The Iliad

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Book X


So by the ships the other lords of Achaea's armies
slept all night long, overcome by gentle sleep . . .
But not the great field marshal Agamemnon--
the sweet embrace of sleep could not hold him:
his mind kept churning, seething. Like Zeus's bolts
when the lord of bright-haired Hera flashes lightning,
threatening to loose torrential rain or pelting hail
or snow when a blizzard drifts on fields—or driving on,
somewhere on earth, the giant jaws of rending war—
so thick-and-fast the groans came from Atrides,
wrenching his chest, heaving up from his heart
and rocked his very spirit to the core.
Now as he scanned across the Trojan plain
Agamemnon marveled in horror at those fires,
a thousand fires blazing against the walls of Troy,
and the shrill of pipes and flutes and low roar of men.
And now as he glanced back at Achaea's troops and ships
he tore out his hair by the roots, he looked to Zeus on high,
groaning from the depths of his proud, embattled heart.
But soon this recourse struck his mind as best:
he would go and approach the son of Neleus first
and see if Nestor could work out something with him,
some foolproof plan that just might ward disaster
off the Achaean forces.
                                                  He rose up quickly
and over his chest he pulled a battle-shirt,
under his smooth feet he fastened supple sandals,
round him slung the glossy hide of a big tawny lion,
swinging down to his heels, and grasped a spear.


      And the same anguish shook Menelaus too—
no sleep could settle over his eyes, not now.
He feared his men might meet the worst at last,
comrades who crossed a waste of seas for him
to raise Troy and mount their fierce assault.
First he covered his broad back with leopard skin,
a fine spotted hide, then lifting a round helmet
of good sturdy bronze, he fitted it to his head,
he took a spear in his grip and off he strode
to rouse his brother, king of all the Argives,
the armies that prized him in his power like a god.
And Menelaus found him alongside his ship's stem,
strapping his handsome gear around his shoulders.
Agamemnon warmed with pleasure as he came up
but Menelaus lord of the war cry ventured first,
"Why arming now, my brother? To spur a volunteer
to spy on Trojan lines? Not a man in sight will take
that mission on, I fear, and go against our enemies,
scout them out alone in the bracing godsent night—
it will take a daring man to do the job."


      King Agamemnon answered crisply; "Tactics,
my noble Menelaus. That's what we need now,
you and I both, and cunning tactics too.
Something to shield and save our men and ships
since Zeus's heart has turned—his mighty heart
is set on Hector's offerings more than ours.
I've never seen or heard tell of a single man
wreaking so much havoc in one day as Hector,
Zeus's favorite, wreaks against our troops,
and all on his own-no son of god or goddess.
He's made a slaughter, I tell you. Pain for Achaeans,
enough to last us down the years to come . . .
what blows he's dealt our men!
Go now, call Ajax, Idomeneus, quickly,
make a run for it down along the ships.
I'll go after Nestor, wake and rouse him,
see if the good man wants to join the guard,
that strong contingent, and give them orders.
He's the one they'll obey. His own son commands
the sentry-line, he and Idomeneus' aide Meriones.
They above all—we put those men in charge."


      The lord of the war cry nodded, "Yes, fine,
but what orders for me? Do I stay with them,
waiting for you to come? Or follow you on the run,
once I've given the captains your command?"


      The marshal made things clearer: "You stay there—
so we don't miss one another rushing back and forth
in the endless maze of pathways up and down the camp.
But shout wherever you go, tell them to stay awake.
And call each man by his name and father's line,
show them all respect. Not too proud now.
We are the ones who ought to do the work.
On our backs, from the day that we were born,
it seems that Zeus has piled his pack of hardships."


      With his order clear, he sent his brother off
while he went after Nestor, the old commander.
He found him beside his black ship and shelter,
stretched on a fleecy bed, his blazoned gear at hand,
his shield and two long spears and burnished helmet.
His war-belt lay beside him, gleaming in all its fire.
The old man cinched it on whenever he'd harness up,
marching his men to war where fighters die—
Nestor gave no ground to withering old age.
He propped himself on an elbow, craned his head
and probed sharply, whispering through the dark,
"Who goes there? Stalking along the ships,
alone through camp in the very dead of night
when other mortals try to catch some sleep.
Tracking a stray mule or a lost companion? Speak!
Don't steal on me in silence—what do you want?"


      The lord of men Agamemnon reassured him:
"Nestor, son of Neleus, glory of Achaea,
don't you recognize Agamemnon? The one man,
past all others, Zeus has plunged in troubles,
year in, year out, for as long as the life breath
fills my lungs and the spring in my knees will lift me..
I roam this way since sleep won't close my eyes--
war's my worry, the agonies of our Achaeans.
How I fear for our comrades, fear the worst!
My mind is torn, I'm harried back and forth,
the heart inside me pounding through my chest
and the sturdy legs beneath me giving way.
But if you want action now—
sleeping is just as hard for you, it seems—
come, let's go down to the sentry-line and see
if numb with exhaustion, lack of sleep, they've nodded off,
all duty wiped from their minds, the watch dissolved.
Our blood enemies camp hard by. How do we know
they're not about to attack us in the night?"


      And the old charioteer warmed to his challenge:
"Great marshal Atrides, lord of men Agamemnon—
Hector and Hector's high hopes? Not a chance.
The plans of Zeus will never bring them off,
those dreams of glory inspiring Hector now.
Oh I think he'll have his troubles to shoulder,
plenty of them too, if Achilles ever turns away
from the heartbreaking anger deep inside him.
Follow you? Surely. Let's wake others also,
Diomedes famed for his spear, Odysseus,
quick Little Ajax and Phyleus' brave son.
And if only one would go and call the rest,
giant Ajax strong as a god and King Idomeneus—
they're hardly close, their ships last on the line.
But I will blame Menelaus, loved as he is and honored,
even if you will wheel on me in anger—I must,
I can't hide it now. How that fellow sleeps!
Turning over the work to you alone.
Now is the time for him to work, to hunt
the leading captains and beg them all for help.
Desperate straits-we can't hold out much longer."


      The lord of men replied, "You're right, old soldier.
I'd even urge you to fault him any other day.
So often he hangs back, with no heart for the work,
not that he shrinks from action, skittish or off guard—
it's just that he looks to me, waiting for me
to make the first move. This time, though,
he woke before me, came and roused me first
and I sent him off to call the men you're after.
So let's move out, overtake the rest at the gates,
with the sentries where I ordered them to group."


      And Nestor the noble charioteer assented gladly:
"True, when the man leaps in the breach that way
no one can blame or disobey him, no Achaean,
not when he spurs the troops and gives commands."


      With that he slipped his tunic over his chest,
under his smooth feet he fastened supple sandals,
pinned with a brooch his crimson cape around him,
flowing in double folds and topped with thick fleece,
and gripping a tough spear tipped with a brazen point,
he strode along the ships of the Argives armed in bronze.
And reaching Odysseus first, a mastermind like Zeus,
the old driver roused him from sleep, shouting out,
"Wake up!" The cry went ringing through his ears
and out of his tent he came, shouting in return,
"Why, why prowling along the ships and camp,
you alone in the bracing godsent night—
what's the crisis now? What trouble's come?"


      And Nestor the noble charioteer replied,
"Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, great tactician,
no time for anger now—
such misery has overcome our Argives.
Follow us, come, so we can wake the next man,
some captain fit to map our strategy here,
whether we break and run or stand and fight."


      Backing into his tent, the great tactician slung
his wrought shield on his back and joined the party
striding toward the son of Tydeus, Diomedes.
They found him with all his gear outside his shelter,
cohorts sleeping round him, shields beneath their heads,
spears stuck straight in the ground on butt-end spikes
and the bronze points flashing into the distance
like forked lightning flung by Father Zeus.
But the veteran fighter lay there fast asleep,
the cured hide of a field ox spread beneath him,
a lustrous blanket stretched beneath his head . . .
The old charioteer moved in and woke him roughly,
dug a heel in his ribs, chiding him to his face,
"Up with you, Diomedes! What, sleep all night?
Haven't you heard? Trojans hold the high ground,
over the beachhead there, camped against the ships—
only a narrow strip to keep off sudden death."


      So he prodded and Diomedes woke from sleep
with a quick start and burst of winging words:
"A hard man you are, old soldier—hard.
You never give up the good fight, do you?
Where are the younger troopers now we need them?
Why don't they go wake each king in turn--
padding softly up and down through camp?
You, old man, you'd overpower us all!"


      And Nestor the noble driver answered warmly,
"Right you are, my friend, straight to the point.
Sons I have, and they're hardy, handsome boys,
and comrades too, men aplenty-one of the lot
could light out now and summon up the kings.
But now a crisis has overwhelmed our armies.,
Our fate, I tell you, stands on a razor's edge:
life or death for Achaea, gruesome death at that.
Up with you! Wake quick Little Ajax, Meges too.
You're so much younger—come, pity an old man."


      And round his back Diomedes slung the hide
of a big tawny lion, swinging down to his heels,
he grasped 'a spear and the fighter strode away
and roused those men to leave their beds and march.


      And now as they filed among the mustered guard
they found the chief sentries far from sleep—
on the alert, all stationed set with weapons.
Like sheepdogs keeping watch on flocks in folds,
a nervous, bristling watch when the dogs get wind
of a wild beast rampaging down through mountain timber,
crashing toward the pens, and the cries break as he charges,
a din of men and dogs, and their sleep is broken, gone—
and so the welcome sleep was routed from their eyes,
guardsmen keeping the long hard watch that night.
Always turning toward the plain, tense to catch
some sign of the Trojans launching an attack.
The old chariot-driver warmed to the sight
and cheered them on with urgings flying fast:
"Keep it up, my boys, that's the way to watch!
Not one of you submit to the grip of sleep—
you'd give great joy to the men who'd take our lives."


      With that the driver clambered through the trench.
They took the old captain's lead, the Argive kings
all called to the muster now. And flanking them
Meriones came in haste with Nestor's handsome son—
the kings had summoned both to share their counsel.
Crossing out over the deep trench they grouped
on open ground, where they chanced to find a sector
free and clear of corpses, in fact the very place
where Hector in all his power had veered and turned away
from cutting Argives down when night closed in.
There they settled, conferring among themselves
till the noble horseman opened with his plan:
"My friends, isn't there one man among us here,
so sure of himself, his soldier's nerve and pluck,
he'd infiltrate these overreaching Trojans?
Perhaps he'd seize a straggler among the foe
or catch some rumor floating along their lines.
What plans are they mapping, what maneuvers next?
Are they bent on holding tight by the ships, exposed?—
or heading home to Troy, now they've trounced our armies?
If a man could gather that, then make it back unharmed,
why, what glory he'd gain across the whole wide earth
in the eyes of every man—and what a gift he'd win!
All the lords who command the ships of battle,
each and every one will give him a black ewe
suckling a young lamb-no prize of honor like it.
They'll ask that man to every feast and revel."


      So Nestor proposed. All ranks held their peace
but Diomedes lord of the war cry spoke up briskly:
"Nestor, the mission stirs my fighting blood.
I'll slip right into enemy lines at once—
these Trojans, camped at our flank.
If another comrade would escort me, though,
there'd be more comfort in it, confidence too.
When two work side-by-side, one or the other
spots the opening first if a kill's at hand.
When one looks out for himself, alert but alone,
his reach is shorter—his sly moves miss the mark."


      At that a crowd volunteered to go with Diomedes.
The two Aeantes, old campaigners, volunteered,
Meriones volunteered and Nestor's son leapt up
and Menelaus the famous spearman volunteered
and battle-hardened Odysseus too, to foray
into the Trojan units camped for the night—
Odysseus' blood was always up for exploit.
But King Agamemnon interceded quickly,
"Diomedes, soldier after my own heart,
pick your comrade now, whomever you want,
the best of the volunteers-how many long to go!
But no false respect. Don't pass over the better man
and pick the worse. Don't bow to a soldier's rank,
an eye to his birth—even if he's more kingly."


      He suddenly feared for red-haired Menelaus
but Diomedes strong with the war cry answered,
"Is that an order? Pick my own comrade?
Then how could I 7,-.,s up royal- Odysseus here?
His heart's so game, his fighting edge so keen,
the best of us all in every combat mission—
Athena loves the man. With him at my side
we'd go through fire and make it back alive—
no one excels the mastermind of battle."


      But much-enduring Odysseus cut him short:
"Not too long on the praise-don't fault me either.
You're talking to Argive men who know my record.
Let's move out. The night is well on its way
and daybreak's near. The stars go wheeling by,
the full of the dark is gone—two watches down
but the third's still ours for action."
                                                            On that note
both men harnessed up in the grim gear of war . . .
Thrasymedes staunch in combat handed Tydeus' son
a two-edged sword—he'd left his own at the ship—
a shield too, and over his head he set a helmet,
bull's-hide, bare of ridge and crest, a skullcap,
so it's called, and made to protect the heads
of tough young-blooded fighters.
Meriones gave Odysseus bow, quiver and sword
and over his head he set a helmet made of leather.
Inside it was crisscrossed taut with many thongs,
outside the gleaming teeth of a white-tusked boar
ran round and round in rows stitched neat and tight—
a master craftsman's work, the cap in its center
padded soft with felt. The Wolf Himself Autolycus
lifted that splendid headgear out of Eleon once,
he stole it from Ormenus' son Amyntor years ago,
breaching his sturdy palace walls one night
then passed it on to Amphidamas, Cythera-born,
Scandia-bound. Amphidamas gave it to Molus,
a guest-gift once that Molus gave Meriones
his son to wear in battle. And now it encased
Odysseus' head, snug around his brows.
                                                            And so,
both harnessed up in the grim gear of war,
the two men moved out, leaving behind them
all the captains clustered on the spot. .
Athena winged a heron close to their path
and veering right. Neither man could see it,
scanning the dark night, they only heard its cry.
Glad for the lucky sign, Odysseus prayed to Pallas,
"Hear me, daughter of Zeus whose shield is thunder!
Standing by me always, in every combat mission—
no maneuver of mine slips by you—now, again,
give me your best support, Athena, comrade!
Grant our return in glory back to the warships
once we've done some feat that brings the Trojans pain!"


      Next Diomedes lord of the war cry prayed aloud,
"Hear me too, daughter of Zeus, tireless goddess!
Be with me now, just as you went with father,
veteran Tydeus, into Thebes that day
he ran ahead of the Argives with his message.
He left his armored men along the Asopus banks
and carried a peaceful word to Theban cohorts
crowded in their halls. But turning back he bent
to some grand and grisly work with you, Goddess,
and you stood by him then, a steadfast ally.
So come, stand by me now, protect me now!
I will make you a sacrifice, a yearling heifer
broad in the brow, unbroken, never yoked by men.
I'll offer it up to you—I'll sheathe its horns in gold!"


      Their prayers rose and Pallas Athena heard them.
Once they'd appealed to Zeus's mighty daughter,
into the black night they went like two lions
stalking through the carnage and the corpses,
through piles of armor and black pools of blood.


      But no sleep for the headstrong Trojans either.
Hector would not permit it. He summoned all his chiefs
to a council of war, all Trojan lords and captains.
Mustering them he launched his own crafty plan:
"Who will undertake a mission and bring it off
for a princely gift? A prize to match the exploit!
I'll give him a chariot, two horses with strong necks,
the best of the breeds beside Achaea's fast ships.
Whoever will dare—what glory he can win—
a night patrol by the ships to learn at once
if the fleet's still guarded as before or now,
battered down at our hands, huddling together,
they plan a quick escape, their morale too low
to mount the watch tonight—bone-weary from battle."


      So Hector proposed. All ranks held their peace.
But there was a man among the troops, one Dolon,
a son of the sacred Trojan herald Eumedes.
He was rich in bronze, rich in bars of gold,
no feast for the eyes but lightning on his feet
and an only son in the midst of five sisters.
This one volunteered among the Trojans:
"Hector, the mission stirs my fighting blood—
I'll reconnoiter the ships and gather all I can.
Come, raise that scepter and swear you'll give me
the battle-team and the burnished brazen car
that carry great Achilles—I will be your spy.
And no mean scout, I'll never let you down.
I'll infiltrate their entire army, I will,
all the way till I reach the ship of Agamemnon!
That's where the captains must be mapping tactics now,
whether they'll break and run or stand and fight."


      How he bragged and Hector, grasping his scepter,
swore a binding oath: "Now Zeus my witness,
thundering lord of Hera-no other Trojan fighter
will ride behind that team, none but you, I swear—
they will be your glory all your life to come!"


      So Hector vowed—with an oath he swore in vain
but it spurred the man to action. Dolon leapt to it,
he quickly slung a reflex bow on his back,
over it threw the pelt of a gray wolf
and set on his head a cap of weasel skin
and taking a sharp spear, moved out from camp,
heading toward the fleet—but he was never to come back
from the enemy's beaked ships, bringing Hector news.
Putting the mass of horse and men behind him
Dolon picked up speed, hot for action now,
but keen as a god Odysseus saw him coming
and alerted Diomedes: "Who is this?
A man heading out of the Trojan camp!
Why? I can't be sure—to spy on our ships
or loot the fallen, one of the fighters' corpses?
Let him get past us first, into the clear a bit,
then rush him and overtake him double-quick!
If he outruns us, crowd him against the ships,
cut him off from his lines, harry him with your spear
and never stop—so he can't bolt back to Troy."


      No more words. Swerving off the trail
they both lay facedown with the corpses now
as Dolon sped by at a dead run, the fool.
Soon as he got a furlong's lead ahead,
the plowing-range of a good team of mules—
faster than draft oxen dragging a bolted plow
through deep fallow ground—the two raced after
and Dolon, hearing their tread, froze stock-still,
his heart leaping—here were friends, yes,
fellow Trojans coming to turn him back,
yes, Hector had just called off the mission!
But soon as they were a spear-cast off or less
he saw them—enemies—
                                        quick as a flash he sprang,
fleeing for dear life—
                                        they sprang in pursuit
as a pair of rip-tooth hounds
bred for the hunt and flushing fawn or hare
through a woody glen keep closing for the kill,
nonstop and the prey goes screaming on ahead—
so Odysseus raider of cities and Diomedes
cut him off from his own lines, coursing him,
closing nonstop with the Trojan about to break in
on the line of sentries, racing fast for the ships--
when Athena poured fresh strength in Tydeus' son
so no Achaean could beat him out for the glory
of hitting Dolon first, Diomedes come in second.
Rushing him with his spear in a sudden surge
Tydides shouted, "Stop or I'll run you through!
You'll never escape my spear—headlong death—
I swear I'll send it hurling from my fist!"


      He flung his shaft, missing the man on purpose--
over his right shoulder the sharp spearpoint winged
and stabbed the earth. Dead in his tracks he stopped,
terrified, stammering, teeth chattering in his mouth,
bled white with fear as the two men overtook him
and panting hard, yanked and pinned his arms.
He burst into tears, pleading, "Take me alive!
I'll ransom myself! Treasures cram our house,
bronze and gold and plenty of well-wrought iron--
father would give you anything, gladly, priceless ransom—
if only he learns I'm still alive in Argive ships!"


      Odysseus quick with tactics answered, "Courage.
Death is your last worry. Put your mind at rest.
Come, tell me the truth now, point by point.
Why prowling among the ships, cut off from camp,
alone in the dead of night when other men are sleeping?
To loot the fallen, one of the fighters' corpses?
Or did Hector send you out to spy on our ships,
reconnoiter them stem to stem?
Or did your own itch for glory spur you on?"


      Dolon answered, his legs shaking under him,
"Hector—he duped me so—so many mad, blind hopes!
He swore he'd give me the great Achilles' stallions,
purebred racers, his burnished bronze chariot tool
He told me to go through the rushing dark night,
to patrol the enemy lines and learn at once
if the fleet's still guarded as before or now,
battered down at our hands, huddling together,
you plan a quick escape, your morale too low
to mount the watch tonight—bone-weary from battle."


      Breaking into a smile the cool tactician laughed,
"By god, what heroic gifts you set your heart on—
the great Achilles' team!
They're hard for mortal men to curb or drive,
for all but Achilles—his mother is immortal.
Now out with it, point by point. Hector—
where did you leave the captain when you came?
Where's his war-gear lying? where's his chariot?
How are the other Trojans posted—guards, sleepers?
What plans are they mapping, what maneuvers next?
Are they bent on holding tight by the ships, exposed?—
or heading home to Troy, now they've trounced our armies?"


      And Dolon son of the herald blurted out, "Yes, yes,
I'll tell you everything, down to the last detail!
Hector's holding council with all his chiefs,
mapping plans on old King Ilus' barrow,
clear of the crowds at camp. Guards, my lord?
Nothing. No one's picked to defend the army.
Only our native Trojans hold their posts—
many as those with hearth fires back in Troy—
our men have no choice, shouting out to each other,
'Stay awake! keep watch!' But our far-flung friends,
they're fast asleep, they leave the watch to us—
their wives and children are hardly camped nearby."


      But the shrewd tactician kept on pressing: "Be precise.
Where are they sleeping? Mixed in with the Trojans?
Separate quarters? Tell me. I must know it all."


      And Dolon son of the herald kept on blurting,
"Everything—anything—whatever will satisfy you!
To seaward, Carians, Paeonian men with bent bows,
Leleges and Cauconians, crack Pelasgians—inland,
toward Thymbra, camp the Lycians, swaggering Mysians,
fighting Phrygian horsemen, Maeonian chariot-drivers—
but why interrogate me down to the last platoon?
You really want to raid some enemy units?
There are the Thracians, look, just arrived,
exposed on the flank, apart from all the rest
and right in their midst Eioneus' son, King Rhesus.
His are the best horses I ever saw, the biggest,
whiter than snow, and speed to match the wind!
His chariot's finished off with gold and silver,
the armor he's brought in with him, gold too,
tremendous equipment—what a marvelous sight.
No gear for a mortal man to wear, I'd say,
it's fit for the deathless gods!
There. Now will you take me to your ships
or leave me here—bound and gagged right here?—
till you can make your raid and test my story,
see if I've told the truth or I've been lying."


      But rugged Diomedes gave him a grim look:
"Escape? Take my advice and wipe it from your mind,
good as your message is—you're in my hands now.
What if we set you free or you should slip away?
Back you'll slink to our fast ships tomorrow,
playing the spy again or fighting face-to-face.
But if I snuff your life out in my hands,
you'll never annoy our Argive lines again."


      With that, just as Dolon reached up for his chin
to cling with a frantic hand and beg for life,
Diomedes struck him square across the neck—
a flashing hack of the sword—both tendons snapped
and the shrieking head went tumbling in the dust.
They tore the weasel-cap from the head, stripped
the wolf pelt, the reflex bow and long tough spear
and swinging the trophies high to Pallas queen of plunder,
exultant royal Odysseus shouted out this prayer:
"Here, Goddess, rejoice in these, they're yours!
You are the first of all the gods we'll call!
Now guide us again, Athena, guide us against
that Thracian camp and horses!"
                                                  So Odysseus prayed
and hoisting the spoils over his head, heaved them
onto a tamarisk bush nearby and against it heaped
a good clear landmark, clumping together reeds
and fresh tamarisk boughs they'd never miss
as they ran back through the rushing dark night.
On they stalked through armor and black pools of blood
and suddenly reached their goal, the Thracian outpost.
The troops were sleeping, weary from pitching camp,
their weapons piled beside them on the ground,
three neat rows of the burnished well-kept arms
and beside each man his pair of battle-horses.
Right in the midst lay Rhesus dead asleep,
his white racers beside him, strapped by thongs
to his chariot's outer rail. Spotting him first
Odysseus quickly pointed him out to Diomedes:
"Look, here's our man, here are his horses.
The ones marked out by the rascal we just killed.
On with it now—show us your strength, full force.
Don't just stand there, useless with your weapons.
Loose those horses—or you go kill the men
and leave the team to me!"
                                                  Athena, eyes blazing,
breathed fury in Diomedes and he went whirling
into the slaughter now, hacking left and right
and hideous groans broke from the dying Thracians
slashed by the sword-the ground ran red with blood.
As a lion springs on flocks unguarded, shepherd gone,
pouncing on goats or sheep and claw-mad for the kill,
so Tydeus' son went tearing into that Thracian camp
until he'd butchered twelve. Each man he'd stand above
and chop with the sword, the cool tactician Odysseus
grappled from behind, grabbing the fighter's heels,
dragging him out of the way with one thought in mind:
that team with their flowing manes must get through fast,
not quake at heart and balk, trampling over the dead,
those purebred horses still not used to corpses.
But now the son of Tydeus came upon the king,
the thirteenth man, and ripped away his life,
his sweet life as he lay there breathing hard.
A nightmare hovered above his head that night—
Diomedes himself! sped by Athena's battle-plan—
while staunch Odysseus loosed the stamping horses,
hitched them together tight with their own reins
and drove them through the nick,
lashing them with his bow: he forgot to snatch
the shining whip that lay in the well-wrought car.
He whistled shrill, his signal to rugged Diomedes
pausing, deep in thought . . . what was the worst,
most brazen thing he could do? Seize the car
where the handsome armor lay and pull it out
by the pole or prize it up, bodily, haul it off—
or tear the life from still more Thracian troops?
His mind swarming with all this, Pallas Athena
swept to his side and cautioned Diomedes, "Back—
think only of getting back, great son of Tydeus!
Back to the ships, quick, or you'll run for your life!
Some other god—who knows?—may wake the Trojans."


      The goddess' voice—he knew it, mounted at once
as Odysseus whacked the stallions smartly with his bow
and they made a run for Achaea's rapid ships.


      But Apollo lord of the silver bow kept watch.
No blind man's watch, no, Apollo saw Athena
take Tydides in hand, and raging against her
plunged into the main mass of Trojan fighters
to rouse a Thracian captain called Hippocoon,
a loyal kinsman of Rhesus. He woke with a jolt
and seeing empty ground where the fast team had stood,
men gasping out their lives, retching in all that carnage,
he wailed out, sobbing, crying his dear companion's name
and piercing wails broke as the Trojans swirled in panic—
a desperate rout of them rushing up to the bloodbath ,there
stood staring down at the grisly work the marauders did
before they made their dash for the beaked ships.


Reaching the place where they'd killed Hector's spy,
Odysseus dear to Zeus reined in the headlong team
and leaping down to the ground Tydides heaved
the bloody spoils into his comrade's arms.
He mounted again and flogged the horses hard
and on they flew to the ships, holding nothing back—
that's where their spirits drove them on to go.
Nestor, the first to hear their thunder, shouted,
"Friends—lords of the Argives, all our captains,
right or wrong, what can I say? My heart tells me,
my ears ring with the din of drumming hoofs .. .
If only Odysseus and rugged Diomedes were driving
racers off the Trojan lines, here, here and fast!
I'm cold with fear—what if they've met the worst,
our ranking Argives killed in a Trojan charge?"


      Before he could say the last, the two raced in,
leapt to the ground and comrades hugged them warmly,
with handclasps all around and words of welcome.
Nestor the noble horseman led with questions:
"Tell me, Odysseus, Achaea's pride and glory,
famous Odysseus, how did you get these horses?
How—stealing behind the Trojans' main lines
or meeting up with a god who gave them to you?
What terrific sheen-silver afire like sunbeams!
Day after day I've gone against the Trojans,
never hanging back by the ships, I swear,
old warrior that I am—
But I've never seen such horses, never dreamed . . .
I'd say an immortal came your way and gave you these.
Zeus who marshals the storm cloud loves you both,
Zeus's daughter too with the shield of thunder.
Athena's eyes are shining on you both!"


      The cool tactician set the record straight:
"No, no, Nestor—Achaea's greatest glory—
any god, if he really set his mind to it,
could give us an even finer pair than this.
Easily. The gods are so much stronger.
Now these horses you ask about, old soldier,
they're newcomers, just arrived from Thrace.
Their master? Brave Diomedes killed him off,
twelve of his cohorts too, all men of rank.
And a thirteenth man besides, a scout we took—
prowling along the ships, spying on our positions—
Hector and all his princely Trojans sent him out."


      And across the trench he drove the purebred team
with a rough exultant laugh as comrades cheered,
crowding in his wake.
And once they reached Tydides' sturdy lodge
they tethered the horses there with well-cut reins,
hitching them by the trough where Diomedes' stallions
pawed the ground, champing their sweet barley.
Then away in his ship's stem Odysseus stowed
the bloody gear of Dolon, in pledge of the gift
they'd sworn to give Athena. The men themselves,
wading into the sea, washed off the crusted sweat
from shins and necks and thighs. And once the surf
had scoured the thick caked sweat from their limbs
and the two fighters cooled, their hearts revived
and into the polished tubs they climbed and bathed.
And rinsing off, their skin sleek with an olive oil rub,
they sat down to their meal and dipping up their cups
from an overflowing bowl, they poured them forth—
honeyed, mellow wine to the great goddess Athena.


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