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

A poem by William Cowper

Argument Of The Seventh Book.


Ajax and Hector engage in single combat. The Grecians fortify their camp.



So saying, illustrious Hector through the gates
To battle rush'd, with Paris at his side,
And both were bent on deeds of high renown.
As when the Gods vouchsafe propitious gales
To longing mariners, who with smooth oars
Threshing the waves have all their strength consumed,
So them the longing Trojans glad received.
At once each slew a Grecian. Paris slew
Menesthius who in Arna dwelt, the son
Of Areithoüs, club-bearing chief,
And of Philomedusa radiant-eyed.
But Hector wounded with his glittering spear
Eïoneus; he pierced his neck beneath
His brazen morion's verge, and dead he fell.
Then Glaucus, leader of the Lycian host,
Son of Hippolochus, in furious fight
Iphinoüs son of Dexias assail'd,
Mounting his rapid mares, and with his lance
His shoulder pierced; unhorsed he fell and died.
Such slaughter of the Grecians in fierce fight
Minerva noting, from the Olympian hills
Flew down to sacred Ilium; whose approach
Marking from Pergamus, Apollo flew
To meet her, ardent on the part of Troy.
Beneath the beech they join'd, when first the King,
The son of Jove, Apollo thus began.
Daughter of Jove supreme! why hast thou left
Olympus, and with such impetuous speed?
Comest thou to give the Danaï success
Decisive? For I know that pity none
Thou feel'st for Trojans, perish as they may
But if advice of mine can influence thee
To that which shall be best, let us compose
This day the furious fight which shall again
Hereafter rage, till Ilium be destroy'd.
Since such is Juno's pleasure and thy own.
Him answer'd then Pallas cærulean-eyed.
Celestial archer! be it so. I came
Myself so purposing into the field
From the Olympian heights. But by what means
Wilt thou induce the warriors to a pause?
To whom the King, the son of Jove, replied.
The courage of equestrian Hector bold
Let us excite, that he may challenge forth
To single conflict terrible some chief
Achaian. The Achaians brazen-mail'd
Indignant, will supply a champion soon
To combat with the noble Chief of Troy.
So spake Apollo, and his counsel pleased
Minerva; which when Helenus the seer,
Priam's own son, in his prophetic soul
Perceived, approaching Hector, thus he spake.
Jove's peer in wisdom, Hector, Priam's son!
I am thy brother. Wilt thou list to me?
Bid cease the battle. Bid both armies sit.
Call first, thyself, the mightiest of the Greeks
To single conflict. I have heard the voice
Of the Eternal Gods, and well-assured
Foretell thee that thy death not now impends.
He spake, whom Hector heard with joy elate.
Before his van striding into the space
Both hosts between, he with his spear transverse[1]
Press'd back the Trojans, and they sat. Down sat
The well-greaved Grecians also at command
Of Agamemnon; and in shape assumed
Of vultures, Pallas and Apollo perch'd
High on the lofty beech sacred to Jove
The father Ægis-arm'd; delighted thence
They view'd the peopled plain horrent around
With shields and helms and glittering spears erect.
As when fresh-blowing Zephyrus the flood
Sweeps first, the ocean blackens at the blast,
Such seem'd the plain whereon the Achaians sat
And Trojans, whom between thus Hector spake.
Ye Trojans and Achaians brazen-greaved,
Attend while I shall speak! Jove high-enthroned
Hath not fulfill'd the truce, but evil plans
Against both hosts, till either ye shall take
Troy's lofty towers, or shall yourselves in flight
Fall vanquish'd at your billow-cleaving barks.
With you is all the flower of Greece.[2] Let him
Whose heart shall move him to encounter sole
Illustrious Hector, from among you all
Stand forth, and Jove be witness to us both.
If he, with his long-pointed lance, of life
Shall me bereave, my armor is his prize,
Which he shall hence into your fleet convey;
Not so my body; that he shall resign
For burial to the men and wives of Troy.
But if Apollo make the glory mine,
And he fall vanquish'd, him will I despoil,
And hence conveying into sacred Troy
His arms, will in the temple hang them high[3]
Of the bow-bender God, but I will send
His body to the fleet, that him the Greeks
May grace with rights funereal. On the banks
Of wide-spread Hellespont ye shall upraise
His tomb, and as they cleave with oary barks
The sable deep, posterity shall say--
"It is a warrior's tomb; in ancient days
The Hero died; him warlike Hector slew."
So men shall speak hereafter, and my fame
Who slew him, and my praise, shall never die.
He ceased, and all sat mute. His challenge bold
None dared accept, which yet they blush'd to shun,
Till Menelaus, at the last, arose
Groaning profound, and thus reproach'd the Greeks.
Ah boasters! henceforth women--men no more--
Eternal shame, shame infinite is ours,
If none of all the Grecians dares contend
With Hector. Dastards--deaf to glory's call--
Rot where ye sit! I will myself take arms
Against him, for the gods alone dispose,
At their own pleasure, the events of war.
He ended, and put on his radiant arms.
Then, Menelaus, manifest appear'd
Thy death approaching by the dreadful hands
Of Hector, mightier far in arms than thou,
But that the Chiefs of the Achaians all
Upstarting stay'd thee, and himself the King,
The son of Atreus, on thy better hand
Seizing affectionate, thee thus address'd.
Thou ravest, my royal brother! and art seized
With needless frenzy. But, however chafed,
Restrain thy wrath, nor covet to contend
With Priameian Hector, whom in fight
All dread, a warrior thy superior far.
Not even Achilles, in the glorious field
(Though stronger far than thou) this hero meets
Undaunted. Go then, and thy seat resume
In thy own band; the Achaians shall for him,
Doubtless, some fitter champion furnish forth.
Brave though he be, and with the toils of war
Insatiable, he shall be willing yet,
Seated on his bent knees, to breathe a while,
Should he escape the arduous brunt severe.
So saying, the hero by his counsel wise
His brother's purpose alter'd; he complied,
And his glad servants eased him of his arms.
Then Nestor thus the Argive host bespake.
Great wo, ye Gods! hath on Achaia fallen.
Now may the warlike Pelaus, hoary Chief,
Who both with eloquence and wisdom rules
The Myrmidons, our foul disgrace deplore.
With him discoursing, erst, of ancient times,
When all your pedigrees I traced, I made
His heart bound in him at the proud report.
But now, when he shall learn how here we sat
Cowering at the foot of Hector, he shall oft
His hands uplift to the immortal Gods,
Praying a swift release into the shades.
Jove! Pallas! Phoebus! Oh that I were young
As when the Pylians in fierce fight engaged
The Arcadians spear-expert, beside the stream
Of rapid Celadon! Beneath the walls
We fought of Pheia, where the Jardan rolls.
There Ereuthalion, Chief of godlike form,
Stood forth before his van, and with loud voice
Defied the Pylians. Arm'd he was in steel
By royal Areïthous whilom worn;
Brave Areïthous, Corynetes[4] named
By every tongue; for that in bow and spear
Nought trusted he, but with an iron mace
The close-embattled phalanx shatter'd wide.
Him by address, not by superior force,
Lycurgus vanquish'd, in a narrow pass,
Where him his iron whirl-bat[5] nought avail'd.
Lycurgus stealing on him, with his lance
Transpierced and fix'd him to the soil supine.
Him of his arms, bright gift of brazen Mars,
He stripp'd, which after, in the embattled field
Lycurgus wore himself, but, growing old,
Surrender'd them to Ereuthalion's use
His armor-bearer, high in his esteem,
And Ereuthalion wore them on the day
When he defied our best. All hung their heads
And trembled; none dared meet him; till at last
With inborn courage warm'd, and nought dismayed,
Though youngest of them all, I undertook
That contest, and, by Pallas' aid, prevail'd.
I slew the man in height and bulk all men
Surpassing, and much soil he cover'd slain.
Oh for the vigor of those better days!
Then should not Hector want a champion long,
Whose call to combat, ye, although the prime
And pride of all our land, seem slow to hear.
He spake reproachful, when at once arose
Nine heroes. Agamemnon, King of men,
Foremost arose; then Tydeus' mighty son,
With either Ajax in fierce prowess clad;
The Cretan next, Idomeneus, with whom
Uprose Meriones his friend approved,
Terrible as the man-destroyer Mars.
Evæmon's noble offspring next appear'd
Eurypylus; Andræmon's son the next
Thoas; and last, Ulysses, glorious Chief.
All these stood ready to engage in arms
With warlike Hector, when the ancient King,
Gerenian Nestor, thus his speech resumed.
Now cast the lot for all. Who wins the chance
Shall yield Achaia service, and himself
Serve also, if successful he escape
This brunt of hostile hardiment severe.
So Nestor. They, inscribing each his lot,
Into the helmet cast it of the son
Of Atreus, Agamemnon. Then the host
Pray'd all, their hands uplifting, and with eyes
To the wide heavens directed, many said[6]--
Eternal sire! choose Ajax, or the son
Of Tydeus, or the King himself[7] who sways
The sceptre in Mycenæ wealth-renown'd!
Such prayer the people made; then Nestor shook
The helmet, and forth leaped, whose most they wished,
The lot of Ajax. Throughout all the host
To every chief and potentate of Greece,
From right to left the herald bore the lot
By all disown'd; but when at length he reach'd
The inscriber of the lot, who cast it in,
Illustrious Ajax, in his open palm
The herald placed it, standing at his side.
He, conscious, with heroic joy the lot
Cast at his foot, and thus exclaim'd aloud.
My friends! the lot is mine,[8] and my own heart
Rejoices also; for I nothing doubt
That noble Hector shall be foil'd by me.
But while I put mine armor on, pray all
In silence to the King Saturnian Jove,
Lest, while ye pray, the Trojans overhear.
Or pray aloud, for whom have we to dread?

No man shall my firm standing by his strength
Unsettle, or for ignorance of mine
Me vanquish, who, I hope, brought forth and train'd
In Salamis, have, now, not much to learn.
He ended. They with heaven-directed eyes
The King in prayer address'd, Saturnian Jove.
Jove! glorious father! who from Ida's height
Controlest all below, let Ajax prove
Victorious; make the honor all his own!
Or, if not less than Ajax, Hector share
Thy love and thy regard, divide the prize
Of glory, and let each achieve renown!
Then Ajax put his radiant armor on,
And, arm'd complete, rush'd forward. As huge Mars
To battle moves the sons of men between
Whom Jove with heart-devouring thirst inspires
Of war, so moved huge Ajax to the fight,
Tower of the Greeks, dilating with a smile
His martial features terrible; on feet,
Firm-planted, to the combat he advanced
Stride after stride, and shook his quivering spear.
Him viewing, Argos' universal host
Exulted, while a panic loosed the knees
Of every Trojan; even Hector's heart
Beat double, but escape for him remain'd
None now, or to retreat into his ranks
Again, from whom himself had challenged forth.
Ajax advancing like a tower his shield
Sevenfold, approach'd. It was the labor'd work
Of Tychius, armorer of matchless skill,
Who dwelt in Hyla; coated with the hides
Of seven high-pamper'd bulls that shield he framed
For Ajax, and the disk plated with brass.
Advancing it before his breast, the son
Of Telamon approach'd the Trojan Chief,
And face to face, him threatening, thus began.
Now, Hector, prove, by me alone opposed,
What Chiefs the Danaï can furnish forth
In absence of the lion-hearted prince
Achilles, breaker of the ranks of war.
He, in his billow-cleaving barks incensed
Against our leader Agamemnon, lies;
But warriors of my measure, who may serve
To cope with thee, we want not; numerous such
Are found amongst us. But begin the fight.
To whom majestic Hector fierce in arms.
Ajax! heroic leader of the Greeks!
Offspring of Telamon! essay not me
With words to terrify, as I were boy.
Or girl unskill'd in war;[9] I am a man
Well exercised in battle, who have shed
The blood of many a warrior, and have learn'd,
From hand to hand shifting my shield, to fight
Unwearied; I can make a sport of war,
In standing fight adjusting all my steps
To martial measures sweet, or vaulting light
Into my chariot, thence can urge the foe.
Yet in contention with a Chief like thee
I will employ no stratagem, or seek
To smite thee privily, but with a stroke
(If I may reach thee) visible to all.
So saying, he shook, then hurl'd his massy spear
At Ajax, and his broad shield sevenfold
On its eighth surface of resplendent brass
Smote full; six hides the unblunted weapon pierced,
But in the seventh stood rooted. Ajax, next,
Heroic Chief, hurl'd his long shadow'd spear
And struck the oval shield of Priam's son.
Through his bright disk the weapon tempest-driven
Glided, and in his hauberk-rings infixt
At his soft flank, ripp'd wide his vest within.
Inclined oblique he 'scaped the dreadful doom
Then each from other's shield his massy spear
Recovering quick, like lions hunger-pinch'd
Or wild boars irresistible in force,
They fell to close encounter. Priam's son
The shield of Ajax at its centre smote,
But fail'd to pierce it, for he bent his point.
Sprang Ajax then, and meeting full the targe
Of Hector, shock'd him; through it and beyond
He urged the weapon with its sliding edge
Athwart his neck, and blood was seen to start.
But still, for no such cause, from battle ceased
Crest-tossing Hector, but retiring, seized
A huge stone angled sharp and black with age
That on the champain lay. The bull-hide guard
Sevenfold of Ajax with that stone he smote
Full on its centre; sang the circling brass.
Then Ajax far a heavier stone upheaved;
He whirled it, and with might immeasurable
Dismiss'd the mass, which with a mill-stone weight
Sank through the shield of Hector, and his knees
Disabled; with his shield supine he fell,
But by Apollo raised, stood soon again.
And now, with swords they had each other hewn,
Had not the messengers of Gods and men
The heralds wise, Idæus on the part
Of Ilium, and Talthybius for the Greeks,
Advancing interposed. His sceptre each
Between them held, and thus Idæus spake.[10]
My children, cease! prolong not still the fight.
Ye both are dear to cloud-assembler Jove,
Both valiant, and all know it. But the Night
Hath fallen, and Night's command must be obeyed.
To him the son of Telamon replied.
Idæus! bid thy master speak as thou.
He is the challenger. If such his choice,
Mine differs not; I wait but to comply.
Him answer'd then heroic Hector huge.
Since, Ajax, the immortal powers on thee
Have bulk pre-eminent and strength bestow'd,
With such address in battle, that the host
Of Greece hath not thine equal at the spear,
Now let the combat cease. We shall not want
More fair occasion; on some future day
We will not part till all-disposing heaven
Shall give thee victory, or shall make her mine.
But Night hath fallen, and Night must be obey'd,
That them may'st gratify with thy return
The Achaians, and especially thy friends
And thy own countrymen. I go, no less
To exhilarate in Priam's royal town
Men and robed matrons, who shall seek the Gods
For me, with pious ceremonial due.
But come. We will exchange, or ere we part,
Some princely gift, that Greece and Troy may say
Hereafter, with soul-wasting rage they fought,
But parted with the gentleness of friends.
So saying, he with his sheath and belt a sword
Presented bright-emboss'd, and a bright belt
Purpureal[11] took from Ajax in return.
Thus separated, one the Grecians sought,
And one the Trojans; they when him they saw
From the unconquer'd hands return'd alive
Of Ajax, with delight their Chief received,
And to the city led him, double joy
Conceiving all at his unhoped escape.
On the other side, the Grecians brazen-mail'd
To noble Agamemnon introduced
Exulting Ajax, and the King of men
In honor of the conqueror slew an ox
Of the fifth year to Jove omnipotent.
Him flaying first, they carved him next and spread
The whole abroad, then, scoring deep the flesh,
They pierced it with the spits, and from the spits
(Once roasted well) withdrew it all again.
Their labor thus accomplish'd, and the board
Furnish'd with plenteous cheer, they feasted all
Till all were satisfied; nor Ajax miss'd
The conqueror's meed, to whom the hero-king
Wide-ruling Agamemnon, gave the chine[12]
Perpetual,[13] his distinguish'd portion due.
The calls of hunger and of thirst at length
Both well sufficed, thus, foremost of them all
The ancient Nestor, whose advice had oft
Proved salutary, prudent thus began.
Chiefs of Achaia, and thou, chief of all,
Great Agamemnon! Many of our host
Lie slain, whose blood sprinkles, in battle shed,
The banks of smooth Scamander, and their souls
Have journey'd down into the realms of death.
To-morrow, therefore, let the battle pause
As need requires, and at the peep of day
With mules and oxen, wheel ye from all parts
The dead, that we may burn them near the fleet.
So, home to Greece returning, will we give
The fathers' ashes to the children's care.
Accumulating next, the pile around,
One common tomb for all, with brisk dispatch
We will upbuild for more secure defence
Of us and of our fleet, strong towers and tall
Adjoining to the tomb, and every tower
Shall have its ponderous gate, commodious pass
Affording to the mounted charioteer.
And last, without those towers and at their foot,
Dig we a trench, which compassing around
Our camp, both steeds and warriors shall exclude,
And all fierce inroad of the haughty foe.
So counsell'd he, whom every Chief approved.
In Troy meantime, at Priam's gate beside
The lofty citadel, debate began
The assembled senators between, confused,
Clamorous, and with furious heat pursued,
When them Antenor, prudent, thus bespake.
Ye Trojans, Dardans, and allies of Troy,
My counsel hear! Delay not. Instant yield
To the Atridæ, hence to be convey'd,
Helen of Greece with all that is her own.
For charged with violated oaths we fight,
And hope I none conceive that aught by us
Design'd shall prosper, unless so be done.
He spake and sat; when from his seat arose
Paris, fair Helen's noble paramour,
Who thus with speech impassion'd quick replied.
Antenor! me thy counsel hath not pleased;
Thou could'st have framed far better; but if this
Be thy deliberate judgment, then the Gods
Make thy deliberate judgment nothing worth.
But I will speak myself. Ye Chiefs of Troy,
I tell you plain. I will not yield my spouse.
But all her treasures to our house convey'd
From Argos, those will I resign, and add
Still other compensation from my own.
Thus Paris said and sat; when like the Gods
Themselves in wisdom, from his seat uprose
Dardanian Priam, who them thus address'd.
Trojans, Dardanians, and allies of Troy!
I shall declare my sentence; hear ye me.
Now let the legions, as at other times,
Take due refreshment; let the watch be set,
And keep ye vigilant guard. At early dawn
We will dispatch Idæus to the fleet,
Who shall inform the Atridæ of this last
Resolve of Paris, author of the war.
Discreet Idæus also shall propose
A respite (if the Atridæ so incline)
From war's dread clamor, while we burn the dead.
Then will we clash again, till heaven at length
Shall part us, and the doubtful strife decide.
He ceased, whose voice the assembly pleased, obey'd.
Then, troop by troop, the army took repast,
And at the dawn Idæus sought the fleet.
He found the Danaï, servants of Mars,
Beside the stern of Agamemnon's ship
Consulting; and amid the assembled Chiefs
Arrived, with utterance clear them thus address'd.
Ye sons of Atreus, and ye Chiefs, the flower
Of all Achaia! Priam and the Chiefs
Of Ilium, bade me to your ear impart
(If chance such embassy might please your ear)
The mind of Paris, author of the war.
The treasures which on board his ships he brought
From Argos home (oh, had he perish'd first!)
He yields them with addition from his own.
Not so the consort of the glorious prince
Brave Menelaus; her (although in Troy
All counsel otherwise) he still detains.
Thus too I have in charge. Are ye inclined
That the dread sounding clamors of the field
Be caused to cease till we shall burn the dead?
Then will we clash again, 'till heaven at length
Shall part us, and the doubtful strife decide.
So spake Idæus, and all silent sat;
Till at the last brave Diomede replied.
No. We will none of Paris' treasures now,
Nor even Helen's self. A child may see
Destruction winging swift her course to Troy.
He said. The admiring Greeks with loud applause
All praised the speech of warlike Diomede,
And answer thus the King of men return'd.
Idæus! thou hast witness'd the resolve
Of the Achaian Chiefs, whose choice is mine.
But for the slain, I shall not envy them
A funeral pile; the spirit fled, delay
Suits not. Last rites can not too soon be paid.
Burn them. And let high-thundering Jove attest
Himself mine oath, that war shall cease the while.
So saying, he to all the Gods upraised
His sceptre, and Idæus homeward sped
To sacred Ilium. The Dardanians there
And Trojans, all assembled, his return
Expected anxious. He amid them told
Distinct his errand, when, at once dissolved,
The whole assembly rose, these to collect
The scatter'd bodies, those to gather wood;
While on the other side, the Greeks arose
As sudden, and all issuing from the fleet
Sought fuel, some, and some, the scatter'd dead.
Now from the gently-swelling flood profound
The sun arising, with his earliest rays
In his ascent to heaven smote on the fields.
When Greeks and Trojans met. Scarce could the slain
Be clear distinguish'd, but they cleansed from each
His clotted gore with water, and warm tears
Distilling copious, heaved them to the wains.
But wailing none was heard, for such command
Had Priam issued; therefore heaping high
The bodies, silent and with sorrowing hearts
They burn'd them, and to sacred Troy return'd.
The Grecians also, on the funeral pile
The bodies heaping sad, burn'd them with fire
Together, and return'd into the fleet.
Then, ere the peep of dawn, and while the veil
Of night, though thinner, still o'erhung the earth,
Achaians, chosen from the rest, the pile
Encompass'd. With a tomb (one tomb for all)
They crown'd the spot adust, and to the tomb
(For safety of their fleet and of themselves)
Strong fortress added of high wall and tower,
With solid gates affording egress thence
Commodious to the mounted charioteer;
Deep foss and broad they also dug without,
And planted it with piles. So toil'd the Greeks.
The Gods, that mighty labor, from beside
The Thunderer's throne with admiration view'd,
When Neptune, shaker of the shores, began.
Eternal father! is there on the face
Of all the boundless earth one mortal man
Who will, in times to come, consult with heaven?
See'st thou yon height of wall, and yon deep trench
With which the Grecians have their fleet inclosed,
And, careless of our blessing, hecatomb
Or invocation have presented none?
Far as the day-spring shoots herself abroad,
So far the glory of this work shall spread,
While Phoebus and myself, who, toiling hard,
Built walls for king Laomedon, shall see
Forgotten all the labor of our hands.
To whom, indignant, thus high-thundering Jove.
Oh thou, who shakest the solid earth at will,
What hast thou spoken? An inferior power,
A god of less sufficiency than thou,
Might be allowed some fear from such a cause.
Fear not. Where'er the morning shoots her beams,
Thy glory shall be known; and when the Greeks
Shall seek their country through the waves again,
Then break this bulwark down, submerge it whole,
And spreading deep with sand the spacious shore
As at the first, leave not a trace behind.
Such conference held the Gods; and now the sun
Went down, and, that great work perform'd, the Greeks
From tent to tent slaughter'd the fatted ox
And ate their evening cheer. Meantime arrived
Large fleet with Lemnian wine; Euneus, son
Of Jason and Hypsipile, that fleet
From Lemnos freighted, and had stow'd on board
A thousand measures from the rest apart
For the Atridæ; but the host at large
By traffic were supplied; some barter'd brass,
Others bright steel; some purchased wine with hides,
These with their cattle, with their captives those,
And the whole host prepared a glad regale.
All night the Grecians feasted, and the host
Of Ilium, and all night deep-planning Jove
Portended dire calamities to both,
Thundering tremendous!--Pale was every cheek;
Each pour'd his goblet on the ground, nor dared
The hardiest drink, 'till he had first perform'd
Libation meet to the Saturnian King
Omnipotent; then, all retiring, sought
Their couches, and partook the gift of sleep.

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