The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI.

THE BATTLE AT THE SHIPS.

And when Zeus had brought the Trojans near to the ships, he turned away his eyes, and looked upon them no more, for he deemed that none of the immortal gods would come to help or Trojan or Greek. But Poseidon was watching the battle from the wooded height of Samothrace, whence he could see Ida and Troy and the ships. And he pitied the Greeks, when he saw how they fled before Hector, and purposed in his heart to help them. So he left the height of Samothrace, and came with four strides to Ægae, where his palace was in the depths of the sea. There he harnessed the horses to his chariot, and rode, passing over the waves, and the great beasts of the sea gambolled about him as he went, knowing their king.

His horses he stabled in a cavern of the sea, and loosed them from the car, and gave them immortal food to eat, and put shackles of gold about their feet that they might abide his coming.

And all the while the men of Troy came on, following Hector, like a storm or a great flame, for they thought to take the ships and to slay the Greeks beside them.

But Poseidon came to the camp of the Greeks, taking upon him the shape of Calchas the herald. First he spake to either Ajax, saying: "Hold fast, ye men of might, so that ye save the people. For the rest of the wall I fear not, but only for the place where Hector rages. Now may some god inspire you to stand fast and drive him back."

And as he spake, he smote each with his staff, and filled them with courage, and gave strength to hands and feet. Then he passed from them even as a hawk that riseth from a cliff, chasing a bird.

And the Lesser Ajax knew him, and spake to his comrade, saying: "This is some god that bids us fight for the ships; he was not Calchas, for I marked the goings of his legs and his feet as he went. The gods are easily discerned. And verily my heart within me is eager for the fight."

The Greater Ajax answered him, "Even so do my own hands yearn about the spear, and my heart is on fire, and my feet carry me away, and I am eager to fight with Hector, even I alone, for all his fury."

Then Poseidon went to the other chiefs, going up and down the ranks, and urged them to stand fast against their enemies. But not the less did the men of Troy press on, Hector leading the way.

Among the foremost came Deïphobus, high in heart, holding his shield before him. At him Meriones cast his spear, and missed not his aim, for the spear struck full the bull's-hide shield. Yet it pierced it not, but brake; and Deïphobus held it from him, fearing greatly the stroke; but Meriones went back to his own people vexed in heart, and ran to his tent, that he might fetch another spear.

Next Teucer slew a Trojan, Imbrius by name, wounding him under the ear. He fell as some tall poplar falls which a woodman fells with axe of bronze. Then Teucer rushed to seize his arms, but Hector cast his spear. Teucer it struck not, missing him by a little; but Amphimachus it smote on the breast so that he fell dead. Then Hector seized the dead man's helmet, seeking to drag the body among the sons of Troy. But Ajax stretched forth his great spear against him, and struck the boss of his shield mightily, driving him backwards, so that he loosed hold of the helmet of Amphimachus. And him his comrades bore to the rear of the host, and the body of Imbrius also they carried off. Then did Idomeneus the Cretan, son of Minos, the wise judge, perform many valiant deeds, going to the left-hand of the battle-line, for he said:—

"The Greeks have stay enough where the great Ajax is. No man that eats bread is better than he; no, not Achilles' self, were the two to stand man to man, but Achilles, indeed, is swifter of foot."

And first of all he slew Othryoneus, who had but newly come, hearing the fame of the war. For Cassandra's sake he had come, that he might have her to wife, vowing that he would drive the Greeks from Troy, and Priam had promised him the maiden. But now Idomeneus slew him, and cried over him:—

"This was a great thing that thou didst promise to Priam, for which he was to give thee his daughter. Thou shouldst have come to us, and we would have given thee the fairest of the daughters of Agamemnon, bringing her from Argos, if thou wouldst have engaged to help us to take this city of Troy. But come now with me to the ships, that we may treat about this marriage; thou wilt find that we have open hands."

So he spake, mocking the dead. Then King Asius charged, coming on foot with his chariot behind him. But ere he could throw his spear, Idomeneus smote him that he fell, as falls an oak, or an alder, or a pine, which men fell upon the hills. And the driver of his chariot stood dismayed, nor thought to turn his horses and flee, so that Antilochus, the son of Nestor, struck him down, and took the chariot and horses for his own. Then Deïphobus in great wrath came near to Idomeneus, and would have slain him with a spear, but could not, for he covered himself with his shield, and the spear passed over his head. Yet did it not fly in vain, for it lighted on Hypsenor, striking him on the right side. And as he fell, Deïphobus cried aloud:―

"Now is Asius avenged; and though he go down to that strong porter who keeps the gates of hell, yet will he be glad, for I have sent him a companion."

But scarce had he spoken when Idomeneus the Cretan slew another of the chiefs of Troy, Alcathoüs, son-in-law of old Anchises. For Poseidon dazed his eyes, and spread a numbness through his limbs; he could not flee, nor yet shun the spear, but stood as stands a tree, or a stone that is a monument of the dead. Right in the breast did Idomeneus smite him, and rent the coat of bronze that shielded him from death. With a loud clash he fell, and the slayer cried:—

"Small reason hast thou to boast, Deïphobus, for we have slain three for one. But come thou and meet me in battle, that thou mayest know me who I am, son of Deucalion, who was the son of Minos, who was the son of Zeus."

Then Deïphobus thought within himself, should he meet this man alone, or should he take some brave comrade with him? And it seemed to him better that he should take a brave comrade with him. Wherefore he went for Æneas, and found him in the rear of the battle, vexed at heart because King Priam did not honour him among the princes of Troy. Then said he:—

"Come hither, Æneas, to fight for Alcathoüs, who was wont to care for thee when thou wast young, and now he lies dead under the spear of Idomeneus."

So they two went together; and Idomeneus saw them, but yielded not from his place, only called to his comrades that they should gather themselves together and help him. And on the other side Æneas called to Deïphobus, and Paris, and Agenor. So they fought about the body of Alcathoüs. Then did Æneas cast his spear at Idomeneus, but struck him not; but Idomeneus slew Œnomaüs, only when he would have spoiled him of his arms he could not, for the men of Troy pressed him hard, so that perforce he gave way. And as he turned, Deïphobus sought to slay him with his spear, but smote in his stead Ascalaphus, son of Ares. But the god, his father, knew not of it, for he sat on Olympus, kept back from the battle by the will of Zeus. Great was the fight about the dead man and his arms, for Deïphobus snatched away the helmet, but Meriones leapt forward, and struck him through the wrist with a spear. Straightway he dropped the helmet which he had seized, and Polites, his brother, led him out of the battle. And he climbed into his chariot and went back to the city. Then Peisander came against King Menelaüs; but it was an evil fate that brought him. First the son of Atreus cast his spear, but missed his aim. Then Peisander cast his spear against the shield of the King, but he could not pierce it, and the spear-head was broken off. Next the son of Atreus drew his silver-studded sword, and sprang on Peisander; and he drew from beneath his shield a goodly axe of bronze, set on a handle of olive wood. He struck the helmet of the King, beside the plume; but Menelaüs struck him in the face above the nose, and laid him dead upon the ground.

Then Menelaüs set his foot upon his breast, and spake: "Thus shall ye have the ships, ye haughty men of Troy. Ye never want for wickedness and shameful deeds. My wedded wife ye took from me, and much wealth besides; and now ye seek to burn our ships. Can it be, Father Zeus, that art the wisest of gods and men, that these things are from thee?"

Then Harpalion, son of Pylæmenes, the Paphlagonian King, leapt upon him, and smote his shield with his spear, but pierced it not. Then he fell back, avoiding death, but Meriones struck him with an arrow through the hip, and he fell, wounded to the death, and his friends lifted him upon his chariot, and bare him back to Troy.

Very wroth was Paris; for he loved Harpalion more than all the men of his land. Now there was among the Greeks one Euchenor, son of a seer of Corinth. He had come to Troy, knowing well his fate; for his father had told him that either he should perish of sickness in his hall, or be slain by the Trojans by the ships; so now Paris slew him with an arrow.

Thus on the left the Greeks beat back the men of Troy; but Hector knew not of it where he fought upon the right, pressing hard the Greeks, for there the wall was lowest, and the approach most easy. Yet there also did the defenders of the walls make a brave stand; for in the front around the Greater and the Lesser Ajax stood many mighty chiefs; and behind, the Locrians shot with their arrows. These had neither shield, nor spear, nor helmet; and it was not their custom to mingle in the press of battle. They came to Troy, trusting in their bows and slings of twisted wool, and with these they made havoc among the ranks of Troy, the warriors clad in bronze standing before and sheltering them.

Then had the men of Troy fallen back from the ships in grievous disarray, but Polydamas said to Hector:—

"O Hector, thou art ever loath to hear counsel from others. Yet think not that because thou art stronger than other men, therefore Zeus hath also made thee wiser. For truly he gives diverse gifts to diverse men—strength to one and counsel to another. Hear, then, my words. Thou seest that the Trojans keep not all together, for some stand aloof, while some fight, being few against many. Do thou therefore call the bravest together. Then shall we see whether we shall burn the ships, or, it may be, win our way back without harm to Troy; for indeed I forget not that there is a warrior here whom no man may match, nor will he, I trow, always keep aloof from the battle."

And the saying pleased Hector. So he went through the host looking for the chiefs—for Deïphobus, and Helenus, and Asius, and Acamas, son of Asius, and others, who were the bravest among the Trojans and allies. And some he found, and some he found not, for they had fallen in the battle, or had gone sorely wounded to the city. But at last he spied Paris, where he stood strengthening the hearts of his comrades. To him he spake, saying:—

"O Paris, fair of face, cheater of the hearts of women, where is Deïphobus, and Helenus, and Asius, and Acamas, son of Asius?"

But Paris answered him, "Some of these are dead, and some are sorely wounded. But we who are left fight on. Only do thou lead us against the Greeks, nor wilt thou say that we are slow to follow."

So Hector went along the front of the battle, leading the men of Troy. Nor did the Greeks give way when they saw him, but Ajax the Greater cried:—

"Friend, come near, nor fear the men of Greece. Thou thinkest in thine heart to spoil the ships, but we have hands to keep them, and ere they perish Troy itself shall fall before us. Soon, I trow, wilt thou wish that thy horses were swifter than hawks, when they bear thee fleeing before us across the plain to the city."

But Hector answered: "Nay, thou braggart Ajax, what words are these? I would that I were as surely one of the Immortals as this day shall surely bring woe to the Greeks. And thou, if thou darest to meet my spear, shalt be slain among the rest, and feed with thy flesh the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air."

So he spake, and from this side and from that there went up a great cry of battle.