The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 10

CHAPTER X.

THE BATTLE ON THE PLAIN.

When the next morning came Zeus called the gods to an assembly on the topmost ridge of Olympus, and spake to them, saying:―

"Hearken, gods and goddesses! Let none of you presume to go against my word. Whosoever of you shall succour either Greek or Trojan, him will I smite with the thunder, or else will cast him far down to the darkness of Tartarus, whose gates are iron and whose threshold bronze, and he shall know that I am chief among gods. And if ye will make trial of my strength, let down a chain of gold from heaven to earth, and take hold thereof, all ye gods and goddesses. Yet shall ye not drag down Zeus, no, though ye strive with all your might. But if I should draw with all my strength, I could lift you up, and earth and sea with you, and bind the chain about a horn of Olympus, and leave you hanging there. So much am I stronger than all besides."

Then all the gods sat silent and amazed. But at last spake Athené: "Surely we know, Father Zeus, that thy might brooks no control. Yet we have compassion of the Greeks, lest they should perish altogether. We will keep aloof from the war, according to thy command, but we will give them counsel."

And Zeus smiled upon her, and gave consent. Then he yoked to his chariot his swift horses, and touched them with his whip. Midway between heaven and earth they flew, and came to Ida, the mountain of many springs. There he stayed his course, and sat down amidst the peaks, looking on the city of Troy and the host of the Greeks.

The Greeks took their meal in haste, and armed themselves. The men of Troy also made them ready for battle in the city; fewer they were in number than their foes, but not less eager for the fight, for indeed a sore need was upon them, the need to fight for children and wife. Then the gates were opened, and the people went quickly forth.

And the two hosts came together, buckler against buckler, and spear against spear, and the bosses of the shields clashed with a great ringing sound. While the day was increasing, neither this side prevailed nor that; but at noon Father Zeus stretched on high his golden scales, laying in them two weights of death; for the Greeks one, and one for the sons of Troy. By the middle he took the scales, and let them hang, and the scale of the Greeks sank lower. Then did he send his blazing bolt among the people from the heights of Ida, and they saw it and were dismayed.

Then could no man hold his ground. Only Nestor remained, and that against his will, for Paris had slain one of his chariot-horses with an arrow. And while the old man cut away the traces, came Hector through the press. Then had the old man perished, but Diomed was swift to mark. With a great cry he called Ulysses, and said:―

"Son of Laertes, whither dost thou flee, turning thy back like a coward in the press? See that no man thrust thee in the back with a spear. Tarry, rather, and keep back this fierce man of war from old Nestor."

So he spake, but Ulysses heeded not, fleeing fast to the ships.

Then rushed Diomed, alone as he was, into the foremost rank, and stood before the chariot of old Nestor, and spake: "Old sir, the younger fighters press thee sore; feeble thou art, and weak thy charioteer, and thy horses slow. Come, mount upon my chariot, and see what the horses of Tros can do, that I took from Æneas,—how they can flee, and follow and speed this way and that! To thy horses thy charioteer and mine shall look; come thou with me, and Hector shall see whether there is yet any strength in the spear of Diomed."

To this Nestor gave consent, and took the reins in his hand, and plied the whip. Soon they came near to Hector, and Diomed cast his spear. Hector he missed; but his charioteer, brave Eniopeus, he smote upon the breast, so that he fell from the chariot, and the swift horses started back. Hector's heart was dark with grief for his comrade; yet he let him lie where he fell, for he must needs find another charioteer.

Then there had been rout among the men of Troy, and they had been pent up in the city, as sheep in a fold, but that Zeus hurled a blazing thunderbolt. Right before the chariot of Diomed did it fall; and the horses crouched in fear, and Nestor let fall the reins from his hands, for he was sore afraid, and cried aloud:—

"Son of Tydeus, turn thy horses to flight; seest thou that Zeus is not with thee? To-day he giveth glory to Hector; to-morrow, haply, to thee. The purpose of Zeus none may hinder."

Then the son of Tydeus spake: "Old sir, thou sayest well; but this goeth to my heart, that Hector will say, 'Diomed fled before me, seeking the ships.' Then may the earth swallow me up!"

But Nestor made reply, "Though Hector call thee coward, yet will not the sons of Troy believe him, nor the daughters whose gallant husbands thou hast tumbled in the dust."

Then he turned his horses, and fled. But Hector cried after him: "Art thou the man to whom the Greeks give high place in the feast, and plenteous cups of wine? Not so will they honour thee hereafter. Run, girl! run, coward! Shalt thou climb our walls, and carry away our daughters in thy ships?"

Then Diomed was very wroth, doubting whether to flee or to turn; but when he turned Zeus thundered from on high, making him afraid. And Hector bade the hosts of Troy be of good courage, for that Zeus was with them, and called to his horses: "Come, now, Bayard, and Whitefoot, and Flame of Fire, and Brilliant; forget not how the fair Andromaché has cared for you; aye, even before me, who am her husband. Carry me fast, that I may win old Nestor's shield, which men say is all of gold, and strip from the shoulders of Diomed the breastplate which Hephæstus wrought."

So the Greeks fled headlong within the wall which they had built, Hector driving them before him, and all the space between the wall and the ships was crowded with chariots and with men. Then verily had Hector burned the ships, had not Hera put it in the heart of King Agamemnon to exhort the Greeks to battle. On the ship of Ulysses, that was mid-most of all, he stood, so that he could shout to either end, to where Ajax the Greater on one side, and Achilles on the other, had drawn up their ships. And he cried aloud:—

"Shame on you, ye Greeks! Where are now your boastings wherewith ye boasted in Lemnos, as ye ate the flesh of cattle, and drank from the brimming bowls of wine, how one man of you would outmatch five score, yea, ten score, of the sons of Troy? And now one single man is of more worth than you all! O Father Zeus, hast thou ever afflicted any king in such fashion? and yet have I never passed by altar of thine, but burnt on it the fat of beeves, praying that I might take the city of Troy. Grant us, now, that we may at least escape with our lives."

And Zeus hearkened to his prayer, and sent a sign from heaven, an eagle that held a kid in his claw; by the altar of Zeus, the god of warning, did he drop it, and the Greeks, when they saw it, took heart, and leaped upon the men of Troy, and rejoiced again in the battle.

Foremost of all was Diomed, who slew a Trojan, Agelaüs by name. Through the back he pierced him with his spear, driving it through his breast, and tumbled him from his chariot.

After him came the sons of Atreus, and either Ajax, and Idomeneus, and all the chiefs, and among them Teucer, who stood beneath the shield of Ajax Telamon, as he bent his bow. Ajax would lift his shield a little, and Teucer, peering out, would shoot a warrior in the throng. Then would he go back as a child to his mother, and Ajax would hide him beneath his shield. Eight warriors did he slay; and when Agamemnon saw him, he came near, and spake, saying: "Shoot on, Teucer, and be a light to thy people and to thy father Telamon. Surely when Zeus and Athené shall grant me the spoil of Troy, to thee, first after myself, will I give a goodly gift."

Teucer made reply: "Why dost thou urge me on that am myself so eager? Never have I ceased to ply them with mine arrows, according to my strength. Eight shafts have I launched, and every shaft has been buried in a warrior's flesh; but that man I cannot strike."

He spake, and shed another arrow from the string, aiming at Hector. Him he touched not, but he slew a son of Priam. Yet once again he shot, and slew this time the charioteer of Hector, striking him full upon the breast, as he rushed into battle. Then Hector's heart grew dark with rage and grief. He bade his brother Cebriones take the reins. Then he leapt from his chariot to the ground, and caught a stone in his hand, and went towards Teucer, desiring to crush him. Then Teucer took an arrow from the quiver and fitted it on the string, but as he drew the arrow to his shoulder, Hector smote him where the collarbone stands between neck and breast, and snapped the bow-string, and numbed arm and wrist, so that the bow flew from his hand, and he fell upon his knee. But Ajax bestrode him, covering him with his shield, and two of his comrades bare him, groaning deeply, to the ships.

Then again did Zeus put courage into the hearts of the men of Troy, and they thrust the Greeks back to the ditch; and Hector moved ever in the front, rejoicing in his strength. Even as a dog pursues a wild boar or a lion, and catches him by hip or thigh, so did Hector hang upon the Greeks, and smite the hindmost as they fled.

But Hera saw and pitied them, and spake to Athené: "Shall not thou and I have pity on the Greeks once again, if never more? Haply they will perish beneath the onslaught of Hector, who hath already wrought them manifold woe."

Athené made reply: "It is my father, who hath listened to Thetis, when she besought him to give honour to Achilles. But another day, may be, he will hearken unto me. Make ready, therefore, the horses, while I arm myself for the war. We will see whether Hector will be glad when he beholds thee and me in the forefront of the battle."

So Hera made ready the chariot, and Athené armed herself for the war. And when she was armed, Hera lashed the horses, and the great gates of heaven, where the Hours keep watch, opened before them.


Heré and Athené going to assist the Greeks.jpg

Heré and Athené going to assist the Greeks.


But Zeus saw them from Ida, and said to Iris of the golden wings: "Go now, swift Iris, bid these two not come face to face with me, for our meeting would be ill for them. Verily I will hough their horses, and cast them from their chariot, and break the chariot in pieces. Not for ten years would they recover of their wounds should the lightning smite them."

So Iris hasted on her way, and gave the two goddesses the Father's message.

Then spake Hera to Athené: "No more do I counsel that we two should do battle with Zeus for the sake of mortal men. Let this one perish and that live, as it may befall, and Zeus dispense his judgments, as is meet and fit."

So they two went back to Olympus, and sat down in their chairs of gold, among the other gods, right heavy of heart.

Zeus also hastened from Ida to Olympus, and came into the assembly of the gods; but Hera and Athené sat apart, and spake not, and asked no question.

Then said Zeus: "Why are ye so cast down? Surely ye are not wearied with the war, with slaying the Trojans whom ye hate so sore. All the gods of Olympus may not overbear me; and ye two tremble, or ever ye have looked on war."

He spake, and the two goddesses murmured where they sat side by side. Athené kept silence for all her wrath; but Hera spake, "Well do we know, son of Chronos, that thy might is beyond all bounds; nevertheless we pity the Greeks, lest they fill up the measure of their fate and die."

Then Zeus spake again, "To-morrow, Queen Hera, shalt thou see worse things than these; for great Hector will not cease from his slaying till the son of Peleus be roused by his ships, in the day when they shall fight about the dead Patroclus in the dark press of men."

And now the sun sank into the sea; wroth were the Trojans that the light should go, but to the Greeks welcome, much prayed for, came the night.

Then Hector called the men of Troy to an assembly. In his hand he held a spear eleven cubits long, with flaming point of bronze, and circled with gold; on it he leant and spake:―

"Give ear, ye Trojans, Dardans, and allies! I thought this day to destroy the hosts of the Greeks and their ships, and so to return to Troy; but night hath hindered me. Let us yield to night, and take our meal. Unharness your horses and feed them. Fetch also from the city kine, and sheep, and wine, and bread, and store of fuel also, that we may burn many fires, lest, haply, the Greeks escape across the sea in the night. Not in peace shall they embark, but each shall carry away a wound to nurse at home that others may not seek to trouble the men of Troy with war. Also let the heralds make proclamation in the city, that the lads and the old men should guard the wall, and that every woman should light a great fire in her house, and that all should keep watch, lest an ambush should enter the city while the people are away. So much to-day; but to-morrow I will speak other words to you. In the morning will we arm ourselves, and wake the war beside the ships. Then shall I know whether Diomed will drive me from the wall, or I slay him with the spear. Would that I were immortal and held in honour as are the gods, as surely as tomorrow will bring ruin on the Greeks."

So Hector spake, and all the Trojans shouted their assent. They loosed their horses, and fetched provender from the city, and gathered store of fuel. All night long they sat high in hope; and as on some windless night the stars shine bright about the moon, and all the crags and dells are shown, and the tops of the hills also, and the depths of the sky are open, and all the stars appear, and the shepherd's heart is glad; so many showed the Trojan fires between the stream of Xanthus and the ships. A thousand fires were burning, and fifty sat in the glare of each; and the horses stood beside the chariots champing barley and spelt, and waited for the morn.