The Story of Nisus and Euryalus in Virgil’s Aeneid

The story of Nisus and Euryalus is a touching gay love story found in Virgil’s Aeneid. It takes place in the time of war between the Trojans and the Latins.

While Aeneas was away from the Trojan camp, seeking allies and receiving weaponry, Turnus tied to seize the opportunity and attack the camp. The Trojans, well aware of their disadvantage at the time, refused to sally out and remained in the safety of the fortified camp.

Turnus improvised and targeted the Trojan ships in an attempt to burn them. The Trojans knew that they wouldn’t be able to defend them at least until Aeneas’ return.  They decided to let them be burned down rather than risk a clear defeat in an open fight.

What seemed to be an easy victory for Turnus turned to a miracle, an unpleasant one for him. The gods didn’t let him accomplish his goal. The wood that had been used for those ships had come from the sacred forest of Jupiter’s mother herself and she wouldn’t want them to turn into ashes. The gods wouldn’t let such noble ships be destroyed by Latin fire. Jupiter turned the ships into sexy young girls known as nymphs. That came as a surprise for Turnus and his generals.  I guess one cannot really blame them. A transformation from vessels to girls is not something you see routinely in a war. While Turnus’ confidence remained unshaken, he decided to call it a day and wait for the morning to attack the Trojans again.

The Trojans had a nervous night ahead of them. Knowing that a fierce attack awaits them in the morning and that their leader Aeneas was still very far away from them. The situation called for an unlikely hero and one such emerged. It was Nisus, a young and fast-running Trojan, who volunteered to go on a dangerous secret mission. He planned to leave the camp, sneak across the camp of the Latins, find Aeneas and bring him back ASAP.

This Nisus had a very good friend called Euryalus. “Very good friend” is an understatement in this case – they loved each other. Euryalus was younger, good-looking and just as brave as Nisus. When Nisus confided his plans to him, Euryalus insisted on joining the mission. Nevertheless, they couldn’t just leave, they had to get permission from the Trojan leaders.

A council was just taking place. Iulus, Aeneas’ son, and the Trojan elders just discussed the plans for surviving the next day. Nisos was allowed to speak and his courage truly amazed Iulus. He promised many riches to the two young men – among others the horse and armour of Turnus himself and a dozen beautiful girls on top of that.

Euryalus responded with an unexpected wish. He only asked that his mother would not be informed about his departure. And should the mission end in a failure, Iulus would take care of her. Now Euryalus was very young and his mom was well respected. I must say that most of the Trojan women didn’t make it to Italy. Many of them stayed in Sicily and avoided all the upcoming inconveniences such as this war with Latins and Rutuli. 

After the applause from the Trojans, Nisus and Euryalus let the Trojan camp and entered the Latin one. The two were surprised to see that the Latins had obviously had a party in the evening. They expected serious trouble getting across the guards. Instead, they found many great men just passed out after too many glasses of wine.

Brave Trojans didn’t hesitate and made the most of the opportunity that was given. They stabbed many enemies in their sleep without making the slightest noise. Euryalus didn’t want to leave without any spoils, so he took a brightly shining helmet of one of the Latin general. That proved to be a fatal mistake.

Not all the Latins were asleep. A group of 300 enemies suddenly appeared in the camp and noticed the shining helmet in the dark. “Who are you? What is your business here?”, they asked. Nisus and Euryalus did not answer, but did the best thing they could in that unpleasant situation – they ran away.

After a few moments of Usain Bolt-like sprint, Nisus realized two things. That he successfully ran away from the Latins and that Euryalus was no longer with him. At this point, he could have made the decision to ignore Euralyalus, hope for the best and proceed to accomplish his mission. His love for the boy was too deep. He couldn’t just leave him there to die. He turned his back on the mission and returned to find the boy.

It didn’t take too long to find him. His fear has been fulfilled – the Latins captured Euryalus. Nisus, still covered by the night, tries to do the most desperate, but the only possible thing – to kill the Latins one-by-one and free his friend. He killed two by spears tossed in the dark, but the Latin leader Volcens responded. He threatened to kill his captive to revenge the death of his men. In that very moment Nisus stepped out from the dark to claim responsibility, but even that was too late. A blade of Volcens’ sword had already put an end to the life of his lover. Enraged by that spectacle Nisus had only one goal – to kill the murderer. He succeeded and stabbed him, but was killed too in the process.

And so ended the lives of Nisus and Euraylus along with the hope to send a message to Aeneas and urge him to return. The story had bitter aftermath in the morning when Turnus led the Latin army to the Trojan camp and on the spears of Latin warriors, two heads were recognized by the Greeks – the heads of swift-running Nisus and the handsome young Euryalus. The Greeks mourned their loss, but none of them more than the poor mother of Euryalus. The women had not been told that her son left the camp and she was now woken up to see his head on the enemy’s spear. 


Virgil – Aeneid

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