But once they reached the
ford where the river runs clear,
the strong, whirling Xanthus sprung of immortal Zeus,
Achilles split the Trojan rout, driving one half
back toward the city, scattering up the plain
where Achaeans themselves stampeded off in terror
just the day before when Hector raged unchecked.
Now back in their tracks the Trojans fled pell-mell
while Hera spread dense cloud ahead to block their way.
But the other half were packed in the silver-whirling river,
into its foaming depths they tumbled, splashing, flailing—
the plunging river roaring, banks echoing, roaring back
and the men screamed, swimming wildly, left and right,
spinning round in the whirlpools. Spun like locusts
swarming up in the air, whipped by rushing fire,
flitting toward a river—the tireless fire blazes,
scorching them all with hard explosive blasts of flame
and beaten down in the depths the floating locusts huddle—
so at Achilles' charge the Xanthus' swirling currents
choked with a spate of horse and men—the river roared.
And the god-sprung
hero left his spear on the bank,
propped on tamarisks-in he leapt like a frenzied god,
his heart racing with slaughter, only his sword in hand,
whirling in circles, slashing-hideous groans breaking,
fighters stabbed by the blade, water flushed with blood.
Like shoals of fish darting before some big-bellied dolphin,
escaping, cramming the coves of a good deepwater harbor,
terrified for their lives—he devours all he catches—
so the Trojans down that terrible river's onrush
cowered under its bluffs. But soon as Achilles
grew arm-weary from killing, twelve young Trojans
he rounded up from the river, took them all alive
as the blood-price for Patroclus' death, Menoetius' son.
He dragged them up on the banks, dazed like fawns,
lashed their hands behind them with well-cut straps—
their own belts that cinched their billowing war-shirts—
gave them to friends to lead away to the beaked ships
and back he whirled, insane to hack more flesh.
And first he met a
son of Dardan Priam
just escaping the rapids—Lycaon, the very man
Achilles seized himself, once on a midnight raid,
and hauled from his father's orchard, resisting all the way.
He was pruning a young fig with his sharp bronze hook,
cutting green branches to bend for chariot-rails
when a sudden blow came down on him in the dark—
the grim marauder Achilles. That was the time
he shipped him to Lemnos fortress, sold him off
and the son of Jason paid the price for the slave,
but a stranger there released him from his chains,
Eetion out of Imbros paid a princely ransom
and sent him off to Arisbe's shining walls. so
From there he slipped away to his father's house,
struggling home from Lemnos, but only eleven days
he cheered his heart with friends. Then on the twelfth
some god cast him into Achilles' hands again
and now he would send him off on a new journey,
resisting all the way to the House of Death.
The swift runner recognized him at once
disarmed, no shield, no helmet, no spear left,
he'd scattered all his gear on the bank, sweating,
clambering out of the ford exhausted, knees buckling . . .
Achilles, filled with rage, addressed his own great heart:
"By heaven, an awesome miracle right before my eyes!
These gallant, die-hard Trojans, even those I've killed,
they'll all come rising back from the western gloom!
Look at this fellow here, back he comes again,
fleeing his fatal day—
and I'd sold him off as a slave in holy Lemnos
but the heaving gray salt sea can't hold him back,
though it stops whole fleets of men who buck its tides.
Let's try again—this time he'll taste my spearpoint.
Now we'll see, once and for all we'll know
if he returns as fast from his newest destination—
or the firm life-giving earth can hold him down,
the grave that hugs the strongest man alive."
plotting, the other stumbling toward him, stunned,
wild to grasp his knees, wild with all his heart
to escape his death and grueling black fate
as the great Achilles raised his massive spear,
wild to run him through—
He ducked, ran under the hurl
and seized Achilles' knees as the spear shot past his back
and stuck in the earth, still starved for human flesh.
And begging now, one hand clutching Achilles' knees,
the other gripping the spear, holding for dear life,
Lycaon burst out with a winging prayer: "Achilles!
I hug your knees—mercy!—spare my life!
I am your suppliant, Prince, you must respect me!
Yours was the first bread I broke, Demeter's gift,
that day you seized me in Priam's well-fenced orchard,
hauled me away from father, loved ones, sold me off
in holy Lemnos and I, I fetched you a hundred bulls—
and once released I brought three times that price.
And it's just twelve days that I've been home in Troy—
all I've suffered! But now, again, some murderous fate
has placed me in your hands, your prisoner twice over—
Father Zeus must hate me, giving me back to you!
Ah, to a short life you bore me, mother-mother,
she was Laothoe, aged Altes' daughter . . .
Altes who rules the Leleges always keen for war,
who holds the Pedasus heights along the Satniois—
and Priam wed his daughter, with many other wives, too
and she produced two sons, and you, you'll butcher both!
One you killed in the ranks of frontline fighters,
noble Polydorus, ran him down with your lance
and a gruesome death awaits me here and now—
no hope of escape for me, from your clutches,
not when destiny drives me up against you.
Listen, this too-take it to heart, I beg you—
don't kill me! I'm not from the same womb as Hector,
Hector who killed your friend, your strong, gentle friend!"
So the illustrious
son of Priam begged for life
but only heard a merciless voice in answer: "Fool,
don't talk to me of ransom. No more speeches.
Before Patroclus met his day of destiny, true,
it warmed my heart a bit to spare some Trojans:
droves I took alive and auctioned off as slaves.
But now not a single Trojan flees his death,
not one the gods hand over to me before your gates,
none of all the Trojans, sons of Priam least of all!
Come, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so?
Even Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you.
And look, you see how handsome and powerful I am?
The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life
a deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you,
death and the strong force of fate are waiting.
There will come a dawn or sunset or high noon
when a man will take my life in battle too—
flinging a spear perhaps
or whipping a deadly arrow off his bow."
Lycaon's knees gave way on the spot, his heart too.
He let go of the spear, he sank back down . . .
spreading both arms wide. Drawing his sharp sword
Achilles struck his collarbone just beside the neck
and the two-edged blade drove home, plunging to the hilt—
and down on the ground he sprawled, stretched facefirst
and dark blood pouring out of him drenched the earth.
Achilles grabbed a foot, slung him into the river,
washed away downstream as he cried above him
savage words to wing him on his way: "There—
lie there! Make your bed with the fishes now,
they'll dress your wound and lick it clean of blood—
so much for your last rites! Nor will your mother
lay your corpse on a bier and mourn her darling son—
whirling Scamander will roll you down the sea's broad bosom!
And many a fish, leaping up through the waves, breaking
the cold ripples shivering dark will dart and bolt
Lycaon's glistening fat! Die, Trojans, die—
till I butcher all the way to sacred Troy—
run headlong on, I'll hack you from behind!
Nothing can save you now—
not even your silver-whirling, mighty-tiding river—
not for all the bulls you've slaughtered to it for years,
the rearing stallions drowned alive in its eddies . . . die!—
even so—writhing in death till all you Trojans pay
for Patroclus' blood and the carnage of Achaeans
killed by the racing ships when I was out of action!"
The more he vaunted
the more the river's anger rose,
churning at heart for a way to halt his rampage,
godlike Achilles, and stop the Trojans' rout.
But now Pelides shaking his long-shadowed spear
was charging Asteropaeus, mad to cut him down—
Pelegon's son, himself a son of the Axius River
broad and fast and Acessamenus' eldest daughter,
Periboea, loved by the deep-swirling stream.
Achilles went for Asteropaeus fresh from the ford,
braced to face him there and brandishing two spears
and the Xanthus filled the Trojan's heart with courage,
the river seething for all the youths Achilles slaughtered,
chopped to bits in its tide without a twinge of pity.
Closing against each other, just about in range,
the magnificent runner Achilles opened up, 170
"Who on earth are you? Where do you hail from?—
you with the gall to go against my onslaught.
Pity the ones whose sons stand up to me in war!"
But the noble son of
Pelegon answered firmly,
"High-hearted son of Peleus, why ask about my birth?
I hail from Paeonia's rich soil, a far cry from here,
heading Paeonian troops with their long spears,
and this my eleventh day since raising Troy.
My birth? I come from the Axius' broad currents—
Axius floods the land with the clearest stream on earth
and Axius fathered the famous Spearman Pelegon.
Men say I am his son.
Now on with it, great Pelides, let us fight!"
as brilliant Achilles raised the Pelian ash spear
but the fighting Asteropaeus, quick, ambidextrous,
hurled both spears at once—one shaft hit the shield,
no breakthrough, the shaft could not smash through,
the gold blocked it, forged in the god's gift.
But the other grazed Achilles' strong right arm
and dark blood gushed as the spear shot past his back,
stabbing the earth hard, still lusting to sink in flesh . . .
But next Achilles, burning to cut down Asteropaeus
hurled his ashen shaft—it flew straight as a die
but a clean miss—it struck the river's high bank
and half the length of the lance stuck deep in soil.
So Achilles, drawing the sharp sword at his hip,
sprang at the man in rage as he tried to wrench
Pelides' spear from the bank but his grip failed.
Three times he tried to wrench it free, tugging madly,
thrice gave up the struggle—the fourth with all his might
he fought to bend Aeacides' shaft and break it off
but before it budged the hero was all over him,
slashing out his life, slitting his belly open—
a scooping slice at the navel and all his bowels
spilled out on the ground, darkness swirled his eyes
as he gasped his breath away. And trampling his chest
Achilles tore his gear off, glorying over him now:
"Lie there with the dead! Punishing work, you see,
to fight the sons of invincible Cronus' son,
even sprung from a river as you are! You- 210
you claimed your birth from a river's broad stream?
Well I can boast my birth from powerful Zeus himselfl
My father's the man who rules the hordes of Myrmidons,
Peleus, son of Aeacus, and Aeacus sprang from Zeus
and as Zeus is stronger than rivers surging out to sea,
so the breed of Zeus is stronger than any stream's.
Here is a great river flowing past you, look—
what help can he give you? Nonel
Nothing can fight the son of Cronus, Zeus,
not even Achelous king of rivers vies with Zeus,
not even the overpowering Ocean's huge high tides,
the source of all the rivers and all the seas on earth
and all springs and all deep wells—all flow from the ocean
but even the Ocean shrinks from the mighty Father's bolt
when terrible thunder crashes down the skies!"
Achilles pulled his bronze spear from the river bluff
and left him there, the Trojan's life slashed out,
sprawled in the sand, drenched by the black tide—
eels and fish the corpse's frenzied attendants
ripping into him, nibbling kidney-fat away.
But Achilles went for Paeonians, helmets plumed,
still running in panic along the river's rapids
once they saw their finest fall in the onslaught,
beaten down by Pelides' hands and hacking sword.
He killed in a blur of kills—Thersilochus, Mydon,
Astypylus, Mnesus, Thrasius, Aenius and Ophelestes—
still more Paeonian men the runner would have killed
if the swirling river had not risen, crying out in fury,
taking a man's shape, its voice breaking out of a whirlpool:
"Stop, Achilles! Greater than any man on earth,
greater in outrage too—
for the gods themselves are always at your side!
But if Zeus allows you to kill off all the Trojans,
drive them out of my depths at least, I ask you,
out on the plain and do your butchery there.
All my lovely rapids are crammed with corpses now,
no channel in sight to sweep my currents out to sacred sea—
I'm choked with corpses and still you slaughter more,
you blot out more! Leave me alone, have done—
captain of armies, I am filled with horror!"
And the breakneck
runner only paused to answer,
"So be it, Scamander sprung of Zeus—as you command.
But I, I won't stop killing these overweening Trojans,
not till I've packed them in their walls and tested Hector,
strength against strength—he kills me or I kill him!"
Down on the Trojan front
he swept like something superhuman
and now from his deep whirls the river roared to Phoebus,
"Disgrace—god of the silver bow and bom of Zeusl
You throw to the winds the will of Cronus' son—
time and again Zeus gave you strict commands:
Stand by the Trojan ranks and save their lives
till the sun goes down at last and darkness shrouds
the plowlands ripe with grain!"
When he heard
Achilles the famous Spearman, leaping down from the bluff,
plunged in the river's heart and the river charged against him,
churning, surging, all his rapids rising in white fury
and drove the mass of corpses choking tight his channel,
the ruck Achilles killed-Scamander heaved them up
and bellowing like a bull the river flung them out
on the dry land but saved the living, hiding them down
the fresh clear pools of his thundering whirling current
but thrashing over Achilles' shoulders raised a killer-wave—
the tremendous thrust of it slammed against his shield
and he staggered, lost his footing, his arms flung out
for a tall strong elm, he clung but out it came by the roots,
toppling down, ripping away the whole cliff, blocking the stream
with a tangled snarl of branches crashing into it full length
to dam the river bank to bank-Bursting up from a whirlpool
Achilles dashed for the plain, his feet flying in terror
but the great god would not let up, hurling against him,
Scamander looming into a murderous breaker, dark, over him,
dead set on stopping the brilliant Achilles' rampage here
and thrusting disaster off the struggling Trojan force—
But the hero sprang away, far as a hard-flung spear,
swooping fast as the black eagle, the fierce marauder,
both the strongest and swiftest bird that flies the sky—
on he streaked and the bronze rang out against his chest,
clashing grimly—slipping out from under the wave he fled
with the river rolling on behind him, roaring, huge . . .
As a farmhand runs a ditch from a dark spring, sluicing
the gushing stream through plants and gardens, swinging
his mattock to knock the clods out down the shoot
and the water rushes on, tearing the pebbles loose
and what began as a trickle hits a quick slope and
down it goes, outstripping the man who guides it—
so the relentless tide kept overtaking Achilles,
yes, for all his speed—gods are stronger than men.
Again and again the brilliant swift Achilles whirled,
trying to stand and fight the river man-to-man and see
if all the immortal gods who rule the vaulting skies
were after him, putting him to rout-again and again
the mighty crest of the river fed by the rains of Zeus
came battering down his shoulders, down from high above
bi it Achilles kept on leaping, higher, desperate now
as the river kept on dragging down his knees, lunging
under him, cutting the ground from under hic legs . . .
Pelides groaned, scanning the arching blank sky:
"Father Zeus! To think in all my misery not one god
can bring himself to rescue me from this river!
Then I'd face any fate. And no god on high,
none is to blame so much as my dear mother—
how she lied, she beguiled me, she promised me
I'd die beneath the walls of the armored Trojans,
cut down in blood by Apollo's whipping arrows!
I wish Hector had killed me,
the best man bred in Troy-the killer a hero then
and a hero too the man whose corpse he stripped!
Now look what a wretched death I'm doomed to suffer,
trapped in this monstrous river like some boy, some pig-boy
swept away, trying to ford a winter torrent in a storm!"
Quick to his cry
Poseidon and Pallas moved in close,
stood at his shoulder now and taking human form,
grasped him hand-to-hand, spoke bracing words,
Poseidon who shakes the mainland first to say,
"Courage, Achilles! Why such fear, such terror?
Not with a pair like us to urge you on-gods-in-arms
sent down with Zeus's blessings, I and Pallas Athena.
It's not your fate to, be swallowed by a river:
he'll subside, and soon—you'll see for yourself.
But we do have sound advice, if only you will yield.
Never rest your hands from the great leveler war,
not till you pack and cram the Trojan armies tight
in the famous walls of Troy—whoever flees your onset.
But once you've ripped away Prince Hector's life,
back to the ships you go! We give you glory—
seize it in your hands!"
With that challenge
both went soaring home to the deathless ones on high
but Achilles rampaged on with the gods' strong command
driving him down the plain where the river flooded now,
an immense, cresting outrush bursting with burnished gear
and troops of battle dead, men cut down in their prime,
floating corpses rolling-But Achilles surged on too
with high hurdling strides, charging against the river,
on, breakneck on and the river could not stop him,
not for all its reach and tide race, not with Athena
pumping enormous strength deep down Achilles' heart—
But the Xanthus River would not slack his fury .either,
he raged at Achilles all the more, he marshaled up
a mountainous ridge of water, roaring out to Simois,
"Oh dear brother, rise! Both of us rush together
to halt this mortal's onslaught! At any moment
he'll storm King Priam's mighty stronghold down—
the Trojans can't stand up to the man in battle.
Beat him back, quickly! Deluge all your channels
from all your gushing springs-muster all your torrents—
raise up a tremendous wave, rumbling, booming with timber,
boulders crashing—we'll stop this wild man in his tracks,
lording it in his power now and raging like some god!
Neither his strength nor splendid build can save him,
not now, I tell you—nor all that glorious armor:
now, somewhere under our floods that gear will sink,
immersed deep in slime, and I, I'll roil his body
round in sand and gravel, tons of spills of silt.
Achaeans will never know where to find his bones,
never collect them now—
I'll bury that man so deep in mud and rocks!
That's where his grave-mound will be piled and then
no need in the world to raise his barrow high
when comrades come to give him royal rites!"
So he vaunted,
rearing against Achilles, seething, heaving up in fury,
thundering out now in foam and blood and corpses—
the bloodred crest of the river swelled by Zeus
came arching higher, ready to tear Pelides down
but Hera, struck with fear for Achilles, screamed out,
dreading he might be swept away by the giant churning river
and quickly cried to the god of fire, her own dear son,
"To arms, my child—god of the crooked legs!
You are the one we'd thought a worthy match
for the whirling river Xanthus!
Quick, rescue Achilles! Explode in a burst of fire!
I'll drive the West and South Winds white with clouds
and sweep in from the open seas a tearing gale to sear
the Trojan bodies and gear and spread your lethal flames!
And you, you make for the Xanthus banks and burn the trees,
hurl the stream itself into conflagration—not for a moment
let him turn you back with his winning words or threats.
Never abate your fury! Not till I let loose my shout—
then halt your withering fire!"
and Hephaestus launched his grim inhuman blaze.
First he shot into flames and burned the plain,
ignited hordes of corpses, squads Achilles slaughtered—
he scorched the whole plain and the shining river shrank.
Hard as the autumn North Wind hits a leveled field
just drenched in a downpour, quickly dries it off
and the fanner is glad and starts to till his soil—
so the whole plain was parched and the god of fire devoured
all the dead, then blazing in all his glory veered for the river—
an inferno—the elms burned, the willows and tamarisks burned
and the lotus burned and the galingale and reeds and rushes,
all that flourished along the running river's lush banks
and the eels writhed and fish in the whirlpools leapt high,
breaking the surface left and right in a sheen of fire,
gasping under the Master Smith Hephaestus' blast
and now the river's strength was burning out,
he panted the god's name: "Hephaestus—stop!
Not a single god can stand against you—no, not I—
can't fight such fire, such fury—hold your attack, stop!
Brilliant Achilles can drive them out of Ilium now!
What's this war to me? Why should I help Troy?"
He screamed in
flames, his clear currents bubbling up
like a cauldron whipped by crackling fire as it melts down
the lard of a fat swine, splattering up around the rim—
dry lpSs blazing under it, lashing it to the boil—
so the river burned, his clear currents seethed
and lost all will to flow. He stopped—overwhelmed
by the torrid blast of the Master Craftsman god of fire—
and Xanthus cried to Hera, pouring out his heart
in a flood of supplication, "Oh Hera—why?
Why does your son attack me, whip my waters more
than all the others? Why, what have I done to you?
Nothing beside those other powers, all who rush
to defend the Trojan armies. Oh I'll stop—
if that is your command—
but let your son stop too! I'll swear, what's more,
never to drive the fatal day away from the Trojans,
not even when all Troy burns in the ramping flames
when the warring sons of Achaea bum her down!"
And Hera heard him,
the radiant white-armed goddess
quickly cried to the god of fire, her own dear son,
"Hephaestus, stop! Stop, my glorious blazing boy!
It's not right to batter another deathless god,
not for the sake of these mortals."
and the god of fire quenched his grim inhuman blaze
and back in its channel ran the river's glistening tides.
And now with the
strength of Xanthus beaten down
the two called off their battle. Hera held them back,
still enraged as she was. But now for total war,
bearing down on the other gods, disastrous, massive,
their fighting-fury blasting loose from opposing camps—
the powers collided! A mammoth clash—the wide earth roared
and the arching vault of heaven echoed round with trumpets!
And Zeus heard the chaos, throned on Olympus heights,
and laughed deep in his own great heart, delighted
to see the gods engage' in all-out conflict.
They did not waste a moment, closed at once—
Ares stabber of shields led off, charging Athena,
shaking his brazen spear and dressed the goddess down:
"You dog-fly, why drive the gods to battle once again
with that stormy bluster driving your wild heart?
Don't you recall the time you drove Tydides' son
to spear me through? In the eyes of all the world
you seized his lance and rammed it home yourself,
tearing into my rippling, deathless flesh—so now
I think I'll pay you back for all your outrage!"
With that he stabbed
at her battle-shield of storm,
its dark tassels flaring, packing tremendous force—
not even Zeus's lightning bolt can break its front.
Bloody Ares lunged at it now with giant lance
and Athena backed away, her powerful hand hefting
a boulder off the plain, black, jagged, a ton weight
that men in the old days planted there to mark off plowland—
Pallas hurled that boundary-stone at Ares, struck his neck,
loosed his limbs, and down he crashed and out over seven acres
sprawled the enormous god and his mane dragged in the dust,
his armor clashed around him. Athena laughed aloud,
glorying over him, winging insults: "Colossal fool—
it never even occurred to you, not even now
when you matched your strength with mine,
just how much greater I claim to be than you!
So now you feel the weight of your mother's curses—
Hera plotted against you, Hera up in arms
because you left the Achaean forces in the lurch
and rushed to defend these reckless, headlong Trojans!"
turned her shining eyes away
and Aphrodite daughter of Zeus took Ares' hand
and led him off the field, racked with groans,
barely able to gather back his strength ...
But the white-armed Hera saw her move at once
and winged Athena on: "Just look at them there—
daughter of Zeus whose shield is storm and thunder,
tireless one, Athena. There she goes again,
that dog-fly, leading her man-destroying Ares'clear
of the rampage, through the slaughter! After her, quick!"
Athena's heart leapt
high, she charged at Aphrodite,
overtook her and beat her breasts with clenched fists.
Down she sank with Ares, resistance quite dissolved,
two immortals spread on the earth that rears us all
with Pallas trumpeting over them winged exultations:
"Down you go! May all the gods who help the Trojans
fall as hard when they battle Argives armed for war—
all as courageous, all as steadfast as Aphrodite
when she sped to Ares' side and faced my fury!
Then we'd have done with fighting long ago,
razed the rugged walls of Troy and laid her waste."
So Athena vaunted
and white-armed Hera smiled
but the mighty god of earthquakes challenged Phoebus:
"Apollo—why hold back from each other? It's not fair
when the other gods have launched themselves in war.
What disgrace for us—to return without a fight
to the bronze-floored house of Zeus on Mount Olympus!
You lead off. You are the younger-born, and I—
it's wrong for me, since I have years on you
and I know the world much better.
Fool, what short-lived memory you must have!
Don't you remember? Have you forgotten-even now?—
all those troubles we suffered here alongside Troy,
we alone of the gods when Zeus dispatched us down
to slave for proud Laomedon one whole year,
for stated wages—at that man's beck and call.
I erected the rampart round the Trojans' city, 510
a massive ashlar wall to make the place impregnable.
You, Phoebus, herded his shambling crook-homed cattle
along the spurs of Ida's timbered ridges. Ah but then,
when the happy spring brought time for payment round,
that outrageous man Laomedon robbed us blind.
He stole our wages, cursed us, sent us packing—
he threatened to bind us both, hand and foot,
ship us off and away as slaves to distant islands—
he was all for lopping off our ears with a brazen ax!
So we made our way back home, hearts smoldering,
furious for the sum he swore but never paid—
and that, that is the one whose men you favor now.
No joining ranks with us as we fight to wipe them out,
these insolent Trojans, stretch them out in the dust
with all their sons and all their honored wives!"
But the distant
deadly Archer volleyed back,
"God of the earthquake—you'd think me hardly sane
if I fought with you for the sake of wretched mortals . . .
like leaves, no sooner flourishing, full of the sun's fire,
feeding on earth's gifts, than they waste away and die.
Stop. Call off this skirmish of ours at once—
let these mortals fight themselves to death."
With that he turned
and left, filled with shame
to grapple his own father's brother hand-to-hand.
But his sister Artemis, Huntress, queen of beasts,
inveighed against him now with stinging insults:
"So, the deadly immortal Archer runs for dear life!—
turning over victory to Poseidon, total victory,
giving him all the glory here without a fight.
Why do you sport that bow, you spineless fool?—
it's worthless as the wind!
Don't let me hear you boast in Father's halls,
ever again, as you bra8Sed among the gods till now,
that you would fight Poseidon strength for strength."
but Zeus's regal
consort flew into rage at once
and her outburst raked the Huntress armed with arrows:
"How do you have the gall, you shameless bitch,
to stand and fight me here? You and your archery!
Zeus made you a lion against all women, true,
he lets you kill off mothers in their labor—
but you'll find it painful, matching force with me.
Better to slaughter beasts on rocky mountain slopes
and young deer in the wild than fight a higher goddess!
But since you'd like a lesson in warfare, Artemis,
just to learn, to savor how much stronger I am
when you engage my power-"
She broke off,
her left hand seizing both wrists of the goddess,
right hand stripping the bow and quiver off her shoulders—
Hera boxed the Huntress' ears with her own weapons,
smiling broadly now as her victim writhed away
and showering arrows scattered. Bursting into tears
the goddess slipped from under her clutch like a wild dove
that flies from a hawk's attack to a hollow rocky cleft
for it's not the quarry's destiny to be caught—
so she fled in tears, her archery left on the spot.
But Hermes the guide of souls and giant-killer
reassured her mother, Leto, "Nothing to fear,
I'd never fight you, Leto. An uphill battle it is,
trading blows with the wives of Zeus who rules the clouds.
No, go boast to your heart's content and tell the gods
you triumphed over me with your superhuman power!"
So Leto gathered the
reflex bow and arrows
scattered left and right in the swirling dust,
and bearing her daughter's archery in her arms
withdrew from the field of battle trailing Artemis.
By now the Huntress had reached Olympus heights
and made her way to the bronze-floored house of Zeus.
And down she sat on her Father's lap, a young girl,
sobbing, her deathless robe quivering round her body.
But her Father, son of Cronus, hugged her tight
and giving a low warm laugh inquired gently,
"Who has abused you now, dear child, tell me,
who of the sons of heaven so unfeeling, cruel?
Why, it's as if they had caught you in public,
doing something wrong . . . "
the one who halloos the hunt cried out at once,
"Your own wife, Father! The white-armed Hera beat me!
This strife, this warfare plaguing all the immortals—
Hera's all to blame!"
And now as the
powers. wrangled back and forth
the lord god Apollo entered holy Troy,
filled with dread for the city's sturdy walls:
what if the Argive forces stormed them down today—
against the will of fate? The rest of the gods
who live forever soon returned to Mount Olympus,
some enraged, some in their proud, new-won glory,
and sat beside the Father, king of the black cloud.
But Achilles slaughtered on and on, never pausing,
killing Trojans and skittish battle-teams at once.
As smoke goes towering into the broad vaulting sky
from a burning town and the gods' wrath drives it on,
dealing struggle to all, to many searing grief—
so Achilles dealt the Trojans struggle, grief.
But there on the
god-built heights stood aged Priam.
He saw the monstrous Achilles and racing on before him
Trojans whipped in headlong flight, all rescue gone.
The king cried out and clambered down to ground
from the high tower, issuing quick commands
to veteran gateway guards beside the walls:
"Spread the great gates wide—all hands now—
till our routed troops can straggle back to Troy!
Achilles swarms over them—they're stampeding,
a terrible mauling's coming . . . I can see it now!
Once they're packed in the walls and catch their breath,
close the thickset gates and bolt them tight again.
I dread this murderous man-he'll burst right through our walls."
They spread the
gates and rammed the doorbars back
and the spreading gates made way for a ray of hope
as Phoebus Apollo hurtled forth to meet Achilles,
to fight disaster off the Trojan troops.
Heading straight for the city's lofty ramparts,
ragged with thirst, choked with dust from the plain
they fled as Achilles stormed them, shaking his spear,
that wild rabid frenzy always gripping his heart,
blazing to seize his glory.
And then and there
the Achaeans would have taken the lofty gates of Troy
if Apollo had not driven Prince Agenor at them,
Antenor's son, a courageous, rugged soldier.
He inspired his heart with daring, standing near—
in person, to beat away the dragging fates of death—
leaning against an oak, concealed in swirls of mist.
And now, as soon as Agenor saw Achilles coming,
there he stood, poised for the scourge of cities
while the heart inside him heaved like heavy seas.
Waiting, tense, he probed his own brave spirit:
"Ah dear god—if I run from Achilles' onslaught,
taking the route the rest have fled, stampeding,
he'll catch me even so and slash my coward's throat.
But if I leave my comrades panicked before his charge,
this Prince Achilles—slip away from the wall on foot
and race the other way, out to Ilium's plain and
reach the spurs of Ida, hide in the underbrush
and then, in the dying light . . .
once I've washed my sweat away in the river,
yes, I just might make it back again to Troy—
but why debate, my friend, why thrash things out?
God forbid that Achilles sees me turning tail,
heading from town and out to open country—
he'll come after me full tilt 'and run me downl
And then no way to escape my death, my certain doom—
Achilles is far too strong for any man on earth.
Wait . . . what if I face him out before the walls?
Surely his body can be pierced by bronze, even his—
he has only one life, and people say he's mortal:
it's only the son of Cronus handing him the glory."
Filled with resolve,
he braced, waiting Achilles,
his warrior blood incensed. He'd fight to the death
as a panther springs forth from her thicket lair
to stand and face the huntsman: no fear in her heart,
no thought of flight when she hears the baying packs—
and even if he's too quick with spear or lunging sword,
even if she's run through, she never slacks her fury
until she's charged him hard or gone down fighting.
And so the noble son of Antenor, brave Agenor
would never run until he'd tested Achilles.
He steadied his balanced shield before his chest,
aimed his spear at the man and flung this challenge:
"Surely you must have hoped with all your heart—
the great glorious Achilles—that you would raze
the proud Trojans' city this very day! You fool—
you still have plenty of pain to suffer for her sake.
We have fighting men by the hundreds still inside her,
forming a wall before our loving parents, wives and sons
to defend Troy—where you rush on to meet your doom,
headlong man as you are, breakneck man of war!"
And he hurled his
sharp spear from, a strong hand—
a hard true hit on Achilles' shin below the knee!
But the tin of the fire-new armor round his leg
let loose an unearthly ring—back the spear sprang
from the wondrous gear it struck, not punching through:
the gift of the god Hephaestus blocked its force.
Achilles next, he leapt at Prince Agenor—
but Phoebus refused to let him seize the glory—
he whisked Agenor off, wrapped in swirls of mist
and sped him out of the fighting safely on his way
and then with trickery kept Achilles off the Trojans.
True, just like Agenor head to foot the deadly Archer
stood in Achilles' path and Achilles sprang in chase,
feet racing, coursing him far across the wheat-fields,
heading him out toward Scamander's whirling depths
as the god led him a little, luring him on and on—
always hoping to catch the god with bursts of speed.
But all the while the rest of the Trojans fled en masse,
thrilled to reach the ramparts, crowding, swarming in,
no daring left to remain outside the city walls
and wait for each other, learn who made it through,
who died in battle-no, in a driving rout they came,
streaming into Troy,
any fighter whose racing legs could save his life.