The Spoils of War (Games) in Aeneid 5 and 9

Chad Turner

Scholars have long recognized the pathos that comes from reading the Nisus and Euryalus episodes from Aeneid 5 and 9 as a diptych of sorts. As touching as Nisus’ successful efforts to secure victory for his beloved in the Book 5 footrace on Sicily are, his inability in Book 9 to save Euryalus from the enemy moves us even more, as it is simultaneously magnified by and contrasted with the earlier episode. This reading is undoubtedly correct, but I will argue that the full extent of the parallelism -- and hence, the pathos -- to be adduced from the two Nisus and Euryalus episodes has yet to be fully appreciated. Just as the footrace of Book 5 finds its parallel in the night raid of Book 9, we should read the lament of the slain Euryalus’ mother at 9.477-502 as a distorted echo of the complaints that follow the outcome of the footrace in Book 5. And yet, while the complaints of Euryalus’ mother recall those of Salius, Diores and Nisus himself, they also emphasize the vast gulf of consequence that separates the endeavors of sport from those of war. Whereas Aeneas settles the dispute among the race’s contestants so that even “the vanquished get prizes,” Euryalus’ mother can only complain that his corpse, newly vanquished in battle, will be a “prize given to dogs and birds.” It is hence both pathetic and fitting that, while the episode in Book 5 ends with a laughing Aeneas’ dispensation of prizes to the satisfaction of all, in Book 9 Euryalus’ inconsolable mother is simply “snatched up and put back indoors.” In some contests, it seems that compensating the aggrieved is simply impossible.

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