NISUS AND EURYALUS
BY F. STORR
Æneas was absent from the camp. Warned by
Father Tiber he had gone with a picked band of
followers to seek the alliance of his kinsman, King
Evander, who with his Arcadians had settled themselves
on the seven hills which now are Rome.
Whilst he was away, the camp was left in charge of
his son Iulus, and as adjutant and counselor to the
young prince he appointed his most experienced general,
But Juno, the implacable foe of Troy, had despatched
to Turnus, the Rutulian Prince, her messenger Iris to
tell him of Æneas' absence and bid him seize the occasion
to storm the Trojan camp. So all day long the
garrison, reduced in numbers and without its great captain,
saw the tide of horse and foot, Latins, Rutulians,
and Etruscans, gathering in the plain and sweeping onward
to overwhelm them, like the Nile in full flood. As
Æneas had bid them, they retired within their intrenchments,
too strong to be carried at the first assault.
At nightfall the enemy withdrew, and the weary defenders
lay down to sleep, but in fear of a night attack
they ventured not to unbuckle their armor, and at each
camp-gate was posted a strong guard of sentinels.
Conspicuous among the captains of the guard was
Nisus, whom his mother, Ida, the world-famed huntress,
had sent as squire to Æneas, no less skilled than his
mother with javelin or with bow. With him as his lieutenant
was Euryalus, the fairest youth, save Iulus alone,
in all the Trojan host, the down of manhood just showing
on his cheek, elsewise as round and smooth as a
The two were more than brothers-in-arms, inseparable
as twin cherries on a single stalk; the one followed
the other as his shadow, and their love was more than
the love of man and maid.
And now as they kept watch together they thus conversed:
Nisus. I know not what ails me, brother, but to-night
I feel a wild unrest, a strange prompting to be up
and doing some doughty deed. What think you, brother?
Is it an inspiration of heaven or only my own fiery spirit,
pent up within these walls and fretting for the fray?
Mark you, brother. The enemy's camp is silent as the
tomb. Not a sentinel is stirring, and the rare watch-fires
burn low. 'Tis plain to me that the captains, having
driven us back to our trenches, have been celebrating
their victory and are now buried in drunken slumber.
Now I will expound to thee the plan that is working in
my brain. At all hazards Æneas must be summoned
back from the city of Evander—so our generals and men
are all agreed. If only my proposal is accepted, methinks
I have discovered a way to bear the message and
work our deliverance.
Euryalus. Verily 'tis a glorious venture and well
worth the risk, but thou speakest as if the venture were
thine. Can I have heard thee aright? Truly, brother,
the plan is thine, but the execution is ours. Thinkest
thou, brother, alone to put thy head into the lion's
mouth? Shall I not share thy triumph or thy death?
In life we have been one, and in death we shall not be
Nisus. Nay, brother, I never doubted thy courage or
thy love. This thought alone, perhaps a selfish thought,
was mine: if perchance I should fall—and sanguine as
I am of success I know 'tis a perilous hazard—I would
fain one sure friend survived to lay my body in mother
earth, or if that grace is denied, at least to perform due
rites at my cenotaph. I thought, moreover, that thou
art the younger man and thy mother's only son.
Euryalus. Out on thy vain excuses! Only if thou
takest me with thee will I forgive them. My mind is
set. Let us to work.
So they called to the nearest sentinels to relieve them
of their guard and hurried to seek Iulus. They found
him in his tent presiding over a council of war, but the
sentries let them pass on business that would not wait.
It chanced that the captains were at that moment debating
how possibly to convey a message to Æneas informing
him of their pressing need, and when Nisus
expounded to them his plan, assuring them that as a
young hunter he had explored every inch of the ground
and knew a secret forest path that would lead them
to the rear of the enemy's camp, he was welcomed as
a messenger sent from heaven. Old Aletes laid his
hands on their heads and with tears in his eyes blessed
the gods for sending such deliverers. "Young heroes!"
he cried, "your virtue is its own reward, but Æneas,
when he returns, will know how to recompense you."
Iulus, with boyish generosity, promised them his choicest
treasures, embossed tankards and two talents of gold,
aye and the charger and arms of Turnus, whose fall was
certain when Æneas returned; and he put his arms round
Euryalus' neck (the youth was scarce older than himself)
and called him his brother-in-arms.
Boldened by this signal favor of the prince, Euryalus,
on bended knee, besought one parting boon. "Prince,"
he cried, "I have an aged mother who for my sake left
her native home and the court of King Acestes to accompany
me to the wars. I may not stay to bid her
farewell and receive her blessing, nor could I dare confide
to her our perilous errand. Thou hast deigned to
call me brother: O prince, be to her a son. To know
that thou wilt be here to solace and comfort her will
give me fresh confidence." The prince swore to love
and cherish her no less than his own lost mother, Creusa,
and wishing him Godspeed he girt on his shoulder the
sword of that famous Cretan swordsman, Lycaon, with
hilt of wrought gold and scabbard of ivory. To Nisus,
Achates gave his own helmet, that had borne the brunt
of many a shrewd blow.
Thus armed and charged with many messages from
Iulus to his father they left the camp, and the captains
sent after them a parting cheer.
The night was dark, but Nisus could almost have
found his way blindfolded through the familiar forest.
In a short hour they had reached the camp unperceived,
and then, as Nisus had anticipated, they found a scene
of barbarous revelry. Amongst tilted war-chariots,
tethered horses, and empty wine-jars men lay stretched
in drunken slumber.
"Follow me," whispered Nisus, "and keep an open
eye lest any attack me from behind. I will hew thee
anon a path of blood by which we can both pass to our
With drawn sword he rushed on Rhamnes, who lay
snoring on a pile of broidered coverlets: an augur was
he of royal blood, but little did his augury avail him
that day. His three attendants soon followed their master
to the shades. Like a ravening wolf who has leapt
into the sheepfold he dealt havoc right and left, and all
that Nisus spared the sword of Euryalus despatched.
"Enough," cried Nisus, at length sated with carnage;
"our way through the enemy is clear, and the tell-tale
morn is nigh at hand." Much rich spoil they left behind—flagons
of gold and silver, gemmed goblets and
broideries; but Euryalus cast longing eyes on a huge
baldrick with bosses of gold, an heirloom of the dead
augur, and he strapped it round his shoulder; nor could
he resist (proud youth) the temptation to try on a
bright helmet with flaming crest of Messapus, the Tamer
of Steeds. With these spoils to attest their glorious
raid, the pair left the camp and gained in safety
Their task seemed well-nigh accomplished, but it
chanced that a troop of three hundred horse, despatched
from the Latin capital as an advanced guard for Turnus,
were just then approaching the camp from the opposite
direction, and espying in the twilight the glint of the
helmet they challenged the pair. No answer was returned,
and Nisus, who was leading, quickened his pace
to gain the shelter of the forest. The horsemen wheeled
round and sought to cut off their retreat, but they were
too late, and Nisus was already speeding down a winding
bypath that he knew full well, when he looked back,
and to his horror perceived that Euryalus was not following.
"Euryalus!" he shouted, but no answer came.
He turned and painfully retraced his steps. Soon he
heard the tramp of horses among the brushwood and
broken branches, and guided by the sound in a clearing
of the forest he saw Euryalus, his back against an oak,
like a stag at bay, facing a ring of horsemen. What
was he to do? To save himself by flight was unthinkable,
but should he rush at once on certain death? In
desperation he breathed a prayer to his patron goddess
Diana. "Queen of the woods," he cried, "by the gifts
I have offered on thine altar, by the vows I have daily
paid, help me now in my utmost need and guide my
aim!" So praying, he hurled with all his might a spear,
and so straight and swift it flew that Sulmo was transfixed
from back to breast, and the shaft snapped off short
as the barbed head quivered in the wound. A second
spear buried itself in Tagus's brain, and he too bit the
dust. Volscens, the captain of the troop, saw his two
comrades struck down as by a bolt from the blue, and
with drawn sword he turned on Euryalus crying, "If I
cannot reach the fiend who hurled those spears, thy blood
at least shall atone the bloody deed."
At this Nisus could no longer restrain himself, and
leaping from the covert he shouted, "I, none but I, am
the guilty cause. Oh, spare this innocent boy and turn
your swords on me! To love his friend too well, this
was his only crime!" But his words were vain; while
yet he spoke the sword of Volscens had pierced the boy's
heart and stained with gore his white side, and he
drooped his head like a poppy drenched with rain, or a
harebell upturned by the plowshare.
At the sight Nisus hurled himself into the thick of
his foes, scattering them right and left with the lightnings
of his glaive, till he forced his way to Volscens,
and with a dying effort smote the murderer of his sweet
friend. Pierced with a hundred wounds he fell upon
Euryalus' prostrate corpse, and a smile was on his lips,
for in death they were not divided.
Such was the tale that Virgil sang, and the prophecy
that he uttered nigh upon two thousand years ago has
"O happy pair, if aught my verse avail,
Your memory through the ages shall not fail,
While on the Capitol Rome's flag is seen
And Rome holds sway, Italia's Empress Queen."