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HIS ship and his fellow-voyagers waited at Pylos but for a while longer Telemachus bided in Sparta, for he would fain hear from Menelaus and from Helen the tale of Troy. Many days he stayed, and on the first day Menelaus told him of Achilles, the greatest of the heroes who had fought against Troy, and on another day the lady Helen told him of Hector, the noblest of all the men who defended King Priam’s City.

‘Achilles,’ said King Menelaus, ‘was sprung of a race that was favoured by the immortals. Peleus, the father of Achilles, had for his friend, Cheiron, the wisest of the Centaurs--of those immortals who are half men and half horse. Cheiron it was who gave to Peleus his great spear. And when Peleus desired to wed an immortal, Zeus, the greatest of the gods, prevailed upon the nymph Thetis to marry him, although marriage with a mortal was against her will. To the wedding of Thetis and Peleus all the gods came. And for wedding gifts Zeus gave such armour as no mortal had ever worn before--armour wonderfully bright and wonderfully strong, and he gave also two immortal horses.

‘Achilles was the child of Thetis and Peleus--of an immortal woman married to a mortal hero. He grew up most strong and fleet of foot. When he was grown to be a youth he was sent to Cheiron, and his father’s friend instructed him in all the ways of war. He became the greatest of spearmen, and on the mountain with the Centaur he gained in strength and in fleetness of foot.

‘Now after he returned to his father’s hall the war against Troy began to be prepared for. Agamemnon, the king, wanted Achilles to join the host. But Thetis, knowing that great disasters would befall those who went to that war, feared for Achilles. She resolved to hide him so that no word from King Agamemnon might reach him. And how did the nymph Thetis hide her son? She sent him to King Lycomedes and prayed the King to hide Achilles amongst his daughters.

‘So the youth Achilles was dressed as a maiden and stayed with the daughters of the King. The messengers of Agamemnon searched everywhere for him. Many of them came to the court of King Lycomedes, but not finding one like Achilles amongst the King’s sons they went away.

‘Odysseus, by Agamemnon’s order, came to seek Achilles. He knew that the youth was not amongst the King’s sons. He saw the King’s daughters in their father’s orchard, but could not tell if Achilles was amongst them, for all were veiled and dressed alike.

‘Then Odysseus went away and returned as a peddler carrying in his pack such things as
maidens admire--veils and ornaments and brazen mirrors. But under the veils and ornaments and mirrors the wise Odysseus left a gleaming sword. When he came before the maidens in the King’s orchard he laid down his peddler’s pack. The mirrors and veils and ornaments were taken up and examined eagerly. But one of the company took up the gleaming sword and looked at it with flashing eyes. Odysseus knew that this was Achilles, King Peleus’ son.

‘He gave the youth the summons of King Agamemnon, bidding him join the war that the Kings and princes of Greece were about to wage against Troy. And Achilles was glad to get the summons and glad to go. He returned to Phthia, to his father’s citadel. There did he make ready to go to Aulis where the ships were being gathered. He took with him his father’s famous warriors, the Myrmidons who were never beaten in battle. And his father bestowed on him the armour and the horses that had been the gift of Zeus--the two immortal Xanthos and Balios.

‘But what rejoiced Achilles more than the gift of marvellous armour and immortal steeds was that his dear comrade, Patroklos, was to be with him as his mate in war. Patroklos had come into Phthia and into the hall of Peleus when he was a young boy. In his own country he had killed another boy by mischance over a game of dice. His father, to save him from the penalty, fled with him to King Peleus. And Achilles’ father gave them refuge and took Patroklos into his house and reared him up with his own son. Later he made him squire to Achilles. These two grew up together and more than brothers they loved each other.

‘Achilles bade good-bye to Phthia, and to his hero-father and his immortal mother, and he and Patroklos with the Myrmidons went over the sea to Aulis and joined the host of the Kings and Princes who had made a vow not to refrain from war until they had taken King Priam’s famous city.’

Next: Chapter XI