This is a chapter of The Sunset of the Heroes: Last Adventures of the Takers of Troy, by W. M. L. Hutchinson.
Nevertheless, though the posterity of Priam perished, it was fated that the scepter should not depart from the royal race of Troy for ages yet to come, albeit they bore sway in a distant land. He had a kinsman on the father’s side called Anchises, of the same age with himself, who in youth had been the fairest scion of a house renowned for its beauty — so fair, that immortal Aphrodite was enamored of him and she bore him a son. And this son, whose name was Aeneas, had grown up as good as he was beautiful, well-reputed as a warrior, and of a great discretion.
Now Aeneas had shared in the royal feast that night, but, like the prudent man he was, had returned betimes from the revels to his father’s mansion, that stood, bosomed in trees, within the vast enclosure of the palace gardens. Thus, when roused from slumber by the din of the assault, he had all his wits about him; sword in hand he stole forth by unfrequented byways, and, unseen himself, soon witnessed enough to assure him that there was no hope but in flight. The Greeks might not discover his secluded dwelling for some little time; meanwhile, he would try to escape out of the city with his family and household. As he cautiously made his way back, Aeneas met one he knew — Panthus, priest of Apollo, hurrying along with a small bundle in his arms.
“All is lost, son of Anchises,” said the priest in low, hollow tones; “our gods have departed from us — Troy is no more.”
“I know it,” answered Aeneas; “I am hasting to my home to flee with my dear ones, if the Fates permit. Come with me, Panthus, and cast in your lot with us. If we can but win clear of the city, the woods of Ida will give us safe harborage awhile.”
“Nay, I will die where I have lived,” replied Panthus, “for I am too old to begin the world again, and bitter, they say, is the bread of exile. But you, Aeneas, protected by your goddess mother, may yet see happier days in a new home. And since we have met, I will give this treasure into your keeping, which I was about to bury deep in earth, to save it from the enemy’s hands.”
He undid a corner of his bundle and showed a casket of beaten gold under the woolen wrapping. “Guard this as your life,” he said, “and never suffer it to be opened, for it holds that which it is not lawful for any man to look upon, even those most sacred emblems of our city’s gods which they themselves gave to her first king, Dardanus, the well-beloved of Zeus. And it is written in our ancient temple archives that these holy things shall one day become the secret talisman of an eternal city, whose builder and maker shall be of Trojan lineage. May it be yours, worthy prince, to found that second Troy! But now farewell; Death calls me, nothing loth, to join the goodly fellowship of the men I loved, assembled in his halls this day. Hector, Deiphobus, Laocoon, reverend Priam, I come!”
So saying, Panthus thrust the sacred casket into Aeneas’s hands and went his way.
But Aeneas sped back to his home and found his aged father, and his wife Creusa, and Ascanius his little son, and all the household, gathered together in fear and trembling, awaiting doom. Then with all haste he loaded his retainers and slaves with jewels and gold and such other treasures as they could carry, and bade them make their way singly and separately to a certain ruined shrine of Demeter, halfway between the city and Mount Ida, for by now the fighting was ended, and the Greeks were scattering to the work of plunder; the gates were free, and in the confusion that everywhere reigned single fugitives might escape remark by dint of wary walking.
But there were three who could not go quite alone; Creusa was too timid, her boy too young, the old Anchises too infirm. And the last entreated to be left behind, saying he neither wished to outlive Troy nor would consent to cumber and imperil the rest in their flight. Then Aeneas did the deed for which gods and men ever after held him in honor; with gentle force, he took his father on his shoulders, protesting by all most sacred that he would not stir from the place without him.
“You know, sir,” he said, “that I have never yet disobeyed you; but if you will not this once obey me, we will stay and perish with you, both I, and my wife and child, for duty to a parent comes before all duties else.”
So he prevailed with the old man and, having caused Creusa to wrap a fleecy sheepskin about him, he bade her follow at a little distance, keeping them in view. But he himself led the child Ascanius by one hand and carried in the other the casket Panthus had given him. Thus burdened, he set forth, and lightly and swiftly walked he under Anchises’s weight, for the gods added yet more strength to his stalwart frame. A devious course he took by lanes and alleys, shunning the streets and open places, and was so fortunate as to meet no one.
Moreover, having reached the trysting place, he found the same good luck had attended his household; all were there and answered to the roll call of their names.
But now one of Creusa’s handmaids asked suddenly, “Where is our lady?”
Aeneas looked about him in dismay — she was nowhere to be seen! Never doubting that she was close behind him —for had she been intercepted he must have heard her cry out— he had pressed forward under his load, not once looking behind. By this, dawn was breaking, and delay all the more perilous to the fugitives, but at all costs Aeneas determined to seek his wife on the road he had come, and, if need be, within the city, while the rest set forward to the mountain.
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His quick eye noted that an old farm cart stood among the disused plows and other rustic gear stored in the ruined shrine. Ordering the cart to be dragged out and finding it fit for service, though much the worse for wear, he had Anchises and Ascanius placed in it, with the sheep skin and some cloaks spread under them, and also the bundles of treasure, not forgetting the precious casket, which he recommended to his father’s special care. Pole, yoke, and hempen traces were quickly found, and the place of the draught oxen supplied by a willing team of six sturdy slaves. Then, after hastily imploring his father’s blessing and the protection of the gods, Aeneas gave the word to the whole train to make at their best speed for a certain glen of Ida, well known to Anchises, where he might rejoin them if all went well. And thereupon he hastened citywards, spying right and left for Creusa as he went.
But the gods willed that his search should be vain. On all the way by which he had come, there was no trace or token of her; and when he ventured even as far as his own house, in the forlorn hope that perhaps she had turned back in her fear and might be hiding there, behold, the stately dwelling of his ancestors was a sheet of fire! The spoilers had come and gone; if Creusa had indeed returned home, she must already have met either captivity or death by those consuming flames. There was nothing for it but to retrace his steps once more; yet hoping against hope he went lingeringly now, scanning all the ground and peering into every nook and corner that might have served her for a lurking place. He was the more emboldened to persevere because that quarter of the city now seemed wholly deserted; silence as of death brooded over it, only broken by the roar and crackle of flames, or the heart-shaking crash of falling masonry.
The truth was, the victors, drunken not with wine but blood, and satiate with rapine, were for the most part sunk into a lethargy as deep as that wherein the vanquished had been surprised erewhile. But they had brought all their captives together into one place and set trusty guards over them; Odysseus had seen to that. Nor had all the fatigues and frantic excitements of the night worn out his nerves of steel. Fresh-eyed, alert, and calm as ever, he sat with drawn sword across his knees, on the steps of a temple hard by the palace, keeping watch and ward over a glittering mound of spoils at his feet. The hoarded wealth of a long line of kings was piled there — kings on whom vassal Asia had showered for generations her barbaric pearl and gold — for this was the royal treasure of Priam.
The sheen of it caught Aeneas’s eye from afar; he drew near, warily, and with a bursting heart viewed that sight pregnant with meaning. All the riches, the art, the luxury of the gorgeous East seemed gathered in that confused heap of ingots, gems, ivory, golden images, vessels, armor, jeweled diadems and scepters, tables and couches of silver; and it all lay at the feet of the man with the sword — the man of the West! In his own poor land, the hundredth part of these splendors would be wealth beyond a dream; and yet they moved him not; he could sit there and regard them undazzled, without eagerness, even a little absently. From time to time he glanced round at the blackened ruins of temple and palace; only then did his falcon eyes brighten and a smile curl his thin lips.
Ah, yes! It was the triumph, not the spoils, he cared for; it was power, not pomp, he loved, this man of the West, whose brain was as keen as his sword. That was why the sons of the East, loving magnificence and a life of pleasantness, could not stand against him at the last.
As Aeneas thought these things, it came strangely into his mind that so it must be to all time; this War of Troy was but the beginning of an eternal conflict, a feud not to be healed while the world endured; again and yet again, East and West must strive together for the mastery; and forever, unbowed by defeat, unbroken by disaster, the West should send forth her sons, conquering and to conquer. With that premonition strong upon him, the Trojan turned away; for an instant, he had thought to spring upon the Greek, happy to die if, dying, he might choke the life out of his country’s arch-enemy — but he recollected himself in time. His life was not his own to throw away while his father and his child needed a protector. And he made once more for the city gate.
But to reach it Aeneas must pass before the ancient fane of Hestia, goddess of the hearth. The doors stood ajar, and as he peered within, a tremor of hope ran through him, for he saw the figure of a woman clinging to the altar. Alas, a second glance showed him it was not Creusa. That golden hair, that imperial-molded form half hidden, half revealed, by the gauzy robe zoned with flashing gems — he knew them too well! Here was she more ruinous to Troy than even Odysseus — an incarnate destruction — Helen herself, taking sanctuary from the vengeance of her injured lord.
Rage overflowed Aeneas at the sight of her in her loveliness. “The witch shall die,” he muttered, and drew his sword; “she shall not live to wheedle pardon from the doting fool Menelaus, to boast in Sparta’s halls of our noblest slain for her wicked sake, and play the mistress to our captive wives and daughters! What though it be infamy to kill a woman? She is none — but a fiend sent from nethermost hell to be the bane of men. Ay, why else has Time no power to wither her accursed beauty? What woman of flesh and blood could keep youth’s dewy bloom untouched by lapse of years like her? Oh, I shall do well to rid the earth of this vampire that has drained our heart’s blood, ere she seek yet other prey!”
With that, he flung the doors apart and would have entered, when suddenly a glory shone before him, as it were a pillar of sunbeams, and in the midst thereof stood Queen Aphrodite, with frowning brow. Never till now had the goddess appeared to her son panoplied in the celestial splendor that the immortals wear in their own abodes of bliss, and he shrank back, overcome with awe.
Aphrodite’s frown relaxed; she took his hand, led him forth of the shrine, and mildly said, “Cease, my son, to harbor such thoughts of Helen, for not she, nor her countrymen, but others, have wrought Troy’s overthrow. Come, and I will show you who they are.”
So saying, the radiant goddess wound an arm about Aeneas, and, rising in air, wafted him in a moment to the summit of the watch tower above the gate that looked towards Ida. Then, brushing his eyelids with flower-soft fingers, “Turn your eyes upon the citadel,” she said, “for I have purged them for the nonce of mortal dullness, and tell me who stands there.”
Aeneas looked, and behold, on the topmost battlement, athwart drifting smoke clouds, a form loomed, menacing, gigantic in dazzling armor — the form of Pallas Athena. He shuddered and withdrew his gaze.
“Look now upon the gate called Scaean,” commanded Aphrodite. Again Aeneas looked and saw a rainbow over-arching the portal, and a resplendent car standing beneath it, with four steeds whiter than snow. Within the car stood bright-winged Iris, holding the reins, and at her side was Heaven’s glorious queen. The warders of that gate, and many a Trojan more, overtaken in flight, lay in their blood before the threshold, so that the ground was red under the feet of the immortal coursers. And Hera was looking down upon the slain with the smile and mien of a conqueror in his hour of triumph.
“No more! Let me see no more, Mother Divine,” implored Aeneas, covering his face.
But Aphrodite answered, “Nay, child, there is yet a third whom it behooves you to see, that you may know against whom you and yours have contended so long. Look yonder, where the breach is that was made to give ingress to the wooden horse — ah, fain had I warned you, dear son, that Odysseus and nine Greeks more were lurking therein — fain revealed the fatal stratagem — but a higher power sealed my lips. Against Destiny, not gods themselves may strive. But look as I bid you, and then will I speed you in safety to your mountain refuge.”
Then Aeneas obeyed her, and in the breach of the wall he saw great Poseidon standing, trident in hand. And as he looked, the god tossed back the dusky locks from his brow and began to smite the wall to right and left with his trident; and the wall crumbled and fell piecemeal, so that the air was filled with dust and the noise of stonework crashing down. Poseidon laughed as he worked, and the sound of his laughter was like the hoarse sound of breakers dragging down the shingle of the beach.
“Now you have seen enough,” said Aphrodite, touching the eyelids of her son once more; and immediately his vision became as other men’s, so that citadel, and breach, and Scaean gate appeared to him vacant of those divine presences. In the same instant, he found himself alone upon the tower, and it grieved his heart that Aphrodite had so suddenly departed from him before he could crave tidings of his wife’s fate.
But as he descended the staircase of the tower, Aeneas gave a cry of joy, for at the foot, in the gloom of the deep gateway, stood Creusa herself. Eagerly he advanced to embrace her, but she drew back with a strange airy motion, like one that floated rather than walked; death-pale she was, and a nameless dread rooted Aeneas to the spot as he marked how her form, that seemed grown taller, wavered like a shadow cast on moving water.
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“Be not afraid, my dearest lord,” she said in tones faint and low; “it is your own Creusa you see — but touch her not, for she is no longer of this world. Nay, nay, do not weep, sweet husband — all is well with me; behold, from the swoon of terror that overtook me as I followed you forth I have awakened to wondrous peace of soul, and am enlightened to perceive the good that shall come out of these evils, both to you and our son after you. And this much it is permitted me to reveal for your comfort. Not in cruelty but in kindness have the gods taken from you one too frail and timorous to share your future lot. For long must you wander over the sea’s vast bosom, enduring toils and hardships manifold until you come at last to the land called Hesperia and to the fruitful fields watered by yellow Tiber. There high fortune awaits you; there shall you win a second bride, who will bring you a kingdom as her dower. But mourn not for the wife of your youth; rather rejoice that she is not to see, as others must, the spoil-decked homes of our conquerors, nor suffer in miserable thraldom the taunts of the proud Grecian dames. Nay, count me highly favored, even in death, for the Great Mother of the Gods, to whom I have ever prayed, has made me of her train, to follow henceforth her lion chariot on the solemn, star-crowned peaks of Ida, and share the ecstasy of her mystic rites. Farewell, and… love… our child.”
Creusa’s voice faltered over the last words; she waved her hand, smiling upon her lord with wistful eyes; then melted from his sight like a fading dream. Vainly he rushed forward, calling on her name in a burst of tears; the shadowy shape dislimned as he touched it, and his outstretched arms clasped but empty air. Bitterly weeping, he turned away for the last time from the gate of his native city; blindly now he strode onward, scarce knowing or caring whither, in the first keen anguish of loss. But Aphrodite guided his feet and lent them swiftness as of wings, so that in brief space he overtook Anchises and the rest upon their way.
Now Aeneas and all his company abode on the mountain until they learned by espial that the Greeks were gone from the ruined city. Then they descended to the coast and, being joined by the remnant of the folk of Troyland, who desired to cast in their lot with the pious son of Anchises, they built them ships and sailed away in quest of a new home.
And here we take leave of Aeneas, for the story of his adventures by sea and land, and how he won the bride and the kingdom foretold him by Creusa, belongs not to the tale of Troy, but to the great legend of the city founded by his seed. The true name of that city was bestowed on her by the gods and handed down, as a secret whereon her fortune depended, from one to another of her primeval kings. But among the nations of the earth she has borne for ages the proudest name in all history — the name of ROME.