The Iliad Of Homer: Translated Into English Blank Verse: Book III.

A poem by William Cowper

Argument Of The Third Book.


The armies meet. Paris throws out a challenge to the Grecian Princes. Menelaus accepts it. The terms of the combat are adjusted solemnly by Agamemnon on the part of Greece, and by Priam on the part of Troy. The combat ensues, in which Paris is vanquished, whom yet Venus rescues. Agamemnon demands from the Trojans a performance of the covenant.



[1]Now marshall'd all beneath their several chiefs,
With deafening shouts, and with the clang of arms,
The host of Troy advanced. Such clang is heard
Along the skies, when from incessant showers
Escaping, and from winter's cold, the cranes
Take wing, and over Ocean speed away;[2]
Wo to the land of dwarfs! prepared they fly
For slaughter of the small Pygmæan race.
Not so the Greeks; they breathing valor came,
But silent all, and all with faithful hearts
On succor mutual to the last, resolved.
As when the south wind wraps the mountain top
In mist the shepherd's dread, but to the thief
Than night itself more welcome, and the eye
Is bounded in its ken to a stone's cast,
Such from beneath their footsteps dun and dense
Uprose the dust, for swift they cross the plain.
When, host to host opposed, full nigh they stood,
Then Alexander[3] in the Trojan van
Advanced was seen, all beauteous as a God;
His leopard's skin, his falchion and his bow
Hung from his shoulder; bright with heads of brass
He shook two spears, and challenged to the fight
The bravest Argives there, defying all.
Him, striding haughtily his host before
When Menelaus saw, such joy he felt
As hunger-pinch'd the lion feels, by chance
Conducted to some carcase huge, wild goat,
Or antler'd stag; huntsmen and baying hounds
Disturb not him, he gorges in their sight.
So Menelaus at the view rejoiced
Of lovely Alexander, for he hoped
His punishment at hand. At once, all armed,
Down from his chariot to the ground he leap'd
When godlike Paris him in front beheld
Conspicuous, his heart smote him, and his fate
Avoiding, far within the lines he shrank.[4]
As one, who in some woodland height descrying
A serpent huge, with sudden start recoils,
His limbs shake under him; with cautious step
He slow retires; fear blanches cold his cheeks;
So beauteous Alexander at the sight
Of Atreus' son dishearten'd sore, the ranks
Of haughty Trojans enter'd deep again:
Him Hector eyed, and thus rebuked severe.
Curst Paris! Fair deceiver! Woman-mad!
I would to all in heaven that thou hadst died
Unborn, at least unmated! happier far
Than here to have incurr'd this public shame!
Well may the Grecians taunt, and laughing loud,
Applaud the champion, slow indeed to fight
And pusillanimous, but wondrous fair.
Wast thou as timid, tell me, when with those
Thy loved companions in that famed exploit,
Thou didst consort with strangers, and convey
From distant lands a warrior's beauteous bride
To be thy father's and his people's curse,
Joy to our foes, but to thyself reproach?
Behold her husband! Darest thou not to face
The warlike prince? Now learn how brave a Chief
Thou hast defrauded of his blooming spouse.
Thy lyre, thy locks, thy person, specious gifts
Of partial Venus, will avail thee nought,
Once mixt by Menelaus with the dust.
But we are base ourselves, or long ago,
For all thy numerous mischiefs, thou hadst slept
Secure beneath a coverlet[5] of stone.[6]
Then godlike Alexander thus replied.
Oh Hector, true in temper as the axe
Which in the shipwright's hand the naval plank
Divides resistless, doubling all his force,
Such is thy dauntless spirit whose reproach
Perforce I own, nor causeless nor unjust.
Yet let the gracious gifts uncensured pass
Of golden Venus; man may not reject
The glorious bounty by the Gods bestow'd,
Nor follows their beneficence our choice.
But if thy pleasure be that I engage
With Menelaus in decision fierce
Of desperate combat bid the host of Troy
And bid the Grecians sit; then face to face
Commit us, in the vacant field between,
To fight for Helen and for all her wealth.
Who strongest proves, and conquers, he, of her
And hers possess'd shall bear them safe away;
While ye (peace sworn and firm accord) shall dwell
At Troy, and these to Argos shall return
And to Achaia praised for women fair.
He ceased, whom Hector heard with joy; he moved
Into the middle space, and with his spear
Advanced athwart push'd back the Trojan van,
And all stood fast. Meantime at him the Greeks
Discharged full volley, showering thick around
From bow and sling;[7] when with a mighty voice
Thus Agamemnon, leader of the host.
Argives! Be still--shoot not, ye sons of Greece!
Hector bespeaks attention. Hear the Chief!
He said, at once the Grecians ceased to shoot,
And all sat silent. Hector then began.
Hear me, ye Trojans, and ye Greeks mail-arm'd,
While I shall publish in your ears the words
Of Alexander, author of our strife.
Trojans, he bids, and Grecians on the field
Their arms dispose; while he, the hosts between,
With warlike Menelaus shall in fight
Contend for Helen, and for all her wealth.
Who strongest proves, and conquers, he, of her
And hers possess'd, shall bear them safe away,
And oaths of amity shall bind the rest.
He ceased, and all deep silence held, amazed;
When valiant Menelaus thus began.
Hear now me also, on whose aching heart
These woes have heaviest fallen. At last I hope
Decision near, Trojans and Greeks between,
For ye have suffer'd in my quarrel much,
And much by Paris, author of the war.
Die he who must, and peace be to the rest.
But ye shall hither bring two lambs, one white,
The other black;[8] this to the Earth devote,
That to the Sun. We shall ourselves supply
A third for Jove. Then bring ye Priam forth,
Himself to swear the covenant, (for his sons
Are faithless) lest the oath of Jove be scorn'd.
Young men are ever of unstable mind;
But when an elder interferes, he views
Future and past together, and insures
The compact, to both parties, uninfringed.
So Menelaus spake; and in all hearts
Awaken'd joyful hope that there should end
War's long calamities. Alighted each,
And drew his steeds into the lines. The field
Glitter'd with arms put off, and side by side,
Ranged orderly, while the interrupted war
Stood front to front, small interval between.
Then Hector to the city sent in haste
Two heralds for the lambs, and to invite
Priam; while Agamemnon, royal Chief,
Talthybius to the Grecian fleet dismiss'd
For a third lamb to Jove; nor he the voice
Of noble Agamemnon disobey'd.
Iris, ambassadress of heaven, the while,
To Helen came. Laödice she seem'd,
Loveliest of all the daughters of the house
Of Priam, wedded to Antenor's son,
King Helicäon. Her she found within,
An ample web magnificent she wove,[9]
Inwrought with numerous conflicts for her sake
Beneath the hands of Mars endured by Greeks
Mail-arm'd, and Trojans of equestrian fame.
Swift Iris, at her side, her thus address'd.
Haste, dearest nymph! a wondrous sight behold!
Greeks brazen-mail'd, and Trojans steed-renown'd.
So lately on the cruel work of Mars
Intent and hot for mutual havoc, sit
Silent; the war hath paused, and on his shield
Each leans, his long spear planted at his side.
Paris and Menelaus, warrior bold,
With quivering lances shall contend for thee,
And thou art his who conquers; his for ever.
So saying, the Goddess into Helen's soul
Sweetest desire infused to see again
Her former Lord, her parents, and her home.
At once o'ermantled with her snowy veil
She started forth, and as she went let fall
A tender tear; not unaccompanied
She went, but by two maidens of her train
Attended, Æthra, Pittheus' daughter fair,
And soft-eyed Clymene. Their hasty steps
Convey'd them quickly to the Scæan gate.
There Priam, Panthous, Clytius, Lampus sat,
Thymoetes, Hicetaon, branch of Mars,
Antenor and Ucalegon the wise,
All, elders of the people; warriors erst,
But idle now through age, yet of a voice
Still indefatigable as the fly's[10]
Which perch'd among the boughs sends forth at noon
Through all the grove his slender ditty sweet.
Such sat those Trojan leaders on the tower,
Who, soon as Helen on the steps they saw,
In accents quick, but whisper'd, thus remark'd.
Trojans and Grecians wage, with fair excuse,
Long war for so much beauty.[11] Oh, how like
In feature to the Goddesses above!
Pernicious loveliness! Ah, hence away,
Resistless as thou art and all divine,
Nor leave a curse to us, and to our sons.
So they among themselves; but Priam call'd
Fair Helen to his side.[12] My daughter dear!
Come, sit beside me. Thou shalt hence discern
Thy former Lord, thy kindred and thy friends.
I charge no blame on thee. The Gods have caused,
Not thou, this lamentable war to Troy.[13]
Name to me yon Achaian Chief for bulk
Conspicuous, and for port. Taller indeed
I may perceive than he; but with these eyes
Saw never yet such dignity, and grace.
Declare his name. Some royal Chief he seems.
To whom thus Helen, loveliest of her sex,
My other Sire! by me for ever held
In reverence, and with filial fear beloved!
Oh that some cruel death had been my choice,
Rather than to abandon, as I did,
All joys domestic, matrimonial bliss,
Brethren, dear daughter, and companions dear,
A wanderer with thy son. Yet I alas!
Died not, and therefore now, live but to weep.
But I resolve thee. Thou behold'st the son
Of Atreus, Agamemnon, mighty king,
In arms heroic, gracious in the throne,
And, (though it shame me now to call him such,)
By nuptial ties a brother once to me.
Then him the ancient King-admiring, said.
Oh blest Atrides, happy was thy birth,
And thy lot glorious, whom this gallant host
So numerous, of the sons of Greece obey!
To vine-famed Phrygia, in my days of youth,
I journey'd; many Phrygians there I saw,
Brave horsemen, and expert; they were the powers
Of Otreus and of Mygdon, godlike Chief,
And on the banks of Sangar's stream encamp'd.
I march'd among them, chosen in that war
Ally of Phrygia, and it was her day
Of conflict with the man-defying race,
The Amazons; yet multitudes like these
Thy bright-eyed Greeks, I saw not even there.
The venerable King observing next
Ulysses, thus inquired. My child, declare
Him also. Shorter by the head he seems
Than Agamemnon, Atreus' mighty son,
But shoulder'd broader, and of ampler chest;
He hath disposed his armor on the plain,
But like a ram, himself the warrior ranks
Ranges majestic; like a ram full-fleeced
By numerous sheep encompass'd snowy-white.
To whom Jove's daughter Helen thus replied.
In him the son of old Laërtes know,
Ulysses; born in Ithaca the rude,
But of a piercing wit, and deeply wise.
Then answer thus, Antenor sage return'd.
Princess thou hast described him: hither once
The noble Ithacan, on thy behalf
Ambassador with Menelaus, came:
Beneath my roof, with hospitable fare
Friendly I entertained them. Seeing then
Occasion opportune, I closely mark'd
The genius and the talents of the Chiefs,
And this I noted well; that when they stood
Amid the assembled counsellors of Troy,
Then Menelaus his advantage show'd,
Who by the shoulders overtopp'd his friend.
But when both sat, Ulysses in his air
Had more of state and dignity than he.
In the delivery of a speech address'd
To the full senate, Menelaus used
Few words, but to the matter, fitly ranged,
And with much sweetness utter'd; for in loose
And idle play of ostentatious terms
He dealt not, though he were the younger man.
But when the wise Ulysses from his seat
Had once arisen, he would his downcast eyes
So rivet on the earth, and with a hand
That seem'd untutor'd in its use, so hold
His sceptre, swaying it to neither side,
That hadst thou seen him, thou hadst thought him, sure,
Some chafed and angry idiot, passion-fixt.
Yet, when at length, the clear and mellow base
Of his deep voice brake forth, and he let fall
His chosen words like flakes of feather'd snow,
None then might match Ulysses; leisure, then,
Found none to wonder at his noble form.
The third of whom the venerable king
Inquired, was Ajax.--Yon Achaian tall,
Whose head and shoulders tower above the rest,
And of such bulk prodigious--who is he?
Him answer'd Helen, loveliest of her sex.
A bulwark of the Greeks. In him thou seest
Gigantic Ajax. Opposite appear
The Cretans, and among the Chiefs of Crete
stands, like a God, Idomeneus. Him oft
From Crete arrived, was Menelaüs wont
To entertain; and others now I see,
Achaians, whom I could recall to mind,
And give to each his name; but two brave youths
I yet discern not; for equestrian skill
One famed, and one a boxer never foiled;
My brothers; born of Leda; sons of Jove;
Castor and Pollux. Either they abide
In lovely Sparta still, or if they came,
Decline the fight, by my disgrace abash'd
And the reproaches which have fallen on me.[14]
She said; but they already slept inhumed
In Lacedemon, in their native soil.
And now the heralds, through the streets of Troy
Charged with the lambs, and with a goat-skin filled
With heart-exhilarating wine prepared
For that divine solemnity, return'd.
Idæus in his hand a beaker bore
Resplendent, with its fellow cups of gold,
And thus he summon'd ancient Priam forth.
Son of Laömedon, arise. The Chiefs
Call thee, the Chiefs of Ilium and of Greece.
Descend into the plain. We strike a truce,
And need thine oath to bind it. Paris fights
With warlike Menelaüs for his spouse;
Their spears decide the strife. The conqueror wins
Helen and all her treasures. We, thenceforth,
(Peace sworn and amity) shall dwell secure
In Troy, while they to Argos shall return
And to Achaia praised for women fair.
He spake, and Priam, shuddering, bade his train
Prepare his steeds; they sedulous obey'd.
First, Priam mounting, backward stretch'd the reins;
Antenor, next, beside him sat, and through
The Scæan gate they drove into the plain.
Arriving at the hosts of Greece and Troy
They left the chariot, and proceeded both
Into the interval between the hosts.
Then uprose Agamemnon, and uprose
All-wise Ulysses. Next, the heralds came
Conspicuous forward, expediting each
The ceremonial; they the beaker fill'd
With wine, and to the hands of all the kings
Minister'd water. Agamemnon then
Drawing his dagger which he ever bore
Appendant to his heavy falchion's sheath,
Cut off the forelocks of the lambs,[15] of which
The heralds gave to every Grecian Chief
A portion, and to all the Chiefs of Troy.
Then Agamemnon raised his hands, and pray'd.
Jove, Father, who from Ida stretchest forth
Thine arm omnipotent, o'erruling all,
And thou, all-seeing and all-hearing Sun,
Ye Rivers, and thou conscious Earth, and ye
Who under earth on human kind avenge
Severe, the guilt of violated oaths,
Hear ye, and ratify what now we swear!
Should Paris slay the hero amber-hair'd,
My brother Menelaüs, Helen's wealth
And Helen's self are his, and all our host
Shall home return to Greece; but should it chance
That Paris fall by Menelaüs' hand,
Then Troy shall render back what she detains,
With such amercement as is meet, a sum
To be remember'd in all future times.
Which penalty should Priam and his sons
Not pay, though Paris fall, then here in arms
I will contend for payment of the mulct
My due, till, satisfied, I close the war.
He said, and with his ruthless steel the lambs
Stretch'd panting all, but soon they ceased to pant,
For mortal was the stroke.[16] Then drawing forth
Wine from the beaker, they with brimming cups
Hail'd the immortal Gods, and pray'd again,
And many a Grecian thus and Trojan spake.
All-glorious Jove, and ye the powers of heaven,
Whoso shall violate this contract first,
So be the brains of them and of their sons
Pour'd out, as we this wine pour on the earth,
And may their wives bring forth to other men!
So they: but them Jove heard not. Then arose
Priam, the son of Dardanus, and said,
Hear me, ye Trojans and ye Greeks well-arm'd.
Hence back to wind-swept Ilium I return,
Unable to sustain the sight, my son
With warlike Menelaüs match'd in arms.
Jove knows, and the immortal Gods, to whom
Of both, this day is preordain'd the last.
So spake the godlike monarch, and disposed
Within the royal chariot all the lambs;
Then, mounting, check'd the reins; Antenor next
Ascended, and to Ilium both return'd.
First, Hector and Ulysses, noble Chief,
Measured the ground; then taking lots for proof
Who of the combatants should foremost hurl
His spear, they shook them in a brazen casque;
Meantime the people raised their hands on high,
And many a Grecian thus and Trojan prayed.
Jove, Father, who on Ida seated, seest
And rulest all below, glorious in power!
Of these two champions, to the drear abodes
Of Ades him appoint who furnish'd first
The cause of strife between them, and let peace
Oath-bound, and amity unite the rest!
So spake the hosts; then Hector shook the lots,
Majestic Chief, turning his face aside.
Forth sprang the lot of Paris. They in ranks
Sat all, where stood the fiery steeds of each,
And where his radiant arms lay on the field.
Illustrious Alexander his bright arms
Put on, fair Helen's paramour. [17]He clasp'd
His polish'd greaves with silver studs secured;
His brother's corselet to his breast he bound,
Lycaon's, apt to his own shape and size,
And slung athwart his shoulders, bright emboss'd,
His brazen sword; his massy buckler broad
He took, and to his graceful head his casque
Adjusted elegant, which, as he moved,
Its bushy crest waved dreadful; last he seized,
Well fitted to his gripe, his ponderous spear.
Meantime the hero Menelaüs made
Like preparation, and his arms put on.
When thus, from all the multitude apart,
Both combatants had arm'd, with eyes that flash'd
Defiance, to the middle space they strode,
Trojans and Greeks between. Astonishment
Seized all beholders. On the measured ground
Full near they stood, each brandishing on high
His massy spear, and each was fiery wroth.
First, Alexander his long-shadow'd spear
Sent forth, and on his smooth shield's surface struck
The son of Atreus, but the brazen guard
Pierced not, for at the disk, with blunted point
Reflex, his ineffectual weapon stay'd.
Then Menelaüs to the fight advanced
Impetuous, after prayer offer'd to Jove.[18]
King over all! now grant me to avenge
My wrongs on Alexander; now subdue
The aggressor under me; that men unborn
May shudder at the thought of faith abused,
And hospitality with rape repaid.
He said, and brandishing his massy spear,
Dismiss'd it. Through the burnish'd buckler broad
Of Priam's son the stormy weapon flew,
Transpierced his costly hauberk, and the vest
Ripp'd on his flank; but with a sideward bend
He baffled it, and baulk'd the dreadful death.
Then Menelaüs drawing his bright blade,
Swung it aloft, and on the hairy crest
Smote him; but shiver'd into fragments small
The falchion at the stroke fell from his hand.
Vexation fill'd him; to the spacious heavens
He look'd, and with a voice of wo exclaim'd--
Jupiter! of all powers by man adored
To me most adverse! Confident I hoped
Revenge for Paris' treason, but my sword
Is shivered, and I sped my spear in vain.
So saying, he sprang on him, and his long crest
Seized fast; then, turning, drew him by that hold
Toward the Grecian host. The broider'd band
That underbraced his helmet at the chin,
Strain'd to his smooth neck with a ceaseless force,
Chok'd him; and now had Menelaus won
Deathless renown, dragging him off the field,
But Venus, foam-sprung Goddess, feeling quick
His peril imminent, snapp'd short the brace
Though stubborn, by a slaughter'd[19] ox supplied,
And the void helmet follow'd as he pull'd.
That prize the Hero, whirling it aloft,
Threw to his Greeks, who caught it and secured,
Then with vindictive strides he rush'd again
On Paris, spear in hand; but him involved
In mist opaque Venus with ease divine
Snatch'd thence, and in his chamber placed him, fill'd
With scents odorous, spirit-soothing sweets.
Nor stay'd the Goddess, but at once in quest
Of Helen went; her on a lofty tower
She found, where many a damsel stood of Troy,
And twitch'd her fragrant robe. In form she seem'd
An ancient matron, who, while Helen dwelt
In Lacedæmon, her unsullied wool
Dress'd for her, faithfullest of all her train.
Like her disguised the Goddess thus began.
Haste--Paris calls thee--on his sculptured couch,
(Sparkling alike his looks and his attire)
He waits thy wish'd return. Thou wouldst not dream
That he had fought; he rather seems prepared
For dance, or after dance, for soft repose.
So saying, she tumult raised in Helen's mind.
Yet soon as by her symmetry of neck,
By her love-kindling breasts and luminous eyes
She knew the Goddess, her she thus bespake.
Ah whence, deceitful deity! thy wish
Now to ensnare me? Wouldst thou lure me, say,
To some fair city of Mæonian name
Or Phrygian, more remote from Sparta still?
Hast thou some human favorite also there?
Is it because Atrides hath prevailed
To vanquish Paris, and would bear me home
Unworthy as I am, that thou attempt'st
Again to cheat me? Go thyself--sit thou
Beside him--for his sake renounce the skies;
Watch him, weep for him; till at length his wife
He deign to make thee, or perchance his slave.
I go not (now to go were shame indeed)
To dress his couch; nor will I be the jest
Of all my sex in Ilium. Oh! my griefs
Are infinite, and more than I can bear.
To whom, the foam-sprung Goddess, thus incensed.
Ah wretch! provoke not me; lest in my wrath
Abandoning thee, I not hate thee less
Than now I fondly love thee, and beget
Such detestation of thee in all hearts,
Grecian and Trojan, that thou die abhorr'd.
The Goddess ceased. Jove's daughter, Helen, fear'd,
And, in her lucid veil close wrapt around,
Silent retired, of all those Trojan dames
Unseen, and Venus led, herself, the way.
Soon then as Alexander's fair abode
They reach'd, her maidens quick their tasks resumed,
And she to her own chamber lofty-roof'd
Ascended, loveliest of her sex. A seat
For Helen, daughter of Jove Ægis-arm'd,
To Paris opposite, the Queen of smiles
Herself disposed; but with averted eyes
She sat before him, and him keen reproach'd.
Thou hast escaped.--Ah would that thou hadst died
By that heroic arm, mine husband's erst!
Thou once didst vaunt thee in address and strength
Superior. Go then--challenge yet again
The warlike Menelaüs forth in fight.
But hold. The hero of the amber locks
Provoke no more so rashly, lest the point
Of his victorious spear soon stretch thee dead.
She ended, to whom Paris thus replied.
Ah Helen, wound me not with taunt severe!
Me, Menelaüs, by Minerva's aid,
Hath vanquish'd now, who may hereafter, him.
We also have our Gods. But let us love.
For never since the day when thee I bore
From pleasant Lacedæmon o'er the waves
To Cranäe's fair isle, and first enjoy'd
Thy beauty, loved I as I love thee now,
Or felt such sweetness of intense desire.
He spake, and sought his bed, whom follow'd soon
Jove's daughter, reconciled to his embrace.
But Menelaüs like a lion ranged
The multitude, inquiring far and near
For Paris lost. Yet neither Trojan him

Nor friend of Troy could show, whom, else, through love
None had conceal'd, for him as death itself
All hated, but his going none had seen.
Amidst them all then spake the King of men.
Trojans, and Dardans, and allies of Troy!
The warlike Menelaüs hath prevailed,
As is most plain. Now therefore bring ye forth
Helen with all her treasures, also bring
Such large amercement as is meet, a sum
To be remember'd in all future times.
So spake Atrides, and Achaia's host
With loud applause confirm'd the monarch's claim.

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