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SO much of the story of Achilles did Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, hear from the lips of King Menelaus as he sat with his comrade Peisistratus in the King’s feasting-hall. And more would Menelaus have told them then if Helen, his wife, had not been seen to weep. ‘Why weepst thou, Helen?’ said Menelaus. ‘Ah, surely I know. It is because the words that tell of the death of Hector are sorrowful to thee.’

And Helen, the lovely lady, said ‘Never did Prince Hector speak a hard or a harsh word to me in all the years I was in his father’s house. And if anyone upbraided me he would come and speak gentle words to me. Ah, greatly did I lament for the death of noble Hector! After his wife and his mother I wept the most for him. And when one speaks of his slaying I cannot help but weep.’

Said Menelaus, ‘Relieve your heart of its sorrow, Helen, by praising Hector to this youth and by telling your memories of him.’

‘To-morrow I shall do so,’ said the lady Helen. She went with her maids from the hall and the servants took Telemachus and Peisistratus to their sleeping places.

The next day they sat in the banqueting hall; King Menelaus and Telemachus and Peisistratus, and the lady Helen came amongst them. Her handmaidens brought into the hall her silver work-basket that had wheels beneath it with rims of gold, and her golden distaff that, with the basket, had been presents from the wife of the King of Egypt. And Helen sat in her chair and took the distaff in her hands and worked on the violet-coloured wool that was in her basket. And as she worked she told Telemachus of Troy and of its guardian, Hector.

SAID Helen, ‘The old men were at the gate of the City talking over many things, and King Priam was amongst them. It was in the days when Achilles first quarrelled with King Agamemnon. "Come hither, my daughter," said King Priam to me, "and sit by me and tell me who the warriors are who now come out upon the plain. You have seen them all before, and I would have you tell me who such and such a one is. Who is yon hero who seems so mighty? I have seen men who were more tall than he by a head, but I have never seen a man who looked more royal."’

‘I said to King Priam. "The hero whom you look upon is the leader of the host of the Greeks. He is the renowned King Agamemnon."’

‘"He looks indeed a King," said Priam. "Tell me now who the other warrior is who is shorter by a head than King Agamemnon, but who is broader of chest and shoulder."’

‘"He is Odysseus," I said, "who was reared in rugged Ithaka, but who is wise above all the Kings."’

‘And an old man, Antenor, who was by us said, "That indeed is Odysseus. I remember that he and Menelaus came on an embassy to the assembly of the Trojans. When they both stood up, Menelaus seemed the greater man, but when they sat down Odysseus seemed by far the most stately. When they spoke in the assembly, Menelaus was ready and skilful of speech. Odysseus when he spoke held his staff stiffly in his hands and fixed his eyes on the ground. We thought by the look of him then that he was a man of no understanding. But when he began to speak we saw that no one could match Odysseus--his words came like snow-flakes in winter and his voice was very resonant."’

‘And Priam said, "Who is that huge warrior? I think he is taller and broader than any of the rest."’

‘"He is great Aias," I said, "who is as a bulwark for the Greeks. And beside him stands Idomeneus, who has come from the Island of Crete. Around him stand the Cretan captains." So I spoke, but my heart was searching for a sight of my own two brothers. I did not see them in any of the companies. Had they come with the host, I wondered, and were they ashamed to be seen with the warriors on account of my wrong-doing? I wondered as I looked for them. Ah, I did not know that even then my two dear brothers were dead, and that the earth of their own dear land held them.’

‘Hector came to the gate and the wives and daughters of the Trojans came running to him, asking for news of their husbands or sons or brothers, whether they were killed or whether they were coming back from the battle. He spoke to them all and went to his own house. But Andromache, his wife, was not there, and the housedame told him that she had gone to the great tower by the wall of the City to watch the battle and that the nurse had gone with her, bringing their infant child.

‘So Hector went down the street and came to the gate where we were, and Andromache his wife came to meet him. With her was the nurse who carried the little child that the folk of the city named Astyanax, calling him, ‘King of the City’ because his father was their city’s protector. Hector stretched out his arms to the little boy whom the nurse carried. But the child shrank away from him, because he was frightened of the great helmet on his father’s head with its horse-hair crest. Then Hector laughed and Andromache laughed
with him, and Hector took off his great helmet and laid it on the ground. Then he took up his little son and dandled him in his arms, and prayed, "O Zeus, greatest of the gods, grant that this son of mine may become valiant, and that, like me, he may be protector of the City and thereafter a great King, so that men may say of him as he returns from battle, ‘Far greater is he than was Hector his father.’ " Saying this he left the child back in his nurse’s arms. And to Andromache, his wife, who that day was very fearful, he said "Dear one, do not be over sorrowful. You urge me not to go every day into the battle, but some days to stay behind the walls. But my own spirit forbids me to stay away from battle, for always I have taught myself to be valiant and to fight in the forefront."’

‘So he said and he put on his helmet again and went to order his men. And his wife went towards the house, looking back at him often and letting her tears fall down. Thou knowst from Menelaus’ story what triumphs Hector had thereafter--how he drove the Greeks back to their ships and affrighted them with his thousand watch-fires upon the plain; how he drove back the host that Agamemnon led when Diomedes and Odysseus and Machaon the healer were wounded; how he broke through the wall that the Greeks had builded and brought fire to their ships, and how he slew Patroklos in the armour of Achilles.’

Next: Chapter XIX