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

A poem by William Cowper

Argument Of The Twelfth Book.


The Trojans assail the ramparts, and Hector forces the gates.



So was Menoetius' gallant son employ'd
Healing Eurypylus. The Greeks, meantime,
And Trojans with tumultuous fury fought.
Nor was the foss ordain'd long time to exclude
The host of Troy, nor yet the rampart built
Beside it for protection of the fleet;
For hecatomb the Greeks had offer'd none,
Nor prayer to heaven, that it might keep secure
Their ships with all their spoils. The mighty work
As in defiance of the Immortal Powers
Had risen, and could not therefore long endure.
While Hector lived, and while Achilles held
His wrathful purpose; while the city yet
Of royal Priam was unsack'd, so long
The massy structure stood; but when the best
And bravest of the Trojan host were slain,
And of the Grecian heroes, some had fallen
And some survived, when Priam's towers had blazed
In the tenth year, and to their native shores
The Grecians with their ships, at length, return'd,
Then Neptune, with Apollo leagued, devised
Its ruin; every river that descends
From the Idæan heights into the sea
They brought against it, gathering all their force.
Rhesus, Caresus, Rhodius, the wide-branch'd
Heptaporus, Æsepus, Granicus,
Scamander's sacred current, and thy stream
Simöis, whose banks with helmets and with shields
Were strew'd, and Chiefs of origin divine;
All these with refluent course Apollo drove
Nine days against the rampart, and Jove rain'd
Incessant, that the Grecian wall wave-whelm'd
Through all its length might sudden disappear.
Neptune with his tridental mace, himself,
Led them, and beam and buttress to the flood
Consigning, laid by the laborious Greeks,
Swept the foundation, and the level bank
Of the swift-rolling Hellespont restored.
The structure thus effaced, the spacious beach
He spread with sand as at the first; then bade
Subside the streams, and in their channels wind
With limpid course, and pleasant as before,
Apollo thus and Neptune, from the first,
Design'd its fall; but now the battle raved
And clamors of the warriors all around
The strong-built turrets, whose assaulted planks
Rang, while the Grecians, by the scourge of Jove
Subdued, stood close within their fleet immured,
At Hector's phalanx-scattering force appall'd.
He, as before, with whirlwind fury fought.
As when the boar or lion fiery-eyed
Turns short, the hunters and the hounds among,
The close-embattled troop him firm oppose,
And ply him fast with spears; he no dismay
Conceives or terror in his noble heart,
But by his courage falls; frequent he turns
Attempting bold the ranks, and where he points
Direct his onset, there the ranks retire;
So, through the concourse on his rolling wheels
Borne rapid, Hector animated loud
His fellow-warriors to surpass the trench.
But not his own swift-footed steeds would dare
That hazard; standing on the dangerous brink
They neigh'd aloud, for by its breadth the foss
Deterr'd them; neither was the effort slight
To leap that gulf, nor easy the attempt
To pass it through; steep were the banks profound
On both sides, and with massy piles acute
Thick-planted, interdicting all assault.
No courser to the rapid chariot braced
Had enter'd there with ease; yet strong desires
Possess'd the infantry of that emprize,
And thus Polydamas the ear address'd
Of dauntless Hector, standing at his side.
Hector, and ye the leaders of our host,
Both Trojans and allies! rash the attempt
I deem, and vain, to push our horses through,
So dangerous is the pass; rough is the trench
With pointed stakes, and the Achaian wall
Meets us beyond. No chariot may descend
Or charioteer fight there; strait are the bounds,
And incommodious, and his death were sure.
If Jove, high-thundering Ruler of the skies,
Will succor Ilium, and nought less intend
Than utter devastation of the Greeks,
I am content; now perish all their host
Inglorious, from their country far remote.
But should they turn, and should ourselves be driven
Back from the fleet impeded and perplex'd
In this deep foss, I judge that not a man,
'Scaping the rallied Grecians, should survive
To bear the tidings of our fate to Troy.
Now, therefore, act we all as I advise.
Let every charioteer his coursers hold
Fast-rein'd beside the foss, while we on foot,
With order undisturb'd and arms in hand,
Shall follow Hector. If destruction borne
On wings of destiny this day approach
The Grecians, they will fly our first assault.
So spake Polydamas, whose safe advice
Pleased Hector; from his chariot to the ground
All arm'd he leap'd, nor would a Trojan there
(When once they saw the Hero on his feet)
Ride into battle, but unanimous
Descending with a leap, all trod the plain.
Each gave command that at the trench his steeds
Should stand detain'd in orderly array;
Then, suddenly, the parted host became
Five bands, each following its appointed chief.
The bravest and most numerous, and whose hearts
Wish'd most to burst the barrier and to wage
The battle at the ships, with Hector march'd
And with Polydamas, whom follow'd, third,
Cebriones; for Hector had his steeds
Consign'd and chariot to inferior care.
Paris, Alcathoüs, and Agenor led
The second band, and, sons of Priam both,
Deïphobus and Helenus, the third;
With them was seen partner of their command;
The Hero Asius; from Arisba came
Asius Hyrtacides, to battle drawn
From the Selleïs banks by martial steeds
Hair'd fiery-red and of the noblest size.
The fourth, Anchises' mighty son controll'd,
Æneas; under him Antenor's sons,
Archilochus and Acamas, advanced,
Adept in all the practice of the field.
Last came the glorious powers in league with Troy
Led by Sarpedon; he with Glaucus shared
His high control, and with the warlike Chief
Asteropæus; for of all his host
Them bravest he esteem'd, himself except
Superior in heroic might to all.
And now (their shields adjusted each to each)
With dauntless courage fired, right on they moved
Against the Grecians; nor expected less
Than that beside their sable ships, the host
Should self-abandon'd fall an easy prey.
The Trojans, thus with their confederate powers,
The counsel of the accomplish'd Prince pursued,
Polydamas, one Chief alone except,
Asius Hyrtacides. He scorn'd to leave
His charioteer and coursers at the trench,
And drove toward the fleet. Ah, madly brave!
His evil hour was come; he was ordain'd
With horse and chariot and triumphant shout
To enter wind-swept Ilium never more.
Deucalion's offspring, first, into the shades
Dismiss'd him; by Idomeneus he died.
Leftward he drove furious, along the road
By which the steeds and chariots of the Greeks
Return'd from battle; in that track he flew,
Nor found the portals by the massy bar
Secured, but open for reception safe
Of fugitives, and to a guard consign'd.
Thither he drove direct, and in his rear
His band shrill-shouting follow'd, for they judged
The Greeks no longer able to withstand
Their foes, but sure to perish in the camp.
Vain hope! for in the gate two Chiefs they found
Lapithæ-born, courageous offspring each
Of dauntless father; Polypoetes, this,
Sprung from Pirithöus; that, the warrior bold
Leonteus, terrible as gore-tainted Mars.
These two, defenders of the lofty gates,
Stood firm before them. As when two tall oaks
On the high mountains day by day endure
Rough wind and rain, by deep-descending roots
Of hugest growth fast-founded in the soil;
So they, sustain'd by conscious valor, saw,
Unmoved, high towering Asius on his way,
Nor fear'd him aught, nor shrank from his approach
Right on toward the barrier, lifting high
Their season'd bucklers and with clamor loud
The band advanced, King Asius at their head,
With whom Iämenus, expert in arms,
Orestes, Thöon, Acamas the son
Of Asius, and Oenomäus, led them on.
Till now, the warlike pair, exhorting loud
The Grecians to defend the fleet, had stood
Within the gates; but soon as they perceived
The Trojans swift advancing to the wall,
And heard a cry from all the flying Greeks,
Both sallying, before the gates they fought
Like forest-boars, which hearing in the hills
The crash of hounds and huntsmen nigh at hand,
With start oblique lay many a sapling flat
Short-broken by the root, nor cease to grind
Their sounding tusks, till by the spear they die;
So sounded on the breasts of those brave two
The smitten brass; for resolute they fought,
Embolden'd by their might who kept the wall,
And trusting in their own; they, in defence
Of camp and fleet and life, thick battery hurl'd
Of stones precipitated from the towers;
Frequent as snows they fell, which stormy winds,
Driving the gloomy clouds, shake to the ground,
Till all the fertile earth lies cover'd deep.
Such volley pour'd the Greeks, and such return'd
The Trojans; casques of hide, arid and tough,
And bossy shields rattled, by such a storm
Assail'd of millstone masses from above.
Then Asius, son of Hyrtacus, a groan
Indignant utter'd; on both thighs he smote
With disappointment furious, and exclaim'd,
Jupiter! even thou art false become,
And altogether such. Full sure I deem'd
That not a Grecian hero should abide
One moment force invincible as ours,
And lo! as wasps ring-streaked,[1] or bees that build
Their dwellings in the highway's craggy side
Leave not their hollow home, but fearless wait
The hunter's coming, in their brood's defence,
So these, although two only, from the gates
Move not, nor will, till either seized or slain.
So Asius spake, but speaking so, changed not
The mind of Jove on Hector's glory bent.
Others, as obstinate, at other gates
Such deeds perform'd, that to enumerate all
Were difficult, unless to power divine.
For fierce the hail of stones from end to end
Smote on the barrier; anguish fill'd the Greeks.
Yet, by necessity constrain'd, their ships
They guarded still; nor less the Gods themselves,
Patrons of Greece, all sorrow'd at the sight.
At once the valiant Lapithæ began
Terrible conflict, and Pirithous' son
Brave Polypoetes through his helmet pierced
Damasus; his resplendent point the brass
Sufficed not to withstand; entering, it crush'd
The bone within, and mingling all his brain
With his own blood, his onset fierce repress'd.
Pylon and Ormenus he next subdued.
Meantime Leonteus, branch of Mars, his spear
Hurl'd at Hippomachus, whom through his belt
He pierced; then drawing forth his falchion keen,
Through all the multitude he flew to smite
Antiphates, and with a downright stroke
Fell'd him. Iämenus and Menon next
He slew, with brave Orestes, whom he heap'd,
All three together, on the fertile glebe.
While them the Lapithæ of their bright arms
Despoil'd, Polydamas and Hector stood
(With all the bravest youths and most resolved
To burst the barrier and to fire the fleet)
Beside the foss, pondering the event.
For, while they press'd to pass, they spied a bird
Sublime in air, an eagle. Right between
Both hosts he soar'd (the Trojan on his left)
A serpent bearing in his pounces clutch'd
Enormous, dripping blood, but lively still
And mindful of revenge; for from beneath
The eagle's breast, updarting fierce his head,
Fast by the throat he struck him; anguish-sick
The eagle cast him down into the space
Between the hosts, and, clanging loud his plumes
As the wind bore him, floated far away.
Shudder'd the Trojans viewing at their feet
The spotted serpent ominous, and thus
Polydamas to dauntless Hector spake.
Ofttimes in council, Hector, thou art wont
To censure me, although advising well;
Nor ought the private citizen, I confess,
Either in council or in war to indulge
Loquacity, but ever to employ
All his exertions in support of thine.
Yet hear my best opinion once again.
Proceed we not in our attempt against
The Grecian fleet. For if in truth the sign
Respect the host of Troy ardent to pass,
Then, as the eagle soar'd both hosts between,
With Ilium's on his left, and clutch'd a snake
Enormous, dripping blood, but still alive,
Which yet he dropp'd suddenly, ere he reach'd
His eyry, or could give it to his young,
So we, although with mighty force we burst
Both gates and barrier, and although the Greeks
Should all retire, shall never yet the way
Tread honorably back by which we came.
No. Many a Trojan shall we leave behind
Slain by the Grecians in their fleet's defence.
An augur skill'd in omens would expound
This omen thus, and faith would win from all.
To whom, dark-louring, Hector thus replied.
Polydamas! I like not thy advice;
Thou couldst have framed far better; but if this
Be thy deliberate judgment, then the Gods
Make thy deliberate judgment nothing worth,
Who bidd'st me disregard the Thunderer's[2] firm
Assurance to myself announced, and make
The wild inhabitants of air my guides,
Which I alike despise, speed they their course
With right-hand flight toward the ruddy East,
Or leftward down into the shades of eve.
Consider we the will of Jove alone,
Sovereign of heaven and earth. Omens abound,
But the best omen is our country's cause.[3]
Wherefore should fiery war thy soul alarm?
For were we slaughter'd, one and all, around
The fleet of Greece, thou need'st not fear to die,
Whose courage never will thy flight retard.
But if thou shrink thyself, or by smooth speech
Seduce one other from a soldier's part,
Pierced by this spear incontinent thou diest.
So saying he led them, who with deafening roar
Follow'd him. Then, from the Idæan hills
Jove hurl'd a storm which wafted right the dust
Into the fleet; the spirits too he quell'd
Of the Achaians, and the glory gave
To Hector and his host; they, trusting firm
In signs from Jove, and in their proper force,
Assay'd the barrier; from the towers they tore
The galleries, cast the battlements to ground,
And the projecting buttresses adjoin'd
To strengthen the vast work, with bars upheaved.
All these, with expectation fierce to break
The rampart, down they drew; nor yet the Greeks
Gave back, but fencing close with shields the wall,
Smote from behind them many a foe beneath.
Meantime from tower to tower the Ajaces moved
Exhorting all; with mildness some, and some
With harsh rebuke, whom they observed through fear
Declining base the labors of the fight,
Friends! Argives! warriors of whatever rank!
Ye who excel, and ye of humbler note!
And ye the last and least! (for such there are,
All have not magnanimity alike)
Now have we work for all, as all perceive.
Turn not, retreat not to your ships, appall'd
By sounding menaces, but press the foe;
Exhort each other, and e'en now perchance
Olympian Jove, by whom the lightnings burn,
Shall grant us to repulse them, and to chase
The routed Trojans to their gates again.
So they vociferating to the Greeks,
Stirr'd them to battle. As the feathery snows
Fall frequent, on some wintry day, when Jove
Hath risen to shed them on the race of man,
And show his arrowy stores; he lulls the winds,
Then shakes them down continual, covering thick
Mountain tops, promontories, flowery meads,
And cultured valleys rich; the ports and shores
Receive it also of the hoary deep,
But there the waves bound it, while all beside
Lies whelm'd beneath Jove's fast-descending shower,
So thick, from side to side, by Trojans hurl'd
Against the Greeks, and by the Greeks return'd
The stony vollies flew; resounding loud
Through all its length the battered rampart roar'd.
Nor yet had Hector and his host prevail'd
To burst the gates, and break the massy bar,
Had not all-seeing Jove Sarpedon moved
His son, against the Greeks, furious as falls
The lion on some horned herd of beeves.
At once his polish'd buckler he advanced
With leafy brass o'erlaid; for with smooth brass
The forger of that shield its oval disk
Had plated, and with thickest hides throughout
Had lined it, stitch'd with circling wires of gold.
That shield he bore before him; firmly grasp'd
He shook two spears, and with determined strides
March'd forward. As the lion mountain-bred,
After long fast, by impulse of his heart
Undaunted urged, seeks resolute the flock
Even in the shelter of their guarded home;
He finds, perchance, the shepherds arm'd with spears,
And all their dogs awake, yet can not leave
Untried the fence, but either leaps it light,
And entering tears the prey, or in the attempt
Pierced by some dexterous peasant, bleeds himself;
So high his courage to the assault impell'd
Godlike Sarpedon, and him fired with hope
To break the barrier; when to Glaucus thus,
Son of Hippolochus, his speech he turn'd.
Why, Glaucus, is the seat of honor ours,
Why drink we brimming cups, and feast in state?
Why gaze they all on us as we were Gods
In Lycia, and why share we pleasant fields
And spacious vineyards, where the Xanthus winds?
Distinguished thus in Lycia, we are call'd
To firmness here, and to encounter bold
The burning battle, that our fair report
Among the Lycians may be blazon'd thus--
No dastards are the potentates who rule
The bright-arm'd Lycians; on the fatted flock
They banquet, and they drink the richest wines;
But they are also valiant, and the fight
Wage dauntless in the vanward of us all.
Oh Glaucus, if escaping safe the death
That threats us here, we also could escape
Old age, and to ourselves secure a life
Immortal, I would neither in the van
Myself expose, nor would encourage thee
To tempt the perils of the glorious field.
But since a thousand messengers of fate
Pursue us close, and man is born to die--
E'en let us on; the prize of glory yield,
If yield we must, or wrest it from the foe.
He said, nor cold refusal in return
Received from Glaucus, but toward the wall
Their numerous Lycian host both led direct.
Menestheus, son of Peteos, saw appall'd
Their dread approach, for to his tower they bent;
Their threatening march. An eager look he cast,
On the embodied Greeks, seeking some Chief
Whose aid might turn the battle from his van:
He saw, where never sated with exploits
Of war, each Ajax fought, near whom his eye
Kenn'd Teucer also, newly from his tent;
But vain his efforts were with loudest call
To reach their ears, such was the deafening din
Upsent to heaven, of shields and crested helms,
And of the batter'd gates; for at each gate
They thundering' stood, and urged alike at each
Their fierce attempt by force to burst the bars.
To Ajax therefore he at once dispatch'd
A herald, and Thöotes thus enjoin'd.
My noble friend, Thöotes! with all speed
Call either Ajax; bid them hither both;
Far better so; for havoc is at hand.
The Lycian leaders, ever in assault
Tempestuous, bend their force against this tower
My station. But if also there they find
Laborious conflict pressing them severe,
At least let Telamonian Ajax come,
And Teucer with his death-dispensing bow.
He spake, nor was Thöotes slow to hear;
Beside the rampart of the mail-clad Greeks
Rapid he flew, and, at their side arrived,
To either Ajax, eager, thus began.
Ye leaders of the well-appointed Greeks,
The son of noble Peteos calls; he begs
With instant suit, that ye would share his toils,
However short your stay; the aid of both
Will serve him best, for havoc threatens there
The Lycian leaders, ever in assault
Tempestuous, bend their force toward the tower
His station. But if also here ye find
Laborious conflict pressing you severe,
At least let Telamonian Ajax come,
And Teucer with his death-dispensing bow.
He spake, nor his request the towering son
Of Telamon denied, but quick his speech
To Ajax Oïliades address'd.
Ajax! abiding here, exhort ye both
(Heroic Lycomedes and thyself)
The Greeks to battle. Thither I depart
To aid our friends, which service once perform'd
Duly, I will incontinent return.
So saying, the Telamonian Chief withdrew
With whom went Teucer, son of the same sire,
Pandion also, bearing Teucer's bow.
Arriving at the turret given in charge
To the bold Chief Menestheus, and the wall
Entering, they found their friends all sharply tried.
Black as a storm the senators renown'd
And leaders of the Lycian host assail'd
Buttress and tower, while opposite the Greeks
Withstood them, and the battle-shout began.
First, Ajax, son of Telamon, a friend
And fellow-warrior of Sarpedon slew,
Epicles. With a marble fragment huge
That crown'd the battlement's interior side,
He smote him. No man of our puny race,
Although in prime of youth, had with both hands
That weight sustain'd; but he the cumberous mass
Uplifted high, and hurl'd it on his head.
It burst his helmet, and his batter'd skull
Dash'd from all form. He from the lofty tower
Dropp'd downright, with a diver's plunge, and died.
But Teucer wounded Glaucus with a shaft
Son of Hippolochus; he, climbing, bared
His arm, which Teucer, marking, from the wall
Transfix'd it, and his onset fierce repress'd;
For with a backward leap Glaucus withdrew
Sudden and silent, cautious lest the Greeks
Seeing him wounded should insult his pain.
Grief seized, at sight of his retiring friend,
Sarpedon, who forgat not yet the fight,
But piercing with his lance Alcmaon, son
Of Thestor, suddenly reversed the beam,
Which following, Alcmaon to the earth
Fell prone, with clangor of his brazen arms.
Sarpedon, then, strenuous with both hands
Tugg'd, and down fell the battlement entire;
The wall, dismantled at the summit, stood
A ruin, and wide chasm was open'd through.
Then Ajax him and Teucer at one time
Struck both; an arrow struck from Teucer's bow
The belt that cross'd his bosom, by which hung
His ample shield; yet lest his son should fall
Among the ships, Jove turn'd the death aside.
But Ajax, springing to his thrust, a spear
Drove through his shield. Sarpedon at the shock
With backward step short interval recoil'd,
But not retired, for in his bosom lived
The hope of glory still, and, looking back
On all his godlike Lycians, he exclaim'd,
Oh Lycians! where is your heroic might?
Brave as I boast myself, I feel the task
Arduous, through the breach made by myself
To win a passage to the ships, alone.
Follow me all--Most laborers, most dispatch.[4]
So he; at whose sharp reprimand abash'd
The embattled host to closer conflict moved,
Obedient to their counsellor and King.
On the other side the Greeks within the wall
Made firm the phalanx, seeing urgent need;
Nor could the valiant Lycians through the breach
Admittance to the Grecian fleet obtain,
Nor since they first approach'd it, had the Greeks
With all their efforts, thrust the Lycians back.
But as two claimants of one common field,
Each with his rod of measurement in hand,
Dispute the boundaries, litigating warm
Their right in some small portion of the soil,
So they, divided by the barrier, struck
With hostile rage the bull-hide bucklers round,
And the light targets on each other's breast.
Then many a wound the ruthless weapons made.
Pierced through the unarm'd back, if any turn'd,
He died, and numerous even through the shield.
The battlements from end to end with blood
Of Grecians and of Trojans on both sides
Were sprinkled; yet no violence could move
The stubborn Greeks, or turn their powers to flight.
So hung the war in balance, as the scales
Held by some woman scrupulously just,
A spinner; wool and weight she poises nice,
Hard-earning slender pittance for her babes,[5]
Such was the poise in which the battle hung
Till Jove himself superior fame, at length,
To Priamëian Hector gave, who sprang
First through the wall. In lofty sounds that reach'd
Their utmost ranks, he call'd on all his host.
Now press them, now ye Trojans steed-renown'd
Rush on! break through the Grecian rampart, hurl
At once devouring flames into the fleet.
Such was his exhortation; they his voice
All hearing, with close-order'd ranks direct
Bore on the barrier, and up-swarming show'd
On the high battlement their glittering spears.
But Hector seized a stone; of ample base
But tapering to a point, before the gate
It stood. No two men, mightiest of a land
(Such men as now are mighty) could with ease
Have heaved it from the earth up to a wain;
He swung it easily alone; so light
The son of Saturn made it in his hand.
As in one hand with ease the shepherd bears
A ram's fleece home, nor toils beneath the weight,
So Hector, right toward the planks of those
Majestic folding-gates, close-jointed, firm
And solid, bore the stone. Two bars within
Their corresponding force combined transvere
To guard them, and one bolt secured the bars.
He stood fast by them, parting wide his feet
For 'vantage sake, and smote them in the midst.
He burst both hinges; inward fell the rock
Ponderous, and the portals roar'd; the bars
Endured not, and the planks, riven by the force
Of that huge mass, flew scatter'd on all sides.
In leap'd the godlike Hero at the breach,
Gloomy as night in aspect, but in arms
All-dazzling, and he grasp'd two quivering spears.
Him entering with a leap the gates, no force
Whate'er of opposition had repress'd,
Save of the Gods alone. Fire fill'd his eyes;
Turning, he bade the multitude without
Ascend the rampart; they his voice obey'd;
Part climb'd the wall, part pour'd into the gate;
The Grecians to their hollow galleys flew
Scatter'd, and tumult infinite arose.[6]

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