The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII.

THE BATTLE OF THE GODS.

When the River saw that Asteropæus was dead, and that Achilles was slaying many of the Pæonians—for these were troubled, their chief being dead—he took upon him the shape of a man, and spake to Achilles, saying: "Truly, Achilles, thou excellest all other men in might and deeds of blood, for the gods themselves protect thee. It may be that Zeus hath given thee to slay all the sons of Troy; nevertheless, depart from me and work thy will upon the plain; for my stream is choked with the multitude of corpses, nor can I pass to the sea. Do thou, therefore, cease from troubling me."

To him Achilles made answer: "This shall be as thou wilt, O Scamander. But the Trojans I will not cease from slaying till I have driven them into their city and have made trial of Hector, whether I shall vanquish him or he shall vanquish me."

And as he spake he sped on, pursuing the Trojans. Then the River cried to Apollo: "Little thou doest the will of thy father, thou of the Silver Bow, who bade thee stand by the men of Troy and help them till darkness should cover the land." And he rushed on with a great wave, stirring together all his streams. The dead bodies he threw upon the shore, roaring as a bull roareth; and them that lived he hid in the depth of his eddies. And all about Achilles rose up the flood, beating full upon his shield, so that he could not stand fast upon his feet. Then Achilles laid hold of a lime tree, fair and tall, that grew upon the bank; but the tree brake therefrom with all its roots, and tare down the bank, and lay across the River, staying its flow, for it had many branches. Thereupon Achilles leapt out of the water and sped across the plain, being sore afraid. But the River ceased not from pursuing him, that he might stay him from slaughter and save the sons of Troy. So far as a man may throw a spear, so far did Achilles leap; strong as an eagle was he, the hunter-bird that is the strongest and swiftest of all birds. And still as he fled the River pursued after him with a great roar. Even as it is with a man that would water his garden, bringing a stream from a fountain; he has a pickaxe in his hand, to break down all that would stay the water; and the stream runs on, rolling the pebbles along with it, and overtakes him that guides it. Even so did the River overtake Achilles, for all that he was swift of foot, for indeed the gods are mightier than men. And when Achilles would have stood against the River, seeking to know whether indeed all the gods were against him, then the great wave smote upon his shoulders; and when he leapt into the air, it bowed his knees beneath him and devoured the ground from under his feet. Then Achilles looked up to heaven and groaned, crying out: "O Zeus, will none of the gods pity me, and save me from the River? I care not what else may befall me. Truly my mother hath deceived me, saying that I should perish under the walls of Troy by the arrows of Apollo. Surely it had been better that Hector should slay me, for he is the bravest of the men of Troy, but now I shall perish miserably in the River, as some herdboy perisheth whom a torrent sweeps away in a storm."

So he spake; but Poseidon and Athené stood by him, having taken upon them the shape of men, and took him by the hand and strengthened him with comforting words, for Poseidon spake, saying: "Son of Peleus, tremble not, neither be afraid. It is not thy fate to be mastered by the River. He shall soon cease from troubling thee. And do thou heed what we say. Stay not thy hands from the battle, till thou shalt have driven all the sons of Troy that escape thee within the walls of the city. And when thou shalt have slain Hector, go back to the ships; for this day is the day of thy glory."

Then the two departed from him. Now all the plain was covered with water, wherein floated much fair armour and many dead bodies. But Achilles went on even against the stream, nor could the River hold him back; for Athené put great might into his heart. Yet did not Scamander cease from his wrath, but lifted his waves yet higher, and cried aloud to Simois: "Dear brother, let us two stay the fury of this man, or else of a surety he will destroy the city of Priam. Come now, fill all thy streams and rouse thy torrents against him, and lift up against him a mighty wave with a great concourse of tree-trunks and stones, that we may stay this wild man from his fighting. Very high thoughts hath he, even as a god; yet shall neither his might, nor his beauty, nor his fair form profit him; for they shall be covered with much mud; and over himself will I heap abundance of sand beyond all counting. Neither shall the Greeks be able to gather his bones together, with such a heap will I hide them. Surely a great tomb will I build for him; nor will his people have need to make a mound over him when they would bury him."

Then he rushed again upon Achilles, swelling high with foam and blood and dead bodies of men. Very dark was the wave as it rose, and was like to have overwhelmed the man, so that Hera greatly feared for him, lest the River should sweep him away. And she cried to Hephæstus, her son, saying: "Rouse thee, Haltfoot, my son! I thought that thou wouldst have been a match for Scamander in battle. But come, help us, and bring much fire with thee; and I will call the west wind and the south wind from the sea, with such a storm as shall consume the sons of Troy, both them and their arms. And do thou burn the trees that are by the banks of Xanthus, yea, and the River himself. And let him not turn thee from thy purpose by fury or by craft; but burn till I shall bid thee cease."

Then Hephæstus lit a great fire. First it burned the dead bodies that lay upon the plain, and it dried all the plain, as the north wind in the autumn time dries a field, to the joy of him that tills it. After this it laid hold of the River. The lime tree and the willows and the tamarisks it burned; also the plants that grew in the streams. And the eels and the fishes were sore distressed, twisting hither and thither in the water, being troubled by the breath of Hephæstus. So the might of the River was subdued, and he cried aloud: "O Hephæstus, no one of the gods can match himself with thee. Cease now from consuming me; and Achilles may drive the men of Troy from their city if he will. What have I to do with the strife and sorrow of men?"

So he spake, for all his streams were boiling—as a caldron boils with a great fire beneath it, when a man would melt the fat of a great hog; nor could he flow any longer to the sea, so sorely did the breath of the Fire-god trouble him. Then he cried aloud to Hera, entreating her: "O Hera, why doth thy son torment me only among all? Why should I be blamed more than others that help the men of Troy? Verily, I will cease from helping them, if he also will cease. Nay, I will swear a great oath that I will keep no more the day of doom from the sons of Troy; no, not when all the city shall be consumed with fire."

And Queen Hera heard him, and called to Hephæstus, saying: "Cease, my son; it doth not beseem thee to work such damage to a god for the sake of a mortal man."

So Hephæstus quenched his fire, and the River flowed as he flowed before.

But among the other gods there arose a dreadful strife, for they were divided, the one part against the other. With a great crash they came together, and the broad earth resounded, and the heavens rang as with the voice of a trumpet; and Zeus heard it as he sat on Olympus, and was glad in heart to see the gods join in battle.

First of all, Ares, the shield-piercer, rushed against Athené, holding his spear in his hand, and cried: "Why dost thou make the gods to strive in battle, thou that art bold as a fly and shameless as a dog? Dost thou not remember how thou didst set Diomed, the son of Tydeus, upon me to wound me, and how thou didst take his spear in thy hand, so that all might see it, and drive it through my thigh? Now will I requite thee for all that thou hast done."

And he smote on the ægis shield―the mighty shield that not even the thunder of Zeus can break. But Athené took up in her hand a great stone that lay upon the plain. Black it was and rough, and very great, that men of old had set for a boundary of the field. With this she smote Ares on the neck, that his knees failed beneath him. He lay along the ground, a hundred feet and more, and Athené laughed when she saw him, and cried: "Fool! hast thou not yet learned how much stronger I am than thou, that thou matchest thy might against me? Lie there and suffer the curses of thy mother; for she is wroth because thou hast betrayed the Greeks and helpest the men of Troy."

But Aphrodité took him by the hand, and would have led him away; deep did he groan, and scarce could he gather his spirit together. But when Hera saw it, she cried to Athené, saying: "See now, how Aphrodité would lead Ares out of the battle! Pursue her now, and hinder her."

So Athené pursued after her, and smote her on the breast with her heavy hand; and her knees failed beneath her. So these two lay upon the earth, and Athené cried over them: "Now would that all who help the sons of Troy were as brave and strong as these two. Long since had we ceased from war and destroyed the fair city of Troy."

Then the Great Earthshaker spake to Apollo: "Why stand we apart? Surely this doth not become us, now that the others have joined battle! It were shameful that we should go back to Olympus and have not first fought together. And surely thou art foolish. Dost thou not remember what we suffered, thou and I alone of all the gods, when by the will of Zeus, we served King Laomedon for the space of a year, labouring for wages? I, indeed, built a wall about Troy, broad and very fair, that no man should spoil the city, and thou didst tend the herd of oxen in the glens of Mount Ida. But when the Hours brought the term of our hiring to an end, then did this evil Laomedon rob us of all our hire, and threaten us, and send us away. As for thee, he sware that he would bind thy hands and feet, and sell thee to some far island across the sea. Also, he affirmed that he would cut off the ears of both of us. So we departed, wrathful in heart, and lacking the hire which he promised and paid not. Yet for all this, thou helpest this people, and joinest not thyself to us, that these men of Troy may perish altogether—they and their wives and their children."

To him Apollo made answer: " Earthshaker, thou wouldst not call me wise were I to fight with thee for the sake of miserable men. For they are but as the leaves. For to-day they be in the midst of their life, eating the fruit of the ground, and to-morrow they perish utterly. Let others strive; but we will not fight together."

And he turned to depart; for he feared to join battle with the brother of his sire. But his sister Artemis, the great huntress of beasts, was very wroth when she saw him depart, and rebuked him, crying: "Dost thou fly, Far-Shooter, and yield the victory to Poseidon? For what then hast thou thy bow? Never let me hear thee boast again, as thou hast been wont to boast in the hall of thy father, that thou wouldst do battle with Poseidon!"

No answer made Apollo; but the wife of Zeus spake to her in wrath: "How thinkest thou, shameless one, to stand against me? No easy one am I for thee to match, for all that thou hast a bow, and that Zeus hath made thee a devouring lioness for women to slay whom thou wilt. 'Tis better for thee to hunt deer upon the hills than to fight with them that are stronger than thou."

Then did Hera lay her left hand upon the hands of Artemis by the wrist, and with her right hand she took from her her arrows and her bows, and smote her with them about the ears, as she turned away, smiling the while; and the arrows fell from the quiver. And the goddess fled, leaving her bow behind, even as a dove flieth from before a hawk to her hole among the rocks.

Then spake Hermes to Latona: "I will not fight with thee, O Latona! 'Tis a hard thing to strive with them that Zeus hath loved. Boast as thou wilt among the immortal gods that thou hast conquered me in battle."

So he spake; but Latona gathered together the bow and the arrows that had fallen this way and that way in the dust. And Artemis came to Olympus, to the hall of Zeus that is paved with bronze; and, weeping sore, she sat on her father's knee; and her veil was shaken about her with her sobbing. Then her father took her to him, and laughed, and said: "Who, of the dwellers in heaven hath so dealt with thee, my child?"

And Artemis said, "It was Hera, my father, that smote me—Hera, that always maketh strife and quarrel among the immortal gods."