The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Four


Chapter Four


As I have already suggested, Troy herself, parent of the Roman people, for all her sanctuaries of the gods, offered to her pious citizens no protection from the fire and sword of the Greeks. On the contrary, ‘in Juno’s sanctuary, with its now emptied porticoes, the chosen sentries, Phoenix and accursed Ulysses, were guarding the spoil. Here, the treasure of Troy was flung in heaps, torn from robbed and ruined shrines—altars of the gods, chalices of solid gold, and stolen vestments. And in a long file, children and frightened mothers stood around.’ They chose a temple consecrated to a high goddess, not as a holy place from which it was forbidden to remove captives, but as a prison house to encage them. And now, compare the temple—not of a god of the common sort or of one of the rabble of lesser deities, but of Jupiter’s own sister and consort, and queen of all the gods—compare that with the churches raised in memory of the Apostles!

To the temple was dragged the plunder snatched from the deities and burning temples, not to be distributed among the vanquished, but to be divided among the victors; to the basilicas, on the contrary, whatever was found elsewhere that belonged to them was restored with the utmost reverence and piety. In the temple, men lost their freedom; here, they found it. There, captives were walled in; here, captivity was banned. There, human beings were herded together by a tyrannical foe in order to be carried away into slavery; here, they were led by a merciful foe in order to be liberated. Lastly, compare the Greek dandies plying their greed and pride in the temple of Juno with the uncouth barbarians exercising mercy and humility toward the churches of Christ.

Some may be willing to believe that, in their victory, the Greeks spared the temples of their common gods, and had no heart to strike down or capture the wretched and beaten Trojans who sought refuge there, and that Virgil, like a poet, made the story out of his own head. The fact is, however, that Virgil merely describes what enemies have the custom of doing when sacking a town.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII

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