Back through jutting
stakes and across the trench they fled,
and hordes were cut down at the Argives' hands-the rest,
only after they reached the chariots, stood fast,
blanched with fear, whipped in desperate flight.
That moment Zeus awoke on the heights of Ida,
stretched out by Hera, queen of the golden throne—
he leapt to his feet, he saw the Trojans and Achaeans,
one side routed, the other harrying them in panic,
Achaeans attacking, and god Poseidon led the way.
And Zeus saw Hector sprawled on the battlefield,
his comrades kneeling round him as he panted,
struggling hard for breath, his senses stunned,
vomiting blood . . . The man who'd struck him dowr
was not the weakest Argive. At the sight of Hector
the father of men and gods filled with pity now
and shooting a terrible dark glance down at Hera,
burst out at her, "What a disaster you create!
Uncontrollable Hera—you and your treachery—
halting Hector's assault and routing Hector's armies.
I wouldn't be surprised, my Queen, if you were the first
to reap the pernicious whirlwind you have sown—
I'll whip you stroke on stroke.
Don't you recall the time I strung you in mid-air
and slung those two massive anvils down from your feet
and lashed both hands with a golden chain you could not break?
There, there in the clouds and high clear sky you dangled.
And the mighty gods on steep Olympus raged away,
impotent—what could they do to set you free?
Standing there, helpless. And any god I caught
I'd seize and send him plunging over the ramparts,
headfirst till he hit the earth, barely alive.
Not even then would the stark grief for Heracles
release my breaking heart—my own godlike son . . .
You with the North Wind's help had coaxed the gales
to send him scudding over the barren salt sea—
you, always plotting miseries for my son,
you bore him off to the crowded town of Cos.
But there I saved him, whisked him away to safety,
back to the stallion-land of Argos, worn with torment.
I will help you remember—you'll give up your treacheries,
you will see if your warm embraces serve you then,
your bed of lust where you sank me in your arms.
Down from the gods you came to waylay me—
you seduced me blind."
Her eyes wide,
Queen Hera shuddered before his thunder,
protesting, swearing a flight of winged oaths:
"Earth be my witness now, the vaulting Sky above
and the dark cascading waters of the Styx—I swear
by the greatest, grimmest oath that binds the happy gods!
By your sacred head, by the bed of our own marriage
that I, at least, would never take in vain . . .
Never by will of mine did the god of earthquakes
wreak havoc among the Trojan ranks and Hector
and surge to help their foes! I
It must be his own great rage that drives him on—
he pitied the sight of Argives pinned against their ships.
Not I . . . why, I'd be the first to counsel him
to take your lead, Zeus, wherever you command,
my king of the black cloud!"
and the father of men and gods looked down and smiled
and took command with a flight of winging orders:
"Excellent, Hera. Now, if in the years to come
you will accord with me, my wide-eyed Queen,
throned with me in the gods' decisive sessions,
then Poseidon, bent as he is to go his own way,
must change at once and wrench his will to ours,
to yours and mine united.
So then, Hera,
if you mean what you say, down to the last word,
go back now to the deathless tribes of gods
and summon Iris to come before my presence,
summon Apollo too, lord of the famous bow.
Iris will fly to Achaea's bronze-armed troops
and direct the god who shakes the earth to stop,
to quit the war and return to his own ocean halls.
And let Apollo drive Prince Hector back to battle,
breathe power back in his lungs, make him forget
the pains that rack his heart. Let him whip the Achaeans
in headlong panic rout and roll them back once more,
tumbling back on the oar-swept ships of Peleus' son Achilles.
And he, he will launch his comrade Patroclus into action
and glorious Hector will cut him down with a spear
in front of Troy, once Patroclus has slaughtered
whole battalions of strong young fighting men
and among them all, my shining son Sarpedon.
But then—enraged for Patroclus—
brilliant Achilles will bring Prince Hector down.
And then, from that day on, I'll turn the tide of war:
back the fighting goes, no stopping it, ever, all the way
till Achaean armies seize the beetling heights of Troy
through Athena's grand design.
But till that
I will never cease my anger. Nor will I permit
a single immortal god to save the Argive forces,
not till Achilles' prayer has been fulfilled.
So I vowed at first. I bowed my head in assent
that day the goddess Thetis clutched my knees,
begging me to exalt Achilles scourge of cities."
And the white-armed
goddess Hera obeyed at once—
clearing Ida's peaks she soared for sheer Olympus.
Quick as a thought goes flashing through a man
who's traveled the world—"Ah to be there, or there!"—
as his mind swarms with journeys, fresh desires—
so quick in her eager flight flew noble Hera now
and scaling steep Olympus went among the gods,
the immortal powers thronging Zeus's halls.
They all sprang to their feet at sight of Hera,
lifting cups to greet her, crowding round the queen.
But she passed the rest and took a cup from Themis,
flushed with beauty, who ran to meet her first
and hailed her now with winged words of welcome:
"Hera, what brings you back? You look so harried.
Oh I know it, the son of Cronus has terrified you—
your everlasting husband!"
the white-armed goddess Hera answered firmly,
"don't ask me to go through that ordeal again.
You know his rage yourself. So rigid, unrelenting.
But you keep on presiding over the gods, Themis,
the feasting in the halls. You'll hear it all,
and with you all the immortals—
what a chain of disasters Zeus brings to light!
Nothing to lift all spirits alike, I warn you . . .
not among men, not among gods, if one's still left
who warms to feasts, his heart at peace, these days."
With those bleak
words Queen Hera took her seat.
The gods looked grim throughout the halls of Zeus:
She smiled with her lips only,
her forehead furrowed over her dark brows
as her anguish rose and she addressed them all:
"What fools we are, storming against Zeus—we're mad!
And still we engage him, trying to block his way
with a word or show of force. But there he sits,
off and away—with never a care or qualm for us—
claiming that he among the deathless gods on high
is first in strength and power, none in the world his rival.
So each of you here must take what blows he sends.
Why, Ares, I gather, has just received his share . . .
his son is dead in battle, his dearest son, Ascalaphus—
doesn't invincible Ares claim to be his father?"
Fighting words, and
Ares pounded his sturdy thighs
with the flats of both hands and let loose in grief:
"Now, you gods of Olympus—who could blame me now
if I descend on Achaea's ships to avenge my son,
my butchered son? Even if fate will crush me,
striking me down with the thunderbolt of Zeus—
sprawled in the blood and dust with dead men's corpses!"
With that he called his
henchmen Rout and Terror
to yoke his team as the god strapped on his shining gear.
And now some greater disaster might have come from Zeus,
some wrath, some harsher rage to break the gods on high—
if Pallas Athena, fearing the worst for all immortals,
had not leapt from her throne, bolted through the gates,
torn the helmet off his head, the shield from his back
and snatching the brazen spear from his burly grip,
propped it against a pillar
and dressed the War-god down in all his fury:
"Maniac, out of your senses! You, you're ruinedl
What are your ears for, Ares, can't you hear the truth?
Your wits are gone—where's your respect for others?
Can't you grasp what the white-armed goddess tells us?—
and she's just returned from Olympian Zeus, just now.
What's your pleasure? To fill your own cup of pain
then slink back to Olympus, whipped and fuming-forced?
You're planting the seeds of endless trouble for us all!
He will leave those men in a flash, Achaeans, Trojans,
overweening Trojans, and back great Zeus will come
to batter us on Olympus, seize one after another—
gods guilty and innocent routed all together.
So now, I tell you, drop this anger for your son.
By now some fighter better than he, a stronger hand
has gone down in his own blood, or soon will go.
It is no small labor to rescue all mankind,
every mother's son."
With that sharp warning
Athena seated headlong Ares on his throne.
But Queen Hera summoned Apollo from the halls
and Iris too, the messenger of the immortals,
and gave them both their winged marching orders:
"Zeus directs you to Ida with all good speed!
But once you arrive and meet great Zeus's glance,
do whatever the Father drives you on to do."
And with that
command Queen Hera strode home
and regained her throne. But the two launched out in flight
and reaching Ida with all her springs, mother of flocks,
they found the thundering son of Cronus seated high
on Gargaron peak, crowned with a fragrant cloud.
Coming before the lord of storm and lightning
the two just stood there, waiting . . .
Nor was his heart displeased to see them both—
how fast they'd obeyed his loving wife's commands—
and first he issued Iris winging orders: "Away, Iris!
Quick as you can to the grand sea lord Poseidon.
Go, give him my message, start to finish—
and see that every word of it rings exactly so.
Command Poseidon to quit the war and slaughter now,
go back to the tribes of gods or down to his bright sea.
But if he will not obey my orders, if he spurns them,
let him beware, heart and soul—for all his power
he can never muster the will to stand my onslaught.
I claim I am far greater than he in striking force,
I am the first-born too. Yet the spirit inside him
never shrinks from claiming to be my equal, never,
though other gods will cringe from me in terror."
And Iris riding the
wind obeyed his orders,
swooping down from Ida's peaks to sacred Troy.
Like the snow or freezing hail that pelts from clouds
when the North Wind born in the clear heaven blasts it on—
so in an eager rush of speed the wind-swift Iris flew
and stopped beside the famous god of earthquakes,
calling out to him, "Here is a message for you,
god of the sea-blue mane who grips the earth.
I speed this word to you from storming Zeus.
He commands you to quit the war and slaughter now,
go back to the tribes of gods or down to your bright sea!
But if you will not obey his orders, if you spurn them,
he threatens to come here in person, fight you down,
power against power. Avoid his grasp, he warns.
He claims he is far greater than you in striking force,
he is the first-born too! Yet the spirit inside you
never shrinks from claiming to be his equal, never—
though other gods will cringe from him in terror."
But the glorious god
of earthquakes shook in anger:
"What outrage! Great as he is, what overweening arrogance!
So, force me, will he, to wrench my will to his?
I with the same high honors?
Three brothers we are, all sprung from Cronus,
all of us brought to birth by Rhea—Zeus and I,
Hades the third, lord of the dead beneath the earth.
The world was split three ways. Each received his realm.
When we shook the lots I drew the sea, my foaming eternal home,
and Hades drew the land of the dead engulfed in haze and night
and Zeus drew the heavens, the clouds and the high clear sky,
but the earth and Olympus heights are common to us all.
So I will never live at the beck and call of Zeus!
No, at his royal ease, and powerful as he is,
let him rest content with his third of the world.
Don't let him try to frighten me with his mighty hands—
what does he take me for, some coward out-and-out?
He'd better aim his terrible salvos at his own,
all his sons and daughters. He's their father—
they have to obey his orders. It's their fate."
Iris quick as the
breezes tried to soothe him:
"Wait, god of the sea-blue mane who grips the earth—
you really want me to take that harsh, unbending answer
back to Zeus? No change of heart, not even a little?
The hearts of the great, you know, can always change . . .
you know how the Furies always stand by older brothers."
The lord of the
earthquake yielded ground in answer:
"True, Iris, immortal friend, how right you are—
it's a fine thing when a messenger knows what's proper.
Ah but how it galls me, it wounds me to the quick
when the Father tries to revile me with brute abuse,
his equal in rank, our fated shares of the world the samel
Still, this time I will yield, for all my outrage . . .
but I tell you this, and there's anger in my threat:
if ever—against my will and Athena queen of armies,
Hera and Hermes, and the god of fire Hephaestus—
if Zeus ever spares the towering heights of Troy,
if he ever refuses to take her walls by force
and give the Argive troops resounding triumph,
let Zeus know this full well—
the breach between us both will never heal!"
A sharp tremor
and the massive god of earthquakes left Achaea's lines,
into the surf he dove and heroes missed him sorely.
That very instant storming Zeus dispatched Apollo:
"Go, my friend, to the side of Hector armed in bronze.
The god of the quakes who grips and pounds the earth
has just this moment plunged in his own bright sea,
diving away from all my mounting anger. Just think
what the gods would have heard if we had come to blows,
even those beneath the ground who circle Cronus.
Better for me this way, Poseidon too, to yield
before my mighty hands—outraged as he is:
not without sweat would we have called it quits.
But now take up in your hands my storm-cloud shield,
its dark tassels flying, shake it over the Argives,
stampede their heroes in panic, Archer of the Sky.
But make this glorious Hector your main concern,
rouse his breakneck courage till, racing in terror,
the Argives reach the fleet and the Hellespont in rout.
From that point on I plan my tactics, give commands
to grant the Argives breathing room in battle."
Apollo did not
neglect the Father's orders.
Down from Ida's peaks he swooped like a hawk,
the killer of doves, the fastest thing on wings.
He found Prince Hector, the son of wise King Priam,
sitting up now, sprawled on the ground no longer,
just regaining his strength, just beginning
to recognize his comrades round about him . . .
His heavy sweating, his hard breathing stopped
the moment the will of storming Zeus revived him.
Apollo the Archer stood beside him, taunting,
"Hector, son of Priam, why so far from your troops?
Sitting here, half dead—some trouble's come your way?"
Hector struggled for
words, his helmet flashing:
"Who are you, my lord—who of the high gods—
to probe me face-to-face?
Haven't you heard? I was killing his friends
against the ships when the lord of the war cry Ajax
struck me down with a boulder square across my chest
he took the fight right out of Me, I can tell you . . .
I thought for certain I'd go to join the dead,
descend to the House of Death this very day—
I thought I'd breathed my last."
But lord Apollo
the distant deadly Archer reassured him: "Courage!
Look what a strong support the son of Cronus
speeds from Ida to take your side and shield you—
I am Phoebus Apollo, lord of the golden sword!
I who saved you before, and along with you
your towering city too. So up now, Hector—
command your drivers here in all their hundreds
to lash their plunging teams at the hollow ships.
And I'll surge on ahead, clearing the whole way
for the teams' assault—I'll bend the Argives back!"
tremendous strength in the famous captain.
As a stallion full-fed at the manger, stalled too long,
breaking free of his tether gallops down the plain,
out for his favorite plunge in a river's cool currents,
thundering in his pride—his head flung back, his mane
streaming over his shoulders, sure and sleek in his glory,
knees racing him on to the fields and stallion-haunts he loves—
so Hector hurtled on, his legs driving, his'knees pumping,
spurring his reinsmen once he heard the god's command.
And the Argives wheeled and gave ground quickly.
Think how dogs and huntsmen off in the wilds
rush some antlered stag or skittish mountain goat
but a rocky gorge or shadowed forest gives him shelter—
they see it's not their lot to bring that quarry down,
their shouting only flushes a great bearded lion
ramping across their path, suddenly charging them,
scattering men and packs despite their lust for battle—
so up till now the Achaeans kept advancing, close formation,
stabbing away with swords and rugged two-edged spears
but once they saw tall Hector attack the ranks again
they wheeled in terror—hearts collapsed at their heels.
But Thoas son of
Andraemon spurred them on,
Aetolia's best by far, skilled with the spear,
superb at cut-and-thrust
and few Achaeans could put him down in debate
when the young men vie and struggle over points.
Now forth he came with calls to back his comrades:
"Look—a genuine miracle right before my eyes!
Hector's escaped again, he's risen from the dead!
And just as each of us hoped with all his heart
he'd dropped and died at the hands of giant Ajax.
But again some god swoops down and saves this Hector—
and hasn't he wiped enough of us out already?
Now he'll make more slaughter, well I know.
He'd never be at the front, smashing our lines
unless Old Thunder, Zeus, had put him on his feet.
So come, friends, do as I say-all take my lead.
The rank and file go back, withdraw to the ships,
but we who claim to be the armies' finest champions
stand our ground-face him first, try to beat him off!
Spears at the readyl For all his fury, trust me,
he'll quake before he penetrates our front."
the captains hung on his words and all fell in line.
Squads forming around Great Ajax, King Idomeneus,
Teucer, Meriones and Meges a match for Ares
closed tight for the onset, calling all their best
to brace and face Prince Hector and Hector's Trojans.
Behind them rank and file withdrew to Achaea's ships.
But packed in a mass
the Trojans came on pounding,
Hector leading the way with long, leaping strides
and heading the van in person came the god Apollo,
shoulders wrapped in cloud, gripping the storm-shield,
the tempest terror, dazzling, tassels flaring along its front—
The bronzesmith god of fire gave it to Zeus to bear
and strike fear in men and Apollo gripped it now,
locked in his two fists as he led the Trojans on.
But packed in a mass
the Argives stood their ground,
deafening cries of battle breaking from both sides
as whipping arrows leapt away from bowstrings.
Showers of spears raining from daring, hardy arms
went deep into soldiers' bodies quick to fight
but showers of others, cut short
halfway before they could graze glistening skin,
stuck in the ground, still lusting to sink in flesh.
Long as Apollo held the storm-shield firm in his grasp
the weapons hurtled side-to-side and men kept falling . . .
But once he looked the fast Achaean drivers square in the eyes,
shook the shield and loosed an enormous battle cry himself,
Apollo stunned the high courage in all their chests—
they lost their grip, forgot their fighting-fury.
Routed like herds of cattle or big flocks of sheep
when two wild beasts stampede them away in terror,
suddenly pouncing down in their midst-pitch darkness,
the shepherd off and gone—so the defenseless Argives
panicked, routed. Apollo hurled fear in their hearts
and handed Hector and all his Trojans instarit glory.
There man killed man
in the mad scatter of battle.
Hector finished Stichius, finished Arcesilaus off,
the one a chief of Boeotians armed in bronze,
the other, brave Menelaus' trusty comrade.
Aeneas slaughtered Medon and lasus outright,
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 lasus became a captain of Athens' troops,
Sphelus' son he was called and Bucolus' grandson.
Polydamas killed Mecisteus—
Polites cut down Echius,
first in the onset—
dashing Agenor cut down Clonius—
and Paris lanced Deiochus deep below the shoulder,
ran him through from behind as he fled the front
and the bronze spear came jutting out his chest.
While the Trojans tore the war-gear off the bodies
Argives clambered back in a tangled mass, scrambling back
through the sharp stakes and deep pit of the trench,
fleeing left and right, forced inside the rampart.
So Hector commanded his Trojans, sounding out,
"Now storm the ships! Drop those bloody spoils!
Any straggler I catch, hanging back from the fleet,
right here on the spot I'll put that man to death.
No kin, no women commit his corpse to the flames—
the dogs will tear his flesh before our walls!"
With a full-shoulder
stroke he flogged his horses on,
loosing a splitting war cry down the Trojan ranks
and all cried back in answer-a savage roar rising—
driving teams and chariots close in line with his.
And Apollo far in the lead, the god's feet kicking
the banks of the deep trench down with a god's ease,
tumbled earth in the pit between, bridging it with a dike
immense and wide and long as a hurtling spear will fly
when a man makes practice casts to test his strength.
Holding formation now the Trojans rolled across it,
Apollo heading them, gripping the awesome storm-shield
and he tore that Argive rampart down with the same ease
some boy at the seashore knocks sand castles down—
he no sooner builds his playthings up, child's play,
than he wrecks them all with hands and kicking feet,
just for the sport of it. God of the wild cry, Apollo—
so you wrecked the Achaeans' work and drove the men
who had built it up with all that grief and labor
into headlong panic rout.
Achaeans stampeding back
till they reined in hard, huddling tight by the stems
and shouting out to each other, flung their arms
to all the immortals, each man crying out a prayer.
But none as rapt as Nestor, Achaea's watch and ward,
who stretched his hands to the starry skies and prayed,
"Father Zeus! If ever in Argos' golden wheatlands
one of us burned the fat
thighs of sheep or bulls
and begged a safe return and you promised with a nod—
remember it now, Olympian. Save us from this ruthless day!
Don't let these Trojans mow us down in droves!"
So he pleaded
and hearing the old man's prayers, Zeus who rules the world
let loose a great crack of thunder, rending the skies.
But Trojans, thrilled at the sound of Zeus's thunder,
pitched themselves at the Argives still more fiercely,
summoning up their fiery lust for battle.
Like a giant breaker rearing up on the rangy seas,
crashing over a ship's sides, driven in by the winds
and the blast builds the comber's crushing impact—
a hoarse roar!—Trojans stormed over the rampart,
lashing their teams to fight against the ships,
hurling their two-edged spears at close range there,
Trojans from lurching cars but Achaeans from high decks,
scrambling aloft black hulls, lunged down with the long pikes—
jointed and clinched and tipped with ripping bronze—
they'd kept on board for bloody fights at sea.
as long as the armies fought to take the rampart,
far from the fast ships, Patroclus sat it out
in his friend Eurypylus' shelter . . . 460
trying to lift the soldier's heart with stories,
applying soothing drugs to his dreadful wound
as he sought to calm the black waves of pain.
But soon as he heard the Trojans storm the wall
and shouts rise from Achaeans lost in panic rout,
Patroclus gave a groan and slapping his thighs hard
with the flats of both hands, burst forth in anguish:
"I can't stay here with you any longer, Eurypylus,
much as you need me—there, a great battle breaks!
No, let an aide attend you here while I rush back
to Achilles, spur him into combat. Who knows?
With a god's help I just might rouse him now,
bring his fighting spirit round at last.
The persuasion of a comrade has its nnwerc"
With the last words his feet, sped him on.
Meanwhile the Argives blocked the Trojan assault
but they still could not repel them from the fleet,
outnumbering them as they did. Nor could the Trojans
once break through the Argives' bulking forward mass
and force their passage through to ships and shelters.
Tense as a chalk-line marks the cut of a ship timber,
drawn taut and true in a skilled shipwright's hands—
some master craftsman trained in Athena's school—
so tense the battle line was drawn, dead even . . .
Some forces at some ships, some clashing at others,
but Hector charged head-on at Ajax braced for battle
and both warriors fought it out for a single vessel,
nor could Hector burst through and ignite the hull
nor Ajax drive him back—a god drove Hector on.
And here came Caletor son of Trojan Clytius
sweeping fire against the prow but famous Ajax
stopped him short with a spear that stabbed his chest.
Down he crashed, the torch dropped from his fist,
right before Hector's eyes—he watched his cousin
sprawl in the dust before the huge black ship
and gave a stirring cry to all his units:
"Trojans! Lyciansl Dardan fighters hand-to-hand,
don't yield an inch, not in these bloody straits!
Rescue Caletor before the Argives strip his gear—
he's down, he's dead by the ships that crowd the beach!"
As he raised that
cry he flung his spear at Ajax—
but the glinting metal missed and he hit Mastor's son,
Lycophron, Ajax' friend-in-arms, Cythera-bom
yet he lived with Ajax once he'd killed a man
on Cythera's holy shores. Hector killed him now
with whetted bronze, cleaving his skull above the ear
as he stood by Ajax. Down off the ship's stem he dropped,
his back slamming the ground, his limbs slack in death,
and Ajax shuddered, calling out to his brother,
"Teucer, my friend—our trusted comrade's dead,
Mastor's son who came our way from Cythera.
We lived in our halls together, prized the man
as we prize our beloved parents—Hector's killed him!
Hurry, where are your arrows fletched with death?
Where is the bow that god Apollo gave you?"
Teucer took the
challenge, rushed to his side
and reflex bow in hand and quiver bristling shafts
he loosed a splattering burst against the Trojans.
He picked off Clitus, Pisenor's shining son—
the charioteer to noble Panthous' son Polydamas—
wrestling the reins, struggling to head his horses
straight for the point where most battalions panicked,
eager to please Prince Hector and all his Trojans,
Clitus raced on but his death came even faster.
No one could save him now, strain as they did—
a sudden arrow jabbed him behind the neck,
pierced him with pain and out the car he hurtled—
horses rearing in terror, empty chariot clattering off.
But their master Polydamas marked the kill at once,
ran and planted himself across the horses' path
and handed them on to Protiaon's son Astynous,
shouting strict commands—"Watch my every move!
Keep the team close by!"—then veering away himself,
back again to grapple frontline troops.
quick with his next shaft the archer aimed at Hector,
at Hector's brazen crest, and would have stopped
his assault on Argive ships, hit him squarely
and torn his life out just as his courage peaked.
But he could not dodge the lightning mind of Zeus—
standing guard over Hector
Zeus tore the glory right from Teucer's grasp,
he snapped the twisted cord on his handsome bow
just as the archer drew it taut against his man
and the weighted bronze shaft skittered off to the side,
the bow dropped from his hand and Teucer shuddered,
calling out to his brother, "Oh what luck—look,
some power cuts us out of the fighting, foils our plans!
He's knocked the bow from my grip, snapped the string,
the fresh gut I tied to the weapon just at dawn
to launch the showers of arrows I'd let fly."
"Too bad, my
friend," said Ajax. "Leave them there,
that bow and spill of arrows down on the ground—
a god with a grudge against us wrecks them all.
Take up a long spear, shield on your shoulder,
go for the Trojans, urge your troops to battle.
Maybe they've whipped us here but not without a fight
will they take our benched ships. Call up the joy of war!"
At that his brother
dropped his bow in a shelter,
slung a shield on his shoulder, four plies thick,
over his powerful head he set a well-forged helmet,
the horsehair crest atop it tossing, bristling terror.
And taking a rugged spearshaft tipped with whetted bronze
the archer went on the run to stand by Ajax' side.
But Hector, seeing
Teucer's arrows in disarray,
let fly a resounding shout to all his units:
"Trojans! Lyciansl Dardan fighters hand-to-hand!
Fight like men, my friends, call up your battle-fury—
make for the hollow ships! I see with my own eyes
how Zeus has blocked their finest archer's arrows.
Easy to see what help Zeus lends to mortals,
either to those he gives surpassing glory
or those he saps and wastes, refuses to defend,
just as he wastes the Argives' power but backs us now.
So fight by the ships, all together. And that comrade
who meets his death and destiny, speared or stabbed,
let him die! He dies fighting for fatherland—
no dishonor there!
He'll leave behind him wife and sons unscathed,
his house and estate unharmed—once these Argives
sail for home, the fatherland they love."
That was his
as Hector put fresh fighting spirit in each man.
But Ajax fired the troops on his side too:
"Shame, you Argives! All or nothing now—
die, or live and drive defeat from the ships!
You want this flashing Hector to take the fleet
then each man walk the waves to regain his native land?
Can't you hear him calling his armies on, full force,
this Hector, wild to gut our hulls with fire?
He's not inviting them to a dance, believe me—
he commands them into battle! No better tactics now
than to fight them hand-to-hand with all our fury.
Quick, better to live or die, once and for all,
than die by inches, slowly crushed to.death—
helpless against the hulls in the bloody press—
by far inferior men!"
And that was Ajax' cry
as the giant put fresh fighting spirit in each man.
But Hector cut down Schedius now, Perimedes' son,
a Phocian chieftain—and Ajax killed Laodamas,
captain of infantry, Antenor's splendid son—
and Polydamas killed Cyllenian Otus outright,
Meges' friend, one of the proud Epeans' leaders.
Meges saw him drop, he lunged at Polydamas, fast,
but he ducked and veered away and Meges missed him—
Apollo was not about to let him fall at the front,
not Panthous' son. But Meges did hit Croesmus,
stabbed him square in the chest with a thrusting-lance
and down he crashed—with Meges tearing the armor off his back
as the Trojan Dolops lunged at him. A crack spearman—
Laomedon's grandson, Lampus' big and brawny son,
the strongest he sired, the best trained for assault—
Dolops quickly went for Meges at close range,
he speared his bulging shield
but the solid breastplate warded off the blow
with both plates fitted tight to bind his body.
The gear his father brought from Ephyra once . . .
the Selleis banks where his host the lord Euphetes
gave him that sturdy bronze to wear in battle,
to beat off the bloody attacks of desperate men
and now it saved his son's young flesh from death.
So Meges chopped at the crown of Dolops' bronze helmet,
split its spiny ridge with a sharp cleaving spear
and sheared away its bristling horsehair crest.
Down in the dust the war-gear tumbled, all
still glistening bright in its fresh purple dye
but the man stood his ground, still rearing to fight,
his hopes still soaring for triumph. But now Menelaus,
Atrides out for blood, moved in to fight for Meges—
spear poised in his grip-in from the blind side
and struck from behind the Trojan's shoulder so hard
the spear came jutting out through his chest in all its fury
and Dolops reeled and sank, facedown on the ground.
The two men swarmed over him, ripping the armor
off his back as Hector called his kinsmen on,
all his kinsmen, but marked out Hicetaon's son
the strong Melanippus, railing first at him . . .
He used to graze his shambling herds in Percote,
long ago when the enemy's forces stood far off
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.
But Hector rebuked him now, shouting out his name:
"Melanippus-how can we take things lying down this way?
No qualm in your heart for this? Your cousin's dead!
Can't you see how they're clawing over Dolops' armor?
Follow me now. No more standing back, no fighting
these Argives at a distance—kill them hand-to-hand.
Now-before they topple towering Ilium down,
all our people slaughtered!"
So with a shout
he surged ahead and his gallant cohort followed.
But Great Telamonian Ajax spurred his Argives on:
"Be men, my friends! Discipline fill your hearts!
Dread what comrades say of you here in bloody combat!
When men dread that, more men come through alive—
when soldiers break and run, good-bye glory,
good-bye all defenses!"
Up in arms as they were
to shield themselves, they took his word to heart,
and round the ships they raised a wall of bronze.
But against them Zeus impelled the Trojan ranks
as Menelaus lord of the war cry urged Antilochus,
"None of the younger troops, Antilochus, none
is faster of foot than you or tougher in combat—
why not leap right in and lay some Trojan out?"
Menelaus withdrew as
he drove Antilochus on.
Out of the front he sprang, glaring left and right
and hurled his spear—a glinting brazen streak—
and the Trojans scattered, cringing before his shaft . . .
no wasted shot! Antilochus hit Hicetaon's son,
impetuous Melanippus sweeping into battle,
slashed him across the chest beside the nipple.
Down he crashed and the darkness swirled his eyes
with Antilochus rushing over him like some hound
pouncing down on a deer that's just been wounded—
leaping out of its lair a hunter's speared it,
a lethal hit that's loosed its springy limbs.
So staunch Antilochus leapt at you, Melanippus,
stripping away your gear, but Hector marked it now
and straight through the ruck he charged Antilochus hard.
Quick as that fighter was, he could not hold his ground,
not there—he turned tail and broke like a rogue beast
that's done some serious damage, mauled a dog to death
or a herdsman tending flocks, and takes to his heels
before the gangs of men can group and go against him.
So Antilochus turned and ran as a savage cry went up
and Hector and all his Trojans showered deadly shafts
in hot pursuit, but he wheeled and stood his ground
when he reached his thronging cohorts.
Now to the
now like a pride of man-eating lions the Trojan forces
stormed the fleet, fulfilling Zeus's strict commands
as Zeus kept building their fury higher, stunned
the Argives' spirit and wrenched away their glory,
lashing Trojans on. The Father's will was set
on giving glory over to Hector son of Priam
that he might hurl his torch at the beaked ships—
the force of fire, quenchless, ravening fire, yes,
and bring to its bitter end the disastrous prayer of Thetis.
For that alone he waited, the god who rules the world,
to see with his own eyes the first Achaean ship
go up in a blaze of flames. Then, from that point on
he'd thrust the Trojans breakneck back from the fleet
and give the Argives glory. Dead set now on that,
he drove Prince Hector against the hollow hulls
though the son of Priam raged in his own right,
raged like Ares with brandished spear, or flash fire
roaring down from a ridge into thick stands of timber.
The foam flecked his mouth and his eyes shot flame,
glaring under his shaggy brows and round his head
his helmet shook and clashed, a terrific wild din—
Hector on the attack! And high in the clear sky
Zeus himself defended his champion-Hector alone
he prized and glorified among hordes of men
for Hector's life would be cut short so soon . . .
Why, even now Athena was speeding the fatal day
when he would fall to the power of great Achilles.
But now he was bent on breaking men, probing the lines
wherever he saw the largest mass and the finest gear
but he could not smash through yet for all his fury.
They closed ranks, they packed like a stone wall,
a granite cliff that towers against the churning surf,
standing up to the screaming winds, their sudden assaults
and the breaking waves they spawn that crash against its base—
so the Danaans stood the Trojan onslaught, rock-solid
and never flinched in fear. But Hector all afire,
blazing head to foot, charged at their main force,
bursting down as a wave bursts down on a veering ship,
down from under the clouds it batters, bred by gale-winds—
showers of foam overwhelmm the hull, blot it all from sight,
the hurricane's killing blast thundering into the sails
and scudding clear of death by the skin of their teeth
the sailors quake, their hearts race on with terror—
so the Achaeans' courage quaked. And Hector lunged again
like a murderous lion mad for kills, charging cattle
grazing across the flats of a broad marshy pasture,
flocks by the hundred led by an unskilled herdsman
helpless to keep the marauder off a longhorn heifer—
no fighting that bloody slaughter—all he can do
is keep pace with the lead or straggling heads,
leaving the center free for the big cat's pounce
and it eats a heifer raw as the rest stampede away.
And so the Achaeans stampeded now, unearthly terror,
all of them routed now by Father Zeus and Hector—
though Hector killed just one . . .
Periphetes, a Mycenaean, favorite son of Copreus,
Eurystheus' herald who summoned rugged Heracles
time and again to grinding labors. Copreus, yes,
that worthless father who sired a better son,
better at every skill, primed for speed and war
and his wits outstripped the best in all Mycenae,
but all of it went now to build Prince Hector's glory.
As the Argive spun in retreat his shield-rim tripped him—
down to his feet that shield he bore to keep off spears—
he stumbled over it now, pitched back, helmet clanging
harshly against his brows. as the man hit the ground,
But Hector marked him at once, rushed up to his side
and staked a spear in his chest to kill the fighter
right in the eyes of loyal comrades standing, by.
Sick for their friend but what could they do? Nothing—
just shake with dread in the face of mighty Hector.
Now the Achaeans
milled among the shipways,
shielded round by the looming superstructures,
stem on stern drawn up on the first line inland.
But the Trojans stormed them there and back they fell,
they had no choice, edging away from the front ships
but once at the tents nearby they held their ground,
massing ranks, no scattering back through camp.
Their proud discipline gripped them, terror too—
they rallied each other, nonstop, war cries rising.
Noble Nestor was first, Achaea's watch and ward,
pleading, begging each man for his parents' sake,
"Be men, my friends! Discipline fill your hearts,
maintain your pride in the eyes of other men!
Remember, each of you, sons, wives, wealth, parents—
are mother and father dead or alive? No matter,
I beg you for their sakes, loved ones far away—
now stand and fight, no turning back, no panic."
With that he put new
strength in each man's spirit.
Athena thrust from their eyes the blinding battle-haze,
the darkness sent by the gods, and a hard bright light
burst down in both directions, out to the ships
and down the lines where fighting drew dead even.
Now they could make out Hector lord of the war cry,
all his troops, squads in reserve and clear of battle,
forward squads that fought at the fast trim ships.
could it please his courage still
to hang back now where other Achaeans held the rear?
No more. Up and down the decks of the ships he went
with his great plunging strides, swinging in hand
his enormous polished pike for fights at sea,
clamped with clinchers, twenty-two forearms long.
Ajax skilled as a show-rider, a virtuoso horseman
who picks from the herd four stallions, yokes them tight
and galloping off the plain comes racing toward a large city,
over a trafficked road and the crowds gaze in wonder,
men and women watching, as sure-footed, never a slip,
the rider keeps on leaping, swinging from back to back
and the pounding team flies on. So Ajax swung now,
leaping from deck to deck on the fast trim ships,
ranging with huge strides as his voice hit the skies,
keeping up a terrific bellowing, calling Argives on
to defend the ships and shelters.
And Hector too—
how could he hold back with his massing, armored Trojans?
Now like a flashing eagle swooping down on bird-flocks,
winged thousands feeding, swarming a river's banks,
geese, cranes or swans with their long lancing necks—
so swooping Hector went headfirst at a warship,
charged its purple prow, and Zeus behind him
thrust him on with his mighty, deathless hand,
urging the soldiers on who crowded Hector's back.
And again a
desperate battle broke at the ships.
You'd think they waded into the fighting, fresh troops,
unbruised, unbroken, they fought with such new fire.
And what were the fighters thinking? Only this:
the Argives certain they'd never flee the worst,
they'd perish then and there,
but the hopes soared in every Trojan's heart
to torch the ships and slaughter Argive heroes—
so ran their thoughts, closing for the kill. At last
Hector grappled a ship's stern, a beauty built for speed—
it swept the seas with Protesilaus, bore him to Troy
but never bore him back to his fatherland again.
Now churning round that ship Achaeans and Trojans
hacked each other at close range. No more war at a distance,
waiting to take the long flights of spears and arrows—
they stood there man-to-man and matched their fury,
killing each other now with hatchets, battle-axes,
big swords, two-edged spears, and many a blade,
magnificent, heavy-hilted and thonged in black
lay strewn on the ground-some dropped from hands,
some fell as the fighters' shoulder-straps were cut—
and the earth ran black with blood. And Hector held fast,
he never let go of the high stem, he hugged its horn,
arms locked in a death-grip, crying out to Trojans,
"Bring fire! Up with the war cries, all together!
Now Zeus hands us a day worth all the rest,
today we seize these ships—
they stormed ashore against the will of the gods,
they came here freighted with years of pain for us,
and all thanks to our city elders. What cowards!
Whenever I longed to fight at the ships' high stems
the old men kept me back, they held the troops in check.
Oh but if Zeus's lightning blinded us those days,
it's Zeus who drives us, hurls us on today!"
The harder he
the harder his forces charged against the Argives.
Not even Ajax held his post, no longer now:
forced by the shafts he backed away by inches,
certain he'd die' there-down he leapt from the decks,
down to bestride the seven-foot bridge amidships.
There he stood, tensing, braced to take them on—
his huge pike kept beating the Trojans off the hulls,
any attacker flinging tireless fire, and all the time
that terrible voice of his, bellowing out to cohorts,
"Friends! Fighting Danaans! Aides-in-arms of Ares!
Fight like men, my comrades-call up your battle-fury!
You think we have reserves in the rear to back us up?
Some stronger wall to shield our men from disaster?
No, there's no great citadel standing near with towers
where we could defend ourselves and troops could turn the tide.
No—we're here on the plain of Troy—all Troy's in arms!
Dug in, backs to the sea, land of our fathers far away!
Fight—the light of safety lies in our fighting hands,
not spines gone soft in battle!"
And with each
he thrust his slashing pike with a fresh new fury.
And any Trojan crashing against. the beaked ships,
torch ablaze in hand, straining to please Hector
who urged him on . . . Ajax ready and waiting there
would stab each man with his long, rugged pike—
twelve he impaled point-blank, struggling up the hulls.