Literary Daybook, June 11

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published June 11, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On June 11, 1922, Mary Lavelle arrives in Spain.
-- "Mary Lavelle" (1936)
by Kate O'Brien

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1184 B.C., according to calculations made some 900 years later by the North African mathematician-astronomer Eratosthenes, the Greeks sacked and burned Troy. In Book 2 of "The Aeneid," Virgil has Aeneas, himself now escaped to North Africa, tell Dido of the awful events. How he and his countrymen, despite "beware the Greeks, even bearing gifts," put their backs into self-destruction:

"All stripped for the work; under the horse's feet
we slipped rollers, and from its neck we rove
hempen halyards. Up rode the death machine,
big with armed men, while boys and virgin girls
sang hymns and joyed to lay hands to the lines."

How, wakened by screams and groans, and eager to die in battle, Aeneas hears that he is too late:

" ... Our city is ashes! Greece is lord!
Tall stands the horse inside our fort, and births
her soldiers. Sinon, prancing his glory-dance,
sets fire on fire. Through gates flung wide, they come ... "

How some fought, some ran, some "in shame and terror climbed/the horse again, to cower in its belly"; how aged Priam put on armor, and Pyrrhus, "like a snake on foul herbs fed," dragged him through his own son's blood to death; how Aeneas, seeing in the chaos "the face that launched a thousand ships" (that's Christopher Marlowe, not Virgil), is tempted to revenge; how a vision of his mother, Venus, recalls him to his fate, as foretold by Hector in that night's dream:

"Run, goddess-born, he cried; run from these flames!
Greece owns our walls; the towers of Troy are tumbling!
To country and king all debts are paid; my hand
had saved them, if any hand had power to save.
Her holy things, her gods, Troy trusts to you.
Take them to share your fate; find walls for them:
wander the wide sea over, then build them great."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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