The Iliad

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Book XIX


As Dawn rose up in her golden robe from Ocean's tides,
bringing light to immortal gods and mortal men,
Thetis sped Hephaestus' gifts to the ships.
She found her beloved son lying facedown,
embracing Patroclus' body, sobbing, wailing,
and. round him crowded troops of mourning comrades.
And the glistening goddess moved among them now,
seized Achilles' hand and urged him, spoke his name:
"My child, leave your friend to lie there dead—
we must, though it breaks our hearts . . .
The will of the gods has crushed him once for all.
But here, Achilles, accept this glorious armor, look,
a gift from the god of fire—burnished bright, finer
than any mortal has ever borne across his back!"
the goddess laid the armor down at Achilles' feet



and the gear clashed out in all its blazoned glory.
A tremor ran through all the Myrmidon ranks—none dared
to look straight at the glare, each fighter shrank away.
Not Achilles. The more he gazed, the deeper his anger went,
his eyes flashing under his eyelids, fierce as fire—
exulting, holding the god's shining gifts in his hands.
And once he'd thrilled his heart with looking hard
at the armor's well-wrought beauty,
he turned to his mother, winged words flying:
"Mother—armor sent by the god—you're right,
only immortal gods could forge such work,
no man on earth could ever bring it off!
Now, by heaven, I'll arm and go to war,
But all the while my blood runs cold with fear—
Menoetius' fighting son . . . the carrion blowflies
will settle into his wounds, gouged deep by the bronze,
worms will breed and seethe, defile the man's corpse—
his life's ripped out—his flesh may rot to nothing."


      But glistening-footed Thetis reassured him:
"O my child, wipe these worries from your mind.
I'll find a way to protect him from those swarms,
the vicious flies that devour men who fall in battle.
He could lie there dead till a year has run its course
and his flesh still stand firm, even fresher than now . . .
So go and call the Argive warriors to the muster:
renounce your rage at the proud commander Agamemnon,
then arm for battle quickly, don your fighting power!"


      With that she breathed in her son tremendous courage
then instilled in Patroclus' nostrils fresh ambrosia,
blood-red nectar too, to make his flesh stand firm.


      But brilliant Achilles strode along the surf,
crying his piercing cry and roused Achaean warriors.
Even those who'd kept to the beached ships till now,
the helmsmen who handled the heavy steering-oars
and stewards left on board to deal out rations—
even they trooped to the muster: great Achilles
who held back from the brutal fighting so long
had just come blazing forth.
And along came two aides of Ares limping in,
the battle-hard Tydides flanked by good Odysseus
leaning on their spears, still bearing painful wounds,
and slowly found their seats in the front ranks.
And the lord of men Agamemnon came in last of all,
weighed down by the wound he took in the rough charge
when Coon, son of Anterior, slashed his arm with bronze.
And now, as all the Achaean armies massed together,
the swift runner Achilles rose among them, asking,
"Agamemnon—was it better for both of us, after all,
for you and me to rage at each other, raked by anguish,
consumed by heartsick strife, all for a young girl?
If only Arternis had cut her down at the ships—
with one quick shaft—
that day I destroyed Lyrnessus, chose her as my prize.
How many fewer friends had gnawed the dust of the wide world,
brought down by enemy hands while I raged on and on.
Better? Yes—for Hector and Hector's Trojans!
Not for the Argives. For years to come, I think,
they will remember the feud that flared between us both.
Enough. Let bygones be bygones. Done is done.
Despite my anguish I will beat it down,
the fury mounting inside me, down by force.
Now, by god, I call a halt to all my anger—
it's wrong to keep on raging, heart inflamed forever.
Quickly, drive our long-haired Achaeans to battle now!
So I can go at the Trojans once again and test their strength
and see if they still long to camp the night at the ships.
They'll gladly sink to a knee and rest at home, I'd say—
whoever comes through alive from the heat of combat,
out from under my spear!"
                                                  Welcome, rousing words,
and Achaeans-at-arms roared out with joy to hear
the greathearted Achilles swearing off his rage.
Now it was King Agamemnon's turn to. address them.
He rose from his seat, not moving toward the center.
The lord of men spoke out from where he stood:
"My friends, fighting Danaans, aides of Ares . . .
when a man stands up to speak, it's well to listen.
Not to interrupt him, the only courteous thing.
Even the finest speaker finds intrusions hard.
Yet how can a person hear or say a word?—
this howling din could drown the clearest voice.
But I will declare my inmost feelings to Achilles.
And you, the rest of you Argives, listen closely:
every man of you here, mark each word I say.
Often the armies brought this matter up against me—
they would revile me in public. But I am not to blame!
Zeus and Fate and the Fury stalking through the night,
they are the ones who drove that savage madness in my heart,
that day in assembly when I seized Achilles' prize—
on my own authority, true, but what could I do?
A god impels all things to their fulfillment:
Ruin, eldest daughter of Zeus, she blinds us all,
that fatal madness—she with those delicate feet of hers,
never touching the earth, gliding over the heads of men
to trap us all. She entangles one man, now another.
Why, she and her frenzy blinded Zeus one time,
highest, greatest of men and gods, they say:
even Father Zeus! Hera deceived him blind—
feminine as she is, and only armed with guile—
that day in Thebes, ringed with tower on tower,
Alcmena was poised to bear invincible Heracles.
So the proud Father declared to all immortals,
'Hear me, all you gods and all goddesses too,
as I proclaim what's brooding deep inside me.
Today the goddess of birth pangs and labor
will bring to light a human child, a man-child
born of the stock of men who spring from my blood,
one who will lord it over all who dwell around him.'
But teeming with treachery noble Hera set her trap,
'You will prove a liar . . .
when the time arrives to crown your words with action.
Come now, my Olympian, swear your inviolate oath
that he shall lord it over all who dwell around him—
that child who drops between a woman's knees today,
born of the stock of men who spring from Zeus's blood.'
And Zeus suspected nothing, not a word of treachery.
He swore his mighty oath—blinded, from that hour on.
Speeding down in a flash from Mount Olympus' summit
Hera reached Achaean Argos in no time, where,
she knew for a fact, the hardy wife of Sthenelus,
Perseus' own son, was about to bear her child,
but only seven months gone. So into the light
Queen Hera brought the baby, two months shy,
and the goddess stopped Alcmena's hour of birth,
she held back the Lady of Labor's birthing pangs
and rushed in person to give the word to Zeus:
'Zeus, Father, lord of the lightning bolt—
here is a piece of news to warm your heart!
Today an illustrious son is born to rulee the Argives . . .
Eurystheus, son of Sthenelus, descended of Perseus—
so he is born of your own stock and immortal blood
and it's only right for him to rule the Argivest'
With that, a stab of agony struck his deep heart.
Suddenly seizing Ruin by her glossy oiled braids—
he was furious, raging—now he swore his inviolate oath
that never again would she return to Olympus' starry skies,
that maddening goddess, Ruin, Ruin who blinds us all.
With that he whirled her round in his massive hand
and flung her out of the brilliant, starry skies
and she soon found herself in the world of men.
But Zeus could never think of Ruin without a groan
whenever he saw Heracles, his own dear son endure
some shameful labor Eurystheus forced upon him.


      And so with me, I tell you!
When tall Hector with that flashing helmet of his
kept slaughtering Argives pinned against our ships—
how could I once forget that madness, that frenzy,
the Ruin that blinded me from that first day?
But since I was blinded and Zeus stole my wits,
I am intent on setting things to rights, at once:
I'11 give that priceless ransom paid for friendship.
Gear up for battle now! And rouse the rest of your armies!
As for the gifts, here I am to produce them all,
all that good Odysseus promised you in full,
the other day, when he approached your tents.
Or if you prefer, hold off a moment now . . .
much as your heart would spur you on to war.
Aides will fetch that treasure trove from my ship,
they'll bring it here to you, so you can behold
what hoards I'll give to set your heart at peace."


      But the swift runner Achilles broke in sharply—
"Field marshal Atrides, lord of men Agamemnon,
produce the gifts if you like, as you see fit,
or keep them back, it's up to you. But now—
quickly, call up the wild joy of war at once!
It's wrong to malinger here with talk, wasting time—
our great work lies all before us, still to do.
Just as you see Achilles charge the front once more,
hurling his bronze spear, smashing Troy's battalions—
so each of you remember to battle down your man!"


      But Odysseus fine at tactics answered firmly,
"Not so quickly, brave as you are, godlike Achilles.
Achaea's troops are hungry: don't drive them against- Troy
to fight the Trojans. It's no quick skirmish shaping,
once the massed formations of men begin to clash
with a god breathing fury in both sides at once.
No, command them now to take their food and wine
by the fast ships—a soldier's strength and nerve.
No fighter can battle all day long, cut-and-thrust
till the sun goes down, if he is starved for food.
Even though his courage may blaze up for combat,
his limbs will turn to lead before he knows it,
thirst and hunger will overtake him quickly,
his knees will cave in as the man struggles on.
But the one who takes his fill of food and wine
before he grapples enemies full force, dawn to dusk—
the heart in his chest keeps pounding fresh with courage,
nor do his legs give out till all break off from battle.
Come, dismiss your ranks, have them make their meal.
As for the gifts, let the king of men Agamemnon
have the lot of them hauled amidst our muster,
so all the troops can see the trove themselves
and you, Achilles, you can warm your heart.
And let the king stand up before the entire army,
let Agamemnon swear to you his solemn, binding oath:
he never mounted her bed, never once made love with her,
the natural thing, my lord, men and women joined.
And you, Achilles, show some human kindness too,
in your own heart. Then, as a peace offering,
let him present you a lavish feast in his tents
so you won't lack your just deserts at last.
And you, great son of Atreus . . .
you be more just to others, from now on.
It is no disgrace for a king to appease a man
when the king himself was first to give offense."


      The lord of men Agamemnon answered warmly,
"Son of Laertes, I delight to hear your counsel!
You have covered it all fairly, point by point.
I'll gladly swear your oath—the spirit moves me now—
nor will I break that oath in the eyes of any god.
But let Achilles remain here, for the moment,
much as his heart would race him into war.
The rest remain here too, all in strict formation,
till the treasure trove is hauled forth from my tents
and we can seal our binding oaths in blood.
And you, Odysseus, I tell you, I command you:
pick out young men, the best in our joint forces,
bring forth the gifts from my ship, all we promised
Achilles just the other day, and bring the women too.
Here in the presence of our united armed contingents
let Talthybius quickly prepare a wild boar for me—
we must sacrifice to the Sun and Father Zeus."


      But the swift runner Achilles interjected,
"Field marshal Atrides, lord of men Agamemnon,
better busy yourself with that some other time,
when a sudden lull in the fighting lets us rest
and the fury's not such fire inside my heart.
Now our men are lying mauled on the field—
all that Hector the son of Priam overwhelmed
when Zeus was handing Hector his high glory—
but you, you and Odysseus urge us to a banquet!
I, by god, I'd drive our Argives into battle now,
starving, famished, and only then, when the sun goes down,
lay on a handsome feast—once we've avenged our shame.
Before then, for me at least, neither food nor drink
will travel down my throat, not with my friend dead,
there in my shelter, torn to shreds by the sharp bronze . . .
His feet turned to the door, stretched out for burial,
round him comrades mourning.
                                                            You talk of food?
I have no taste for food—what I really crave
is slaughter and blood and the choking groans of men!"


      But Odysseus, cool tactician, tried to calm him:
"Achilles, son of Peleus, greatest of the Achaeans,
greater than I, stronger with spears by no small edge—
yet I might just surpass you in seasoned judgment
by quite a lot, since I have years on you
and I know the world much better . . .
So let your heart be swayed by what I say,
Now fighting men will sicken of battle quickly:
the more dead husks the bronze strews on the ground
the sparser the harvest then, when Zeus almighty
tips his scales and the tide of battle turns—
the great steward on high who rules our mortal wars.
You want the men to grieve for the dead by starving?
Impossible. Too many falling, day after day—battalions!
When could we find a breathing space from fasting?
No. We must steel our hearts. Bury our dead,
with tears for the day they die, not one day more.
And all those left alive, after the hateful carnage,
remember food and drink—so all the more fiercely
we can fight our enemies, nonstop, no mercy,
durable as the bronze that wraps our bodies.
Let no one hold back now, waiting further summons—
these are your summons: pain and death to the man
who skulks beside the ships! Now, all in a mass,
drive hard against them—rousing battering war
against these stallion-breaking Trojans!"
                                                  He led an escort
formed of the brave old soldier Nestor's sons,
Meges the son of Phyleus, Meriones and Thoas,
Lycomedes the son of Creon, Melanippus too.
Off they went to the tents of Agamemnon—
a few sharp commands and the work was done.
Seven tripods hauled from the tents, as promised,
twenty burnished cauldrons, a dozen massive stallions.
They quickly brought out women, flawless, skilled in crafts,
seven, and Briseis in all her beauty made the eighth.
Then Odysseus weighed out ten full bars of gold
and led the princes back, laden with other gifts,
and they set them down amid the meeting grounds.
Agamemnon rose to his feet.
The crier Talthybius, his voice clear as a god's,
holding the boar in his arms, flanked the great commander.
And Atreus' son drew forth the dagger always slung
at his battle-sword's big sheath, he cut some hairs
from the boar's head, first tufts to start the rite,
and lifting up his arms to Zeus on high he prayed
while the armies held fast to their seats in silence,
all by rank and file, listening to their king.
He scanned the vaulting skies as his voice rang in prayer:
"Zeus be my witness first, the highest, best of gods!
Then Earth, the Sun, and Furies stalking the world below
to wreak revenge on the dead who broke their oaths—
I swear I never laid a hand on the girl Briseis,
I never forced her to serve my lust in bed
or perform some other task . . .
Briseis remained untouched within my tents.
True. If a word of what I say is falsely sworn,
may the gods deal out such blows to me, such agonies
as they deal out to the men who break sworn oaths
and take their names in vain!"
                                                            On those terms
he dragged his ruthless dagger across the boar's throat.
Talthybius whirled the carcass round about his head
and slung it into the yawning gulf of the gray sea
for swarming fish to eat. Then Prince Achilles stood
and addressed the Argives keen for battle: "Father Zeus—
great are the blinding frenzies you deal out to men!
If not, I swear, Atrides could never have roused
the fury in me, the rage that would not die,
or wrenched the girl away against my will—
stubborn, implacable man. But Zeus, somehow,
was bent on this awesome slaughter of Achaeans.
Go now, take your meal-the sooner to bring on war."


      This brusque command dispersed the muster quickly.
The contingents scattered, each to its own ship.
Exultant Myrmidons took charge of the gifts
and bore them off to their royal captain's moorings.
They stowed them safe in his shelters, settled the women
and proud henchmen drove the teams to his herds.


      And so Briseis returned, like golden Aphrodite,
but when she saw Patroclus lying torn by the bronze
she flung herself on his body, gave a piercing cry
and with both hands clawing deep at her breasts,
her soft throat and lovely face, she sobbed,
a woman like a goddess in her grief, "Patroclus—
dearest joy of my heart, my harrowed, broken heart!
I left you alive that day I left these shelters,
now I come back to find you fallen, captain of armies!
So grief gives way to grief, my life one endless sorrow!
The husband to whom my father and noble mother gave me,
I saw him torn by the sharp bronze before our city,
and my three brothers—a single mother bore us:
my brothers, how I loved you!—
you all went down to death on the same day .. .
But you, Patroclus, you would not let me weep,
not when the swift Achilles cut my husband down,
not when he plundered the lordly Mynes' city—
not even weep! No, again and again you vowed
you'd make me godlike Achilles' lawful, wedded wife,
you would sail me west in your warships, home to Phthia
and there with the Myrmidons hold my marriage feast.
So now I mourn your death—I will never stop—
you were always kind."
                                        Her voice, rang out in tears
and the women wailed in answer, grief for Patroclus
calling forth each woman's private sorrows.
But Achaea's warlords clustered round Achilles,
begging him to eat. He only spurned them, groaning,
"I beg you—if any comrade will hear me out in this—
stop pressing me now to glut myself with food and drink,
now such painful grief has come and struck my heartl
I'll hold out till the sun goes down-enduring—
fasting-despite your appeals."
                                                  His voice so firm
that Achilles caused the other kings to scatter.
But the two Atridae stayed, and good Odysseus,
Nestor, Idomeneus, Phoenix the old charioteer,
all trying to comfort Achilles deep in sorrow.
But no comfort could reach the fighter's heart
till he went striding into the jaws of bloody war.
The memories swept over him . . .
sighs heaved from his depths as Achilles burst forth,
"Ah god, time and again, my doomed, my dearest friend,
you would set before us a seasoned meal yourself,
here in our tents, in your quick and expert way,
when Argive forces rushed to fight the Trojans,
stampeding those breakers of horses into rout.
But now you lie before me, hacked to pieces here
while the heart within me fasts from food and drink
though stores inside are full—
                                        I'm sick with longing for you!
There is no more shattering blow that I could suffer.
Not even if I should learn of my own father's death,
who, this moment, is weeping warm tears in Phthia,
I know it, bereft of a son as loved as this . . .
and here I am in a distant land, fighting Trojans,
and all for that blood-chilling horror, Helen!—
or the death of any dear son, reared for me in Scyros,
if Prince Neoptolemus is still among the living.
Till now I'd hoped, hoped with all my heart
that I alone would die
far from the stallion-land of Argos, here in Troy,
but you, Patroclus, would journey back to Phthia
and then you'd ferry Neoptolemus home from Scyros,
fast in your black ship, and show him all my wealth,
my servingmen, my great house with the high vaulting roof.
For father, I fear—if he's not dead and buried yet—
just clings, perhaps, to his last breath of life,
ground down now by the hateful siege of years,
waiting, day after day, for painful news of me—
until he learns his only son is dead."


      His voice rang out in tears and the warlords mourned in answer,
each remembering those he had left behind at home.
Seeing their grief the Father, filled with pity,
quickly turned to Athena with winging words:
"My child, have you abandoned him forever?
Your favorite man of war. Is it all lost now?—
no more care for Achilles left inside your heart?
There he huddles before his curving, beaked ships,
racked with grief for his dear friend while others scatter,
settling down to their meal. He's fasting, never fed.
Go. Run and instill some nectar and sweet ambrosia
deep within his chest. Stave off his hunger now."


      So he urged Athena already poised for action.
Down the sky she swooped through the clear bright air
like a shrieking, sharp-winged hawk, and while Achaeans
quickly armed throughout the encampment, she instilled
some nectar and sweet ambrosia deep in Achilles' chest
so the stabbing pangs of hunger could not sap his knees.
Then back to her mighty Father's sturdy halls she went
as troops moved out, pouring out of the fast trim ships.
Thick-and-fast as the snow comes swirling down from Zeus,
frozen sharp when the North Wind born in heaven blasts it on—
so massed, so dense the glistening burnished helmets shone,
streaming out of the ships, and shields with jutting bosses,
breastplates welded front and back and the long ashen spears.
The glory of armor lit the skies and the whole earth laughed,
rippling under the glitter of bronze, thunder resounding
under trampling feet of armies. And in their midst
the brilliant Achilles began to arm for battle . . .
A sound of grinding came from the fighter's teeth,
his eyes blazed forth in searing points of fire,
unbearable grief came surging through his heart
and now, bursting with rage against the men of Troy,
he donned Hephaestus' gifts—magnificent armor
the god of fire forged with all his labor.
First he wrapped his legs with well-made greaves,
fastened behind his heels with silver ankle-clasps,
next he strapped the breastplate round his chest
then over his shoulder Achilles slung his sword,
the fine bronze blade with its silver-studded hilt,
then hoisted the massive shield flashing far and wide
like a full round moon—and gleaming bright as the light
that reaches sailors out at sea, the flare of a watchfire
burning strong in a lonely sheepfold up some mountain slope
when the gale-winds hurl the crew that fights against them
far over the fish-swarming sea, far from loved ones—
so the gleam from Achilles' well-wrought blazoned shield
shot up and hit the skies. Then lifting his rugged helmet
he set it down on his brows, and the horsehair crest
shone like a star and the waving golden plumes shook
that Hephaestus drove in bristling thick along its ridge.
And brilliant Achilles tested himself in all his gear,
Achilles spun on his heels to see if it fitted tightly,
see if his shining limbs ran free within it, yes,
and it felt like buoyant wings lifting the great captain.
And then, last, Achilles drew his father's spear
from its socket-stand—weighted, heavy, tough.
No other Achaean fighter could heft that shaft,
only Achilles had the skill to wield it well:
Pelian ash it was, a gift to his father Peleus
presented by Chiron once, hewn on Pelion's crest
to be the death of heroes.
                                                  Now the war-team—
Alcimus and Automedon worked to yoke them quickly.
They cinched the supple breast-straps round their chests
and driving the bridle irons home between their jaws,
pulled the reins back taut to the bolted chariot.
Seizing a glinting whip, his fist on the handgrip,
Automedon leapt aboard behind the team and behind him
Achilles struck his stance, helmed for battle now,
glittering in his armor like the sun astride the skies,
his ringing, daunting voice commanding his father's horses:
"Roan Beauty and Charger, illustrious foals of Lightfoot!
Try hard, do better this time—bring your charioteer
back home alive to his waiting Argive comrades
once we're through with fighting. Don't leave Achilles
there on the battlefield as you left Patroclus—dead!"


      And Roan Beauty the horse with flashing hoofs
spoke up from under the yoke, bowing his head low
so his full mane came streaming down the yoke-pads,
down along the yoke to sweep the ground . . .
The white-armed goddess Hera gave him voice:
"Yes! we will save your life—this time too—
master, mighty Achilles! But the day of death
already hovers near, and we are not to blame
but a great god is and the strong force of fate.
Not through our want of speed or any lack of care
did the Trojans strip the armor off Patroclus' back.
It was all that matchless god, sleek-haired Leto's son—
he killed him among the champions and handed Hector glory.
Our team could race with the rush of the West Wind,
the strongest, swiftest blast on earth, men say—
still you are doomed to die by force, Achilles,
cut down by a deathless god and mortal man!"


      He said no more. The Furies struck him dumb.
But the fiery runner Achilles burst out in anger,
"Why, Roan Beauty—why prophesy myy doom?
Don't waste your breath. I know, well I know—
I am destined to die here, far from my dear father,
far from mother. But all the same I will never stop
till I drive the Trojans to their bloody fill of war!"


A high stabbing cry—
and out in the front ranks he drove his plunging stallions.


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