While on a secret mission, Nisus and Euryalus are detected by Rutulian scouts. They flee, but are separated from each other:
Euryalum tenebrae ramorum onerosaque praeda
impediunt, fallitque timor regione viarum. 385
Nisus abit; iamque imprudens evaserat hostis
atque locos qui post Albae de nomine dicti
Albani (tum rex stabula alta Latinus habebat),
ut stetit et frustra absentem respexit amicum:
'Euryale infelix, qua te regione reliqui? 390
quave sequar?' rursus perplexum iter omne revolvens
fallacis silvae simul et vestigia retro
observata legit dumisque silentibus errat.
audit equos, audit strepitus et signa sequentum;
nec longum in medio tempus, cum clamor ad auris 395
pervenit ac videt Euryalum, quem iam manus omnis
fraude loci et noctis, subito turbante tumultu,
oppressum rapit et conantem plurima frustra.
quid faciat? qua vi iuvenem, quibus audeat armis
eripere? an sese medios moriturus in enses 400
inferat et pulchram properet per vulnera mortem?
ocius adducto torquet hastile lacerto
suspiciens altam Lunam et sic voce precatur:
'tu, dea, tu praesens nostro succurre labori,
astrorum decus et nemorum Latonia custos. 405
si qua tuis umquam pro me pater Hyrtacus aris
dona tulit, si qua ipse meis venatibus auxi
suspendive tholo aut sacra ad fastigia fixi,
hunc sine me turbare globum et rege tela per auras.'
dixerat et toto conixus corpore ferrum 410
conicit. hasta volans noctis diverberat umbras
et venit aversi in tergum Sulmonis ibique
frangitur, ac fisso transit praecordia ligno.
volvitur ille vomens calidum de pectore flumen
frigidus et longis singultibus ilia pulsat. 415
diversi circumspiciunt. hoc acrior idem
ecce aliud summa telum librabat ab aure.
dum trepidant, it hasta Tago per tempus utrumque
stridens traiectoque haesit tepefacta cerebro.
saevit atrox Volcens nec teli conspicit usquam 420
auctorem nec quo se ardens immittere possit.
'tu tamen interea calido mihi sanguine poenas
persolves amborum' inquit; simul ense recluso
ibat in Euryalum. tum vero exterritus, amens,
conclamat Nisus nec se celare tenebris 425
amplius aut tantum potuit perferre dolorem:
'me, me, adsum qui feci, in me convertite ferrum,
o Rutuli! mea fraus omnis, nihil iste nec ausus
nec potuit; caelum hoc et conscia sidera testor;
tantum infelicem nimium dilexit amicum.' 430
talia dicta dabat, sed viribus ensis adactus
transadigit costas et candida pectora rumpit.
volvitur Euryalus leto, pulchrosque per artus
it cruor inque umeros cervix conlapsa recumbit:
purpureus veluti cum flos succisus aratro 435
languescit moriens, lassove papavera collo
demisere caput pluvia cum forte gravantur.
at Nisus ruit in medios solumque per omnis
Volcentem petit, in solo Volcente moratur.
quem circum glomerati hostes hinc comminus atque hinc 440
proturbant. instat non setius ac rotat ensem
fulmineum, donec Rutuli clamantis in ore
condidit adverso et moriens animam abstulit hosti.
tum super exanimum sese proiecit amicum
confossus, placidaque ibi demum morte quievit. 445
Fortunati ambo! si quid mea carmina possunt,
nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo,
dum domus Aeneae Capitoli immobile saxum
accolet imperiumque pater Romanus habebit.
--Vergil, Aeneid IX.371-449
Euryalus, overcome by brambles and fear, is trapped!
But Nisus already fled; by dumb luck, he escaped the enemy through the territory that will later be named “Alba.” He looks around, and cannot find his companion (amicum). He calls, “Unlucky [infelix] Euryalus, where are you? Did I leave you behind? Where can I follow you?”
He goes in circles through the forest, looking for traces of his friend in the underbrush. Then he hears hoofbeats, he hears the riders approach; soon after he hears a shout and he sees Euryalus surrounded by a band of Rutulians but vainly trying to defend himself.
What should Nisus do? What resources does he have to rescue the youth from his attackers? Should he jump into the fight, rushing to his own doom, to endure an “honorable” death?
Aiming his weapon, he catches sight of the moon and voices this prayer: “Divine daughter of Leto, glory of the stars and protector of this grove, help me in my task! If my father Hyrtacus’ offerings to you ever meant something, if my thanksgiving offerings from my hunting trips ever meant anything to you, if my offerings of incense or other holy offerings ever touched you, please, allow me to take on these men and send this spear through the air towards them!”
He prayed, and hurled his spear with all his might. It flies through the night and arrives in Sulmo’s chest, its wooden shaft shattering, sending splinters ricocheting through the Rutulian’s midriff.
Warm blood pulses from the wound in his chest, his body grows cold as his life oozes out in gasps.
The Rutulians looks around, alert. Nisus aims another spear and sends it into their midst. It shoots through the air and pierces Tagus’ temples; his brains splurt from the wound.
The Rutulian leader Volcens roars in anger. He cannot see who threw the spear, so he takes out his anger on Euryalus. “You shall pay the penalty for both of these men…in blood!” Volcens said, attacking the Trojan youth with his sword.
Then, terrified, Nisus shouted from the distance, betraying his hiding-place, trying to stop his greatest nightmare from happening: “It was me! It was me! I did it! Stab me instead, oh Rutulians! This was my fault, it wasn’t him! I swear by the heavens, and the stars are my witness! The only thing he did wrong was love his cursed [infelix] friend [amicum] too much!”
So Nisus spoke, but a sword pierces his friend’s chest, crushing Euryalus’ delicate ribcage.
Euryalus swoons in death, and gore spreads across the lad’s pretty limbs. His head flops forward, just like when a purple flower dies, cut by a tractor’s plow, or when a poppy droops when it is weighed down by heavy raindrops.
But Nisus rushes into the midst of the enemy, seeking vengeance upon Volcens. Volcens alone is his goal.
Although surrounded, Nisus puts up a good fight. His sword gleams in the starlight as he slashes against his foe, and it plunges into his enemy’s shrieking face, killing the man who stabs him in return.
Then, dying, Nisus threw himself atop his slain friend (amicum), and succumbed to dreamless sleep.
Fortunate pair! If my epic means anything, no day shall ever erase you from history, as long as Aeneas’ Capitol still stands, as long as father Rome reigns supreme.
VERGIL / VIRGIL
Name: Publius Vergilius Maro
Date: 70 BCE – 21 BCE
Vergil was born in Mantua (Cisalpine Gaul, located in northern Italy) and lived during the tumultuous transition of Roman government from republic to monarchy. His masterpiece, the Aeneid, tells the story of Aeneas’ migration from Troy to Italy; it was used for centuries as the pinnacle of Roman literature.
GOLDEN AGE ROME