The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII.

THE BATTLE AT THE SHIPS (continued).

So loud was the cry that it roused old Nestor where he sat in his tent, tending the wounded Machaon. Whereupon he said, "Sit thou here and drink the red wine till the fair Hecamedé shall have got ready the bath to wash the blood from thy wound; but I will ask how things fare in the battle."

So he went forth from the tent, seeking King Agamemnon. And as he went, the King met him, and with him were Diomed and Ulysses, who also had been wounded that day. So they held counsel together. And Agamemnon—for it troubled him sore that the people were slain―would that they should draw down the ships into the sea, and should flee homewards, as soon as the darkness should cover them and the Trojans should cease from the battle.

But Ulysses would have none of such counsel, saying: "Now surely, son of Atreus, thou art not worthy to rule over us, who have been men of war from our youth. Wilt thou leave this city, for the taking of which we have suffered so much? That may not be; let not any one of the Greeks hear thee say such words. And what is this, that thou wouldst have us launch our ships now, whilst the hosts are fighting? Surely, so doing, we should perish together, for the Greeks would not fight any more, seeing that the ships were being launched, and the men of Troy would slay us altogether."

Then King Agamemnon said, "Thou speakest well." And he went through the host, bidding the men bear themselves bravely; and all the while Poseidon put courage and strength into their hearts; and, on the other hand, Hera lulled Zeus to sleep on the heights of Olympus, so that now the battle went against the men of Troy. Then Hector cast his spear against Ajax Telamon. The shield kept it not off, for it passed beneath, but the two belts, of the shield and of the sword, stayed it, so that it wounded not his body. Then Hector in wrath and fear went back into the ranks of his comrades; but as he went Ajax took a great stone—now were there many such which they had as props for the ships—and smote him above the rim of his shield, on the neck. As an oak falls, stricken by the thunder of Zeus, so he fell, and the Greeks rushed with a great cry to drag him to them, but could not, for all the bravest of the sons of Troy held their shields before him,—Polydamas, and Æneas, and Sarpedon, and Glaucus. Then they carried him to the Xanthus, and poured water upon him. And after a while he sat up, and then again his spirit left him, for the blow had been very grievous. But when the Greeks saw that Hector had been carried out of the battle, they pressed on the more, slaying the men of Troy, and driving them back even out of the camp and across the trench. But when they came to their chariots, where they had left them on the other side of the trench, there they stood trembling and pale with fear, as men that flee in the day of battle.

And now Zeus woke from his sleep, and he looked upon the earth; and he saw how the Greeks were driving the men of Troy before them, and Hector lay upon the plain, and vomited blood, and his friends knelt about him. Senseless he lay, for it was no puny hand that had dealt the blow. Very wroth was Zeus to see such a sight, and he said to Hera: "What is this that thou hast done, sending Hector from the battle? Rememberest thou not how I hung thee amid the clouds with a band of gold about thy hands and an anvil of gold on either foot, and how when any god came to help thee I flung him from Olympus to fall till he came utterly spent to the earth? Make an end of thy deceits, or verily nothing shall protect thee from my wrath."

Then Hera answered: "It is Poseidon that afflicts the Trojans, and bears up the Greeks. Yet he, too, would do well to walk in the paths wherein thou walkest."

Then said Zeus: "Call hither Iris and Apollo the Archer; let Iris go to Poseidon, and bid him cease from the battle and get him to his own domain, and let Apollo strengthen Hector, that he may go back to the battle; so shall my will be accomplished, fulfilling the oath that I sware to Thetis of the sea that I would do honour to her son."

So he spake, and Hera obeyed his voice. To the council of the gods she went. Her brows were black with anger as she spake: "Fools! in your madness ye are wroth with Zeus, but he sitteth apart, and careth not. Take, therefore, what evil he may send, even as Ares must take the death of his son Ascalaphus, who even now hath been slain in the battle."

Then Ares started up in wrath, and smote his thighs, and said, "Nay, but I will go to the ships to avenge my son, even though I be smitten with the thunderbolt of Zeus."

So he bade Flight and Fear yoke his horses, and he donned his glittering arms. Then had the anger of Zeus fallen on the gods; but Athené rose from her seat, and caught Ares, and took the helmet from his head, and the shield from his shoulders, and the spear from his hand. "What wilt thou do, madman?" she said. "Wilt thou bring the anger of Zeus upon us all? Lay aside thy wrath for thy son, for mightier men than he have fallen."

So speaking she set Ares again in his seat.

Then Iris went to Poseidon, and gave him the message of Zeus. Very wroth was the god, and said: "Thinketh he then to control me by force who am his equal in honour? Three brethren are we, and the Fates gave the sea to me for my dominion, and to Hades the realm of darkness, and to Zeus the heaven; but the earth is for all. I walk not by the will of Zeus; let him remain in his own possessions, and meddle not."

But Iris answered: "Shaker of the earth, shall I bear back so rough an answer to Zeus? Surely thou knowest the might of the elder born?"

Then Poseidon said, "Iris, thou speakest well; this time will I yield, but know that if he shall scorn me and the other gods and let Troy stand untaken, and give not victory to the Greeks, there shall be endless feud between him and me."

Meanwhile Apollo went, at the bidding of Zeus, to Hector. He found him sitting up, for the will of Zeus had revived him. Then spake Apollo: "Hector, why sittest thou apart from thy fellows? Hath trouble come upon thee?"

Hector made reply in a feeble voice: "Who art thou among the gods that speakest to me? Knowest thou not that Ajax smote me with a mighty stone and stayed me from the battle? Verily I thought that I had gone down this day to the dwellings of the dead."

But Apollo said: "Be of good cheer, for Zeus hath sent me, who am Apollo of the Golden Sword, to stand by thee and to succour thee. Come, now, and bid thy people advance toward the ships, and I will go before thee, and make the way easy for thy horses."

So Hector rose up in his might, and entered into the battle, even as men that chase a stag or a wild goat, and lo! a lion crosseth their path, so were the Greeks afraid when they saw Hector, the son of Priam. And Thoas the Ætolian spake, saying:—

"Surely this is a great marvel that I see with mine eyes. For we thought that Hector had been slain by the hand of Ajax, son of Telamon, and now, behold! he is come back to the battle. Many Greeks have fallen before him, and many, methinks, will fall, for of a truth some god has raised him up and helps him. But come, let all the bravest stand together. So, mighty though he be, he shall fear to enter our array."

And all the bravest gathered together and stood in the front, but the multitude made for the ships. But Hector came on, and Apollo before him, with his shoulders wrapped in cloud, and the ægis shield in his hand. And many of the Greeks fell slain before the sons of Troy, as Iäsus of Athens, and Arcesilaüs the Bœotian, and Medon, who was brother to Ajax the Less, and many more. Thus the battle turned again, and came near to the trench; and now Apollo made it easy for the men of Troy to pass, so that they left not their chariots, as before, upon the brink, but drave them across.

Meanwhile Patroclus sat in the tent of Eurypylus, dressing his wound and talking with him. But when he saw what had chanced, he struck his thigh with his hand and cried:—

"Now must I leave thee, Eurypylus; for I must haste to Achilles, so dreadful is now the battle. Perchance I may persuade him that he go forth to the fight."

So he ran to the tent of Achilles. Now, indeed, the men of Troy were at the ships; for Hector and Ajax were fighting for one of them, and Ajax could not drive him back, and Hector could not burn the ship with fire. Then sprang forward Caletor with a torch in his hand, and Ajax smote him on the heart with a sword, so that he fell close by the ship. Then Hector cried:—

"Come, now, Trojans and allies, and fight for Caletor, that the Greeks spoil him not of his arms."

So saying, he cast his spear at Ajax. Him he struck not, but Cytherius, his comrade, he slew. Then was Ajax sore dismayed, and spake to Teucer, his brother:—

"See, now, Cytherius, our dear comrade, is dead, slain by Hector. But where are thy arrows and thy bow?"

So Teucer took his bow and laid an arrow on the string, and smote Clitus, who was charioteer to Polydamas. And then he aimed an arrow at Hector's self; but ere he could loose it, the bow-string was broken in his hands, and the arrow went far astray, for Zeus would not that Hector should so fall. Then Teucer cried aloud to his brother:—

"Surely some god confounds our counsels, breaking my bow-string, which this very day I tied new upon my bow."

But Ajax said: "Let be thy bow, if it please not the gods, but take spear and shield, and fight with the men of Troy. For though they master us to-day, they shall not take our ships for naught."

So Teucer armed himself afresh for the battle. But Hector, when he saw the broken bow, cried out:—

"Come on, ye men of Troy, for Zeus is with us. Even now he brake the bow of Teucer, the great archer. And they whom Zeus helps prevail, and they whom he favours not grow weak. Come on; for even though a man fall, it is well that he fall fighting for his fatherland; and his wife and his children are safe, nor shall his glory cease, if so be that we drive the Greeks in their ships across the sea."

And on the other side Ajax, the son of Telamon, called to the Greeks and bade them quit themselves like men. Then the battle grew yet fiercer, for Hector slew Schedius, who led the men of Phocis, and Ajax slew Laodamas, son of Antenor, and Polydamas Otus of Cyllene. Then Meges thought to slay Polydamas; but his spear went astray, smiting down Cræsmus; and Dolops, who was grandson to Laomedon, cast his spear at Meges, but the corselet stayed the point, though it pierced the shield. But Dolops' self Menelaüs smote through the shoulder, but could not spoil him of his arms, for Hector and his brothers hindered him. So they fought, slaying one another; but Hector still waxed greater and greater in the battle, and still the men of Troy came on, and still the Greeks gave way. So they came again, these pushing forward and these yielding ground, to the ships. And Hector caught hold of one of them, even the ship of Protesilaüs: him, indeed, it had brought from Troy, but it took him not back, for he had fallen, slain by the hand of Hector, as he leapt, first of all the Greeks, upon the shore of Troy. This Hector caught, and the battle raged like


Ajax defending the Greek Ships against the Trojans.jpg

Ajax defending the Greek Ships against the Trojans.


fire about it; for the men of Troy and the Greeks were gathered round, and none fought with arrows or javelins from afar, but man to man, with battle-axe and sword and great spears pointed at either end. And many a fair weapon lay shattered on the ground, and the earth flowed with blood as with a river. But still Hector held the stem of the ship with his hand, and called to the men of Troy that they should bring fire, for that Zeus had given them the victory that day. Then even Ajax himself gave way, so did the spears of the Trojans press him; for now he stood no longer upon the stern deck, but on the rowers' bench, thrusting thence with his spear at any one who sought to set fire to the ship. And ever he cried to the Greeks with a terrible voice:—

"O ye Greeks! now must ye quit yourselves like men. For have ye any helpers behind? or have ye any walls to shelter you? No city is here, with well-built battlements, wherein ye might be safe, while the people should fight for you. For we are here in the plain of Troy, and the sea is close behind us, and we are far from our country. Wherefore all our hope is in valour, and not in shrinking back from the battle."

And still he thrust with his spear, if any of the men of Troy, at Hector's bidding, sought to bring fire against the ships. Full twelve he wounded where he stood.