Every now and then in our reading we come suddenly face to face with first things,—the very elemental sources beyond which no man may go. There is a distinct satisfaction in dealing with such beginnings, and, when they are those of literature, the sense of freshness is nothing short of inspiring. To share the same lofty outlook, to breathe the same high air with those who first sensed a whole era of creative thoughts, is the next thing to being the gods' chosen medium for those primal expressions.
All this is not to say that the epic is the oldest form of literary expression, but it is the expression of the oldest literary ideas, for, even when the epic is not at all primitive in form, it deals essentially with elemental moods and ideals. Epical poetry is poetic not because it is metrical and conformative to rhythmical standards,—though it usually is both,—but it is poetry because of the high sweep of its emotional outlook, the bigness of its thought, the untamed passion of its language, and the musical flow of its utterance.
Here, then, we have a veritable source book of the oldest ideas of the race; but not only that—we are also led into the penetralia of the earliest thought of many separate nations, for when the epic is national, it is true to the earliest genius of the people whose spirit it depicts.
To be sure, much of literature, and particularly the literature of the epic, is true rather to the tone of a nation than to its literal history—by which I mean that Achilles was more really a Greek hero than any Greek who ever lived, because he was the apotheosis of Greek chivalry, and as such was the expression of the Greeks rather than merely a Greek. The Iliad and the Odyssey are not merely epics of Greece—they are Greek.
This is an age of story-telling. Never before has the world turned so attentively to the shorter forms of fiction. Not only is this true of the printed short-story, of which some thousands, more or less new, are issued every year in English, but oral story-telling is taking its deserved place in the school, the home, and among clubs specially organized for its cultivation. Teachers and parents must therefore be increasingly alert, not only to invent new stories, but—this even chiefly—to familiarize themselves with the oldest stories in the world.
So it is to such sources as these race-narratives that all story-telling must come for recurrent inspirations. The setting of each new story may be tinged with what wild or sophisticated life soever, yet must the narrator find the big, heart-swelling movements and passions and thraldoms and conquests and sufferings and elations of mankind stored in the great epics of the world.
It were a life-labor to become familiar with all of these in their expressive originals; even in translation it would be a titanic task to read each one. Therefore how great is our indebtedness to the ripe scholarship and discreet choice of the author of this "Book of the Epic" for having brought to us not only the arguments but the very spirit and flavor of all this noble array. The task has never before been essayed, and certainly, now that it has been done for the first time, it is good to know that it has been done surpassingly well.
To find the original story-expression of a nation's myths, its legends, and its heroic creations is a high joy—a face-to-face interview with any great first-thing is a big experience; but to come upon whole scores of undefiled fountains is like multiplying the Pierian waters.
Even as all the epics herein collected in scenario were epoch-making, so will the gathering of these side by side prove to be. Literary judgments must be comparative, and now we may place each epic in direct comparison with any other, with a resultant light, both diffused and concentrated, for the benefit of both critics and the general reader.
The delights of conversation—so nearly, alas, a lost art!—consist chiefly in the exchange of varied views on single topics. So, when we note how the few primal story-themes and plot developments of all time were handled by those who first told the tales in literate form, the satisfaction is proportionate.
One final word must be said regarding the interest of epical material. Heretofore a knowledge of the epics—save only a few of the better known—has been confined to scholars, or, at most, students; but it may well be hoped that the wide perusal of this book may serve to show to the general reader how fascinating a store of fiction may be found in epics which have up till now been known to him only by name.
J. Berg Esenwein
"It is in this vast, dim region of myth and legend the sources of the literature of modern times are hidden; and it is only by returning to them, by constant remembrance that they drain a vast region of vital human experience, that the origin and early direction of that literature can be recalled."—Hamilton Wright Mabie.
Derived from the Greek epos, a saying or oracle, the term "epic" is generally given to some form of heroic narrative wherein tragedy, comedy, lyric, dirge, and idyl are skilfully blended to form an immortal work.
"Mythology, which was the interpretation of nature, and legend, which is the idealization of history," are the main elements of the epic. Being the "living history of the people," an epic should have "the breadth and volume of a river." All epics have therefore generally been "the first-fruits of the earliest experience of nature and life on the part of imaginative races"; and the real poet has been, as a rule, the race itself.
There are almost as many definitions of an epic and rules for its composition as there are nations and poets. For that reason, instead of selecting only such works as in the writer's opinion can justly claim the title of epic, each nation's verdict has been accepted, without question, in regard to its national work of this class, be it in verse or prose.
The following pages therefore contain almost every variety of epic, from that which treats of the deity in dignified hexameters, strictly conforms to the rule "one hero, one time, and one action of many parts," and has "the massiveness and dignity of sculpture," to the simplest idylls, such as the Japanese "White Aster," or that exquisite French mediaeval compound of poetry and prose, "Aucassin et Nicolette." Not only are both Christian and pagan epics impartially admitted in this volume, but the representative works of each nation in the epic field are grouped, according to the languages in which they were composed.
Many of the ancient epics are so voluminous that even one of them printed in full would fill twenty-four volumes as large as this. To give even the barest outline of one or two poems in each language has therefore required the utmost condensation. So, only the barest outline figures in these pages, and, although the temptation to quote many choice passages has been well-nigh irresistible, space has precluded all save the scantiest quotations.
The main object of this volume consists in outlining clearly and briefly, for the use of young students or of the busy general reader, the principal examples of the time-honored stories which have inspired our greatest poets and supplied endless material to painters, sculptors, and musicians ever since art began.
The greatest of all the world's epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are attributed to Homer, or Melesigenes, who is said to have lived some time between 1050 and 850 B.C. Ever since the second century before Christ, however, the question whether Homer is the originator of the poems, or whether, like the Rhapsodists, he merely recited extant verses, has been hotly disputed.
The events upon which the Iliad is based took place some time before 1100 B.C., and we are told the poems of Homer were collected and committed to writing by Pisistratus during the age of Epic Poetry, or second age of Greek literature, which ends 600 B.C.
It stands to reason that the Iliad must have been inspired by or at least based upon previous poems, since such perfection is not achieved at a single bound. Besides, we are aware of the existence of many shorter Greek epics, which have either been entirely lost or of which we now possess only fragments.
A number of these ancient epics form what is termed the Trojan Cycle, because all relate in some way to the War of Troy. Among them is the Cypria, in eleven books, by Stasimus of Cyprus (or by Arctinus of Miletus), wherein is related Jupiter's frustrated wooing of Thetis, her marriage with Peleus, the episode of the golden apple, the judgment of Paris, the kidnapping of Helen, the mustering of the Greek forces, and the main events of the first nine years of the Trojan War. The Iliad (of which a synopsis is given) follows this epic, taking up the story where the wrath of Achilles is aroused and ending it with the funeral of Hector.
This, however, does not conclude the story of the Trojan War, which is resumed in the "Aethiopia," in five books, by Arctinus of Miletus. After describing the arrival of Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, to aid the Trojans, the poet relates her death at the hand of Achilles, who, in his turn, is slain by Apollo and Paris. This epic concludes with the famous dispute between Ajax and Ulysses for the possession of Achilles' armor.
The Little Iliad, whose authorship is ascribed to sundry poets, including Homer, next describes the madness and death of Ajax, the arrival of Philoctetes with the arrows of Hercules, the death of Paris, the purloining of the Palladium, the stratagem of the wooden horse, and the death of Priam.
In the Ilion Persis, or Sack of Troy, by Arctinus, in two books, we find the Trojans hesitating whether to convey the wooden steed into their city, and discover the immortal tales of the traitor Sinon and that of Laocoon. We then behold the taking and sacking of the city, with the massacre of the men and the carrying off into captivity of the women.
In the Nostroi, or Homeward Voyage, by Agias of Troezene, the Atridae differ in opinion; so, while Agamemnon delays his departure to offer propitiatory sacrifices, Menelaus sets sail for Egypt, where he is detained. This poem also contains the narrative of Agamemnon's return, of his assassination, and of the way in which his death was avenged by his son Orestes.
Next in sequence of events comes the Odyssey of Homer (of which a complete synopsis follows), and then the Telegonia of Eugammon of Cyrene, in two books. This describes how, after the burial of the suitors, Ulysses renews his adventures, and visits Thesprotia, where he marries and leaves a son. We also have his death, a battle between two of his sons, and the marriage of Telemachus and Circe, as well as that of the widowed Penelope to Telegonus, one of Ulysses' descendants.
Another sequel, or addition to the Odyssey, is found in the Telemachia, also a Greek poem, as well as in a far more modern work, the French classic, Télémaque, written by Fénelon for his pupil the Dauphin, in the age of Louis XIV.
Another great series of Greek poems is the Theban Cycle, which comprises the Thebais, by some unknown author, wherein is related in full the story of Oedipus, that of the Seven Kings before Thèbes, and the doings of the Epigoni.
There exist also cyclic poems in regard to the labors of Heracles, among others one called Oechalia, which has proved a priceless mine for poets, dramatists, painters, and sculptors.1
In the Alexandra by Lycophron (270 B.C.), and in a similar poem by Quintus Smyrnaeus, in fourteen books, we find tedious sequels to the Iliad, wherein Alexander is represented as a descendant of Achilles.
Indeed, the life and death of Alexander the Great are also the source of innumerable epics, as well as of romances in Greek, Latin, French, German, and English. The majority of these are based upon the epic of Callisthenes, 110 A.D., wherein an attempt was made to prove that Alexander descended directly from the Egyptian god Jupiter Ammon or, at least, from his priest Nectanebus.
Besides being told in innumerable Greek versions, the tale of Troy has frequently been repeated in Latin, and it enjoyed immense popularity all throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. It was, however, most beloved in France, where Benoit de St. Maur's interminable "Roman de Troie," as well as his "Roman d'Alexandre," greatly delighted the lords and ladies of his time.
Besides the works based on the story of Troy or on the adventures of Alexander, we have in Greek the Theogony of Hesiod in some 1022 lines, a miniature Greek mythology, giving the story of the origin and the doings of the Greek gods, as well as the Greek theory in regard to the creation of the world.
Among later Greek works we must also note the Shield of Heracles and the Eoiae or Catalogue of the Boetian heroines who gave birth to demi-gods or heroes.
In 194 B.C. Apollonius Rhodius at Alexandria wrote the Argonautica, in four books, wherein he relates the adventures of Jason in quest of the golden fleece. This epic was received so coldly that the poet, in disgust, withdrew to Rhodes, where, having remodelled his work, he obtained immense applause.
The principal burlesque epic in Greek, the Bactrachomyomachia, or Battle of Frogs and Mice, is attributed to Homer, but only some 300 lines of this work remain, showing what it may have been.
Introduction. Jupiter, king of the gods, refrained from an alliance with Thetis, a sea divinity, because he was told her son would be greater than his father. To console her, however, he decreed that all the gods should attend her nuptials with Peleus, King of Thessaly. At this wedding banquet the Goddess of Discord produced a golden apple, inscribed "To the fairest," which Juno, Minerva, and Venus claimed.
Because the gods refused to act as umpires in this quarrel, Paris, son of the King of Troy, was chosen. As an oracle had predicted before his birth that he would cause the ruin of his city, Paris was abandoned on a mountain to perish, but was rescued by kindly shepherds.
On hearing Juno offer him worldly power, Minerva boundless wisdom, and Venus the most beautiful wife in the world, Paris bestowed the prize of beauty upon Venus. She, therefore, bade him return to Troy, where his family was ready to welcome him, and sail thence to Greece to kidnap Helen, daughter of Jupiter and Leda and wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. So potent were this lady's charms that her step-father had made all her suitors swear never to carry her away from her husband, and to aid in her recovery should she ever be kidnapped.
Shortly after his arrival at Sparta and during a brief absence of its king, Paris induced Helen to elope with him. On his return the outraged husband summoned the suitors to redeem their pledge, and collected a huge force at Aulis, where Agamemnon his brother became leader of the expedition. Such was the popularity of this war that even heroes who had taken no oath were anxious to make part of the punitive expedition, the most famous of these warriors being Achilles, son of Thetis and Peleus.
After many adventures the Greeks, landing on the shores of Asia, began besieging the city, from whose ramparts Helen watched her husband and his allies measure their strength against the Trojans. Such was the bravery displayed on both sides that the war raged nine years without any decisive advantage being obtained. At the end of this period, during a raid, the Greeks secured two female captives, which were awarded to Agamemnon and to Achilles in recognition of past services.
Although the above events are treated in sundry other Greek poems and epics,—which no longer exist entire, but form part of a cycle,—"The Iliad," accredited to Homer, takes up the story at this point, and relates the wrath of Achilles, together with the happenings of some fifty days in the ninth year.
Book I. After invoking the Muse to aid him sing the wrath of Achilles, the poet relates how Apollo's priest came in person to the Greek camp to ransom his captive daughter, only to be treated with contumely by Agamemnon. In his indignation this priest besought Apollo to send down a plague to decimate the foe's forces, and the Greeks soon learned from their oracles that its ravages would not cease until the maiden was restored to her father.
Nor will the god's awaken'd fury cease,
But plagues shall spread, and funeral fires increase,
Till the great king, without a ransom paid,
To her own Chrysa send the black-eyed maid.2
In a formal council Agamemnon is therefore asked to relinquish his captive, but violently declares that he will do so only in case he receives Achilles' slave. This insolent claim so infuriates the young hero that he is about to draw his sword, when Minerva, unseen by the rest, bids him hold his hand, and state that should Agamemnon's threat be carried out he will withdraw from the war.
Although the aged Nestor employs all his honeyed eloquence to soothe this quarrel, both chiefs angrily withdraw, Agamemnon to send his captive back to her father, and Achilles to sulk in his tent.
It is while he is thus engaged that Agamemnon's heralds appear and lead away his captive. Mindful of Minerva's injunctions, Achilles allows her to depart, but registers a solemn oath that, even were the Greeks to perish, he will lend them no aid. Then, strolling down to the shore, he summons his mother from the watery deep, and implores her to use her influence to avenge his wrongs. Knowing his life will prove short though glorious, Thetis promises to visit Jupiter on Olympus in his behalf. There she wins from the Father of the Gods a promise that the Greeks will suffer defeat as long as her son does not fight in their ranks,—a promise confirmed by his divine nod. This, however, arouses the wrath and jealousy of Juno, whom Jupiter is compelled to chide so severely that peace and harmony are restored in Olympus only when Vulcan, acting as cup-bearer, rouses the inextinguishable laughter of the gods by his awkward limp.
Book II. That night, while all are sleeping, Zeus sends a deceptive dream to Agamemnon to suggest the moment has come to attack Troy. At dawn, therefore, Agamemnon calls an assembly, and the chiefs decide to test the mettle of the Greeks by ordering a return home, and, in the midst of these preparations, summoning the men to fight.
These signs of imminent departure incense Juno and Minerva, who, ever since the golden apple was bestowed upon Venus, are sworn foes of Paris and Troy. In disguise, therefore, Minerva urges Ulysses, wiliest of the Greeks, to silence the clown Thersites, and admonish his companions that if they return home empty-handed they will be disgraced. Only too pleased, Ulysses reminds his countrymen how, just before they left home, a serpent crawled from beneath the altar and devoured eight young sparrows and the mother who tried to defend them, adding that this was an omen that for nine years they would vainly besiege Troy but would triumph in the tenth.
His eloquent reminder, reinforced by patriotic speeches from Nestor and Agamemnon, determines the Greeks to attempt a final attack upon Troy. So, with the speed and destructive fury of a furious fire, the Greek army, whose forces and leaders are all named, sweeps on toward Troy, where Iris has flown to warn the Trojans of their approach.
As on some mountain, through the lofty grove
The crackling flames ascend and blaze above;
The fires expanding, as the winds arise,
Shoot their long beams and kindle half the skies:
So from the polish'd arms and brazen shields
A gleamy splendor flash'd along the fields.
It is in the form of one of Priam's sons that this divinity enters the palace, where, as soon as Hector hears the news, he musters his warriors, most conspicuous among whom are his brother Paris, and Aeneas, son of Venus and Anchises.
Book III. Both armies now advance toward each other, the Trojans uttering shrill cries like migratory cranes, while the Greeks maintain an impressive silence. When near enough to recognize his wife's seducer, Menelaus rushes forward to attack Paris, who, terrified, takes refuge in the ranks of the Trojan host. So cowardly a retreat, however, causes Hector to express the bitter wish that his brother had died before bringing disgrace upon Troy. Although conscious of deserving reproof, Paris, after reminding his brother all men are not constituted alike, offers to redeem his honor by fighting Menelaus, provided Helen and her treasures are awarded to the victor. This proposal proves so welcome, that Hector checks the advance of his men and proposes this duel to the Greeks, who accept his terms, provided Priam will swear in person to the treaty.
Meanwhile Iris, in guise of a princess, has entered the Trojan palace and bidden Helen hasten to the ramparts to see the two armies—instead of fighting—offering sacrifices as a preliminary to the duel, of which she is to be the prize. Donning a veil and summoning her attendants, Helen seeks the place whence Priam and his ancient counsellors gaze down upon the plain. On beholding her, even these aged men admit the two nations are excusable for so savagely disputing her possession, while Priam, with fatherly tact, ascribes the war to the gods alone.
These, when the Spartan queen approach'd the tower,
In secret own'd resistless beauty's power:
They cried, "No wonder such celestial charms
For nine long years have set the world in arms;
What winning grace! what majestic mien!
She moves a goddess and she looks a queen!"
Then he invites Helen to sit beside him and name the Greeks he points out, among whom she recognizes, with bitter shame, her brother-in-law Agamemnon, Ulysses the wily, and Ajax the bulwark of Greece. Then, while she is vainly seeking the forms of her twin brothers, messengers summon Priam down-to the plain to swear to the treaty, a task he has no sooner performed than he drives back to Troy, leaving Hector and Ulysses to measure out the duelling ground and to settle by lot which champion shall strike first.
Fate having favored Paris, he advances in brilliant array, and soon contrives to shatter Menelaus' sword. Thus deprived of a weapon, Menelaus boldly grasps his adversary by his plumed helmet and drags him away, until, seeing her protégé in danger, Venus breaks the fastenings of his helmet, which alone remains in Menelaus' hands. Then she spirits Paris back to the Trojan palace, where she leaves him resting on a couch, and hurries off, in the guise of an old crone, to twitch Helen's veil, whispering that Paris awaits her at home. Recognizing the goddess in spite of her disguise, Helen reproaches her, declaring she has no desire ever to see Paris again, but Venus, awing Helen into submission, leads her back to the palace. There Paris, after artfully ascribing Menelaus' triumph to Minerva's aid, proceeds to woo Helen anew. Meantime Menelaus vainly ranges to and fro, seeking his foe and hotly accusing the Trojans of screening him, while Agamemnon clamors for the immediate surrender of Helen, saving the Greeks have won.
Book IV. The gods on Mount Olympus, who have witnessed all, now taunt each other with abetting the Trojans or Greeks, as the case may be. After this quarrel has raged some time, Jupiter bids Minerva go down, and violate the truce; so, in the guise of a warrior, she prompts a Trojan archer to aim at Menelaus a dart which produces a nominal wound. This is enough, however, to excite Agamemnon to avenge the broken treaty. A moment later the Greek phalanx advances, urged on by Minerva, while the Trojans, equally inspired by Mars, rush to meet them with similar fury. Streams of blood now flow, the earth trembles beneath the crash of falling warriors, and the roll of war chariots is like thunder. Although it seems for a while as if the Greeks are gaining the advantage, Apollo spurs the Trojans to new efforts by reminding them that Achilles, their most dreaded foe, is absent.
Book V. Seeing the battle well under way, Minerva now drags Mars out of the fray, suggesting that mortals settle their quarrel unaided. Countless duels now occur, many lives are lost, and sundry miracles are performed. Diomedes, for instance, being instantly healed of a grievous wound by Minerva, plunges back into the fray and fights until Aeneas bids an archer check his destructive career. But this man is slain before he can obey, and Aeneas himself would have been killed by Diomedes had not Venus snatched him away from the battle-field. While she does this, Diomedes wounds her in the hand, causing her to drop her son, whom Apollo rescues, while she hastens off to obtain from Mars the loan of his chariot, wherein to drive back to Olympus. There, on her mother's breast, Venus sobs out the tale of her fright, and, when healed, is sarcastically advised to leave fighting to the other gods and busy herself only with the pleasures of love.
The sire of gods and men superior smiled,
And, calling Venus, thus address'd his child:
"Not these, O daughter, are thy proper cares,
Thee milder arts befit, and softer wars;
Sweet smiles are thine, and kind endearing charms;
To Mars and Pallas leave the deeds of arms."
Having snatched Aeneas out of danger, Apollo conveys him to Pergamus to be healed, leaving on the battle-field in his stead a phantom to represent him. Then Apollo challenges Mars to avenge Venus' wound, and the fray which ensues becomes so bloody that "Homeric battle" has been ever since the accepted term for fierce fighting. It is because Mars and Bellona protect Hector that the Trojans now gain some advantage, seeing which, Juno and Minerva hasten to the rescue of the Greeks. Arriving on the battle-field, Juno, assuming the form of Stentor (whose brazen tones have become proverbial), directs the Greek onslaught. Meanwhile, instigated by Minerva, Diomedes attacks Mars, who, receiving a wound, emits such a roar of pain that both armies shudder. Then he too is miraculously conveyed to Olympus, where, after exhibiting his wound, he denounces Minerva who caused it. But, although Jupiter sternly rebukes his son, he takes such prompt measures to relieve his suffering, that Mars is soon seated at the Olympian board, where before long he is joined by Juno and Minerva.
Book VI. Meanwhile the battle rages, and in the midst of broken chariots, flying steeds, and clouds of dust, we descry Menelaus and Agamemnon doing wonders and hear Nestor cheering on the Greeks. The Trojans are about to yield before their onslaught, when a warrior warns Hector, and the just returned Aeneas, of their dire peril. After conferring hastily with his friends, Hector returns to Troy to direct the women to implore Minerva's favor, while Aeneas goes to support their men. At the Scaean Gate, Hector meets the mothers, wives, and daughters of the combatants, who, at his suggestion, gladly prepare costly offerings to be borne to Minerva's temple in solemn procession.
Then Hector himself rushes to the palace, where, refusing all refreshment, he goes in quest of Paris, whom he finds in the company of Helen and her maids, idly polishing his armor. Indignantly Hector informs his brother the Trojans are perishing without the walls in defence of the quarrel he kindled, but which he is too cowardly to uphold! Although admitting he deserves reproaches, Paris declares he is about to return to the battle-field, for Helen has just rekindled all his ardor. Seeing Hector does not answer, Helen timidly expresses her regret at having caused these woes, bitterly wishing fate had bound her to a man noble enough to feel and resent an insult. With a curt recommendation to send Paris after him as soon as possible, Hector hastens off to his own dwelling, for he longs to embrace his wife and son, perhaps for the last time.
There he finds none but the servants at home, who inform him that his wife has gone to the watch-tower, whither he now hastens. The meeting between Hector and Andromache, her tender reproaches at the risks he runs, and her passionate reminder that since Achilles deprived her of her kin he is her sole protector, form the most touching passage in the Iliad. Gently reminding her he must go where honor calls, and sadly admitting he is haunted by visions of fallen Troy and of her plight as a captive, Hector adds that to protect her from such a fate he must fight. But when he holds out his arms to his child, the little one, terrified by the plumes on his helmet, refuses to come to him until he lays it aside. Having embraced his infant son, Hector fervently prays he may grow up to defend the Trojans, ere he hands him back to Andromache, from whom he also takes tender leave.
Thus having spoke, the illustrious chief of Troy
Stretch'd his fond arms to clasp the lovely boy.
The babe clung crying to his nurse's breast,
Seared at the dazzling helm and nodding crest.
With secret pleasure each fond parent smiled
And Hector hasted to relieve his child,
The glittering terrors from his brows unbound,
And placed the beaming helmet on the ground;
Then kiss'd the child, and, lifting high in air,
Thus to the gods preferr'd a father's prayer:
"O thou! whose glory fills the ethereal throne,
And all ye deathless powers! protect my son!
Grant him, like me, to purchase just renown,
To guard the Trojans, to defend the crown,
Against his country's foes the war to wage,
And rise the Hector of the future age!
So when triumphant from successful toils
Of heroes slain he bears the reeking spoils,
Whole hosts may hail him with deserved acclaim,
And say, 'This chief transcends his father's fame:'
While pleased amidst the general shouts of Troy,
His mother's conscious heart o'erflows with joy."
Then, resuming his helmet, Hector drives out of the Scaean Gate and is joined by his brother Paris, now full of ambition to fight.
Book VII. Joyfully the Trojans hail the arrival of both brothers, before whose fierce onslaught the Greeks soon fall back in their turn. Meanwhile Minerva and Apollo, siding with opposite forces, decide to inspire the Trojans to challenge the Greeks to a single fight, and, after doing this, perch upon a tree, in the guise of vultures, to watch the result. Calling for a suspension of hostilities, Hector dares any Greek to fight him, stipulating that the arms of the vanquished shall be the victor's prize, but that his remains shall receive honorable burial. Conscious that none of their warriors—save Achilles—match Hector, the Greeks at first hesitate, but, among the nine who finally volunteer, Ajax is chosen by lot to be the Greek champion. Overjoyed at this opportunity to distinguish himself, Ajax advances with boastful confidence to meet Hector, who, undismayed by his size and truculent speeches, enters into the fight. The duel is, however, not fought to a finish, for the heralds interrupt it at nightfall, pronouncing the champions equal in strength and skill and postponing its issue until the morrow.
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