of Aeolus at Juno's request, threatened before long to destroy the Trojan fleet. But, disturbed by the commotion overhead and by Aeneas' frantic prayers for help, Neptune suddenly arose from the bottom of the sea, angrily ordered the winds back to their cave, and summoned sea-nymphs and tritons to the Trojans' aid. Soon, therefore, seven of the vessels came to anchor in a sheltered bay, where Aeneas landed with his friend Achates. While reconnoitring, they managed to kill seven stags with which to satisfy the hunger of the men, whom Aeneas further cheered by the assurance that they were the destined ancestors of a mighty people.
Meantime Venus, beholding the plight of her son Aeneas, had hastened off to Olympus to remind Jupiter of his promise to protect the remnant of the Trojan race. Bestowing a kiss, the King of the Gods assured her that after sundry vicissitudes Aeneas would reach Italy, where in due time his son would found Alba Longa. Jupiter added a brief sketch of what would befall this hero's race, until, some three hundred years after his death, one of his descendants, the Vestal Ilia, would bear twin sons to Mars, god of War. One of these, Romulus, would found the city of Rome, where the Trojan race would continue its heroic career and where Caesar would appear to fill the world with his fame.
"From Troy's fair stock shall Caesar rise, The limits of whose victories Are ocean, of his fame the skies."
Having thus quieted Venus' apprehensions in regard to her son, Jupiter directed Mercury to hasten off to Carthage so as to warn Dido she is to receive hospitably the Trojan guests.
After a sleepless night Aeneas again set out with Achates to explore, and encountered in the forest his goddess mother in the guise of a Tyrian huntress. In respectful terms—for he suspected she was some divinity in disguise—Aeneas begged for information and learned he has landed in the realm of Dido. Warned in a vision that her brother had secretly slain her husband and was plotting against her life, this Tyrian queen had fled from Tyre with friends and wealth, and, on reaching this part of Africa, had, thanks to the clever device of a bull's hide, obtained land enough to found the city of Byrsa or Carthage. In return Aeneas gave the strange huntress his name, relating how the storm had scattered all his vessels save the seven anchored close by. To allay his anxiety in regard to his friends, Venus assured him that twelve swans flying overhead were omens of the safety of his ships, and it was only when she turned to leave him that Aeneas recognized his mother, who, notwithstanding his desire to embrace her, promptly disappeared.
The two Trojans now walked on in the direction she indicated until dazzled by the beauty of the new city of Carthage, which was rising rapidly, thanks to the activity of Dido's subjects. In its centre stood a wonderful temple, whose brazen gates were decorated with scenes from the War of Troy. Hidden from all eyes by a divine mist, Aeneas and Achates tearfully gazed upon these reminders of the glories past and mingled with the throng until Queen Dido appeared.
She was no sooner seated upon her throne than she summoned into her presence some prisoners just secured, in whom Aeneas recognized with joy the various captains of his missing ships. Then he overheard them bewail the storm which robbed them of their leader, and was pleased because Dido promised them entertainment and ordered a search made for their chief.
The right moment having come, the cloud enveloping Aeneas and Achates parted, and Dido thus suddenly became aware of the presence of other strangers in their midst. Endowed by Venus with special attractions so as to secure the favor of the Libyan queen, Aeneas stepped gracefully forward, made himself known, and, after paying due respect to the queen, joyfully greeted his comrades. Happy to harbor so famous a warrior, Dido invited Aeneas to a banquet in her palace, an invitation he gladly accepted, charging Achates to hasten back to the ships to announce their companions' safety and to summon Iulus or Ascanius to join his father. To make quite sure Aeneas should captivate Dido's heart, Venus now substituted Cupid for Iulus, whom she meantime conveyed to one of her favorite resorts. It was therefore in the guise of the Trojan prince that Cupid, during the banquet, caressingly nestled in Dido's arms and stealthily effaced from her heart all traces of her former husband's face, filling it instead with a resistless passion for Aeneas, which soon impelled her to invite him to relate his escape from Troy.
Book II. With the eyes of all present upon him, Aeneas related how the Greeks finally devised a colossal wooden horse, wherein their bravest chiefs remained concealed while the remainder of their forces pretended to sail home, although they anchored behind a neighboring island to await the signal to return and sack Troy. Overjoyed by the departure of the foe, the Trojans hastened down to the shore, where, on discovering the huge wooden horse, they joyfully proposed to drag it into their city as a trophy. In vain their priest, Laocoon, implored them to desist, hurling his spear at the horse to prove it was hollow and hence might conceal some foe. This daring and apparent sacrilege horrified the Trojans, who, having secured a Greek fugitive in a swamp near by, besought him to disclose what purpose the horse was to serve. Pretending to have suffered great injustice at the Greeks' hands, the slave (Sinon) replied that if they removed the wooden horse into their walls the Trojans would greatly endanger the safety of their foes, who had left it on the shore to propitiate Neptune. Enticed by this prospect, the Trojans proved more eager than ever to drag the horse into their city, even though it necessitated pulling down part of their walls. Meantime part of the crowd gathered about Laocoon who was to offer public thanks on the sea-shore, but, even while he was standing at the altar, attended by his sons, two huge serpents arose out of the sea and, coiling fiercely around priest and both acolytes, throttled them in spite of their efforts.
He strains his strength their knots to tear, While gore and slime his fillets smear, And to the unregardful skies Sends up his agonizing cries.
On seeing this, the horror-struck Trojans immediately concluded Laocoon was being punished for having attacked the wooden horse, which they joyfully dragged into Troy, although the prophet-princess, Cassandra, besought them to desist, foretelling all manner of woe.
Night now fell upon the city, where, for the first time in ten years, all slept peacefully without fear of surprise. At midnight Sinon released the captive Greeks from the wooden steed, and, joined by their companions, who had noiselessly returned, they swarmed all over the undefended city. Aeneas graphically described for Dido's benefit his peaceful sleep, when the phantom of the slaughtered Hector bade him arise and flee with his family, because the Greeks had already taken possession of Troy! At this moment loud clamors awakened him, confirming what he had just heard in dream. Aeneas immediately rushed to the palace to defend his king, he and his men stripping the armor from fallen Greeks to enable them to get there unmolested. Still, they arrived only in time to see Achilles' son rush into the throne-room and cruelly murder the aged Priam after killing his youngest son. They also beheld the shrieking women ruthlessly dragged off into captivity, Cassandra wildly predicting the woes which would befall the Greek chiefs on their way home.
Ah see! the Priameian fair, Cassandra, by her streaming hair Is dragged from Pallas' shrine, Her wild eyes raised to Heaven in vain— Her eyes, alas! for cord and chain Her tender hands confine.
The fall of aged Priam and the plight of the women reminding Aeneas of the danger of his own father, wife, and son, he turned to rush home. On his way thither he met his mother, who for a moment removed the mortal veil from his eyes, to let him see Neptune, Minerva, and Juno zealously helping to ruin Troy. Because Venus passionately urged her son to escape while there was yet time, Aeneas, on reaching home, besought his father Anchises to depart, but it was only when the old man saw a bright flame hover over the head of his grandson, Iulus, that he realized heaven intended to favor his race and consented to leave. Seeing him too weak to walk, his son bade him hold the household goods, and carried him off on his back, leading his boy by the hand and calling to his wife and servants to follow. Thus burdened, Aeneas reached a ruined fane by the shore, only to discover his beloved wife was missing. Anxiously retracing his footsteps, he encountered her shade, which bade him cease seeking for her among the living and hasten to Hesperia, where a new wife and home awaited him.
"Then, while I dewed with tears my cheek And strove a thousand things to speak, She melted into night: Thrice I essayed her neck to clasp: Thrice the vain semblance mocked my grasp, As wind or slumber light."
Thus enlightened in regard to his consort's fate and wishes, Aeneas hastened back to his waiting companions, and with them prepared to leave the Trojan shores.
Book III. Before long Aeneas' fleet landed on the Thracian coast, where, while preparing a sacrifice, our hero was horrified to see blood flow from the trees he cut down. This phenomenon was, however, explained by an underground voice, relating how a Trojan was robbed and slain by the inhabitants of this land, and how trees had sprung from the javelins stuck in his breast.
Unwilling to linger in such a neighborhood, Aeneas sailed to Delos, where an oracle informed him he would be able to settle only in the land whence his ancestors had come. Although Anchises interpreted this to mean they were to go to Crete, the household gods informed Aeneas, during the journey thither, that Hesperia was their destined goal. After braving a three-days tempest, Aeneas landed on the island of the Harpies, horrible monsters who defiled the travellers' food each time a meal was spread. They not only annoyed Aeneas in this way, but predicted, when attacked, that he should find a home only when driven by hunger to eat boards.
"But ere your town with walls ye fence, Fierce famine, retribution dread For this your murderous violence, Shall make you eat your boards for bread."
Sailing off again, the Trojans next reached Epirus, which they found governed by Helenus, a Trojan, for Achilles' son had already been slain. Although Hector's widow was now queen of the realm where she had been brought a captive, she still mourned for her noble husband, and gladly welcomed the fugitives for his sake. It was during the parting sacrifice that Helenus predicted that, after long wanderings, his guests would settle in Italy, in a spot where they would find a white sow suckling thirty young. He also cautioned Aeneas about the hidden dangers of Charybdis and Scylla, and bade him visit the Cumaean Sibyl, so as to induce her, if possible, to lend him her aid.
Restored and refreshed by this brief sojourn among kinsmen, Aeneas and his followers resumed their journey, steering by the stars and avoiding all landing in eastern or southern Italy which was settled by Greeks. After passing Charybdis and Scylla unharmed, and after gazing in awe at the plume of smoke crowning Mt. Aetna, the Trojans rescued one of the Greeks who had escaped with Ulysses from the Cyclops' cave but who had not contrived to sail away.
To rest his weary men, Aeneas finally landed at Drepanum, in Sicily, where his old father died and was buried with all due pomp. It was shortly after leaving this place, that Aeneas' fleet had been overtaken by the terrible tempest which had driven his vessels to Dido's shore.
So King Aeneas told his tale While all beside were still, Rehearsed the fortunes of his sail And fate's mysterious will: Then to its close his legend brought And gladly took the rest he sought.
Book IV. While Aeneas rested peacefully, Dido's newborn passion kept her awake, causing her at dawn to rouse her sister Anna, so as to impart to her the agitated state of her feelings. Not only did Anna encourage her sister to marry again, but united with her in a prayer to which Venus graciously listened, although Juno reminded her that Trojans and Carthaginians were destined to be foes. Still, as Goddess of Marriage, Juno finally consented that Aeneas and Dido be brought together in the course of that day's hunt.
We now have a description of the sunrise, of the preparations for the chase, of the queen's dazzling appearance, and of the daring huntsmanship of the false Iulus. But the brilliant hunting expedition is somewhat marred in the middle of the day by a sudden thunderstorm, during which Aeneas and Dido accidentally seek refuge in the same cave, where we are given to understand their union takes place. So momentous a step, proclaimed by the hundred-mouthed Goddess of Fame, rouses the ire of the native chiefs, one of whom fervently hopes Carthage may rue having spared these Trojan refugees. This prayer is duly registered by Jupiter, who further bids Mercury remind Aeneas his new realm is to be founded in Italy and not on the African coast!
Thus divinely ordered to leave, Aeneas dares not disobey, but, dreading Dido's reproaches and tears, he prepares to depart secretly. His plans are, however, detected by Dido, who vehemently demands, how he dares forsake her now? By Jupiter's orders, Aeneas remains unmoved by her reproaches, and sternly reminds her that he always declared he was bound for Italy. So, leaving Dido to brood over her wrongs, Aeneas hastens down to the shore to hasten his preparations for departure. Seeing this, Dido implores her sister to detain her lover, and, as this proves vain, orders a pyre erected, on which she places all the objects Aeneas has used.
That night the gods arouse Aeneas from slumber to bid him sail without taking leave of the Tyrian queen. In obedience to this command, our hero cuts with his sword the rope which moors his vessel to the Carthaginian shore, and sails away, closely followed by the rest of his fleet. From the watch-tower at early dawn, Dido discovers his vanishing sails, and is so overcome by grief that, after rending "her golden length of hair" and calling down vengeance upon Aeneas, she stabs herself and breathes her last in the midst of the burning pyre. The Carthaginians, little expecting so tragical a denouement, witness the agony of their beloved queen in speechless horror, while Anna wails aloud. Gazing down from heaven upon this sad scene, Juno directs Iris to hasten down and cut off a lock of Dido's hair, for it is only when this mystic ceremony has been performed that the soul can leave the body. Iris therefore speedily obeys, saying:
"This lock to Dis I bear away And free you from your load of clay:" So shears the lock: the vital heats Disperse, and breath in air retreats.
Book V. Sailing on, Aeneas, already dismayed by the smoke rising from the Carthaginian shore, is further troubled by rapidly gathering clouds. His weather-wise pilot, Palinurus, suggests that, since "the west is darkening into wrath," they run into the Drepanum harbor, which they enter just one year after Anchises' death. There they show due respect to the dead by a sacrifice, of which a serpent takes his tithe, and proceed to celebrate funeral games. We now have a detailed account of the winning of prizes for the naval, foot, horse and chariot races, and the boxing and archery matches.
While all the men are thus congenially occupied, the Trojan women, instigated by Juno in disguise, set fire to the ships, so they need no longer wander over seas they have learned to loathe. One of the warriors, seeing the smoke, raises the alarm, and a moment later his companions dash down to the shore to save their ships. Seeing his fleet in flames, Aeneas wrings his hands, and prays with such fervor that a cloudburst drenches his burning vessels. Four, however, are beyond repair; so Aeneas, seeing he no longer has ship-room for all his force, allows the Trojans most anxious to rest to settle in Drepanum, taking with him only those who are willing to share his fortunes.
Before he leaves, his father's ghost appears to him, bidding him, before settling in Latium, descend into Hades by way of Lake Avernus, and visit him in the Elysian Fields to hear what is to befall his race.
When Aeneas leaves Drepanum on the next day, his mother pleads so successfully in his behalf that Neptune promises to exact only one life as toll.
"One life alone shall glut the wave; One head shall fall the rest to save."
Book VI. Steering to Cumae, where the Sibyl dwells, Aeneas seeks her cave, whose entrance is barred by bronzen gates, on which is represented the story of Daedalus,—the first bird man,—who, escaping from the Labyrinth at Crete, gratefully laid his wings on this altar. We are further informed that the Sibyl generally wrote her oracles on separate oak leaves, which were set in due order in her cave, but which the wind, as soon as the doors opened, scattered or jumbled together, so that most of her predictions proved unintelligible to those who visited her shrine. After a solemn invocation, Aeneas besought her not to baffle him by writing on oak leaves, and was favored by her apparition and the announcement that, after escaping sundry perils by land and sea and reddening the Tiber with blood, he would, thanks to Greek aid, triumph over his foes and settle in Latium with a new bride. Undaunted by the prospect of these trials, Aeneas besought the Sibyl to guide him down to Hades, to enable him to visit his father, a journey she flatly refused to undertake, unless he procured the golden bough which served as a key to that region, and unless he showed due respect to the corpse of his friend. Although both conditions sounded mysterious when uttered, Aeneas discovered, on rejoining his crew, that one of his Trojans had been slain. After celebrating his funeral, our hero wandered off into a neighboring forest, where some doves—his mother's birds—guided him to the place where grew the golden bough he coveted.
Armed with this talisman and escorted by the Sibyl, Aeneas, by way of Lake Avernus, entered the gloomy cave which formed the entrance to Hades. Following the flying footsteps of his mystic guide, he there plunged into the realm of night, soon reaching the precinct of departed souls, where he saw innumerable shades. Although he immediately crossed the river in Charon's leaky punt, many spirits were obliged to wait a hundred years, simply because they could not pay for their passage. Among these unfortunates Aeneas recognized his recently drowned pilot, who related how he had come to his death and by what means he was going to secure funeral honors.
In spite of the three-headed dog and sundry other grewsome sights, Aeneas and his guide reached the place where Minos holds judgment over arriving souls, and viewed the region where those who died for love were herded together. Among these ghosts was Dido, but, although Aeneas pityingly addressed her, she sullenly refused to answer a word. Farther on Aeneas came to the place of dead heroes, and there beheld brave Hector and clever Teucer, together with many other warriors who took part in the Trojan War.
After allowing him to converse a brief while with these friends, the Sibyl vouchsafed Aeneas a passing glimpse of Tartarus and of its great criminals, then she hurried him on to the Elysian Fields, the home of "the illustrious dead, who fighting for their country bled," to inquire for Anchises. The visitors were immediately directed to a quiet valley, where they found the aged Trojan, pleasantly occupied contemplating the unborn souls destined to pass gradually into the upper world and animate the bodies of his progeny. On beholding his son, who, as at Drepanum, vainly tried to embrace him, Anchises revealed all he had learned in regard to life, death, and immortality, and gave a synopsis of the history of Rome for the next thousand years, naming its great worthies, from Romulus, founder of Rome, down to Augustus, first emperor and ruler of the main part of the world.
This account of the glories and vicissitudes of his race takes considerable time, and when it is finished the Sibyl guides Aeneas back to earth by one of the two gates which lead out of this dismal region. Pleased with having accomplished his errand so successfully and duly encouraged by all he has learned, Aeneas returns to his fleet and sets sail for the home he is so anxious to reach.
Book VII. We now skirt with Aeneas the west coast of Italy, sail past Circe's island, and see his ships driven up the winding Tiber by favorable winds. On his first landing the Muse Erato rehearses for our benefit the history of the Latins, whose royal race, represented at present by Latinus, claims to descend from Saturn. Although Latinus has already betrothed his daughter Lavinia to Turnus, a neighboring prince, he is favored by an omen at the moment when the Trojans land. On seeking an interpretation of this sign, he learns he is not to bestow his daughter upon Turnus, but is to reserve her hand for a stranger, whose descendants will be powerful indeed.
Meantime the Trojans feast upon meat which is served to each man on a wheaten cake. Young Iulus, greedily devouring his, exclaims playfully that he is so hungry he has actually eaten the board on which his meal was spread! Hearing these significant words, his happy father exclaims they have reached their destined goal, since the Harpies' terrifying prophecy has been fulfilled.
"Hail, auspicious land!" he cries, "So long from Fate my due! All hail, ye Trojan deities, To Trojan fortunes true! At length we rest, no more to roam. Here is our country, here our home."
Then the Trojans begin to explore, and, discovering Latinus' capital, send thither an embassy of a hundred men, who are hospitably entertained. After hearing all they have to say, Latinus assures them that men of his race once migrated from Asia, and that the gods have just enjoined upon him to bestow his daughter upon a foreign bridegroom. When he proposes to unite Lavinia to Aeneas, Juno, unable to prevent a marriage decreed by Fate, tries to postpone it by infuriating Amata, mother of the bride, and causing her to flee into the woods with her daughter.
Not satisfied with one manifestation of power, Juno despatches Discord to ask Turnus if he will tamely allow his promised bride to be given to another man? Such a taunt is sufficient to determine hot-headed Turnus to make war, but, as a pretext is lacking, one of the Furies prompts Iulus to pursue and wound the pet stag of a young shepherdess called Sylvia. The distress of this rustic maid so excites her shepherd brothers that they fall upon the Trojans, who, of course, defend themselves, and thus the conflict begins. Having successfully broken the peace, Discord hastens back to Juno, who, seeing Latinus would fain remain neutral, compels him to take part in the war by opening with her own hand the gates of the temple of Janus. Here the poet recites the names of the various heroes about to distinguish themselves on either side, specially mentioning in the Rutules' force Mezentius, his son Lausus, and the Volscian maid Camilla, who prefers the stirring life of a camp to the peaceful avocations of her sex.
Book VIII. Because Turnus is reinforced by many allies, Aeneas is anxious to secure some too, and soon sets out to seek the aid of Evander, king of Etruria, formerly a Greek. On his way to this realm, Aeneas perceives on the banks of the Tiber a white sow with thirty young, which he sacrifices to the gods in gratitude for having pointed out to him the spot where his future capital will rise. On reaching the Etruscan's stronghold, Aeneas readily secures the promise of a large contingent of warriors, who prepare to join him under the command of Pallas, son of the king. He then assists at a great Etruscan banquet in honor of one of Hercules' triumphs, and while he is sleeping there his mother, Venus, induces her blacksmith husband, Vulcan, to make him a suit of armor.
Dawn having appeared, Evander entertains his guests with tales, while his son completes his preparations. Aeneas' departure, however, is hastened by Venus, who warns her son that his camp is in danger when she delivers to him the armor she has procured. This is adorned by many scenes in the coming history of Rome, among which special mention is made of the twins suckled by the traditional wolf, of the kidnapping of the Sabines, and of the heroic deeds of Cocles, Cloelia, and Manlius, as well as battles and festivals galore.
Book IX. Meantime, obedient to Turnus' orders, the Rutules have surrounded the Trojan camp and set fire to Aeneas' ships. But, as Fate has decreed these vessels shall be immortal, they sink beneath the waves as soon as the flames touch them, only to reappear a moment later as ocean-nymphs and swim down the Tiber to warn Aeneas of the danger of his friends. This miracle awes the foe, until Turnus boldly interprets it in his favor, whereupon the Rutules attack the foreigners' camp so furiously that the Trojans gladly accept the proposal made by Nisus and Euryalus to slip out and summon Aeneas to return.
Stealing out of the Trojan camp by night, these two heroes bravely thread their way through their sleeping foes, killing sundry famous warriors as they go, and appropriating choice bits of their spoil. Leaving death in their wake, the two Trojans pass through the enemy's ranks and finally enter a forest, where they are pursued by a troop of the Volscians, who surround and slay Euryalus. But, although Nisus first manages to escape from their hands, he returns to defend his comrade and is slain too. The Volscians therefore bear two bloody heads to the Rutules camp to serve as their war standards on the next day. It is thus that Euryalus' mother becomes aware of the death of her son, whom she mourns in touching terms.
"Was it this, ah me, I followed over land and sea? O slay me, Rutules! if ye know A mother's love, on me bestow The tempest of your spears! Or thou, great Thunderer, pity take, And whelm me 'neath the Stygian lake, Since otherwise I may not break This life of bitter tears!"
To recount all the deeds of valor performed on this day would require much space, but, although Mars inspires the party of Aeneas with great courage, it is evidently on the verge of defeat when Jupiter orders Turnus to withdraw.
Book X. Having convoked his Olympian council, Jupiter forbids the gods to interfere on either side, and decrees that the present quarrel shall be settled without divine aid. Hearing this, Venus vehemently protests that, having promised her son should found a new realm in Italy, he is bound to protect him, while Juno argues with equal force that the Trojans should be further punished for kidnapping Helen. Silencing both goddesses, Jupiter reiterates his orders and dissolves the assembly.
The scene now changes back to earth, where the Trojans, closely hemmed in by foes, long for Aeneas' return. He, on his way back, encounters the sea-nymphs, who explain they were once his ships and bid him hasten and rescue his son. Thus admonished, Aeneas hurries back, to take part in a battle where many heroic deeds are performed, and where Turnus, Mezentius, and Lausus prove bravest on the enemy's side, although they find their match in Aeneas, Pallas, and Iulus. Among the brilliant duels fought, mention must be made of one between Pallas and Turnus, where notwithstanding his courage the Trojan prince succumbs. After stripping his companion of his armor, Turnus abandons his corpse to his friends, who mourn to think that he lost his life while helping them. Vowing to avenge him, Aeneas next attacks his foe with such fury that it seems as if Turnus' last day has come, but Juno pleads so eloquently in his behalf, that, although Fate has decreed he shall perish, she grants him brief respite.
To preserve Turnus from the deadly blows of the real Aeneas, Juno causes him to pursue a phantom foe on board a ship, whose moorings she loosens, thus setting him adrift upon the Tiber. Perceiving only then how he has been tricked, Turnus threatens to slay himself, but is restrained by Juno, who after awhile allows him to land and return to the battle. Thus deprived of his principal foe, Aeneas ranges over the battle-field, where he wounds Mezentius and kills Lausus. Seeing his beloved son is gone, Mezentius is so anxious to die that he now offers an unresisting throat to Aeneas, who slays him on the spot.
"One boon (if vanquished foe may crave The victor's grace) I ask—a grave. My wrathful subjects round me wait: Protect me from their savage hate, And let me in the tomb enjoy The presence of my slaughtered boy."
Book XI. Having made a trophy of the enemies' spoil, Aeneas, even before proceeding to bury his own comrades, adorns the body of Pallas and sends it back to Etruria. Then he bargains with Turnus' ambassadors for a twelve-days truce, during which both parties celebrate pompous funerals, the finest of all being that of Pallas.
Hoping to check further bloodshed, Latinus now proposes a peace, whose terms Aeneas is willing to accept, but which Turnus angrily rejects since they deprive him of his promised bride. The conflict is therefore resumed, and the next interesting episode refers to Camilla, the warrior maid, whose father when she was only a babe tied her to the shaft of his spear and flung her across a torrent he was unable to stem with her in his arms. Having thus saved her from the enemy's clutches, this father taught Camilla to fight so bravely, that she causes dire havoc among the Trojans before she dies, using her last breath to implore Turnus to hasten to the rescue.
"Go: my last charge to Turnus tell, To haste with succor, and repel The Trojans from the town—farewell." She spoke, and speaking, dropped her rein, Perforce descending to the plain. Then by degrees she slips away From all that heavy load of clay: Her languid neck, her drowsy head She droops to earth, of vigor sped: She lets her martial weapons go: The indignant soul flies down below.
Book XII. Unappeased by Latinus' reiterated assertions that he is bestowing Lavinia upon a stranger merely to obey the gods, or by the entreaties in which Amata now joins, Turnus still refuses peace. More fighting therefore ensues, during which Aeneas is wounded in the thigh. While his leech is vainly trying to stanch his blood, Venus drops a magic herb into the water used for bathing his wounds and thus miraculously cures him. Plunging back into the fray, which becomes so horrible that Amata brings Lavinia home and commits suicide, Turnus and Aeneas finally meet in duel, but, although Juno would fain interfere once more in behalf of her protege, Jupiter refuses to allow it. But he grants instead his wife's petition that the Trojan name and language shall forever be merged into that of the Latin race.
"Let Latium prosper as she will, Their thrones let Alban monarchs fill; Let Rome be glorious on the earth, The centre of Italian worth; But fallen Troy be fallen still, The nation and the name."
Toward the end of this momentous encounter, during which both heroes indulged in sundry boastful speeches, a bird warns Turnus that his end is near, and his sister Juturna basely deserts him. Driven to bay and deprived of all other weapons, Turnus finally hurls a rock at Aeneas, who, dodging this missile, deals him a deadly wound. Turnus now pitifully begs for mercy, but the sight of Pallas' belt, which his foe proudly wears, so angers Aeneas that, after wrathfully snatching it from him, he deals his foe the deadly blow which ends this epic.
"What! in my friend's dear spoils arrayed To me for mercy sue? 'Tis Pallas, Pallas guides the blade: From your cursed blood his injured shade Thus takes atonement due." Thus as he spoke, his sword he drave With fierce and fiery blow Through the broad breast before him spread: The stalwart limbs grow cold and dead: One groan the indignant spirit gave, Then sought the shades below.
[Footnote 5: All the quotations in this article are from Virgil's Aeneid, Conington's translation.]
[Footnote 6: See the author's "Story of the Romans."]
The national epic in France bears the characteristic name of Chanson de Geste, or song of deed, because the trouveres in the north and the troubadours in the south wandered from castle to castle singing the prowesses of the lords and of their ancestors, whose reputations they thus made or ruined at will.
In their earliest form these Chansons de Geste were invariably in verse, but in time the most popular were turned into lengthy prose romances. Many of the hundred or more Chansons de Geste still preserved were composed in the northern dialect, or langue d'oil, and, although similar epics did exist in the langue d'oc, they have the "great defect of being lost," and only fragments of Flamenca, etc., now exist.
There are three great groups or cycles of French epics: first the Cycle of France, dealing specially with Charlemagne,—the champion of Christianity,—who, representing Christ, is depicted surrounded by twelve peers instead of twelve disciples. Among these, to carry out the scriptural analogy, lurks a traitor, Ganelon; so, in the course of the poems, we are favored with biblical miracles, such as the sun pausing in its course until pagans can be punished, and angels appearing to comfort dying knights. The finest sample of this cycle is without doubt the famous Chanson de Roland, of which a complete synopsis follows. Other remarkable examples of this cycle are Aliscans, Raoul de Cambrai, Garin le Lorrain, Guillaume d'Orange, Les Quatre Fils d'Aymon, Ogier le Danois, etc.
Even the character of the hero varies from age to age, for whereas Charlemagne in the Chanson de Roland—which dates perhaps as far back as the tenth century—is a heroic figure, he becomes during later periods, when vassals rise up against their overlords,—an object of contempt and ridicule. A marked example of this latter style of treatment is furnished by Les Quatre Fils d'Aymon.
The second group, or cycle of Brittany, animated by a chivalrous spirit, and hence termed court epic, finds its greatest exponent in the poet Chrestien de Troyes, whose hero Arthur, King of Brittany, gathers twelve knights around his table, one of whom, Mordred, is to prove traitor. The principal poems of this cycle are Launcelot du Lac, Ivain le Chevalier au Lion, Erec and Enide, Merlin, Tristan, and Perceval. These poems all treat of chivalry and love, and introduce the old pagan passion-breeding philtre, as well as a whole world of magic and fairies. These epics will be noticed at greater length when we treat of the English versions of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, because many of the poems have been reworked in modern English and are hence most popular in that language.
Besides the Chansons de Geste pertaining to various phases of this theme, the Breton cycle includes many shorter works termed lais, which also treat of love, and were composed by Marie de France or her successors. The best known of all these "cante-fables" is the idyllic Aucassin et Nicolette, of which a full account is embodied in this volume.
One of the best samples of the domestic epic in this cycle is the twelfth century Amis and Amiles, in which two knights, born and baptized on the same day, prove so alike as to become interchangeable. Still, brought up in separate provinces, Amis and Amiles meet and become friends only when knighted by Charlemagne, whose graciousness toward them rouses the jealousy of the felon knight Hardre. When Charlemagne finally offers his niece to Amiles (who, through modesty, passes her on to Amis), the felon accuses the former of treacherously loving the king's daughter Bellicent, and thereupon challenges him to fight. Conscious of not being a traitor, although guilty of loving the princess, Amiles dares not accept this challenge, and changes places with Amis, who personates him in the lists. Because Amis thus commits perjury to rescue his friend from a dilemma, he is in due time stricken with leprosy, deserted by his wife, and sorely ill treated by his vassals. After much suffering, he discovers his sole hope of cure consists in bathing in the blood of the children which in the meanwhile have been born to Amiles and to his princess-wife. When the leper Amis reluctantly reveals this fact to his friend Amiles, the latter, although broken-hearted, unhesitatingly slays his children. Amis is immediately cured, and both knights hasten to church together to return thanks and inform the mother of the death of her little ones. The princess rushes to their chamber to mourn over their corpses, only to discover that meantime they have been miraculously restored to life! This story is very touchingly told in the old Chanson, which contains many vivid and interesting descriptions of the manners of the time.
In this cycle are also included Gerard de Roussillon, Hugues Capet, Macaire (wherein occurs the famous episode of the Dog of Montargis), and Huon de Bordeaux, which latter supplied Shakespeare, Wieland, and Weber with some of the dramatis personae of their well-known comedy, poem, and opera. We must also mention what are often termed the Crusade epics, of which the stock topics are quarrels, challenges, fights, banquets, and tournaments, and among which we note les Enfances de Godefroi, Antioche, and Tudela's Song of the Crusade against the Albigenses.
The third great cycle is known as Matiere de Rome la grand, or as the antique cycle. It embodies Christianized versions of the doings of the heroes of the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Thebais, Alexandreid, etc. In their prose forms the Roman de Thebes, Roman de Troie, and Roman d'Alexandre contain, besides, innumerable mediaeval embellishments, among others the first mention in French of the quest for the Fountain of Youth.
Later on in French literature we come across the animal epic, or Roman du Renard, a style of composition which found its latest and most finished expression in Germany at the hands of Goethe, and the allegorical epic, Le Roman de la Rose, wherein abstract ideas were personified, such as Hope, Slander (Malebouche), Danger, etc.
There are also epic poems based on Le Combat des Trente and on the doings of Du Guesclin. Ronsard, in his Franciade, claims the Franks as lineal descendants from Francus, a son of Priam, and thus connects French history with the war of Troy, just as Wace, in the Norman Roman de Rou, traces a similar analogy between the Trojan Brutus and Britain. Later French poets have attempted epics, more or less popular in their time, among which are Alaric by Scuderi, Clovis by St. Sorlin, and two poems on La Pucelle, one by Chapelain, and the other by Voltaire.
Next comes la Henriade, also by Voltaire, a half bombastic, half satirical account of Henry IV's wars to gain the crown of France. This poem also contains some very fine and justly famous passages, but is too long and too artificial, as a whole, to please modern readers.
The most popular of all the French prose epics is, without dispute, Fenelon's Telemaque, or account of Telemachus' journeys to find some trace of his long-absent father Ulysses.
Les Martyrs by Chateaubriand, and La Legende des Siecles by Victor Hugo, complete the tale of important French epics to date.
[Footnote 7: See the author's "Legends of the Middle Ages."]
THE SONG OF ROLAND
Introduction. The earliest and greatest of the French epics, or chansons de geste, is the song of Roland, of which the oldest copy now extant is preserved in the Bodleian Library and dates back to the twelfth century. Whether the Turoldus (Theroulde) mentioned at the end of the poem is poet, copyist, or mere reciter remains a matter of conjecture.
The poem is evidently based on popular songs which no longer exist. It consists of 4002 verses, written in langue d'oil, grouped in stanzas or "laisses" of irregular length, in the heroic pentameter, having the same assonant rhyme, and each ending with "aoi," a word no one has succeeded in translating satisfactorily. It was so popular that it was translated into Latin and German (1173-1177), and our version may be the very song sung by Taillefer at the battle of Hastings in 1066.
It has inspired many poets, and Roland's death has been sung again by Goethe, Schiller, Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, Berni, Bornier, etc. History claims that French armies, once in the reign of Dagobert and once in that of Charlemagne, were attacked and slaughtered in the Pyrenees, but not by the Saracens. Besides, Charlemagne's secretary, Eginhart, briefly mentions in his chronicles that in 778, Roland, prefect of the Marches of Brittany, was slain there. Although the remainder of the story has no historical basis, the song of Roland is a poetical asset we would not willingly relinquish.
PART I. A COUNCIL HELD BY KING MARSILE AT SARAGOSSA.—The Song of Roland opens with the statement that, after spending seven years in Spain, Charlemagne is master of all save the city of Saragossa.
The king, our Emperor Carlemaine, Hath been for seven full years in Spain. From highland to sea hath he won the land; City was none might his arm withstand; Keep and castle alike went down— Save Saragossa the mountain town.
It is in Saragossa that King Marsile, holding an open-air council, informs his followers he no longer has men to oppose to the French. When he inquires what he shall do, the wisest of his advisers suggests that, when might fails, craft can gain the day. Therefore, he moots sending gifts to Charlemagne, with a promise to follow him to France to do homage and receive baptism. Even should Charlemagne exact hostages, this councillor volunteers to give his own son, arguing it is better a few should fall than Spain be lost forever. This advice is adopted by Marsile, who then despatches bearers of olive branches and gifts to Charlemagne.
Council held by Charlemagne at Cordova. The Saracen emissaries find the French emperor seated on a golden throne in an orchard, his peers around him, watching the martial games of fifty thousand warriors. After receiving Marsile's message, Charlemagne dismisses the ambassadors for the night, promising answer on the morrow. When he bids his courtiers state their opinions, Roland impetuously declares that, as Marsile has tricked them once, it would not become them to believe him now. His step-father, Ganelon, thereupon terms him a hot-headed young fool, and avers he prizes his own glory more than his fellow-men's lives. The wisest among Charlemagne's advisers, however, Duke Naimes, argues that the Saracen's offers of submission should be met half-way, and, as the remainder of the French agree with him, Charlemagne calls for a messenger to bear his acceptance to Marsile. Although Roland, Oliver, and Naimes eagerly sue for this honor, Charlemagne, unwilling to spare his peers, bids them appoint a baron. When Roland suggests his step-father, Ganelon—who deems the expedition hazardous—becomes so angry that he reviles his step-son in the emperor's presence, vowing the youth is maliciously sending him to his death, and muttering he will have revenge. These violent threats elicit Roland's laughter, but Charlemagne checks the resulting quarrel by delivering message and emblems of office to Ganelon. To the dismay of all present, he, however, drops the glove his master hands him, an accident viewed as an omen of ill luck. Then, making speedy preparations and pathetically committing wife and son to the care of his countrymen, Ganelon starts out, fully expecting never to return.
The Embassy and the Crime of Ganelon. On his way to Saragossa, Ganelon converses with the Saracens, who express surprise that Charlemagne—whom they deem two hundred years old—should still long for conquest. In return Ganelon assures them his master will never cease fighting as long as Roland is one of his peers, for this knight is determined to conquer the world. The Saracens, noticing his bitter tone, now propose to rid Ganelon of his step-son, provided he will arrange that Roland command the rear-guard of the French army. Thus riding along, they devise the plot whereby this young hero is to be led into an ambush in the Valley of Roncevaux (Roncesvalles), where, by slaying him, they will deprive Charlemagne of his main strength.
"For whoso Roland to death shall bring, From Karl his good right arm will wring, The marvellous host will melt away, No more shall he muster a like array."
Arriving in the presence of the Saracen king, Ganelon reports Charlemagne ready to accept his offers, provided he do homage for one half of Spain and abandon the other to Roland. Because Ganelon adds the threat that, should this offer be refused, Charlemagne proposes to seize Saragossa and bear Marsile a prisoner to Aix, the Saracen king angrily orders the execution of the insolent messenger. But the Frenchmen's truculent attitude forbids the guards' approach, and thus gives the ambassadors a chance to inform Marsile that Ganelon has promised to help them to outwit Charlemagne by depriving him of his most efficient general. Hearing this, Marsile's anger is disarmed; and he not only agrees to their plan to surprise Roland while crossing the Pyrenees, but sends Ganelon back laden with gifts.
On rejoining his master at the foot of the mountains, Ganelon delivers the keys of Saragossa, and reports that the caliph has sailed for the East, with one hundred thousand men, none of whom care to dwell in a Christian land. Hearing this, Charlemagne, imagining his task finished, returns thanks to God, and prepares to wend his way back to France, where he expects Marsile to follow him and do homage for Spain.
Karl the Great hath wasted Spain, Her cities sacked, her castles ta'en; But now "My wars are done," he cried, "And home to gentle France we ride."
The Rear-guard and Roland Condemned to Death. On the eve of his return to "sweet France," Charlemagne's rest is disturbed by horrible dreams, in one of which Ganelon breaks his lance, while in the other wild animals are about to attack him. On awaking from this nightmare, Charlemagne divides his army so as to thread his way safely through the narrow passes of the mountains, arranging that a force shall remain twenty miles in his rear to make sure he shall not be surprised by the foe. When he inquires to whom this important command shall be entrusted, Ganelon eagerly suggests that, as Roland is the most valiant of the peers, the task be allotted to him. Anxious to keep his nephew by him, Charlemagne resents this suggestion, but, when he prepares to award the post to some one else, Roland eagerly claims it, promising France shall lose nothing through him.
"God be my judge," was the count's reply, "If ever I thus my race belie. But twenty thousand with me shall rest, Bravest of all your Franks and best; The mountain passes in safety tread, While I breathe in life you have nought to dread."
Because it is patent to all that his step-father proposed his name through spite, Roland meaningly remarks that he at least will not drop the insignia of his rank, and in proof thereof proudly clutches the bow Charlemagne hands him, and boastfully declares twelve peers and twenty thousand men will prove equal to any emergency.
Fully armed and mounted on his steed (Veillantif), Roland, from an eminence, watches the vanguard of the French army disappear in the mountain gorges, calling out to the last men that he and his troop will follow them soon! This vanguard is led by Charlemagne and Ganelon, and, as it passes on, the heavy tramp of the mailed steeds causes the ground to shake, while the clash of the soldiers' arms is heard for miles around. They have already travelled thirty miles and are just nearing France, whose sunny fields the soldiers greet with cries of joy, when Duke Naimes perceives tears flowing down the emperor's cheeks, and learns that they are caused by apprehension for Roland.
High were the peaks, and the valleys deep, The mountains wondrous dark and steep; Sadly the Franks through the passes wound, Fully fifteen leagues did their tread resound. To their own great land they are drawing nigh, And they look on the fields of Gascony. They think of their homes and their manors there, Their gentle spouses and damsels fair. Is none but for pity the tear lets fall; But the anguish of Karl is beyond them all. His sister's son at the gates of Spain Smites on his heart, and he weeps amain.
The evident anxiety of Charlemagne fills the hearts of all Frenchmen with nameless fear, and some of them whisper that Ganelon returned from Saragossa with suspiciously rich gifts. Meantime Roland, who has merely been waiting for the vanguard to gain some advance, sets out to cross the mountains too; where, true to his agreement with Ganelon, Marsile has concealed a force of one hundred thousand men, led by twelve Saracen generals, who are considered fully equal to the French peers, and who have vowed to slay Roland in the passes of Roncevaux.
PART II. PRELUDE TO THE GREAT BATTLE. It is only when the Saracen army is beginning to close in upon the French, that the peers become aware of their danger. Oliver, Roland's bosom friend, the first to descry the enemy, calls out that this ambush is the result of Ganelon's treachery, only to be silenced by Roland, who avers none shall accuse his step-father without proof. Then, hearing of the large force approaching, Roland exclaims, "Cursed be he who flees," and admonishes all present to show their mettle and die fighting bravely.
The Pride of Roland. Because the enemies' force so greatly outnumbers theirs, Oliver suggests that Roland sound his horn to summon Charlemagne to his aid; but, unwilling to lose any glory, this hero refuses, declaring he will strike one hundred thousand such doughty blows with his mighty sword (Durendal), that all the pagans will be laid low.
"Roland, Roland, yet wind one blast! Karl will hear ere the gorge be passed, And the Franks return on their path full fast." "I will not sound on mine ivory horn: It shall never be spoken of me in scorn, That for heathen felons one blast I blew; I may not dishonor my lineage true. But I will strike, ere this fight be o'er, A thousand strokes and seven hundred more, And my Durindana shall drip with gore. Our Franks will bear them like vassals brave. The Saracens flock but to find a grave."
In spite of the fact that Oliver thrice implores him to summon aid, Roland thrice refuses; so his friend, perceiving he will not yield, finally declares they must do their best, and adds that, should they not get the better of the foe, they will at least die fighting nobly. Then Archbishop Turpin—one of the peers—assures the soldiers that, since they are about to die as martyrs, they will earn Paradise, and pronounces the absolution, thus inspiring the French with such courage that, on rising from their knees, they rush forward to earn a heavenly crown.
Riding at their head, Roland now admits to Oliver that Ganelon must have betrayed them, grimly adding that the Saracens will have cause to rue their treachery before long. Then he leads his army down the valley to a more open space, where, as soon as the signal is given, both friends plunge into the fray, shouting their war-cry ("Montjoie").
The Medley. In the first ranks of the Saracens is a nephew of Marsile, who loudly boasts Charlemagne is about to lose his right arm; but, before he can repeat this taunt, Roland, spurring forward, runs his lance through his body and hurls it to the ground with a turn of his wrist. Then, calling out to his men that they have scored the first triumph, Roland proceeds to do tremendous execution among the foe. The poem describes many of the duels which take place,—for each of the twelve peers specially distinguishes himself,—while the Saracens, conscious of vastly superior numbers, return again and again to the attack. Even the archbishop fights bravely, and Roland, after dealing fifteen deadly strokes with his lance, resorts to his sword, thus meeting the Saracens at such close quarters that every stroke of his blade hews through armor, rider, and steed.
At the last it brake; then he grasped in hand His Durindana, his naked brand. He smote Chernubles' helm upon, Where, in the centre, carbuncles shone: Down through his coif and his fell of hair, Betwixt his eyes came the falchion bare, Down through his plated harness fine, Down through the Saracen's chest and chine, Down through the saddle with gold inlaid, Till sank in the living horse the blade, Severed the spine where no joint was found, And horse and rider lay dead on ground.
In spite of Roland's doughty blows, his good sword suffers no harm, nor does that of Oliver (Hauteclaire), with which he does such good work that Roland assures him he will henceforth consider him a brother. Although the French slay the pagans by thousands, so many of their own warriors fall, that, by the time they have repulsed the first Saracen division, only sixty of Roland's men remain alive.
All nature seems to feel the terrible battle raging in the valley of Roncevaux, for a terrible storm breaks forth, in France, where, hearing the roll of the thunder, seeing the flash of the lightning, and feeling the earth shake beneath their feet, the French fear the end of the world has come. These poor warriors are little aware that all this commotion is due to "nature's grief for the death of Roland."
Now a wondrous storm o'er France hath passed, With thunder-stroke and whirlwind's blast; Rain unmeasured, and hail, there came, Sharp and sudden the lightning's flame; And an earthquake ran—the sooth I say, From Besancon city to Wissant Bay; From Saint Michael's Mount to thy shrine, Cologne, House unrifted was there none. And a darkness spread in the noontide high— No light, save gleams from the cloven sky. On all who saw came a mighty fear. They said, "The end of the world is near." Alas, they spake but with idle breath,— 'Tis the great lament for Roland's death.
The Horn. During the brief respite allowed them, Roland informs Oliver that he wishes to notify Charlemagne that France has been widowed of many men. In reply, Oliver rejoins that no Frenchman will leave this spot to bear such a message, seeing all prefer death and honor to safety! Such being the case, Roland proposes to sound his horn, whereupon Oliver bitterly rejoins, had his friend only done so at first, they would have been reinforced by now, and that the emperor can no longer reach them in time. He can, however, avenge them and give them an honorable burial, Roland argues, and he and his friend continue bickering until the archbishop silences them, bidding Roland blow his horn. Placing Olifant to his lips, the hero, after drawing a powerful breath, blows so mighty a blast that it re-echoes thirty miles away.
This sound, striking Charlemagne's ear, warns him that his army is in danger, although Ganelon insists Roland is hunting. While blowing a second blast, Roland makes so mighty an effort that he actually bursts the blood-vessels in his temples, and the Frenchmen, hearing that call, aver with awe that he would never call that way unless in dire peril. Ganelon, however, again insists that his step-son is in no danger and is merely coursing a hare.
With deadly travail, in stress and pain, Count Roland sounded the mighty strain. Forth from his mouth the bright blood sprang, And his temples burst for the very pang.
On and onward was borne the blast, Till Karl hath heard as the gorge he passed, And Naimes and all his men of war. "It is Roland's horn," said the Emperor, "And, save in battle, he had not blown."
With blood pouring from mouth and ears, Roland sounds his horn a third and last time, producing so long and despairing a note, that Naimes vows the French must be at the last extremity, and that unless they hurry they will not find any alive! Bidding all his horns sound as a signal that he is coming, Charlemagne—after ordering Ganelon bound and left in charge of the baggage train—leads his men back to Spain to Roland's rescue.
As the day is already far advanced, helmets and armors glitter beneath the rays of the setting sun as the Frenchmen spur along, tears coursing down their cheeks, for they apprehend what must have befallen Roland, who was evidently suffering when he blew that third blast!
The Rout. Meanwhile, casting his eyes over the battle-field, now strewn with corpses, Roland mourns his fallen companions, praying God to let their souls rest in Paradise on beds of flowers. Then, turning to Oliver, he proposes that they fight on as long as breath remains in their bodies, before he plunges back into the fray, still uttering his war-cry.
By this time the French are facing a second onslaught of the pagans, and Roland has felled twenty-four of their bravest fighters before Marsile challenges him to a duel. Although weak and weary, Roland accepts, and with his first stroke hews off the Saracen's right hand; but, before he can follow this up with a more decisive blow, Marsile is borne away by his followers. Seeing their master gallop off towards Spain, the remainder of the Saracens, crying that Charlemagne's nephew has triumphed, cease fighting and flee. Thus, fifty thousand men soon vanish in the distance, leaving Roland temporary master of the battle-field, which he knows the emperor will reach only after he has breathed his last.
The Death of Oliver. Although the Saracens have fled, some Moors remain to charge the Frenchmen, whom they wish to annihilate before Charlemagne can arrive. Once more, therefore, Roland urges his followers to do their best, cursing those who dream of yielding. Not daring approach the small handful of doughty Frenchmen, the pagans attack them from a distance with lance, arrow, and spear, tauntingly crying Charlemagne will have no cause to pride himself upon having appointed them to guard his rear! Mortally wounded by one of these spears, Oliver, blindly cutting down the foes nearest him, bids Roland hasten to his rescue, as it won't be long before they part. Seeing the stream of blood which flows from his friend's wounds and catching a glimpse of his livid face, Roland so keenly realizes Oliver's end is near that he swoons in his saddle. The wounded man, no longer able to see, meanwhile ranges wildly around the battle-field, striking madly right and left. In doing so he runs against Roland, and, failing to recognize him, deals him so powerful a blow that he almost kills him. Gently inquiring why his friend thus attacks one he loves, Roland hears Oliver gasp, "I hear you, friend, but do not see you. Forgive me for having struck you,"—a more than ample apology,—ere he dies.
See Roland there on his charger swooned, Olivier smitten with his death wound. His eyes from bleeding are dimmed and dark, Nor mortal, near or far, can mark; And when his comrade beside him pressed, Fiercely he smote on his golden crest; Down to the nasal the helm he shred, But passed no further, nor pierced his head. Roland marvelled at such a blow, And thus bespake him soft and low: "Hast thou done it, my comrade, wittingly? Roland who loves thee so dear, am I, Thou hast no quarrel with me to seek." Olivier answered, "I hear thee speak, But I see thee not. God seeth thee. Have I struck thee, brother? Forgive it me." "I am not hurt, O Olivier; And in sight of God, I forgive thee here." Then each to other his head has laid, And in love like this was their parting made.
On seeing that his friend has passed away, the heart-broken Roland again swoons in his saddle, but his intelligent steed stands still until his master recovers his senses. Gazing around him, Roland now ascertains that only two other Frenchmen are still alive, and, seeing one of them severely wounded, he binds up his cuts before plunging back into the fray, where he accounts for twenty-five pagans, while the archbishop and the wounded soldier dispose of eleven more.
Charlemagne Approaches. The last Frenchmen are fighting madly against a thousand Moors on foot and four thousand on horseback, when the spears flung from a distance lay low the wounded man and deal a mortal wound to the archbishop. But, even while dying, Turpin joins Roland in declaring they must continue to fight, so that when the emperor finds their bodies he can see they have piled hundreds of corpses around them. This resolve is carried out, however, only at the cost of dire suffering, for the archbishop is dying and Roland's burst temples cause him intense pain. Nevertheless, he once more puts his horn to his lips, and draws from it this time so pitiful a blast that, when it reaches the ears of Charlemagne, he woefully exclaims: "All is going ill; my nephew Roland will die to-day, for the sound of his horn is very weak!"
Again bidding his sixty thousand trumpets sound, the emperor urges his troops to even greater speed, until the noise of his horns and the tramp of his steeds reaches the pagans' ears and admonishes them to flee. Realizing that, should Roland survive, the war will continue, a few Moors make a final frantic attempt to slay him before fleeing. Seeing them advance for a last onslaught, Roland—who has dismounted for a moment—again bestrides his steed and, accompanied by the staggering archbishop, bravely faces them. They, however, only fling missiles from a distance, until Roland's shield drops useless from his hand and his steed sinks lifeless beneath him! Then, springing to his feet, Roland defies these cowardly foes, who, not daring to linger any longer, turn and flee, crying that Roland has won and Spain is lost unless the emir comes to their rescue!
The Last Blessing of the Archbishop. While the pagans are spurring towards Saragossa, Roland remains on the battle-field, for, having lost his steed and being mortally wounded, he cannot attempt to pursue them. After tenderly removing the archbishop's armor, binding up his wounds, and placing him comfortably on the ground, Roland brings him the twelve peers, so he can bless them for the last time. Although Archbishop Turpin admonishes him to hasten, Roland is so weak, that he slowly and painfully collects the corpses from mountain and valley, laying them one by one at the feet of the archbishop, who, with right hand raised, bestows his blessing. While laying Oliver at Turpin's feet, Roland faints from grief, so the prelate painfully raises himself, and, seizing the hero's horn, tries to get down to the brook to bring him some water. Such is his weakness, however, that he stumbles and falls dead, face to the ground, before he can fulfil his kindly intention.
On recovering consciousness and seeing nothing save corpses around him, Roland exults to think that Charlemagne will find forty dead Saracens for every slain Frenchman! Then, feeling his brain slowly ooze out through his ears, Roland—after reciting a prayer for his dead companions—grasps his sword in one hand and his horn in the other, and begins to climb a neighboring hill. He tries to reach its summit because he has always boasted he would die face toward the enemy, and he longs to look defiance toward Spain until the end.
Painfully reaching the top of this eminence, Roland stumbles and falls across a Saracen, who has been feigning death to escape capture. Seeing the dreaded warrior unconscious, this coward seizes his sword, loudly proclaiming he has triumphed; but, at his first touch, Roland—recovering his senses—deals him so mighty a blow with his horn, that the Saracen falls with crushed helmet and skull. Having thus recovered his beloved Durendal, Roland, to prevent its again falling into the enemy's hands, vainly tries to break it by hewing at the rocks around him, but, although he uses all the strength he has left to deal blows that cut through the stone, the good sword remains undinted. Full of admiration, Roland then recalls the feats Durendal has enabled him to perform, and, lying down on the grass, places beneath him sword and horn, so as to defend them dead as well as alive! Then, having confessed his sins and recited a last prayer, Roland holds out his glove toward heaven, in token that he surrenders his soul to God, and begs that an angel be sent to receive it from his hand. Thus, lying beneath a pine, his face toward Spain, his last thoughts for France and for God, Roland dies in the presence of the angels, who bear his soul off to Paradise.
Roland feeleth his hour at hand; On a knoll he lies towards the Spanish land. With one hand beats he upon his breast: "In thy sight, O God, be my sins confessed. From my hour of birth, both the great and small, Down to this day, I repent of all." As his glove he raises to God on high, Angels of heaven descend him nigh.
PART III. REPRISALS. Roland has barely breathed his last when Charlemagne arrives on the battle-field and, gazing around him, perceives nothing but corpses. Receiving no answer to his repeated call for the twelve peers, Charlemagne groans it was not without cause he felt anxious and mourns that he was not there to take part in the fray. He and his men weep aloud for their fallen companions, and twenty thousand soldiers swoon from grief at the sight of the havoc which has been made!
Still, only a few moments can be devoted to sorrow, for Duke Naimes, descrying a cloud of dust in the distance, eagerly suggests that if they ride on they can yet overtake and punish the foe! Detailing a small detachment to guard the dead, Charlemagne orders the pursuit of the Saracens, and, seeing the sun about to set, prays so fervently that daylight may last, that an angel promises he shall have light as long as he needs it. Thanks to this miracle, Charlemagne overtakes the Saracens just as they are about to cross the Ebro, and, after killing many, drives the rest into the river, where they are drowned.
It is only when the last of the foe has been disposed of that the sun sets, and, perceiving it is too late to return to Roncevaux that night, Charlemagne gives orders to camp on the plain. While his weary men sleep peacefully, the emperor himself spends the night mourning for Roland and for the brave Frenchmen who died to defend his cause, so it is only toward morning that he enjoys a brief nap, during which visions foreshadow the punishment to be inflicted upon Ganelon and all who uphold him.
In the mead the Emperor made his bed, With his mighty spear beside his head, Nor will he doff his arms to-night, But lies in his broidered hauberk white. Laced is his helm, with gold inlaid. Girt on Joyeuse, the peerless blade, Which changes thirty times a day The brightness of its varying ray.
Meanwhile the wounded Marsile has returned to Saragossa, where, while binding up his wounds, his wife comments it is strange no one has been able to get the better of such an old man as Charlemagne, and exclaims the last hope of the Saracens now rests in the emir, who has just landed in Spain.
At dawn the emperor returns to Roncevaux, and there begins his sad search for the bodies of the peers. Sure Roland will be found facing the foe, he seeks for his corpse in the direction of Spain, and, discovering him at last on the little hill, swoons from grief. Then, recovering his senses, Charlemagne prays God to receive his nephew's soul, and, after pointing out to his men how bravely the peers fought, gives orders for the burial of the dead, reserving only the bodies of Roland, Oliver, and the archbishop, for burial in France.
The last respects have barely been paid to the fallen, when a Saracen herald summons Charlemagne to meet the emir. So the French mount to engage in a new battle.
Such is the stimulus of Charlemagne's word's and of his example, that all his men do wonders. The aged emperor himself finally engages in a duel with the emir, in the midst of which he is about to succumb, when an angel bids him strike one more blow, promising he shall triumph. Thus stimulated, Charlemagne slays the emir, and the Saracens, seeing their leader slain, flee, closely pursued by the Frenchmen, who enter Saragossa in their wake. There, after killing all the men, they pillage the town.
On discovering that Marsile has meantime died of his wound, Charlemagne orders his widow to France, where he proposes to convert her through the power of love. The remainder of the pagans are compelled to receive baptism, and, when Charlemagne again wends his way through the Pyrenees, all Spain bows beneath his sceptre.
At Bordeaux, Charlemagne deposits upon the altar of St. Severin, Roland's Olifant, filled with gold pieces, before personally escorting the three august corpses to Blaye, where he sees them interred, ere he hurries on to Aix-la-Chapelle to judge Ganelon.
The Chastisement of Ganelon. On arriving in his palace, Charlemagne is confronted by Alda or Aude, a sister of Oliver, who frantically questions: "Where is Roland who has sworn to take me to wife?" Weeping bitterly, Charlemagne informs her his nephew is no more, adding that she can marry his son, but Aude rejoins that, since her beloved is gone, she no longer wishes to live. These words uttered, she falls lifeless at the emperor's feet.
From Spain the emperor made retreat, To Aix in France, his kingly seat; And thither, to his halls, there came, Alda, the fair-and gentle dame. "Where is my Roland, sire," she cried, "Who vowed to take me for his bride?" O'er Karl the flood of sorrow swept; He tore his beard, and loudly wept. "Dear sister, gentle friend," he said, "Thou seekest one who lieth dead: I plight to thee my son instead,— Louis, who lord of my realm shall be." "Strange," she said, "seems this to me. God and His angels forbid that I Should live on earth if Roland die." Pale grew her cheek—she sank amain, Down at the feet of Carlemaine. So died she. God receive her soul! The Franks bewail her in grief and dole.
The time having come for the trial, Ganelon appears before his judges, laden with chains and tied to a stake as if he were a wild beast. When accused of depriving Charlemagne of twenty thousand Frenchmen, Ganelon retorts he did so merely to avenge his wrongs, and hotly denies having acted as a traitor. Thirty of his kinsmen sustain him in this assertion, one of them even volunteering to meet the emperor's champion in a judicial duel. As the imperial champion wins, Ganelon and his relatives are adjudged guilty, but, whereas the latter thirty are merely hanged, the traitor himself is bound to wild horses until torn asunder.
Having thus done justice, Charlemagne informs his courtiers they are to attend the baptism of a Saracen lady of high degree, who is about to be received into the bosom of the church.
The men of Bavaria and Allemaine, Norman and Breton return again, And with all the Franks aloud they cry, That Gan a traitor's death shall die. They bade be brought four stallions fleet; Bound to them Ganelon, hands and feet: Wild and swift was each savage steed, And a mare was standing within the mead; Four grooms impelled the coursers on,— A fearful ending for Ganelon. His every nerve was stretched and torn, And the limbs of his body apart were borne; The bright blood, springing from every vein, Left on the herbage green its stain. He dies a felon and recreant: Never shall traitor his treason vaunt.