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Book III: Kings in Conflict
As Helios rose from his eastward abode,
Lavinium shuddered off leisurely slumber,
dressed again to resume the daily routine.
Who knew, even in that vigilant of cities,
that war’s storms loomed in the north,
that like lions assembled in sight of a herd,
Tyrrhenians stood poised for a slaughter?
For many dreary months had meandered by,
and even when watchmen walked the walls,
they minded more market-place prattle
with tired eyes and weary sighs for reprieve,
than did they survey the changeless plain.
All that solaced these old soldiers now,
the only dream that pleased them was peace.
They served conflicts in Ilium, and in Italy,
where their overworked ranks were thinning.
No champion there lived in Lavinium
who had not watched a luckless ally
succumb beside him to battle’s bedlam.
So much unrest plagued unsettled Latium:
it seemed the soil could soak up no more.
Turnus himself, once stirrer of discord,
lay tranquil now below the earth’s surface,
needing breath nor bread, relieved of revenge.
Still, wall-guarders walked the bulwarks,
watched hills where enemies might mill.
Among such knolls, a low thunder rolled,
tolled far off, but slowly growing closer.
Lavinians looked quickly to the north,
where storms blustered and gusts blew.
Eyelids squinted, scanned the hilly land,
and though they fell upon no sure sight,
the tremendous tumult of a tramping troop
drummed in their ears, made keen with fear.
At once, some of these nervous soldiers
broke from the gaze that surveyed the plain
and ran this disastrous report to Ascanius.
The diligent king sped to the northern circuit,
where the city’s slope was most precipitous,
the clamor ever increasing in the anxious air.
When he arrived at the crowded ranks,
a guardian of that wary wall cried out:
“Look! Those are men of Tyrrhenian descent
for the standards of Caere precede them here!”
Those Lavinians there with Ascanius
beheld those emblems of famed Caere,
the southern Etruscan citadel which,
in prior times, sons of Troy had led
against Turnus’ Rutulian troops.
The son of Aeneas surveyed them,
and beheld the man, brilliant in bronze,
who rode as the vanguard’s commander.
“Those battalions are Caerean, but the leader,
his name is a more chilling one to Trojans.
That is king Mezentius at the forefront,
and his mercenary army surrounding him,
brutes who battle under no banner but gold.
Our expected defense of Lavinium has come.
All of you men, spread the word in the city:
let every entrance be rendered obstinate,
and let men in these threatened bastions
bear their barely-cooled battle-gear once again.
From this day, war is our sole vocation.”
His soldiers went forth on his orders
as Ascanius remained on the battlements,
observing the streams of infantry files that
seeped from Latium’s surrounding woods.
As when a syrupy pear drops from a bough
and bursts, lays bleeding sugar into the soil;
ants will advance upon it, only a few at first,
taste the fragrance and hasten to muster more.
In time, enormous columns of the insects
tramp to and from their gigantic prize,
until the black swarm submerges the fruit
and buries it forever from the sunlight
that once granted it life among the leaves.
In this fashion did the Etruscans gather
toward a citadel already dismal with misery.
Copyright © 1994, Claudio R. Salvucci.