Virgil's Epic Technique

Virgil's Epic Technique

by Richard Heinze

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The great German philologist Richard Heinze's Virgils Epische Technik was originally published in German in 1903. It was the outstanding book on Virgil in its day, and it remains a very valuable study of the techniques Virgil used to compose the Aeneid. This English translation by Hazel Harvey, David Harvey and Fred Robertson was published in 1994, with an

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The great German philologist Richard Heinze's Virgils Epische Technik was originally published in German in 1903. It was the outstanding book on Virgil in its day, and it remains a very valuable study of the techniques Virgil used to compose the Aeneid. This English translation by Hazel Harvey, David Harvey and Fred Robertson was published in 1994, with an introduction by Antonie Wlosok.

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Virgils Epic Technique Second Edition

By Richard Heinze Duckworth Publishing

Copyright © 2004 Richard Heinze
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ISBN: 9781853995798

The Fall of Troy

3 The fall of Troy had been depicted in literature and art for centuries; it was a subject
that no age, no genre had failed to use. The ancient epic was succeeded by lyric and
drama; Hellenistic poetry had plucked new fruit from this part of the saga in its own
distinctive manner; in the visual arts, too, the most moving scenes, from Laocoon's
ordeal to the flight of Aeneas, were familiar to all from the numerous different
versions created by the great masters. The task of retelling this well-known story
must have seemed particularly attractive to a poet who felt no compulsion to explore
untrodden paths, and who made it his ambition, not to astonish with novelties, but to
achieve greatness in the familiar. Indeed, it is precisely here, in this most frequently
trodden area, that Virgil's art is most apparent. It would be altogether easier for us to
evaluate the true meaning of this art of his, and to establish his unique intentions and
means, if only we possessed just one or other of the earlier versions in full; though
even the little that has survived will prove useful for our purpose. But first we must
gain a broad, general impression of thenature of Virgil's undertaking.

[the wind carried me from
Ilium and brought me to the Cicones]: this is how Odysseus begins his tale. That is
also the real beginning of the story of the Odyssey . The story of the Aeneid begins
with the destruction of Troy, for the hero's mission is to carry the Trojan Penates to
Latium, and here is the origin of the mission; therefore the Iliu Persis [sack of Troy]
had to be included in the poem. Putting the narrative into Aeneas' own mouth seems
4 to us nowadays a straightforward imitation of the technique of the Odyssey . But we
ought to be aware how new and bold this device must at first have appeared to the
poet. The events of Odysseus' homeward journey nearly all involved Odysseus
himself, and putting them into the first person instead of the third entailed few
changes in the presentation. But for Virgil it was a matter of presenting the ebb and
flow of the nocturnal battle through all the streets, palaces and shrines of Troy, and
the deeds and sufferings of a whole series of people, as the experiences of one single
man. It is easy to see what difficulties this caused; but it also offered the outstanding
artistic advantage of concentrating the action: in this way, and in this way only,
could a jumbled sequence of unconnected scenes be made into a unity that would
satisfy Virgil's ideals of poetic construction. And this conception of his task also
opened up a totally unexpected path, which no narrator of the Sack of Troy had ever
trodden before: these events had never previously been presented as a continuous
narrative by a Trojan . Admittedly the dramatists, notably Euripides in his plays
concerning the sack of Troy, had put themselves inside the minds of the vanquished,
but in a drama they could only portray single episodes, or give a general impression
of the night of terror. But Virgil gives us the story, not of just any Trojan, but of the
father of the Roman people. This fact immediately determined the ethos of the
narrative and the major values which it would enshrine. For straightaway there

emerged new rocks, that could only be avoided by careful navigation; rocks, it is
true, which only existed for a Roman, and which it is difficult for us to envisage.
The ancestors of the Romans are conquered and cave in; they renounce the chance
of taking revenge and continuing the fight; Aeneas has survived the fall of his native
city, has deserted its ruins in order to establish a new city in a strange land. A
Roman would inevitably feel deeply ashamed at the thought of such behaviour.
Rome for him is what Troy was for Aeneas: how could a Roman choose to turn his
back on his own city in her hour of defeat, taking his wife, child and household with
him, rather than stay and perish too? How could he think of carrying the gods of his
city into a foreign land?

In order to understand the attitude of a Roman, we must read the speech which
Livy puts into the mouth of Camillus in the debate about moving from the site of
Rome to Veii (5.51ff.). I quote just a few sentences:

5 This, too, is a struggle for our fatherland, and, as long as life lasts, to withdraw
from it would be a disgrace for others, but for Camillus an abominable
impiety . . . . Our city was founded on the basis of good auspices and good
auguries; there is not a place in it to which sacred duties are not attached, in
which gods do not dwell; the solemn sacrifices have not only their set days but
also their set localities. Do you intend to abandon all these gods of state and
family? . . . We will be regarded not as conquerors who are leaving their city,
but as defeated men who have lost their city; people will say that the defeat at
the Allia, the conquest of the city, the siege of the Capitol drove us to desert
our Penates and to flee into exile from a place that we are not able to
defend . . . . Would it not be better to live in huts like shepherds and rustics
among our sacred places and our Penates, than for the entire people to go into
exile? Does the soil of our fatherland, and this earth that we call Mother, have
no hold on us? Is our love for our fatherland merely an attachment to fagades
and roof-beams?

Later on in the course of the Aeneid the objections embodied in this attitude are
removed in part. It turns out that the Penates are not migrating to some strange
country but returning to their original home.1 There is no such comfort in the
Ilioupersis : there, Troy is the native land, and Aeneas is driven from it. Virgil had to
make it his aim, above all, to avoid any sense of disgrace, to defend the Trojans in
general, but above all his hero, from accusations of cowardice or weakness, timid
6 despondency or disloyalty towards his fatherland.2 Sympathy for the vanquished
grows when that for the conqueror is withdrawn, so his second concern had to be to
strip the Greeks of the glory of victory, while taking the greatest care to avoid any
appearance of malice. The outlines of the narrative were firmly fixed in tradition;
the poet had to be very sparing in his invention of new episodes to serve his purpose,
in case his readers should fail to recognize the Fall of Troy . Thus, as far as content
was concerned, his art was necessarily one of selecting from the rich treasury of the
traditional story whatever was suitable for his purpose and omitting all the rest
unless it was impossible to do so.

These simple considerations clearly imply that it is highly unlikely that Virgil

used only one of his predecessors as his sole or main source, for none of them had
been pursuing the same aim as Virgil, either as regards content or form. Nor in
writing the Aeneid did Virgil feel constrained in any way: there was no single earlier
version of the Sack of Troy which was regarded as canonical to the extent that any
deviation would meet with disapproval. Nor should we imagine that his knowledge
of the tradition was in any way narrow or restricted. It is obvious that either person-
ally or with the help of educated Greek friends he drew on all the relevant accounts
that were available at that time.

Virgil's Sack of Troy consists of three parts: the introduction, during which the
wooden horse is taken into the city (lines 13-249), the battle at night (250-558), and
Aeneas' flight (559-803). As we can see, these sections are roughly equal in length,
which suggests that the poet regarded them as of equal importance. Merely from the
point of view of form, he would not have been happy with a type of composition
such as we find in Tryphiodorus, where some 500 and 200 lines correspond with
Virgil's first two sections. For the same reason he would have regarded it as totally
inadmissible to devote a mere handful of lines to the departure of Aeneas, which for
the Romans was the most important event of all. In drama, intensity of action can
perhaps compensate for brevity of treatment, but not in epic.

We will follow the course of the narrative.


The Wooden Horse


Troy had been besieged by the Greeks for ten long years, to no avail. Finally they
hid in a wooden horse, which the Trojans themselves pulled into their city. In the
night, the soldiers left their hiding-place and overwhelmed the sleeping Trojans . . . .
This ancient story must have given rise to adverse comment at a very early date:
how could the Trojans be so unsuspecting and foolish as to pull the agent of their
own destruction into the city? Some have believed it possible to trace the stages by
which these criticisms resulted in increasingly elaborate versions of the story; how-
ever, it can be no more than a purely hypothetical exercise to arrange the versions
according to this principle since most of the surviving versions cannot be securely
dated. According to the narrative in the Odyssey (8.502ff.), which Proclus tells us
corresponds with Arctinus' Sack of Troy , and which also forms the basis of the
version in Apollodorus, the horse is pulled to the acropolis without a moment's
thought: it is only then that they wonder what to do with it, and decide according
to Proclus to dedicate it to Athena. Sinon is not mentioned in the Odyssey , and in
the mythographers he is only the man who is assigned the task of giving the
fire-signal to the Greek ships. In fact, in Apollodorus' version he does this from
Achilles' tomb, in Proclus' from the city itself. Sinon must have known not only that
the horse was in the city, but also that the Trojans were asleep. To discover this he
must have crept in using some kind of disguise.3 We learn from the Tabula Iliaca
that he had a more important rtle in the Little Iliad : he enters the city walking in

front of the horse; from the later versions of the story we may draw the conclusion
that he persuaded the Trojans to accept the treacherous votive offering. It is clear that
in this version the Trojans' suspicions were aroused from the start, then lulled by the
Greeks' falsehood and deceit; the Little Iliad gives an explanation of the actions taken
by the Trojans, and their gullibility is contrasted with the cunning of their enemies.
Sophocles may have written a play about Sinon, and Aristotle certainly lists Sinon as
one of the subjects for tragedy drawn from the Little Iliad , and it is reasonable to
suppose that Sinon's deception of the Trojans in fact formed the nucleus of this play.
But later even this motivation seems to have been regarded as no longer sufficient. It
8 may well have seemed strange, judging ancient legends by the standards of their own
time, that a common cheat was able to delude wise Priam and his wise elders. Some
Hellenistic writer will then have taken the step of introducing the legend of Laocoon,
and presenting it in a bold new version as the definitive explanation of how the
Trojans had been deceived. It is true that it had already been associated with the fall
of Troy, but not with the story of the horse. Laocoon is the embodiment of their
justifiable mistrust. When the gods send the serpents to kill his sons, the Trojans take
this to be divine confirmation of Sinon's words, and this is enough to make their
decision quite comprehensible to any reader who believed in divine signs. This last,
most elaborate form of the legend has also left traces in the accounts in the mytho-
graphers.4 Quintus of Smyrna took it over wholesale, though in a form superficially
contaminated with another version; his source was probably some mythographic

Virgil must have had no hesitation in choosing this final version of the tradition.
Not only was it the richest and artistically most rewarding, it was also the version in
which the behaviour of the Trojans was shown in the most favourable light.


Let us look at the Sinon scene, leaving aside for a moment its connection with the
Laocoon scenes. We know from Tryphiodorus that Virgil's poem was not the first in
which Sinon spoke to Priam himself and Priam listened graciously and even asked
him to explain the significance of the gigantic horse. Moreover we learn from
Quintus that Sinon's lie, that it was to be dedicated to the gods so as to ensure a safe
voyage back to Greece, was not Virgil's invention either. Much of the manner in
which this material is narrated also stems from Virgil's source. Quintus seems to
have had only a bare outline before him. The whole construction betrays its late date
by the way that it is pieced together from motifs that were already well known.
Sinon plays the rtle that Odysseus himself plays in Euripides' Philoctetes . In order
9 to win the confidence of Philoctetes, who was suffering from a mortal wound on
account of the behaviour of the Greeks, and above all of Odysseus himself, Odys-
seus pretended that he himself was a Greek who had been maltreated by his own
people and exiled as a result of the machinations of Odysseus:6 so in Euripides the
deceiver blames himself, and this motif seems to have been invented for this con-
text. But in both passages it is the unjust condemnation of Palamedes that is said to
have led to the misfortune of the liar, who claims to have been a friend of the dead

Palamedes; and it has therefore been suggested that the echo of Euripides' lines can
be heard in Virgil's.7 But Virgil was not the first to make use of the device derived
from Euripides. This can be seen from the fact that Quintus' version agrees in its
main outlines with Virgil, suggesting that they had an earlier common source.
Furthermore, Calchas' proposal, based on his interpretation of divine will, that
Sinon should be sacrificed to ensure a safe journey home is, as Virgil himself
reminds us (116f.), modelled on the sacrifice of Iphigenia; we will, of course, also
recall Achilles' threat (Quintus 14.216) that he will send a storm to prevent the
Greeks leaving unless Polyxena is sacrificed to him: Calchas was also involved in
the sacrifice of Polyxena. On the other hand, we may consider that the rhetorical
working-out of the [speech] as well as the ethos of the whole scene is Virgil-
ian. Sinon's deception surely started life as a stratagem worthy of Odysseus himself,
brilliantly revealing the superiority of the versatile Greek over the barbarian Priam.
Now, in Virgil's hands, this famous exploit becomes a scandalous piece of behaviour, a
despicable lie, corroborated by a false oath (154ff.; periurus [195] [perjured]), com-
pounded by the abuse of a most noble trustfulness, helpfulness, sympathy, piety and
hospitality, and designed to destroy those who practise such virtues. It is only
because the Trojans themselves are so totally incapable of deviousness, indeed
ignorant of it (186), that they do not even expect to meet it in an enemy. But Sinon is
10 not the only crafty one: Aeneas now suddenly realizes that Sinon is only a typical
representative of the general depravity of the Danai: crimine ab uno disce omnis
(65) [from this one proof of their perfidy you may understand them all], scelerum
tantorum artisque Pelasgae (106) [to what length of wickedness Greek cunning
could go], dolis instructus et arte Pelasga (152) [adept in deceit, and with all the
cunning of a Greek]. This is the voice of Virgil the Roman; the conventional Roman
ideal is the upright, sincere man of honour, incapable of any deviousness, who
therefore easily falls victim to the deviousness of a foreigner. An excellent parallel with
this Trojano-Roman view of Sinon's deception is provided by the patriotic view of the
disaster at Cannae, as it appears in Valerius Maximus8 (7.4 ext 2): according to Vale-
rius, before the battle 400 Carthaginians claiming to be deserters were welcomed by the
Romans and then proceeded to draw their swords, which they had concealed, and to
attack the army in the rear. The narrator concludes: haec fuit Punica fortitudo , dolis et
insidiis et fallacia instructa . quae nunc certissima circumventae virtutis nostrae
excusatio est , quoniam decepti magis quam victi sumus [this was the bravery of the
Carthaginians, full of tricks and snares and deception: this is the most convincing excuse
for the eclipse of our brave soldiers, since we were cheated rather than beaten].9 So in
fact it is to the credit of the Trojans to have been defenceless against the wiles of Sinon,
that typical representative of his loquacious, cunning, perfidious race,10

11 quos neque Tydides nec Larisaeus Achilles,
non anni domuere decem , non mille carinae .

[men whom neither Tydeus' son nor Larissaean Achilles could subdue, for all their
ten years of war and a thousand keels.] The reader's sympathy is mixed with
admiration; the admiration which Sinon's artfulness might have aroused in him is
swamped by indignation.

The more sophisticated Sinon's lying becomes, the more powerfully this effect is
achieved. Virgil has done his utmost here. His main concern was to arrange his
material so as to be convincing both artistically and in its content. Sinon's speech
taken as a whole falls into three almost equal sections: the first narrates the events
leading up to the proposal to kill him, the second the proposal itself and his flight,
and the third reveals the secret of the votive offering. Corresponding with this, again
in a truly Virgilian way, is an intensification of the emotions on the Trojan side.
Sinon's introductory remarks had aroused their curiosity he seems not to be a
Greek and they no longer feel any hostility towards him. The first part of his
narrative with the reference to the prophet Calchas towards the end, awakens their
burning curiosity; the second, pity; when it comes to the third part, they are no
longer thinking of Sinon it is a question of saving Troy ( servataque serves Troia
fidem [160]) [if Troy is preserved, may she honour her word]. Thus before our very
eyes the arrogant lack of concern initially shown by the Trojans gradually changes
to deep sympathy and earnest foreboding. I will not discuss the individual artful
devices employed by Sinon since most of them were pointed out long ago by the
ancient interpreters,11 but will restrict myself to pointing out how in the course of the
speech Sinon reveals himself, gradually and apparently quite unintentionally, as char-
acterized by a whole range of the very noblest qualities, as well as caught up in
circumstances that call for deep compassion: steadfastness in misfortune and
unshakeable honesty (80), poverty (87), loyalty towards his friend (93), suffering and
humiliation on his friend's account (92), an inability to cheat or deceive (94), revul-
sion against the war (110) which he had not become involved in of his own accord
(87), isolation amongst his fellow Greeks (130), pietas (137) [a sense of duty] to-
wards his home-country, his children and his father, religio (141) [reverence towards
12 the gods]: he even seems to feel that he has somehow wronged the gods by escaping
sacrifice ( fateor [134] [I admit]). In spite of all the injustice he has suffered, he does
not scorn his compatriots, the impius Tydides [sacrilegious son of Tydeus] and the
scelerum inventor Ulixes [Ulysses, quick to invent new crimes], until he has gone
over to the Trojan side and has solemnly dissociated himself from the Greeks, at
which point he expresses pious revulsion from the wicked behaviour of these two.
Only then does he wish for the destruction of those who intended to do him such
mortal injury12 (190). It is clear that all these devices arouse sympathy for Sinon, and
strengthen the inclination of the Trojans to believe his story. This plausibility
is also supported by the full and circumstantial nature of the account,
which answers any sceptical questions before they are asked, and by the abundance of
details which seem to well up from Sinon's excited memory, allaying any suspicion that
it might all be a fiction.13 In short, Virgil has aimed not merely at rivalling Homer in the
art praised by Aristotle ( Poet . 24), that of making one's heroes tell lies, but at outdoing

The inevitable consequence is that Sinon succeeds totally in convincing the
Trojans. For all these skilful devices would be valueless if they did not achieve the
fundamental and indeed the only aim of the speech, to convince the audience. It is
essential that not even a shred of doubt should remain. That would mean that Sinon
had made a poor speech. And so talibus insidiis periurique arte Sinonis credita res
[we gave Sinon our trust, tricked by his blasphemy and cunning]. How does this

connect with the function which Laocoon had to fulfil in the version of the story
outlined above?


A crowd of Trojans are standing around the wooden horse and arguing about what
to do with it when Laocoon makes his first appearance:

Primus ibi ante omnis magna comitante caterva
Laocoon ardens summa decurrit ab arce .

[but there, in front of all, came Laocoon, hastening furiously down from the citadel
13 with a large company in attendance.]

In highly emotional language he warns them of the cunning of the Greeks and
flings a lance at the horse's belly, which resounds with a roar. Apollodorus tells us
that Laocoon warned the Trojans, but, except for Virgil, only Tzetzes ( Posthom .
713) says that he reinforced his words by hurling his spear. Since that is the only
detail for which it would be necessary to assume that Virgil was Tzetzes' source, it
is more likely that this too is derived from an earlier tradition.

The way in which Laocoon is introduced has been judged to be so ill-adapted to
the context14 that some have concluded that in lines 35-56 Virgil originally had in
mind the earlier version in which it was only after the horse had been pulled into the
citadel that Laocoon gave his advice; and that he later incorporated these lines into
the new version, with some slight changes, which were not sufficient to obliterate
their original character. The same problem arises with the second Laocoon scene: it
has been argued that it presupposes the version of the story in which Laocoon was
killed by the snakes during the joyful sacrifices in the city not as a punishment but as
an omen sent by friendly gods in order to warn the Trojans. I am not convinced by
any of the criticisms that have been made of the present position of the lines. Quite
apart from practical considerations, it is the dramatic character of Virgil's narrative
that is responsible for the way in which Laocoon is not envisaged as one of the
group arguing around the horse, but is brought on purely to give a warning, and this
is a technique which we shall notice again and again. Imagine the scene on the stage.
First Thymoetes, then Capys would make his proposal; some of the citizens would
support one, some the other. During the confusion Laocoon would come rushing
onto the stage, just as he does in Virgil. This is the only way to give an audience the
impression that he is not just another character with something to say, but that
something with important consequences is happening. And still in terms of our
imaginary stage production Laocoon would already have been briefed about what
had been going on. A dramatist scrupulous about motivation would perhaps have
sent one of those quorum melior sententia menti [who judged more wisely] to fetch
14 him, to help his group to win the argument. But in fact an audience would hardly
notice if a motivation of this kind were omitted. The dramatist could make Laocoon
enter without saying where he had come from. Virgil says not simply accurrit
[rushes to them], but summa decurrit ab arce [rushes down from the citadel]. In

other words, he had remained in the city. Some have believed that this contradicts
the earlier description panduntur portae : iuvat ire etc. (26ff.) [we flung the gates
open, and we enjoyed going etc.]. But did Virgil give us his word that every Trojan,
man, woman, child and mouse, had come out of the city? And even if he did say
omnes [all], he could have left Laocoon in the city. He also says nos abiisse rati
. . . ergo omnis longo solvit se Teucria luctu [we thought they (i.e. the Greeks) had
sailed . . . so all the land of Troy relaxed after its years of unhappiness]. But after-
wards we hear that Laocoon does not believe that the enemy has sailed away
(creditis avectos hostis? [Do you really believe that your enemies have sailed
away?] he asks), that is, his anxiety is by no means totally allayed. Even the most
recent and most acute commentators have not criticized the poet for any contradic-
tion here; it would have been very pedantic to do so; in that case, they ought not to
have objected to the other apparent difficulty that we have mentioned. Laocoon
takes no part in the general rejoicing; he has his suspicions about the apparent retreat
of the enemy; so it is quite reasonable that he would not be amongst the inquisitive
crowds that come swarming out exultantly onto the plain that the Greeks have left
empty. The poet tells us that Laocoon was not there with incomparable brevity:
summa ab arce [from the height of the citadel]. But why summa [height]? We
should translate 'coming down from the citadel on high',15 where summa perhaps is
intended only to indicate the long distance that Laocoon had to cover, and together
with ardens , primus ante omnis , d e c u r r i t , and procul [furious in front of all,
hastening down, far off] add to the effect of violent excitement. But perhaps the real
reason why the poet had the idea of making Laocoon run down was because from
the heights of the citadel, unde omnis Troia videri 16 et Danaum solitae navis et
Achaica castra (461) [whence we used to look out over all Troy and see the Greek
camp and fleet], he could have seen the excited crowds around the horse he might
also have looked across the sea to discover whether any suspicious sail was visible.
But even so, how would Aeneas have known of it? Let us merely note that Virgil
15 allows Aeneas to say something that, strictly speaking, he could not have known at
the time and could hardly have discovered later. We shall find other places where
Virgil does not stay scrupulously within the confines of the first-person narrative.
When Laocoon is introduced in the older tradition, he is said to be a priest of
Apollo; Virgil, however, does not characterize him in any such way. This omission
is deliberate (Virgil names his own priest of Apollo, Panthus [319]), since the divine
protector who guards Troy so faithfully cannot abandon his priest to such a grue-
some death. So Laocoon is simply an aristocrat, like Thymoetes or Capys. We
gather immediately from magna comitante caterva [with a large company in attend-
ance] that he does not belong to the vulgus [ordinary people]: he is not accompanied
by a random crowd of Trojans who, like him, happen to have remained in the city,
but with a group of his comites [attendants];17 driven by burning impatience, he has
rushed on ahead of them. The rumbling echo from the horse's armoured load is not
heard by the Trojans, whom the gods have stupefied (54); we are not told anything
else about the effect produced by Laocoon's appearance. This is quite natural be-
cause again in a very dramatic way immediately after or even during his speech
(ecce . . . interea [57] [suddenly . . . meanwhile]), the Trojans' attention is diverted.
Sinon is dragged on, and at this point a captured Greek is understandably more

interesting than anything else.

Virgil is not quite as successful in the second Laocoon scene as in the first in
overcoming the technical difficulties that arise from his method of composition.
Sinon has finished his speech. As at the first break in the narrative (54), Aeneas, the
narrator, interposes a few words from his own point of view (195ff.). The Trojans
are convinced, and that seals their fate. It only remains for them to act on their
conviction, to come to a decision and carry it out. Then something new, unexpected
and ghastly happens: the serpents come across the sea, and Laocoon and his sons
suffer a most excruciating death. And now, under the impression that this is an act of
16 divine judgement, the decision is indeed made without further ado, and executed
without the slightest hesitation.18 The most recent critics are certainly right to say
that, from a logical point of view, no further motivation was necessary. Once the
Trojans had been convinced by Sinon, then they were bound to proceed to their
decision and its execution, though perhaps not with so much haste and with such
unanimous enthusiasm that is, provided that nothing else happened to make them
reconsider. But we have already seen that Virgil could not follow his source here,
and we have also seen why. His source (as we may deduce from Quintus) had used
Laocoon's death in order to dispel any reservations that the Trojans may still have
had after Sinon's speech. Why did Virgil not omit Laocoon's death completely? In
the first place, it would in that case have been necessary to omit the first appearance
of Laocoon as well, and the whole scene centred on the wooden horse would have
lost much of its dramatic impetus. But this technical problem is not the most
important point. Laocoon's death would only be superfluous to the narrative if it
were a second motivation that came from the same sphere as the first. But beside
mortal deception, and at a higher level, comes the sign from the gods. And I would
even say that if Virgil had not found this episode in the tradition, it would have been
necessary for him to have invented a similar motive. For in the whole of the Aeneid ,
no great event ever occurs without Virgil reminding us that it is the will and work of
the gods. And this is the greatest event of all, the act which brings about the
destruction of Troy; is it to be the sole exception? Whenever Aeneas does anything
for the salvation of his people, and for the Rome of the future, the poet piously gives
the glory for it to the gods of Rome. The great men of this world are merely their
tools. But the gods are also responsible for disaster: it is they who send storms and
destruction upon ships, and enemies and death upon armies; it is they, not the Greek
forces, who destroy Troy; therefore they too must have been responsible for allow-
ing the fatal horse to enter the city. That is taken for granted by Virgil and by anyone
who is in sympathy with his thought. And indeed there is also another reason to
believe in the power of the gods: it is the only way to silence the reproach that the
Trojans were stupid. Laccoon's death thus also serves the special viewpoint which,
17 as I have explained above, Virgil had to keep in mind throughout his narration of the
Sack of Troy.19 And he achieves his aim for every impartial reader; everyone
realizes that the Trojans are overcome by a higher power which no mortal could
understand, for what good would it have done them if they had remained uncon-
vinced by Sinon's lies? Now, in the light of this divine judgement they hesitate no

I now wish to refer briefly to the purely artistic advantage which Virgil gained by

introducing the Laocoon scene; it is something quite distinct from the pathetic
nature of the scene itself, and was not consciously sought after by the poet. I referred
above to the very gradual intensification of the mood of the Trojans, and the skilful
way in which it is represented. One must imagine them as being deeply impressed
by Sinon's final words. It is only after the intervention of the terrifying and
astonishing omen that the crowd is seized with enthusiasm: those whom we should
imagine as having listened in silence up to this point, now eagerly set to work,
everyone is busy, festive hymns fill the air. Thus begins the ecstatic festival of joy
which is to lead Troy to destruction. In every drama, and in narrative too, it is much
more effective when a significant change is brought about by a sudden violent
action rather than by a gradual development.20 It would have been extemely diffi-
cult, in my view, to create the artistically necessary shock of excitement from
Sinon's long-drawn-out narrative.

Enough on the justification for the whole scene. The motivation of details, for
example, the transition, is, however, open to criticism. We are told that Laocoon is
performing a sacrifice on the shore, mactabat [was sacrificing]. We have to assume
that this is already taking place during Sinon's speech. But how could Laocoon have
18 left before a decision had been reached about the fate of the horse? Had he, too,
been convinced by Sinon? That is hardly credible, in view of the evidence we have
already had of his farsightedness. And why should he be making a solemn sacrifice
to Neptune before the horse had been pulled into the city for that would appear to
be the most urgent task? Admittedly, the sacrifice to Neptune seems to have been
given a motivation in Virgil's source, or in his own mind, and this may lead to an
answer to our other questions. There can only be one reason for sacrificing to
Neptune at this point, to implore him to destroy the Greek fleet, which is now in his
power. Here it seems to me that there is an undeniable point of contact with an
incident invented by Euphorion. According to Servius ad loc ., Euphorion related
that, before the beginning of the war, the Trojans had stoned their priest of Neptune
to death because he had not performed any sacrifice or made any vow to the god to
prevent the Greek expedition from crossing the Aegean to Troy. Now, the sanctuary
of the gods was on the shore; during the war the cult had therefore lapsed21 and there
had been no need to replace the priest. I suggest that this explains Virgil's remark-
able phrase ductus Neptuno sorte sacerdos [chosen by lot to be a priest of
Neptune].22 There was no time to lose if they were not to miss the opportunity to do
19 what they had failed to do at the beginning of the war. The enemy ships might
already have completed the greater part of their short journey. Therefore I am
following the idea through in order to show that it entails nothing implausible
while Sinon was still telling his tale, Laocoon could have heard that the preparations
for the sacrifice were complete. Chosen by lot to offer the sacrifice, he goes to
perform his sacred duty, accompanied by his two sons.

No doubt you will ask in astonishment, 'Are we supposed to "understand" all
this? Why does the poet say nothing about all this? Why is he satisfied with a brief
allusion?' In my opinion, Virgil has not completely overcome the technical difficul-
ties at this point. He could not allow Sinon's narrative to be interrupted with the
apparently unimportant news that Laocoon had left; nor could he allow time to
elapse after the end of the speech so that Laocoon could start the preparations for the

sacrifice; nor, finally, could he weigh down the account of the appalling death of
Laocoon with details that might well interest a conscientious critic who was scruti-
nizing the text from a logical point of view for details of this kind would have
interrupted the process of transporting the excited listener, involved heart and soul,
to the scene at the point where everything is aimed at putting him into the frame of
mind of the Trojans as they are carried from one astonishing event to another. So
Virgil sacrificed absolutely correct motivation, and said only exactly as much as was
necessary to allow the reader to gather what must have happened. He was relying on
the fact that his reader, overcome by the pathos of the situation, would not painstak-
ingly smooth out every fold of the story to see whether he could find any holes in it;
in my view, the successful effect that he achieves proves once again that his instincts
were right.

Virgil finds himself in all these difficulties only because he has separated the first
Laocoon scene from the second. Why did he not do what Quintus does, and have
Laocoon making his first appearance after the Sinon scene, so that his punishment
follows immediately after? That would have made everything run smoothly, and
there would be no problem about a transition. Nor would there be any difficulty
from the point of view of the narrative; on the contrary, it is surely more natural for
the punishment to come immediately after the crime, than for the serpents to wait
until the precise moment that Sinon completes his lengthy speech. So Virgil must
have been led to remodel the scene by considerations of a formal or artistic nature,
20 and these can be easily reconstructed. First, the effect of Sinon's speech would have
been weakened if Laocoon had expressed his doubts after it and it would inevitably
have thrown the Trojans back into a state of indecision; whereas with the introduc-
tion of the Laocoon scene, the impression made by Sinon's speech is greatly
enhanced. Secondly, the first Laocoon scene forms the artistic motivation for the
entry of Sinon, because it has the greatest effect at this point: he appears at the very
moment at which Laocoon's advice and action are on the point of exposing the
cunning Greek ruse. At the height of the action the counter-action supervenes: that is
characteristic of the structure of Virgil's narrative.

Quintus, writing a straightforward narrative, is able to say that Athena sent the
serpents: the Muse has revealed it to the poet. In Virgil, Aeneas narrates as an
eye-witness; we have to be told how he and his fellow-Trojans discovered who sent
the punishment. Of course, there could be no doubt in anyone's mind in antiquity
that it was a manifestation of divine anger; but Virgil wanted to indicate that it was
specifically Athena who was responsible, and that the injury to her votive offering
had injured her. He had come across a tradition in which the serpents, having
accomplished their deed, disappeared into the sanctuary of Apollo,23 and he trans-
ferred it to the temple and statue of Athena:

delubra ad summa dracones
diffugiunt saevaeque petunt Tritonidis arcem
sub pedibusque deae clipeique sub orbe teguntur. (225-7)

[the pair of serpents now made their retreat, sliding up to the temple of heartless
Minerva high on her citadel, where they vanished near her statue's feet behind the

circle of her shield]. Although Aeneas narrates this, he does not do so as a direct
witness. The Trojans on the plain could not see into the citadel, and it would be
ridiculous to imagine that they ran along beside the serpents. They could only have
seen what direction they took and, at most, have learnt from others afterwards where
they had hidden. Virgil will hardly have thought all this through in detail in his
mind, but this is another passage where he has not felt restricted by every implica-
tion of the first-person narrative, for two reasons: not to burden the narrative with
wearisome diffuseness, and not to be obliged to lose the benefit of a motif which is
so important for the story.


The Horse enters Troy

In the description that follows, I single out Virgil's brevity for comment: he does not
describe the journey to the city (Tryph. 304-35), nor does he give more than the bare
fact of Cassandra's unheeded warning (Tryph. 358-445, Quintus 525-85), and this is
simply to produce an effective contrast with the activity of the unheeding Trojans; it
is clear that he avoids writing episodes just for the sake of it. Instead, he lingers over
the moment at which the horse crosses the encircling wall: this fateful moment
deserves emphatic treatment. This is not (as in Quintus and Tryphiodorus) followed
by a detailed description of the joyful festivities, the music, dancing and general
intoxication;24 the narrator could not recall these hours without shame and remorse,
nor could his audience hear about this infatuated celebration without feeling con-
tempt and pity. Instead of a description we have only the lines:

nos delubra deum miseri , quibus ultimus esset
ille dies , festa velamus fronde per urbem , (248-9)

[ . . . we, poor fools, spent this our last day decorating with festal greenery every
temple in our town], two lines which are certainly calculated, but in which the art of
calculation comes close to genius.

The Battle


The second section, the Night Battle ( Nyktomachia ), opens with a short account of
the events that occurred before Aeneas awoke: the Achaean fleet returns, Sinon
opens the horse, which disgorges its occupants, who disperse through the sleeping
city, slay the watchmen at the gates and open the city to their comrades. This is
exactly the way in which Aeneas, at the beginning of the first part of his story
(2.13-24) had spoken of the actions of the Greeks, before he started on his full
account. At that stage, confining himself strictly to his own experiences, he was only
able to say that the Greeks sailed away and left the wooden horse behind on the

shore. It was only later that he discovered their destination and their plans. Now,
22 however, when these events are mentioned a second time, we are also told, in its
proper place, how Aeneas learnt what he had anticipated in his first account: Pan-
thus comes down from the citadel and tells him about what has happened (328ff.).
Because this is narrated twice, it has been suggested that one of the two passages is a
later addition;25 but that is certainly not so. When, in the course of an action narrated
by the hero himself, he has to deal with events which he did not hear about, or
realize the importance of, until later, there are two possibilities open to the poet. He
can make the narrator keep very strictly to the order in which he experienced the
events, and that means that, for the time being, the audience will be as much in the
dark about those events, or their significance, as he had been at the time. This
technique can create a feeling of restless excitement of the kind that modem novel-
ists are particularly eager to achieve, but which is alien to the aims and conventions
of an ancient epic. The other possibility is that the narrator tells the events in the
order in which they actually happened, drawing on his later knowledge: that is the
naove technique such as is used in the stories told by Odysseus. Odysseus narrates
the experience of his companions in Circe's palace in complete disregard of the fact
that he himself only learnt of them later, from Eurylochus, and some of them even
later than that, from his other ship-mates; he tells us what his comrades did on
Thrinacia while he was asleep, what Eurylochus said, etc., just as if it were not
himself, Odysseus, but the poet speaking. When they come to Polyrphemus' cave
(Od . 9.187), he tells his audience what it was like and how it was laid out, instead of
doing what a sophisticated narrator would do, start by arousing vague misgivings in
his audience, and then make them share the feeling of horror which gripped the men
waiting in the cave when they caught sight of the monster. Virgil proceeds in the
same way, but he is just a little more sophisticated about it. He is not interested in
creating tension, any more than Homer was; rather, he wants his audience to grasp
the whole situation from the very start. This can only be achieved by a narrative that
anticipates later knowledge. On the other hand, we also need to be told when and
how the situation was explained to Aeneas: that is why Panthus' speech is essential.
But Panthus certainly does not tell Aeneas everything that Aeneas has told us;26 in
23 fact, once our attention has been drawn to it, we might well ask where exactly
Aeneas has got all these details from: that it was the king's ship that gave the fire
signal,27 which heroes were inside the horse,28 that they slid down on a rope,29 and so
forth, and the same is true of his first account, where he says that the heroes were
picked by lot, etc. An ancient solver of literary problems would perhaps
have explained that Aeneas was told all this afterwards, years later, by Achae-
menides, the companion of Odysseus. I am myself quite sure that Virgil never
bothered himself with such possibilities, but once again was not confining himself
24 strictly to the stand-point of the first-person narrative; he wanted to give his audi-
ence not merely a bare outline of the essential facts, but a vivid picture. Every
Trojan must have got a general idea of what had happened only too soon; the details
came along with it. Nevertheless, the description is sufficiently short and concise to
give the effect of an actual spoken account, contrasting sharply with the return to
Aeneas' own narrative, which is resumed with the phrase tempus erat quo prima
quies [it was the time when rest first comes]. This is very different from Odysseus'

account of the adventures on Thrinacia, where we still get a full and detailed
narrative even when Odysseus himself was not present.

One detail of Panthus' account should be emphasized, since it is of some signific-
ance for the visual aspect of the scenes that follow: the Greek fleet sails towards the
shore tacitae per amica silentia lunae (255) i.e. through the calm night by the
friendly light of the moon.30 The moon has played a role in depictions of the Fall of
Troy from the earliest times: 'It was midnight, the bright moon rose', says the Little
Iliad .31 Understandably enough: if it had been a pitch dark night, it would have been
necessary to provide some source of light for each scene. So Virgil, too, mentions
the moonlight again when some of Aeneas' companions gather round him, oblati
per lunam (340) [looming through the moonlight]. On the other hand, an impression
of the darkness of the night is necessary for the Androgeus scene: the Greeks
25 mistake Aeneas and his men for their own compatriots and only become suspicious
when the expected answer to their greeting does not come (376); afterwards the
Trojans make further use of the darkness when they put on the armour of the slain
and are thus able to storm unrecognized amongst the enemy troops. That would have
been impossible in daylight, when faces might be recognized. That is why Virgil
mentions the 'shadows of the black night' several times in these scenes;32 of course
he can say this, in spite of the moonlight, because these scenes take place in the
narrow streets of the city. There 'lights bright as day and dark night-shadows form
great opposing masses'.33

Hector's Appearance

Up to this point, Aeneas had been recounting events which he and his fellow-
citizens had experienced together, in which he had not himself played a leading rtle.
In the scene centred on the wooden horse and in those that follow, he is generally no
more than just one of the Trojans, included whenever they are mentioned. During
the night of terror, however, every man is thrown on his own resources, and now
Aeneas embarks on the account of his own personal experiences, and does not
digress from them thereafter.

The appearance of Hector to Aeneas in a dream (268-97) has no immediate
consequence, and is never alluded to again. From a superficial point of view, it
might therefore appear pointless; whereas in reality it is of great significance in
preparing for the following scenes. This is not only because it begins the description
of the night of slaughter with a scene full of pathos that graphically summarizes the
26 essentials of what is to follow, and at one stroke puts the reader into the right frame
of mind for hearing about these events.34 Perhaps even more important than this
artistic purpose is the need to present Aeneas' attitude to these events in the right
light from the beginning. Even before the hero is in a position to act, he, and still
more the reader, needs to be convinced that the fate of Troy has been decided, and
therefore that not even Aeneas with all his energy and courage can avert this fate. It
is also necessary to prepare the reader to accept the way in which Aeneas deserts his
city, instead of staying to perish with it; and this desertion needs to be presented not
as the faint-hearted flight of a man concerned only to save his own skin, but as a

way of carrying out an act of pious duty towards the sacred images, the Penates of
Troy, for whom he must provide a new, secure home. I am inclined to believe that
Virgil started from this abstract requirement. It would be impossible to meet this
requirement more successfully than Virgil has done by introducing the vision of
Hector. Hector is able to fulfil this function better than any man alive, better than
any other of the Trojan dead. If Hector advises Aeneas to give up all attempts at
resistance, we know that resistance really is of no avail. If Hector urges flight, flight
cannot be dishonourable. It is possible that Virgil was influenced by the memory of
the appearance of Achilles in the , when he gave the opposite warning before
the fleet set sail; moreover, it is certain that in the details of the description Virgil
was purposely echoing the appearance of Homer at the beginning of Ennius' Annals ,
the most famous dream vision in Roman literature, and at the same time Paris'
words to Hector's corpse in Ennius' tragedy; but these borrowings do not in any
way mar the unity of his conception. And it is characteristic of Virgil's creative
method that he was not satisfied with attaining the abstract goal that he had in mind,
27 but that the scene has blossomed into a significance of its own, and developed
motifs not required by the action, but poetically valuable in themselves: the pathos
in the appearance of Hector, intensified by the memory of his days of splendour,
Aeneas' pity and the dream-like confusion of his thoughts. In this way the scene
gains significance over and above its value within the context.35

Hector's words are short and clear, as befits the man. He releases Aeneas from
his duty towards his former fatherland, points him towards his new duty and his new
homeland; fuge [flee], the heart of the message, is practically his first word. But
when this fuge is followed by teque his eripe flammis [and escape from these
flames], then that too must somehow be significant. In the whole course of the
narrative from now on, it is striking how deliberately Virgil emphasizes the burning
of the city: the houses of Deiphobus and Ucalegon are already on fire (310), Panthus
speaks excitedly of the incendia (327, 329) [fires], as does Aeneas (353) and the
Greek Androgeus (374);36 everywhere there are the flames as well as the enemy to
terrify them (337, 431, 505, 566, 600, 632, 664, 705); scarcely have Aeneas and his
family left their house when it flares up in a sheet of flame (758-9). In short, the
reader's imagination is constrained again and again to envisage the conquered city
of Ilium as a sea of flames: it is burning as soon as the Greeks have broken in, it
collapses at the moment that the city is finally captured (624), and it is from the
smoking rubble of the sanctuaries that the plunderers loot whatever is left for them
to pillage. This does not correspond at all with the traditional version: in that, the
Greeks do not set fire to the city until just before their departure;37 in Euripides (Tro .
1260) Talthybius orders men to go into the city to start fires while the captured
women make their way to the ships. This is comparable with Aeschylus' version,
where Clytaemnestra imagines the victorious Greeks no longer starving in the damp,
28 cold camp on the plain but resting their weary limbs in the comfort of the palaces of
Troy (Agam . 334). I do not know who was the first to paint this striking picture of
the battle among the flames of Troy; it may have been the man who first made the
flames retreat before Aeneas as he fled.38 This was, in my opinion, invented merely
for the sake of effect; the earlier version is the more probable, since, if you think
about it, the Greeks had no reason to start a fire which might be as disastrous to

themselves as to their enemies, and which would consume not only houses and
temples but also the booty.39 This innovation (probably Hellenistic) suited Virgil's
purpose admirably; that is why he has deliberately emphasized it, preparing for it in
Hector's words, not primarily for the sake of effect (although the splendid, terrifying
picture of the burning city must have appeared vividly before his eyes)40 but above all
for the sake of the story. As a result the Trojans have to fight not only against mortal
enemies but also the power of the elements, against which all resistance is in vain;41
this means that it is not the sacred city of Pergamon, with its mighty towers, that
Aeneas has to leave, but a smoking heap of rubble and ashes. That is why, when he
returns to the conquered city, he has to see his own house, from which he rescues his
father and son, in flames (757), and has to see the sacred adyta (764) [shrines], whose
gods he carries with him, on fire. Fuit Ilium [Ilium is finished]: this is intended to make
his departure easier, and to enable the patriotic reader to sympathize with his decision.

Aeneas in the Battle

Aeneas survived the fall of Troy. That was a tradition that was established, and
already to be found in the famous prophecy in the Iliad (20.307). However, when it
comes to the detailed circumstances of his escape, the tradition splits into countless
branches. The earliest, that used by Sophocles in his Laocoon , had Aeneas leave
29 Troy before it was captured. Later, the view prevailed that he fled the captured city,
rescuing his aged father and the gods of his household. Indeed, he succeeds in
escaping only because he is protected by Aphrodite, who shields him from both the
fire and the enemy's weapons. We do not know the source of this mythical version;
Virgil makes use of it, as we shall see,42 but cannot employ it in his account of the
actual departure from Troy. For this, there were other versions available, which
managed without any miraculous element and explained his escape as the result of
natural means. Aeneas was said to have fallen into the hands of the Greeks, but to
have been spared by them as a reward for betrayal, or, to use a kinder exp ression, in
gratitude for offering guest-friendship to Odysseus, and for his efforts to restore
Helen (Livy 1.1). But the most popular version seems to have been a legend which
can be traced back to Timaeus, according to which Aeneas held the citadel to the
last, and then capitulated on condition that he should be allowed to depart un-
harmed, and chose to take with him, not gold or silver, but his frail old father;
granted a further choice in recognition of his virtue, he chose to take the images of
the gods. At this, the Greeks, disarmed by such piety, not only allowed him to depart
unharmed with all his worldly possessions and all his household, but even supplied
him with ships in which to sail away.43 Naturally Virgil retained the piety
of Aeneas that is glorified in this version, but he could not make use of any of the
rest of it: he could not allow Aeneas to be indebted in any way to the generosity of
the hated enemy. And there was in fact another tradition which also had Aeneas
holding the citadel, but had him departing without any help from the enemy.44
Hellanicus, who narrated the fall of Troy as if it were an episode of contemporary
military history, omitted those parts of the Aeneas tradition which were in any way
legendary or difficult to believe. It is Aeneas who is credited with the rescue of most

of the Trojans: he sees in good time that the Greeks have broken in, so that while the
Greeks are swarming through the city he and his men can occupy its strong fortified
30 citadel which offers shelter for the fugitives. When he realizes that it cannot be held
for ever, he resolves to rescue at least the people, sacred objects and as many
possessions as possible, and so, while the enemy is devoting its entire attention to
the attack on the citadel, he sends the whole baggage-train out along the road to
Mount Ida. When that is safe, he and the others who have been occupying the citadel
(part of which has already been captured by Neoptolemus) withdraw from it and
catch up with those who have been sent on ahead, and are not pursued by the enemy,
who are totally absorbed in looting.

It is perfectly possible that Virgil had this very pragmatic account in front of
him,45 when he was plotting Aeneas' adventures in the night of terror. In Virgil, too,
Aeneas is warned in good time, so that he is not surprised by the enemy. His first
thought is to occupy the citadel; he gathers a resolute band around him, then helps,
successfully for a while, in the defence of the citadel, until Neoptolemus succeeds
in forcing his way in. The rendezvous which he arranges with his household and
comrades at a point on the road to the mountains may also have been taken by Virgil
from Hellanicus, and in both versions a large group of men, women and children
have gathered there (797-8). But there the resemblance ends. It is noticeable that
Aeneas cuts a much more splendid figure in the historian's account than in Virgil,
although the latter certainly had no desire to keep silent about the meritorious
actions traditionally ascribed to his hero. Virgil, unlike Hellanicus, does not have a
walled citadel rising up above the city like, for example, the Acropolis at Athens. In
his version, the battle is concentrated on the palace of Priam, although this should be
imagined as an extensive range of buildings, protected like a fortress by towers and
battlements. But Aeneas and his men do not succeed in reaching this fortification
and making defensive preparations before the enemy reaches it. The handful of
fighting men that he has collected has been wiped out on the way. Almost alone ,
31 with only two men, both incapable of fighting, he reaches the palace, which has now
become the centre of the most furious part of the fighting. He takes part, certainly, in
the defence of the palace, but he does not succeed in rescuing anyone or anything.
Still alone , he returns to his own house, with divine help; and, not in any orderly
military retreat with closed ranks, but in anxious flight, accompanied only by his
closest relatives, he finally escapes from the city.

The warlike, heroic virtues of Aeneas, his swift and energetic resolve, his circum-
spect, tenacious courage, are certainly displayed much more splendidly in
Hellanicus. But the stronger and more organized the resistance in that version, the
more the reader gains the impression that it was armed force that decided the issue: a
strong walled citadel is occupied by a considerable body of troops under Aeneas'
command, but they cannot hold it against enemy attack; finally, most of the Trojans
retreat unmolested by the enemy; only a minority fall during the attack. And that
was just what Virgil was so anxious to avoid: giving the impression that there had
been a serious battle with one side winning, the other losing. He wanted to present
Troy as having fallen to Sinon's false oath, not to the sword of the enemy.46 That is
why it is emphatically brought to our attention, again and again, that Ilium's fate had
been decided even before Aeneas awakes. And it is not in the course of the battle

that the hero himself realizes this for the first time; Hector has already told him in
his dream, and when, awakened by the noise of battle, he sees from the roof of the
32 house the raging firestorm, he realizes with lightning speed that it is too late to
rescue anything. When he nevertheless snatches up his weapons, it is not with the
hope of being able to ward off destruction, but rather in the rage of despair and with
certain death before his eyes:

arma amens capio, nec sat rationis in armis:
sed glomerare manum bello et concurrere in arcem
cum sociis ardent animi: :furor iraque mentem
praecipitant pulchrumque mori succurrit in armis .47

[out of my senses, I grasped my arms: not that I had any plan for battle, but simply a
burning desire to muster a band for fighting, and rally with my comrades at some
position of defence. Frantic in my fury I had no time for decision; I only remem-
bered that death in battle is glorious]. This mood would surprise us if we, and
Aeneas too, had not already been prepared for it by the vision of Hector, which is
still affecting Aeneas, though he is not conscious of the fact. And, before he can
come to his senses, Panthus, too, runs up to him and confirms that things could not
be worse. The will of the gods ( numine divom [336]) is thus the only explanation for
Aeneas' decision to plunge into the fighting after all; but to his companions who
crowd around he cannot promise victory, only death, as the reward for the struggle
(333);48 so too the last defenders of the stronghold of Priam see death already before
them (446f.), and although it is the desire to help them that drives Aeneas up onto
the battlements, he knows very well that all he is doing is bringing reinforcements to
men already vanquished ( vim addere victis [452]). So there is no question of resist-
ance by powerful, organized troops. It is only by chance that a few men gather round
33 their leader Aeneas, and in other passages too the poet takes pains to make us see his
hero as an isolated figure: standing as a helpless onlooker on the roof of the palace,
he has to behold the murder of Priam; then he looks round in despair and sees that he
is alone; at that moment the rage of despair seems to overwhelm him once again,
and his divine mother has to save the lives of him and of his family. Aeneas'
narrative mentions no heroic deeds; the only thing he boasts of is that he made no
attempt to avoid death (431ff.). The tradition knew of no particularly spectacular
deeds performed by Aeneas during the night-battle, and it would have been in bad
taste to have introduced any invented ones. On the other hand, the first-person form
of the narrative came as an advantage for the poet in this passage. When a narrator
says nothing to his own glory, the reader can interpret this as modesty, and fill in the
gaps out of his own imagination. For Virgil, more important than any successful
feats of arms was the act of pietas which constituted Aeneas' chief claim to fame:
his rescue of his father from the burning city. This might have been combined with
Hellanicus' account, but not very easily: it would have been difficult to explain why
the son was carrying his father on his own shoulders if they were leaving together
with baggage-carriers, soldiers and a whole crowd besides. The transformation
made by Virgil led quite naturally to the image which, more than anything else in
the entire story of Aeneas, has imprinted itself deeply in every reader's mind.

Panthus and the Penates

Panthus is called arcis Phoebique sacerdos , that is, as commentators have rightly
explained, the priest of the sanctuary of Apollo on the citadel.49 We know from a
tradition mentioned first by Servius ad loc . that Virgil was not the first to make him
the priest of Apollo. Indeed, the Iliad already assumes a close connection between
Panthus and Apollo, when the god (15.521) protects Polydamas, son of Panthus, and
the poet explains 'Apollo did not allow the son of Panthus to fall amongst the
fighters in the front rank'. It may have been this very line which generated the
legend. In Virgil, Panthus comes down from the citadel and is thus able to give
Aeneas the most reliable news; but that does not exhaust the significance of his

34 Virgil there was no doubt that Aeneas rescued the Trojan Penates from the
vanquished city. They are the gods of the hearth of the Roman state, as they had
previously been the gods of the states of Alba and Lavinium. Every Roman doubt-
less believed that they were also the Penates of the Trojan state, not simply the
household gods of Anchises. Virgil, at any rate, does not allow us to doubt that this
is his conception of them, from the moment that he first mentions them: sacra
suosque tibi commendat Troia penates (293) [Troy entrusts to you her sanctities and
her Guardians of the Home], said Hector to Aeneas in the dream, and, also in the
dream, Aeneas saw him carry Vesta and the sacred flame from the adyta penetralia
[inner shrine] as representatives of the sacra penatesque [sanctities and Guardians
of the Home]: these penetralia 50 were the equivalent of the Roman penus Vestae
[sanctuary of Vesta]. Furthermore, whenever the Penates are mentioned later in the
poem, they are never spoken of as the family-gods of Aeneas, but only as the gods
of Troy. If Aeneas is to rescue these national Penates from Troy, he must first get
hold of them. Where were they? According to Hellanicus (Dion. Hal 1.46) the
[the traditional sacred objects of the Trojans] were on the
citadel; Virgil too accepts this as a traditional datum. Now, Aeneas could have
carried these sacra [sacred objects] with him when he comes down again from the
citadel, but this solution is prevented by the same religious considerations which
later (717) make it necessary for Anchises to carry them, since Aeneas himself is
bloodstained and must not touch them. So too the worst sacrilege committed by
Diomedes and Odysseus was considered to be that they had dared to lay blood-
stained hands on the image of the goddess (167). Thus one tradition, known to us
only from the Tabula Iliaca , proved very convenient for Virgil. On this, a man
whose name can unfortunately no longer be established,51 gives Aeneas a casket, the
sacred aedicula [small shrine], which is shown again later as they leave the city.
Virgil transfers this rtle to Panthus the priest of Apollo: sacra manu victosque deos
parvumque nepotem ipse trahit (320-1) [leading his little grandson by the hand and
carrying his sacred vessels and figures of his defeated gods]. I believe that there can
be no doubt that these sacra victique dei [sacred vessels and defeated gods] are not
intended to be the single simulacrum [image] of Apollo but the very objects which
Hector had described a few lines before as sacra suosque penates ;52 the two lines

35 even echo each other in their form, in that sacra comes in the same position in the
line each time, and the victi dei are the same as the victi penates , as they are called at
1.68 and 8.11. Panthus rescues these sacra from the citadel and brings them down to
Aeneas, in whose pious and courageous care he knows they will be safest. The
dream is thus promptly confirmed. Panthus then follows Aeneas into the fight and
falls (429);53 there was no need for Virgil to state explicitly that he did not take the
sacred objects and his little grandson with him, but left them in Aeneas' house.
Consequently Aeneas takes over the duties of the priest: he asks his father to carry
the sacra patriosque penates as they leave, and immediately afterwards calls them
Teucri penates (747). It would be excessively pedantic, and an insult to the intel-
ligence of his readers, if at this point the poet were to emphasize explicitly that these
are the same as the sacra Troiaeque penates and the sacra victique dei that he had
mentioned before.54



Virgil deliberately chose not to give a general description of the night of slaughter
such as we read in Quintus and Tryphiodorus. His need to concentrate the action
forbade any such attempt. All that we learn of the Night Battle is what Aeneas and
his men experience on the way to the citadel and on the citadel itself; and this brings
the events into sharper focus than if we saw the whole panorama from a bird's eye
view. We go with Aeneas through the narrow streets of the ancient city, past the
houses that have been forced open and the shrines that have been violated, and see
the corpses of the slain strewn everywhere, lying where the enemy overtook them
unaware (363ff.), and we become witnesses of what is perhaps the Trojans' only
piece of good fortune, and then of its inevitable unfortunate outcome. It was prob-
ably Virgil himself who introduced into the story of the sack of Troy the stratagem
of exchanging armour though doubtless there were historical precedents;55 it is
also natural that the Trojan would be able to tell the story of an incident which does
not appear in the Greek accounts of the victory; only an excess of invention would
have been a misjudgement.

Virgil placed Coroebus in the foreground here, and to good effect. In the later
tradition he is represented as a suitor of Cassandra, succeeding Othryoneus ( Iliad
13.363) when he is killed by Idomeneus. The significance of his proverbial stu-
pidity, allegedly invented by Euphorion (Serv. on 341), cannot be established.
37 Perhaps it developed from the foolish boasting of Othryoneus (13.366) and was
transferred to him by Quintus (13.175); perhaps it was also based on the reckless-
ness with which he cast his bride's warnings to the four winds. Virgil justifies him
with a single word and calls on the listener's pity: infelix , qui non sponsae praecepta
f u r e n t i s audierit (345) [it was disastrous for him that he had not heeded the wild
warnings of his princess] that was divine destiny. But it seems that he did not wish
to obliterate his traditional characteristics altogether: it is Coroebus who, excited by
his first lucky success, immediately feels renewed hope and attempts to stave off
inevitable destiny by means of a ruse (unobjectionable in itself).56 The younger men
are caught up by his plan. Significantly, Aeneas here mentions only the others ( hoc

omnis iuventus laeta facit [394] [all our company followed his example in high
spirits]); he himself is not to be thought of in borrowed arms.

At first the trick has the desired success. It is a well-known dramatic device,
which Sophocles is particularly fond of using, to make an apparently successful
early achievement increase the effect of the subsequent disaster. At the same time,
this successful phase of the battle serves to strengthen the emphasis of the whole
narrative. Where before we saw only the Trojans conquering or dying, now we see
the Greeks too, fleeing in masses; no wonder Aeneas dwells on the memory (399-
40; 421). But Coroebus gives Virgil the opportunity he desired to weave the pathetic
fate of Cassandra into the action (rather than mention it in a separate episode, which,
as we have said, he generally avoids):57 Coroebus falling in battle for the sake of his
38 bride is a very happy invention which, in my opinion, we should credit to Virgil.58
The young hothead forgets the caution required by his disguise and flings himself
upon her captors; his companions do not desert him; the noise of the fighting attracts
the enemy, who gather from all directions; the ruse is discovered:59 Coroebus falls,60
39 and once again Cassandra has to see her own prophecy fulfilled before her very
eyes. But it is true tragic irony that it is the very attempt to avert the ruinous destiny
that leads to ruin: the Trojans, disguised as Greeks, fall at the hands of their own

On the Citadel

During the fighting, which wipes out nearly all his followers,61 Aeneas and two men
unfit for battle who cling to him for protection are separated from the others. They
hear the noise of the fighting raging around Priam's palace; one has to imagine it as
being not far from the temple of Athena, which also stands on the arx . Now the last
act of the drama begins: the fall of Troy culminates in the death of King Priam. This
symbolic use of the poetic architecture appears so obvious to us now that, as far as I
am aware, no interpreter has commented on this example of it in Virgil as being
anything special. But here, as so often, it is one more triumphant success for the poet
that he has made us take his innovation for granted. We know of no tradition which
represented Priam's death as the crowning event of the sack of Troy. In Polygnotus'
Sack of Troy at Delphi, Priam lies slain while Neoptolemus, striding over Elasos,
whom he has just killed, swings a deadly blow at Astynoos; Pausanias informs us
that, according to Lesches, Neoptolemus killed Priam 'in passing' (10.27.2). Thus,
even in the accounts which give only the major episodes of the sack of Troy, in
Apollodorus ( epit . 5.10) and Tryphiodorus (634), the death of Priam is certainly not
placed in the final, most emphatic position, and in Quintus, although it is shifted so
that it comes last among Neoptolemus' deeds (13.220), it is followed not only by the
death of Astyanax and other episodes but also by the fall of Deiphobus and general
descriptions of the fighting. Indeed, narrative in early epic was essentially concerned
with conveying information about events; from that point of view the death of Priam
was certainly an important occurrence in its own right, and indeed it was one of the
40 major episodes of the sack of Troy that were depicted in archaic art, but it was not
presented as being of particular significance for the fall of Ilium. The aged king was

a weaker obstacle than Elasos and Astynoos, even though they were no more than
ordinary soldiers. But for a poet arranging his material from an artistic viewpoint, it
was impossible that Priam should be killed 'in passing'. Instead, his death becomes
an image that represents the fall of Troy. It forms the chief climax of the book, and
its effect is not to be weakened by the addition of trivial or less important material.62
But Virgil's art is too discreet to compel us to feel this by the use of some high-
sounding phrase. The best way to achieve this effect is for the final battle to take
place around Priam's palace, and for the last opponent whom Neoptolemus en-
counters to be the king himself; and when Aeneas turns back at this point and
abandons the struggle, this is not because he reasons 'now Priam is dead, so it is all
over' (which might be artistically satisfying but would not be true); the peripeteia is
motivated, again in an apparently very simple way: Aeneas, who has seen the
ignominious death of the aged Priam, is suddenly seized with anxiety about the fate
of his own aged father.

Aeneas' position during these last scenes is quite clear. The palace is under attack
from the front. To help defend it, Aeneas needs to reach the roof by means of a rear
entrance; but from the roof it is only the immediate threat that can be fought off, the
attempt by the Greeks to storm the battlements by using a testudo [a shelter of
shields, resembling a tortoise]. When Neoptolemus succeeds in breaking down the
gate and forcing his way into the vestibulum , across it and then into the atrium , the
defenders on the roof are reduced to the condition of helpless spectators. And, of
course, from the roof they can see everything that is going on in the atrium . Virgil
imagines it as having a large central opening, perhaps more in the style of a Greek
, but in any case large enough to allow the massive household altar with its
Penates63 to stand in its centre, nudo sub aetheris axe (512) [bare to the heavens], as
41 Virgil expressly emphasizes. The women and Priam have taken refuge by this altar.
While Neoptolemus and his men are rampaging inside the palace, the Trojans
remaining on the roof disappear one by one. Some try to escape by jumping down
from the roof onto the ground outside, others fling themselves in despair into the
flames. When Aeneas looks round, he finds he is alone.

For the reasons given above, we might have expected Priam's death to have been
described in some detail, with a formal speech and reply in accordance with the
conventions of epic. There is something painful, almost comic, if one has to vis-
ualize Aeneas witnessing all these tragic happenings as an inactive spectator on the
roof. Virgil has made use of an original device to tone down this effect. First Aeneas
states quite briefly (499-502) that he has seen with his own eyes how Neoptolemus
and the Atridae stormed through the palace, and how Priam fell at the altar; then the
thalami [bed-chambers] collapse; wherever there is no fire stands the foe.64 And now
(506) the narrative makes a fresh start with the ultimate fate of Priam, forsitan et
Priami fuerint quae fata requiras [you may also want to know how Priam met his
end], but this is described in such a way that the narrator vanishes from our field of
vision. We have no impression that we are listening to an eye-witness. Indeed we
might be justified in doubting whether Aeneas himself could possibly have observed
the whole sequence of events, as he describes Priam putting on his armour, what
Hecuba said, etc. Thus here, too, Virgil does not adhere strictly to a first-person
narrative, but sacrifices it to the higher artistic economy of the work.65


The Death of Priam

The mythographic tradition says that Neoptolemus killed Priam at the altar of Zeus
Herkeios. Quintus and Tryphiodorus appear to have had no other version in their
sources. Quintus does not let the king perish in total silence but gives him one more
speech pleading for death, which is welcome to him after all his sufferings,66 to
which Neoptolemus replies that he was going to kill him anyway and had no
intention of sparing an enemy's life, 'since men love nothing so much as their own
lives'. Tryphiodorus gives no details; he only stresses the cruelty of Neoptolemus,
who would not allow himself to be moved either by pleas or by the white hairs of
the king, which once moved Achilles himself to pity. Here the atmosphere surround-
ing Neoptolemus is quite Virgilian: both writers base their material on the
Hellenistic poets.

In Virgil the scene is enriched with a series of subsidiary motifs: Priam arming
himself, the presence of Hecuba, the death of Polites, the feeble attack by Priam. We
know of no poetic version of the tale that corresponds to this; but can all of it be
Virgil's invention, transforming the dry bones of the traditional narrative into a
scene of dramatic movement? I think not, since more or less close analogies for
almost all the individual incidents can be found elsewhere.67 Priam's arming and his
attempt to fight: Polygnotus painted a breastplate lying on the altar of Zeus (Paus.
43 10.26.5); Robert (Die Iliupersis des Polygnot 67) interprets this as showing that
Priam was about to put on his armour when he was surprised by Neoptolemus.
Robert also refers to a sarcophagus relief on which the aged king is dropping a
sword with which he had been fighting. The presence of Hecuba: the Tabula Iliaca
and other representations68 show her sitting on the altar beside Priam; in Euripides
she says that she was an eye-witness of his death ( Tro . 481). Polites' death at the
hand of Neoptolemus: Quintus 13.214, admittedly not related to Priam; but the death
of the son before his father's eyes reminds us that on the earlier Attic vases the death
of Astyanax was generally associated with that of Priam, in that they show the body
of the slain child lying in the lap of his grandfather as his grandfather himself is put
to death.69 The poetic tradition does not associate them in this way. I do not dare to
contradict Robert, who attributes the spontaneous appearance of this motif in ar-
chaic art to the desire to show as much as possible in one picture; but it would be
strange if the poets had not taken up this effective motif once it had been created.
But if, say in Hellenistic times, the son Polites was substituted for the grandson
Astyanax,70 that can easily be explained by the overwhelming importance that the
tragic poets in particular had meanwhile conferred upon the version of Astyanax's
death with which we are familiar.

In considering all these separate components, we have not yet touched on the
most important thing: the action and the motivating mood; yet it is precisely this that
will be Virgil's own, for the whole scene bears the unmistakeable imprint of his
genius. Priam's death is not that of a passive victim of the fighting; nor does death
come to him as a welcome release; nor again does he whine like a coward or plead
for his life. He wished to die as a warrior, and although at first he yields to the

prayers of his aged wife, his old heroic blood surges up when he see the death of his
son; and he does die a warrior's death. This arouses in the listener not simply pity
but also respect and admiration, and tempers the dreadful anguish of the events with
44 a trace of sublimity. From the point of view of technique, the old man's throw of the
spear and his last angry speech are of the utmost significance. Blow follows upon
blow, as required by the dramatic mode of composition, and each blow is motivated
by the one that precedes it. If Priam had been murdered while he was just sitting
there quietly, it would have seemed an unprepared, almost accidental occurrence,
hanging in the air. Hecuba's intervention is necessary, so that she may become an
active character instead of a passive one, and also to bring Priam to the altar in spite
of the fact that he is armed. Finally, it is true that Neoptolemus is cruel and heartless,
and also that he commits a most dreadful outrage against the gods, not only by
killing a man at the altar, but because he himself drags the old man in the most
brutal manner to the altar in the first place, as if to butcher him for a sacrifice (here
Virgil goes further than any of our other accounts); however, he is not simply a
bloodthirsty butcher who kills everything that stands in his way. He is inflamed by
his aged opponent's scornful words and by his attack, and the brutal deed can thus
be seen as the result of an upsurge of an angry desire for vengeance. He still
commits a brutal act, but Virgil avoids giving the effect of an unmotivated atrocity.

The closing words with their reference to the contrast between Priam's former
greatness and his pitiful death would seem superfluous if it were not that the style
demands an epilogue of this kind, to underline as it were the significance of the
narrated events. This is not the poet's objective account, but the speech, let us say
the of the compassionate Aeneas;71 these last lines lead us back to him.


The Departure

Helen and Venus

The death of Priam forms the turning-point. It puts an end to the battle for the city,
and it instigates Aeneas' flight. For the first time, Aeneas is seized by shudders of
fear. Up to this point he had been carried along by a wild fury of despair. Now the
fate of the house of Priam and his family seems to him to be an image of what will
happen, or has already happened, to his own household. He immediately looks
around he has been oblivious to his surroundings during the final grim drama
and finds himself alone.

This is where the Helen episode (567-88) begins. The lines survive only in
Servius. In my opinion there cannot be the slightest doubt that they are not the work
of Virgil. The facts concerning their transmission and the way that they offend
46 against Virgilian linguistic usage would alone suffice to prove this.72 There are also
other reasons for doubting them. Two of them were pointed out as early as Servius,
to explain why Varius and Tucca deleted the lines: et turpe est viro forti contra
feminam irasci , et contrarium est Helenam in domo Priami fuisse illi rei , quae in
sexto dicitur , quia in domo inventa est Deiphobi , postquam ex summa arce vocave -

rat Graecos [it is unbecoming for a brave man to be angry with a woman, and,
besides, the presence of Helen in Priam's palace contradicts the statement in Book 6
that she was found in Deiphobus' house after she had summoned the Greeks from
high on the citadel]. Both these reasons are valid although they require modification.
It is not irasci which would dishonour Aeneas; but I am convinced that Virgil could
never have allowed his pious hero to think even for a fleeting moment of killing a
defenceless woman (it is not as if she were Camilla, exulting in battle), above all
when it is a woman who has sought protection at the altar. How could such an idea
be consistent with the deep revulsion with which he has just narrated the violation of
the sanctity of an altar? And this time it is at the altar of Vesta, that is, of the very
goddess who had been entrusted to Aeneas' protection together with the Penates.
Moreover, it is only later that Aeneas learns of Helen's treachery, from Deiphobus
in the Underworld; the events of the past few years might well give him reason to
curse Helen as the cause of the whole war, but would hardly put into his head the
insane notion of killing her. Moreover, the passage obviously contradicts the ac-
count in Book 6 on several points: a Helen who had given the fire-signal to the
Greeks, who had delivered Deiphobus defenceless into their hands, did not need to
fear their revenge. This contradiction, like so many others that occur in the Aeneid ,
might be attributed to the unfinished state of the work; but if my interpretation
above (n. 27) is correct, Virgil had this episode of Book 6 in mind when he was
composing Book 2, so that this explanation is impossible in this case. Moreover, if
Venus' words non tibi Tyndaridis facies invisa Lacaenae etc. (601) [you must not
blame the hated beauty of the Spartan Tyndarid] refer to this intention of Aeneas to
attack Helen, what justification can there be for the following phrase, culpatusve
Paris [nor is Paris to blame], for Aeneas cannot have given him a single thought
during the whole of this scene? Finally a technical argument which, as far as I am
aware, has not been advanced before. The words scilicet haec Spartam incolumis
patriasque Mycenas aspiciet etc. ['So!', thought I, 'shall she unharmed, again see
47 Sparta and Mycenae the land of her birth?'] would be the only soliloquy by Aeneas73
in his accounts of adventures in Books 2 and 3. It is obvious what an unnatural and
frigid effect is created by any such soliloquies in a first-person narrative, let alone
lengthy ratiocinations of the kind that occur in this example; they belong to the
world of some mannered late Greek romance. We would have to accept this as a
lapse of taste on Virgil's part if the passage were not open to objections on other
grounds, but, in my view, Virgil would have been at pains to avoid anything of this
kind, perhaps strengthened in his attitude by Homer's example. We should remem-
ber that Odysseus never once represents himself as delivering a soliloquy
throughout the entire course of his adventures.74 It is conceivable that the ancient
commentators on the Odyssey pointed this out and showed how very different it was
from the extended soliloquies in Odyssey 5 and 6; in that case, Virgil would have
been aware of this contrast and it would have come naturally to him to adhere to the

In short, I take the spuriousness of these lines to be proven. But I am inclined to
believe that there was in fact a lacuna at the point where they were inserted. For,
even if we are prepared to accept the fact that line 589 is connected by cum for no
good reason, and that the allusion to Helen and Paris by Venus in her speech is not

directly motivated or prepared by anything that has gone before and that would not
be totally impossible yet when the goddess takes the hero by the right hand and
restrains him, dextra prehensum continuit (592), we certainly ought to be told what
he is being restrained from; but there is nothing at all about that in the lines of Virgil
that have survived. That Virgil should have written Venus' speech without giving
any explanation of what had led up to it, namely Aeneas' intentions, seems as
incredible to me as it did to Thilo (loc. cit.); in that case we must agree with Thilo's
conclusion, that Virgil did indeed originally write some lines, which are now
missing because he struck them out and did not put anything in their place. What
was in these lines? What decision had Aeneas taken?

In the first place, it can not have been the decision to return to his family. For in
that case Venus' admonition would have been superfluous. The argument that she
might not have known his unspoken intentions is not worth refuting. Moreover the
48 poet has made every effort to establish that it is only because of the goddess that
Aeneas is reminded that he must turn back to look for his family. Not that he is
deficient in love and piety; but we should remember the situation: Aeneas is stand-
ing alone on the roof of the palace; fire and foe all around; it seems impossible to get
through, nor does there seem to be any hope that his forsaken household could have
escaped the twofold raging death. His own escape and the safety of his household
are both expressly attributed to the miraculous intervention of the deity. Since
Aeneas cannot count on this in advance, it is understandable that he has no thoughts
of flight when the reward if he succeeds in getting through highly improbable in
itself would be to see the ghastly scene that he has just witnessed enacted even
more horribly in his own house. This explains one part of Venus' exhortation: she
has protected his household so far, she will lead Aeneas himself through unharmed;
he may follow her commands without fear (606ff.). It is completely in character for
Venus, who in Virgil, even in serious moments, is almost always something of a
tease, that she did not go to the heart of the matter immediately, but pretends to be
surprised that Aeneas is in a furious rage instead of worrying about his family
(which is also her family, quo n o s t r i tibi cura recessit [how can your love for us
have passed so far from your thoughts?]); it is as though she wishes to take pleasure
in his astonishment first, before she gives him her comforting assurance.

Neither the goddess' allusion to Helen nor her revelation of the hostile gods has
any direct connection with her exhortation. Both would obviously tend to dissuade
him. Some ancient editor invented the Helen episode in order to motivate the
dissuasion. He was not an uncultured man; not a poet, however, even if he did know
how to imitate Virgil's style if need be; but he was familiar with epic tradition and
poetry; it was the Menelaus and Helen episode in the Iliu Persis that gave him his
idea Menelaus, too, is prevented by Aphrodite from wreaking vengeance; in
writing the scene he borrowed from the scene in Euripides' Orestes , in which
Pylades incites Orestes to murder Helen.75 Thus his technique of imitation is very
49 similar to Virgil's own; the whole conception, however, is un-Virgilian, as I have
shown above. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that Aeneas should have considered
taking up the fight again in the hope of achieving a victory. Indeed, the poet has
made his despair clear from the beginning, with all the means at his disposal.
Besides, this would not explain the reference to Helen.

Aeneas has come face to face with death, and there is only one decision that he
can have considered: to go to meet death rather than remain passively waiting for it.
His choice was between the quickest way, putting an end to his own life by his own
hand,76 and seeking death among the dense ranks of the enemy, perhaps in the hope
of first wreaking his revenge on Neoptolemus for Priam's death. Although the first
alternative would have provided splendid dramatic tension and a good motivation
for the intervention of his divine mother, yet her own words77 seem to recommend
the latter. We can see why Virgil eventually rejected the idea. It would have de-
veloped into a repetition of what Aeneas had said at the beginning of the battle
furor iraque mentem praecipitant pulchrumque mori succurrit in armis (316) [fran-
tic in my fury I had no time for decisions; I only remembered that death in battle is
glorious] and would have infringed a fundamental rule of Virgil's technique, that a
climax should be approached gradually. But the second alternative would provide a
complete explanation for Venus' intervention and her speech. She offers the des-
pairing hero a means of escape by her divine assistance (note that at this stage she
50 says nothing about fleeing from the city), she gives him the opportunity to fulfil the
claims of pietas towards his family; but she does more than this, she shows him that
his furor and ira (594f., cf. 316) [frenzy and anger] are directed not against the
consequences of human action, but against a decree of the gods. That is the meaning
of the lines

non tibi Tyndaridis facies invisa Lacaenae
culpatusve Paris , divom inclementia , divom
has evertit opes sternitque a culmine Troiam .

[you must not blame the hated beauty of the Spartan Tyndarid, or even Paris. It was
the gods who showed no mercy; it is they who are casting Troy down from her
splendour and power]. Her revelation of the hostile gods serves the same purpose,
and is not intended to show, for example, that further resistance is in vain. She
mentions Helen and Paris, not Sinon and Neoptolemus, because Virgil is employing
the well-known convention, of which the tragedians were particularly fond, whereby
one refers back to the first causes of misfortune. In this case he follows the usage of
tragedy very closely78 In Aeschylus the nuptials of Paris, 'destroyers of friends', are
cursed (Agam . 1156), and in Sophocles Paris is cursed by Ajax's men. But it is
Euripides who is particularly rich in gruesome imprecations and bitter accusations
against Helen as the original cause of the war. Trojans79 and Greeks80 alike hate her,
hold her responsible for all their miseries, and wish her to suffer and perish; the
mood in which we have to imagine Aeneas is matched most closely by the words of
the Trojan women ( Hec . 943) as they go into slavery, 'cursing Helen, sister of the
Dioscuri, and the shepherd of Ida, unfortunate Paris; for their wedding has driven us
to miserable exile'. And yet she had been exonerated of all responsibility by the one
who had most reason to curse her. In Homer, Priam spoke these immortal words in
reply to her self-reproaches: 'I do not recognize you as guilty; it is the gods who are
to blame. It is they who sent me the war which has caused so much weeping' ( Iliad
51 3.164). That vexed Euripides; in order to counter this pious yet sacrilegious toler-
ance, he composed the debate between Helen and Hecuba in the Troades , and when

Helen puts the blame on the gods, he makes Hecuba tear her case to pieces with the
utmost scorn. Virgil, of course, knew this scene. His own kind of piety causes him to take
sides, and Aeneas hears from the mouth of his divine mother that Priam had spoken the
truth. But if the gods desire Troy's fall, a pious man should behave with quiet resigna-
tion, not rebellion or despair. Aeneas is brought by Venus to this state of resignation.

It is probably, though in my opinion not absolutely necessarily, to be assumed
that when Venus mentions Helen and Paris it is because Aeneas had blamed them
either in words or in his thoughts. I do not know in what form Virgil gave, or
intended to give these thoughts; a brief exclamation could have been enough, which
need not have been expanded into a soliloquy; or there might have been simply a
description of the emotions which made Aeneas wish to go to his death.

Vision of the Gods

The vision which Venus unveils to Aeneas has a much more powerful effect on him
than her mere words. He sees with his own eyes what is hidden from mortals, and no
mortal had yet ever seen. Sometimes one deity grants a favoured mortal the privi-
lege of seeing him or her with his own eyes. But in this vision the veil which screens
from mortal sight the whole world of the gods and their sway on earth is pulled
aside. The motif is borrowed from the Iliad (5.127) but it is developed very much
more powerfully. In the Iliad , Athena gives Diomedes supernatural powers of sight,
so that he can distinguish gods from men on the battlefield and avoid fighting with
them; however, that means that he recognizes only those gods with whom he comes
into contact himself. Virgil's inspiration, too sublime even for the poet's words to do
it justice, almost too vast for the imagination to grasp, arouses misgivings for that
very reason. We might easily believe it if the poet himself described it; but, as it is, it
is narrated by Aeneas as an eyewitness. We therefore feel entitled to clear, tangible,
concrete images. Neptune, for example, capable of uprooting the whole city from its
foundations, is represented in a way that almost goes beyond our powers of visuali-
52 zation. Jupiter, who imbues the Greeks with courage and strength and incites the
gods themselves to fight against Troy, is a figure that completely baffles any attempt
that might be made to imagine him in physical terms, and even if in this case Virgil
tactfully allows Venus not to draw Aeneas' attention to him explicitly, as she does
with the other gods, yet Jupiter must be among the numina magna deum [giant
powers of gods] that Aeneas sees.81 Juno stands as [defender] at the
Scaean Gate and summons the Greeks from the ships what, still? one asks in
amazement; for it was long ago that Androgeos had rebuked the men he took to be
his companions for coming so late from the ships; we had been under the impression
that there were no more left to come by the time that Priam's citadel fell. If it were a
matter of a panorama of the whole sack of Troy, we could understand what Juno
was doing. She does not put her hand to the task herself, for that would hardly be
seemly for the regina deum ; but, as far as she is concerned, the city she hates cannot
be overwhelmed by the enemy soon enough; so she stands at the gate and calls
furiously across the plain, and her cry spurs on the Greeks to make haste with the
destruction of the city.

The starting-point of Virgil's conception can be traced with the help of Tryphio-
dorus. He too depicts the participation of the gods (559ff.), but as part of his general
description of the night of terror. Enyo rages through the streets all night, accompa-
nied by the gigantic Eris who inflames the Argives to battle, and finally Ares arrives
to grant them victory. From the citadel terrifying shouts are heard from Athena as
she shakes her aegis. Hera's tread makes the aether rumble; the earth trembles,
shaken by Poseidon's trident; Hades leaps up in horror from his throne. All this is
simply a copy of the picture that introduces the Battle of the Gods in Homer,82 with
only a few changes in detail to fit the new situation: Ares too is on the Greek side
now, Athena no longer stays on the shore but stands on the citadell as she does in
Virgil, and as Ares does in Homer.83 The other divergences from Homer, which
53 Tryphiodorus and Virgil have in common, are unimportant. They both mention
Hera, both give Athena her aegis and Poseidon his trident. As we can see, there is no
reason at all to suppose that Tryphiodorus knew Virgil's description and made use
of it. In every essential he keeps closer to Homer than to the Roman poet, except that
Zeus does not appear in his account, whereas in Homer he sends peals of thunder
from on high, and Virgil shows him doing something altogether different. Every-
thing that Virgil adds in order to make the scene more vivid and to present in visible
symbols the enmity of the gods towards Troy is absent from Tryphiodorus. But
surely no one will doubt that the scene in the Iliad is the direct or indirect model for
Virgil's scene; indirect, in my view, since Tryphiodorus also made use of it, and
both of them made the same minor changes. Any famous version of the Sack of
Troy, we may assume, will have included a scene showing the hostile gods taking
part in the final struggle of the great war, on the lines of Homer's Battle of the Gods;
but now there is no god fighting on the side of the defeated. Virgil realized that this
would make a magnificent finale for his Sack of Troy, and reshaped it for his own
special purposes. First it had to be changed into narrative in the first person; conse-
quently the scene had to become visible to Aeneas.

Virgil found a means of achieving this in Venus' intervention, and was thus able
to make the thrilling scene into an integrating component of the entire action: it is
indispensable in that it convinces Aeneas through the evidence of his own eyes. But
the scene has not completely lost its original purpose, that of concentrating the
mighty struggle into one magnificent symbol. In the case of Jupiter, Virgil does
without the concrete representation of his actions required by the new context, and
he is not afraid to introduce an anachronism into his portrayal of Juno. Other
singularities can easily be explained by the particular nature of his poem. Mars, the
ancestor of the Romans, cannot appear as one of the inimica Troiae numina [powers
not friendly to Troy]. Athena does not shout no goddess shouts in Virgil and
consequently there is something rather insipid about the simple phrase summas
arces insedit [sits on the citadel's height]. Jupiter supplies the crowning touch: it is
only when the Almighty himself supports the enemies of Troy that all hope is lost.

Venus' Protection

Venus' warnings, instructions and promises refer only to the immediate problem,
54 how Aeneas is to get from the citadel to his father's house. Perhaps this is not
obvious at first hearing, but it is if you consider it carefully; we would expect Venus
to say something about what is to be done after that: that Aeneas is to leave Troy,
together with his household, that he will be able to leave it safely, and so forth. But
the words eripe nate fugam . . . nusquam abero (619) [son, make your escape . . . . I will
be near you everywhere] are not to be taken in this sense; that is made clear by the
addition of the explicit et tutum patrio te limine sistam [and set you safe at your
father's door]. The economy of the epic (one might almost say the economy of the
drama) requires that the effect of the Venus scene should be limited to this much;
otherwise the scenes that follow could not be presented as the poet intended. Venus
could not promise her protection for the departure for in that case the loss of
Creusa and Aeneas' anxious confusion would be impossible; nor could she recom-
mend the departure at all, since this would exclude in advance the possibility of
Anchises' refusal and everything that goes with it. But there was a version of the
story in which Aeneas and his family are guided out of Troy by Venus; it has
survived in pictorial art,84 it is in Tryphiodorus,85 and was also known to Quintus
(13.326ff.); indeed the detail mentioned both by him and by Virgil, that the fire
retreated before Aeneas, and the enemy's missiles were unable to injure him, allows
us to conclude that there was an established tradition about the nature of the goddess'
guidance.86 Sophocles, who in his Laocoon shows Aeneas and his family leaving
Troy before it fell, cannot have said anything about divine guidance of this kind, but
in his version Anchises, who urged the departure, acts in accordance with warnings
from Aphrodite. Thus Virgil has made as much use of this tradition as he could
without prejudice to his intentions for the rest of Book 2. It is only when we
remember the original version that it seems remarkable that Venus should protect
the way from the citadel to Aeneas' house, and then disappear, when, as she herself
points out, the house was surrounded by swarms of enemy troops.


Anchises and the Auspicium Maximum

The scenes in Anchises' house before the departure are significant in several re-
spects. The piety of the hero towards his father, the main feature of Aeneas in
popular tradition, first comes to the forefront here. It is not enough that Aeneas
should carry his father out of the burning city on his own shoulders: he is also faced
with his father's refusal to allow himself to be rescued, and is prepared to lose his
wife and child and his own life together with his father rather than abandon him to
face the merciless enemy on his own. Anchises himself, Creusa and Iulus are
introduced; this was particularly necessary in Creusa's case, since the listener has to
know something about her if he is to feel any interest in the story of her miraculous
disappearance. The artistic effect of Anchises' refusal is to hold up the action and

create tension; immediately before Aeneas and his family succeed in escaping, there
is serious doubt that they will ever manage to get away.

To all this Virgil added something new and absolutely essential. The departure
from Troy, the beginning of their new life and their new foundation, had to proceed
auspicato [after the auspices had been taken]. The usual view was that the whole
system of augury on which the Roman state religion rested was based on the
auspices of Romulus, the omen of the birds described by Ennius, which gave him
the precedence over Remus; or on the prototype of all magistrates' auspices, the
signs from heaven, which Romulus prayed for to confirm his right to the monarchy.
However, another tradition went back even further and claimed that the auspicium
maximum [greatest omen], lightning from the left out of a clear sky, first appeared in
favour of Ascanius in his battle with Mezentius (Dion. Hal. 2.5.5); others mentioned
not Ascanius but Aeneas himself in this context (Plutarch Qu . R . 78). Later on in the
poem, Virgil mentions both traditions,87 without giving any impression that the
auspicium was something as yet unknown, or that belief in auspices began on these
occasions. In his view, the decisive moment, which above all demanded an authori-
tative indication of the approval of the gods, is the turning-point which led to the
foundation of the new Troy, and he introduces a sign here that corresponds to the
auspicium maximum , but differs as much from all the later ones as an original does
56 from its copies.88 Instead of a flash of lightning, a star crosses the night sky, leaving
a long, shining trail, but it comes with all the phenomena that accompany lightning,
thunder on the left out of a clear sky, and sulphurous smoke. However, all the
attendant circumstances correspond so closely with the rites of augury and yet arise
so entirely from the situation that we may be justified in calling it an aition [tradi-
tional explanation]: for this is the nature of such aitia , that a practice, which is
constantly repeated in later times, is explained in all its details by the particular
circumstances of a unique situation. The gods send a sign: a flame plays around
Iulus' head.89 Aeneas and Creusa are terrified and hastily attempt to smother the
flame. Only Anchises suspects that the sign may be a good omen. But it is perfectly
understandable in this situation that he should ask the gods for an unambiguous
confirmation; after all, until now he had believed that the destruction of Troy was a
divine sign that meant that he should remain behind. He turns to Jupiter, for he was
the god whose lightning, he thought, had indicated that he no longer had any right to
live (648); we know that the Romans believed that all auspices were sent by Jupiter.
However, to ask for an unambiguous sign is technically impetrare auspicia ; the
auspicium impetrativum [auspice in response to a request] serves to confirm the
auspicium oblativum [an unsolicited auspice] or the omen , as Anchises says: da
deinde augurium , pater , atque haec omina firma [give us now your message and
confirm this sign], apparently using a solemn formula, since it tallies exactly with
what Cicero says in the, De Divinatione of the confirmation of the auspicium oblati -
vum by the impetrativum , the lightning from the left: sic aquilae clarum firmavit
Iuppiter omen [so Jupiter confirmed the clear omen of the eagle].90 Moreover, it
arises naturally from the situation that it is Anchises who prays and receives the sign
57 at this point: just as here it is the head of the house, so later it is always the head of
the state, that is, the magistrate, who takes the auspices. Furthermore, details of the
rite are prefigured here. It is night time and already near dawn; that is the time

ordained for taking auspices.91 Anchises, because he is lame, is seated; likewise the
magistrate who watches the skies.92 He rises after the appearance of the sign (699),
because he now wishes to set out without delay; the magistrate had to do the same
immediately after he had seen the sign, before another sign could cancel out the
first: on se tollit ad auras [he rose] Servius explicitly says verbum augurum , qui
visis auspiciis surgebant e templo [a word applied to augurs, who rose from the
temple when they had seen the auspices]. Virgil, in my opinion, does not draw the
parallel explicitly, as he does in similar cases elsewhere, since he could not put such
an explanation in Aeneas' mouth here, but he could expect his reader to recognize
the course of events as the original model for the whole rite of taking the auspices.

I need only add a brief word concerning the dramatic composition of the scene.
Aeneas hardly behaves like a dramatic hero, in that he takes no initiative of his own,
but acts merely as the central figure of the whole; action and counter-action come
from Anchises and Creusa; their behaviour creates a knot which can only be untied
by divine intervention, a veritable deus ex machina . It is Aeneas' men who take the
part of the chorus in this scene; their presence is indicated briefly but very effec-
tively by the words arma , viri , ferte arma (668) [quick comrades! Bring me arms].
We are like spectators: not only do we hear speeches, we also see action and
movement: Anchises' words (651) are followed by the entreaties of the weeping
household; Aeneas arms himself to go to his death, after announcing his decision; on
the threshold of the house we see the pathetic group of parents and son, as Creusa
beseeches her husband to stay. In a word, [action], [character], and
[intellect], all receive their equal due, and everything serves to arouse the
hearer's [emotion] with a quick succession of emotions.


In the ancient tradition, Aeneas is accompanied on his flight by his wife Eurydice.93
58 In Virgil, Aeneas loses his wife Creusa94 during the departure, while they are still
within the city, and learns later from her shade that it was Jupiter's will that she
should not accompany him to distant lands, nor did she have to suffer enslavement
by the enemy either, for the mother of the gods was keeping her there in her native
country (788). The representation on the Tabula Iliaca , taken together with a tradi-
tion recorded by Pausanias, makes it reasonably certain that Virgil's version of the
story had existed in its essential outlines before him.95 Why he chose it is obvious:
otherwise Creusa would have had to die during the journey, and that would have
produced a doublet of the death of Anchises. As it is, it gives him the opportunity to
create an effective final scene for his Sack of Troy.

Virgil, apparently intentionally, has left us somewhat in the dark about the pre-
cise details of Creusa's disappearance. Aeneas only learns that the Great Mother his
detinet oris (788) [is keeping (her) in this land]; this allows us to deduce that she is
not dead (although the expressions simulacrum , umbra and imago are in fact appro-
priate to and commonly used only of the appearance of the departed, whose real self
59 has perished) but has been removed to a higher and immortal existence for which
again nota maior imago (773) [in her ghostly form larger than life] is suitable96

which means, no doubt, that she has become one of the attendants of the Mother of
the Gods:97 Creusa's fate is the fate that Diana intended for Camilla, when she
wanted to take her up to become one of her attendants.98 Aeneas can infer this, and
so can we; Creusa herself does not mention it, as though she were afraid to reveal a
mystery connected with the worship of Cybele; and certainly from the artistic point
of view there is no need, nor indeed would it be desirable, for the veil of secrecy to
be drawn back completely from miracles of this kind.

But there is one fact that the poet wishes to make clear beyond all doubt: that it
had already been determined in advance, either by fate or by the decision of Jupiter,
that Creusa was not to accompany her husband on his wanderings: non haec sine
numine divom eveniunt , nec te comitem hinc portare Creusam fas aut ille sinit
superi regnator Olympi (777-9) ['what has happened is part of the divine plan. For
the law of right and the supreme ruler of Olympus on high forbid you to carry
Creusa away from Troy']. These are the words of the shade of Creusa; she repeats
60 the idea emphatically so as to allay Aeneas' 'senseless grief'.99 This grief, she says,
should give way to quiet resignation, exactly the same kind of resignation that
Venus had demanded when she revealed the destruction of Troy as the work of the
gods. At the same time this exonerates Aeneas from any charge of guilt that he
himself or anyone else might bring against him; even if it was his senseless flight
that had resulted in the loss of Creusa, he had only been a tool in the hands of the
gods. He is comforted by the thought that Creusa does not have to suffer as a captive
of the Greeks, but remains in her native land, though removed to a higher existence;
this is of secondary importance but it makes it easier for him to submit to the gods'
will. But now a problem arises. In the previous scenes Virgil has done his utmost to
motivate the loss of Creusa as naturally as possible: she has to be following her
husband (with, it seems to us, an excess of caution) alone and at some distance;
Aeneas, alarmed by his father's warning cry (733), has to turn off the road in his
anxiety to escape the approaching enemy; later, and even when he is telling the story
to Dido, he does not know whether Creusa went the wrong way, or had stopped
(because she had lost sight of her husband and did not know which way to go) or
was so exhausted that she had sat down because she could go no further whichever
of these she had done, she might easily have fallen into the hands of the enemy. We
ask ourselves why the poet has motivated her disappearance in such a circumstantial
way, when the Magna Mater could have simply taken Creusa to herself.

It might be thought that a satisfactory answer is that Virgil was simply following
the tradition according to which Creusa was in danger of being taken captive, and
was rescued by the Great Mother; there had to be some motivation for that danger. It
is true that Virgil has introduced a new motif, that the separation of Creusa from
Aeneas had been decreed by the gods from the start, and consequently he could have
shaped the narrative in such a way that there was no mention of any danger or of the
events connected with it. But imagine what the scene would have been like in that
61 case. Creusa would have been walking in front of Aeneas (as she is often repre-
sented as doing in the visual arts) and would have suddenly disappeared
[spirited away], rather like Iphigenia at the altar at Aulis, or like a
warrior who is taken away by the hand of a god out of the reach of an enemy spear.
Aeneas, with Anchises on his shoulders, would have stood there dumbfounded and

amazed; a voice from heaven would have explained what had happened, and the
group fleeing from the city would have continued on their way. The whole scene
would have been incomparably duller and poorer in content, not only because
Aeneas would have had no opportunity to show his love for his wife: the meeting
with the shade of Creusa would have been impossible; the position of Aeneas during
her disappearance would have bordered on the ridiculous; the scene would have had
no tension or dramatic movement. Thus it is easy to understand why Virgil adhered
to the traditional version in spite of the fact that he was providing a new reason for
what happened. It is true that Creusa's separation from Aeneas is now determined
by fate, and Aeneas' frantic flight is caused by the gods so as to bring it about; but
the poet has conceived it in such a way that the Great Mother alleviates the harsh-
ness of fate by taking Creusa to herself, out of the hands of her enemies the danger
is the opportunity for her helpful intervention, exactly as later in Book 9 (77ff.) the
danger with which the Trojan ships are threatened gives her the opportunity to make
use of Jupiter's permission to give them an immortal form. In order to carry out the
new plan, the most important thing was that Creusa should be isolated so that
Aeneas would notice only later that she was missing. Virgil took considerable pains
over the motivation; the only thing which seems improbable is the excess of caution
which we mentioned earlier. Furthermore, Virgil prepares the way for Aeneas'
confusion by the description of how the hero, who a moment before was not afraid
of the thick swarms of the Greek troops, is now startled by every breeze, every
sound, full of anxiety about his son and his father (726-9): in this state, what an
effect his father's cry of alarm must have had on him: nate . . . fuge , nate ; propinquant
(733) [Son, you must run for it. They are drawing near]. The outward situation is
perfectly clear: Anchises believes that he can see enemy troops advancing along the
street towards them: Aeneas cannot go back; therefore he has to turn aside into a
pathless, unfamiliar area. Since Creusa had been behind him, he is not immediately
aware of her disappearance in the confusion of his flight; he does not know why she
is not following him, but there are many possibilities: he lists them: substitit
erravitne via resedit (739) [did she stop . . . or stray from the path . . . or just sink
62 down in weariness?]. Finally, it makes perfectly good sense that Aeneas should tell
the earlier part of the story as if he still knew nothing about the revelation that he
received later; that is necessary from an artistic point of view, so that the scenes that
follow will not be deprived of their effect, and it is justified in practice by the
vividness with which the narrator relives the terror of the discovery and his own

Creusa not only allays Aeneas' worries about what has happened; at the same
time she also predicts the future to him and allows us to understand why Jupiter does
not permit her to follow her husband: after a long journey to the land of Hesperia, he
will find by the bank of the Tiber a new happiness, a new kingdom and a king's
daughter for a wife. This prophecy is extremely suitable as a conclusion for Virgil's
account of the sack of Troy: the reader learns in broad outlines the final result of the
events which have passed before his eyes. There is something very similar in the
poem about Oenone which Quintus introduced into his 10th Book, when Hera tells
her handmaidens all the effects that the death of Paris will entail for Troy (344ff.). A
conclusion of this kind was an artistic necessity as long as Virgil was composing his

Sack of Troy as a separate poem, intended to stand alone. As soon as this separate
poem was incorporated into the larger context of the epic, there was no longer a
need for any prophecy at this point, or at least no more than the prospect of a regia
coniunx [royal bride] awaiting Aeneas in a distant land. Indeed, when Virgil later
decided that Aeneas was to learn only gradually and step by step the destination of
his travels, the precise references that Creusa had made to Hesperia and the Tiber
created a contradiction and ought to have been deleted. This would not have affected
the essential message of Creusa's speech.


Aeneas must not leave Troy as a solitary refugee, accompanied only by his father
and son and a handful of servants. Creusa had prophesied a new kingdom for him,
and for this reason he must be represented from the outset as leader of a host,
capable of forming the nucleus of a new nation. In Hellanicus that was provided for
by the course of events (see above pp. 18ff.). It is difficult to reconcile it with
Virgil's new version. Aeneas' return to the city, together with the description of
what he sees there, forms a very effective conclusion to the Sack of Troy,100 and it is
63 this that Virgil uses to conceal the resulting improbability: when Aeneas returns, he
finds that a large crowd has gathered, ready to follow him wherever he goes. This
gives him the rtle of the leader of a colony he himself was not able to explain why
this crowd has gathered ( invenio admirans [797] [I was surprised to find them]), but
this is not the time for detailed explanations. A rapid ending is necessary not only
from the artistic point of view; it is also required by the course of events. The
morning star has risen over Ida, and there is no time to lose. One more glance back
at his native city: the gates are in the hands of the enemy, no help can be expected
from any direction;101 then start they must on their way into exile: cessi et sublato
montis genitore petivi (804) [in resignation I lifted my father and moved towards the

Virgil, Quintus and Tryphiodorus

In the discussion above I have treated the versions of Quintus and Tryphiodorus as
independent representatives of a tradition concerning the fall of Troy quite distinct
from Virgil's. This conflicts with the widespread belief that they were both depend-
64 ent on Virgil.102 It is therefore necessary for me to justify my approach here. I admit
in advance that there is nothing that can be said a priori against the assumption that
the two Greek writers were familiar with the Roman epic, since we know nothing at
all about them except that they lived at a time when a knowledge of Latin among
educated Greek writers is a reasonable assumption. The verdict must depend on the
comparison of parallel passages, and this is the method that I propose to follow.


In Quintus the relevant passages in the Sack of Troy, if we disregard unimportant
details, are the account of the wooden horse, Sinon and Laocoon, and the departure
of Aeneas; also in Book 14 the description of the tempest and the scene with Aeolus
that introduces it. I begin with the Sack of Troy.

The wooden horse

In Virgil, all that Aeneas knows about the wooden horse is that it was built divina
Palladis arte (18) [with the divine craftsmanship of Minerva] by Epeos (264); Sinon
says that it was built at the behest of Calchas (176f.), who had interpreted the omens
sent by Minerva. In Quintus we find in great detail the version derived from the
Odyssey (8.492ff.), which was also known to Virgil: [Epeios
made] the horse (12.104-56) [with the help of Athena], the instigator of
the deception is Odysseus (25ff., 74ff.); this, it is true, is not explicitly stated by
Homer (he says only
[which lord Odysseus once brought into the citadel as a trick, filling it
with men] but it was interpreted in this way in the mythographic tradition also:
65 Apollod. epit . Vat . 5.14:
[later he invented the building of the wooden horse and attributed
it to Epeios]. At the same time Quintus has also given Calchas a rtle which is
significant at least for the outward action: he gathers together the princes for the
decisive assembly, advises them on the basis of a bird-omen to abandon the siege
and to devise a trick, and finally announces that there are favourable omens which
show approval of Odysseus' suggestion; when Neoptolemus and Philoctetes oppose
the deception and want to fight on, Zeus' thunderbolt frightens them and confirms
Calchas' words. There is no reason to believe that Calchas owes his rtle in Quintus
to his prominence in Sinon's lying tale in Virgil, since Quintus frequently introduces
him as a character elsewhere: in accordance with the tradition (Apollod. epit . Vat .
5.8) it is Calchas who announces that Philoctetes is indispensable (9.325); earlier he
had prophesied the capture of Troy in the tenth year of the war (6.61); it is also he
who urges that Neoptolemus should be fetched (6.64), so that Helenus loses his
traditional rtle; and it is he who, in a passage which is certainly free invention on
the part of Quintus, makes sure that Aeneas departs unharmed (13.333) and gives
the order that Hecuba should be carried across the Hellespont after her metamor-
phosis (14.352).


In the Sinon scene, the following is all that our two epics have in common: 'When
the Greeks have sailed away, leaving Sinon behind, the Trojans rejoice and hasten to

the shore.103 They gaze in amazement at the huge horse. Sinon, who is not known to
the Trojans, tells them in reply to their question that Odysseus had planned to
sacrifice him to ensure the army's safe voyage home, but that he had escaped. The
Greeks had been ordered by Calchas to dedicate the horse to Athena, to appease her
anger.' In every other respect the treatment is as different as it could be. In Virgil,
Sinon's story is that he has run away and hidden in the reeds. In Quintus (less
happily) he says that he placed himself under the protection of the sacred votive
offering. In Virgil, the unsuspecting Trojans are easily deceived by Sinon's lies, in
Quintus they torture the Greek like a slave to extract the truth from him. In Virgil,
all the emphasis is laid on Sinon's perjurious slyness, in Quintus on the steadfastness
66 with which he sticks to his version despite all the tortures.104 Virgil also gives us the
whole of the story that Sinon makes up about what had happened previously,
Priam's part in the events,105 the assertion that the fate of Troy depends on the horse
and where it is to go, and that the Greeks will be returning soon; Quintus has
nothing of all this. Despite that, could he have had Virgil's narrative before his eyes
and deliberately changed it in this way, above all by abbreviating it? It is perhaps
possible that Virgil, who narrated the events from the Trojan point of view, had
directed all the light onto them and left the Greeks too much in the shadows for his
taste, and that he was hoping to redress the balance by changing the sly deceiver
Sinon into the hero, and representing the unsuspecting, pious Trojans as cruel and
suspicious (although he does not take this line in, for example, the Laocoon story
which follows, or indeed anywhere at all in his poem); but this would still leave
unexplained his concision and brevity by comparison with the leisurely exposition
in his model. Would he not have made full use of the rich material which lay before
him, as is his custom in other parts of his poem? Above all, would he have passed
over such an important motif as the significance of the horse for the destiny of Troy,
thus deliberately dispensing with an admirable way of explaining why the Trojans
actually pulled the horse into the city? He leaves this important point almost totally
67 obscure.106 I believe that this is a particularly clear indication that Quintus knows no
more than he tells us, in other words that those features which are common to
Quintus and Virgil were ultimately derived from a common source; there is nothing
among them that could not have been found in a prose epitome.107

The same applies to the last part of the story of the horse: a rope is flung around
it, it is pulled into the city to the sound of singing or of the playing of flutes, part of
the wall had to be torn down none of these are things which Quintus need in fact
have taken from Virgil.108 On the other hand, Quintus says that Epeios had laid
'smoothly rolling logs' under the feet of the horse beforehand (425). Virgil, more
thoughtful than Tryphiodorus (100), showed better judgement in omitting this detail
from his version of Sinon's tale. What would be the point of the wheels if the
builders intended the horse to stay where it was? So in Virgil the Trojans fetch the
rollers later (235).


And now Laocoon. Quintus tells us the following about him: when Sinon had told

his lying tale, some believed him, others agreed with the advice given by Laocoon,
who saw through the deception and suggested setting the horse on fire to see if there
was anything hidden inside. And they would have followed his advice and escaped
destruction if Athena had not been angry and made the earth shake under Laocoon;
and dreadful pain and disease attacked his eyes; when he still persisted in giving the
same advice, she blinded him. That was decisive: the Trojans pulled the horse into
68 the city. Laocoon persevered with his warning, but the Trojans took no notice of
him, for fear of the gods' rebuke (says Quintus). Then Athena devised harm for the
sons of Laocoon: she made two serpents come over the sea from Calydna; they
devoured the two boys and disappeared beneath the earth; people still point out the
place in the sanctuary of Apollo. The Trojans erected a cenotaph to the dead boys, at
which the unhappy parents mourned.

How does this version stand in relation to the tradition? After the detailed ana-
lyses of the transmission of the story that have been made by Robert and Bethe,
there is no need to go through the facts of the case at any great length. It seems clear
to me that Quintus combined two versions of the tale. According to one version,
Apollo sent the serpents; they came from the island of Calydna and killed the two
sons of Laocoon in the temple of Apollo Thymbraeus. That was either as a punish-
ment for an offence that the priest of Apollo had committed previously, or as a
presage of the destruction that threatened Troy. According to the other version,
which we find elsewhere only in Virgil, Laocoon had uttered a warning about the
wooden horse; then two serpents come from Tenedos and kill Laocoon together with
his sons on the sea-shore; the Trojans regard this as a divine punishment and
proceed to pull the horse into the city. From the first version, Quintus has taken the
island of Calydna, the location of the events inside the city, and the temple of Apollo
Thymbraeus (which, however, is mentioned only as the place where the snakes
disappear) the death of the sons only, and not of the father, and the time when the
incident occurs, after the horse has been brought in. On the other hand, he agrees
with Virgil on two points, that Laocoon warns the Trojans not to bring it in while
they are still on the shore, and that the serpents are sent by Athena as a punishment
for his warning. In order to combine the two versions he is obliged, first, to make
Laocoon give his warning twice, and secondly, so that his punishment may lead to
the decision about the horse, to invent a second punishment, which happens straight
away, while they are still outside the city, the blinding, which he, like, for example,
the seer Phineus, suffers because of his untimely prophecy. As usual, the author has
to pay for combining the two versions: the death of Laocoon's sons has no conse-
quences whatever and appears as pointless cruelty on the part of Athena, and why
the serpents have to make for the sanctuary of Apollo is left totally unexplained.

Quintus, then, knew the Virgilian version of the story; but did he know it from
Virgil? There are no important details on which they agree: no one will regard it as
69 significant that they both have the sea roaring, the serpents flicking their fangs and
the Trojans running away in terror. On the other hand there is a large number of
characteristic differences which show that Quintus is independent of Virgil. In
Virgil Laocoon thrusts his spear into the side of the horse; in Quintus he contents
himself with mere words, although one would think that an imitator must have
realized how much more serious Laocoon's 'impiety' would seem if he actually

struck the horse. In Virgil the serpents pursue their course with terrifying determina-
tion, so that it is clear to everyone that they are obeying instructions from the gods;
in Quintus everyone runs away, and only Laocoon and his sons stay behind
[for deadly doom and the goddess held them
bound], says the poet, which shows that he was looking for a motive although a
much better one was available to him in Virgil. The most important difference,
however, is that in Virgil Laocoon's warning comes before Sinon appears, and his
death occurs later so as to confirm Sinon's false story, for which the Trojans have
already fallen (this order of events is not without its problems, but I have attempted
to explain it above as the result of Virgil's particular standpoint). In Quintus
Laocoon's punishment follows on the heels of his warning and serves to tip the
scales, as after Sinon's story the Trojans were still not sure what to do, and Laocoon,
who here enters the action for the first time, would otherwise have gained the upper
hand in the argument. It is obvious, in my opinion, that Quintus has preserved the
original version.

And do we really have no trace of the 'Virgilian' version anywhere else, other
than in Virgil and Quintus, the version, that is, where the essential point is the
connection of the miraculous serpents with Laocoon's warning? Indeed, Robert
must have believed that it was only in Virgil's version that Laocoon had anything to
do with the horse, and that was indeed so remarkable that we can understand how he
arrived at his conclusions. But since then we have learnt from the epitome of
Apollodorus (5.17) that Laocoon's warning about the horse does not appear only in
Virgil. What might be the purpose of inventing this episode, which is a doublet of
the old tradition whereby it was Cassandra who gave the warning?109 I have already
70 pointed out that Apollodorus mentions the warning: nevertheless the Trojans decide
not to destroy the horse, which they have already pulled into the citadel, and they
turn their attention to sacrificing and feasting. 'But Apollo sends them a sign: two
serpents . . . devour the sons of Laocoon'. Is it possible to combine both versions?
Bethe has attempted to do so: 'During the sacrifice (or in Apollodorus rather during
the [feasting] which follows the sacrifice) Apollo himself gives the final
warning, after the voices of his prophets have fallen on deaf ears, by sending a sign
from heaven'.110 I consider that impossible. On what grounds? Is the prophet who
gave the warning on Apollo's behalf now himself to serve as a terrible warning, by
the loss of his sons and the extremely horrible nature of their death? Surely every
ancient spectator would more probably have taken it as a condemnation of the
warning. I am convinced that when the death of Laocoon's sons is reported after the
warning, the post hoc must also be apropter hoc .111 Why is it not in Apollodorus?112
Because of the nature of our epitome, we are unable to come to a firm conclusion;
but we should note how Laocoon is first introduced:

[when Cassandra and also the seer Laocoon, claims that
there is an armed contingent inside, some thought they should burn it]. In my
opinion that is patched together very badly. Apollodorus, who is recounting
Laocoon's death as a [sign] in accordance with one of his sources, must
71 have taken from another source, which represented it as a punishment for the
warning, only the warning itself; or he may have simply combined the two versions

from his mythographic sources; that would be characteristic of his method.113 If that
is so, we can reconstruct Quintus' mythographic source as follows: 'Laocoon's sons
were killed, according to some authors, because he offended against Apollo; accord-
ing to others it was a sign presaging the fall of Troy; others again say that he advised
against taking in the wooden horse and that he, together with his sons, was therefore
killed by serpents sent by Athena. Frightened by this, the Trojans trusted Sinon and
pulled the horse into the city'.

Aeneas' Departure

Aeneas' departure is narrated by Quintus (13.300ff.) as follows: Aeneas had fought
bravely and killed many Greeks; now as he saw the city in flames, people and
possessions being destroyed, wives and children being carried into slavery, he des-
paired at the fate of his ancestral city and thought of escaping, just as the steersman,
when the ship is lost, climbs into the little lifeboat. Carrying his feeble old father,
and leading his little son by the hand, he made his way over the corpses: Cypris
guided him, protecting the husband, son and grandchild from harm (328):

[as he hurried along, the fire gave way under his feet everywhere: the blasts of
strong Hephaestus parted around him, and the swords and javelins which the
Achaeans hurled at him in the tearful war all fell harmlessly to the ground]. Then
Calchas held his men back and ordered them to refrain from attacking them (338),
for it was divinely decreed that by the Tiber this man should:

[found a holy city, a marvel to men of the future, and rule over far-scattered peoples:
from him a race to come would rule as far as the rising and the setting sun. Indeed he
is entitled to dwell with the immortals since he is the son of fair-tressed Aphrodite.]
His life should be spared in any case because he had chosen to carry with him not
gold and possessions, but his father and his son, which showed him to be an
72 admirable son and father. The Greeks obeyed, and marvelled at him as at a god, but
he went on, wherever his hastening feet should carry him.

It is clear that Quintus has combined two versions of the story with some degree

of skill: according to one, Aphrodite rescued her own from the burning city; accord-
ing to the other the Greeks were so impressed by Aeneas' piety that they allowed
him and his family to depart unharmed. The first version is also the one used by
Virgil, but he remodelled it to suit his purposes: Venus does not escort her son out of
the city, but only from the citadel to his house.114 Thus here, too, Quintus gives us
the original version, not Virgil's remodelling. In the light of this, it proves nothing
that the lines quoted above (328ff.) have an admittedly striking resemblance to the
following lines in Virgil (632-3):

ducente deo flammam inter et hostis
expedior , dant tela locum flammaeque recedunt .

[with the goddess guiding me I won my way between the flames and the foes. The
weapons let me through; the fires drew back from me.] This is an obvious way to
make vivid the idea that they both had to express: 'to go in safety through the
burning city and the enemy hosts'. In the second passage, Quintus has remembered
Odyssey 22.255:

[they all threw their lances with all their might as he instructed: but Athena rendered
them all fruitless].115 But it has also been suggested that Calchas' prophecy must be
derived from the Aeneid . There is in fact no doubt that it is based on Poseidon's
famous prophecy at Iliad 20.307:

[but now the mighty Aeneas will rule over the Trojans and his children's children
who will come after him]. This was amplified by Quintus to suit his context; he
knew the story of the foundation of Rome and he knew of the apotheosis of Aeneas.
He does not need to have had any further information; indeed one may say with
certainty that he did not have the Aeneid before him as he wrote; of course he has
Aeneas as the founder of Rome (for how can
[a holy city, a marvel for men of the future] be taken in any other way?);
73 we might perhaps take this to be a vague utterance in the style appropriate to
prophecy, if we did not know that this tradition did in fact exist, and indeed persisted
alongside the official Roman version until quite a late period.116 Moreover, Quintus
knows nothing about Anchises having been lamed by Zeus' lightning; he has to be
carried [because he was wearied by a long- suffer-
ing old age]. Finally, the fact that Quintus (together with other accounts, see n. 95)
mentions neither the rescue of the Trojan sacra and Penates nor Aeneas' wife
cannot, in my opinion, be interpreted as a deliberate deviation from Virgil.

The Night Battle

The comparison of these individual episodes needs to be complemented by an
overall comparison of the two accounts. If Quintus had indeed read Virgil's work, it
left no impression on him. Unlike Virgil, he makes no attempt to bring any kind of
unity to his depiction of the sack of Troy. All we find in Quintus is an attempt at a
kind of grouping: general descriptions of battles and destruction (13.78-167 and
430-95) frame the individual episodes: the actual fighting is represented in these
episodes by the deeds of Diomedes (168-210) and Neoptolemus (213-50), between
which the Greek heroes are dealt with in a mere two lines; then comes an uncon-
nected series of the five best-known scenes in the sack of Troy (251-429). The
relatively broadly-drawn general descriptions and the rather feeble speeches that are
inserted indicate that here too the poet is short of material. In that case would he
have ignored the Androgeos scene, apparently invented by Virgil (370-401), and the
fight for the citadel? Would he have discarded the link between the death of Coro-
ebus and the rape of Cassandra, and the combination of the deaths of Polites and
Priam into one effective episode?117 That would have been a remarkable example of
restraint on the part of a compiler who in other parts of the poem uses whatever
comes his way!

Aeneas and the Storm at Sea

74 Virgil (1.50ff.), Juno, wishing to destroy the Trojan fleet with a storm, goes to
Aeolia, the home of the winds. Because they would otherwise carry away the land
and sea with them in their violence, Jupiter has shut them away in dark caves, piled
a huge mountain on top of them and given them Aeolus as their king, who sits there
enthroned on a high citadel and rules over the raging winds. At Juno's request he
thrusts his spear118 into the mountain, and immediately all the winds come storming
out and hurl themselves upon the sea and the land.

In Quintus (14.466ff.), Athena, wishing to punish the Greeks with a destructive
storm, sends Iris to Aeolus, in Aeolia, where are the caves of the raging winds,
enclosed all around with rugged cliffs, and close by, the home of Aeolus. There she
meets him and his wife and his twelve children; at her request he goes outside, rips
open the high mountain with a blow from his trident; the winds storm out, and
hardly waiting to hear his instructions, they chase over the sea to the cliffs of

It is undeniable that there is a connection between these two accounts; so either
Quintus drew on Virgil, or both go back to a common source. The latter possibility,
in my view, can be raised to the status of a certainty.

The version which we find in Quintus is obviously derived from Homeric ideas
and is still very close to Homer in many ways. According to Odysseus' account
(10.1ff.), there lives on Aeolia, an island surrounded by a wall of bronze, rising up
like a smooth cliff, Aeolus, a friend of the immortal gods, with his wife and their

twelve children; Zeus has put him in charge of the winds, to lull them or to restrain
them, whichever he wishes. This is precisely the picture of Aeolus and his powers
which Quintus has in mind but there is one new element in his version. The story
in the Odyssey does not concern itself with the way in which Aeolus controls the
winds. Perhaps they are held in by the bronze wall, or perhaps the leather bag which
Odysseus is given is their usual container. Even in antiquity, literary critics found
75 this leather bag too vulgar,119 and possibly also too difficult to visualize. But other
sources said that the winds lived in caves,120 so it was an obvious move to transfer
these caves to Aeolia, and since they have to be enclosed, to locate them in the
depths of a mountain. To let the winds out all at once, Aeolus has to rip open the
mountain, and to do this he is given a trident like Poseidon the earthshaker.121 This
sets the scene; the action, the despatch of Iris to the winds, comes from Book 23 of
the Iliad (198).

In Virgil, the representations of the winds and of Aeolus are developed still
further, in a very individual way. For artistic reasons, which will be discussed later,
he is intent on arousing the listener's interest in the winds from the beginning; he
therefore takes longer to describe them when they are introduced. Moreover, since
the storm is to be depicted as one of supernatural violence, he wants to tell the
listener beforehand just what it means to unleash the winds. Finally, since for the
scene with Neptune he requires the winds to appear as persons , he needs to give an
impression of them as powerful individuals from the beginning. He portrays them as
prisoners, who have to be kept in a gaol, fettered, so that they will not destroy the
whole world; who storm against their prison in violent rage, and who, as soon as a
fissure is opened up, without needing any command, fling themselves with dreadful
violence upon land and sea. Corresponding with this transformation of the material
onto the grand scale, and this new personification of the winds, is the change in the
rtle of Aeolus. He is no longer simply the 'friend of the immortals', put in charge of
the winds, but a ruler and the governor of a prison, raised to this responsible position
by Jupiter, who, as Guardian of the Universe, has to keep the powers of nature
within bounds. As a king, Aeolus does not live in a mere 'house" as he does in
Homer and Quintus, but sits on a lofty citadel and wields the sceptre as a sign of his
76 rank. There is no more talk of his cosy family life; instead he is presented as a
bachelor, as is shown by the fact that Juno offers him a pretty wife, liberum pro -
creandorum causa [for the procreation of children]. His weapon is not the trident of
a god in a folk-tale, but the lance of a hero.

If Quintus had derived his description from this description in Virgil, he would
have been displaying a very delicate poetic tact in restoring the naove Homeric traits
without yielding even once to the temptation offered by the nature of his source to
build up the scene in a heroic, grandiose and elevated manner. Those who know him
will hardly think him capable of such an achievement; those who know Virgil will
realize how characteristic of his art is the process of transformation that we have
been able to identify here.122

A comparison of the descriptions of the sea-storm, which follow the Aeolus
scene in Quintus and Virgil, confirms our conclusion and brings us one step nearer
to their common source. The relationship of the two authors to Homer is reversed in
this instance. Virgil's intention is not to give a depiction but a narrative of events,

and therefore he gives only a brief general description of the storm and the distress
of the ships just as he had previously used only two lines (34-5) to describe the
safe part of the voyage and narrates instead the progress and intensification of the
destruction. For the details he relies as far as possible on Homer, the model for all
such narratives, combining elements of the relevant descriptions in Homer in order
77 to make up his own.123 The storm is chiefly modelled on the storm in Book 5 of the
Odyssey , where the situation is closest to the present one; Apollonius has also
supplied some details. Apart from the necessary changes in such details as the
names of places and persons, there are only two lines which do not correspond with
passages in Homer and Apollonius, namely 106-7:

hi summo in fluctu pendent , his unda dehiscens
terram inter fluctus aperit ; furit aestus harenis .

[some hung poised on wave-crests; others saw the waves sink before them to dis-
close, below seething water and sand, the very bottom of the sea]. However, it is
precisely these lines which correspond remarkably closely with Quintus' description
of the storm, 14.492ff.:

[now a high wave carried the ships through the air, and again they were carried
rolling down a steep slope to the murky depths: and always an irresistible force
belched up sand as the sea opened up.] Virgil's lines are distinguished by energetic
brevity; the content of the two passages is identical, and even if the details are not
exceptional in themselves124 the fact that they occur in the same context indicates
that there must be some connection. Otherwise, Quintus proceeds in a completely
different way. After giving a detailed description of the departure of the Greeks and
the safe earlier part of the voyage (370-418), he dwells at length on the general
description of the storm and the distress of the ships (488-529), and then goes on to
depict the shipwreck and the death of Ajax in just as much detail (530-89) and
finally returns once more to the misfortunes of the other Greeks (590-610), culmi-
nating in Nauplius' revenge (611-28). Here we are miles away from the simplicity
of the early epic. Quintus seems to have deliberately avoided any reminiscence of
the well-known lines of the Odyssey ; instead we are given an ecphrasis in the best
style of Hellenistic and Roman poetry. It is quite obvious that in this passage
Quintus is not expanding the narrative himself on the basis of brief mythographic
memoranda, but is following a detailed description in an earlier poem: this is con-
firmed by comparing it with Seneca's description of the same sea-storm in his
78 Agamemnon , which, in spite of some major differences Seneca was no mere
translator shares so many characteristic details with Quintus that it is quite clear
that ultimately they reflect a common source.125 There is not the slightest reason to

suppose that Quintus borrowed from Virgil the one short passage quoted above. We
ought rather to conclude that both poets made use of one and the same description of
the disastrous voyage home from Troy, and that Quintus took over the essentials,
expanding them to some extent, whereas Virgil drew the inspiration for his Aeolus-
scene from his source, but as far as the sea-storm was concerned, he borrowed only
a single detail, while in other respects avoiding the mass of pictorial detail in his
Hellenistic source in favour of the narrative simplicity of earlier epic. Who was the
author of that common source I cannot say; we should not forget that more than one
famous poet tried his hand at this very subject.126 But Virgil himself has hinted at his
source, as he tends to do elsewhere by means of his similes,127 in that a description
of the death of Ajax which he incorporates into Juno's speech (lines 39-45) is more
detailed than is necessary for his immediate purpose.



79 I can be considerably briefer in discussing Tryphiodorus. One important point, the
participation of the gods in the destruction of Troy, has already been discussed
above on p. 31, where I demonstrated that Virgil cannot have been Tryphiodorus'
source. Another point can be settled by a different method: the detail that Helen
summoned the Greeks with a torch, which, in all the accounts of the sack of Troy
known to us, occurs only in Tryphiodorus (512-21) and Virgil (6.518), is not, as we
might imagine, an invention of Virgil's, but is derived from Greek poetry,128 and
perhaps appeared already in Stesichorus.129 Once we know that, it is easy to see that
Virgil's account is a more elaborate version of the simple description in Tryphio-
dorus: so as to be able to raise the huge torch on the heights of the citadel without
arousing suspicion, Helen persuades the women of Troy to form a chorus and
perform a Bacchic dance, which she leads, carrying the torch like a maenad. It is
clear that this detail was inserted to answer the question: how could Helen give the
torch-signal without being noticed and without attracting attention to herself in the
city? The earlier version, in which Sinon gave the torch-signal from Achilles' tomb
outside the city, did not require special motivation.


This leaves only the Sinon scene, and here there are similarities which at first sight
might appear surprising. In Tryphiodorus, however, Sinon's entrance is quite differ-
ent from the version in Virgil: naked and with his flesh torn by whip-lashes, he
throws himself at Priam's feet; he pretends that his fellow countrymen have inflicted
this punishment on him because he was unwilling to take flight with them and urged
them to stay; then they left him behind in the enemy's land. Now he warns Priam
not to offend [Zeus, god of suppliants]: if he is slain by a Trojan, that

will please the Greeks.130 Priam reassures him:

[Stranger, you need not be afraid any more, now that you are: among Trojans: you
have escaped the implacable violence of the Achaeans, You will always be our
friend, and sweet longing for your country and its rich palaces will not sieze you],
80 then he asks him what he is called and where he came from as well as about the
significance of the horse. This is certainly very reminiscent of Priam's speech in

quisquis es amissos hinc iam obliuiscere Graios ,
noster eris ; mihique haec edissere vera roganti (147-8)

['Whoever you are, there are no Greeks here; forget them quickly and become one
of us. Now answer my questions truthfully', etc.] But is there anything in Tryphio-
dorus that might lead us to suppose that his version is a derivative reworking of
Virgil's? How simply and naturally the events unfold in Tryphiodorus! Sinon ad-
vised the Greeks not to leave thus he deliberately shows himself to have been
anti-Trojan, and this causes them to trust what he goes on to say; his fellow
countrymen treated him badly and left him behind in enemy territory with cruel
irony, for that was just what he had wanted; because of this harsh treatment he turns
to the enemy for protection the old motif of the traitor who deserts, like Zopyrus
etc. and claims the right of a suppliant: Priam grants him this right and admits him
to the community of the Trojans. In Virgil, Sinon is a prisoner, not a suppliant, and
his reception is motivated to a lesser degree by Priam's compassion for him; so just
before Priam's speech Sinon has to bewail the loss of his native country (137ff.):
this makes the virtue of the Trojans appear greater and that was part of Virgil's
intention but Tryphiodorus' version certainly seems closer to the original.

Sinon then gives away the following information about the horse:

['If you allow it to remain here in your land, it is fated that the sword of the
Achaeans will capture the city of Troy: but if Athena receives it as a sacred gift into
her temple then the Greeks will flee with their task unaccomplished']. So here we
have the Virgilian alternative that we found was missing from Quintus' version; but
in Virgil all the motifs are developed and strengthened; we are aware of the trouble
that he took to make the Trojans feel that it was absolutely essential to bring the
horse into the city: the horse is the substitute for the stolen Palladium, and will

protect the city in its place; the (282) [renewed war
with the Achaeans], which is only an alarming possibility in Tryphiodorus, is very
81 much a reality in Virgil: the Greeks will return as soon as they have propitiated the
gods in their own county; instead of the promise in Tryphiodorus that if they take
the horse into the city the Greeks will be put to flight again, Virgil makes Sinon
offer a greater promise, that the descendants of the Trojans will themselves invade
the country of the Greeks; finally, Tryphiodorus has only 'if you let the horse stand
here'; whereas Virgil has 'if you should harm it'; that is just what Laocoon had
already done, which makes it appear more urgent than ever to atone for his act and
to pull the horse into the city. Everything, in my view, points towards the conclusion
that Tryphiodorus' account is not a simplified and shortened version of Virgil's, but
rather reflects the earliest source, and that Virgil's version is not an original creation,
but an enhanced remodelling of an earlier source. And a little thought should show
that it never was very likely that Virgil was the first to invent this alternative; if it is
not to be found in the scanty mythographic epitomes that have survived, and
Quintus did not find it either in his mythographic source, no one would wish to draw
the conclusion that it did not exist before Virgil. What we have learnt from the story
of Helen's torch-signal can, where necessary, serve as a warning against conclusions
of such a kind.

Otherwise one looks in vain in Tryphiodorus' work for any echoes of Virgil
which are not drawn from the common stock of the tradition; there is no trace in him
of anything that may reasonably be claimed as Virgil's in the way of individual
touches, motivation, ethos or composition. His artistic standpoint, diametrically
opposed to Virgil's, is not one that is concerned with drama or pathos, and if he did
know Virgil he certainly did not like him. Nor is he in the least interested in
encyclopaedic completeness; what he enjoyed, and what he had a natural talent for,
was decorating his grand material with graceful and interesting arabesques and orig-
inal ornamentation. As a basis for this, all he needed was the traditional material that
we may imagine was easily available to him and to his educated contemporaries.


Excerpted from Virgils Epic Technique by Richard Heinze Copyright © 2004 by Richard Heinze. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Richard Heinze was a great Virgilian scholar. He first published his "Virgils Epische Technik" in 1903.

Fred Robertson taught Classics in the Universities of Reading and Oxford, and was for many years Secretary of the Virgil Society.

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