Early Modern Mythological Texts: Troia Britanica XV (1-50)

Thomas Heywood. Troia Britanica (1609)

CANTO XV (1-50)

Stanzas 1-10 — 11-20 — 21-30 — 31-40 — 41-50 — 51-106

Ed. Patricia DORVAL



On th’Hellespontic sands Epeus rears

A brazen horse; the Grecians hoise up sail,

And feigning to depart. Sinon with tears

Tells to the invaded king an ominous tale.

The fleet returns by night. After ten years,

Troy is surprised, and the proud Greeks prevail;

   The city’s burnt, and after tragic broils

   The Greeks return, laden with Asia’s spoils.


Argumentum 2

Laocoon and Polites, Hector’s ghost,

King Priam’s death, Troy’s fate, Creusa lost.



Treason, whose horrid front I must unmask,

And pluck the visor from thy fiend-like face,

To paint thee out in colours is my task,

And by thy cloven foot thy steps to trace,

In which I still divine assistance ask.

Hell gave thee birth, and thou deflu’st thy race

   From the grand Prince of darkness, in whose cell

   Thou first tookst life, and shalt return to dwell.



Troy, thou wast strong, and thy defence was good,

But Treason through thy strength made bloody way.

Hadst thou not harboured traitors, thou hadst stood,

And to thy age annexed the longest day.

But Treason that most thirsts for princes’ blood,

And of the highest kingdoms seeks decay,

   Enters thy court and covets to destroy

   With thy proud buildings even the name of Troy.



Thy envy stretched to our chaste maiden-queen,

Queen Elizabeth

Whose virtues even her foes could not but praise.


Yet ‘gainst her graces didst thou arm thy spleen,


Thinking by Parry’s hand to end her days.

Doctor Parry

But God and Truth, whose patron she was seen,


Against their cannons did high bulwarks raise,


   Such bullet-proof that neither private train


   Could reach her, nor the open arm of Spain.




What Parry missed, fourteen fierce traitors moe


Stirred up by Rome took sacramental vows.

Babington and his confederates

That God that kept her from th’invasive foe


Against these bloody butchers knit His brows.


Heaven gave them all a fatal overthrow,


For Heaven no such unnatural acts allows,


   But to all them a black end hath appointed,


   Whose bold hand dares to touch the Lord’s anointed.




If such Aeneas and Antenor were,


That would for coin their king and country sell,


Like plots with them our late arch-traitors bear,

Percy and Catesby

To whom for aye they may be rankèd well.

with their confederates

And thou Gui Vaux that never yet foundst peer

Guido Vaux

For a damned purpose bred in earth or Hell,


   He whom all pens with most reproaches taint,


   Sinon, with thee compared, is found a saint.




He told a forg’d tale to a foreign king

With hope his king and country’s fame to raise.

But thou from strangers didst thy complots bring,

He a strange country, not his own betrays.

The poisons from the head of Treason’s spring

False Guido sucked, which fed him many days.

   Treason’s milk, tasted, seems to quench the thirst,

   But once took down, it swells men till they burst.



That fate which he and his confederates had

May all receive that bear their treacherous mind;

Their purpose evil, and their ends were bad.

A fate to all men of their rank assigned,

And that great king whose safety hath made glad

The hearts of three great kingdoms, scarce confined.

   Long may he reign, still guarded by those powers,

   Whose hands crown virtue, and her foes devours.



That the same state that was in hazard then

May in this peaceful kingdom long endure,

The king to guide his peers; peers, common men,

Whose summoned parliaments may plant secure

Britain’s fair peer, for many a worthy pen

To chronicle. These acts black and impure

   We cannot justly on Aeneas lay,

   In whose reproach we must our censures stay,



Since some, whose high works to the world are dear,

Virgil’s Aeneid

Whose gravity we reverence and admire,


His fame unto posterity would clear,


And in his innocent applause desire,


T’were pity he that two new Troys did rear,


As famous as that one consumed by fire—


   Rome and our London for the double gain


   Of one lost Troy—should wear a traitor’s stain.




The bruisèd Greeks tired with rough storms of war


By Pallas’ art erect a timber steed,

The horse of Troy

Whose back, tree, ribs of such huge vastness are


That they in all spectators wonder breed.


The mountain structure may be seen from far,


Which finished, they amongst them have agreed


   To stuff his hollow caverns with great store


   Of harnessed men, so leave it on the shore.




This done, their new-caulked navy they wind thence

As if they to Mycene would back repair.

Beneath a promontory not far thence,

They anchor east, where they concealèd are.

Now Troy secure and dreadless of offence

Looseth herself from her diurnal care.

   Wide stand the ports; the people issue free,

   Th’unsoldiered fields and deserts plain to see,



Where Hector did Aeacides invade,

Where Nestor pitched, where Troilus wan the day,

Where grim Achilles logged, where Ajax made

His hot incursions, hewing out his way,

Where Agamemnon with his forces played,

Where with his Dolopes Ulysses lay,

   Where such men fought, and such their valours tried,

   Where some men conquered, others bravely died.



Some wonder at Minerva’s stately piece,

Saying t’were good to place it in her fawn.

Since the Pelasgians are returned to Greece,

Their brazen horse may through their walls be drawn.

Other more staid know they are come to fleece

And pillage them, this leaving as a pawn

   Of some strange treason, whose suspected guile

   Seems to frown inward, though it outward smile.



Thus is the multitude in parts divided,

Some wonder at the module being so rare,

Others, whose brains are with more judgement guided,

Would rip his womb, which some desire to spare.

Ardent Laocoon, thinking to have decided

This general doubt, as one that all things dare,

   Is seen from top of a high tower descending,

   A threatening spear against the machine bending,



Crying from far: “You foolish men of Troy,

O can you trust the presents of a foe,

Who came from Greece these high walls to destroy,

And ten whole years have wrought your overthrow?

What can you in the Danavish treasons joy?

Amongst you all, doth none Ulysses know?

   Either this swelling womb is big with child

   Of armèd Greeks, or ‘gainst your walls compiled,



These brazen hooves are made to spurn your mure,

The trusty pale that hath so long defended

Your sons and wives, where they have lived secure,

Maugre the ruin by the foe intended.

Against your trusty guards no wrong endure,

Whose bulwarked strength you have so oft commended.”

   This said, against the brazen steed he flung

   A steel-head spear which through his entrails rung.



The trembling mole from forth his caverns gave

A horrid groan; a noise of armour jarred

Through his transfixèd breast. If ought could save

Ill-fated Troy, this had their ruin barred,

And they had ripped the bowels of that grave,

From which the sad confusèd sound was heard.

   Behold the Dardan shepherds with loud cries

   Before the king bring bound a Greekish prize.



Dispersèd Troy assembles and attend

Some uncouth novel. Manacled now stands

The surprised Greek, his eyes to heaven extend,

To heaven he likewise would exalt his hands,

Whilst showers of tears down by his cheeks descend,

And thus he says: “Have I escaped the bands

   Of armèd Greeks to perish here in Troy,

   And whom my foes have spared, must foes destroy?”



Relenting Priam is soon moved to ruth;

His misery and tears woo him to passion;

He thinks such looks, such tears should harbour truth,

And pities him, disguised in wretched fashion.

With comfortable words, he cheers the youth,

Asks him of whence he is, and of what nation,

   When to the passionate king he thus replied:

   “Priam commands and I will nothing hide.



Who hath not heard of the Duke Palamed

By the Pelasgian princes doomed to die,

Whom false Ulysses to the scaffold led?

Him above all the rest most lovèd I.

He was my kinsman but, alas, he’s dead.”

With that, swift watery drops drill from his eye.

   “Him when I guiltless saw condemned of treason,

   I mourned my kinsman’s death, as I had reason,



Nor could I keep my tongue, unhappy man,

But private whispering have I breathed ‘gainst those

That sought his death; to threat them I began,

Who to my friend had been opposèd foes.

Fox-like Ulysses first observed me then,

Whom Calchas seconds ― why should I disclose

   My miserable state, unhappy wretch,

   Since their revenge as far as Troy doth stretch?



I had but died there, and I here am dying ―”


Grief stops his speech, he can no further speak,


Still what he wants in words, with tears supplying,


Till they with interruptions silence break.


When after far-fetched sighs, himself applying


To further process, he proceeds: “The wreak


   They threatened then, since now I must not fly,


   Witness you, Trojans, Sinon cannot lie.

Sinon’s tale



Oft would the war-tired Greeks have left this town,

But still the morrow tempests them restrain,

Threatening their navy in the abysm to drown,

And they attempt their wished return in vain.

But most the angry Neptune seems to frown,

When old Epeus had upon this plain

   Builded this monumental steed, of late

   To the divinest Pallas consecrate.



Eurypylus is straight to Delos sent,

To know the oracle’s advice herein.

He thus returns: “A virgin’s blood is spent

To appease the tempests when these wars begin,

And in their end the gods have like intent

That you with sacrifice shall purge your sin.

   In your pursuit they human blood desire,

   And you with blood must purchase your retire.”



This when the vulgar knew, not one but fears

Whose dreaded life offended Phoebus craves.

O hence proceeds the force of all my tears:

All prophesy his ruin that depraves

The oil-tongued Greek. Ulysses Calchas cheers

To point him out that must appease the waves.

   Ten days he silence kept, as loath to name

   His destined life whom Phoebus seems to claim.



Scarce with Ulysses’ clamours is he won

To sentence any, till with urgence great,

He dooms me to the flames. The people run

To see him that must taste the altar’s heat,

All glad that this denouncèd doom is done,

That I th’offended godhood must entreat,

   And that my bloody slaughter answers all,

   Which each one feared upon himself might fall.



The day was come; my brows with wreaths were crowned,

And I made ready for the sacred fire,

My hands behind, as you behold them, bound,

The priest, in his pontifical attire,

Ready to strike, and I encompassed round

With fire and death, yet mortals’ life desire.

   The truth I’ll tell―alas sin cannot lie:

   I leapt from off the altar, thence I fly.



Pursued in vain, fear gave my body wings;

In a deep saggy covert I obscure me,

Until the night had with her airy strings

Drawn her black veil o’er heaven’s face to assure me.

Hoping to hide me till the Argive kings

Had sailed from thence, but thinking to secure me,

   Poor wretch, I from the Grecians fled away,

   And now, alas, am made the Trojans’ prey,



Whom neither heaven, nor earth, nor Greece, nor Troy,

Nor air, nor sea will take to their protection,

But all conspire poor Sinon to destroy.

Then air, come, lend me part of thy infection,

Heaven, earth and sea, all your joint powers employ,

And like confederates meet in my dejection.”

   And then he beats his breast, weeps, sighs and groans,

   Whose grief King Priam and all Troy bemoans.



The good old Priam bids his hands unbind

And cheers him thus: “Of Greece thou art no more,

Thou shalt be ours; thy country hath resigned

Thy life to us, which freely we restore.

Then say: what means this monster we here find

Upon our beach? Whom should this gift adore?

   Or what religion’s in’t? Whence is he bred?

   Or for what cause doth he our confines tread?”



When with his new-loosed hands to heaven upreared,

Thus Sinon: “Witness you eternal fires,

Thou reverent altar which but late I feared,

And all you powers to whom our zeal aspires,

That I hate Greece, and Troy that hath me cheered

I am engraced to. Troy hath my desires;

   I am a child of Troy, Greece I defy.

   Witness you gods that Sinon cannot lie.



The false Pelasgians in great Pallas trust.

Her Diomede and Ithaca offended

By stealing from her charge with guile unjust

Her rare Palladium, for which she extended

Revenge ‘gainst Greece. They, to appease her, must

By some oblation see their guile amended,

   That her commencèd spleen may be withdrawn

   From them, whose violence spared not her fawn.



And now, to make the Jove-born Pallas smile,

Whose anger made the tempests ’gainst them war,

Calchas devised the high equinal pile,

That his huge vastness might all entrance bar

Through your percullised gates. Such was his guile,

For should you on this horse print the least scar

   Of an offensive hand, being for her made,

   You by your rashness have your lives betrayed.



If you deny it entrance through your walls,

Or this unwieldy frame in ought despise,

Well-guarded Troy by Pallas’ anger falls,

The Greeks return, and long-lived Ilium dies.

But if this steed, for whom the goddess calls,

Pierce through your fortress mure, or if it rise

   And mount above your walls to Pallas’ shrine,

   Troy still shall stand, and Greece, the wrack is thine.



Priam and his confederate kings shall then

To Sparta and Mycene the Greeks pursue,

Devast their lofty spiring cities, when

The clamorous land shall their destruction rue,

Losing by Troy whole infinites of men.

Witness you, gods, poor Sinon’s words are true.”

   Such looks, such tears, such protestations chief

   Wins in all Troy remorse, the king belief.



What many a well-rigged bark and armèd keel,

What not the bloody siege of ten whole year

To make Troy taste inconstant Fortune’s wheel,

Ulysses’ wisdom, nor Achilles’ spear,

What not King Diomede’s through-piercing steel,

All this did perjured Sinon with a tear.

   Behold, whilst all the rout on Sinon gaze,

   A dread portent that doth all Troy amaze.



Along the troubled billows towards the shore,

Two black-scaled serpents on their bellies glide,

At whose approach the foaming surges roar.

These fiery serpents to the beach applied,

And in Laocoon’s blood, who that time wore

The priesthood’s robes, their arming scales they dyed;

   Their winding trains they with loud hissings roll

   About his breast till they enlarged his soul.



The monster multitude, before dismayed

At the recourse of these infernal snakes,

Think bold Laocoon to be justly paid

Because he yet his harmful javelin shakes.

Some cables fetch, some with their levers stayed

The ponderous engine which deep furrows rakes

   Along the earth; others the walls hurl down

   To give the horse free passage to the town.



Wide stand the iron-barred gates whilst all the rout

Buckle to work; the fatal machine climbs

Th’inthronged bulwarks, big with soldiers stout,

Ready to be delivered. Hallowed rhymes

The virgins sing and nimbly dance about

Minerva’s steed, the wonder of these times,

   Thinking themselves ‘bove others highly blessed

   That can be more officious than the rest.



Four times the brazen horse entering stuck fast

Anent the ruined girdle of the town;

Four times was armour heard, yet unaghast

The fatal beast with sacred wreaths they crown,

Sunk in blind ignorance; and now at last

Before Minerva’s shrine they place it down.

   In hymns and feasts the ominous day they spend,

   Offering to her that must their lives defend.



Meantime heaven turns; night from the ocean falls,

Involving with black darkness earth and air,

And call the Grecian craft about the walls.

The scattered Trojans slumber, far from care,

And now his pilots great Atrides calls,

Who back to Tenedos with speed repair.

   The universal phalanx lands in haste,

   And through the silence of the moon are passed.



Now startles Sinon, and a flaming brand

He wafts from top of one of Ilium’s towers,

Which like a beacon in the night must stand

To guide the Greeks and their nocturnal powers.

Then with a key grasped in his fatal hand,

Fearless, he through the palpèd darkness scours

   To the big-bellied stallion turns the spring,

   And through the door the harnessed Grecians fling.



First black-haired Pyrrhus fixes in the ground

His oaken spear, and from the loft he slides,

Ulysses next, yet halting of his wound,

And then the younger of the two Atrides.

Tysander from the structure next doth bound,

Thoas and Acamas, two warlike guides,

   With Sthenelus down by a cable fall,

   And bruised with leaping on the pavement sprawl.



Pelidus follows these, and then the man

That in his brain first cast this fatal mould,

Epeus th’engineer, whom Sinon then

Did in his black and perjured arms enfold.

Their sweaty brows they with the darkness fan,

Each cheering up his mate with courage bold,

   Strip their bright swords, by whose quick glimmering light

   They find their way in the dark starless night.



The city sunk in wine and mirth they ’nvade,

Slaughter the watch that on the ground lie spread,

Then through the broken walls but late decayed,

The general’s army is by Sinon led,

And Agamemnon’s colours are displayed.

Now tumults and confusions first are bred;

   Havock begins, loud shouts and clamours rise,

   Lifting their tragic uproar through the skies.



Heaven’s lamps were half burnt out, ’twas past midnight,


When to Aeneas in his bed appeared


Sad Hector, pale and wan, full of affright,

Hector’s ghost

His hair clottered with blood, his ruffled beard


Disordered, all those deep-carved wounds in sight,


Which in defence of Troy and his endeared


   Were graved upon his flesh; behind him fall


   Those thongs that dragged him round about Troy’s wall.




O how much from that great king-killer changed,

High-spirited Hector, when being proudly decked

In great Achilles’ spoils, he freely ranged

Through guards of steel, whilst from his helm reflect

Trophies of Greece. O me! How much estranged

From him that did all Asia’s pride protect,

   Even to their fleet the Argive kings pursue,

   And ’mongst their ships round balls of wildfire flew.



When to the sleeping prince approaching nigh,

He with a sigh from his deep entrails fetched,

Thus says: “Thou goddess’ son, Aeneas, fly,

And from these burnings that by this are stretched

Quite o’er your glorious buildings, climbing high,

Deliver thee. The arm of war hath reched

   Even to the crest of Troy, and with one blow

   Given it a sad and certain overthrow.



Greece hath your walls; the universal roof

Of Troy is sunk and fall’n, her bearers failed;

Destruction that hath hovered long aloof

Hath seized her towers and her spires availed.

Could might have kept her by the manly proof

Of this right hand, the prisoner had been bailed.

   But Troy, alas, is sentenced and must die,

   Then from her funeral flames, Aeneas, fly.



To thee her gods and relics she commends,

Thee that must her posterity revive;

For though her glory here in seeming end,

Yet dying Troy in thee is kept alive.”

Now cleaves the earth and the sad ghost descends.

Aeneas with dull sleep begins to strive,

   And waking hears a noise of clattering war

   And many confused clamours, near and far.


Back to Canto XIV

Notes to Canto XV

On to Canto XV (51-106)

How to cite

Patricia Dorval, ed., 2018.  Troia Britanica Canto XV (1609).  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology: A Textual Companion, ed. Yves Peyré (2009-).


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