The Iliad and the Trojan Legend

The Iliad and the Trojan Legend

Agamemnon is a

brief episode, concerns a central event of Greek mythology. The Greeks (or, in Homer’s own term, the Achaeans) band together and cross the Aegean Sea to wage war against Troy, a gracious, prosperous city in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Their motive is revenge, for the Trojan prince Paris has stolen Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, from her husband Menelaus, a major Greek chieftain. Under the leadership of Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon, the Greeks fight around Troy for ten years and finally succeed in destroying the city and regaining Helen. The Iliad gets its title, which in Greek is Ilias and means the story of Troy, from one of the Greek names for Troy, Ilios or Ilion.

The Iliad focuses on Achilles’ clash with Agamemnon, which occurs in the final year of the war. But that brief episode is presented in ways that allow it to stand for or suggest the whole of the larger story of which it is part. The events of the Iliad represent a decisive turning point in the war. Although Achilles remains stubbornly resistant to Agamemnon’s attempts to appease him, he does eventually return to battle, drawn back by an overwhelming need to avenge the death of his closest companion, Patroclus. . . .

Shamed and outraged by Patroclus’ death, Achilles is filled with anger against Hector and returns to the battlefield, where he eventually meets and kills Hector.

The Iliad ends soon after this, with Achilles’ decision to return Hector’s body to his father, Priam, and with the funeral for Hector that can then take place. But it is clear that the story of the Trojan war is effectively over: by killing Hector, Achilles has eliminated Troy’s indispensable defender, assuring the fall of the city and the victory of the Greeks. The story of Achilles is also over: as he learns from his mother, Thetis, who is a goddess, his own death is fated to follow soon after Hector’s. The poet goes out of his way to keep us aware of these looming consequences, although he does not recount them.

Beyond that, the poet weaves into his narrative the names and stories of many other, less prominent figures, striving for comprehensiveness in a way that is typical of epic, the poetic genre that, as the earliest example in the Western tradition, the Iliad in part defines.




Epic is a monumental form which recounts events with far-reaching historical consequences, sums up the values and achievements of an entire culture, and documents the fullness and variety of the world. While the Iliad uses Achilles’ story as a means of organizing and concentrating its portrait of the Trojan war, it differs from the sharply focused explorations of individual experience found in many modern novels or in classical tragedy. One of its aims is to record the sheer number of people, each with his or her own history and circumstances, whose lives are decisively shaped by the war. . . .

The Iliad is the portrait of an entire society, structured around the experience of one individual who struggles to define himself within it and against it.

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The Historical Context In considering the self-presentation of the Iliad’s poet and his stance toward

the story he tells, it would obviously be helpful to know something about the person who composed the poem and the circumstances under which it was produced. In fact, we know much less than we would like to about how and when the Iliad came into being. Ancient tradition attributed the poem to Homer, who was also considered responsible for another epic about the Trojan legend, the Odyssey, which tells about the return of the Greeks from Troy, and several shorter poems about the gods; but we have no reliable information about Homer that can contribute to an understanding of these works.

Where questions of chronology are concerned, it is not really possible to pin the poem to a single historical period. There is a strong—but far from complete— scholarly consensus that the Iliad was first written down in something like the form in which we now have it in the last half of the eighth century B.C.E., the time at which the Greeks acquired the art of alphabetic writing and written literature thus became possible. At the same time, we know the Iliad to be the result of a long tradition of earlier poetry, stretching back over many centuries, to which we have no direct access, because it was never written down, and which we can approach only through the traces it has left on the Iliad and other early Greek literature. The immense scholarly effort devoted to Homeric poetry over the last several centuries has made it clear that the Iliad reflects several historical periods, in a complicated amalgam whose layers we can only approximately distinguish.

First, it is important to recognize that the Iliad is itself a work of history, that it presents its story as a recollection of long-past events taking place in a time very




different from that in which those events are being recalled. The characters in the story are seen as belonging to a superior, even semi-divine breed that no longer exists, and they perform actions that no living person could duplicate. This sense of a gap between the world of the poem and the poet and his audience surfaces in occasional comments, as when the poet describes how Diomedes in the middle of combat “levered up in one hand a slab of stone / Much too large for two men to lift— As men are now …” (5.328–30). It also informs the poem’s frequent use of similes, which assimilate the distant world of heroic combat to a more ordinary, everyday world familiar to the poem’s audience.

The Trojan legend is a story of large-scale destruction. It includes not only the annihilation of Troy, but the many disruptions, almost as devastating as what they have inflicted on the Trojans, experienced by the Greeks as they return: they are blown off course and lost at sea, or they make it back, only to find their homes in turmoil and their own positions there under attack. For the ancient Greeks, this legend recorded the passing of an age of heroes that was understood to precede the drearier world of the present. To a modern historian, it reflects the end of the first stage of ancient Greek history, which is known as the Bronze Age, after the widespread use of bronze during that time, or the Mycenaean period, after the city of Mycenae, one of the main power centers of that era.

Mycenaean civilization developed in the centuries after 2000 B.C.E., which is approximately when Greek-speaking people first arrived in the area at the southern end of the Balkan peninsula that we now know as Greece. Those Greek- speakers gradually established there a rich civilization dominated by a few powerful cities built around large, highly organized palaces. These palaces were at once fortified military strongholds and centers for international trade, in particular trade with the many islands located in the Aegean Sea, to the east of the Greek mainland. On the largest of those islands, the island of Crete, there was already flourishing, by the time the Mycenaeans arrived in Greece, the rich and sophisticated Minoan civilization, by which the Mycenaeans were heavily influenced and which they came ultimately to dominate.

From the Minoans the Mycenaeans gained, along with many other crafts and institutions, a system of writing: a syllabary, in which each symbol stands for a particular syllable, as opposed to an alphabet—like the Roman alphabet now used to write English—in which each symbol stands for a particular sound. The Mycenaeans adapted the syllabary which the Minoans used to write their own language (a language which, although we have examples of their writing, still has




not been deciphered) and used it to write Greek. This earliest Greek writing system is known to present-day scholars as Linear B, and archaeologists excavating at the mainland centers of Mycenae and Pylos have recovered examples of it incised on clay tablets. These tablets contain not— as was hoped when they were found—political treaties, mythological poems, or accounts of religious rituals—but detailed accounts of a highly bureaucratic palace economy: inventories of grain or livestock and lists of palace functionaries assigned to perform such specialized roles as “unguent boiler,” “chair-maker,” or “bath- pourer.”

Mycenaean civilization reached its height at about 1600 B.C.E. and was essentially destroyed in a series of natural disasters and political disruptions about four hundred years later, around 1200 B.C.E. We do not really know what happened, but all of the main archaeological sites show some evidence of destruction, burning, or hasty abandonment at about that time, and a sharp decline thereafter in the ambition and complexity of their material culture. Among these is the site of Troy itself, which was discovered in the late nineteenth century by Heinrich Schliemann, who followed the topographical details given in the Iliad; through this discovery, Schliemann both vindicated the historical validity of Homer and helped to found the field of archaeology.

Related in some way to the disruptions that ended the Bronze Age was the emergence of a new group of Greek-speakers as the dominant people on the mainland. The Classical Greeks referred to these people as the Dorians and believed that they had invaded Greece from the north. Modern historians are uncertain whether they were new migrants or people already present in Greece who newly came to power in the upheavals of this period. In any case, many people left the mainland as a consequence and moved east, settling on various islands of the Aegean and along the coast of Asia Minor, in the area that is now western Turkey but which then became, in its coastal region, as much a part of the Greek world as was the mainland itself.

Both the Greeks who remained on the mainland and those who migrated to Asia Minor lived in conditions that involved less material prosperity and less highly organized concentrations of political and military power than had been characteristic of the Mycenaean period, and their period is traditionally known as the Dark Age, both because their physical remains suggest a less magnificent level of civilization and because we know relatively little about it. One result of the transition to the Dark Age was that writing, which was probably practiced in the




Mycenaean period only by a small class of professional scribes, fell out of use, and the Greeks became once again a culture without writing. On the other hand, they had always relied, and they continued to rely, on oral communication as their central means of recalling, preserving, and transmitting the historical memories, religious beliefs, and shared stories that in our culture would be committed to writing—or now to various forms of electronic media. In particular, the Greeks of Asia Minor, known as the Ionians, developed a tradition of heroic poetry through which they recalled their own history, looking back and recounting the experiences of that earlier, lost era. This poetry centered on certain legendary figures and events, among them the events surrounding the Trojan war, which, as mentioned above, appear to reflect the final moments of Mycenaean civilization.

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Iliad Book 1

Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls Of heroes into Hades’ dark, And left their bodies to rot as feasts For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done. Begin with the clash between Agamemnon— The Greek warlord—and godlike Achilles. Which of the immortals set these two [10] At each other’s throats? Apollo, Zeus’ son and Leto’s, offended By the warlord. Agamemnon had dishonored Chryses, Apollo’s priest, so the god Struck the Greek camp with plague, And the soldiers were dying of it. Chryses Had come to the Greek beachhead camp Hauling a fortune for his daughter’s ransom. [20] Displaying Apollo’s sacral ribbons On a golden staff, he made a formal plea To the entire Greek army, but especially The commanders, Atreus’ two sons: “Sons of Atreus and Greek heroes all: May the gods on Olympus grant you plunder Of Priam’s city and a safe return home. But give me my daughter back and accept This ransom out of respect for Zeus’ son, Lord Apollo, who deals death from afar.” [30] A murmur rippled through the ranks:




“Respect the priest and take the ransom.” But Agamemnon was not pleased And dismissed Chryses with a rough speech: “Don’t let me ever catch you, old man, by these ships again, Skulking around now or sneaking back later. The god’s staff and ribbons won’t save you next time. The girl is mine, and she’ll be an old woman in Argos Before I let her go, working the loom in my house And coming to my bed, far from her homeland. [40] Now clear out of here before you make me angry!” The old man was afraid and did as he was told. He walked in silence along the whispering surf line, And when he had gone some distance the priest Prayed to Lord Apollo, son of silken-haired Leto. . . . Apollo heard his prayer and descended Olympus’ crags Pulsing with fury, bow slung over one shoulder, The arrows rattling in their case on his back As the angry god moved like night down the mountain. He settled near the ships and let loose an arrow. Reverberation from his silver bow hung in the air. He picked off the pack animals first, and the lean hounds, But then aimed his needle-tipped arrows at the men [60] And shot until the death-fires crowded the beach. Nine days the god’s arrows rained death on the camp. On the tenth day Achilles called an assembly. Hera, the white-armed goddess, planted the thought in him Because she cared for the Greeks and it pained her To see them dying. When the troops had all mustered, Up stood the great runner Achilles, and said:




“Well, Agamemnon, it looks as if we’d better give up And sail home—assuming any of us are left alive— If we have to fight both the war and this plague. [70] But why not consult some prophet or priest Or a dream interpreter, since dreams too come from Zeus, Who could tell us why Apollo is so angry, If it’s for a vow or a sacrifice he holds us at fault. Maybe he’d be willing to lift this plague from us If he savored the smoke from lambs and prime goats.” Achilles had his say and sat down. Then up rose Calchas, son of Thestor, bird-reader supreme, Who knew what is, what will be, and what has been. He had guided the Greek ships to Troy [80] Through the prophetic power Apollo Had given him, and he spoke out now: “Achilles, beloved of Zeus, you want me to tell you About the rage of Lord Apollo, the Arch-Destroyer. And I will tell you. But you have to promise me and swear You will support me and protect me in word and deed. I have a feeling I might offend a person of some authority Among the Greeks, and you know how it is when a king Is angry with an underling. He might swallow his temper For a day, but he holds it in his heart until later [90] And it all comes out. Will you guarantee my security?” Achilles, the great runner, responded: “Don’t worry. Prophesy to the best of your knowledge. I swear by Apollo, to whom you pray when you reveal The gods’ secrets to the Greeks, Calchas, that while I live And look upon this earth, no one will lay a hand On you here beside these hollow ships, no, not even Agamemnon, who boasts he is the best of the Achaeans.” And Calchas, the perfect prophet, taking courage: “The god finds no fault with vow or sacrifice.




[100] It is for his priest, whom Agamemnon dishonored And would not allow to ransom his daughter, That Apollo deals and will deal death from afar. He will not lift this foul plague from the Greeks Until we return the dancing-eyed girl to her father Unransomed, unbought, and make formal sacrifice On Chryse. Only then might we appease the god.” He finished speaking and sat down. Then up rose Atreus’ son, the warlord Agamemnon, Furious, anger like twin black thunderheads seething [110] In his lungs, and his eyes flickered with fire As he looked Calchas up and down, and said: “You damn soothsayer! You’ve never given me a good omen yet. You take some kind of perverse pleasure in prophesying Doom, don’t you? Not a single favorable omen ever! Nothing good ever happens! And now you stand here Uttering oracles before the Greeks, telling us That your great ballistic god is giving us all this trouble Because I was unwilling to accept the ransom [120] For Chryses’ daughter but preferred instead to keep her In my tent! And why shouldn’t I? I like her better than My wife Clytemnestra. She’s no worse than her When it comes to looks, body, mind, or ability. Still, I’ll give her back, if that’s what’s best. I don’t want to see the army destroyed like this. But I want another prize ready for me right away. I’m not going to be the only Greek without a prize, It wouldn’t be right. And you all see where mine is going.” And Achilles, strong, swift, and godlike: [130] “And where do you think, son of Atreus, You greedy glory-hound, the magnanimous Greeks Are going to get another prize for you? Do you think we have some kind of stockpile in reserve?




Every town in the area has been sacked and the stuff all divided. You want the men to count it all back and redistribute it? All right, you give the girl back to the god. The army Will repay you three and four times over—when and if Zeus allows us to rip Troy down to its foundations.” The warlord Agamemnon responded: [140] “You may be a good man in a fight, Achilles, And look like a god, but don’t try to put one over on me— It won’t work. So while you have your prize, You want me to sit tight and do without? Give the girl back, just like that? Now maybe If the army, in a generous spirit, voted me Some suitable prize of their own choice, something fair— But if it doesn’t, I’ll just go take something myself, Your prize perhaps, or Ajax’s, or Odysseus’, And whoever she belongs to, it’ll stick in his throat. . . . Achilles looked him up and down and said: “You sorry, profiteering excuse for a commander! [160] How are you going to get any Greek warrior To follow you into battle again? You know, I don’t have any quarrel with the Trojans, They didn’t do anything to me to make me Come over here and fight, didn’t run off my cattle or horses Or ruin my farmland back home in Phthia, not with all The shadowy mountains and moaning seas between. It’s for you, dogface, for your precious pleasure— And Menelaus’ honor—that we came here, A fact you don’t have the decency even to mention! [170] And now you’re threatening to take away the prize That I sweated for and the Greeks gave me. I never get a prize equal to yours when the army Captures one of the Trojan strongholds. No, I do all the dirty work with my own hands,




And when the battle’s over and we divide the loot You get the lion’s share and I go back to the ships With some pitiful little thing, so worn out from fighting I don’t have the strength left even to complain. Well, I’m going back to Phthia now. Far better [180] To head home with my curved ships than stay here, Unhonored myself and piling up a fortune for you.” The warlord Agamemnon responded: “Go ahead and desert, if that’s what you want! I’m not going to beg you to stay. There are plenty of others Who will honor me, not least of all Zeus the Counselor. To me, you’re the most hateful king under heaven, A born troublemaker. You actually like fighting and war. If you’re all that strong, it’s just a gift from some god. So why don’t you go home with your ships and lord it over [190] Your precious Myrmidons. I couldn’t care less about you Or your famous temper. But I’ll tell you this: Since Phoebus Apollo is taking away my Chryseis, Whom I’m sending back aboard ship with my friends, I’m coming to your hut and taking Briseis, Your own beautiful prize, so that you will see just how much Stronger I am than you, and the next person will wince At the thought of opposing me as an equal.” Achilles’ chest was a rough knot of pain Twisting around his heart: should he [200] Draw the sharp sword that hung by his thigh, Scatter the ranks and gut Agamemnon, Or control his temper, repress his rage? He was mulling it over, inching the great sword From its sheath, when out of the blue Athena came, sent by the white-armed goddess Hera, who loved and watched over both men. She stood behind Achilles and grabbed his sandy hair, Visible only to him: not another soul saw her. Awestruck, Achilles turned around, recognizing [210] Pallas Athena at once—it was her eyes—




And words flew from his mouth like winging birds: “Daughter of Zeus! Why have you come here? To see Agamemnon’s arrogance, no doubt. I’ll tell you where I place my bets, Goddess: Sudden death for this outrageous behavior.” Athena’s eyes glared through the sea’s salt haze. “I came to see if I could check this temper of yours, Sent from heaven by the white-armed goddess Hera, who loves and watches over both of you men. [220] Now come on, drop this quarrel, don’t draw your sword. Tell him off instead. And I’ll tell you, Achilles, how things will be: You’re going to get Three times as many magnificent gifts Because of his arrogance. Just listen to us and be patient.” Achilles, the great runner, responded: “When you two speak, Goddess, a man has to listen No matter how angry. It’s better that way. With that he ground his heavy hand [230] Onto the silver hilt and pushed the great sword Back into its sheath. Athena’s speech Had been well-timed. She was on her way To Olympus by now, to the halls of Zeus And the other immortals, while Achilles Tore into Agamemnon again: “You bloated drunk, With a dog’s eyes and a rabbit’s heart! You’ve never had the guts to buckle on armor in battle Or come out with the best fighting Greeks [240] On any campaign! Afraid to look Death in the eye, Agamemnon? It’s far more profitable To hang back in the army’s rear—isn’t it?— Confiscating prizes from any Greek who talks back




And bleeding your people dry. There’s not a real man Under your command, or this latest atrocity Would be your last, son of Atreus. Now get this straight. I swear a formal oath: By this scepter, which will never sprout leaf Or branch again since it was cut from its stock [250] In the mountains, which will bloom no more Now that bronze has pared off leaf and bark, And which now the sons of the Greeks hold in their hands At council, upholding Zeus’ laws— By this scepter I swear: When every last Greek desperately misses Achilles, Your remorse won’t do any good then, When Hector the man-killer swats you down like flies. And you will eat your heart out Because you failed to honor the best Greek of all.” [260] Those were his words, and he slammed the scepter, Studded with gold, to the ground and sat down. Opposite him, Agamemnon fumed. Then Nestor Stood up, sweet-worded Nestor, the orator from Pylos With a voice high-toned and liquid as honey. He had seen two generations of men pass away In sandy Pylos and was now king in the third. He was full of good will in the speech he made: “It’s a sad day for Greece, a sad day. Priam and Priam’s sons would be happy indeed, And the rest of the Trojans too, glad in their hearts, If they learned all this about you two fighting, Our two best men in council and in battle. Now you listen to me, both of you. You are both Younger than I am, and I’ve associated with men Better than you, and they didn’t treat me lightly. . . .




And I held my own fighting with them. You couldn’t find A mortal on earth who could fight with them now. And when I talked in council, they took my advice. So should you two now: taking advice is a good thing. [290] Agamemnon, for all your nobility, do not take his girl. Leave her be: the army originally gave her to him as a prize. Nor should you, son of Peleus, want to lock horns with a king. A scepter-holding king has honor beyond the rest of men, Power and glory given by Zeus himself. You are stronger, and it is a goddess who bore you. But he is more powerful, since he rules over more. Son of Atreus, cease your anger. And I appeal Personally to Achilles to control his temper, since he is, For all Greeks, a mighty bulwark in this evil war.” [300] And Agamemnon, the warlord: “Yes, old man, everything you’ve said is absolutely right. But this man wants to be ahead of everyone else, He wants to rule everyone, give orders to everyone, Lord it over everyone, and he’s not going to get away with it. If the gods eternal made him a spearman, does that mean They gave him permission to be insolent as well?” And Achilles, breaking in on him: “Ha, and think of the names people would call me If I bowed and scraped every time you opened your mouth. [310] Try that on somebody else, but not on me. I’ll tell you this, and you can stick it in your gut: I’m not going to put up a fight on account of the girl. You, all of you, gave her to me and you can all take her back. But anything else of mine in my black sailing ship You keep your hands off, you hear? Try it. Let everybody here see how fast Your black blood boils up around my spear.” So it was a stand-off, their battle of words, And the assembly beside the Greek ships dissolved.




[320] Achilles went back to the huts by his ships With Patroclus and his men. Agamemnon had a fast ship Hauled down to the sea, picked twenty oarsmen, Loaded on a hundred bulls due to the god, and had Chryses’ daughter, His fair-cheeked girl, go aboard also. Odysseus captained, And when they were all on board, the ship headed out to sea. That was the order of the day. But Agamemnon Did not forget his spiteful threat against Achilles. He summoned Talthybius and Eurybates, Faithful retainers who served as his heralds: “Go to the hut of Achilles, son of Peleus; Bring back the girl, fair-cheeked Briseis. If he won’t give her up, I’ll come myself With my men and take her—and freeze his heart cold.” It was not the sort of mission a herald would relish. [340] The pair trailed along the barren seashore Until they came to the Myrmidons’ ships and encampment. They found Achilles sitting outside his hut Beside his black ship. He was not glad to see them. They stood respectfully silent, in awe of this king, And it was Achilles who was moved to address them first: “Welcome, heralds, the gods’ messengers and men’s. Come closer. You’re not to blame, Agamemnon is, Who sent you here for the girl, Briseis. . . . Patroclus obeyed his beloved friend And brought Briseis, cheeks flushed, out of the tent [360] And gave her to the heralds, who led her away. She went unwillingly. Then Achilles, in tears, Withdrew from his friends and sat down far away On the foaming white seashore, staring out




At the endless sea. Stretching out his hands, He prayed over and over to his beloved mother: “Mother, since you bore me for a short life only, Olympian Zeus was supposed to grant me honor. Well, he hasn’t given me any at all. Agamemnon [370] Has taken away my prize and dishonored me.” . . . Now you have to help me, if you can. Go to Olympus [410] And call in the debt that Zeus owes you. . . . Remind Zeus of this, sit holding his knees, See if he is willing to help the Trojans Hem the Greeks in between the fleet and the sea. Once they start being killed, the Greeks may Appreciate Agamemnon for what he is, And the wide-ruling son of Atreus will see [430] What a fool he’s been because he did not honor The best of all the fighting Achaeans.” And Thetis, now weeping herself: “O my poor child. I bore you for sorrow, Nursed you for grief. Why? You should be Spending your time here by your ships Happily and untroubled by tears, Since life is short for you, all too brief. Now you’re destined for both an early death And misery beyond compare. It was for this [440] I gave birth to you in your father’s palace Under an evil star. I’ll go to snow-bound Olympus And tell all this to the Lord of Lightning. I hope he listens. You stay here, though,




Beside your ships and let the Greeks feel Your spite; withdraw completely from the war. Zeus left yesterday for the River Ocean On his way to a feast with the Ethiopians. All the gods went with him. He’ll return [450] To Olympus twelve days from now, And I’ll go then to his bronze threshold And plead with him. I think I’ll persuade him.” And she left him there, angry and heartsick At being forced to give up the silken-waisted girl. Meanwhile, Odysseus was putting in At Chryse with his sacred cargo on board. . . . The crew disembarked on the seabeach And unloaded the bulls for Apollo the Archer. Then Chryses’ daughter stepped off the seagoing vessel, And Odysseus led her to an altar And placed her in her father’s hands, saying: “Chryses, King Agamemnon has sent me here To return your child and offer to Phoebus Formal sacrifice on behalf of the Greeks. [470] So may we appease Lord Apollo, and may he Lift the afflictions he has sent upon us.” Chryses received his daughter tenderly. Moving quickly, they lined the hundred oxen Around the massive altar, a glorious offering, Washed their hands and sprinkled on the victims Sacrificial barley. On behalf of the Greeks Chryses lifted his hands and prayed aloud:




“Hear me, Silverbow, Protector of Chryse, Lord of Holy Cilla, Master of Tenedos, [480] As once before you heard my prayer, Did me honor, and smote the Greeks mightily, So now also grant me this prayer: Lift the plague From the Greeks and save them from death.” Thus said the old priest, and Apollo heard him. . . . All this time Achilles, the son of Peleus in the line of Zeus, Nursed his anger, the great runner idle by his fleet’s fast hulls. He was not to be seen in council, that arena for glory, Nor in combat. He sat tight in camp consumed with grief, [520] His great heart yearning for the battle cry and war. Twelve days went by. Dawn. The gods returned to Olympus, Zeus at their head. Thetis did not forget Her son’s requests. She rose from the sea And up through the air to the great sky And found Cronus’ wide-seeing son Sitting in isolation on the highest peak Of the rugged Olympic massif. [530] She settled beside him, and touched his knees With her left hand, his beard with her right, And made her plea to the Lord of Sky: “Father Zeus, if I have ever helped you In word or deed among the immortals, Grant me this prayer: Honor my son, doomed to die young And yet dishonored by King Agamemnon, Who stole his prize, a personal affront. Do justice by him, Lord of Olympus.




[540] Give the Trojans the upper hand until the Greeks Grant my son the honor he deserves.” . . . [560] And the Son of Cronus nodded. Black brows Lowered, a glory of hair cascaded down from the Lord’s Immortal head, and the holy mountain trembled. Their conference over, the two parted. The goddess Dove into the deep sea from Olympus’ snow-glare And Zeus went to his home. The gods all Rose from their seats at their father’s entrance. Not one Dared watch him enter without standing to greet him. And so God entered and took his high seat. But Hera [570] Had noticed his private conversation with Thetis, The silver-footed daughter of the Old Man of the Sea, And flew at him with cutting words: “Who was that you were scheming with just now? You just love devising secret plots behind my back, Don’t you? You can’t bear to tell me what you’re thinking, Or you don’t dare. Never have and never will.” The Father of Gods and Men answered: “Hera, don’t hope to know all my secret thoughts. It would strain your mind even though you are my wife. . . . You witch! Your intuitions are always right. But what does it get you? Nothing, except that I like you less than ever. And so you’re worse off. If it’s as you think it is, it’s my business, not yours. So sit down and shut up and do as I say. You see these hands? All the gods on Olympus




[600] Won’t be able to help you if I ever lay them on you.” Hera lost her nerve when she heard this. She sat down in silence, fear cramping her heart, And gloom settled over the gods in Zeus’ hall.

. . . Book 3 Two armies, The troops in divisions Under their commanders, The Trojans advancing across the plain

Like cranes beating their metallic wings In the stormy sky at winter’s onset, Unspeakable rain at their backs, their necks stretched Toward Oceanic streams and down To strafe the brown Pygmy race, [10] Bringing strife and bloodshed from the sky at dawn,

While the Greeks moved forward in silence, Their breath curling in long angry plumes That acknowledged their pledges to die for each other.

Banks of mist settle on mountain peaks And seep into the valleys. Shepherds dislike it But for a thief it is better than night, And a man can see only as far as he can throw a stone.

No more could the soldiers see through the cloud of dust The armies tramped up as they moved through the plain. [20] And when they had almost closed—




Was it a god?—no, not a god But Paris who stepped out from the Trojan ranks, Leopard skin on his shoulders, curved bow, sword, And shaking two bronze-tipped spears at the Greeks He invited their best to fight him to the death. When Menelaus, who was Ares’ darling, saw him Strutting out from the ranks, he felt

As a lion must feel when he finds the carcass Of a stag or wild goat, and, half-starving, [30] Consumes it greedily even though hounds and hunters Are swarming down on him.

It was Paris all right, Who could have passed for a god, And Menelaus grinned as he hefted his gear And stepped down from his chariot. He would Have his revenge at last. Paris’ blood Turned milky when he saw him coming on, And he faded back into the Trojan troops With cheeks as pale as if he had seen— [40] Had almost stepped on—a poisonous snake In a mountain pass. He could barely stand As disdainful Trojans made room for him in the ranks, And Hector, seeing his brother tremble at Atreus’ son, Started in on him with these abusive epithets: “Paris, you desperate, womanizing pretty boy! I wish you had never been born, or had died unmarried. Better that than this disgrace before the troops. Can’t you just hear it, the long-haired Greeks Chuckling and saying that our champion wins [50] For good looks but comes up short on offense and defense? Is this how you were when you got up a crew And sailed overseas, hobnobbed with the warrior caste In a foreign country and sailed off with




A beautiful woman with marriage ties to half of them? You’re nothing but trouble for your father and your city, A joke to your enemies and an embarrassment to yourself. No don’t stand up to Menelaus: you might find out What kind of a man it is whose wife you’re sleeping with. You think your lyre will help you, or Aphrodite’s gifts, [60] Your hair, your pretty face, when you sprawl in the dust? It’s the Trojans who are cowards, or you’d have long since Been dressed out in stones for all the harm you’ve done.” And Paris, handsome as a god, answered him: “That’s only just, Hector. You’ve got a mind Like an axe, you know, always sharp, Making the skilled cut through a ship’s beam, Multiplying force—nothing ever turns your edge. But don’t throw golden Aphrodite’s gifts in my face. We don’t get to choose what the gods give us, you know, [70] And we can’t just toss their gifts aside. So all right, if you want me to fight, fine. Have the Trojans and the Greeks sit down, And Menelaus and I will square off in the middle To fight for Helen and all her possessions. Winner take all. And everyone else will swear oaths of friendship, You all to live here in the fertile Troad, And they to go back to bluegrass Argos And Achaea with its beautiful women.” [80] Hector liked what he heard. He went out in front along the Trojan ranks Holding a spear broadside and made them all sit down. Greek archers and slingers were taking aim at him And already starting to shoot arrows and stones When Agamemnon boomed out a command For them to hold their fire. Hector was signaling That he had something to say, and his helmet




Caught the morning sun as he addressed both armies: “Listen to me, Trojans, and you warriors from Greece. [90] Paris, on account of whom this war began, says this: He wants all the Trojan and Greek combatants To lay their weapons down on the ground. He and Menelaus will square off in the middle And fight for Helen and all her possessions. Winner take all. And everyone else swears oaths of friendship.” Utter silence, Until Menelaus, who was good at the war shout, said: “Now listen to me, since my pain is paramount [100] In all this. It may be that the Greeks and Trojans Can at last call it quits. We’ve had enough suffering From this quarrel of mine that Paris began. Whichever of us is due to die, let him die. Then the rest of you can be done with each other.” . . . You could see their mood brighten, Greeks and Trojans both, with the hope That this wretched war would soon be over. They pulled their chariots up in rows, Dismounted, and piled up their weapons. There was not much space between the two armies. . . . Iris stood near Helen and said: “Come and see, dear lady, the amazing thing The Greek and Trojan warriors have done. They’ve fought all these years out on the plain,




Lusting for each other’s blood, but now They’ve sat down in silence—halted the war— They’re leaning back on their shields And their long spears are stuck in the sand. But Paris and Menelaus are going to fight [140] A duel with lances, and the winner Will lay claim to you as his beloved wife.” The goddess’s words turned Helen’s mind Into a sweet mist of desire For her former husband, her parents, and her city. She dressed herself in fine silvery linens And came out of her bedroom crying softly. . . . But Priam called out to her: [170] “Come here, dear child, sit next to me So you can see your former husband And dear kinsmen. You are not to blame For this war with the Greeks. The gods are. Now tell me, who is that enormous man Towering over the Greek troops, handsome, Well-built? I’ve never laid eyes on such A fine figure of a man. He looks like a king.” And Helen, The sky’s brightness reflected in her mortal face: [180] “Reverend you are to me dear father-in-law, A man to hold in awe. I’m so ashamed. Death should have been a sweeter evil to me Than following your son here, leaving my home, My marriage, my friends, my precious daughter, That lovely time in my life. None of it was to be, And lamenting it has been my slow death. But you asked me something, and I’ll answer. That man is Agamemnon, son of Atreus, A great king and a strong warrior both.




[190] He was also my brother-in-law—shameless bitch That I am—if that life was ever real.” . . . Priam’s son Hector and brilliant Odysseus First measured off an arena and then Shook lots in a bronze helmet to decide [340] Which of the two would cast his spear first. You could see hands lifted to heaven On both sides and hear whispered prayers: “Death, Lord Zeus, For whichever of the two Started this business, But grant us your peace.” Great Hector shook the helmet, sunlight Glancing off his own as he looked away, And out jumped Paris’ lot. . . . [370] And then Paris threw. A long shadow trailed his spear As it moved through the air, and it hit the circle Of Menelaus’ shield, but the spearpoint crumpled Against its tough metal skin. It was Menelaus’ turn now, And as he rose in his bronze he prayed to Zeus: “Lord Zeus, make Paris pay for the evil he’s done to me, Smite him down with my hands so that men for all time Will fear to transgress against a host’s offered friendship.” With this prayer behind it Menelaus’ spear Carried through Paris’ polished shield [380] And bored into the intricate breastplate, The point shearing his shirt and nicking his ribs




As Paris twisted aside from black fatality. Menelaus drew his silver-hammered sword And came down with it hard on the crest Of Paris’ helmet, but the blade shattered Into three or four pieces and fell from his hands. Menelaus groaned and looked up to the sky: “Father Zeus, no god curses us more than you. I thought Paris was going to pay for his crimes, [390] And now my sword has broken in my hands, And my spear’s thrown away. I missed the bastard!” As Menelaus spoke he lunged forward And twisted his fingers into the thick horsehair On Paris’ helmet, pivoted on his heel, And started dragging him back to the Greeks. The tooled-leather chinstrap of Paris’ helmet Was cutting into his neck’s tender skin, And Menelaus would have dragged him All the way back and won no end of glory. [400] But Aphrodite, Zeus’ daughter, had all this In sharp focus and snapped the oxhide chinstrap, Leaving Menelaus clenching an empty helmet, Which the hero, spinning like a discus thrower, Heaved into the hands of the Greek spectators. Then he went back for the kill. But Aphrodite Whisked Paris away with the sleight of a goddess, Enveloping him in mist, and lofted him into The incensed air of his vaulted bedroom. [410] Then she went for Helen, and found her In a crowd of Trojan women high on the tower. A withered hand tugged at Helen’s fragrant robe. The goddess was now the phantom of an old woman




Who had spun wool for Helen back in Lacedaemon, Beautiful wool, and Helen loved her dearly. In this crone’s guise Aphrodite spoke to Helen: “Over here. Paris wants you to come home. He’s propped up on pillows in your bedroom, So silky and beautiful you’d never think [420] He’d just come from combat, but was going to a dance, Or coming from a dance and had just now sat down.” This wrung Helen’s heart. She knew It was the goddess—the beautiful neck, The irresistible line of her breasts, The iridescent eyes. She was in awe For a moment, and then spoke to her: “You eerie thing, why do you love Lying to me like this? Where are you taking me now? Phrygia? Beautiful Maeonia? Another city [430] Where you have some other boyfriend for me? Or is it because Menelaus, having just beaten Paris, Wants to take his hateful wife back to his house That you stand here now with treachery in your heart? Go sit by Paris yourself! Descend from the gods’ high road, Allow your precious feet not to tread on Olympus, Go fret over him constantly, protect him. Maybe someday he’ll make you his wife—or even his slave. I’m not going back there. It would be treason To share his bed. The Trojan women [440] Would hold me at fault. I have enough pain as it is.” And Aphrodite, angry with her, said: “Don’t vex me, bitch, or I may let go of you And hate you as extravagantly as I love you now. I can make you repulsive to both sides, you know, Trojans and Greeks, and then where will you be?”




Helen was afraid, and this child of Zeus Pulled her silvery-white linens around her And walked silently through the Trojan women, Eluding them completely. The goddess went ahead [450] And led her to Paris’ beautiful house. The servants Suddenly all found something to do. Helen moved like daylight to the vaulted bedroom, Where Aphrodite, smiling, placed a chair for her Opposite Paris. Helen, daughter of Zeus, Sat down and, averting her eyes, said reproachfully: “Back from the war? You should have died out there, Beaten by a real hero, my former husband. You used to boast you were better than Menelaus, When it came to spear work and hand-to-hand combat. [460] Why don’t you go challenge him to fight again, Right now? I wouldn’t recommend it, though, A fair fight between you and Ares’ redhead darling. You’d go down in no time under his spear.” Paris answered her: “Don’t insult me, Helen. Menelaus beat me this time—with Athena’s help. Next time I’ll beat him. We have gods on our side too. Enough of this. Let’s go to bed now and make love. [470] I’ve never wanted you so much, Not even when I first took you away From Lacedaemon in my sailing ship And made love to you on the island of Cranae. I want you even more now than I wanted you then.” He walked to the bed, and Helen followed. While the two of them slept in their bed, Menelaus prowled the ranks looking for Paris.




The Trojan troops, as much as they would have liked to, Could not produce him. To a man, [480] They hated Paris as they hated death itself.

. . . Book 6 The battle was left to rage on the level expanse Between Troy’s two rivers. Bronze spearheads Drove past each other as the Greek and Trojan armies Spread like a hemorrhage across the plain. Telamonian Ajax, the Achaean wall, Was the first Greek to break the Trojan line And give his comrades some daylight. He killed Thrace’s best, Acamas. . . . Diomedes followed up by killing Axylus. . . . [30] Odysseus got Pidytes with his spear. . . . The warlord Agamemnon killed Elatus. But Menelaus took Adrastus alive. . . . Menelaus Came up to him with his long-shadowed spear,




And Adrastus clasped his knees and prayed: “Take me alive, son of Atreus, and accept A worthy ransom from the treasure stored In my father’s palace, bronze, gold, wrought iron. My father would lavish it all on you if he heard [50] I was still alive among the Achaean ships.” The speech had its intended effect. Menelaus was about to hand him over To be led back to the ships, but Agamemnon Came running over to call him on it: “Going soft, Menelaus? What does this man Mean to you? Have the Trojans ever shown you Any hospitality? Not one of them Escapes sheer death at our hands, not even The boy who is still in his mother’s womb. [60] Every Trojan dies, unmourned and unmarked.” And so the hero changed his brother’s mind By reminding him of the ways of conduct and fate. Menelaus shoved Adrastus aside, And Agamemnon stabbed him in the flank. He fell backward, and the son of Atreus Braced his heel on his chest and pulled out the spear. Then Nestor shouted and called to the Greeks: “Soldiers of Greece, no lagging behind To strip off armor from the enemy corpses [70] To see who comes back to the ships with the most. Now we kill men! You will have plenty of time later To despoil the Trojan dead on the plain.” Nestor’s speech worked them up to a frenzy, And the Trojans would have been beaten Back to Ilion by superior force




Had not Helenus, Priam’s son And Troy’s prophet, approached Aeneas and Hector: “Aeneas and Hector, the Trojans and Lycians Are counting on you. You two are the leaders [80] In every initiative in council and battle— So make a stand here. Go through the ranks And keep our men back from the gates, Before they run through them and fall Into their women’s arms, making our enemies laugh. Once you have bolstered our troops’ morale, We will stand our ground and fight the Danaans, Tired as we are. We have our backs to the wall. Hector, go into the city and find our mother. Tell her to take a company of old women [90] To the temple of Athena on the acropolis With the largest and loveliest robe in her house, The one that is dearest of all to her, And place it on the knees of braided Athena, And promise twelve heifers to her in her temple, Unblemished yearlings, if she will pity The town of Troy, its wives and its children.” . . . Hector took his brother’s advice. He jumped down from his chariot with his gear And toured the ranks, a spear in each hand. He urged them on, and with a trembling roar The Trojans turned to face the Achaeans. The Greeks pulled back. It looked to them As if some god had come from the starry sky [110] To help the Trojans. It had been a sudden rally. Hector shouted and called to the Trojans: “Soldiers of Troy, and illustrious allies, Remember to fight like the men that you are, While I go to the city and ask the elders




Who sit in council, and our wives, to pray To the gods and promise bulls by the hundred.” And Hector left, helmet collecting light Above the black-hide shield whose rim tapped His ankles and neck with each step he took. [120] Then Glaucus, son of Hippolochus, Met Diomedes. Both were eager to fight, but first Tydeus’ son Made his voice heard above the battle noise: “And which mortal hero are you? I’ve never seen you Out here before on the fields of glory, And now here you are ahead of everyone, Ready to face my spear. Pretty bold. I feel sorry for your parents. Of course, You may be an immortal, down from heaven. [130] Far be it from me to fight an immortal god. Not even mighty Lycurgus lived long After he tangled with the immortals, . . . No, I wouldn’t want to fight an immortal. But if you are human, and shed blood, Step right up for a quick end to your life.” And Glaucus, Hippolochus’ son: “Great son of Tydeus, why ask about my lineage? Human generations are like leaves in their seasons. [150] The wind blows them to the ground, but the tree Sprouts new ones when spring comes again. Men too. Their generations come and go. But if you really do want to hear my story, You’re welcome to listen. Many men know it. Ephyra, in the heart of Argive horse country,




Was home to Sisyphus, the shrewdest man alive, Sisyphus son of Aeolus. He had a son, Glaucus, Who was the father of faultless Bellerophon, A man of grace and courage by gift of the gods. . . . His wife, the princess, bore him three children, Isander, Hippolochus, and Laodameia. . . . Hippolochus Bore me, and I am proud he is my father. He sent me to Troy with strict instructions To be the best ever, better than all the rest, And not to bring shame on the race of my fathers, The noblest men in Ephyra and Lycia. This, I am proud to say, is my lineage.” Diomedes grinned when he heard all this. He planted his spear in the bounteous earth [220] And spoke gently to the Lycian prince: “We have old ties of hospitality! My grandfather Oeneus long ago Entertained Bellerophon in his halls For twenty days, and they gave each other Gifts of friendship. . . . That makes me your friend and you my guest If ever you come to Argos, as you are my friend And I your guest whenever I travel to Lycia. So we can’t cross spears with each other Even in the thick of battle. There are enough




Trojans and allies for me to kill, whomever A god gives me and I can run down myself. And enough Greeks for you to kill as you can. And let’s exchange armor, so everyone will know [240] That we are friends from our fathers’ days.” With this said, they vaulted from their chariots, Clasped hands, and pledged their friendship. . . . When Hector reached the oak tree by the Western Gate, Trojan wives and daughters ran up to him, Asking about their children, their brothers, Their kinsmen, their husbands. He told them all, [250] Each woman in turn, to pray to the gods. Sorrow clung to their heads like mist. Then he came to Priam’s palace. . . . Hecuba took his hand in hers and said: “Hector, my son, why have you left the war And come here? Are those abominable Greeks Wearing you down in the fighting outside, And does your heart lead you to our acropolis To stretch your hands upward to Zeus? But stay here while I get you Some honey-sweet wine. . . . “Mother, don’t offer me any wine. It would drain the power out of my limbs. I have too much reverence to pour a libation With unwashed hands to Zeus almighty,




Or to pray to Cronion in the black cloudbanks [280] Spattered with blood and the filth of battle. But you must go to the War Goddess’s temple To make sacrifice with a band of old women. Choose the largest and loveliest robe in the house, The one that is dearest of all to you, And place it on the knees of braided Athena. And promise twelve heifers to her in her temple, Unblemished yearlings, if she will pity The town of Troy, its wives, and its children, . . . And I will go over to summon Paris, If he will listen to what I have to say. I wish the earth would gape open beneath him. Olympian Zeus has bred him as a curse To Troy, to Priam, and all Priam’s children. If I could see him dead and gone to Hades, I think my heart might be eased of its sorrow.” Thus spoke Hector. Hecuba went to the great hall [300] And called to her handmaidens, and they Gathered together the city’s old women. . . . They came to the temple of Pallas Athena On the city’s high rock, and the doors were opened By fair-cheeked Theano, daughter of Cisseus And wife of Antenor, breaker of horses. The Trojans had made her Athena’s priestess. With ritual cries they all lifted their hands To Pallas Athena. Theano took the robe And laid it on the knees of the rich-haired goddess,




Then prayed in supplication to Zeus’ daughter. . . . While they prayed to great Zeus’ daughter, Hector came to Paris’ beautiful house, [330] Which he had built himself with the aid Of the best craftsmen in all wide Troy: Sleeping quarters, a hall, and a central courtyard Near to Priam’s and Hector’s on the city’s high rock. Hector entered, Zeus’ light upon him, A spear sixteen feet long cradled in his hand, The bronze point gleaming, and the ferrule gold. He found Paris in the bedroom, busy with his weapons, Fondling his curved bow, his fine shield, and breastplate. Helen of Argos sat with her household women [340] Directing their exquisite handicraft. Hector meant to shame Paris and provoke him: “This is a fine time to be nursing your anger, You idiot! We’re dying out there defending the walls. It’s because of you the city is in this hellish war. If you saw someone else holding back from combat You’d pick a fight with him yourself. Now get up Before the whole city goes up in flames!” And Paris, handsome as a god: “That’s no more than just, Hector, [350] But listen now to what I have to say. It’s not out of anger or spite toward the Trojans I’ve been here in my room. I only wanted To recover from my pain. My wife was just now Encouraging me to get up and fight, And that seems the better thing to do. Victory takes turns with men. Wait for me While I put on my armor, or go on ahead—




I’m pretty sure I’ll catch up with you.” To which Hector said nothing. [360] But Helen said to him softly: “Brother-in-law Of a scheming, cold-blooded bitch, I wish that on the day my mother bore me A windstorm had swept me away to a mountain Or into the waves of the restless sea, Swept me away before all this could happen. But since the gods have ordained these evils, Why couldn’t I be the wife of a better man, One sensitive at least to repeated reproaches? [370] Paris has never had an ounce of good sense And never will. He’ll pay for it someday. But come inside and sit down on this chair, Dear brother-in-law. You bear such a burden For my wanton ways and Paris’ witlessness. Zeus has placed this evil fate on us so that In time to come poets will sing of us.” And Hector, in his burnished helmet: “Don’t ask me to sit, Helen, even though You love me. You will never persuade me. [380] My heart is out there with our fighting men. They already feel my absence from battle. Just get Paris moving, and have him hurry So he can catch up with me while I’m still Inside the city. I’m going to my house now To see my family, my wife and my boy. I don’t know Whether I’ll ever be back to see them again, or if The gods will destroy me at the hands of the Greeks.” And Hector turned and left. He came to his house But did not find white-armed Andromache there. [390] She had taken the child and a robed attendant




And stood on the tower, lamenting and weeping— His blameless wife. . . . Hector was gone, Retracing his steps through the stone and tile streets [410] Of the great city, until he came to the Western Gate. He was passing through it out onto the plain When his wife came running up to meet him, His beautiful wife, Andromache, A gracious woman, daughter of great Eëtion. . . . She came up to him now, and the nurse with her Held to her bosom their baby boy, [420] Hector’s beloved son, beautiful as starlight, Whom Hector had named Scamandrius But everyone else called Astyanax, Lord of the City, For Hector alone could save Ilion now. He looked at his son and smiled in silence. Andromache stood close to him, shedding tears, Clinging to his arm as she spoke these words: “Possessed is what you are, Hector. Your courage Is going to kill you, and you have no feeling left For your little boy or for me, the luckless woman [430] Who will soon be your widow. It won’t be long Before the whole Greek army swarms and kills you. And when they do, it will be better for me To sink into the earth. When I lose you, Hector, There will be nothing left, no one to turn to, Only pain. My father and mother are dead. Achilles killed my father when he destroyed Our city, Thebes with its high gates, But had too much respect to despoil his body.




He burned it instead with all his armor [440] And heaped up a barrow. And the spirit women Came down from the mountain, daughters Of the storm god, and planted elm trees around it. I had seven brothers once in that great house. All seven went down to Hades on a single day, Cut down by Achilles in one blinding sprint Through their shambling cattle and silver sheep. Mother, who was queen in the forests of Plakos, He took back as prisoner, with all her possessions, Then released her for a fortune in ransom. [450] She died in our house, shot by Artemis’ arrows. Hector, you are my father, you are my mother, You are my brother and my blossoming husband. But show some pity and stay here by the tower, Don’t make your child an orphan, your wife a widow. Station your men here by the fig tree, where the city Is weakest because the wall can be scaled. Three times their elite have tried an attack here Rallying around Ajax or glorious Idomeneus Or Atreus’ sons or mighty Diomedes, [460] Whether someone in on the prophecy told them Or they are driven here by something in their heart.” And great Hector, helmet shining, answered her: “Yes, Andromache, I worry about all this myself, But my shame before the Trojans and their wives, With their long robes trailing, would be too terrible If I hung back from battle like a coward. And my heart won’t let me. I have learned to be One of the best, to fight in Troy’s first ranks, Defending my father’s honor and my own. [470] Deep in my heart I know too well There will come a day when holy Ilion will perish, And Priam and the people under Priam’s ash spear. But the pain I will feel for the Trojans then,




For Hecuba herself and for Priam king, For my many fine brothers who will have by then Fallen in the dust behind enemy lines— All that pain is nothing to what I will feel For you, when some bronze-armored Greek Leads you away in tears, on your first day of slavery. [480] And you will work some other woman’s loom In Argos or carry water from a Spartan spring, All against your will, under great duress. And someone, seeing you crying, will say, ‘That is the wife of Hector, the best of all The Trojans when they fought around Ilion.’ Someday someone will say that, renewing your pain At having lost such a man to fight off the day Of your enslavement. But may I be dead And the earth heaped up above me [490] Before I hear your cry as you are dragged away.” With these words, resplendent Hector Reached for his child, who shrank back screaming Into his nurse’s bosom, terrified of his father’s Bronze-encased face and the horsehair plume He saw nodding down from the helmet’s crest. This forced a laugh from his father and mother, And Hector removed the helmet from his head And set it on the ground all shimmering with light. Then he kissed his dear son and swung him up gently [500] And said a prayer to Zeus and the other immortals: “Zeus and all gods: grant that this my son Become, as I am, foremost among Trojans, Brave and strong, and ruling Ilion with might. And may men say he is far better than his father When he returns from war, bearing bloody spoils, Having killed his man. And may his mother rejoice.” And he put his son in the arms of his wife, And she enfolded him in her fragrant bosom




Laughing through her tears. Hector pitied her [510] And stroked her with his hand and said to her: “You worry too much about me, Andromache. No one is going to send me to Hades before my time, And no man has ever escaped his fate, rich or poor, Coward or hero, once born into this world. Go back to the house now and take care of your work, The loom and the shuttle, and tell the servants To get on with their jobs. War is the work of men, Of all the Trojan men, and mine especially.” With these words, Hector picked up [520] His plumed helmet, and his wife went back home, Turning around often, her cheeks flowered with tears. When she came to the house of man-slaying Hector, She found a throng of servants inside, And raised among these women the ritual lament. And so they mourned for Hector in his house Although he was still alive, for they did not think He would ever again come back from the war, Or escape the murderous hands of the Greeks. Paris meanwhile [530] Did not dally long in his high halls. He put on his magnificent bronze-inlaid gear And sprinted with assurance out through the city. Picture a horse that has fed on barley in his stall Breaking his halter and galloping across the plain, Making for his accustomed swim in the river, A glorious animal, head held high, mane streaming Like wind on his shoulders. Sure of his splendor.

. . .




Book 9 So the Trojans kept watch. But Panic, Fear’s sister, had wrapped her icy fingers Around the Greeks, and all their best Were stricken with unendurable grief.

When two winds rise on the swarming deep, Boreas and Zephyr, blowing from Thrace In a sudden squall, the startled black waves Will crest and tangle the surf with seaweed.

The Greeks felt like that, pummeled and torn. [10] Agamemnon’s heart was bruised with pain As he went around to the clear-toned criers Ordering them to call each man to assembly, But not to shout. He pitched in himself. It was a dispirited assembly. Agamemnon Stood up, weeping, his face like a sheer cliff With dark springwater washing down the stone. Groaning heavily he addressed the troops: “Friends, Argive commanders and counsellors: Great Zeus, son of Cronus, [20] Is a hard god, friends. He’s kept me in the dark After all his promises, all his nods my way That I’d raze Ilion’s walls before sailing home. It was all a lie, and I see now that his orders Are for me to return to Argos in disgrace, And this after all the armies I’ve destroyed. I have no doubt that this is the high will Of the god who has toppled so many cities And will in the future, all glory to his power. So this is my command for the entire army: [30] Clear out with our ships and head for home.




There’s no hope we will take Troy’s tall town.” He spoke, and they were all stunned to silence, The silence of an army too grieved to speak, Until at last Diomedes’ voice boomed out: “I’m going to oppose you if you talk foolishness— As is my right in assembly, lord. Keep your temper. First of all, you insulted me, saying in public I was unwarlike and weak. Every Greek here, Young and old alike, knows all about this. [40] The son of crooked Cronus split the difference When he gave you gifts. He gave you a scepter And honor with it, but he didn’t give you Strength to stand in battle, which is real power. Are you out of your mind? Do you really think The sons of the Achaeans are unwarlike and weak? If you yourself are anxious to go home, Then go. You know the way. Your ships are here Right by the sea, and a whole fleet will follow you Back to Mycenae. But many a long-haired Achaean [50] Will stay, too, until we conquer Troy. And if they won’t— Well, let them all sail back to their own native land. The two of us, Sthenelus and I, will fight on Until we take Ilion. We came here with Zeus.” He spoke, and all the Greeks cheered The speech of Diomedes, breaker of horses. . . . Agamemnon meanwhile gathered the elders Into his hut and served them a hearty meal. They helped themselves to the dishes before them, And when they had enough of food and drink, The first to spin out his plan for them was Nestor, Whose advice had always seemed best before,




And who spoke with their best interests at heart: [100] “Son of Atreus, most glorious lord, I begin and end with you, since you are King of a great people, with authority To rule and right of judgment from Zeus. It is yours to speak as well as to listen, And to stand behind others whenever they speak To our good. The final word is yours. But I will speak as seems best to me. No one will have a better idea Than I have now, nor has anyone ever, [110] From the time, divine prince, you wrested away The girl Briseis from Achilles’ shelter, Defying his anger and my opposition. I tried to dissuade you, but you gave in To your pride and dishonored a great man Whom the immortals esteem. You took his prize And keep it still. But it is not too late. Even now We must think of how to win him back With appeasing gifts and soothing words.” And the warlord Agamemnon responded: [120] “Yes, old man, you were right on the mark When you said I was mad. I will not deny it. Zeus’ favor multiplies a man’s worth, As it has here, and the army has suffered for it. But since I did succumb to a fit of madness, I want to make substantial amends. I hereby announce my reparations: Seven unfired tripods, ten gold bars, Twenty burnished cauldrons, a dozen horses— Solid, prizewinning racehorses [130] Who have won me a small fortune— And seven women who do impeccable work, Surpassingly beautiful women from Lesbos I chose for myself when Achilles captured the town. And with them will be the woman I took,




Briseus’ daughter, and I will solemnly swear I never went to her bed and lay with her Or did what is natural between women and men. All this he may have at once. And if it happens That the gods allow us to sack Priam’s city, [140] He may when the Greeks are dividing the spoils Load a ship to the brim with gold and bronze, And choose for himself the twenty Trojan women Who are next in beauty to Argive Helen. And if we return to the rich land of Argos, He will marry my daughter, and I will honor him As I do Orestes, who is being reared in luxury. I have three daughters in my fortress palace, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa. He may lead whichever he likes as his bride [150] Back to Peleus’ house, without paying anything, And I will give her a dowry richer than any A father has ever given his daughter. And I will give him seven populous cities, Cardamyle, Enope, grassy Hire, Sacred Pherae, Antheia with its meadowlands, Beautiful Aepeia, and Pedasus, wine country. They are all near the sea, on sandy Pylos’ frontier, And cattlemen live there, rich in herds and flocks, Who will pay him tribute as if he were a god [160] And fulfill the shining decrees of his scepter. I will do all this if he will give up his grudge. And he should. Only Hades cannot be appeased, Which is why of all gods mortals hate him most. And he should submit to me, inasmuch as I Am more of a king and can claim to be elder.” And then spoke Nestor, the Gerenian rider: “Son of Atreus, most glorious Agamemnon, Your gifts for Achilles are beyond reproach. But come, we must dispatch envoys [170] As soon as possible to Achilles’ tent,




And I see before me who should volunteer. Phoenix, dear to Zeus, should lead the way, Followed by Ajax and brilliant Odysseus.” . . . They went in tandem along the seething shore, Praying over and over to the god in the surf For an easy time in convincing Achilles. They came to the Myrmidons’ ships and huts [190] And found him plucking clear notes on a lyre— A beautiful instrument with a silver bridge He had taken when he ransacked Eëtion’s town— Accompanying himself as he sang the glories Of heroes in war. He was alone with Patroclus, Who sat in silence waiting for him to finish. His visitors came forward, Odysseus first, And stood before him. Surprised, Achilles Rose from his chair still holding his lyre. Patroclus, when he saw them, also rose, [200] And Achilles, swift and sure, received them: “Welcome. Things must be bad to bring you here, The Greeks I love best, even in my rage.” With these words Achilles led them in And had them sit on couches and rugs Dyed purple, and he called to Patroclus: “A larger bowl, son of Menoetius, And stronger wine, and cups all around. My dearest friends are beneath my roof.” Patroclus obliged his beloved companion. . . . And when they had enough of food and drink, Ajax nodded to Phoenix. Odysseus saw this,




And filling a cup he lifted it to Achilles: “To your health, Achilles, for a generous feast. [230] There is no shortage in Agamemnon’s hut, Or now here in yours, of satisfying food. But the pleasures of the table are not on our minds. We fear the worst. It is doubtful That we can save the ships without your strength. The Trojans and their allies are encamped Close to the wall that surrounds our black ships And are betting that we can’t keep them From breaking through. They may be right. Zeus has been encouraging them with signs, [240] Lightning on the right. Hector trusts this— And his own strength—and has been raging Recklessly, like a man possessed. He is praying for dawn to come early So he can fulfill his threat to lop the horns From the ships’ sterns, burn the hulls to ash, And slaughter the Achaeans dazed in the smoke. This is my great fear, that the gods make good Hector’s threats, dooming us to die in Troy Far from the fields of home. Up with you, then, [250] If you intend at all, even at this late hour, To save our army from these howling Trojans. Think of yourself, of the regret you will feel For harm that will prove irreparable. This is the last chance to save your countrymen. Is it not true, my friend, that your father Peleus Told you as he sent you off with Agamemnon: ‘My son, as for strength, Hera and Athena Will bless you if they wish, but it is up to you To control your proud spirit. A friendly heart [260] Is far better. Steer clear of scheming strife, So that Greeks young and old will honor you.’ You have forgotten what the old man said, But you can still let go of your anger, right now. Agamemnon is offering you worthy gifts




If you will give up your grudge. . . . But if Agamemnon is too hateful to you, Himself and his gifts, think of all the others Suffering up and down the line, and of the glory You will win from them. They will honor you Like a god. And don’t forget Hector. You just might get him now. He’s coming in close, Deluded into thinking that he has no match [310] In the Greek army that has landed on his beach.” And Achilles, strong, swift, and godlike: “Son of Laertes in the line of Zeus, Odysseus the strategist—I can see That I have no choice but to speak my mind And tell you exactly how things are going to be. Either that or sit through endless sessions Of people whining at me. I hate it like I hate hell The man who says one thing and thinks another. So this is how I see it. [320] I cannot imagine Agamemnon, Or any other Greek, persuading me, Not after the thanks I got for fighting this war, Going up against the enemy day after day. It doesn’t matter if you stay in camp or fight— In the end, everybody comes out the same. Coward and hero get the same reward: You die whether you slack off or work. And what do I have for all my suffering, Constantly putting my life on the line? [330] Like a bird who feeds her chicks Whatever she finds, and goes without herself, That’s what I’ve been like, lying awake Through sleepless nights, in battle for days




Soaked in blood, fighting men for their wives. I’ve raided twelve cities with our ships And eleven on foot in the fertile Troad, Looted them all, brought back heirlooms By the ton, and handed it all over To Atreus’ son, who hung back in camp [340] Raking it in and distributing damn little. What the others did get they at least got to keep. They all have their prizes, everyone but me— I’m the only Greek from whom he took something back. He should be happy with the woman he has. Why do the Greeks have to fight the Trojans? Why did Agamemnon lead the army to Troy If not for the sake of fair-haired Helen? Do you have to be descended from Atreus To love your mate? Every decent, sane man [350] Loves his woman and cares for her, as I did, Loved her from my heart. It doesn’t matter That I won her with my spear. He took her, Took her right out of my hands, cheated me, And now he thinks he’s going to win me back? He can forget it. I know how things stand. It’s up to you, Odysseus, and the other kings To find a way to keep the fire from the ships. He’s been pretty busy without me, hasn’t he, Building a wall, digging a moat around it, [360] Pounding in stakes for a palisade. None of that stuff will hold Hector back. When I used to fight for the Greeks, Hector wouldn’t come out farther from his wall Than the oak tree by the Western Gate. He waited for me there once, and barely escaped. Now that I don’t want to fight him anymore, I will sacrifice to Zeus and all gods tomorrow, Load my ships, and launch them on the sea. Take a look if you want, if you give a damn, [370] And you’ll see my fleet on the Hellespont




In the early light, my men rowing hard. With good weather from the sea god, I’ll reach Phthia after a three-day sail. I left a lot behind when I hauled myself here, And I’ll bring back more, gold and bronze, Silken-waisted women, grey iron— Everything except the prize of honor The warlord Agamemnon gave me And in his insulting arrogance took back. [380] So report back to him everything I say, And report it publicly—get the Greeks angry, In case the shameless bastard still thinks He can steal us blind. He doesn’t dare Show his dogface here. Fine. I don’t want To have anything to do with him either. He cheated me, wronged me. Never again. He’s had it. He can rot in peace, The half-wit that Zeus has made him. His gifts? His gifts mean nothing to me. [390] Not even if he offered me ten or twenty times His present gross worth and added to it All the trade Orchomenus does in a year, All the wealth laid up in Egyptian Thebes, The wealthiest city in all the world, Where they drive two hundred teams of horses Out through each of its hundred gates. Not even if Agamemnon gave me gifts As numberless as grains of sand or dust, Would he persuade me or touch my heart— [400] Not until he’s paid in full for all my grief. His daughter? I would not marry The daughter of Agamemnon son of Atreus If she were as lovely as golden Aphrodite Or could weave like owl-eyed Athena. Let him choose some other Achaean More to his lordly taste. If the gods Preserve me and I get home safe




Peleus will find me a wife himself. There are many Greek girls in Hellas and Phthia, [410] Daughters of chieftains who rule the cities. I can have my pick of any of them. I’ve always wanted to take a wife there, A woman to have and to hold, someone with whom I can enjoy all the goods old Peleus has won. Nothing is worth my life, not all the riches They say Troy held before the Greeks came, Not all the wealth in Phoebus Apollo’s Marble shrine up in craggy Pytho. Cattle and flocks are there for the taking; [420] You can always get tripods and chestnut horses. But a man’s life cannot be won back Once his breath has passed beyond his clenched teeth. My mother Thetis, a moving silver grace, Tells me two fates sweep me on to my death. If I stay here and fight, I’ll never return home, But my glory will be undying forever. If I return home to my dear fatherland My glory is lost but my life will be long, And death that ends all will not catch me soon. [430] As for the rest of you, I would advise you too To sail back home, since there’s no chance now Of storming Ilion’s height. Zeus has stretched His hand above her, making her people bold. What’s left for you now is to go back to the council And announce my message. It’s up to them To come up with another plan to save the ships And the army with them, since this one, Based on appeasing my anger, won’t work. Phoenix can spend the night here. Tomorrow [440] He sails with me on our voyage home, If he wants to, that is. I won’t force him to come.” He spoke, and they were hushed in silence, Shocked by his speech and his stark refusal. Finally the old horseman Phoenix spoke,




Bursting into tears. He felt the ships were lost. “If you have set your mind on going home, Achilles, and will do nothing to save the ships From being burnt, if your heart is that angry, How could I stay here without you, my boy, [450] All by myself? Peleus sent me with you On that day you left Phthia to go to Agamemnon, A child still, knowing nothing of warfare Or assemblies where men distinguish themselves. He sent me to you to teach you this— To be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds. I could not bear to be left behind now Apart from you, child, not even if a god Promised to smooth my wrinkles and make me As young and strong as I was when I first left [460] The land of Hellas and its beautiful women. . . . I made you what you are, my godlike Achilles, And loved you from my heart. You wouldn’t eat, [500] Whether it was at a feast or a meal in the house, Unless I set you on my lap and cut your food up And fed it to you and held the wine to your lips. Many a time you wet the tunic on my chest, Burping up wine when you were colicky. I went through a lot for you, because I knew The gods would never let me have a child Of my own. No, I tried to make you my child, Achilles, so you would save me from ruin. But you have to master your proud spirit. [510] It’s not right for you to have a pitiless heart. Even the gods can bend. Superior as they are In honor, power, and every excellence, They can be turned aside from wrath When humans who have transgressed




Supplicate them with incense and prayers, With libations and savor of sacrifice. . . . [530] If the son of Atreus were not offering gifts And promising more, if he were still raging mad, I would not ask you to shrug off your grudge And help the Greeks, no matter how sore their need. But he is offering gifts and promising more, And he has sent to you a delegation Of the best men in the army, your dearest friends. Don’t scorn their words or their mission here. No one could blame you for being angry before. We all know stories about heroes of old, [540] How they were furiously angry, but later on Were won over with gifts or appeased with words. . . . Come while there are gifts, while the Achaeans [620] Will still honor you as if you were a god. But if you go into battle without any gifts, Your honor will be less, save us or not.” And strong, swift-footed Achilles answered: “I don’t need that kind of honor, Phoenix. My honor comes from Zeus, and I will have it Among these beaked ships as long as my breath Still remains and my knees still move. Now listen to this. You’re listening? Good. Don’t try to confuse me with your pleading [630] On Agamemnon’s behalf. If you’re his friend You’re no longer mine, although I love you. Hate him because I hate him. It’s as simple as that. You’re like a second father to me. Stay here,




Be king with me and share half the honor. These others can take my message. Lie down And spend the night on a soft couch. At daybreak We will decide whether to set sail or stay.” And he made a silent nod to Patroclus To spread a thick bed for Phoenix. It was time [640] For the others to think about leaving. Big Ajax, Telamon’s godlike son, said as much: “Son of Laertes in the line of Zeus, Resourceful Odysseus—it’s time we go. I do not think we will accomplish What we were sent here to do. Our job now Is to report this news quickly, bad as it is. They will be waiting to hear. Achilles Has made his great heart savage. He is a cruel man, and has no regard [650] For the love that his friends honored him with, Beyond anyone else who camps with the ships. Pitiless. A man accepts compensation For a murdered brother, a dead son. The killer goes on living in the same town After paying blood money, and the bereaved Restrains his proud spirit and broken heart Because he has received payment. But you, The gods have replaced your heart With flint and malice, because of one girl, [660] One single girl, while we are offering you Seven of the finest women to be found And many other gifts. Show some generosity And some respect. We have come under your roof, We few out of the entire army, trying hard To be the friends you care for most of all.” And Achilles, the great runner, answered him: “Ajax, son of Telamon in the line of Zeus, Everything you say is after my own heart. But I swell with rage when I think of how




[670] The son of Atreus treated me like dirt In public, as if I were some worthless tramp. Now go, and take back this message: I won’t lift a finger in this bloody war Until Priam’s illustrious son Hector Comes to the Myrmidons’ ships and huts Killing Greeks as he goes and torching the fleet. But when he comes to my hut and my black ship I think Hector will stop, for all his battle lust.” He spoke. They poured their libations [680] And headed for the ships, Odysseus leading.

. . . Book 16 While they fought for this ship, Patroclus Came to Achilles and stood by him weeping, His face like a sheer rock where the goat trails end And dark springwater washes down the stone. Achilles pitied him and spoke these feathered words: “What are all these tears about, Patroclus? You’re like a little girl, pestering her mother To pick her up, pulling at her hem As she tries to hurry off and looking up at her [10] With tears in her eyes until she gets her way. That’s just what you look like, you know. You have something to tell the Myrmidons? Or myself? Bad news from back home? Last I heard, Menoetius, your father, And Peleus, mine, were still alive and well. Their deaths would indeed give us cause to grieve. Or are you broken-hearted because some Greeks Are being beaten dead beside our ships? They had it coming. Out with it, Patroclus—




[20] Don’t try to hide it. I have a right to know.” And with a deep groan you said to him, Patroclus: “Achilles, great as you are, Don’t be vengeful. They are dying out there, All of our best—or who used to be our best— They’ve all been hit and are lying Wounded in camp. Diomedes is out, And Odysseus, a good man with a spear, Even Agamemnon has taken a hit. [30] Eurypylus, too, an arrow in his thigh. The medics are working on them right now, Stitching up their wounds. But you are incurable, Achilles. God forbid I ever feel the spite You nurse in your heart. You and your damned Honor! What good will it do future generations If you let us go down to this defeat In cold blood? Peleus was never your father Or Thetis your mother. No, the grey sea spat you out Onto crags in the surf, with an icy scab for a soul. [40] What is it? If some secret your mother Has learned from Zeus is holding you back, At least send me out, let me lead a troop Of Myrmidons and light the way for our army. And let me wear your armor. If the Trojans think I am you, they’ll back off and give the Greeks Some breathing space, what little there is in war. Our rested men will turn them with a shout And push them back from our ships to Troy.” That was how Patroclus, like a child [50] Begging for a toy, begged for death. And Achilles, angry and deeply troubled: “Ah, my noble friend, what a thing to say. No, I’m not in on any divine secret,




Nor has my mother told me anything from Zeus. But I take it hard when someone in power Uses his authority to rob his equal And strip him of his honor. I take it hard. The girl the Greeks chose to be my prize— After I demolished a walled city to get her— [60] Lord Agamemnon, son of Atreus, just took From my hands, as if I were some tramp. But we’ll let that be. I never meant To hold my grudge forever. But I did say I would not relent from my anger until The noise of battle lapped at my own ships’ hulls. So it’s on your shoulders now. Wear my armor And lead our Myrmidons into battle, If it is true that a dark cloud of Trojans Has settled in over the ships and the Greeks [70] Are hemmed in on a narrow strip of beach. The Trojans have become cocky, the whole city, Because they do not see my helmeted face Flaring close by. They would retreat so fast They would clog the ditches with their dead— If Lord Agamemnon knew how to respect me. As it is they have brought the war to our camp. So Diomedes is out, eh? It was his inspired Spear work that kept the Trojans at arm’s length. And I haven’t been hearing Agamemnon’s battle cry, [80] As much as I hate the throat it comes from—only Hector’s murderous shout breaking like the sea Over the Trojans, urging them on. The whole plain Is filled with their whooping as they rout the Greeks. Hit them hard, Patroclus, before they burn the ships And leave us stranded here. But before you go, Listen carefully to every word I say. Win me my honor, my glory and my honor From all the Greeks, and, as their restitution, The girl Briseis, and many other gifts. [90] But once you’ve driven the Trojans from the ships,




You come back, no matter how much Hera’s thundering husband lets you win. Any success you have against the Trojans Will be at the expense of my honor. And if you get so carried away With killing the Trojans that you press on to Troy, One of the immortals may intervene. Apollo, for one, loves them dearly. So once you have made some daylight for the ships, [100] You come back where you belong. The others can fight it out on the plain.” . . . Achilles slapped his thighs and said: “Hurry, Patroclus! I see fire from the ships. Don’t let them take the fleet and cut off our escape. Put on the armor while I gather the troops.” And so Patroclus armed, putting on The bronze metalwork tailored to the body Of Aeacus’ swift grandson: the greaves Trimmed with silver at the ankles, the corselet Spangled with stars, the silver-studded sword, [140] The massive shield, and the crested helmet That made every nod a threat. . . . When Achilles had the troops assembled By battalions, he spoke to them bluntly: “Myrmidons! I would not have a man among you forget The threats you have been issuing against the Trojans— From the safety of our camp—while I was in my rage. [210] All this time you have been calling me The hard-boiled son of Peleus and saying to my face That my mother must have weaned me on gall Or I wouldn’t keep my friends from battle.




That, together with hints you’d sail back home If all I was going to do was sit and sulk. Now, however, That there is a major battle to hold your interest, I hope that each of you remembers what it means to fight.” The speech steeled their spirit. The Myrmidons Closed ranks until there was no more space between them [220] Than between the stones a mason sets in the wall Of a high house when he wants to seal it from the wind. Helmet on helmet, shield overlapping shield, man on man, So close the horsehair plumes on their bright crests Rubbed each other as their heads bobbed up and down. And in front of them all, two men with one heart, Patroclus and Automedon made their final preparations To lead the Myrmidons into war. But Achilles Went back to his hut and opened the lid [230] Of a beautiful, carved chest his mother Thetis Had put aboard his ship when he sailed for Troy, Filled with tunics and cloaks and woolen rugs. And in it too was a chalice that no one else Ever drank from, and that he alone used for libation To no other god but Zeus. This chalice He now took from the chest, purified it With sulfur crystals, washed it with clear water, Then cleansed his hands and filled it with bright red wine. And then he prayed, standing in his courtyard [240] Pouring out the wine as he looked up to heaven. And as he prayed, Zeus in his thunderhead listened. “Lord Zeus, God of Dodona, Pelasgian God Who dwells afar in the snows of Dodona With your barefoot priests who sleep On the ground around your sacred oak: As you have heard my prayer before And did honor me and smite the Achaeans,




So now too fulfill my prayer. As I wait in the muster of the ships [250] And send my Patroclus into battle with my men, Send forth glory with him. Make bold the heart in his breast So that Hector will see that my comrade Knows how to fight and win without me. And when he has driven the noise of battle Away from our ships, may he come back to me Unharmed, with all his weapons and men.” Zeus in his wisdom heard Achilles’ prayer And granted half of it. Yes, Patroclus [260] Would drive the Trojans back from the ships, But he would not return from battle unharmed. . . . The Trojans, when they saw Patroclus Gleaming in his armor, fell apart, Convinced that Achilles had come out at last, His wrath renounced and solidarity restored. Each of them looked for a way to save his skin. . . . The half-burnt ship was left there. The Trojans, Frantic and screaming, were on the run, And the Greeks poured in with an answering roar.

Zeus will at times rein in his lightning And remove a dense cloud from a mountain top, And all the crests and headlands and high glades Break into view, and brightness falls from the air.





[310] The Greeks had repelled the enemy fire From the ships and could catch their breath, But only for a while. The battle was not over. The Trojans had withdrawn from the black ships, But were not giving up. They had taken a stand And would have to be pushed back by force. The fighting was scattered at first, as heroes Killed each other in individual combat. . . . In this way, each Greek leader took out his man.

Wolves will unerringly pick off lambs or kids That have become separated from the flock Through the shepherd’s lack of attention, The marauding predators making swift havoc Of the defenseless young animals.

So too the Greeks had their way with the Trojans, [380] Whose only tactic now was dishonorable flight. All this time big Ajax was trying To get a shot off at Hector, who, Knowing the ways of war, kept his shoulders Under his oxhide shield and listened For the whistling of arrows and thud of spears. He knew the fight was not going his way, But he held his ground and tried to save his friends.

A cloud detaches itself from Olympus And moves across the clear blue sky [390] When Zeus is about to unleash a storm.

The rout from the ships had begun, And in no good order. Hector’s horses




Got him across the trench, but he left His army behind it. The Trojans drove Team after team into the trench Only to see the horses break their poles, Struggle free, and leave their lords Stranded in their chariots. Patroclus Called his men in for the kill. The Trojans [400] Were screaming and running In every direction, while a cloud of dust Rose high over their horses as they left The ships behind and strained for the city. Patroclus drove his chariot to wherever The routed Trojans were thickest, Shouting as he plowed over broken chariots And the drivers who fell beneath his wheels. The horses the gods had given to Peleus Jumped the trench in one immortal leap, [410] And Patroclus steered them after Hector, In whose back he longed to plant his spear, But Hector’s horses had too big a lead.

When the storm finally breaks, on a day During harvest, the black earth is soaked Until it can hold no more, and still the rain Comes down in sheets as Zeus’ judgment On men who govern by violence And drive Justice out with their crooked verdicts, As if they have never heard of an Angry God. [420] All the rivers flood their banks, and every hill Is rutted with torrents that feed the rivers, And down from the mountains the waters roar And sweep men’s tillage into the shining sea.

The Trojan mares were thundering down the plain. Patroclus let them go. But when he had cut off The foremost battalions, he hemmed them back




Toward the ships, blocking their frantic retreat Toward the city, and in the space defined By the ships, the river, and Troy’s high wall, [430] He made them pay in blood. . . . Sarpedon saw his comrades running With their tunics flapping loose around their waists And being swatted down like flies by Patroclus. He called out, appealing to their sense of shame: “Why this sudden burst of speed, Lycian heroes? [460] Slow down a little, while I make the acquaintance Of this nuisance of a Greek who seems by now To have hamstrung half the Trojan army.” And he stepped down from his chariot in his bronze As Patroclus, seeing him, stepped down from his.

High above a cliff vultures are screaming In the air as they savage each other’s craws With their hooked beaks and talons.

And higher still, Zeus watched with pity as the two heroes closed [470] And said to his wife Hera, who is his sister too: “Fate has it that Sarpedon, whom I love more Than any man, is to be killed by Patroclus. Shall I take him out of battle while he still lives And set him down in the rich land of Lycia, Or shall I let him die under Patroclus’ hands?” And Hera, his lady, her eyes soft and wide: “Son of Cronus, what a thing to say! A mortal man, whose fate has long been fixed,




And you want to save him from rattling death? [480] Do it. But don’t expect all of us to approve. Listen to me. If you send Sarpedon home alive, You will have to expect other gods to do the same And save their own sons—and there are many of them In this war around Priam’s great city. Think of the resentment you will create. But if you love him and are filled with grief, Let him fall in battle at Patroclus’ hands, And when his soul and life have left him, Send Sleep and Death to bear him away [490] To Lycia, where his people will give him burial With mound and stone, as befits the dead.” The Father of Gods and Men agreed Reluctantly, but shed drops of blood as rain Upon the earth in honor of his own dear son Whom Patroclus was about to kill On Ilion’s rich soil, far from his native land. When they were close, Patroclus cast, and hit Not Prince Sarpedon, but his lieutenant Thrasymelus, a good man—a hard throw [500] Into the pit of his belly. He collapsed in a heap. Sarpedon countered and missed. His bright spear Sliced instead through the right shoulder Of Pedasus, who gave one pained, rasping whinny, Then fell in the dust. His spirit fluttered off. With the trace horse down, the remaining two Struggled in the creaking yoke, tangling the reins. Automedon remedied this by drawing his sword And cutting loose the trace horse. The other two Righted themselves and pulled hard at the reins, [510] And the two warriors closed again in mortal combat. Sarpedon cast again. Another miss. The spearpoint Glinted as it sailed over Patroclus’ left shoulder Without touching him at all. Patroclus came back,




Leaning into his throw, and the bronze point Caught Sarpedon just below the rib cage Where it protects the beating heart. Sarpedon fell

As a tree falls, oak, or poplar, or spreading pine, When carpenters cut it down in the forest With their bright axes, to be the beam of a ship,

[520] And he lay before his horses and chariot, Groaning heavily and clawing the bloody dust,

Like some tawny, spirited bull a lion has killed In the middle of the shambling herd, groaning As it dies beneath the predator’s jaws.

Thus beneath Patroclus the Lycian commander Struggled in death. And he called his friend: “Glaucus, it’s time to show what you’re made of And be the warrior you’ve always been, Heart set on evil war—if you’re fast enough. [530] Hurry, rally our best to fight for my body, All the Lycian leaders. Shame on you, Glaucus, until your dying day, if the Greeks Strip my body bare beside their ships. Be strong and keep the others going.” The end came as he spoke, and death settled On his nostrils and eyes. Patroclus put his heel On Sarpedon’s chest and pulled out his spear. The lungs came out with it, and Sarpedon’s life. The Myrmidons steadied his snorting horses. [540] They did not want to leave their master’s chariot. Glaucus could hardly bear to hear Sarpedon’s voice, He was so grieved that he could not save him. He pressed his arm with his hand. His wound Tormented him, the wound he got when Teucer




Shot him with an arrow as he attacked the wall. He prayed to Apollo, lord of bright distances: “Hear me, O Lord, wherever you are In Lycia or Troy, for everywhere you hear Men in their grief, and grief has come to me. [550] I am wounded, Lord, my arm is on fire, And the blood can’t be staunched. My shoulder Is so sore I cannot hold a steady spear And fight the enemy. Sarpedon is dead, My Lord, and Zeus will not save his own son. Heal my wound and deaden my pain, And give me the strength to call the Lycians And urge them on to fight, and do battle myself About the body of my fallen comrade.” Thus Glaucus’ prayer, and Apollo heard him. [560] He stilled his pain and staunched the dark blood That flowed from his wound. Glaucus felt The god’s strength pulsing through him, Glad that his prayers were so quickly answered. He rounded up the Lycian leaders And urged them to fight for Sarpedon’s body, Then went with long strides to the Trojans, To Polydamas, Agenor, Aeneas, And then saw Hector’s bronze-strapped face, Went up to him and said levelly: [570] “Hector, you have abandoned your allies. We have been putting our lives on the line for you Far from our homes and loved ones, And you don’t care enough to lend us aid. Sarpedon is down, our great warlord, Whose word in Lycia was Lycia’s law, Killed by Patroclus under Ares’ prodding. Show some pride and fight for his body, Or the Myrmidons will strip off the armor And defile his corpse, in recompense




[580] For all the Greeks we have killed by the ships.” This was almost too much for the Trojans. Sarpedon, though a foreigner, had been A mainstay of their city, the leader Of a large force and its best fighter. Hector led them straight at the Greeks, “For Sarpedon!” . . . They heard this as if hearing their own words. The lines on both sides hardened to steel. Then Trojans and Lycians, Myrmidons and Greeks Began fighting for the corpse, howling and cursing As they threw themselves into the grinding battle. [600] And Zeus stretched hellish night over the armies So they might do their lethal work over his son. . . . The plain of Troy thrummed with the sound Of bronze and hide stretched into shields, And of swords and spears knifing into these. [670] Sarpedon’s body was indistinguishable From the blood and grime and splintered spears That littered his body from head to foot.

But if you have ever seen how flies Cluster about the brimming milk pails On a dairy farm in early summer,

You will have some idea of the throng Around Sarpedon’s corpse. And not once did Zeus Avert his luminous eyes from the combatants.




[680] All this time he looked down at them and pondered When Patroclus should die, whether Shining Hector should kill him then and there In the conflict over godlike Sarpedon And strip the armor from his body, or whether He should live to destroy even more Trojans. And as he pondered it seemed preferable That Achilles’ splendid surrogate should once more Drive the Trojans and bronze-helmed Hector Back to the city, and take many lives. [690] And Hector felt it, felt his blood turn milky, And mounted his chariot, calling to the others To begin the retreat, that Zeus’ scales were tipping. Not even the Lycians stayed, not with Sarpedon Lying at the bottom of a pile of bodies That had fallen upon him in this node of war. The Greeks stripped at last the glowing bronze From Sarpedon’s shoulders, and Patroclus gave it To some of his comrades to take back to the ships. Then Zeus turned to Apollo and said: “Sun God, take our Sarpedon out of range. [700] Cleanse his wounds of all the clotted blood, And wash him in the river far away And anoint him with our holy chrism And wrap the body in a deathless shroud And give him over to be taken swiftly By Sleep and Death to Lycia, Where his people shall give him burial With mound and stone, as befits the dead.” . . . Patroclus called to his horses and charioteer And pressed on after the Trojans and Lycians, Forgetting everything Achilles had said




[720] And mindless of the black fates gathering above. Even then you might have escaped them, Patroclus, but Zeus’ mind is stronger than men’s, And Zeus now put fury in your heart. Do you remember it, Patroclus, all the Trojans You killed as the gods called you to your death? . . . Hector had halted his horses at the Western Gate And was deciding whether to drive back into battle Or call for a retreat to within the walls. While he pondered this, Phoebus Apollo Came up to him in the guise of Asius. [750] This man was Hector’s uncle on his mother’s side, And Apollo looked just like him as he spoke: “Why are you out of action, Hector? It’s not right. If I were as much stronger than you as I am weaker, You’d pay dearly for withdrawing from battle. Get in that chariot and go after Patroclus. Who knows? Apollo may give you the glory.” Hector commanded Cebriones, his charioteer, To whip the horses into battle. Apollo melted Into the throng, a god into the toil of men. [760] The Greeks felt a sudden chill, While Hector and the Trojans felt their spirits lift. Hector was not interested in the other Greeks. He drove through them and straight for Patroclus. . . . And then Patroclus unleashed himself. Three times he charged into the Trojan ranks With the raw power of Ares, yelling coldly, And on each charge he killed nine men.




But when you made your fourth, demonic charge, Then—did you feel it, Patroclus?—out of the mist, Your death coming to meet you. It was Apollo, whom you did not see in the thick of battle, [830] Standing behind you, and the flat of his hand Found the space between your shoulder blades. The sky’s blue disk went spinning in your eyes As Achilles’ helmet rang beneath the horses’ hooves, And rolled in the dust—no, that couldn’t be right— Those handsome horsehair plumes grimed with blood, The gods would never let that happen to the helmet That had protected the head and graceful brow Of divine Achilles. But the gods did Let it happen, and Zeus would now give the helmet [840] To Hector, whose own death was not far off. . . . Hector was watching this, and when he saw Patroclus withdrawing with a wound, he muscled [860] His way through to him and rammed his spearhead Into the pit of his belly and all the way through. Patroclus fell heavily. You could hear the Greeks wince.

A boar does not wear out easily, but a lion Will overpower it when the two face off Over a trickling spring up in the mountains They both want to drink from. The boar Pants hard, but the lion comes out on top.

So too did Hector, whose spear was draining the life From Menoetius’ son, who had himself killed many. [870] His words beat down on Patroclus like dark wings: “So, Patroclus, you thought you could ransack my city And ship our women back to Greece to be your slaves. You little fool. They are defended by me,




By Hector, by my horses and my spear. I am the one, Troy’s best, who keeps their doom at bay. But you, Patroclus, the vultures will eat you On this very spot. Your marvelous Achilles Has done you no good at all. I can just see it, Him sitting in his tent and telling you as you left: [880] ‘Don’t bother coming back to the ships, Patroclus, until you have ripped Hector’s heart out Through his bloody shirt.’ That’s what he said, Isn’t it? And you were stupid enough to listen.” And Patroclus, barely able to shake the words out: “Brag while you can, Hector. Zeus and Apollo Have given you an easy victory this time. If they hadn’t knocked off my armor, I could have made mincemeat of twenty like you. It was Fate, and Leto’s son, who killed me. . . . And one more thing for you to think over. You’re not going to live long. I see Death Standing at your shoulder, and you going down Under the hands of Peleus’ perfect son.”

. . . Book 18 The fight went on, like wildfire burning. Antilochus, running hard like a herald, Found Achilles close to his upswept hulls, His great heart brooding with premonitions Of what had indeed already happened. “This looks bad, All these Greeks with their hair in the wind




Stampeding off the plain and back to the ships. God forbid that what my mother told me [10] Has now come true, that while I’m still alive Trojan hands would steal the sunlight From the best of all the Myrmidons. Patroclus, Menoetius’ brave son, is dead. Damn him! I told him only to repel The enemy fire from our ships, And not to take on Hector in a fight.” Antilochus was in tears when he reached him And delivered his unendurable message: “Son of wise Peleus, this is painful news [20] For you to hear, and I wish it were not true. Patroclus is down, and they are fighting For his naked corpse. Hector has the armor.” A mist of black grief enveloped Achilles. He scooped up fistfuls of sunburnt dust And poured it on his head, fouling His beautiful face. Black ash grimed His fine-spun cloak as he stretched his huge body Out in the dust and lay there, Tearing out his hair with his hands. [30] The women, whom Achilles and Patroclus Had taken in raids, ran shrieking out of the tent To be with Achilles, and they beat their breasts Until their knees gave out beneath them. Antilochus, sobbing himself, stayed with Achilles And held his hands—he was groaning From the depths of his soul—for fear He would lay open his own throat with steel. The sound of Achilles’ grief stung the air. Down in the water his mother heard him, [40] Sitting in the sea depths beside her old father,




And she began to wail. And the saltwater women Gathered around her, all the deep-sea Nereids. . . . She left the cave, and they went with her, Weeping, and around them a wave [70] Broke through the sea, and they came to Troy. They emerged on the beach where the Myrmidons’ ships Formed an encampment around Achilles. He was groaning deeply, and his mother Stood next to him and held her son’s head. Her lamentation hung sharp in the air, And then she spoke in low, sorrowful tones: “Child, why are you crying? What pain Has come to your heart? Speak, don’t hide it. Zeus has granted your prayer. The Greeks [80] Have all been beaten back to their ships And suffered horribly. They can’t do without you.” Achilles answered her: “Mother, Zeus may have done all this for me, But how can I rejoice? My friend is dead, Patroclus, my dearest friend of all. I loved him, And I killed him. And the armor— Hector cut him down and took off his body The heavy, splendid armor, beautiful to see, That the gods gave to Peleus as a gift [90] On the day they put you to bed with a mortal. You should have stayed with the saltwater women, And Peleus should have married a mortal. But now—it was all so you would suffer pain For your ravaged son. You will never again Welcome me home, since I no longer have the will To remain alive among men, not unless Hector Loses his life on the point of my spear




And pays for despoiling Menoetius’ son.” And Thetis, in tears, said to him: [100] “I won’t have you with me for long, my child, If you say such things. Hector’s death means yours.” From under a great weight, Achilles answered: “Then let me die now. I was no help To him when he was killed out there. He died Far from home, and he needed me to protect him. But now, since I’m not going home, and wasn’t A light for Patroclus or any of the rest Of my friends who have been beaten by Hector, But just squatted by my ships, a dead weight on the earth . . . [110] I stand alone in the whole Greek army When it comes to war—though some do speak better. I wish all strife could stop, among gods And among men, and anger too—it sends Sensible men into fits of temper, It drips down our throats sweeter than honey And mushrooms up in our bellies like smoke. Yes, the warlord Agamemnon angered me. But we’ll let that be, no matter how it hurts, And conquer our pride, because we must. [120] But I’m going now to find the man who destroyed My beloved—Hector. As for my own fate, I’ll accept it whenever it pleases Zeus And the other immortal gods to send it. Not even Heracles could escape his doom. He was dearest of all to Lord Zeus, but fate And Hera’s hard anger destroyed him. If it is true that I have a fate like his, then I too Will lie down in death. [130] But now to win glory And make some Trojan woman or deep-breasted




Dardanian matron wipe the tears From her soft cheeks, make her sob and groan. Let them feel how long I’ve been out of the war. Don’t try, out of love, to stop me. I won’t listen.” And Thetis, her feet silver on the sand: “Yes, child. It’s not wrong to save your friends When they are beaten to the brink of death. But your beautiful armor is in the hands of the Trojans, [140] The mirrored bronze. Hector himself Has it on his shoulders. He glories in it. Not for long, though. I see his death is near. But you, don’t dive into the red dust of war Until with your own eyes you see me returning. Tomorrow I will come with the rising sun Bearing beautiful armor from Lord Hephaestus.” . . .

And while her feet carried her off to Olympus, Hector yelled, a yell so bloodcurdling and loud [160] It stampeded the Greeks all the way back To their ships beached on the Hellespont’s shore. They could not pull the body of Patroclus Out of javelin range, and soon Hector, With his horses and men, stood over it again. Three times Priam’s resplendent son Took hold of the corpse’s heels and tried To drag it off, bawling commands to his men. Three times the two Ajaxes put their heads down, Charged, and beat him back. Unshaken, Hector [170] Sidestepped, cut ahead, or held his ground With a shout, but never yielded an inch.

It was like shepherds against a starving lion, Helpless to beat it back from a carcass,





The two Ajaxes unable to rout The son of Priam from Patroclus’ corpse. And Hector would have, to his eternal glory, Dragged the body off, had not Iris stormed Down from Olympus with a message for Achilles, Unbeknownst to Zeus and the other gods. [180] Hera had sent her, and this was her message: “Rise, son of Peleus, most formidable of men. Rescue Patroclus, for whom a terrible battle Is pitched by the ships, men killing each other, Some fighting to save the dead man’s body, The Trojans trying to drag it back To windy Ilion. Hector’s mind especially Is bent on this. He means to impale the head On Troy’s palisade after he strips off its skin. And you just lie there? Think of Patroclus [190] Becoming a ragbone for Trojan dogs. Shame To your dying day if his corpse is defiled.” The shining sprinter Achilles answered her: “Iris, which god sent you here?” And Iris, whose feet are wind, responded: “None other than Hera, Zeus’ glorious wife. But Zeus on high does not know this, nor do Any of the immortals on snow-capped Olympus.” And Achilles, the great runner: “How can I go to war? They have my armor. [200] And my mother told me not to arm myself Until with my own eyes I see her come back With fine weapons from Hephaestus. I don’t know any other armor that would fit, Unless maybe the shield of Telamonian Ajax. But he’s out there in the front ranks, I hope,




Fighting with his spear over Patroclus dead.” Windfoot Iris responded: “We know very well that they have your armor. Just go to the trench and let the Trojans see you. [210] One look will be enough. The Trojans will back off Out of fear of you, and this will give the Greeks Some breathing space, what little there is in war.” Iris spoke and was gone. And Achilles, Whom the gods loved, rose. Around His mighty shoulders Athena threw Her tasselled aegis, and the shining goddess Haloed his head with a golden cloud That shot flames from its incandescent glow.

Smoke is rising through the pure upper air [220] From a besieged city on a distant island. Its soldiers have fought hard all day, But at sunset they light innumerable fires So that their neighbors in other cities Might see the glare reflected off the sky And sail to their help as allies in war.

So too the radiance that flared From Achilles’ head and up to the sky. He went to the trench—away from the wall And the other Greeks, out of respect [230] For his mother’s tense command. Standing there, He yelled, and behind him Pallas Athena Amplified his voice, and shock waves Reverberated through the Trojan ranks.

You have heard the piercing sound of horns When squadrons come to destroy a city.

The Greek’s voice was like that,




Speaking bronze that made each Trojan heart Wince with pain. And the combed horses [240] Shied from their chariots, eyes wide with fear, And their drivers went numb when they saw The fire above Achilles’ head Burned into the sky by the Grey-Eyed One. Three times Achilles shouted from the trench; Three times the Trojans and their confederates Staggered and reeled, twelve of their best Lost in the crush of chariots and spears. But the Greeks were glad to pull Patroclus’ body Out of range and placed it on a litter. His comrades [250] Gathered around, weeping, and with them Achilles.

. . . Book 19 Dawn shrouded in saffron Rose out of the deep water with light For immortals and humans alike. And Thetis Came to the ships with Hephaestus’ gifts. She found her son lying beside His Patroclus, wailing, And around him his many friends, Mourning. The silvery goddess [10] Stood in their midst, took his hand, Whispered his name, and said to him: “Achilles, you must let him rest, No matter our grief. This man was gentled By the gods. But you, my son, my darling, Take this glorious armor from Hephaestus, So very beautiful, no man has ever worn




Anything like it.” She spoke, And when she set the armor down before Achilles, [20] All of the metalwork clattered and chimed. The Myrmidons shuddered, and to a man Could not bear to look at it. But Achilles, When he saw it, felt his rage seep Deeper into his bones, and his lids narrowed And lowered over eyes that glared Like a white-hot steel flame. He turned The polished weapons the god had given him Over and over in his hands, and felt Pangs of joy at all its intricate beauty. [30] And his words rose on wings To meet his mother: “My mother, A god has given me these weapons—no Mortal could have made them—and it is time I arm myself in them. But I am afraid For Patroclus, afraid that flies Will infest his wounds and breed worms In his body, now the life is gone, And his flesh turn foul and rotten.” [40] The silver-footed goddess answered: “Do not let that trouble you, child. I will protect him from the swarming flies That infest humans slain in war. Even if he should lie out for a full year His flesh would still be as firm, or better. But call an assembly now. Renounce Your rage against Agamemnon. Arm yourself for war and put on your strength.” Saying this, she multiplied his heroic temper. [50] Then she dripped ambrosia and ruby nectar




Through Patroclus’ nostrils, to keep his flesh firm. And then Achilles went along the shore Etched in sunlight, and shouted so loud That not only the heroes came out, but all those too Who had spent the war among the encamped ships, All the pilots and oarsmen and stewards and cooks— They all came to the assembly then, because Achilles, Who had abstained a long time, was back. Limping along were the two veterans, [60] Battle-scarred Diomedes and brilliant Odysseus, Badly wounded, using their spears as crutches. They came in and sat at the front of the assembly, And behind them came the warlord, Agamemnon, Wounded himself (that spear thrust by Coön, Son of Antenor, in a hard-fought battle). When all of the Greeks were gathered together, Swift-footed Achilles rose and addressed them: “Well, son of Atreus, are either of us better off For this anger that has eaten our hearts away [70] Like acid, this bitter quarrel over a girl? Artemis should have shot her aboard my ship The day I pillaged Lyrnessus and took her. Far fewer Greeks would have gone down in the dust Under Trojan hands, while I nursed my grudge. Hector and the Trojans are better off. But the Greeks? I think they will remember our quarrel forever. But we’ll let all that be, no matter how it hurts, And conquer our pride, because we must. I hereby end my anger. There is no need for me [80] To rage relentlessly. But let’s move quickly now To get our troops back into battle So I can confront the Trojans and test their will To bivouac among our ships. They will more likely Be thankful to rest their knees at day’s end, If any of them gets out of this alive.”




He spoke, and the Greeks cheered. Peleus’ great son had renounced his rage. And then the warlord Agamemnon spoke From where he sat, without rising among them: [90] “Friends, Danaan heroes, servants of Ares— It is right to listen to one who stands to speak And unseemly for even a skilled orator To interrupt him. Even if he could Make himself heard above the crowd He would be at a disadvantage. What I have to say is for the son of Peleus, But I want each one of you to mark my words. There’s not a Greek here who has not said Spiteful things about me. But I am not to blame. [100] Zeus is, and Fate, and the Dark Avenger, Who put a fit of madness on me, in public, That day I robbed Achilles of his prize. But what could I do? Gods decide everything. . . . Yes, I was blind. Zeus robbed me of my wits. But I want to make reparation, generously. Rouse yourself, and your soldiers, for battle. I am here to promise you all of the gifts Odysseus proposed in your hut last night. Or wait, if you wish, though you are eager for war, While my men start bringing things from my ship So you can see that my gifts will please your heart.” And Achilles, strong and swift, answered him: [160] “Son of Atreus, most glorious Agamemnon, Whether you offer me gifts, as is right, Or keep them, is your concern. War is mine. Let’s not waste any more time with speeches. We have work to do. I want each one of you




To see Achilles fighting on the front line, Destroying the Trojan ranks with his spear. Have that image in mind as you fight your man.” Odysseus, the wily thinker, answered him: “Achilles, we know how good you are, [170] But don’t send our men out to fight the Trojans Without any food in their stomachs. It’s not going to be a short battle Once the two sides close and start feeling The god’s breath working inside them. You should have our men go to their ships For food and wine, and get their strength up. No one can fight all day until sunset On an empty stomach. He may have the heart, But as hunger and thirst creep up on him, [180] His arms get heavy and his knees go slack. But a man who has had his fill of food and wine Can fight all day long with confidence, And stays strong until the last man quits. So come, Dismiss the troops and have them prepare their meal. As for the gifts, let Lord Agamemnon Bring them out here, so that the whole army Can see them. This will warm your heart. And he should stand and swear a public oath That he has not gone to the woman’s bed. [190] You, Achilles, should be gracious about this, And then he should complete his amends By feasting you richly, so you have all your due. Next time, son of Atreus, you will act more justly, But there is no cause at all for offense when kings Make their amends for unprovoked anger.” . . . Then Achilles




Rose and addressed the war-loving Achaeans: “Father Zeus, great is the blindness you send to men. Else Atreus’ son never would have roused my rage [290] Or insisted on leading the girl away Against my will. Somehow it has pleased Zeus That many Greeks should die. Now go to your meal, so we can join battle.”

The assembly broke up and the men scattered, Each to his own ship. The Myrmidons got busy With the gifts, bringing them to Achilles’ ship. They stored it all in his huts, left the women there, And proudly drove the horses to the herd. Briseis stood there like golden Aphrodite. [300] But when she saw Patroclus’ mangled body She threw herself upon him and wailed In a high, piercing voice, and with her nails She tore her breast and soft neck and lovely face. And this woman, so like a goddess, cried in anguish: “My poor Patroclus. You were so dear to me. When I left this hut you were alive, And now I find you, the army’s leader, dead When I come back. So it is for me always, Evil upon evil. I have seen my husband, [310] The man my father and mother gave me to, Mangled with sharp bronze before my city, And my three brothers, all from the same mother, Brothers I loved—they all died that day. But you wouldn’t let me cry when Achilles Killed my husband and destroyed Mynes’ city, Wouldn’t let me cry. You told me you’d make me Achilles’ bride, told me you’d take me on a ship To Phthia, for a wedding among the Myrmidons. I will never stop grieving for you, forever sweet.”




[320] Thus Briseis, and the women mourned with her, For Patroclus, yes, but each woman also For her own private sorrows. Around Achilles The Achaean elders gathered, begging him to eat, But he refused them, groaning: “I beg you, my friends— Aren’t any of you listening? Don’t keep asking me To satisfy my heart with food or drink Before it is time. My grief is too great. [330] I will stay as I am and endure until sunset.” And he waved them off. Only Atreus’ two sons Remained with him, along with Odysseus, Nestor, and the old charioteer, Phoenix, Trying to comfort him in his grief’s extremity. But he could not be comforted. His heart would ache Until he lost himself in war’s blood-stained mouth. Memories welled up and caught in his throat: “There was a time, my ill-fated, beloved friend, You would serve me a fine dinner in this hut, [340] Deftly and quickly, while the army hurried To bring war’s sorrow to the horse-breaking Trojans. Now you lie here a mangled corpse, and my heart Fasts from the food and drink that are here Out of grief for you. I could not suffer worse, Not even if I learned my father were dead, Who perhaps is weeping back in Phthia right now Because he misses his son who is off fighting On Trojan soil—for Helen, at whom we all shudder. Not even if it were my son, Neoptolemus, [350] Who is being reared for me in Scyrus, if indeed My dear child is still alive. I had hoped, Until now, that I alone would perish at Troy, And that you would return, and take my boy




In your swift black ship away from Scyrus And show him all my things back home in Phthia. For Peleus by now must be dead and gone, Or if he does still live he draws his breath in pain, Clinging to a shred of life and always expecting The grim message that will tell him I am dead.” [360] He wept, and the elders added their laments to his, Each remembering what he had left at home.

. . . Book 20 . . .

Fire raging through a parched forest In a mountain valley, when the wind rises And spirals the flames in every direction

Will give you some idea of Achilles’ presence As the black earth ran with blood.

A team of broad-browed oxen has been yoked And is now treading white barley On a solid threshing floor. It does not take long For the bellowing bulls to tread out the grain.

[520] So the hooves of Achilles’ horses trampled Dead bodies, shields. The chariot’s axle And rails were splashed with blood Kicked up by the wheels and horses’ hooves. But the son of Peleus pressed on to glory, His invincible hands spattered with gore. . . .




Book 21 . . . All Achilles wanted was to run him through. His spear flashed out, but Lycaon, stooping To touch his knees, ducked under it. The spear Passed over his back and stuck in the earth, Quivering with desire for a man’s flesh. Lycaon caught Achilles’ knees with one hand And held the pointed spear with the other And would not let go of either as he begged: “I am at your knees, Achilles. Pity me. [80] You have to respect me as your suppliant For I tasted Demeter’s holy grain with you On that day you took me captive in the orchard And sent me far from my father and friends, Sold into sacred Lemnos for a hundred oxen. I ransomed myself for three times that. This morning Was my twelfth since getting back to Ilion After many hard turns. And now Fate Has put me in your hands again. Father Zeus Must hate me to give me to you twice. [90] My mother bore me for a shortened life . . . And now this is it for me. I doubt I can escape, Since it was some god who put me in your hands. [100] But I’ll say this too, and you can think it over: Don’t kill me, since I’m not from the same womb As Hector, who killed your gentle, valiant friend.” Priam’s glorious son spoke words of entreaty, But heard a voice without a trace of softness say: “Shut up, fool, and stop talking ransom. Before Patroclus met his destiny




It was more to my taste to spare Trojan lives, Capture them, and sell them overseas. But now they all die, every last Trojan [110] God puts into my hands before Ilion’s walls, All of them, and especially Priam’s children. You die too, friend. Don’t take it hard. Patroclus died, and he was far better than you. Take a look at me. Do you see how huge I am, How beautiful? I have a noble father, My mother was a goddess, but I too Am in death’s shadow. There will come a time, Some dawn or evening or noon in this war, When someone will take my life from me [120] With a spear thrust or an arrow from a string.” Lycaon’s knees and heart went slack. He let go the spear and sat there, both hands Outstretched. Achilles drew his honed sword And struck near the collar bone. The whole blade Sank into his trunk, and he fell prone to the ground, Black blood trickling out and wetting the dirt. Achilles slung him into the river by his foot. . . .

Book 22 Everywhere you looked in Troy, exhausted Soldiers, glazed with sweat like winded deer, Leaned on the walls, cooling down And slaking their thirst. Outside, the Greeks Formed up close to the wall, locking their shields. In the dead air between the Greeks And Troy’s Western Gate, Destiny




Had Hector pinned, waiting for death. . . . And the shining sprinter, Achilles: . . . His mind opened to the clear space before him, And he was off toward the town, moving

Like a thoroughbred stretching it out Over the plain for the final sprint home—

[30] Achilles, lifting his knees as he lengthened his stride. Priam saw him first, with his old man’s eyes, A single point of light on Troy’s dusty plain.

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky On summer nights, star of stars, Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat And fevers to suffering humanity.

Achilles’ bronze gleamed like this as he ran. And the old man groaned, and beat his head [40] With his hands, and stretched out his arms To his beloved son, Hector, who had Taken his stand before the Western Gate, Determined to meet Achilles in combat. Priam’s voice cracked as he pleaded: “Hector, my boy, you can’t face Achilles Alone like that, without any support— You’ll go down in a minute. He’s too much




For you, son, he won’t stop at anything! O, if only the gods loved him as I do: [50] Vultures and dogs would be gnawing his corpse. Then some grief might pass from my heart. So many fine sons he’s taken from me, Killed or sold them as slaves in the islands. Two of them now, Lycaon and Polydorus, I can’t see with the Trojans safe in town, Laothoë’s boys. If the Greeks have them We’ll ransom them with the gold and silver Old Altes gave us. But if they’re dead And gone down to Hades, there will be grief [60] For myself and the mother who bore them. The rest of the people won’t mourn so much Unless you go down at Achilles’ hands. So come inside the wall, my boy. Live to save the men and women of Troy. Don’t just hand Achilles the glory And throw your life away. Show some pity for me Before I go out of my mind with grief And Zeus finally destroys me in my old age, After I have seen all the horrors of war— [70] My sons butchered, my daughters dragged off, Raped, bedchambers plundered, infants Dashed to the ground in this terrible war, My sons’ wives abused by murderous Greeks. And one day some Greek soldier will stick me With cold bronze and draw the life from my limbs, And the dogs that I fed at my table, My watchdogs, will drag me outside and eat My flesh raw, crouched in my doorway, lapping My blood. [80] When a young man is killed in war, Even though his body is slashed with bronze, He lies there beautiful in death, noble. But when the dogs maraud an old man’s head,




Griming his white hair and beard and private parts, There’s no human fate more pitiable.” And the old man pulled the white hair from his head, But did not persuade Hector. His mother then, Wailing, sobbing, laid open her bosom [90] And holding out a breast spoke through her tears: “Hector, my child, if ever I’ve soothed you With this breast, remember it now, son, and Have pity on me. Don’t pit yourself Against that madman. Come inside the wall. If Achilles kills you I will never Get to mourn you laid out on a bier, O My sweet blossom, nor will Andromache, Your beautiful wife, but far from us both Dogs will eat your body by the Greek ships.” [100] So the two of them pleaded with their son, But did not persuade him or touch his heart. Hector held his ground as Achilles’ bulk Loomed larger. He waited as a snake waits,

Tense and coiled As a man approaches Its lair in the mountains, Venom in its fangs And poison in its heart, Glittering eyes [110] Glaring from the rocks:

So Hector waited, leaning his polished shield Against one of the towers in Troy’s bulging wall, But his heart was troubled with brooding thoughts: “Now what? If I take cover inside,




Polydamas will be the first to reproach me. He begged me to lead the Trojans back To the city on that black night when Achilles rose. But I wouldn’t listen, and now I’ve destroyed Half the army through my recklessness. [120] I can’t face the Trojan men and women now, Can’t bear to hear some lesser man say, ‘Hector trusted his strength and lost the army.’ That’s what they’ll say. I’ll be much better off Facing Achilles, either killing him Or dying honorably before the city. But what if I lay down all my weapons, Bossed shield, heavy helmet, prop my spear Against the wall, and go meet Achilles, Promise him we’ll surrender Helen [130] And everything Paris brought back with her In his ships’ holds to Troy—that was the beginning Of this war—give all of it back To the sons of Atreus and divide Everything else in the town with the Greeks, And swear a great oath not to hold Anything back, but share it all equally, All the treasure in Troy’s citadel. But why am I talking to myself like this? I can’t go out there unarmed. Achilles [140] Will cut me down in cold blood if I take off My armor and go out to meet him Naked like a woman. This is no time For talking, the way a boy and a girl Whisper to each other from oak tree or rock, A boy and a girl with all their sweet talk. Better to lock up in mortal combat As soon as possible and see to whom God on Olympus grants the victory.” Thus said Hector.




[150] And Achilles closed in Like the helmeted God of War himself, The ash-wood spear above his right shoulder Rocking in the light that played from his bronze In gleams of fire and the rising sun. And when Hector saw it he lost his nerve, Panicked, and ran, leaving the gates behind, With Achilles on his tail, confident in his speed.

You have seen a falcon In a long, smooth dive [160] Attack a fluttering dove Far below in the hills. The falcon screams, Swoops, and plunges In its lust for prey.

So Achilles swooped and Hector trembled In the shadow of Troy’s wall. . . . As Achilles bore down on Hector.

A hunting hound starts a fawn in the hills, Follows it through brakes and hollows, And if it hides in a thicket, circles, Picks up the trail, and renews the chase.

No more could Hector elude Achilles. Every time Hector surged for the Western Gate Under the massive towers, hoping for [220] Trojan archers to give him some cover, Achilles cut him off and turned him back Toward the plain, keeping the inside track.

Running in a dream, you can’t catch up,




You can’t catch up and you can’t get away. No more could Achilles catch Hector Or Hector escape. . . . Achilles shook his head at his soldiers: He would not allow anyone to shoot At Hector and win glory with a hit, Leaving him only to finish him off. . . . By now the grey-eyed goddess Athena Was at Achilles’ side, and her words flew fast: “There’s nothing but glory on the beachhead For us now, my splendid Achilles, Once we take Hector out of action, and There’s no way he can escape us now, Not even if my brother Apollo has a fit And rolls on the ground before the Almighty. You stay here and catch your breath while I go [250] To persuade the man to put up a fight.” Welcome words for Achilles. He rested, Leaning on his heavy ash and bronze spear, While the goddess made her way to Hector, The spitting image of Deïphobus. And her voice sounded like his as she said: “Achilles is pushing you hard, brother, In this long footrace around Priam’s town. Why don’t we stand here and give him a fight?” Hector’s helmet flashed as he turned and said: [260] “Deïphobus, you’ve always been my favorite Brother, and again you’ve shown me why, Having the courage to come out for me,




Leaving the safety of the wall, while all Priam’s other sons are cowering inside.” And Athena, her eyes as grey as winter moons: “Mother and father begged me by my knees To stay inside, and so did all my friends. That’s how frightened they are, Hector. But I Could not bear the pain in my heart, brother. [270] Now let’s get tough and fight and not spare Any spears. Either Achilles kills us both And drags our blood-soaked gear to the ships, Or he goes down with your spear in his guts.” That’s how Athena led him on, with guile. And when the two heroes faced each other, Great Hector, helmet shining, spoke first: “I’m not running any more, Achilles. Three times around the city was enough. I’ve got my nerve back. It’s me or you now. [280] But first we should swear a solemn oath. With all the gods as witnesses, I swear: If Zeus gives me the victory over you, I will not dishonor your corpse, only Strip the armor and give the body back To the Greeks. Promise you’ll do the same.” And Achilles, fixing his eyes on him: “Don’t try to cut any deals with me, Hector. Do lions make peace treaties with men? Do wolves and lambs agree to get along? [290] No, they hate each other to the core, And that’s how it is between you and me, No talk of agreements until one of us Falls and gluts Ares with his blood. By God, you’d better remember everything You ever knew about fighting with spears.




But you’re as good as dead. Pallas Athena And my spear will make you pay in a lump For the agony you’ve caused by killing my friends.” With that he pumped his spear arm and let fly. [300] Hector saw the long flare the javelin made, and ducked. The bronze point sheared the air over his head And rammed into the earth. But Athena Pulled it out and gave it back to Achilles Without Hector noticing. And Hector, Prince of Troy, taunted Achilles: “Ha! You missed! Godlike Achilles! It looks like You didn’t have my number after all. You said you did, but you were just trying To scare me with big words and empty talk. [310] Did you think I’d run and you’d plant a spear In my back? It’ll take a direct hit in my chest, Coming right at you, that and a god’s help too. Now see if you can dodge this piece of bronze. I’d like for you to swallow it whole! The war will be much easier On the Trojans with you dead and gone.” And Hector let his heavy javelin fly, A good throw, too, hitting Achilles’ shield Dead center, but it only rebounded away. Angry that his throw was wasted, Hector [320] Fumbled about for a moment, reaching For another spear. He shouted to Deïphobus, But Deïphobus was nowhere in sight. It was then that Hector knew in his heart What had happened, and said to himself: “I hear the gods calling me to my death. I thought I had a good man here with me, Deïphobus, but he’s still on the wall. Athena tricked me. Death is closing in And there’s no escape. Zeus and Apollo [330] Must have chosen this long ago, even though




They used to be on my side. Well, this is fate, But I will not perish without doing some great deed That future generations will remember.” And he drew the sharp broadsword that hung By his side and gathered himself for a charge.

A high-flying eagle dives Through ebony clouds down To the sun-scutched plain to claw A lamb or a quivering hare.

[340] Thus Hector’s charge, and the light That played from his blade’s honed edge. Opposite him, Achilles exploded forward, fury Incarnate behind the curve of his shield, A glory of metalwork, and the plumes Nodded and rippled on his helmet’s crest, Thick golden horsehair set by Hephaestus, And his spearpoint glinted like the Evening Star

In the gloom of night, Star of perfect splendor,

[350] A gleam in the air as Achilles poised His spear with murderous aim at Hector, Eyes boring into the beautiful skin, Searching for the weak spot. Hector’s body Was encased in the glowing bronze armor He had stripped from the fallen Patroclus, But where the collarbones join at the neck The gullet offered swift and certain death. It was there Achilles drove his spear through As Hector charged. The heavy bronze apex [360] Pierced the soft neck but did not slit the windpipe,




So that Hector could speak still. He fell back in the dust. And Achilles exulted: “So you thought you could get away with it Didn’t you, Hector? Killing Patroclus And ripping off his armor, my armor, Thinking I was too far away to matter. You fool. His avenger was far greater— And far closer—than you could imagine, [370] Biding his time back in our beachhead camp. And now I have laid you out on the ground. Dogs and birds are going to draw out your guts While the Greeks give Patroclus burial.” And Hector, barely able to shake the words out: “I beg you, Achilles, by your own soul And by your parents, do not Allow the dogs to mutilate my body By the Greek ships. Accept the gold and bronze Ransom my father and mother will give you [380] And send my body back home to be burned In honor by the Trojans and their wives.” And Achilles, fixing him with a stare: “Don’t whine to me about my parents, You dog! I wish my stomach would let me Cut off your flesh in strips and eat it raw For what you’ve done to me. There is no one And no way to keep the dogs off your head, Not even if they bring ten or twenty Ransoms, pile them up here and promise more, [390] Not even if Dardanian Priam weighs your body Out in gold, not even then will your mother Ever get to mourn you laid out on a bier.




No, dogs and birds will eat every last scrap.” Helmet shining, Hector spoke his last words: “So this is Achilles. There was no way To persuade you. Your heart is a lump Of iron. But the gods will not forget this, And I will have my vengeance on that day When Paris and Apollo destroy you [400] In the long shadow of Troy’s Western Gate.” Death’s veil covered him as he said these things, And his soul, bound for Hades, fluttered out Resentfully, forsaking manhood’s bloom. He was dead when Achilles spoke to him: “Die and be done with it. As for my fate, I’ll accept it whenever Zeus sends it.” And he drew the bronze spear out of the corpse, Laid it aside, then stripped off the blood-stained armor. The other Greeks crowded around [410] And could not help but admire Hector’s Beautiful body, but still they stood there Stabbing their spears into him, smirking. “Hector’s a lot softer to the touch now Than he was when he was burning our ships,” One of them would say, pulling out his spear. After Achilles had stripped the body He rose like a god and addressed the Greeks: “Friends, Argive commanders and counsellors, The gods have granted us this man’s defeat, [420] Who did us more harm than all the rest Put together. . . .




Patroclus’ body Still lies by the ships, unmourned, unburied, Patroclus, whom I will never forget As long as I am among the living, [430] Until I rise no more; and even if In Hades the dead do not remember, Even there I will remember my dear friend. Now let us chant the victory paean, sons Of the Achaeans, and march back to our ships With this hero in tow. The power and the glory Are ours. We have killed great Hector, Whom all the Trojans honored as a god.” But it was shame and defilement Achilles Had in mind for Hector. He pierced the tendons [440] Above the heels and cinched them with leather thongs To his chariot, letting Hector’s head drag. He mounted, hoisted up the prize armor, And whipped his team to a willing gallop Across the plain. A cloud of dust rose Where Hector was hauled, and the long black hair Fanned out from his head, so beautiful once, As it trailed in the dust. In this way Zeus Delivered Hector into his enemies’ hands To be defiled in his own native land. [450] Watching this from the wall, Hector’s mother Tore off her shining veil and screamed, And his old father groaned pitifully, And all through town the people were convulsed With lamentation, as if Troy itself, The whole towering city, were in flames. . . . Andromache




Ran outdoors like a madwoman, heart racing, Her two waiting-women following behind. She reached the tower, pushed through the crowd, And looking out from the wall saw her husband As the horses dragged him disdainfully Away from the city to the hollow Greek ships. Black night swept over her eyes. . . . [530] “Hector, you and I have come to the grief We were both born for, you in Priam’s Troy And I in Thebes in the house of Eëtion Who raised me there beneath wooded Plakos Under an evil star. Better never to have been born. And now you are going to Hades’ dark world, Underground, leaving me in sorrow, A widow in the halls, with an infant, The son you and I bore but cannot bless. You can’t help him now you are dead, Hector, [540] And he can never help you. Even if He lives through this unbearable war, There’s nothing left for him in life but pain And deprivation.” . . .

Book 23 While the Trojans lamented throughout the city, The Greeks came to their beachhead camp On the Hellespont and dispersed, each man To his own ship. But Achilles Did not dismiss the Myrmidons.




He addressed his troops, men who lived for war: “Myrmidons! I know you love your horses, But before we unhitch them from the chariots [10] Let us all stay in armor and drive up close And weep for Patroclus. We owe it to the dead. After we’ve indulged in grief and sorrow We can loosen our horses and eat together.” He spoke, and led them in their lamentation. Three times they drove their horses round the corpse, Wailing as they went. Thetis was with them, And she honed their desire for grief. The sand Was wet, and the warriors’ armor, wet with tears. They missed him. God, how he could fight! [20] Achilles’ voice rose through their choked sobbing, As he placed his man-slaying hands on his friend’s breast: “I hail you, Patroclus, even in Hades! I am fulfilling all that I promised before, To drag Hector here and feed him raw to the dogs.” . . . When they had laid out an immense amount of wood, The crowd sat down and waited. Then Achilles Ordered the Myrmidons to put on their armor [140] And yoke the horses to the chariots. They armed And mounted, charioteers and warriors both, And the chariots rolled out, with foot soldiers Following behind in an endless cloud. In the middle his comrades bore Patroclus, Covering his body, as if with a garment, With hair they sheared off and cast upon it. Behind them Achilles cradled his head, grieving For the peerless friend he was sending to Hades.




. . .

Book 24 . . . Sleep that masters all had no hold on Achilles. Tears wet his face as he remembered his friend. He tossed and turned, yearning for Patroclus, For his manhood and his noble heart, And all they had done together, the shared pain, [10] The battles fought, the hard times at sea. Thinking on all this, he would weep softly, Lying now on his side, now on his back, And now face down. Then he would rise To his feet and wander in a daze along the shore. Dawn never escaped him. As soon as she appeared Over the sea and the dunes, he would hitch Horses to his chariot and drag Hector behind. When he had hauled him three times around Patroclus’ tomb, he would rest again in his hut, [20] Leaving Hector stretched face down in the dust. But Apollo kept Hector’s flesh undefiled, Pitying the man even in death. He kept him Wrapped in his golden aegis, so that Achilles Would not scour the skin as he dragged him.

So Achilles defiled Hector in his rage. . . . Twelve days went by. Dawn. . . . [130] Zeus had spoken, and the silver-footed goddess Streaked down from the peaks of Olympus And came to her son’s hut. She found him there




Lost in grief. His friends were all around, Busily preparing their morning meal, For which a great, shaggy ram had been slaughtered. Settling herself beside her weeping child, She stroked him with her hand and talked to him: “My son, how long will you let this grief Eat at your heart, mindless of food and rest? [140] It would be good to make love to a woman. It hurts me to say it, but you will not live Much longer. Death and Doom are beside you. Listen now, I have a message from Zeus. The gods are indignant, and he, above all, Is angry that in your heart’s fury You hold Hector by these beaked ships And will not give him up. Come now, Release the body and take ransom for the dead.” And Achilles, swift of foot, answered her: [150] “So be it. Let them ransom the dead, If the god on Olympus wills it so.” So mother and son spoke many words To each other, with the Greek ships all around. Meanwhile, Zeus dispatched Iris to Troy: “Up now, swift Iris, leave Olympus For sacred Ilion and tell Priam He must go to the Greek ships to ransom his son With gifts that will soften Achilles’ heart.” . . . [170] Iris stormed down to deliver this message. She came to the house of Priam and found there Mourning and lamentation. Priam’s sons Sat in the courtyard around their father, Fouling their clothes with tears. The old man,




Wrapped in his mantle, sat like graven stone. His head and neck were covered with dung He had rolled in and scraped up with his hands. His daughters and sons’ wives were wailing Throughout the house, remembering their men, [180] So many and fine, dead by Greek hands. Zeus’ messenger stood near Priam, Who trembled all over as she whispered: “Courage, Priam, son of Dardanus, And have no fear. I have come to you Not to announce evil, but good. I am a messenger from Zeus, who Cares for you greatly and pities you. You must go to the Greek ships to ransom Hector With gifts that will soften Achilles’ heart. . . . And when you are inside Achilles’ hut, Achilles will not kill you, but will protect you From all the rest.” . . . Hurrying now, the old man Stepped into his chariot and drove off From the gateway and echoing portico. In front of him the mules pulled the wagon With Idaeus at the reins. Priam Kept urging his horses with the lash As they drove quickly. . . . [500] The old man went straight to the house Where Achilles, dear to Zeus, sat and waited. He found him inside. His companions sat




Apart from him, and a solitary pair, Automedon and Alcimus, warriors both, Were busy at his side. He had just finished His evening meal. The table was still set up. Great Priam entered unnoticed. He stood Close to Achilles, and touching his knees, He kissed the dread and murderous hands [510] That had killed so many of his sons. . . . But Priam spoke, a prayer of entreaty: [520] “Remember your father, godlike Achilles. He and I both are on the doorstep Of old age. He may well be now Surrounded by enemies wearing him down And have no one to protect him from harm. But then he hears that you are still alive And his heart rejoices, and he hopes all his days To see his dear son come back from Troy. But what is left for me? I had the finest sons In all wide Troy, and not one of them is left. [530] Fifty I had when the Greeks came over, Nineteen out of one belly, and the rest The women in my house bore to me. It doesn’t matter how many they were, The god of war has cut them down at the knees. And the only one who could save the city You’ve just now killed as he fought for his country, My Hector. It is for him I have come to the Greek ships, To get him back from you. I’ve brought A fortune in ransom. Respect the gods, Achilles. [540] Think of your own father, and pity me. I am more pitiable. I have borne what no man Who has walked this earth has ever yet borne. I have kissed the hand of the man who killed my son.”




He spoke, and sorrow for his own father Welled up in Achilles. He took Priam’s hand And gently pushed the old man away. The two of them remembered. Priam, Huddled in grief at Achilles’ feet, cried And moaned softly for his man-slaying Hector. [550] And Achilles cried for his father and For Patroclus. The sound filled the room. When Achilles had his fill of grief And the aching sorrow left his heart, He rose from his chair and lifted the old man By his hand, pitying his white hair and beard. And his words enfolded him like wings: “Ah, the suffering you’ve had, and the courage. To come here alone to the Greek ships And meet my eye, the man who slaughtered [560] Your many fine sons! You have a heart of iron. But come, sit on this chair. Let our pain Lie at rest a while, no matter how much we hurt. There’s nothing to be gained from cold grief. Yes, the gods have woven pain into mortal lives, While they are free from care. Two jars Sit at the doorstep of Zeus, filled with gifts That he gives, one full of good things, The other of evil. If Zeus gives a man [570] A mixture from both jars, sometimes Life is good for him, sometimes not. But if all he gives you is from the jar of woe, You become a pariah, and hunger drives you Over the bright earth, dishonored by gods and men. Now take Peleus. The gods gave him splendid gifts From the day he was born. He was the happiest And richest man on earth, king of the Myrmidons, And although he was a mortal, the gods gave him




An immortal goddess to be his wife. [580] But even to Peleus the god gave some evil: He would not leave offspring to succeed him in power, Just one child, all out of season. I can’t be with him To take care of him now that he’s old, since I’m far From my fatherland, squatting here in Troy, Tormenting you and your children. And you, old sir, We hear that you were prosperous once. From Lesbos down south clear over to Phrygia And up to the Hellespont’s boundary, No one could match you in wealth or in sons. [590] But then the gods have brought you trouble, This constant fighting and killing around your town. You must endure this grief and not constantly grieve. You will not gain anything by torturing yourself Over the good son you lost, not bring him back. Sooner you will suffer some other sorrow.” And Priam, old and godlike, answered him: “Don’t sit me in a chair, prince, while Hector Lies uncared for in your hut. Deliver him now So I can see him with my own eyes, and you— [600] Take all this ransom we bring, take pleasure in it, And go back home to your own fatherland, Since you’ve taken this first step and allowed me To live and see the light of day.” Achilles glowered at him and said: “Don’t provoke me, old man. It’s my own decision To release Hector to you. A messenger came to me From Zeus—my own natural mother, Daughter of the old sea god. And I know you, Priam, inside out. You don’t fool me one bit. [610] Some god escorted you to the Greek ships. No mortal would have dared come into our camp, Not even your best young hero. He couldn’t have Gotten past the guards or muscled open the gate.




So just stop stirring up grief in my heart, Or I might not let you out of here alive, old man— Suppliant though you are—and sin against Zeus.” The old man was afraid and did as he was told. The son of Peleus leapt out the door like a lion, Followed by Automedon and Alcimus, whom Achilles [620] Honored most now that Patroclus was dead. They unyoked the horses and mules, and led The old man’s herald inside and seated him on a chair. Then they unloaded from the strong-wheeled cart The endless ransom that was Hector’s blood price, Leaving behind two robes and a fine-spun tunic For the body to be wrapped in and brought inside. Achilles called the women and ordered them To wash the body well and anoint it with oil, Removing it first for fear that Priam might see his son [630] And in his grief be unable to control his anger At the sight of his child, and that this would arouse Achilles’ passion and he would kill the old man And so sin against the commandments of Zeus. After the female slaves had bathed Hector’s body And anointed it with olive, they wrapped it ’round With a beautiful robe and tunic, and Achilles himself Lifted him up and placed him on a pallet And with his friends raised it onto the polished cart. Then he groaned and called out to Patroclus: [640] “Don’t be angry with me, dear friend, if somehow You find out, even in Hades, that I have released Hector to his father. He paid a handsome price, And I will share it with you, as much as is right.” Achilles reentered his hut and sat down again In his ornately decorated chair Across the room from Priam, and said to him:




“Your son is released, sir, as you ordered. He is lying on a pallet. At dawn’s first light You will go see him yourself. . . . [700] “You will have to sleep outside, dear Priam. One of the Achaean counselors may come in, As they always do, to sit and talk with me, As well they should. If one of them saw you here In the dead of night, he would tell Agamemnon, And that would delay releasing the body. But tell me this, as precisely as you can. How many days do you need for the funeral? I will wait that long and hold back the army.” And the old man, godlike Priam, answered: [710] “If you really want me to bury my Hector, Then you could do this for me, Achilles. You know how we are penned in the city, Far from any timber, and the Trojans are afraid. We would mourn him for nine days in our halls, And bury him on the tenth, and feast the people. On the eleventh we would heap a barrow over him, And on the twelfth day fight, if fight we must.” And Achilles, strong, swift, and godlike: “You will have your armistice.” [720] And he clasped the old man’s wrist So he would not be afraid. And so they slept, Priam and his herald, in the covered courtyard, Each with a wealth of thoughts in his breast. But Achilles slept inside his well-built hut, And by his side lay lovely Briseis.




. . . The people gathered around Hector’s pyre, And when all of Troy was assembled there They drowned the last flames with glinting wine. Hector’s brothers and friends collected [850] His white bones, their cheeks flowered with tears. They wrapped the bones in soft purple robes And placed them in a golden casket, and laid it In the hollow of the grave, and heaped above it A mantle of stones. They built the tomb Quickly, with lookouts posted all around In case the Greeks should attack early. When the tomb was built, they all returned To the city and assembled for a glorious feast In the house of Priam, Zeus’ cherished king. [860] That was the funeral of Hector, breaker of horses.

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