Sacred Texts  Classics  Homer  Index  Previous  Next 


ACHILLES, standing by the stern of his great ship, saw the battle as it went this way and that way, but his heart was not at all moved with pity for the destruction wrought upon the Greeks. He saw the chariot of Nestor go dashing by, dragged by sweating horses, and he knew that a wounded man was in the chariot. When it had passed he spoke to his dear friend Patroklos.

‘"Go now, Patroklos," he said, "and ask of Nestor who it is that he has borne away from the battle."’

‘"I go, Achilles," Patroklos said, and even as he spoke he started to run along the line of the ships and to the hut of Nestor.’

‘He stood before the door, and when old Nestor beheld him he bade him enter. "Achilles sent me to you, revered Nestor," said Patroklos, "to ask who it was you bore out of the battle wounded. But I need not ask, for I see that it is none other than Machaon, the best of our healers."’

‘"Why should Achilles concern himself with those who are wounded in the fight with Hector?" said old Nestor. "He does not care at all what evils befall the Greeks. But thou, Patroklos, wilt be grieved to know that Diomedes and Odysseus have been wounded, and that sore-wounded is Machaon whom thou seest here. Ah, but Achilles will have cause to lament when the host perishes beside our burning ships and when Hector triumphs over all the Greeks."’

‘Then the old man rose up and taking Patroklos by the hand led him within the hut, and brought him to a bench beside which lay Machaon, the wounded man.’

‘"Patroklos," said Nestor, "speak thou to Achilles. Nay, but thy father bade thee spake words of counsel to thy friend. Did he not say to thee ‘turn Achilles from harsh courses by gentle words’? Remember now the words of thy father, Patroklos, and if ever thou did’st speak to Achilles with gentle wisdom speak to him now. Who knows but thy words might stir up his spirit to take Part in the battle we have to fight with Hector?"’

‘"Nay, nay, old man," said Patroklos, "I may not speak to Achilles to ask for such a thing."’

"THEN," said Nestor, "do thou thyself enter the war and bring Achilles’ Myrmidons with thee. Then might we who are wearied with fighting take breath. And beg of Achilles to give you his armour that you may wear it in the battle. If thou would’st appear clad in Achilles’ bronze the Trojans would think that he had entered the war again and they would not force the fight upon us."’

‘What old Nestor said seemed good to Patroklos and he left the hut and went back along the ships. And on his way he met Eurypylos, a sorely wounded man, dragging himself from the battle, and Patroklos helped him back to his hut and cheered him with discourse and laid healing herbs upon his wounds.’

‘And even as he left old Nestor’s hut, Hector was before the wall the Greeks had builded to guard their ships. On came the Trojans against that wall, holding their shields
of bulls’ hides before them. From the towers that were along the wall the Greeks flung great stones upon the attackers.’

‘Over the host an eagle flew, holding in its talons a blood-red serpent. The serpent struggled with the eagle and the eagle with the serpent, and both had sorely wounded each other. But as they flew over the host of Greeks and Trojans the serpent struck at the eagle with his fangs, and the eagle, wounded in the breast, dropped the serpent. Then were the Trojans in dread, seeing the blood-red serpent across their path, for they thought it was an omen from Zeus. They would have turned back from the wall in fear for this omen had not Hector pressed them on. "One omen is best, I know," he cried, "to fight a good fight for our country. Forward then and bring the battle to those ships that came to our coast against the will of the gods."’

‘So Hector spoke. Then he lifted up a stone--such a stone as not two of the best of men now living could as much as raise from the ground--and he flung this stone full at the strongly-set gate. It broke the hinges and the bars, and the great gate fell under the weight of the tremendous stone. Then Hector leaped across it with two spears in his hands. No warrior could withstand him now. And as the Trojans scaled the walls and poured across the broken gate, the Greeks fled to their ships in terror and dismay.’

‘Patroklos saw the gate go down and the Trojans pour towards the ships in a mass that was like a great rock rolling down a cliff. Idomeneus and Aias led the Greeks who fought to hold them back. Hector cast a spear at Aias and struck him where the belt of his shield and the belt of his sword crossed. Aias was not wounded by the stroke. Then Aias cast at Hector a great stone that was used to prop a ship. He struck him on the breast, just over the rim of his shield. Under the weight of that blow great Hector spun round like a top. The spear fell from his hands and the bronze of his shield and helmet rang as he fell on the ground.’

‘Then the Greeks dashed up to where Hector lay, hoping to drag him amongst them. But his comrades placed their shields around him and drove back the warriors that were pressing round. They lifted Hector into his chariot, and his charioteer drove him from the place of battle groaning heavily from the hurt of that terrible blow.’

‘Now the Greeks rallied and came on with a shout, driving the Trojans back before them. The swift horses under Hector’s chariot brought him out on the plain. They who were with him lifted him out, and Hector lay gasping for breath and with black blood gushing from him. And then as he lay there stricken he heard the voice of a god--even of Apollo--saying, "Hector, son of Priam, why dost thou lie fainting, apart from the host? Dost thou not know that the battle is desperate? Take up thy spirit again. Bid thy charioteer drive thee towards the ships of the Greeks."’

‘Then Hector rose and went amongst the ranks of his men and roused up their spirits and led them back to the wall. And when the Greeks saw Hector in fighting trim again, going up and down the ranks of his men, they were affrighted.’

‘He mounted his chariot and he shouted to the others, and the Trojan charioteers lashed their horses and they came on like a great wave. They crossed the broken wall again and came near the ships. Then many of the Greeks got into their ships and struck at those who came near with long pikes.’

‘And all around the ships companies of Greek warriors stood like rocks that the sea breaks against in vain. Nestor cried out to the Greeks, bidding them fight like heroes, or else lose in the burning ships all hope of return to their native land. Aias, a long pike in his hand, drove multitudes of Trojans back, while, in a loud voice, he put courage into the Greeks. Hector fought his way forward crying to the Trojans to bring fire to the ships that had come to their coast against the will of the gods.’

‘He came to the first of the ships and laid his hand upon its stern. Many fought against him there. Swords and spears and armour fell on the ground, some from the
hands, some off the shoulders of warring men, and the black earth was red with blood. But Hector was not driven away from the ship. And he shouted "Bring fire that we may burn the ships that have brought the enemy to our land. The woes we have suffered were because of the cowardice of the elders of the City--they would not let me bring my warriors here and bring battle down to the ships when first they came to our beach. Do not let us return to the City until we have burned the ships with fire."’

‘But whoever brought fire near the ship was stricken by strong Aias who stood there with a long pike in his hands. Now all this time Patroklos sat in the hut of Eurypylos, the wounded man he had succoured, cheering him with discourse and laying healing herbs on his wounds. But when he saw fire being brought to the ships he rose up and said, "Eurypylos, no longer may I stay here although great is your need of attendance. I must get aid for our warriors." Straightway he ran from the hut and came to where Achilles was.’

‘"If thy heart, Achilles," he said, "is still hard against the Greeks, and if thou wilt not come to their aid, let me go into the fight and let me take with me thy company of Myrmidons. And O Achilles, grant me another thing. Let me wear thine armour and thy helmet so that the Trojans will believe for a while that Achilles has come back into the battle. Then would they flee before me and our warriors would be given a breathing-time."’

‘Said Achilles, "I have declared that I shall not cease from my wrath until the Trojans come to my own ships. But thou, Patroklos, dear friend, may’st go into the battle. All thou hast asked shall be freely given to thee--my Myrmidons to lead and my armour to wear, and even my chariot and my immortal horses. Drive the Trojans from the ships. But when thou hast driven them from the ships, return to this hut. Do not go near the City. Return, I bid thee, Patroklos, when the Trojans are no longer around the ships, and leave it to others to battle on the plain."’

‘Then Patroklos put on the armour that Zeus had given to Achilles’ father, Peleus. Round his shoulders he cast the sword of bronze with its studs of silver, and upon his head he put the helmet with its high horse-hair crest--the terrible helmet of Achilles. Then Achilles bade the charioteer yoke the horses to the chariot--the horses, Xanthos and Balios, that were also gifts from the gods. And while all this was being done Achilles went amongst the Myrmidons, making them ready for the battle and bidding them remember all the threats they had uttered against the Trojans in the time when they had been kept from the fight.’

‘Then he went back to his hut and opening the chest that his mother, Thetis, had given him he took from it a four-handled cup--a cup that no one drank out of but Achilles himself. Then pouring wine into this cup and holding it towards Heaven, Achilles prayed to Zeus, the greatest of the gods:

"My comrade I send to the war, O far-seeing Zeus:
May’st strengthen his heart, O Zeus, that all triumph be his:
But when from the ships he hath driven the spear of our foes,
Out of the turmoil of battle may he to me return
Scathless, with arms and his comrades who fight hand to hand."

‘So Achilles prayed, and the Myrmidons beside their ships shouted in their eagerness to join in the battle.’

Next: Chapter XV