But once Zeus had driven
Hector and Hector's Trojans
hard against the ships, he left both armies there,
milling among the hulls to bear the brunt
and wrenching work of war—no end in sight—
while Zeus himself, his shining eyes turned north,
gazed a world away to the land of Thracian horsemen,
the Mysian fighters hand-to-hand and the lordly Hippemolgi
who drink the milk of mares, and the Abii, most decent men alive.
But not a moment more would he turn his shining eyes to Troy.
Zeus never dreamed in his heart a single deathless god
would go to war for Troy's or Achaea's forces now.
But the mighty god
of earthquakes was not blind.
He kept his watch, enthralled by the rush of battle,
aloft the summit of timbered Samos facing Thrace.
From there the entire Ida ridge swung clear in view,
the city of Priam clear and the warships of Achaea.
Climbing out of the breakers, there Poseidon sat
and pitied the Argives beaten down by Trojan troops
and his churning outrage rose against the Father.
Suddenly down from
the mountain's rocky crags
Poseidon stormed with giant, lightning strides
and the looming peaks and tall timber quaked
beneath his immortal feet as the sea lord surged on.
Three great strides he took, on the fourth he reached his goal,
Aegae port where his famous halls are built in the green depths,
the shimmering golden halls of the god that stand forever.
Down Poseidon dove and yoked his bronze-hoofed horses
onto his battle-car, his pair that raced the wind
with their golden manes streaming on behind them,
and strapping the golden armor round his body,
seized his whip that coils lithe and gold
and boarded his chariot launching up and out,
skimming the waves, and over the swells they came,
dolphins leaving their lairs to sport across his wake,
leaping left and right—well they knew their lord.
And the sea heaved in joy, cleaving a path for him
and the team flew on in a blurring burst of speed,
the bronze axle under the war-car never flecked with foam,
the stallions vaulting, speeding Poseidon toward Achaea's fleet.
There is a vast
cave, down in the dark sounding depths,
mid-sea between Tenedos and Imbros' rugged cliffs . . .
Here the god of the earthquake drove his horses down,
he set them free of the yoke and flung before them
heaps of ambrosia, fodder for them to graze.
Round their hoofs he looped the golden hobbles
never broken, never slipped, so there they'd stand,
stock-still on the spot to wait their lord's return
and off Poseidon strode to Achaea's vast encampment.
But the Trojans swarmed like flame, like a whirlwind
following Hector son of Priam blazing on nonstop,
their war cries shattering, crying as one man—
their hopes soaring to take the Argive ships
and slaughter all their best against the hulls.
But the ocean king who grips and shakes the earth,
rising up from the offshore swell, urged the Argives,
taking the build and tireless voice of Calchas.
First the god commanded the Great and Little Ajax,
hungry for war as both men were already, "Ajax, Ajax!
Both of you—fight to save the Achaean armies,
call up your courage, no cringing panic now!
At other points on the line I have no fear
of the Trojans' hands, invincible as they seem—
troops who had stormed our massive wall in force—
our men-at-arms will hold them all at bay.
But here i fear the worst, I dread a breakthrough.
Here this firebrand, rabid Hector leads the charge,
claiming to be the son of high and mighty Zeus.
But the two of you, if only a god could make you
stand fast yourselves, tense with all your power,
and command the rest of your men to stand fast too—
then you could hurl him back from the deep-sea ships,
hard as he hurls against you, even if Zeus himself
impels the madman on."
In the same breath the
who shakes the mainland struck both men with his staff
and filled their hearts with strength and striking force,
put spring in their limbs, their feet and fighting hands.
Then off he sped himself with the speed of a darting hawk
that soaring up from a sheer rock face, hovering high,
swoops at the plain to harry larks and swallows—
so the lord of the earthquake sped away from both.
First of the two to. know the god was rapid Ajax.
Oileus' son alerted Telamon's son at once:
"Ajax, since one of the gods who hold Olympus,
a god in a prophet's shape, spurs us on to fight
beside the ships—and I tell you he's not Calchas,
seer of the gods who scans the flight of birds . . .
The tracks in his wake, his stride as he sped away—
I know him at once, with ease—no mistaking the gods.
And now, what's more, the courage inside my chest
is racing faster for action, full frontal assault—
feet quiver beneath me, hands high for the onset!"
And Telamonian Ajax
joined him, calling out,
"I can feel it too, now, the hands on my spear,
invincible hands quivering tense for battle, look—
the power rising within me, feet beneath me rushing me on!
I even long to meet this Hector in single combat,
blaze as he does nonstop for bloody war!"
So they roused each
other, exulting in the fire,
the joy of battle the god excited in their hearts.
And he sped to the rear to stir more ranks of Argives,
men refreshing their strength against the fast ships,
dead on their feet from the slogging work of war—
and anguish caught their hearts to see the Trojans,
troops who had stormed their massive wall in force.
They watched that assault, weeping freely now . . .
they never thought they would fight free of death.
But a light urging sent by the god of earthquakes
rippled through their lines and whipped battalions on.
Spurring Teucer and Leitus first with bracing orders,
then the fighting Peneleos, Thoas and Deipyrus,
Meriones and Antilochus, both strong with the war cry,
Poseidon pressed them on with winging charges: "Shame—
you Argives, raw recruits—and I, I trusted in you,
certain that if you fight you'll save our ships!
But if you hang back from the grueling battle now,
your day has dawned to be crushed by Trojans. What disgrace—
a marvel right before my eyes! A terrible thing . . .
and I never dreamed.the war would come to this:
the Trojans advancing all the way to our ships,
men who up till now had panicked like deer,
food in the woods for jackals, leopards, wolves—
helpless, racing for dear life, all fight gone.
For months on end the Trojans would have no heart
to stand and face the Argives' rage and bloody hands.
Not for a moment. Ah but now, quite exposed,
far from Troy they battle around our hollow ships,
thanks to our leader's weakness, our armies' slacking off.
Our men fight with him. They'd rather drop and die
by our fast trim ships than rise to their defense.
And what if it's all true and the man's to blame—
lord of the far-flung kingdoms, hero Agamemnon—
because he spurned the famous runner Achilles?
How on earth can we hang back from combat now?
Heal our feuds at once! Surely they can be healed,
the hearts of the brave. How can you hold back
your combat-fury any longer? Not with honor—
you, the finest men in all our ranks . . .
Why, not even I would rail against that man,
that worthless coward who cringes from the fighting.
But you, I round on you with all my heart. Weaklings!
You'll make the crisis worse at any moment with this,
this hanging back. Each of you get a grip on yourself—
where's your pride, your soldier's sense of shame?
A great battle rises before us! Look—Hector
the king of the war cry fights beside our ships,
assaulting in all his force. Hector's crashed our gates,
he's burst the tremendous bar!"
His voice like a shock
the god of the earthquake spurred the Argive fighters on—
battalions forming around the two Aeantes, full strength,
crack battalions the god of war would never scorn,
rearing midst their ranks, nor would Pallas Athena
driver of armies. Here were the best picked men
detached in squads to stand the Trojan charge
and shining Hector: a wall of them bulked together,
spear-by-spear, shield-by-shield, the rims overlapping,
buckler-to-buckler, helm-to-helm, man-to-man massed tight
and the horsehair crests on glittering helmet horns brushed
as they tossed their heads, the battalions bulked so dense,
shoulder-to-shoulder close, and the spears they shook
in daring hands packed into jagged lines of battle—
single-minded fighters facing straight ahead,
Achaeans primed for combat.
Trojans pounded down on
Tight formations led by Hector careering breakneck on
like a deadly rolling boulder torn from a rock face—
a river swollen with snow has wrenched it from its socket,
immense floods breaking the bank's grip, and the reckless boulder
bounding high, flying with timber rumbling under it,
nothing can stop it now, hurtling on undaunted
down, down till it hits the level plain
and then it rolls no more for all its wild rush.
So Hector threatened at first to rampage through
the Argives' ships and shelters and reach the sea
with a single sudden charge, killing all the way.
But once he crashed against those dense battalions
dead in his tracks he stopped, crushed up against them:
sons of Achaea faced him now, stabbing away with swords,
with two-edged spears, hoisting him off their lines—
and he gave ground, staggering, reeling, shouting out
to his troops with shrill cries, "Trojans! Lycians!
Dardan skirmishers hand-to-hand—stand by me here!
They cannot hold me off any longer, these Achaeans,
not even massed like a wall against me here—
they'll crumble under my spear, well I know,
if the best of immortals really drives me on,
Hera's lord whose thunder drums the sky!"
So he shouted,
lashing the rage and fighting-fury in every Trojan.
And breaking out of their ranks Deiphobus strode,
the son of Priam fired for feats of arms, there,
thrusting his balanced round buckler before him,
step by springy step on the balls of his feet,
pressing forward under his shield. But Meriones,
taking aim at Deiphobus, hurled his flashing spear
and struck—no miss!—right in the bull's-hide boss
but the spear did not ram through, far from it,
the long shaft snapped at the spearhead's socket—
the Trojan had thrust his shield at arm's length,
shrinking before the expert marksman's lance.
But now Meriones pulled back to his cohorts,
stung with rage for two defeats at once:
victory shattered„ spearshaft smashed to bits.
He went on the run to Achaea's ships and shelters,
out for the heavy lance he'd left aslant his hut.,
The rest fought on
with deafening war cries rising.
Teucer was first to kill his man, a son of Mentor,
breeder of stallions, the rugged spearman Imbrius.
He had lived in Pedaeon, before the Argives came,
and wed a bastard daughter of Priam, Medesicaste,
but once the rolling ships of Achaea swept ashore,
home he came to Troy where he shone among the Trojans,
living close to Priam, who prized him like his sons.
Under his ear Great Ajax stabbed with a heavy lance,
wrenched the weapon out and down he went like a tall ash
on a landmark mountain ridge that glistens far and wide—
chopped down by an ax, its leaves running with sap,
strewn across the earth . . . So Imbrius fell,
the fine bronze armor clashing against him hard.
Teucer charged forward, mad to strip that gear
but as Teucer charged, Hector flung his lance—
a glint of bronze—but the Argive saw it coming,
dodged to the side and it missed him by an inch
and hit Amphimachus, Cteatus' son and Actor's heir,
the shaft slashed his chest as he ran toward the front
and down he went, thundering, armor clanging round him.
And Hector rushed to tear the helmet off his head,
snug on Amphimachus' brows, the gallant soldier—
Hector rushing in and Ajax lunged with a spear
yet the burnished weapon could not pierce his skin,
Hector's whole body was cased in tremendous bronze.
But Ajax did stab home at the shield's jutting bulge,
beating Hector back with enormous driving force
and he gave ground, back and away from both corpses
as Argives hauled them from the fighting by the heels.
The captains of Athens, Stichius, staunch Menestheus,
bore Amphimachus back to Achaea's waiting lines.
But the two Aeantes blazing in battle-fury
saw to Imbrius now . . . as two lions seizing a goat
from under the guard of circling rip-tooth hounds,
lugging the carcass on through dense matted brush,
hoist it up from the earth in their big grinding jaws.
So the ramping, crested Aeantes hoisted Imbrius high,
stripping his gear in mid-air, and the Little Ajax,
raging over Amphimachus' death, lopped the head
from the corpse's limp neck and with one good heave
sent it spinning into the milling fighters like a ball,
right at the feet of Hector, tumbling in the dust.
And then the heart
of Poseidon quaked with anger—
his own grandson brought down in the bloody charge.
He surged along the Achaean ships and shelters,
spurring Argives, piling griefs on Trojans.
The famous spearman Idomeneus crossed his path—
he'd come from a friend who just emerged from battle
gashed in back of the kneecap, gouged by whetted bronze:
That soldier the comrades carried off but Idomeneus,
giving the healers orders, made for his own tent
though he still yearned for action face-to-face.
And the god of earthquakes only fueled his fire,
taking the voice of Thoas, son of Andraemon,
king over all Pleuron, craggy Calydon too
and Aetolian men he ruled revered him like a god:
"Idomeneus, captain of Cretans under arms—
where have the threats all gone
that sons of Achaea leveled at these Trojans?"
The Cretan captain
Idomeneus answered, "Thoas
no man's to blame now, so far as I can tell.
Every one of us knows the ropes in war.
No one here's in the grip of bloodless fear,
collapsing in cowardice, ducking the grim assault.
No, this is the pleasure of overweening Zeus, it seems—
to kill the Achaeans here, our memory blotted out
a world away from Argos. But you, Thoas,
you who were always rock-steady in battle
and braced the ones you saw go slack and flinch—
don't quit now, Thoas, urge each man you find!"
The god of
earthquakes answered back, "Idomeneus—
may that man, that coward never get home from Troy—
let him linger here, ripping sport for the dogs,
whoever shirks the fight while this day lasts.
Quick, take up your gear and off we go.
Shoulder-to-shoulder, swing to the work, we must—
just two as we are—if we hope to make some headway.
The worst cowards, banded together, have their power
but you and I have got the skill to fight their best!"
With that he strode
away, a god in the wars of men.
As soon as Idomeneus reached his well-built shelter
he strapped his burnished armor round his body,
grasped two spears and out he ran like a lightning bolt
the Father grips and flings from brilliant Olympus,
a dazzling sign to men—a blinding forked flash.
So the bronze flared on his chest as out he rushed
but his rough-and-ready aide-in-arms Meriones
intercepted him just outside the tent . . .
He was on his way for a new bronze spear to use
and staunch Idomeneus shouted out, "Meriones—
racing son of Molus, brother-in-arms, old friend,
why back from the lines, why leave the fight behind?
Taken a wound, some spearhead sapped your strength?
Or come with a word for me? Does someone need me?
I have no mind to sit it out in the shelters—
what I love is battle!"
the cool-headed Meriones took his point:
"Idomeneus, captain of Cretans under arms,
I've come for a spear to fight with,
if you still have one left inside your tents.
I've just splintered the lance I used to carry,
smashed it against his shield—swaggering Deiphobus."
But the Cretan
captain Idomeneus countered, "Spears?
If it's. spears you want, you'll find not one but twenty,
all propped on my shelter's shining inner wall:
Trojan weapons, stripped from the men I kill.
It's not my way, I'd say, to fight at a distance,
out of enemy range.
So I take my plunder—spears, bossed shields,
helmets and breastplates, gleaming, polished bright."
"And so do I, by
god!"-the cool Meriones blazed up
in his own defense-"They crowd my ship and shelter,
hoards of Trojan plunder, but out of reach just now.
Though I never forgot my courage, I can tell you—
not I, there at the front where we win glory,
there I take my stand whenever a pitched battle
rears its head. Another Achaean armed in bronze
may well be blind to the way I fight. Not you—
you are the one who knows me best, I'd say."
And the Cretan
captain Idomeneus answered warnly,
"I know your style, your courage. No need for you to tell it.
If we all formed up along the ships right now,
our best men picked for an ambush—
that's where you really spot a fighter's mettle,
where the brave and craven always show their stripes.
The skin of the coward changes color all the time,
he can't get a grip on himself, he can't sit still,
he squats and rocks, shifting his weight from foot to foot,
his heart racing, pounding inside the fellow's ribs,
his teeth chattering—he dreads some grisly death.
But the skin of the brave soldier never blanches.
He's all control. Tense but no great fear.
The moment he joins his comrades packed in ambush
he prays to wade in carnage, cut-and-thrust at once.
Who could deny your nerve there, your fighting hands?
Why, even if you were badly wounded in battle,
winged by a shaft or gored by a blade close-up,
the weapon would never hit you behind, in neck or back—
it would pierce your chest or guts as you press forward,
lusting for all the champions' lovely give-and-take.
On with it! No more standing round like bragging boys—
someone will dress us down, and roughly too.
Off you go to my shelter. Choose a sturdy spear."
Meriones a match for
the rapid god of battles
ran for the tent, seized a fine bronze lance
and hot for action rushed to catch his captain.
And he went on to war as grim as murderous Ares,
his good son Panic stalking beside him, tough, fearless,
striking terror in even the combat-hardened veteran, yes,
both of them marching out of Thrace, geared to fight the Ephyri
or Phlegians great with heart, but they turn deaf ears
to the prayers of both sides at once, handing glory
to either side they choose. So on they marched,
Meriones and Idomeneus commanders of armies
strode to battle helmed in gleaming bronze,
Meriones first to ask, "Son of Deucalion,
where do you say we join the fighting now?
Right of the whole engagement, work the center
or go at the left flank? That's the place, t think—
nowhere else are the long-haired Argives so outfought."
The Cretan captain
Idomeneus answered quickly,
"Plenty of others can shield the ships mid-line,
the two Aeantes, Teucer the best Achaean archer,
an expert too at fighting head-to-head.
They'll give royal Hector his fill of blows,
strong on attack, glutton for battle as he is.
Berserk for blood, he'll find it uphill work
to beat their valor down, matchless hands at war,
and gut our ships with fire—unless almighty Zeus
should fling a torch at the fast trim ships himself.
When it comes to men,
Great Ajax yields to no one,
no mortal who eats Demeter's grain, I tell you,
one you can break with bronze and volleyed rocks.
Not even Achilles who smashes whole battalions—
he would never yield to him in a stand-up fight
though in downfield racing none can touch the man.
So lead us on to the left flank—we'll soon see
if we give our enemy glory or win it for ourselves."
And quick as the god of war Meriones led the way
till they reached the front his captain pointed out.
When the Trojans saw
Idomeneus fierce as fire,
him and his aide-in-arms in handsome blazoned gear,
they all cried out and charged them through the press
and a sudden, pitched battle broke at the ships' stems.
As gale-winds swirl and shatter under the shrilling gusts
on days when drifts of dust lie piled thick on the roads
and winds whip up the dirt in a dense whirling cloud—
so the battle broke, storming chaos, troops inflamed,
slashing each other with bronze, carnage mounting,
manslaughtering combat bristling with rangy spears,
the honed lances brandished in hand and ripping flesh
and the eyes dazzled now, blind with the glare of bronze,
glittering helmets flashing, breastplates freshly burnished,
shields fiery in sunlight, fighters plowing on in a mass.
Only a veteran steeled at heart could watch that struggle
and still thrill with joy and never feel the terror.
The two powerful
sons of Cronus, Zeus and Poseidon,
their deathless spirits warring against each other,
were building mortal pains for seasoned heroes.
Zeus willing a Trojan victory, Hector's victory,
lifting the famous runner Achilles' glory higher,
but he had no lust to destroy the whole Argive force
before the walls of Troy—all the Father wanted
was glory for Thetis and Thetis' strong-willed son.
But Poseidon surging in secret out of the gray surf
went driving into the Argive ranks.and lashed them on,
agonized for the fighters beaten down by Trojans,
and his churning outrage rose against great Zeus.
Both were gods of the same line, a single father,
but Zeus was the elder-born and Zeus knew more.,
And so Poseidon shrank from defending allies
out in the open—all in secret, always
armed like a man the god kept urging armies on.
Both gods knotted the rope of strife and leveling war,
strangling both sides at once by stretching the mighty cable,
never broken, never slipped, that snapped the knees of thousands.
And there, grizzled gray
as he was, he spurred his men,
Idomeneus ramping amidst the Trojans, striking panic.
He finished Othryoneus, a man who'd lived in Cabesus,
one who had just come at the rousing word of war
and asked for Priam's loveliest daughter, Cassandra—
with no bride-price offered—
but Othryoneus promised a mighty work of battle:
he would rout the unwilling Argives out of Troy.
And old King Priam bent his head in assent,
promised the man his daughter, so on he fought,
trusting his life to oaths taken, promises struck—
till Idomeneus took his life with a glinting spear,
struck him coming on with his high, swaggering strides.
His breastplate could not save him, the bronze he always wore,
and the shaft pierced his bowels. He fell with a crash
as Idomeneus boasted, shouting over him, "Bravo,
Othryoneus, bravo to you beyond all men alive!
If you can really keep your promise to Priam now,
who promised his daughter—a true blood-wedding day!
Look, we'll make you a promise-we'll keep it too.
We'll hand you Agamemnon's loveliest daughter,
lead her here from Argos, marry her off to you
if you'll just help us raze the walls of Troy.
Just step this way! So we can come to terms
by the deep-sea ships and strike our marriage pact—
you'll find our price for brides not quite so killing!"
The hero seized his
foot, dragging him through the rout.
But Asius leapt down to defend his comrade, just ahead
of his chariot-horses still held close by a driver,
the team snorting, panting over his shoulders—
Asius strained in fury to spear Idomeneus
but the Cretan took him first.
A spearhead punched his gullet under the chin
and the bronze point went ripping through his nape
and down the Trojan fell as an oak or white poplar falls
or towering pine that shipwrights up on a mountain
hew down with whetted axes for sturdy ship timber—
so he stretched in front of his team and chariot,
sprawled and roaring, clawing the bloody dust.
His driver out of his mind, what mind he had,
lost all nerve to wheel his horses round
and give the slip to his enemy's deadly hands
and staunch Antilochus speared him through the midriff.
His breastplate could not save him, the bronze he, always wore,
and the lance impaled his guts—he gasped, convulsed
and out of his well-made car the Trojan pitched—
and as for his team, proud Nestor's son Antilochus
drove them out of the Trojans into Argive lines.
But raging in tears
for Asius came Deiphobus
charging against Idomeneus, heaving a flashing spear—
but Idomeneus saw it coming, dodged the bronze point
by crouching under his buckler's full round cover.
He always carried it, layered with hide and ringed
with gleaming bronze, fitted with double cross-stays—
under it low he hunched and the brazen spear flew past
with a grating screech as the shaft grazed the shield.
But Deiphobus' strong swift hurl was not for nothing,
no, he caught Hypsenor, Hippasus' son the captain,
struck him under the midriff, slit his liver
and that instant the man's knees went limp.
Deiphobus shouted, vaunting in wild glory,
"Asius dies, but not without revenge!
Down to the god of death he goes, I tell you,
down to the mighty gates but thrilled at heart—
look at the escort I have sent him for the journey!"
The more he gloried,
the more grief swept the Argives,
brave Antilochus most, his battle-passion rising,
stunned with pain but he would not fail Hypsenor.
He ran to straddle and hide him with his shield
as a brace of comrades shouldered up the fighter:
Echius' son Mecisteus helping good Alastor
bore him back to the hollow warships, groaning hard.
But Idomeneus never
slacked his fury, always struggling
to plunge some Trojan soldier in deep shrouding night
or fall himself, beating disaster off his lines.
And here was a royal kill, the son of Aesyetes,
the hero Alcathous, son-in-law to Anchises,
wed to his eldest daughter, Hippodamia . . .
Her father and noble mother loved her dearly,
the pride of their halls excelling all her age
in beauty, works of the loom and good clear sense.
So the bravest man in the broad realm of Troy
took her hand in marriage, true, the very man
Poseidon crushed at the hands of Idomeneus here,
spellbinding his shining eyes, crippling his fine legs.
He couldn't escape—no retreat, no dodging the stroke,
like a pillar or tree crowned with leaves, rearing,
standing there stock-still as the hero Idomeneus
stabbed him square in the chest
and split the bronze plate that cased his ribs,
gear that had always kept destruction off his flesh
but it cracked and rang out now, ripped by the spear.
Down Alcathous crashed and the point stuck in his heart
and the heart in its last throes jerked and shook the lance—
the butt-end quivering into the air till suddenly
rugged Ares snuffed its fury out, dead still.
And Idomeneus shouted, vaunting in wild glory,
"Now, Deiphobus, now shall we call it quits at last?
Three men killed for the one you bragged about so much!
Come here, you idiot—stand up to me yourself
so you can see what cut of man I am. Look,
a son of Zeus come here to face you down.
He first bore Minos, watch and ward of Crete,
then Minos bore an illustrious son Deucalion, yes,
and Deucalion fathered me to command a race of men
through the length and breadth of Crete, and now our ships
have borne me here to your shores to be your curse,
a curse to your father, curse to the men of Troy!"
So he taunted.
Deiphobus' mind was torn—
should he pull back and call a friend to his side,
some hardy Trojan, or take the Argive on alone?
As he thought it out, the first way seemed the best.
He went for Aeneas, found him out on the flank
and fringe of battle, standing idle, forever
angered at Priam who always scrimped his honors,
brave as Aeneas was among the Trojan fighters.
Deiphobus reached him soon with winging words:
"Aeneas, captain, counselor, how we need you now!
Shield your sister's husband—if grief can touch your heart.
Follow me, fight for Alcathous, your brother-in-law
who reared you at home when you were just a boy.
The famous spearman Idomeneus cut him down."
that began to stir the rage inside Aeneas' chest
and out for blood he charged Idomeneus now.
But nothing could make him panic-no green boy,
he stood his ground like a wild mountain boar,
trusting his strength, standing up to a rout of men
that scream and swoop against him off in a lonely copse,
the ridge of his back bristling, his eyes flashing fire,
he grinds his teeth, champing to beat back dogs and men.
So Idomeneus, famous speannan, stood his ground,
he never gave an inch with Aeneas charging in,
quick to the rescue. Idomeneus called his comrades,
glancing fast at Ascalaphus, Aphareus, Deipyrus,
Meriones and Antilochus, both strong with the war cry—
he called them closer, his winging orders flying:
"Over here, my friends! I'm all alone, defend me!
I fear Aeneas-terribly—coming on, top speed,
bearing down on me now and filled with power,
enormous power to take men down in battle.
He's just in the first flush of youth, what's more,
the greatest power of all. If we were the same age,
I tell you, just as the same fury fills us both—
at a single stroke he'd bear off glory now
or I'd bear it off myself!"
So the Cretan yelled
and all his comrades came in a pack with one will,
massing round him, bracing shields to shoulders.
But across the lines Aeneas called his comrades,
glancing fast at Deiphobus, Paris, brave Agenor,
all the Trojan captains who backed Aeneas here,
and fighters followed close behind like flocks
that follow the lead ram, leaving the pastureland
to drink at springs, and the shepherd's heart exults.
So now the heart of Aeneas leapt inside his chest
when he saw the flocks of fighters crowding in his wake.
corpse they lunged in hand-to-hand
with their long spears, and the bronze around their chests
clashed out, a terrific din as they struck each other fiercely,
the lines jamming and two fighters rearing above the rest,
Idomeneus and Aeneas, both a match for Ares, charged
with their ruthless bronze to hack each other's flesh.
Aeneas was first—he aimed and hurled at Idomeneus
but the Cretan saw it coming, dodged the brazen tip
and Aeneas' lance plunged in the earth, quivering,
his arm's power poured in a wasted shot.
he hurled and speared Oenomaus through the belly,
smashing his corslet just where the plates join
and the bronze spearhead spilled his entrails out
and down the Trojan crashed, grasping, clawing the dust.
Idomeneus wrenched his dark shaft from the corpse
but as for the dead man's burnished gear—no use.
The chief was helpless to rip it off his shoulders—
enemy weapons jolted him back with so much force
his legs buckled, the old driving power lost,
no dash left to dive for a spear or dodge one.
So there he stood, taking it all, beating away
the ruthless-day of death. No more running now,
no quick leaps to sweep him clear of the fighting,
just backing, step by step . . .
And Deiphobus taking aim
with his big glinting spear, forever hating the man
and he hurled and missed again—
but Deiphobus hit Ascalaphus with that shaft,
Ascalaphus son of the butcher god of battles—
the heavy spearshaft ran him through the shoulder
and down he thundered, scraping, clutching the dust.
But the giant bellowing Ares had heard nothing yet
of how his son went down in the mounting carnage.
On a crest of Olympus under golden clouds he sat,
the god of war held fast by the will of Zeus, aloof
where the other deathless gods were kept back from battle.
Alcathous fighters kept on lunging in.
Deiphobus stripped away the corpse's gleaming helmet
but quick as the god of war Meriones leapt at him,
stabbed his outstretched arm and the blank-eyed helmet
slipped from his grasp, pounding the ground and clanging.
Meriones back on attack—a savage swoop like a vulture—
yanked the spear from the Trojan's shoulder joint
and back he drew into crowds of waiting troops.
But Polites swept up close to Deiphobus' side,
caught his brother around the waist with both arms
and dragged him clear of the heartbreaking skirmish,
far downfield till they reached his team of racers
standing behind the rear lines and rush of battle,
their driver and handsome chariot held in tow . . .
Then back to Troy they bore Deiphobus, groaning hard,
in agony, blood from his fresh wound pouring down his arm.
And still the rest fought on, relentless war cries rising.
Aeneas charging Aphareus, son of Caletor, slit open
his throat just turning toward Aeneas' ripping blade—
his head slumped to the side, shield crushing in on him,
helmet too, and courage-shattering death engulfed his corpse.
Next Antilochus, watching Thoon veer for a quick escape,
sprang and stabbed him, slashing away the whole vein
that runs the length of the back to reach the neck—
he severed it, sheared it clear
and the man went sprawling, back flat in the dust
and stretching out both hands to his friends-in-arms.
Antilochus closed to tear the gear from his shoulders,
glancing left and right as Trojans massed against him,
plunging from every side to batter down his shield
but they could not pierce that broad glistening hide—
no scoring his tender young flesh with ruthless bronze.
Not Antilochus, guarded now by the god of earthquakes
shielding, ringing the son of Nestor round, even in this,
this storm of spears. Antilochus never clear of enemies,
always wheeling, bracing to face them, his own spear
never resting, always brandished, quivering tense,
his courage primed to cut men down with a hurl
or charge them face-to-face.
His spear aimed in the melee—
but Adamas, Asius' son missed nothing, he saw it all,
rushed him, rammed Antilochus' buckler dead center
with sharp bronze but the blue-haired god Poseidon
crushed the spear, denied him the Argive's life.
Half his lance hung there in Antilochus' shield
like a charred stake, half dropped to the ground.
And back he shrank to his cohorts, dodging death
but hounding him as he went Meriones speared him
between the genitals and the navel-hideous wound,
the worst the god of battles deals to wretched men.
There the spear stuck. Hugging the shaft he writhed,
gasping, shuddering like some wild bull in the hills
that herdsmen shackle, trapping the beast with twisted ropes
and he fights them all the way as the men drag him off—
so he gasped with his wound. A little, not for long.
Till the hero Meriones moved in where he sprawled,
wrenched the spear from his corpse
and the dark came shrouding down across his eyes.
Deipyrus, cleft the side of his head
with a massive Thracian sword, smashed his helmet
and knocked it off. It fell to earth and an Argive
snatched it up as it rolled at soldiers' feet—
and the night came blinding down Deipyrus' eyes.
And anguish seized
Menelaus lord of the war cry.
He went on the run at the fighting prophet Helenus,
all menace, madly shaking his whetted javelin
just as Helenus seized his bow by the handgrip.
Both let fly at each other, one launching out
with a sharp lance, one a shaft from the string—
and Helenus' arrow hit Atrides right on the chest,
on the breastplate's curve but the arrow sprang away.
High as the black-skin beans and chickpeas bounce and leap
from a big bladed shovel, flying across the threshing floor,
sped by a whistling wind and a winnower's sweeping stroke—
so the arrow flew from fighting Atrides' breastplate,
the keen shaft glancing, skittering off downfield.
But the lord of the war cry aimed for Helenus' hand
gripping his polished bow-and clean through his fist
the bronze spearhead drove and cracked the tensed weapon.
Back he fell to his massed companions, dodging death,
his hand dangling, dragging the long ashen shaft.
And gallant Agenor drew the spear from his hand
and bound it up in a band of tightly twisted wool,
a sling his aide retained for the good commander.
And now Pisander
rushed Menelaus famed in arms
but a grim fate was rushing him to the stroke of death—
to be crushed in this hell of war by you, Menelaus.
Just as the two men closed, heading into each other,
Attides missed-his spearshaft hooking off to the side—
Pisander stabbed his shield but the bronze could not bore through—
the huge hide blocked it, the shaft snapped at the socket.
Still the Trojan exulted, wild with hopes of triumph
as Menelaus, drawing his sword with silver studs,
leapt at Pisander, who clutched beneath his shield
his good bronze ax with its cleaving blade
set on a long smooth olive haft—
Both fighters at one great stroke
chopped at each other-Pisander hacked the horn
of the horsehair-crested helmet right at its ridge,
lunging as Menelaus hacked Pisander between the eyes,
the bridge of the nose, and bone cracked, blood sprayed
and both eyes dropped at his feet to mix in the dust—
he curled and crashed. Digging a heel in his chest
Menelaus stripped his gear and vaunted out in glory,
"So home you'll run from our racing ships, by god,
all as corpses—see, you death-defying Trojans?
Never sated with shattering war cries, are you?
Nor do you lack the other brands of outrage,
all that shame you heaped on me, you rabid dogs!
No fear in your hearts for the quaking rage of Zeus,
the thundering god of host and welcome stranger—
one day he'll raze your lofty city for you.
You Trojans who stole away my wedded wife
and hoards of riches too—for no reason, none—
my queen of the realm who hosted you with kindness.
And now you rampage on among our deep-sea ships,
wild to torch our hulls and kill our heroes-well,
you'll be stopped, somewhere, mad as you are for combat!
Zeus, Father Zeus, they say you excel all others . . .
all men and gods, in wisdom clear and calm—
but all this brutal carnage comes from you.
Look how you favor them, these reckless Trojans,
their fury always in uproar—no one can ever slake
their thirst for blood, for the great leveler, war!
One can achieve his fill of all good things,
even of sleep, even of making love . . .
rapturous song and the beat and sway of dancing.
A man will yearn for his fill of all these joys
before his fill of war. But not these Trojans—
no one can glut their lust for battle!"
So he cried
and staunch Atrides stripped the gear from the corpse
and heaving the bloody bronze to eager comrades
swung to attack again, frontline assault.
Harpalion charged Menelaus—King Pylaemenes' son
who'd followed his father into war at Troy
but he never reached his fatherland again.
He closed on Atrides, spear stabbing his. shield
right on the boss but the bronze could not drive through,
so back he drew to his ranks, dodging death, glancing
left and right, fearing a lance would graze his flesh.
But Meriones caught him in full retreat, he let fly
with a bronze-tipped arrow, hitting his right buttock
up under the pelvic bone so the lance pierced the bladder.
He sank on the spot, hunched in his dear companion's arms,
gasping out his life as he writhed along the ground
like an earthworm stretched out in death, blood pooling,
soaking the earth dark red. Hardy Paphlagonians,
working over him, hoisting him onto a chariot,
bore him back to the sacred walls of Troy.. .
deep in grief while his father, weeping freely,
walked beside them now. No blood-price came his way.
Not for his son who breathed his last in battle.
But Paris flared in
rage at his comrade's death,
his friend and guest among all the Paphlagonians.
Incensed, he let loose with a bronze-tipped arrow
aimed at one Euchenor, son of the prophet Polyidus,
a decent, wealthy man who made his home in Corinth.
Well Euchenor knew that boarding the ships for Troy
meant certain death: his father told him so . . .
Time and again the strong old prophet said
he'd die in his own halls of a fatal plague
or go with the ships and die at Trojan hands.
So off Euchenor sailed, both to save his wealth
from the heavy fine the Argives made deserters pay
and himself from wasting illness—no slow plague for him.
Suddenly Paris struck him under the jaw and ear—
and life flew from his limbs
and the hateful darkness had him in its grip.
The rest fought on
like a mass of whirling fire.
But Hector dear to Zeus had no idea, Hector
heard nothing of how his men, left of the ships,
were torn and mauled in the Argives' rough response.
The glory might even have gone to them at any moment,
so intent was the god who grips and shakes the earth
as he surged his Argives on and the god surged too,
adding his own immortal force in their defense.
But Hector kept on driving too just at the point
where he first broke through the gates and wall he charged,
he smashed the Achaean lines, dense with armed men,
there where Protesilaus' and giant Ajax' ships
lay hauled up in the breaking, churning surf
and the wall to landward dipped low to the ground,
the weakest point where the fiercest fighting raged—
waves of Trojans, Trojan horse in assault.
Bulked against them,
Boeotian troops, Ionian troops with their long war-shirts,
Locrians, Phthians and men of Epea famed in battle
fought to stop this Hector hurtling at the ships.
Nothing they did could thrust him off their lines,
Prince Hector roaring on like a torch—not even
the picked Athenians led by Menestheus, Peteos' son
and backing him came Phidas, Stichius, brave Bias,
then the Epean units led by Meges, Phyleus' son,
Amphion, Dracius, and leading the Phthian ranks
came Medon flanking Podarces tough in skirmish.
Medon the bastard son of royal King Oileus,
Little Ajax' brother, but Medon lived in Phylace,
banished from native land—he'd killed a kinsman
dear to Oileus' wife, his stepmother Eriopis—
but Iphiclus son of Phylacus bore Podarces . . .
Brothers-in-arms, he and Medon led the Phthians,
out in the forefront of those gallant soldiers
fighting beside Boeotians now to save the ships.
But Oileus' son the racing Ajax—not for a moment,
not at all would he leave his giant brother Ajax,
shoulder-to-shoulder they fought together here:
close as a brace of wine-dark oxen matched in power,
dragging a bolted plow through packed fallow land
and the sweat rushes up at the roots of both their horns
and only the width of polished yoke keeps both beasts apart,
struggling up the furrow to cut the field's last strip.
So both men stood their ground, bracing man-to-man
and a flock of comrades, hardened combat veterans
followed the Great Ajax, ready to take his shield
whenever sweat and labor sapped his knees.
But no Locrians followed the hearty Little Ajax.
They had no love for stand-and-fight encounters—
had no crested bronze helmets to guard their heads,
no balanced shields in their grasp, no ashen spears,
only their bows and slings of springy, twisted wool.
Trusting these, they followed their chief to Troy,
shooting with these, salvo on pelting salvo,
they tore the Trojan battle lines to pieces.
So the men in heavy armor fought at the front,
they grappled Trojans and Hector helmed in bronze
while Locrians slung from the rear, safe, .out of range,
till the Trojan troops forgot their lust for blood
as showering arrows raked their ranks with panic.
then and there the Trojans might have been rolled back,
far away from the ships and tents to wind-tom Troy
if Polydamas had not rushed to headstrong Hector:
"Impossible man! Won't you listen to reason?
Just because some god exalts you in battle
you think you can beat the rest at tactics too.
How can you hope to garner all the gifts at once?
One man is a splendid fighter—a god has made him so—
one's a dancer, another skilled at lyre and song,
and deep in the next man's chest farseeing Zeus
plants the gift of judgment, good clear sense.
And many reap the benefits of that treasure:
troops of men he saves, as he himself knows best.
So now I will tell you what seems best to me. Look,
the battle bums like a swirling crown around your head
but our valiant Trojans, once they scaled the wall—
some fall back from the front, idling in armor,
others soldier on, squads against mass formations,
scattering helter-skelter round the hulls.
Draw back now!
Call the best of our captains here, this safe ground.
Then we can all fall in and plan our tactics well:
whether we fling ourselves against the ships—
if Zeus would care to hand us victory now—
or beat retreat from the beach and cut our losses.
I fear they'll pay us back for yesterday's triumph.
He waits by the ships, a man never sated with battle . . .
I doubt he'll keep from the fighting any longer,
not with all his war-lust!"
So he urged. His
plan won Hector over—
less danger, more success—and down he leapt
from his chariot fully armed and hit the ground,
calling out to Polydamas brisk, winged orders:
"You stay here, hold back our captains here.
I'm on my way over there to meet this new assault—
I'll soon be back, once I've given them clear commands."
And out like a
flashing snowcapped peak he moved,
shouting, sweeping on through his ranks and Trojan allies.
Squads of others swarmed and rallied around Polydamas,
Panthous' friendly son—they'd heard Hector's orders.
But Hector ranged the front to find his leaders,
hunting Deiphobus and the rugged warlord Helenus,
Adamas, Asius' son, and Asius son of Hyrtacus.
Where could he find them now? Find them he did,
no longer free of wounds, unhurt—not at all . . .
Adamas, Asius, both sprawled at Achaea's stems,
dead at the Argives' hands. The others at home,
behind the walls, were gouged by shaft or sword.
But he quickly found one more, on the left flank
of the heart-wrenching carnage-royal Paris,
fair-haired Helen's consort was rousing comrades,
driving them back to battle. Once he gained his side
Hector raked his brother with insults, stinging taunts:
"Paris, appalling Paris! Our prince of beauty—
mad for women, you lure them all to ruin!
Where's Deiphobus? Helenus, rugged warlord?
Adamas, Asius' son, and Asius son of Hyrtacus—
where's Othryoneus, tell me.
Now all towering Troy is ruined top to bottom!
Now one thing's certain—your own headlong death!"
magnificent as a god, replied,
"Hector, bent on faulting a man without a fault?
At other times I might have shrunk from the fighting,
true, but not today. Mother bore me-even me—
not to be a coward through and through. Think,
since you fired our comrades' fury against the ships,
from that hour we've held our ground right here,
taking the Argives on, and nonstop, no rest.
Our comrades are dead, Hector,
those you inquire about with such concern . . .
Only Deiphobus and the rugged warlord Helenus
have made it back alive, wounded with sturdy spears,
both in the hand too, but Zeus beat off their deaths.
Now lead the way, wherever your fighting spirit bids you.
All of us right behind you, hearts intent on battle.
Nor do I think you'll find us short on courage,
long as our strength will last. Past his strength
no man can go, though he's set on mortal combat."
That brought his brother's warrior spirit round.
On they went where the thickest fighting broke,
churning round Cebriones, dauntless Polydamas,
Phalces, Orthaeus and veteran Polyphetes,
Palmys, Hippotion's two, sons-Ascanius, Morys—
fresh reserves just come from Ascania's fertile soil,
just last morning, but now great Zeus incited all-out war.
Down the Trojans came like a squall of brawling gale-winds
blasting down with the Father's thunder, loosed on earth
and a superhuman uproar bursts as they pound the heavy seas,
the giant breakers seething, battle lines of them roaring,
shoulders rearing, exploding foam, waves in the vanguard,
waves rolling in from the rear. So on the Trojans came,
waves in the vanguard, waves from the rear, closing,
bronze men glittering, following captains, closing
and Hector led the way, a match for murderous Ares—
Priam's son holding his balanced shield before him,
tough with oxhides, studded thick with bronze
and round his temples the flashing helmet shook.
He plowed forward, testing enemy lines at all points
to see if they'd crack before him-charging under his shield
but he could not overpower the Argives' stiff resolve
and Ajax hulking forward with big strides, the first
to challenge Hector: "Madman! Here, come closer—
trying to frighten Argives? Why waste your breath?
No, no, it's not that we lack the skill in battle,
it's just the brutal lash of Zeus that beats us down.
Your hopes soar, I suppose, to gut and crush our ships?
Well we have strong arms too, arms to defend those ships—
and long before that your city packed with people
will fall beneath our hands, plundered to rubble.
And you, I say, the day draws near when off you run
and pray to Father Zeus and the other deathless gods
to make your full-maned horses swifter than hawks—
whipping dust from the plain to sweep you back to Troy!"
Clear on the right a
bird winged past to seal those words,
a soaring eagle swooping. Spirits high with the sign,
the Argive armies cheered. But bent on glory
Hector answered the giant Ajax taunt for taunt:
"Enough of your blustering threats, you clumsy ox—
what loose talk, what rant!
I wish I were as surely the son of storming Zeus
for all my days—and noble Hera gave me birth
and I were prized as they prize Athena and Apollo—
as surely as this day will bring your Argives death,
down to the last man. And you will die with the rest.
If you have the daring to stand against my heavy spear
its point will rip your soft warm skin to shreds!
Then, then you'll glut the dogs and birds of Troy
with your fat and flesh—cut down by the beaked ships!"
And loosing a savage
yell, Hector led the way
and his captains followed close with unearthly cries
and Trojan ranks behind them crying shrill.
But facing them the Achaean ranks cried back,
not forgetting their courage, braced hard for assault
as the Trojans' bravest charged and roars from both armies
struck the high clear skies, the lightning world of Zeus.