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The Iliad: Book 19 Analysis



Author: poem of Homer Type: poem Views: 2

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  Now when Dawn in robe of saffron was hasting from the streams of

Oceanus, to bring light to mortals and immortals, Thetis reached the

ships with the armour that the god had given her. She found her son

fallen about the body of Patroclus and weeping bitterly. Many also

of his followers were weeping round him, but when the goddess came

among them she clasped his hand in her own, saying, "My son, grieve as

we may we must let this man lie, for it is by heaven's will that he

has fallen; now, therefore, accept from Vulcan this rich and goodly

armour, which no man has ever yet borne upon his shoulders."

  As she spoke she set the armour before Achilles, and it rang out

bravely as she did so. The Myrmidons were struck with awe, and none

dared look full at it, for they were afraid; but Achilles was roused

to still greater fury, and his eyes gleamed with a fierce light, for

he was glad when he handled the splendid present which the god had

made him. Then, as soon as he had satisfied himself with looking at

it, he said to his mother, "Mother, the god has given me armour,

meet handiwork for an immortal and such as no living could have

fashioned; I will now arm, but I much fear that flies will settle upon

the son of Menoetius and breed worms about his wounds, so that his

body, now he is dead, will be disfigured and the flesh will rot."

  Silver-footed Thetis answered, "My son, be not disquieted about this

matter. I will find means to protect him from the swarms of noisome

flies that prey on the bodies of men who have been killed in battle.

He may lie for a whole year, and his flesh shall still be as sound

as ever, or even sounder. Call, therefore, the Achaean heroes in

assembly; unsay your anger against Agamemnon; arm at once, and fight

with might and main."

  As she spoke she put strength and courage into his heart, and she

then dropped ambrosia and red nectar into the wounds of Patroclus,

that his body might suffer no change.

  Then Achilles went out upon the seashore, and with a loud cry called

on the Achaean heroes. On this even those who as yet had stayed always

at the ships, the pilots and helmsmen, and even the stewards who

were about the ships and served out rations, all came to the place

of assembly because Achilles had shown himself after having held aloof

so long from fighting. Two sons of Mars, Ulysses and the son of

Tydeus, came limping, for their wounds still pained them; nevertheless

they came, and took their seats in the front row of the assembly. Last

of all came Agamemnon, king of men, he too wounded, for Coon son of

Antenor had struck him with a spear in battle.

  When the Achaeans were got together Achilles rose and said, "Son

of Atreus, surely it would have been better alike for both you and me,

when we two were in such high anger about Briseis, surely it would

have been better, had Diana's arrow slain her at the ships on the

day when I took her after having sacked Lyrnessus. For so, many an

Achaean the less would have bitten dust before the foe in the days

of my anger. It has been well for Hector and the Trojans, but the

Achaeans will long indeed remember our quarrel. Now, however, let it

be, for it is over. If we have been angry, necessity has schooled

our anger. I put it from me: I dare not nurse it for ever;

therefore, bid the Achaeans arm forthwith that I may go out against

the Trojans, and learn whether they will be in a mind to sleep by

the ships or no. Glad, I ween, will he be to rest his knees who may

fly my spear when I wield it."

  Thus did he speak, and the Achaeans rejoiced in that he had put away

his anger.

  Then Agamemnon spoke, rising in his place, and not going into the

middle of the assembly. "Danaan heroes," said he, "servants of Mars,

it is well to listen when a man stands up to speak, and it is not

seemly to interrupt him, or it will go hard even with a practised

speaker. Who can either hear or speak in an uproar? Even the finest

orator will be disconcerted by it. I will expound to the son of

Peleus, and do you other Achaeans heed me and mark me well. Often have

the Achaeans spoken to me of this matter and upbraided me, but it

was not I that did it: Jove, and Fate, and Erinys that walks in

darkness struck me mad when we were assembled on the day that I took

from Achilles the meed that had been awarded to him. What could I

do? All things are in the hand of heaven, and Folly, eldest of

Jove's daughters, shuts men's eyes to their destruction. She walks

delicately, not on the solid earth, but hovers over the heads of men

to make them stumble or to ensnare them.

  "Time was when she fooled Jove himself, who they say is greatest

whether of gods or men; for Juno, woman though she was, beguiled him

on the day when Alcmena was to bring forth mighty Hercules in the fair

city of Thebes. He told it out among the gods saying, 'Hear me all

gods and goddesses, that I may speak even as I am minded; this day

shall an Ilithuia, helper of women who are in labour, bring a man

child into the world who shall be lord over all that dwell about him

who are of my blood and lineage.' Then said Juno all crafty and full

of guile, 'You will play false, and will not hold to your word.

Swear me, O Olympian, swear me a great oath, that he who shall this

day fall between the feet of a woman, shall be lord over all that

dwell about him who are of your blood and lineage.'

  "Thus she spoke, and Jove suspected her not, but swore the great

oath, to his much ruing thereafter. For Juno darted down from the high

summit of Olympus, and went in haste to Achaean Argos where she knew

that the noble wife of Sthenelus son of Perseus then was. She being

with child and in her seventh month, Juno brought the child to birth

though there was a month still wanting, but she stayed the offspring

of Alcmena, and kept back the Ilithuiae. Then she went to tell Jove

the son of Saturn, and said, 'Father Jove, lord of the lightning- I

have a word for your ear. There is a fine child born this day,

Eurystheus, son to Sthenelus the son of Perseus; he is of your

lineage; it is well, therefore, that he should reign over the

Argives.'

  "On this Jove was stung to the very quick, and in his rage he caught

Folly by the hair, and swore a great oath that never should she

again invade starry heaven and Olympus, for she was the bane of all.

Then he whirled her round with a twist of his hand, and flung her down

from heaven so that she fell on to the fields of mortal men; and he

was ever angry with her when he saw his son groaning under the cruel

labours that Eurystheus laid upon him. Even so did I grieve when

mighty Hector was killing the Argives at their ships, and all the time

I kept thinking of Folly who had so baned me. I was blind, and Jove

robbed me of my reason; I will now make atonement, and will add much

treasure by way of amends. Go, therefore, into battle, you and your

people with you. I will give you all that Ulysses offered you

yesterday in your tents: or if it so please you, wait, though you

would fain fight at once, and my squires shall bring the gifts from my

ship, that you may see whether what I give you is enough."

  And Achilles answered, "Son of Atreus, king of men Agamemnon, you

can give such gifts as you think proper, or you can withhold them:

it is in your own hands. Let us now set battle in array; it is not

well to tarry talking about trifles, for there is a deed which is as

yet to do. Achilles shall again be seen fighting among the foremost,

and laying low the ranks of the Trojans: bear this in mind each one of

you when he is fighting."

  Then Ulysses said, "Achilles, godlike and brave, send not the

Achaeans thus against Ilius to fight the Trojans fasting, for the

battle will be no brief one, when it is once begun, and heaven has

filled both sides with fury; bid them first take food both bread and

wine by the ships, for in this there is strength and stay. No man

can do battle the livelong day to the going down of the sun if he is

without food; however much he may want to fight his strength will fail

him before he knows it; hunger and thirst will find him out, and his

limbs will grow weary under him. But a man can fight all day if he

is full fed with meat and wine; his heart beats high, and his strength

will stay till he has routed all his foes; therefore, send the

people away and bid them prepare their meal; King Agamemnon will bring

out the gifts in presence of the assembly, that all may see them and

you may be satisfied. Moreover let him swear an oath before the

Argives that he has never gone up into the couch of Briseis, nor

been with her after the manner of men and women; and do you, too, show

yourself of a gracious mind; let Agamemnon entertain you in his

tents with a feast of reconciliation, that so you may have had your

dues in full. As for you, son of Atreus, treat people more righteously

in future; it is no disgrace even to a king that he should make amends

if he was wrong in the first instance."

  And King Agamemnon answered, "Son of Laertes, your words please me

well, for throughout you have spoken wisely. I will swear as you would

have me do; I do so of my own free will, neither shall I take the name

of heaven in vain. Let, then, Achilles wait, though he would fain

fight at once, and do you others wait also, till the gifts come from

my tent and we ratify the oath with sacrifice. Thus, then, do I charge

you: take some noble young Achaeans with you, and bring from my

tents the gifts that I promised yesterday to Achilles, and bring the

women also; furthermore let Talthybius find me a boar from those

that are with the host, and make it ready for sacrifice to Jove and to

the sun."

  Then said Achilles, "Son of Atreus, king of men Agamemnon, see to

these matters at some other season, when there is breathing time and

when I am calmer. Would you have men eat while the bodies of those

whom Hector son of Priam slew are still lying mangled upon the

plain? Let the sons of the Achaeans, say I, fight fasting and

without food, till we have avenged them; afterwards at the going

down of the sun let them eat their fill. As for me, Patroclus is lying

dead in my tent, all hacked and hewn, with his feet to the door, and

his comrades are mourning round him. Therefore I can take thought of

nothing save only slaughter and blood and the rattle in the throat

of the dying."

  Ulysses answered, "Achilles, son of Peleus, mightiest of all the

Achaeans, in battle you are better than I, and that more than a

little, but in counsel I am much before you, for I am older and of

greater knowledge. Therefore be patient under my words. Fighting is

a thing of which men soon surfeit, and when Jove, who is wars steward,

weighs the upshot, it may well prove that the straw which our

sickles have reaped is far heavier than the grain. It may not be

that the Achaeans should mourn the dead with their bellies; day by day

men fall thick and threefold continually; when should we have

respite from our sorrow? Let us mourn our dead for a day and bury them

out of sight and mind, but let those of us who are left eat and

drink that we may arm and fight our foes more fiercely. In that hour

let no man hold back, waiting for a second summons; such summons shall

bode ill for him who is found lagging behind at our ships; let us

rather sally as one man and loose the fury of war upon the Trojans."

  When he had thus spoken he took with him the sons of Nestor, with

Meges son of Phyleus, Thoas, Meriones, Lycomedes son of Creontes,

and Melanippus, and went to the tent of Agamemnon son of Atreus. The

word was not sooner said than the deed was done: they brought out

the seven tripods which Agamemnon had promised, with the twenty

metal cauldrons and the twelve horses; they also brought the women

skilled in useful arts, seven in number, with Briseis, which made

eight. Ulysses weighed out the ten talents of gold and then led the

way back, while the young Achaeans brought the rest of the gifts,

and laid them in the middle of the assembly.

  Agamemnon then rose, and Talthybius whose voice was like that of a

god came to him with the boar. The son of Atreus drew the knife

which he wore by the scabbard of his mighty sword, and began by

cutting off some bristles from the boar, lifting up his hands in

prayer as he did so. The other Achaeans sat where they were all silent

and orderly to hear the king, and Agamemnon looked into the vault of

heaven and prayed saying, "I call Jove the first and mightiest of

all gods to witness, I call also Earth and Sun and the Erinyes who

dwell below and take vengeance on him who shall swear falsely, that

I have laid no hand upon the girl Briseis, neither to take her to my

bed nor otherwise, but that she has remained in my tents inviolate. If

I swear falsely may heaven visit me with all the penalties which it

metes out to those who perjure themselves."

  He cut the boar's throat as he spoke, whereon Talthybius whirled

it round his head, and flung it into the wide sea to feed the

fishes. Then Achilles also rose and said to the Argives, "Father Jove,

of a truth you blind men's eyes and bane them. The son of Atreus had

not else stirred me to so fierce an anger, nor so stubbornly taken

Briseis from me against my will. Surely Jove must have counselled

the destruction of many an Argive. Go, now, and take your food that we

may begin fighting."

  On this he broke up the assembly, and every man went back to his own

ship. The Myrmidons attended to the presents and took them away to the

ship of Achilles. They placed them in his tents, while the

stable-men drove the horses in among the others.

  Briseis, fair as Venus, when she saw the mangled body of

Patroclus, flung herself upon it and cried aloud, tearing her

breast, her neck, and her lovely face with both her hands. Beautiful

as a goddess she wept and said, "Patroclus, dearest friend, when I

went hence I left you living; I return, O prince, to find you dead;

thus do fresh sorrows multiply upon me one after the other. I saw

him to whom my father and mother married me, cut down before our city,

and my three own dear brothers perished with him on the self-same day;

but you, Patroclus, even when Achilles slew my husband and sacked

the city of noble Mynes, told me that I was not to weep, for you

said you would make Achilles marry me, and take me back with him to

Phthia, we should have a wedding feast among the Myrmidons. You were

always kind to me and I shall never cease to grieve for you."

  She wept as she spoke, and the women joined in her lament-making

as though their tears were for Patroclus, but in truth each was

weeping for her own sorrows. The elders of the Achaeans gathered round

Achilles and prayed him to take food, but he groaned and would not

do so. "I pray you," said he, "if any comrade will hear me, bid me

neither eat nor drink, for I am in great heaviness, and will stay

fasting even to the going down of the sun."

  On this he sent the other princes away, save only the two sons of

Atreus and Ulysses, Nestor, Idomeneus, and the knight Phoenix, who

stayed behind and tried to comfort him in the bitterness of his

sorrow: but he would not be comforted till he should have flung

himself into the jaws of battle, and he fetched sigh on sigh, thinking

ever of Patroclus. Then he said-

  "Hapless and dearest comrade, you it was who would get a good dinner

ready for me at once and without delay when the Achaeans were

hasting to fight the Trojans; now, therefore, though I have meat and

drink in my tents, yet will I fast for sorrow. Grief greater than this

I could not know, not even though I were to hear of the death of my

father, who is now in Phthia weeping for the loss of me his son, who

am here fighting the Trojans in a strange land for the accursed sake

of Helen, nor yet though I should hear that my son is no more- he

who is being brought up in Scyros- if indeed Neoptolemus is still

living. Till now I made sure that I alone was to fall here at Troy

away from Argos, while you were to return to Phthia, bring back my son

with you in your own ship, and show him all my property, my

bondsmen, and the greatness of my house- for Peleus must surely be

either dead, or what little life remains to him is oppressed alike

with the infirmities of age and ever present fear lest he should

hear the sad tidings of my death."

  He wept as he spoke, and the elders sighed in concert as each

thought on what he had left at home behind him. The son of Saturn

looked down with pity upon them, and said presently to Minerva, "My

child, you have quite deserted your hero; is he then gone so clean out

of your recollection? There he sits by the ships all desolate for

the loss of his dear comrade, and though the others are gone to

their dinner he will neither eat nor drink. Go then and drop nectar

and ambrosia into his breast, that he may know no hunger."

  With these words he urged Minerva, who was already of the same mind.

She darted down from heaven into the air like some falcon sailing on

his broad wings and screaming. Meanwhile the Achaeans were arming

throughout the host, and when Minerva had dropped nectar and

ambrosia into Achilles so that no cruel hunger should cause his

limbs to fail him, she went back to the house of her mighty father.

Thick as the chill snow-flakes shed from the hand of Jove and borne on

the keen blasts of the north wind, even so thick did the gleaming

helmets, the bossed shields, the strongly plated breastplates, and the

ashen spears stream from the ships. The sheen pierced the sky, the

whole land was radiant with their flashing armour, and the sound of

the tramp of their treading rose from under their feet. In the midst

of them all Achilles put on his armour; he gnashed his teeth, his eyes

gleamed like fire, for his grief was greater than he could bear. Thus,

then, full of fury against the Trojans, did he don the gift of the

god, the armour that Vulcan had made him.

  First he put on the goodly greaves fitted with ancle-clasps, and

next he did on the breastplate about his chest. He slung the

silver-studded sword of bronze about his shoulders, and then took up

the shield so great and strong that shone afar with a splendour as

of the moon. As the light seen by sailors from out at sea, when men

have lit a fire in their homestead high up among the mountains, but

the sailors are carried out to sea by wind and storm far from the

haven where they would be- even so did the gleam of Achilles' wondrous

shield strike up into the heavens. He lifted the redoubtable helmet,

and set it upon his head, from whence it shone like a star, and the

golden plumes which Vulcan had set thick about the ridge of the

helmet, waved all around it. Then Achilles made trial of himself in

his armour to see whether it fitted him, so that his limbs could

play freely under it, and it seemed to buoy him up as though it had

been wings.

  He also drew his father's spear out of the spear-stand, a spear so

great and heavy and strong that none of the Achaeans save only

Achilles had strength to wield it; this was the spear of Pelian ash

from the topmost ridges of Mt. Pelion, which Chiron had once given

to Peleus, fraught with the death of heroes. Automedon and Alcimus

busied themselves with the harnessing of his horses; they made the

bands fast about them, and put the bit in their mouths, drawing the

reins back towards the chariot. Automedon, whip in hand, sprang up

behind the horses, and after him Achilles mounted in full armour,

resplendent as the sun-god Hyperion. Then with a loud voice he

chided with his father's horses saying, "Xanthus and Balius, famed

offspring of Podarge- this time when we have done fighting be sure and

bring your driver safely back to the host of the Achaeans, and do

not leave him dead on the plain as you did Patroclus."

  Then fleet Xanthus answered under the yoke- for white-armed Juno had

endowed him with human speech- and he bowed his head till his mane

touched the ground as it hung down from under the yoke-band. "Dread

Achilles," said he, "we will indeed save you now, but the day of

your death is near, and the blame will not be ours, for it will be

heaven and stern fate that will destroy you. Neither was it through

any sloth or slackness on our part that the Trojans stripped Patroclus

of his armour; it was the mighty god whom lovely Leto bore that slew

him as he fought among the foremost, and vouchsafed a triumph to

Hector. We two can fly as swiftly as Zephyrus who they say is fleetest

of all winds; nevertheless it is your doom to fall by the hand of a

man and of a god."

  When he had thus said the Erinyes stayed his speech, and Achilles

answered him in great sadness, saying, "Why, O Xanthus, do you thus

foretell my death? You need not do so, for I well know that I am to

fall here, far from my dear father and mother; none the more, however,

shall I stay my hand till I have given the Trojans their fill of

fighting."

  So saying, with a loud cry he drove his horses to the front.





Translated by Samuel Butler






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