The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 15



Now by this time the Trojans were close upon the trench. But the horses stood on the brink, fearing to leap it, for it was broad and deep, and the Greeks had put great stakes therein. Thus said Polydamas:—

"Surely, Hector, this is madness that we strive to cross the trench in our chariots, for it is broad and deep, and there are great stakes therein. Look, too, at this: even if we should be able to cross it, how will the matter stand? If, indeed, it be the pleasure of Zeus that the Greeks should perish utterly—it will be well. But if they turn upon us and pursue us, driving us back from the ships, then shall we not be able to return. Wherefore let us leave our chariots here upon the brink, and go on foot against the wall."

So they went in five companies, of whom Hector led that which was bravest and largest, and with him were Polydamas and Cebriones. And the next Paris commanded. And of the third Helenus and Deïphobus were leaders, and with them was Asius, the son of Hyrtacus, from Arisbé. And the fourth followed Æneas, the valiant son of Anchises. But of the allies Sarpedon was the leader, and with him were Glaucus and Asteropæus. And in each company they joined shield to shield, and so went against the Greeks. Nor was there one of them but hearkened to the counsel of Polydamas when he bade them leave their chariots by the trench, save Asius only. But Asius drove his chariot right up to that gate which was on the left hand in the wall. Now the gates chanced to be open, for the warders had opened them, if so any of the Greeks that fled might save themselves within them. Now the warders were two mighty heroes of the race of the Lapithæ, Polypœtes and Leonteus; and these, when they saw Asius and his company coming, went without and stood in front of the gates, just as two wild boars stand at bay against a crowd of men and dogs. And all the while they that stood on the wall threw heavy stones which fell, thick as the snowflakes fall in the winter, on the men of Troy, and loud rang the helmets and the shields. And many fell wounded to the death, nor could Asius, for all his fury, win his way into the walls. But where, at another of the gates, Hector led the way, there appeared a strange marvel in the skies, for an eagle was bearing in his claws a great snake, which it had taken as a prey. But the snake fought fiercely for its life, and writhed itself about, even till it bit the eagle on the breast. Whereupon the eagle dropped it into the midst of the host, and fled with a loud cry. Then Polydamas, the wise counsellor, came near to Hector and said:—

"Now it will be well that we should not follow these Greeks to their ships. For I take it that this marvel that we have seen is a sign to us. For as this eagle had caught in his claws a snake, but held it not, dropping it before it could bear it to her young, so shall it fare with us. For we shall drive the Greeks to their ships, yet shall not subdue them, but shall return in disorder by the way that we

Polydamus advising Hector to retire from the trench.jpg

Polydamus advising Hector to retire from the trench.

came, leaving full many of our comrades behind us."

But Hector frowned, and answered: "Nay, but this is ill counsel, Polydamas. For if thou sayest this from thy heart, surely the gods have changed thy wisdom into foolishness. Dost thou bid me forget the command of Zeus the Thunderer, and take heed to birds, how they fly? Little care I whether they go to the east or to the west, to the right or to the left. Surely there is but one sign for a brave man, that he be fighting for his fatherland. Wherefore take thou heed; for if thou holdest back from the war, or holdest back any other, lo! I will smite thee with my spear."

Then he sprang forward, and the men of Troy followed him with a shout. And Zeus sent down from Ida a great blast of wind which bore the dust of the plain straight to the ships, troubling the hearts of the Greeks. Then the Trojans sought to drag down the battlements from the wall, and to wrench up the posts which had been set to strengthen it. Nor did the Greeks give way, but they joined shield to shield, and fought for the wall. And foremost among them were Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Less. Just as the snow falls in mid-winter, when the winds are hushed, and the mountain-tops are covered, and the plains and the dwellings of men and the very shores of the sea, up to the waves' edge, so thickly fell the stones which the Greeks showered from the wall against the men of Troy, and which these again threw upon the Greeks. But still Hector and his men availed not to break through the gate. But at the last Zeus stirred up the heart of his own son, Sarpedon. Holding his shield before him he went, and he shook in either hand a spear. As goes a lion, when hunger presses him sore, against a stall of oxen or a sheepfold, and cares not though he find men and dogs keeping watch against him, so Sarpedon went against the wall. And first he spake to stout Glaucus, his comrade:—

"Tell me, Glaucus, why is it that men honour us at home with the chief rooms at feasts, and with fat portions of flesh and with sweet wine, and that we have a great domain of orchard and plough land by the banks of Xanthus? Surely it is that we may fight in the front rank. Then shall some one who may behold us say, 'Of a truth these are honourable men, these princes of Lycia, and not without good right do they eat the fat and drink the sweet, for they fight ever in the front.' Now, indeed, if we might live forever, nor know old age nor death, neither would I fight among the first, nor would I bid thee arm thyself for the battle. But seeing that there are ten thousand fates about us which no man may avoid, let us see whether we shall win glory from another, or another shall take it from us."

And Glaucus listened to his words and charged at his side, and the great host of the Lycians followed them. Sore dismayed was Menestheus the Athenian when he saw them. All along the wall of the Greeks he looked, spying out for help; and he saw Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Less, and with them Teucer, who had just come forth from his tent. Close to him they were, but it was of no avail to shout, so loud was the clash and din of arms, of shields and helmets, and the thundering at the gates, for each one of these did the men of Troy assail.

Wherefore he called to him Thoas the herald, and said: "Run, Thoas, and call Ajax hither,—both of the name, if that may be,—for the end is close upon us in this place, so mightily press on the chiefs of the Lycians, who were ever fiery fighters. But if there is trouble there also, let at the least Ajax the Greater come, and with him Teucer with his bow."

Then the herald ran and said as he had been bidden.

And Ajax Telamon spake to the son of Oïleus: "Stand thou here with Lycomedes and stay the enemy. But I will go thither, and come again when I have finished my work."

So he went, and Teucer his brother went with him, with Pandion carrying his bow. And even as they went the Lycians came up like a tempest on the wall. But Ajax slew Epicles, a comrade of Sarpedon, smiting him on the head with a mighty stone, and crushing all the bones of his head. And Teucer smote Glaucus on the shoulder and wounded him sore. Silently did Glaucus leap down from the wall, for he would not that any of the Greeks should see that he was wounded. But Sarpedon saw that he had departed, and it grieved him. Nevertheless he ceased not from the battle, but first slew Alcmaon, the son of Mestor, and next caught one of the battlements in his hands, and dragged it down. So the wall was laid open, and a way was made for the Trojans to enter. Then did both Ajax and Teucer aim at him together. And Teucer smote the strap of the shield, but harmed him not, and Ajax drove his spear through his shield and stayed him, so that he fell back a space from the battlement, yet would not cease from the fight. Loud he shouted to the Lycians, crying:—

"Men of Lycia, why do ye abate your courage? Hard is it for me, for all that my strength is great, to break down the wall with my own hands only, and to clear the road to the ships."

So spake Sarpedon, and his people shrank from the reproach, and crowded close about their King. And on the other hand the Greeks strengthened their ranks within the wall, for the matter was of life or death. Long time they fought with equal might, for neither could the Lycians break through the wall of the Greeks and make a way to the ships, nor could the Greeks drive back the Lycians from the wall. Even as two neighbours, standing with measures in their hands, contend about some boundary, so the Lycians and the Greeks contended for the battlements. And many a man was wounded with the pitiless bronze, either smitten in the back, where he was without defence, or smitten in front through his shield; and all the battlements were bespattered with the blood of men. And still they held the scales of battle level between them, as when a just-dealing woman puts the weight in one scale and the wool in the other, and lifts them up and balances them, earning a petty gain, that she may feed her children therewith.

So it was till Zeus gave the glory to Hector. He leaped within the wall, and cried to the men of Troy, "Now follow me, and break down the wall, and burn the ships."

So he spake, and they heard his voice, and rushed together on the wall. Now in front of the gate there lay a great stone, broad at the base and sharp at the top. Scarce could two men of the strongest, such as are men in these days, move it with levers on to a wagon; but Hector lifted it easily, easily as a shepherd carries in one hand the fleece of a sheep. Two folding doors there were in the gates, held by bolts and a key, and at these he hurled the great stone, planting his feet apart, that his aim might be the surer and stronger. With a mighty crash it came against the gates, and the bolts held not against it, and the hinges were broken, so that the folding doors flew back. Then Hector leapt into the space, holding a spear in either hand, and his eyes flashed as fire. And the men of Troy came after him, some mounting the wall, and some pouring through the gates.