The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 21



Achilles went along the shore of the sea, shouting aloud to the warriors. And at his call they came, even they who before had remained at the ships, as the pilots and they who dealt out the food, because Achilles, who had been absent so long from the battle, had returned thereto. Also Diomed and Ulysses came to the assembly, leaning on spears, for their wounds were fresh, and King Agamemnon.

Then Achilles stood up, and spake: "It was ill done, son of Atreus, that we strove for a woman! Would that Artemis had slain her with an arrow on the day when I took her captive! Many a Greek who hath now bitten the ground had then lived, and the Trojans had not reaped such profit from our wrath. But come, let the past be past. Here I make an end of my anger. And now make haste, and send the Greeks to battle. Let us see whether the men of Troy will camp beside the ships."

Then said Agamemnon, speaking from his place: "Listen, ye Greeks. Oft have ye blamed me for this quarrel. Yet it was not I that was in fault; rather it was Zeus and Fate, and the Fury that walketh in darkness. But to thee, Achilles, I make full amends, for here I offer thee the gifts which Ulysses promised thee yesterday. Stay awhile, while my people bring them from my ships."

To him Achilles made answer: "Give thy gifts, O King, if it be thy will, or keep them to thyself. But let us turn without delay to the battle."

Then spake the wise Ulysses: "Achilles, urge not the Greeks to enter fasting into the battle: for verily the strife will not be short, seeing that both this host and that are inspired with might from heaven. A man that hath not eaten cannot fight till set of sun, for his limbs grow heavy unawares, and he is hindered by hunger and thirst. Bid, therefore, the people disperse, and make ready their food. Meanwhile, let King Agamemnon send for the gifts and deliver them to thee in full assembly. And afterwards let him furnish a feast of reconciliation, that so thou mayest miss nothing of thy due."

Then said the King: "Thou speakest well, Ulysses. Do thou thyself fetch the gifts, and let the herald fetch us a boar, that we may do sacrifice to Zeus and to the Sun."

But Achilles said: "This business had suited better some other time, as when there was some breathing-space in the war, and my heart was not so hot within me. But now the dead whom Hector slew lieth low, and ye bid me think of food. Let the Greeks enter fasting into battle, and make them a great supper when the sun goes down. As for me, neither food nor drink shall pass my lips."

To him Ulysses made reply: "Thou art the stronger, son of Peleus, yet I may be the wiser, for I am older than thou, and of more experience. Ask not the Greeks to fast because of the dead. Verily they fall every day. How, then, should there be any interval of grief? Rather let us bury him that dieth, and bewail him for a day, and harden our hearts to forget: and then let us who are left eat and drink, that we may fight with better heart."

Then did Ulysses go to the tent of the King; and they brought thence the gifts, seven tripods, and twenty caldrons, and twelve horses, and seven women, skilled workers with the needle, and the fair Briseïs the eighth. And before them came Ulysses, bearing the talents of gold, full weight of the balance.

These the Myrmidons took to the tent of Achilles. But when Briseïs saw Patroclus, she beat her breast and her fair face and neck, and wailed aloud, for he had been gentle and good, she said. And all the women wailed with her, thinking each of her own sorrows.

Then the chiefs would have Achilles feast with them; but he hearkened not, for he would neither eat nor drink till he had had vengeance for the dead. And he spake, saying: "Often, Patroclus, hast thou ordered the feast when we were hastening to the war. And now thou liest slain, and for grief for thee I cannot eat nor drink. For greater sorrow could not have come to me, not though Peleus himself were dead, or my young son Neoptolemus. Often did I think that I only should perish here, but that thou shouldst return and show my son all that was mine, goods and servants and palace."

And as he wept, the old men wept with him, thinking each of what he had left at home.

But Zeus said to Athené: "Carest thou not for Achilles that is so dear to thee? See, the other Greeks are gone to their meal, but he sits fasting."

Then Athené leapt down from heaven, and shed into the breast of Achilles nectar and ambrosia, that his knees should not fail from hunger.

Meanwhile the Greeks poured out to battle, and in the midst Achilles armed himself. He put the lordly greaves about his legs, and fitted the corselet on his breast. From his shoulders he hung the sword, and he took the great shield that Hephæstus had made, and it blazed as it were the heaven. Also he put the helmet on his head, and the plumes waved all around. Then he made trial of the arms, and they fitted him well, and bare him up like wings. Last he drew from its case his father's spear, which Cheiron cut on the top of Pelion, to be the death of many, and none might wield it but Achilles' self. Then he spake to his horses: "Take heed, Bayard and Piebald, that ye save your driver to-day, nor leave him dead on the field, as ye left Patroclus."

Then Hera gave to the horse Bayard a voice, so that he spake: "Surely we will save thee, great Achilles; yet for all that, doom is near to thee, nor are we the cause, but the gods and mastering Fate. Nor was it of us that Patroclus died, but Apollo slew him and gave the glory to Hector. So shalt thou, too, die by the hands of a god and of a mortal man."

And Achilles said: "What need to tell me of my doom? Right well I know it. Yet will I not cease till I have made the Trojans weary of battle."