Now Dawn rose up from bed
by her lordly mate Tithonus,
bringing light to immortal gods and mortal men.
But Zeus flung Strife on Achaea's fast ships,
the brutal goddess flaring his storm-shield,
his monstrous sign of war in both her fists.
She stood on Odysseus' huge black-bellied hull,
moored mid-line so a shout could reach both wings,
upshore to Telamonian Ajax' camp or down to Achilles'—
trusting so to their arms' power and battle-strength
they'd hauled their trim ships up on either flank.
There Strife took her stand, raising her high-pitched cry,
great and terrible, lashing the fighting-fury
in each Achaean's heart—no stopping them now,
mad for war and struggle. Now, suddenly,
battle thrilled them more than the journey home,
than sailing hollow ships to their dear native land.
Agamemnon cried out
too, calling men to arms
and harnessed up in gleaming bronze himself.
First he wrapped his legs with well-made greaves,
fastened behind the heels with silver ankle-clasps,
and next he strapped the breastplate round his chest
that Cinyras gave him once, a guest-gift long ago.
The rousing rumor of war had carried far as Cyprus—
how the Achaean ships were launching war on Troy—
so he gave the king that gear to please his spirit.
Magnificent! Ten bands of blue enamel spanned it,
spaced by twelve of gold and twenty of beaten tin
and dark blue serpents writhed toward the throat,
three each side, shimmering bright as rainbows arched
on the clouds by Cronus' son, a sign to mortal men.
Then over his shoulder Agamemnon slung his sword,
golden studs at the hilt, the blade burnished bright
and the scabbard sheathed in silver swung on golden straps,
and he grasped a well-wrought shield to encase his body,
forged for rushing forays—beautiful, blazoned work.
Circling the center, ten strong rings of bronze
with twenty disks of glittering tin set in,
at the heart a boss of bulging blue steel
and there like a crown the Gorgon's grim mask—
the burning eyes, the stark, transfixing horror—
and round her strode the shapes of Rout and Fear.
The shield-belt glinted silver and rippling on it ran
a dark blue serpent, two heads coiling round a third,
reared from a single neck and twisting left and right.
Then over his broad brow Agamemnon set his helmet
fronted with four knobs and forked with twin horns
and the horsehair crest atop it tossing, bristling terror.
And last he picked up two tough spears, tipped in bronze,
honed sharp, and the glare flashed off their brazen points
and pierced the high skies—and awestruck at the sight
Athena and Hera loosed a crack of thunder, exalting
the great king of Mycenae rich in gold.
each captain shouted out commands to his driver:
"Rein the team by the trench, good battle-order now!"
While the men themselves, armed for full assault,
leapt down and swarmed to the trench's edge on foot
and a long undying roar went up in the early dawn.
Well ahead of the war-cars they reached the brink,
closed ranks as drivers backed them yards behind.
But Zeus drove a swirl of panic deep in their lines
and down from the vaulting skies released a shower
raining blood, for Zeus was bent on hurling down
to the House of Death a rout of sturdy fighters.
side on the plain's high ground—
formed around tall Hector, staunch Polydamas, Aeneas
loved by the Trojans like a god, and Antenor's sons,
Polybus, Prince Agenor and Acamas still unwed,
three men in their prime like gods who never die.
Hector bore his round shield in the forefront, blazing out
like the Dog Star through the clouds, all withering fire,
then plunging back in the cloud-rack massed and dark—
so Hector ranged on, now flaring along the front,
now shouting his orders back toward the rear,
all of him armed in bronze aflash like lightning
flung by Father Zeus with his battle-shield of thunder.
And the men like
gangs of reapers slashing down
the reaping-rows and coming closer, closer across
the field of a warlord rich in wheat or barley—
swaths by the armfuls falling thick-and-fast—
so Achaeans and Trojans closed and slashed,
lunging into each other and neither side now
had a thought of flight that would have meant disaster.
No, the pressure of combat locked them head-to-head,
lunging like wolves, and Strife with wild groans
exulted to see them, glaring down at the melee,
Strife alone of immortals hovering over fighters.
The other gods kept clear, at their royal ease,
reclining off in the halls where the roofs of each
were built for the ages high on rugged ridged Olympus.
And all were blaming Zeus with his storming dark clouds
because the Father decreed to hand the Trojans glory.
But the Father paid no heed to them. Retiring
peaks apart from the other gods, he sat aloof,
glorying in his power, gazing out over .
the city walls of Troy and the warships of Achaea,
the flash of bronze, fighters killing, fighters killed . . .
As long as morning
rose and the blessed day grew stronger,
the weapons hurtled side-to-side and men kept falling.
But just when the woodsman makes his morning meal,
deep in a mountain forest, arm-weary from chopping
the big heavy trunks and his heart has had enough
and sudden longing for tempting food overtakes the man
and makes his senses whirl just at the height of morning
the Argives smashed battalions, their courage breaking through
and they shouted ranks of cohorts on along the lines.
And right in the midst sprang Agamemnon first
and killed a fighter, Bienor, veteran captain,
then his aide Oileus lashing on their team.
Down from the car he'd leapt, squaring off,
charging in full fury, full face, straight
into Agamemnon's spearhead ramming sharp—
the rim of the bronze helmet could not hold it,
clean through heavy metal and bone the point burst
and the brains splattered all inside the casque.
He battered Oileus down despite the Trojan's rage
and the lord of fighters left them lying there, both dead
and their chests gleamed like bronze as he stripped them bare.
Then on he went for Isus and Antiphus, killed and stripped
the two sons of Priam, one a bastard, one royal blood
and both riding a single car, the bastard driving,
the famous Antiphus standing poised beside him . . .
Achilles had caught them once on the spurs of Ida,
bound them with willow ropes as they watched their flocks
and set them free for ransom. But now it was Agamemnon
lord of the far-flung kingdoms catching up with Isus—
he stabbed his chest with a spear above the nipple,
Antiphus he hacked with a sword across the ear
and hurled him from his chariot, rushing fast
to rip the splendid armor off their bodies.
He knew them both, he'd seen them once by the ships
when the swift Achilles dragged them in from Ida.
Think how a lion, mauling the soft weak young
of a running deer, clamped in his massive jaws,
cracks their backbones with a snap—he's stormed in,
invading the lair to tear their tender hearts out
and the mother doe, even if she's close by,
what can she do to save her fawns? She's helpless—
terrible trembling racks her body too—and suddenly
off she bounds through the glades and the thick woods,
drenched in sweat, leaping clear of the big cat's pounce.,
So not a single Trojan could save those two from death,
they fled themselves before the Argive charge.
Agamemnon killed Pisander and combat-hard Hippolochus,
two sons of Antimachus, that cunning, politic man
whom Paris bribed with gold and sumptuous gifts,
so he was the first to fight the return of Helen
to red-haired Menelaus. Now powerful Agamemnon
caught his two sons riding the same chariot,
both struggling to curb their high-strung team—
the reins slipped their grasp, both horses panicked
as Agamemnon ramped up in their faces like a lion—
both fighters shouting from their chariot, pleading,
"Take us alive, Atrides, take a ransom worth our lives!
Vast treasures are piled up in Antimachus' house,
bronze and gold and plenty of well-wrought iron—
father would give you anything, gladly, priceless ransom
if only he learns we're still alive in Argive ships!"
So they cried to the
king, cries for mercy,
but only heard a merciless voice in answer:
"Cunning Antimachus! So you're that man's sons?
Once in the Trojan council he ordered Menelaus,
there on an embassy joined by King Odysseus,
murdered right on the spot—no safe-conduct
back to the land of Argos. You're his sons?
Now pay for your father's outrage, blood for blood!"
And he pitched
Pisander off the chariot onto earth
and plunged a spear in his chest—the man crashed on his back
as Hippolochus leapt away, but him he killed on the ground,
slashing off his arms with a sword, lopping off his head
and he sent him rolling through the carnage like a log.
He left them there for dead and just at the point
where most battalions scattered Agamemnon charged,
the rest of his troops in armor quick behind him now,
infantry killing infantry fleeing headlong, hard-pressed,
drivers killing drivers—under the onrush dust in whirlwinds
driven up from the plain, hoofs of stallions rumbling thunder,
bronze flashing, immense slaughter and always King Agamemnon
whirling to kill, crying his Argives on, breakneck on.
Like devouring fire roaring down onto dry dead timber,
squalls hurling it on, careening left and right and
brush ripped up by the roots goes tumbling under
crushed by the blasting fire rampaging on—
so under Atrides' onslaught Trojans dropped in flight,
stampedes of massive stallions dragged their empty chariots
clattering down the passageways of battle, stallions
yearning to feel their masters' hands at the reins
but there they lay, sprawled across the field,
craved far more by the vultures than by wives.
But Zeus drew Hector out of range of the weapons,
out of the dust storm, out of the mounting kills,
the blood and rout of war as Atrides followed hard,
shouting his Argives on, furious, never stopping.
The Trojans streaked in flight past Ilus' barrow,
ancient son of Dardanus, past the mid-field mark
of the plain and past the wild fig and struggling
to reach Troy and always in hot pursuit and shrieking,
Agamemnon splattered with gore, his hands, invincible hands.
But once they reached the Scaean Gates and the great oak,
there the two sides halted, waiting each other's charge.
Yet stragglers still stampeded down the plain
like cattle driven wild by a lion lunging
in pitch darkness down on the whole herd
but to one alone a sudden death comes flashing—
first he snaps its neck, clamped in his huge jaws,
then down in gulps he bolts its blood and guts.
So King Agamemnon coursed his quarry, always cutting
the straggler from the mass and they, they fled in terror,
squads amok, spilling out of their chariots facefirst
or slammed on their backs beneath Atrides' hands—
storming and thrusting his spear and lunging on.
But just as he was about to reach the steep city,
up under the walls, the father of men and gods,
descending out of the heavens, took his throne
on the high ridge of Ida with all her springs.
Holding fast in his grip a lightning bolt
he drove Iris down in a rush of golden wings
to bear his message: "Away with you now, Iris—
quick as the wind and speed this word to Hector.
So long as he sees lord marshal Agamemnon storming
among the champions, mowing columns down in blood,
Hector must hold back, command the rest of his men
to fight the enemy, stand their headlong charge.
But soon as a spear or bowshot wounds the king
and Atrides mounts his chariot once again,
then I will hand Hector the power to kill and kill
till he cuts his way to the benched ships and the sun sinks
and the blessed darkness sweeps across the earth."
So he commanded.
Wind-quick Iris obeyed at once
and down from Ida's peaks she dove to sacred Troy,
found the son of wise King Priam, shining Hector
standing amidst his teams and bolted cars,
and swift as a breeze beside him Iris called,
"Hector, son of Priam—a mastermind like Zeus!
The Father has sped me down to tell you this:
so long as you see lord marshal Agamemnon storming
among the champions, mowing columns down in blood,
you must hold back, command the rest of your men
to fight the enemy, stand their headlong charge!
But soon as a spear or bowshot wounds the king
and Atrides mounts his chariot once again—
then Zeus will hand you the power to kill and kill
till you cut your way to the benched ships and the sun sinks
and the blessed darkness sweeps across the earth!"
And Iris racing the
wind went veering off.
Hector leapt to ground from his chariot fully armed
and brandishing two sharp spears went striding down his lines,
ranging flank to flank, driving his fighters into battle,
rousing grisly war—and round the Trojans whirled,
bracing to meet the Argives face-to-face:
but against their mass the Argives closed ranks,
the fighting about to break, the troops squaring off
and Atrides, tense to outfight them all, charged first.
Sing to me now, you
Muses who hold the halls of Olympus,
who was the first to go up against King Agamemnon,
who of the Trojans or famous Trojan allies?
Iphidamas, the rough
and rangy son of Anterior
bred in the fertile land of Thrace, mother of flocks.
Cisseus reared him at home when he was little—
his mother's father who sired the fine beauty Theano—
but once he hit the stride of his youth and ached for fame,
Cisseus tried to hold him back, gave him a daughter's hand
but warm from the bridal chamber marched the groom,
fired up by word that Achaea's troops had landed.
Twelve beaked ships sailed out in his command,
trim vessels he left behind him in Percote,
making his way to Troy to fight on foot
and here he came now, up against Agamemnon,
closer, closing . . .
Atrides hurled and
his spearshaft just slanting aside the man's flank
as Iphidamas went for the waist beneath the breastplate—
he stabbed home, leaning into the blow full weight,
trusting his heavy hand but failed to pierce
the glittering belt, failed flat-out—the point,
smashing against the silver, bent back like lead.
And seizing the spearshaft powerful Agamemnon
dragged it toward him, tussling like some lion
and wrenching it free from Iphidamas' slack grasp
he hacked his neck with a sword and loosed his limbs.
And there he dropped and slept the sleep of bronze,
poor soldier, striving to help his fellow Trojans,
far from his wedded wife, his new bride . . .
No joy had he known from her for all his gifts,
the full hundred oxen he gave her on the spot
then promised a thousand head of goats and sheep
from the boundless herds he'd rounded up himself.
Now the son of Atreus stripped him, robbed his corpse
and strode back to his waiting Argive armies,
hoisting the gleaming gear.
But Coon marked him, Coon,
Antenor's eldest son, a distinguished man-at-arms,
and stinging grief went misting down his eyes
for his fallen brother. In from the blind side
Agamemnon never saw him
tensed with a spear
and slashed him under the elbow, down the forearm—
a glint of metal—the point ripped through his flesh
and the lord of fighting men Atrides shuddered.
Not that he quit the foray even then—
he sprang at Coon, gripping his big spearshaft
tough from the gusting wind that whipped its tree.
Coon was just dragging his brother footfirst,
wild now to retrieve his own father's son,
calling for help from all the bravest men—
but as Coon hauled the body through the press
Agamemnon lunged up, under his bossed shield,
thrust home hard with the polished bronze point,
unstrung his limbs and reared and lopped his head
and the head tumbled onto his fallen brother's corpse.
So then and there under royal Agamemnon's hands
the two sons of Antenor filled out their fates
and down they plunged to the strong House of Death.
But the king kept
ranging, battling ranks on ranks
and thrusting his spear and sword and hurling heavy rocks
so long as the blood came flowing warm from his wound.
But soon as the gash dried and firm clots formed,
sharp pain came bursting in on Atrides' strength—
spear-sharp as the labor-pangs that pierce a woman,
agonies brought on by the harsh, birthing spirits,
Hera's daughters who hold the stabbing power of birth—
so sharp the throes that burst on Atrides' strength.
And back he sprang in the car and told his driver
to make for the hollow ships, racked with pain
but he loosed a shrill cry to all his men:
"Friends—lords of the Argives, 0 my captains!
Your turn now-keep on shielding our fast ships
from this latest mass attack. Zeus who rules the world
forbids me to battle Trojans all day long."
A crack of the lash
and his driver whipped the team with streaming manes
straight for the curved ships, and on they flew,
holding nothing back, their heaving chests foaming,
bellies pelted with dust, rushing the wounded warlord
free and clear of battle.
Seeing Atrides hurt and speeding off the lines
he gave a ringing shout to his troops and allies:
"Trojans! Lycians! Dardan fighters hand-to-hand—
now be men, my friends, call up your battle-fury!
Their best man cuts and runs—
Zeus is handing me glory, awesome glory.
Drive your horses right at these mighty Argives,
seize the higher triumph—seize it now!"
whipping the fight and fire in each man like a huntsman
crying on his hounds, their white fangs flashing,
harrying savage game, some wild boar or lion—
so at Achaea's ranks he drove his fearless Trojans,
Hector son of Priam, a match for murderous Ares.
The prince himself went wading into the front lines,
his hopes soaring, and down he hurled on the fray
like a sudden killer-squall that blasts down
on the dark blue sea to whip and chop its crests.
Who was the first he
slaughtered, who the last,
Hector the son of Priam, now Zeus gave him glory?
Asaeus first, Autonous next and then Opites,
Dolops, Clytius' son, and Opheltius, Agelaus,
Aesymnus and Orus, Hipponous staunch in combat.
These were the Argive captains Hector killed
then went for the main mass
like the West Wind battering soft shining clouds
the South Wind wafts along—in deep explosive blasts
it strikes and the great swelling waves roll on and on
and the spray goes shooting up from under the wind's hurl
swerving, roaring down the sea—so wildly Hector routed
the packed lines of fighters caught in his onslaught.
Now there would have
been havoc, irreversible chaos,
fleeing bands of Achaeans flung back on their ships
if Odysseus had not shouted out to Diomedes,
"What's wrong with us? Forgetting our battle-fury?
Come here, old friend, stand by me! What humiliation—
if Hector with that flashing helmet takes our ships!"
took his challenge quickly:
"I'll stand and fight, by god, and take the worst
but little joy it will bring our comrades now.
Zeus the king of the clouds has pitched on victory
for the Trojans, not for us."
But all the
he hurled Thymbraeus down to ground from his car—
Diomedes speared his left breast as Odysseus killed
the warlord's aide-in-arms Molion tall as a god
and left them there for dead, their fighting finished.
Then both went thrashing into the lines to make a slaughter
as two wild boars bristling, ramping back for the kill,
fling themselves on the yelping packs that hunt them—
back they whirled on attack and laid the Trojans low
while Achaeans just in flight from Hector's onset
leapt at the chance to gather second wind.
they took two lords of the realm and seizieed their car,
the two good sons of Merops out of Percote harbor,
Merops adept beyond all men in the mantic arts.
He refused to let his two boys march to war,
this man-killing war, but the young ones fought him
all the way—the forces of black death drove them on
and Diomedes a marvel with a spear destroyed them both,
stripped them of life breath and tore their gear away
and Odysseus killed Hippodamus, killed Hypirochus.
gazing down from his ridge on Ida, the son of Cronus
stretched the rope of battle tense and taut
as the fighters kept on killing side-to-side.
Diomedes hurled a spear that struck Agastrophus,
Paeon's warrior son, and smashed the joint of his hip
but his team was not close by for fast escape—
a big mistake, the fool.
His driver held them reined off at the side
while he advanced through the front ranks on foot,
plowing on and on till he lost his own life . . .
But Hector quickly marked them across the lines—
he charged them both full force with a savage shout
and Trojan battalions churning in his wake.
Diomedes shuddered to see him coming on,
the lord of the war cry called out to Odysseus
quickly, close beside him, "We're in for shipwreck—
a breaker rolling down on us, look, this massive Hector!
Brace for him, stand our ground together—beat him back!"
He aimed and hurled
and his spear's long shadow flew—
a clean hit, no miss, trained at the head of Hector,
his helmet ridge. But bronze glanced off bronze
and never grazed firm flesh, the helmet blocked it,
triple-ply with the great blank hollow eyes,
a gift of Apollo. Sprinting a long way back,
downfield and fast, Hector rejoined his men
and sinking down onto one knee, propped himself
with a strong hand planted against the earth—
and the world went black as night across his eyes.
But soon as Tydides followed up his spear,
tracking its flight far down along the front
where it stuck in sand, Hector caught his breath
and boarding his car, drove for his own main force
as he. hurtled clear of the dark fates of death—
Diomedes shouting after him, shaking his spear,
"Now, again, you've escaped your death, you dog,
but a good close brush with death it was, I'd say!
Now, again, your Phoebus Apollo pulls you through,
the one you pray to, wading into our storm of spears.
We'll fight again-I'll finish you off next time
if one of the gods will only urge me on as well.
But now I'll go for the others, anyone I can catch."
And he set to
stripping his kill, Paeon's spearman son.
But at once Paris the lord of fair-haired Helen
drew his bow at the rugged captain Diomedes . . .
the archer leaning firmly against a pillar
raised on the man-made tomb of Dardan's son,
Ilus an old lord of the realm in ancient days.
As Diomedes was stripping strong Agastrophus bare,
tearing tke burnished breastplate off his victim's chest,
the shield from his shoulders and heavy crested helmet,
Paris, clenching the grip and drawing back his bow,
shot!—no wasted shot, it whizzed from his hand
and punched the flat top of Tydides' right foot,
the shaft dug through and stuck fast in the ground.
And loosing a heady laugh of triumph Paris leapt
from his hiding-place and shouted out in glory,
"Now you're hit—no wasted shot, my winging arrow!
But would to god I'd hit you deep in the guts
and ripped your life away! Then my Trojans
could catch their breath again, reprieved from death--
they cringed at you like bleating goats before some lion."
But never flinching,
staunch Diomedes countered,
"So brave with your bow and arrows—big bravado—
glistening lovelocks, roving eye for girls!
Come, try me in combat, weapons hand-to-hand—
bow and spattering shafts will never help you then.
You scratch my foot and you're vaunting all the same—
but who cares? A woman or idiot boy could wound me so.
The shaft of a good-for-nothing coward's got no point
but mine's got heft and edge. Let it graze a man--
my weapon works in a flash and drops him dead.
And his good wife will tear her cheeks in grief,
his sons are orphans and he, soaking the soil
red with his own blood, he rots away himself—
more birds than women flocking round his body!"
So he yelled and the
famous spearman Odysseus
rushed in close and reared up to shield him.
Slipping behind, Tydides dropped to a knee
and yanked the winged arrow from his foot
as the raw pain went stabbing through his flesh.
Back Diomedes jumped on his car and told his driver
to make for the hollow ships—Tydides racked with pain.
That left the famous
spearman Odysseus on his own,
not a single Argive comrade standing by his side
since panic seized them all. Unnerved himself,
Odysseus probed his own great fighting heart:
"O dear god, what becomes of Odysseus now?
A disgraceful thing if I should break and run,
fearing their main force—but it's far worse
if I'm taken all alone. Look, Zeus just drove
the rest of my comrades off in panic flight.
But why debate, my friend, why thrash things out?
Cowards, I know, would quit the fighting now
but the man who wants to make his mark in war
must stand his ground and brace for all he's worth—
suffer his wounds or wound his man to death."
Weighing it all,
heart and soul, as on they came,
waves of Trojan shieldsmen crowding him tighter,
closing in on their own sure destruction . . .
like hounds and lusty hunters closing, ringing
a wild boar till out of his thicket lair he crashes,
whetting his white tusks sharp in his bent, wrenching jaws
and they rush in to attack and under the barks and shouts
you can hear the gnash of tusks but the men stand firm—
terrible, murderous as he is—so the Trojans ringed
Odysseus dear to Zeus, rushing him straight on.
But he lunged first, wounding lordly Deiopites,
spearshaft slicing into the Trojan's shoulder,
then cut down Thoon and Ennomus in their blood,
Chersidamas next, vaulting down from his car—
Odysseus caught him up under the bulging shield
with a jabbing spear that split him crotch to navel—
the man writhed in the dust, hands clutching the earth.
Odysseus left them dead and skewered Hippasus' son,
one Charops the blood brother of wealthy Socus
but Socus moved in quick as a god to shield his kin,
standing up to his enemy, crying out, "Odysseus—
wild for fame, glutton for cunning, glutton for war,
today you can triumph over the two sons of Hippasus,
killing such good men and stripping off their gear—
or beaten down by my spear you'll breathe your last!"
With that he stabbed
at Odysseus' balanced shield,
straight through the gleaming hide the heavy weapon drove,
ripping down and in through the breastplate finely worked
and it flayed the skin clean off Odysseus' ribs
but Pallas Athena would never let it pierce
her hero's vitals. Odysseus knew the end
had not yet come—no final, fatal wound—
and drawing back he hurled his boast at Socus:
"Poor man, headlong death is about to overtake you!
You've stopped my fighting against the Trojans, true,
but I tell you here and now that a dark, bloody doom
will take you down today—gouged by my spear
you'll give me glory now,
you'll give your life to the famous horseman Death!"
And spinning in
terror off he ran but as he spun
Odysseus plunged a spear in his back between the shoulders—
straight through his chest the shaft came jutting out
and down Socus crashed, Odysseus vaunting over him:
"Socus, son of Hippasus, skilled breaker of horses,
so, Death in its rampage outraced you-no escape.
No, poor soldier. Now your father and noble mother
will never close your eyes in death—screaming vultures
will claw them out of you, wings beating your corpse!
But I, if I should die,
my comrades-in-arms will bury me in style!"
He dragged the heavy
spear of hardened Socus
squelching out of his own wound and bulging shield.
As the fighter tore it out the blood came gushing forth
and his heart sank. And seeing Odysseus bleeding there
the Trojan troops exulted, calling across the melee,
charging him in a mass as edging, backing off
he gave ground now, calling his own companions.
Three shattering cries he loosed at full pitch
till Odysseus' head would burst—three times
Menelaus tense for combat heard his cries
and at once he called to Ajax standing near,
"Ajax, royal son of Telamon, captain of armies,
my ears ring with his cries—Odysseus never daunted.
He sounds like a man cut off and overpowered,
mauled by Trojan ranks in the rough assault.
Quick through the onset—better save him now!
I'm afraid he may be hurt, alone with the Trojans,
brave as Odysseus is—a blow to all our troops."
And Atrides led the
way and Ajax took his lead,
striding on like a god until they found Odysseus
dear to Zeus but round him Trojans thronged
like tawny jackals up in the mountains swarming
round a homed stag just wounded—a hunter's hit him
with one fast shaft from his bow and the stag's escaped,
sprinting at top speed so long as his blood runs warm
and the spring in his knees still lasts . . .
But soon as the swift arrow saps his strength
the ravening carrion packs begin their feasting
off on a ridge in twilight woods until some god,
some power drives a lion down against them—claw-mad
and the panicked jackals scatter, the lion rends their prey.
So packed around Odysseus skilled and quick to maneuver
swarmed the brave bulk of Trojans—but still the hero
kept on lunging, spearing, keeping death at bay.
And in moved Ajax now, planted right beside him,
bearing that shield of his like a wall, a tower—
Trojans scattered in panic, bolting left and right
while the fighting son of Atreus led Odysseus
through the onslaught, bracing him with an arm
till a reinsman drove his team and car up close.
But charging down on
the Trojans Ajax killed Doryclus,
bastard son of Priam—he wounded Pandocus next,
wounded Lysander, Pyrasus, then Pylartes.
Wild as a swollen river hurling down on the flats,
down from the hills in winter spate, bursting its banks
with rain from storming Zeus, and stands of good dry oak,
whole forests of pine it whorls into itself and sweeps along
till it heaves a crashing mass of driftwood out to sea—
so glorious Ajax swept the field, routing Trojans,
shattering teams and spearmen in his onslaught.
Nor had Hector once got wind of the rampage . . .
far off on the left flank of the whole campaign
he fought his way, powering past Scamander's banks
where the heads of fighters fell in biggest numbers
and grim incessant war cries rose around tall Nestor
and battle-hard Idomeneus. Hector amidst them now
engaged them with a vengeance, doing bloody work
with lances flung and a master's horsemanship,
destroying young battalions. Still the Achaeans
never would have yielded before the prince's charge
if Paris the lord of lovely fair-haired Helen
had not put a stop to Machaon's gallant fighting,
striking the healer squarely with an arrow
triple-flanged that gouged his right shoulder.
Achaeans breathing fury feared for Machaon now:
what if the tide turned and Trojans killed the healer?
Idomeneus suddenly called to Nestor, "Pride of Achaea!
Quick, mount your chariot, mount Machaon beside you—
lash your team to the warships, fast, full gallop!
A man who can cut out shafts and dress our wounds—
a good healer is worth a troop of other men."
Nestor the noble
charioteer did not resist.
He mounted his car at once as Asclepius' son,
Machaon born of the famous healer swung aboard.
He lashed the team and on they flew to the ships,
holding nothing back—that's where their spirits
drove them on to go.
But riding on with Hector
Cebriones saw the Trojan rout and shouted, "Hector!
Look at us here, engaging Argives with a vengeance,
true, but off on the fringe of brutal all-out war
while our central force is routed pell-mell,
men and chariots flung against each other.
Giant Ajax drives them—I recognize the man,
that wall of a buckler slung around his shoulders.
Hurry, head our chariot right where the fighting's thickest,
there-horse and infantry hurling into the slaughter,
hacking each other down, terrific war cries rising!"
With that, Cebriones
flogged their sleek team
and leaping under the whistling, crackling whip
they sped the careering car into both milling armies,
trampling shields and corpses, axle under the chariot splashed
with blood, blood on the handrails sweeping round the car,
sprays of blood shooting up from the stallions' hoofs
and churning, whirling rims. And Hector straining
to wade into the press and panicked ruck of men,
charge them, break them down—he flung terror
and stark disaster square in the Argive lines,
never pausing, giving his spear no rest.
Hector kept on ranging, battling ranks on ranks,
slashing his spear and sword and flinging heavy rocks
but he stayed clear of attacking Ajax man-to-man.
But Father Zeus on
the heights forced Ajax to retreat.
He stood there a moment, stunned,
then swinging his seven-ply oxhide shield behind him,
drew back in caution, throwing a fast glance
at his own Achaean troops like a trapped beast,
pivoting, backpedaling, step by short step . . .
Like a tawny lion when hounds and country field hands
drive him out of their steadings filled with cattle—
they'll never let him tear the rich fat from the oxen,
all night long they stand guard but the lion craves meat,
he lunges in and in but his charges gain him nothing,
thick-and-fast from their hardy arms the javelins
rain down in his face, and waves of blazing torches—
these the big cat fears, balking for all his rage,
and at dawn he slinks away, his spirits dashed.
So Ajax slowly drew back from the Trojans,
spirits dashed, and*much against his will,
fearing the worst for Achaea's waiting ships.
Like a stubborn ass some boys lead down a road . . .
stick after stick they've cracked across his back
but he's too much for them now, he rambles into a field
to ravage standing crops. They keep beating his ribs,
splintering sticks—their struggle child's play
till with one final shove they drive him off
but not before he's had his fill of feed.
So with Telamon's son Great Ajax then—
vaunting Trojans and all their far-flung allies
kept on stabbing his shield, full center, no letup.
And now the giant fighter would summon up his fury,
wheeling on them again, beating off platoons
of the stallion-breaking Trojans—and now again
he'd swerve around in flight. But he blocked them all
from hacking passage through to the fast trim ships
as Ajax all alone, battling on mid-field between
Achaean and Trojan lines, would stand and fight.
Some spears that flew from the Trojans' hardy arms,
hurtling forward, stuck fast in his huge shield
but showers of others, cut short
halfway before they could graze his gleaming skin,
stuck in the ground, still lusting to sink in flesh.
shining son Eurypylus saw him
overwhelmed by the Trojans' dense barrage of spears.
Up to his side he dashed and flanked Great Ajax tight,
let fly with a spear and the glinting spearpoint hit
the son of Phausias, Apisaon captain of armies,
square in the liver, up under the midriff—
his knees went limp as Eurypylus rushed in,
starting to rip the armor off his shoulders.
But now Paris spotted him stripping Apisaon,
drew his bow at Eurypylus, fast—he shot well
and the arrow struck him full in the right thigh
but the shaft snapped, the thigh weighed down with pain.
Eurypylus staggered back to his massing comrades,
dodging death, and shouted a stark piercing cry:
"Friends—lords of the Argives, all our captains!
Come, wheel round-stand firm!
Beat the merciless day of death from Ajax,
overpowered, look, by a pelting rain of spears.
He can't escape, I tell you, not this wrenching battle.
Stand up to them—ring Great Ajax, Telamon's son."
So wounded Eurypylus
pleaded, friends around him
crowding, bracing shields against their shoulders,
spears brandished high
and back to the bulking front came giant Ajax now.
The fighter turned on his heels and took his stand,
once he reached that wedge of Argive comrades.
So on they fought
like a mass of swirling fire
as Neleus' foaming mares bore Nestor clear of battle
and bore Machaon the expert healer too . . .
the brilliant runner Achilles watched and marked him—
there he stood on the stem of his looming hollow hull,
looking out over the uphill work and heartsick rout of war.
He called at once to his friend-in-arms Patroclus,
shouting down from the decks. Hearing Achilles,
forth he came from his shelter,
striding up like the deathless god of war
but from that moment on his doom was sealed.
The brave son of Menoetius spoke out first:
"Why do you call, Achilles? Do you need me?"
And the swift runner Achilles answered quickly,
"Son of Menoetius, soldier after my own heart,
now I think they will grovel at my knees,
our Achaean comrades begging for their lives.
The need has reached them—a need too much to bear.
Go now, Patroclus dear to Zeus, and question Nestor.
Who's that wounded man he's bringing in from the fighting?
He looks to me like Machaon from behind, clearly,
Machaon head to foot, Asclepius' only son.
But I never saw his eyes—the team sped by me,
tearing on full tilt."
Patroclus obeyed his great friend
and off at a run he went along the ships and shelters.
Now, as soon as the
others reached Nestor's tent
they climbed down on the earth that feeds us all.
The driver Eurymedon freed the old man's team.
The men themselves dried off their sweat-soaked shirts,
standing against the wind that whipped along the surf,
then entered the tent and took their seats on settles.
And well-kempt Hecamede mixed them a bracing drink,
the woman that old King Nestor won from Tenedos
when Achilles stormed it, proud Arsinous' daughter,
the prize the Achaeans chose to give to Nestor
because he excelled them all at battle-tactics.
First Hecamede pushed a table up toward them,
handsome, sanded smooth, with blue enamel legs,
and on it she set a basket, braided in bronze
with onions in it, a relish for the drink,
and pale gold honey along with barley meal,
the grain's blessed yield. And there in the midst
the grand, glowing cup the old king brought from home,
studded with golden nails, fitted with handles,
four all told and two doves perched on each,
heads bending to drink and made of solid gold
and twin supports ran down to form the base.
An average man would strain to lift it off the table
when it was full, but Nestor, old as he was,
could hoist it up with ease.
In this cup the woman skilled as a goddess
mixed them a strong drink with Pramnian wine,
over it shredded goat cheese with a bronze grater
and scattered barley into it, glistening pure white,
then invited them to drink when she had mulled it all.
Now as the two men drank their parching thirst away
and had just begun to please themselves with talk,
confiding back and forth—there stood Patroclus
tall at the threshold, vivid as a god . . .
Old Nestor saw him at once and started up
from his polished chair, warmly grasped his hand
and led Patroclus in, pressing him to sit.
But standing off to the side his guest declined:
"No time to sit, old soldier dear to the gods.
You won't persuade me. Awesome and quick to anger,
the man who sent me here to find out who's been wounded,
the one you've just brought in. But I can see him—
I recognize Machaon myself, the expert healer.
So back I go to give Achilles the message.
Well you know, old soldier loved by the gods,
what sort of man he is-that great and terrible man.
Why, he'd leap to accuse a friend without a fault."
But Nestor the noble
charioteer replied at length,
"Now why is Achilles so cast down with grief
for this or that Achaean winged by a stray shaft?
He has no idea of the anguish risen through the army!
Look—our finest champions laid up in the ships,
all hit by arrows or,run through by spears . . .
there's powerful Diomedes brought down by an archer,
Odysseus wounded, and Agamemnon too, the famous spearman,
and Eurypylus took a shaft in the thigh, and here,
Machaon—I just brought him in from the fighting,
struck down by an arrow whizzing off the string.
But Achilles, brave as he is, he has no care,
no pity for our Achaeans. How long will he wait?
Till our ships that line the shore go up in flames,
gutted, despite a last-ditch stand? And we ourselves
are mowed down in droves?
And I, what good am I?
My limbs are gnarled now, the old power's gone.
Oh make me young again,
and the strength inside me steady as a rock!
As fresh as I was that time the feud broke out . . .
fighting Epeans over a cattle-raid I killed Itymoneus,
Hypirochus' gallant son who used to live in Elis.
I was rustling their cattle in reprisal, you see,
and he defending his herds, when a spear I hurled
caught him right in the front ranks of herdsmen—
down he went and round him his yokel drovers
scattered home in panic. And what a lovely haul,
what plunder we rounded up and herded off the plain!
Fifty herds of cattle, as many head of sheep,
as many droves of pigs and as many goat-flocks
ranging free, a hundred and fifty horses too,
strong and tawny, broodmares every one
and under the flanks of many, nursing foals.
The whole lot—
we drove them all into Pylos then, that very night,
corraling them all inside the walls of Neleus.
And father beamed, seeing how much I'd won,
a young soldier out on his first campaign.
And the heralds cried out at the break of day,
'Pylians—come collect your debts from wealthy Elis!'
And a troop of Pylian chiefs turned out in force
to carve up the spoils. The Epeans owed us all,
few as we were in Pylos, hard-pressed as well.
For mighty Heracles came against us years before,
he ground our lives out, killing off our best.
Twelve sons we were of the noble old Neleus
and I alone was left . . .
the rest of my brothers perished in that rout.
Riding high on our loss the Epeans rose in arms,
lording over us, harassing us with outrage after outrage.
So now, out of Epean spoils, the old king chose
a herd of cattle and handsome flock of sheep,
three hundred head he picked, the herdsmen too.
For wealthy Elis owed my father a heavy debt:
four prizewinning thoroughbreds, chariot and all.
They'd gone to the games, primed to race for the tripod,
but Augeas the warlord commandeered them on the spot
and sent the driver packing, sick for his team.
So now old Neleus, still enraged at it all—
the threats to his man, the naked treachery—
helped himself to a priceless treasure trove
but gave the rest to his people to divide,
so none would go deprived of his fair share.
But just as we were parceling out the plunder
and offering victims to the gods around the city,
right on the third day they came, the Epeans massed
in a swarm of men and plunging battle-stallions struck
at the border, full force—and square in their midst
the two Moliones armed to the hilt, and still boys,
not quite masters yet in the ways of combat.
there's a frontier fortress, Thryoessa perched on cliffs,
far off above the Alpheus, at the edge of sandy Pylos.
The Epeans ringed that fort, keen to raze its walls,
but once their troops had swept the entire plain,
down Athena rushed to us in the night, a herald
down from Olympus crying out, 'To arms! to arms!'
Nor did Pallas muster a slow, unwilling army
there in Pylos, all of us spoiling for a fight.
But Neleus would not let me arm for action—
he'd hidden away my horses,
thought his boy still green at the work of war.
So I had to reach the front lines on foot
but I shone among our horsemen all the same—
that's how Athena called the turns of battle.
Listen. There is a river, the Minyeos
emptying into the sea beside Arene's walls,
and there we waited for Goddess Dawn to rise,
the Pylian horse in lines while squads of infantry
came streaming up behind. Then, from that point on,
harnessed in battle-armor, moving at forced march
our army reached the Alpheus' holy ford at noon.
There we slaughtered fine victims to mighty Zeus,
a bull to Alpheus River, a bull to lord Poseidon
and an unyoked cow to blazing-eyed Athena.
And then through camp we took our evening meal
by rank and file, and caught what sleep we could,
each in his gear along the river rapids.
And all the
those vaunting Epeans were closing round the fortress,
burning to tear it down. But before they got the chance
a great work of the War-god flashed before their eyes!
Soon as the sun came up in flames above the earth
we joined battle, lifting a prayer to Zeus and Pallas.
And just as our two opposing armies clashed
I was the first to kill a man and seize his team,
the spearman Mulius, son-in-law to their king
and wed to his eldest daughter, blond Agamede,
skilled with as many drugs as the wide world grows.
Just as he lunged I speared the man with a bronze lance
and Mulius pitched in the dust as I, I swung aboard his car
and I took my place in our front ranks of champions.
How those hot-blooded Epeans scattered in terror!
Scuttling left and right when they saw him down,
their chariot captain who'd outfought them all.
Now I charged their lines like a black tornado,
I captured fifty chariots there, and each time
two men bit the dust, crushed beneath my spear.
Now I would have destroyed the young Moliones,
Actor's sons—if their real father, Poseidon,
lord god of the open sea who shakes the earth,
had not snatched them out of the fighting then,
shrouded them round in clouds.
But now Zeus gave our Pylians stunning triumph!
Pushing Epeans north on the spreading plain we went,
killing their troops, gathering up their burnished gear,
far as Buprasion rich in wheat our chariots rolled,
all the way to Olenian Rock and the high ground
they call Alesion Hill—but there, at last,
Pallas Athena turned our forces back.
I killed my last man there, I left him dead.
There our Achaeans swung round from Buprasion,
heading their high-strung horses back to Pylos
where all gave glory to Zeus among the gods
and among all men to Nestor.
So, such was I
in the ranks of men . . . or was it all a dream?
he'll reap the rewards of that great courage of his
alone, I tell you-weep his heart out far too late,
when our troops are dead and gone.
My friend, remember your father's last commands?
That day he sent you out of Phthia to Agamemnon.
We were both there inside, I and Prince Odysseus
heard it all in the halls, all your father told you.
We'd come to the strong and storied house of Peleus,
out for recruits across Achaea's good green land.
There inside we found the old soldier Menoetius,
found you too, and Achilles close beside you,
and the old horseman Peleus tending, burning
the fat thighs of an ox to thundering Zeus,
deep in the walled enclosure of his court.
He was lifting a golden cup and pouring wine,
glistening wine to go with the glowing victim.
You two were busy over the carcass, carving meat
when we both appeared and stood at the broad doors.
Achilles sprang to his feet, he seemed startled,
clasped the two of us by the hand and led us in—
he pressed us to take a seat and set before us
sumptuous stranger's fare, the stranger's right.
And once we'd had our fill of food and drink,
I led off with our plan, inviting the two of you
to come campaign with us. How willing you were!
And your fathers filled your ears with marching orders.
The old horseman Peleus urging his son Achilles,
'Now always be the best, my boy, the bravest,
and hold your head up high above the others.'
And Actor's son Menoetius urging you, 'My child,
Achilles is nobler than you with his immortal blood
but you are older. He has more power than you, by far,
but give him sound advice, guide him, even in battle.
Achilles will listen to you—for his own good.'
So the old man told you. You've forgotten.
But even now,
late as it is, you could tell your Achilles all this
and your fiery friend might listen. Who knows?
With a god's help you just might rouse him now,
bring his fighting spirit round at last.
The persuasion of a comrade has its powers.
But if down deep some prophecy makes him balk,
some doom his noble mother revealed to him from Zeus,
at least let Achilles send Patroclus into battle.
Let the whole Myrmidon army follow your command—
you might bring some light of victory to our Argives!
And let him give you his own fine armor to wear in war
so the Trojans might take you for him, Patroclus, yes,
hold off from attack, and Achaea's fighting sons
get second wind, exhausted as they are . . .
Breathing room in war is all too brief.
You're fresh, unbroken. They're bone-weary from battle—
you could roll those broken Trojans back to Troy,
clear of our ships and shelters!"
So old Nestor urged
and the fighting spirit leapt inside Patroclus--
he dashed back by the ships toward Achilles.
But sprinting close to King Odysseus' fleet
where the Argives met and handed down their laws,
the grounds where they built their altars to the gods,
there he met Eurypylus, Euaemon's gallant son,
wounded, the arrow planted deep in his thigh,
and limping out of battle . . .
The sweat was streaming down his face and back
and the dark blood still flowed from his ugly wound
but the man's will was firm, he never broke his stride.
And moved at the sight, the good soldier Patroclus
burst out in grief with a flight of winging words,
"Poor men! Lords of the Argives, 0 my captains!
How doomed you are, look-far from your loved ones
and native land—to glut with your shining fat
the wild dogs of battle here in Troy . . .
But come, tell me, Eurypylus, royal fighter,
can the Achaeans, somehow, still hold monstrous Hector?—
or must they all die now, beaten down by his spear?"
Struggling with his
wound, Eurypylus answered,
"No hope, Patroclus, Prince. No bulwark left.
They'll all be hurled back to the black ships.
All of them, all our best in the old campaigns
are laid up in the hulls, they're hit by arrows,
pierced by spears, brought down by Trojan hands
while the Trojans' power keeps on rising, rising!
Save me at least. Take me back to my black ship.
Cut this shaft from my thigh. And the dark blood—
wash it out of the wound with clear warm water.
And spread the soothing, healing salves across it,
the powerful drugs they say you learned from Achilles
and Chiron the most humane of Centaurs taught your friend.
And as for our own healers, Podalirius and Machaon,
one is back in the shelters, wounded, I think—
Machaon needs a good strong healer himself,
he's racked with pain. The other's still afield,
standing up to the Trojans' slashing onslaught."
The brave son of
Menoetius answered quickly,
"Impossible. Eurypylus, hero, what shall we do?
I am on my way with a message for Achilles,
our great man of war—the. plan that Nestor,
Achaea's watch and ward, urged me to report.
But I won't neglect you, even so, with such a wound."
And bracing the captain, arm around his waist,
he helped him toward his shelter. An aide saw them
and put some oxhides down. Patroclus stretched him out,
knelt with a knife and cut the sharp, stabbing arrow
out of Eurypylus' thigh and washed the wound clean
of the dark running blood with clear warm water.
Pounding it in his palms, he crushed a bitter root
and covered over the gash to kill his comrade's pain,
a cure that fought off every kind of pain . . .
and the wound dried and the flowing blood stopped