The Book of the Epic: The World's Great Epics Told in Story

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In his elation Ajax offers thanks to Jupiter before attending a banquet, where Nestor prudently advises his friends to fortify their camp by erecting earthworks. While the Greeks are feasting, the Trojans debate whether it would not be wise to apologize for the broken truce and restore Helen and her treasures to the Greeks. But this suggestion is so angrily rejected by Paris that Priam suggests they propose instead an armistice of sufficient length to enable both parties to bury their dead.

At dawn, therefore, Trojan heralds visit Agamemnon's tent to propose a truce, and offer any indemnification save Helen's return. But, although the Greeks consent to an armistice, they feel so confident of success that they refuse all offers of indemnity. Both parties now bury their dead, a sight witnessed by the gods, who, gazing down from Olympus, become aware of the earthen ramparts .erected during the night to protect the Greek fleet. This sight prompts Neptune to express jealous fears lest these may eclipse the walls he built around Troy, but Jupiter pacifies him by assuring him he can easily bury them beneath the sand as soon as the war is over.

Book VIII. At daybreak Jupiter summons the gods, forbidding them to lend aid to either party, under penalty of perpetual imprisonment in Tartarus. Having decreed this, Jupiter betakes himself to Mount Ida, whence he proposes to watch all that is going on. It is there, at noon, that he takes out his golden balances, and places in opposite scales the fates of Troy and Greece. A moment later a loud clap of thunder proclaims the day's advantage will remain with the Trojans, whose leader, Hector, is protected by Jupiter's thunder-bolts each time that Diomedes attacks him. This manifestation of divine favor strikes terror in the hearts of the Greeks, but encourages the Trojans. They, therefore, hotly pursue the Greeks to their ramparts, which Hector urges them to scale when the foe seeks refuge behind them.

Seeing the peril of the Greeks, Juno urges Agamemnon to visit Ulysses' tent, and there proclaim, in such loud tones that Achilles cannot fail to overhear him, that their vessels will soon be in flames. Then, fearing for his companions, Agamemnon prays so fervently for aid that an eagle flies over the camp and drops a lamb upon the Greek altar. This omen of good fortune renews the courage of the Greeks, and stimulates the archer Teucer to cause new havoc in the Trojan ranks with his unfailing arrows, until Hector hurls a rock, which lays him low, and rushes into the Greek camp.

Full of anxiety for their protégés, Juno and Minerva forget Jupiter's injunctions, and are about to hurry off to their rescue, when the king of the gods bids them stop, assuring them the Greeks will suffer defeat, until, Patroclus having fallen, Achilles arises to avenge him. When the setting sun signals the close of the day's fight, although the Greeks are still in possession of their tents, the Trojans bivouac in the plain, just outside the trench, to prevent their escape.

Book IX. Such anxiety reigns in the Greek camp that Agamemnon holds a council in his tent. There, almost choked by tears, he declares no alternative remains save flight, but Diomedes so hotly contradicts him that the Greeks decide to remain. At Nestor's suggestion, Agamemnon then tries to atone for his insult to Achilles by gifts and apologies, instructing the bearers to promise the return of the captive and to offer an alliance with one of his daughters, if Achilles will only come to their aid. Wending their way through the moonlit camp, these emissaries find Achilles idly listening to Patroclus' music. After delivering the message, Ulysses makes an eloquent appeal in behalf of his countrymen, but Achilles coldly rejoins the Greeks will have to defend themselves as he is about to depart. Such is his resentment that he refuses to forgive Agamemnon, although his aged tutor urges him to be brave enough to conquer himself. Most reluctantly therefore Ulysses and Ajax return, and, although sleep hovers over Achilles' tent, dismay reigns within that of Agamemnon, until Diomedes vows they will yet prove they do not need Achilles' aid.

Book X. Exhausted by the day's efforts, most of the Greeks have fallen asleep, when Agamemnon, after conversing for a while with Menelaus, arouses Nestor, Ulysses, and Diomedes to inspect their posts. It is in the course of these rounds that Nestor suggests one of their number steal into the Trojan camp to discover their plans. This suggestion is eagerly seized by Diomedes and Ulysses, who, on their way to the enemy's camp, encounter Dolon, a Trojan spy, who is coming to find out what they are planning. Crouching among the corpses, Diomedes and Ulysses capture this man, from whom they wring all the information they require, together with exact directions to find the steeds of Rhesus. To secure this prize, Ulysses and Diomedes steal into the Trojan camp, where, after slaying a few sleepers, they capture the steeds and escape in safety, thanks to Minerva's aid. On seeing his friends emerge from the gloom with so glorious a prize, Nestor, who has been anxiously watching, expresses great joy, and invites his companions to refresh themselves after their exertions.

  Old Nestor first perceived the approaching sound,
  Bespeaking thus the Grecian peers around:
  "Methinks the noise of trampling steeds I hear,
  Thickening this way, and gathering on my ear;
  Perhaps some horses of the Trojan breed
  (So may, ye gods! my pious hopes succeed)
  The great Tydides and Ulysses bear,
  Return'd triumphant with this prize of war."

Book XI. At daybreak Jupiter sends Discord to waken the Greeks and, when they appear in battle array, hurls a thunder-bolt as a signal for the fight to begin. Stimulated by Hector's ardor, the Trojans now pounce like ravening wolves upon their foes, but, in spite of their courage, are driven back almost to the Scean Gate. To encourage Hector, however, Jupiter warns him, that once Agamemnon is wounded the tide will turn. Soon after, a javelin strikes Agamemnon, and Hector, seeing him borne to his tent, urges his men on with new vehemence until he forces back the Greeks in his turn. In the ensuing medley both Diomedes and Ulysses are wounded, and Achilles, moodily lounging on the prow of his ship, sees Nestor bring them into camp. Wishing to ascertain who has been hurt, he sends Patroclus to find out. Thus this warrior learns how many of the Greeks are wounded, and is persuaded to try to induce Achilles to assist their countrymen, or at least to allow his friend to lead his forces to their rescue.

Book XII. Although the Trojans are now fiercely trying to enter the Greek camp, their efforts are baffled until Hector, dismounting from his chariot, attacks the mighty wall which the gods are to level as soon as the war is over. Thanks to his efforts, its gates are battered in, and the Trojans pour into the Greek camp, where many duels occur, and where countless warriors are slain on both sides.

Book XIII. Having effected an entrance into the camp, the Trojans rush forward to set fire to the ships, hoping thus to prevent the escape of their foes. Perceiving the peril of the Greeks, Neptune, in the guise of a priest, urges them to stand fast.

  Then with his sceptre, that the deep controls,
  He touched the chiefs and steel'd their manly souls:
  Strength, not their own, the touch divine imparts,
  Prompts their light limbs, and swells their daring hearts.
  Then, as a falcon from the rocky height,
  Her quarry seen, impetuous at the sight,
  Forth-springing instant, darts herself from high,
  Shoots on the wing, and skims along the sky:
  Such, and so swift, the power of ocean flew;
  The wide horizon shut him from their view.

But the advantage does not remain continuously with the Trojans, for Hector is soon beaten back, and, seeing his people's peril, again hotly reviles Paris, whose crime has entailed all this bloodshed.

Book XIV. In the midst of the gloom caused by a new irruption of the Trojans in the Greek camp, Nestor hastens to the spot where the wounded Agamemnon, Ulysses, and Diomedes are watching the fight. But, although Agamemnon renews his former suggestion that they depart, Diomedes and Ulysses, scorning it, prepare to return to the fray, in spite of their wounds. This renewal of Greek courage pleases Juno, who, fearing Jupiter will again interfere in behalf of the Trojans, proceeds by coquettish wiles and with the aid of the God of Sleep to lull him into a state of forgetfulness. This feat accomplished, Juno sends Sleep to urge the Greeks to make the most of this respite, and, thus stimulated, they fight on, until Ajax hurls a rock which lays Hector low. But, before he and his companions can secure this victim, Hector is rescued by his men, who speedily convey him to the river, where plentiful bathing soon restores his senses.

Book XV. Thus temporarily deprived of a leader, the Trojans fall back to the place where they left their chariots. They are just mounting in confusion, in order to flee, when Jupiter, rousing from his nap, and realizing how he has been tricked, discharges his wrath upon Juno's head. Hearing her attribute the blame to Neptune, Jupiter wrathfully orders his brother back to his realm and despatches Apollo to cure Hector. Then he reiterates that the Greeks shall be worsted until Patroclus, wearing Achilles' armor, takes part in the fray. He adds that, after slaying his son Sarpedon, this hero will succumb beneath Hector's sword, and that, to avenge Patroclus' death, Achilles will slay Hector and thus insure the fall of Troy.

Once more the Trojans drive back the Greeks, who would have given up in despair had not Jupiter encouraged them by a clap of thunder. Hearing the Trojans again burst into camp, Patroclus rushes out of Achilles' tent and sees Teucer winging one deadly arrow after another among the foe. But, in spite of his skill, and although Ajax fights like a lion at bay, Hector and the Trojans press fiercely forward, torch in hand, to fire the Greek ships.


Book XVI. Appalled by this sight, Patroclus rushes back to Achilles, and, after vainly urging him to fight, persuades him to lend him his armor, chariot, and men. But, even while furthering his friend's departure, Achilles charges him neither to slay Hector nor take Troy, as he wishes to reserve that double honor for himself. It is just as the first vessels are enveloped in flames that Patroclus rushes to the rescue of his countrymen. At the sight of a warrior whom they mistake for Achilles, and at this influx of fresh troops, the Trojans beat a retreat, and the Greeks, fired with new courage, pursue them across the plain and to the very gates of Troy. Such is Patroclus' ardor that, forgetting Achilles' injunctions, he is about to attack Hector, when Sarpedon challenges him to a duel. Knowing this fight will prove fatal to his beloved son, Jupiter causes a bloody dew to fall upon earth, and despatches Sleep and Death to take charge of his remains, which they are to convey first to Olympus to receive a fatherly kiss and then to Lycia for burial. No sooner is Sarpedon slain than a grim fight ensues over his spoil and remains, but while the Greeks secure his armor, his corpse is borne away by Apollo, who, after purifying it from all battle soil, entrusts it to Sleep and Death.

Meantime, renewing his pursuit of the Trojans, Patroclus is about to scale the walls of Troy, when Apollo reminds him the city is not to fall a prey either to him or to his friend. Then, in the midst of a duel in which Patroclus engages with Hector, Apollo snatches the helmet off the Greek hero's head, leaving him thus exposed to his foe's deadly blows. The dying Patroclus, therefore, declares that had not the gods betrayed him he would have triumphed, and predicts that Achilles will avenge his death. Meantime, pleased with having slain so redoubtable a foe, Hector makes a dash to secure Achilles' chariot and horses, but fails because the driver (Automedon) speeds away.

Book XVII. On seeing Patroclus fall, Menelaus rushes forward to defend his remains and rescue Achilles' armor from the foe. Warned of this move, Hector abandons the vain pursuit of Achilles' chariot, and returns to claim his spoil. He has barely secured it when Menelaus and Ajax attack him, and a mad battle takes place over Patroclus' remains, while Achilles' horses weep for the beloved youth who so often caressed them.

Book XVIII. No sooner is the death of Patroclus known in Achilles' tent than the female captives wail, while the hero groans so loudly that Thetis hears him. Rising from the depths of the sea, she hurries to his side, regretting his brief life should be marred by so much sorrow. Then, hearing him swear to avenge his friend, she entreats him to wait until the morrow, so she can procure him armor from Vulcan. Having obtained this promise, she hastens off to visit the god and bespeak his aid in behalf of her son.

Meanwhile the Greeks, who are trying to bear away Patroclus' remains, are so hard pressed by the Trojans that Juno sends word Achilles must interfere. Hampered by a lack of armor and by the promise to his mother, the hero ventures only as far as the trench, where, however, he utters so threatening a war-cry that the Trojans flee, and the Greeks are thus able to bring Patroclus' body safely into camp, just as the sun sets and the day's fighting ends.

Having unharnessed their steeds, the Trojans assemble to consider whether it will not be best to retreat within their walls, for they know Achilles will appear on the morrow to avenge Patroclus. But Hector so vehemently insists that they maintain the advantage gained, that they camp on the plain, where Jupiter predicts his wife's wish will be granted and her favorite Achilles win great glory. It is in the course of that night that Thetis visits Vulcan's forge and in the attitude of a suppliant implores the divine blacksmith to make an armor for her son. Not only does Vulcan consent, but hurries off to his anvil, where he and Cyclops labor to such good purpose that a superb suit of armor is ready by dawn.

Book XIX. Aurora has barely risen from the bosom of the sea, when Thetis enters her son's tent, bearing these wonderful weapons. Finding him still weeping over his friend's remains, Thetis urges him to rouse himself and fight. At the sight of the armor she brings, Achilles' ardor is so kindled that he proclaims he will avenge his friend. Pleased to think the Greeks will have the help of this champion, Agamemnon humbly apologizes for the past, proffering gifts and a feast, which latter Achilles refuses to attend as long as Patroclus is unavenged. Before entering into battle, however, our hero implores his divine steeds to do their best, only to be warned by one of them that, although they will save him to-day, the time is fast coming when he too will fall victim to the anger of the gods. Undaunted by this prophecy, Achilles jumps into his chariot and sets out for the fray, uttering his blood-curdling war-cry.

  With unabated rage—"So let it be!
  Portents and prodigies are lost on me.
  I know my fate: to die, to see no more
  My much-loved parents and my native shore—
  Enough—when heaven ordains, I sink in night:
  Now perish Troy!" He said, and rush'd to fight.

Book XX. The gods, assembled on Mount Olympus, are told by Jupiter that, whereas he intends merely to witness the fight, they may all take part in it, provided they remember Achilles is to reap the main honors of the day. Hearing this, the gods dart off to side with Troy and Greece, as their inclinations prompt, and thus take an active part in the battle, for which Jupiter gives the signal by launching a thunder-bolt. Not only do the gods fight against each other on this day, but use all their efforts to second their favorites in every way. Before long, however, it becomes so evident they are merely delaying the inevitable issue, that they agree to withdraw from the field, leaving mortals to settle the matter themselves.

There are vivid descriptions of sundry encounters, including one between Achilles and Aeneas, wherein both heroes indulge in boastful speeches before coming to blows. At one time, when Aeneas is about to get the worst of it, the gods, knowing he is reserved for greater things, snatch him from the battle-field and convey him to a place of safety. Thus miraculously deprived of his antagonist, Achilles resumes his quest for Hector, who has hitherto been avoiding him, but who, seeing one of his brothers fall beneath the Greek's blows, meets him bravely. But, as the moment of Hector's death has not yet come, the gods separate these two fighters, although their hatred is such that, whenever they catch a glimpse of each other, they rush forward to renew the fight.

Book XXI. Fleeing before the Greeks, the Trojans reach the Xanthus River, into which Achilles plunges after them, and where, after killing hosts of victims, he secures a dozen prisoners to sacrifice on his friend's tomb. Hearing Achilles refuse mercy to a young Trojan, and enraged because he has choked his bed with corpses, the River God suddenly rises to chide him, but Achilles is now in so defiant a mood that he is ready to fight even the gods themselves. In spite of his courage he would, however, have been drowned, had not Neptune and Minerva come to his rescue, fighting the waters with fire, and assuring him Hector will soon lie lifeless at his feet.

  He ceased; wide conflagration blazing round;
  The bubbled waters yield a hissing sound.
  As when the flames beneath a cauldron rise,
  To melt the fat of some rich sacrifice,
  Amid the fierce embrace of circling fires
  The waters foam, the heavy smoke aspires:
  So boils the imprison'd flood, forbid to flow,
  And choked with vapors feels his bottom glow.

The course of this day's fighting is anxiously watched by old King Priam from the top of the Trojan ramparts, and, when he sees Achilles' forces pursuing his fleeing army across the plain, he orders the gates opened to admit the fugitives, and quickly closed again so the foe cannot enter too. To facilitate this move, Apollo assumes the guise of Hector and decoys Achilles away from the gates until the bulk of the Trojan army is safe.

Book XXII. Meantime the real Hector is stationed beside the gate, and Achilles, suddenly perceiving he has been pursuing a mere phantom, darts with a cry of wrath toward his foe. Seeing him coming, Hector's parents implore him to seek refuge within the walls, but the young man is too brave to accept such a proposal. Still, when he sees the fire in Achilles' eyes, he cannot resist an involuntary recoil, and turning, flees, with Achilles in close pursuit, hurling taunts at him.

These warriors circle the citadel, until the gods, looking on, knowing they can no longer defer Hector's death, but wishing it to be glorious, send Apollo down to urge him to fight. In the guise of one of Hector's brothers, this god offers to aid him, so, thus supported, Hector turns to meet Achilles, with whom before fighting he tries to bargain that the victor shall respect the remains of the vanquished. But Achilles refuses to listen to terms, and in the course of the ensuing duel is ably seconded by Minerva, while Hector, who depends upon his supposed brother to supply him with weapons when his fail, is basely deserted by Apollo.

Seeing him disarmed, Achilles finally deals him a deadly blow, and, although the dying hero tries to abate his resentment, loudly proclaims he shall be a prey to vultures and wolves. Hearing this, Hector curses his conqueror and dies, predicting Achilles shall be slain by Paris. His victim having breathed his last, Achilles ties him by the heels to his chariot, and then drives off with Hector's noble head trailing in the dust!

Meantime Andromache, busy preparing for her husband's return, is so startled by loud cries that she rushes off to the ramparts to find out what has occurred. Arriving there just in time to see her husband dragged away, she faints at the pitiful sight, and, on coming back to her senses, bewails her sad fate, foresees an unhappy fate for her infant son, and regrets not being able to bury her beloved husband.

Book XXIII. On reaching his tent with his victim, Achilles drags it around Patroclus' remains, apostrophizing him and assuring him that twelve Trojans shall be executed on his pyre, while his slayer's body shall be a prey to the dogs. Then, having cast Hector's corpse on the refuse heap, Achilles assembles the Greeks in his tent for a funeral repast, after which they retire, leaving him to mourn. That night he is visited by Patroclus' spirit, which warns him he will soon have to die, and bespeaks funeral rites. This vision convinces Achilles that the human soul does not perish with the body, and impels him to rouse his companions at dawn to erect a huge pyre on the shore, where innumerable victims are to be sacrificed to satisfy his friend's spirit. Then he renews his promise that Hector's body shall be a prey to the dogs, little suspecting that Venus has mounted guard over it, so that no harm may befall it.

In describing the building and lighting of the pyre, the poet relates how the flames were fanned by opposite winds, depicts the sacrifices offered, the funeral games celebrated, and explains how the ashes were finally placed in an urn, where those of Achilles were in time to mingle with those of his friend.

Book XXIV. Although most of the Greek warriors are resting after the strenuous pleasures of the day, Achilles weeps in his tent until daybreak, when he harnesses his horses to his chariot and again drags Hector's body around Patroclus' tomb, little suspecting how Venus and Apollo guard it from all harm. It is only on the twelfth day after Patroclus' death, that the gods interfere in behalf of the Trojans, by sending Iris to Priam to guide him to Achilles' tent, where they assure him his prayers will obtain his son's body. The rainbow goddess not only serves as guide to the mourning father, but brings him unseen into Achilles' tent, where, falling at the hero's feet, the aged Priam sues in such touching terms that the Greek warrior's heart melts and tears stream down his cheeks. Not only does he grant Priam's request, but assures him he is far happier than Peleus, since he still has several sons to cheer him although Hector has been slain.

  These words soft pity in the chief inspire,
  Touch'd with the dear remembrance of his sire.
  Then with his hand (as prostrate still he lay)
  The old man's cheek he gently turn'd away.
  Now each by turns indulged the gush of woe;
  And now the mingled tides together flow:
  This low on earth, that gently bending o'er;
  A father one, and one a son deplore:
  But great Achilles different passions rend,
  And now his sire he mourns, and now his friend.
  The infectious softness through the heroes ran
  One universal solemn shower began;
  They bore as heroes, but they felt as man.

Still guided by Iris, Priam conveys the body of his son back to Troy, where his mother, wife, and the other Trojan women utter a touching lament. Then a funeral pyre is built, and the Iliad of Homer closes with brave Hector's obsequies.

  All Troy then moves to Priam's court again,
  A solemn, silent, melancholy train:
  Assembled there, from pious toil they rest,
  And sadly shared the last sepulchral feast.
  Such honors Ilion to her hero paid,
  And peaceful slept the mighty Hector's shade.
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