Argument Of The Twenty-Fourth Book.
Priam, by command of Jupiter, and under conduct of Mercury, seeks Achilles in his tent, who admonished previously by Thetis, consents to accept ransom for the body of Hector. Hector is mourned, and the manner of his funeral, circumstantially described, concludes the poem.
The games all closed, the people went dispersed
Each to his ship; they, mindful of repast,
And to enjoy repose; but other thoughts
Achilles' mind employ'd: he still deplored
With tears his loved Patroclus, nor the force
Felt of all-conquering sleep, but turn'd and turn'd
Restless from side to side, mourning the loss
Of such a friend, so manly, and so brave.
Their fellowship in toil; their hardships oft
Sustain'd in fight laborious, or o'ercome
With difficulty on the perilous deep--
Remembrance busily retracing themes
Like these, drew down his cheeks continual tears.
Now on his side he lay, now lay supine,
Now prone, then starting from his couch he roam'd
Forlorn the beach, nor did the rising morn
On seas and shores escape his watchful eye,
But joining to his chariot his swift steeds,
He fasten'd Hector to be dragg'd behind.
Around the tomb of Menoetiades
Him thrice he dragg'd; then rested in his tent,
Leaving him at his length stretch'd in the dust.
Meantime Apollo with compassion touch'd
Even of the lifeless Hector, from all taint
Saved him, and with the golden ægis broad
Covering, preserved him, although dragg'd, untorn.
While he, indulging thus his wrath, disgraced
Brave Hector, the immortals at that sight
With pity moved, exhorted Mercury
The watchful Argicide, to steal him thence.
That counsel pleased the rest, but neither pleased
Juno, nor Neptune, nor the blue-eyed maid.
They still, as at the first, held fast their hate
Of sacred Troy, detested Priam still,
And still his people, mindful of the crime
Of Paris, who when to his rural hut
They came, those Goddesses affronting, praise
And admiration gave to her alone
Who with vile lusts his preference repaid.
But when the twelfth ensuing morn arose,
Apollo, then, the immortals thus address'd.
Ye Gods, your dealings now injurious seem
And cruel. Was not Hector wont to burn
Thighs of fat goats and bullocks at your shrines?
Whom now, though dead, ye cannot yet endure
To rescue, that Andromache once more
Might view him, his own mother, his own son,
His father and the people, who would soon
Yield him his just demand, a funeral fire.
But, oh ye Gods! your pleasure is alone
To please Achilles, that pernicious chief,
Who neither right regards, nor owns a mind
That can relent, but as the lion, urged
By his own dauntless heart and savage force,
Invades without remorse the rights of man,
That he may banquet on his herds and flocks,
So Peleus' son all pity from his breast
Hath driven, and shame, man's blessing or his curse.
For whosoever hath a loss sustain'd
Still dearer, whether of his brother born
From the same womb, or even of his son,
When he hath once bewail'd him, weeps no more,
For fate itself gives man a patient mind.
Yet Peleus' son, not so contented, slays
Illustrious Hector first, then drags his corse
In cruel triumph at his chariot-wheels
Around Patroclus' tomb; but neither well
He acts, nor honorably to himself,
Who may, perchance, brave though he be, incur
Our anger, while to gratify revenge
He pours dishonor thus on senseless clay.
To whom, incensed, Juno white-arm'd replied.
And be it so; stand fast this word of thine,
God of the silver bow! if ye account
Only such honor to Achilles due
As Hector claims; but Hector was by birth
Mere man, and suckled at a woman's breast.
Not such Achilles; him a Goddess bore,
Whom I myself nourish'd, and on my lap
Fondled, and in due time to Peleus gave
In marriage, to a chief beloved in heaven
Peculiarly; ye were yourselves, ye Gods!
Partakers of the nuptial feast, and thou
Wast present also with thine harp in hand,
Thou comrade of the vile! thou faithless ever!
Then answer thus cloud-gatherer Jove return'd.
Juno, forbear. Indulge not always wrath
Against the Gods. They shall not share alike,
And in the same proportion our regards.
Yet even Hector was the man in Troy
Most favor'd by the Gods, and him no less
I also loved, for punctual were his gifts
To us; mine altar never miss'd from him
Libation, or the steam of sacrifice,
The meed allotted to us from of old.
But steal him not, since by Achilles' eye
Unseen ye cannot, who both day and night
Watches him, as a mother tends her son.
But call ye Thetis hither, I would give
The Goddess counsel, that, at Priam's hands
Accepting gifts, Achilles loose the dead.
He ceased. Then Iris tempest-wing'd arose.
Samos between, and Imbrus rock-begirt,
She plunged into the gloomy flood; loud groan'd
The briny pool, while sudden down she rush'd,
As sinks the bull's horn with its leaden weight,
Death bearing to the raveners of the deep.
Within her vaulted cave Thetis she found
By every nymph of Ocean round about
Encompass'd; she, amid them all, the fate
Wept of her noble son ordain'd to death
At fertile Troy, from Phthia far remote.
Then, Iris, drawing near, her thus address'd.
Arise, O Thetis! Jove, the author dread
Of everlasting counsels, calls for thee.
To whom the Goddess of the silver feet.
Why calls the mighty Thunderer me? I fear,
Oppress'd with countless sorrows as I am,
To mingle with the Gods. Yet I obey--
No word of his can prove an empty sound.
So saying, the Goddess took her sable veil
(Eye ne'er beheld a darker) and began
Her progress, by the storm-wing'd Iris led.
On either hand the billows open'd wide
A pass before them; they, ascending soon
The shore, updarted swift into the skies.
They found loud-voiced Saturnian Jove around
Environ'd by the ever-blessed Gods
Convened in full assembly; she beside
Her Father Jove (Pallas retiring) sat.
Then, Juno, with consolatory speech,
Presented to her hand a golden cup,
Of which she drank, then gave it back again,
And thus the sire of Gods and men began.
Goddess of ocean, Thetis! thou hast sought
Olympus, bearing in thy bosom grief
Never to be assuaged, as well I know.
Yet shalt thou learn, afflicted as thou art,
Why I have summon'd thee. Nine days the Gods,
Concerning Hector's body and thy own
Brave city-spoiler son, have held dispute,
And some have urged ofttimes the Argicide
Keen-sighted Mercury, to steal the dead.
But I forbade it for Achilles' sake,
Whom I exalt, the better to insure
Thy reverence and thy friendship evermore.
Haste, therefore, seek thy son, and tell him thus,
The Gods resent it, say (but most of all
Myself am angry) that he still detains
Amid his fleet, through fury of revenge,
Unransom'd Hector; so shall he, at length,
Through fear of me, perchance, release the slain.
Myself to generous Priam will, the while,
Send Iris, who shall bid him to the fleet
Of Greece, such ransom bearing as may soothe
Achilles, for redemption of his son.
So spake the God, nor Thetis not complied.
Descending swift from the Olympian heights
She reach'd Achilles' tent. Him there she found
Groaning disconsolate, while others ran
To and fro, occupied around a sheep
New-slaughter'd, large, and of exuberant fleece.
She, sitting close beside him, softly strok'd
His cheek, and thus, affectionate, began.
How long, my son! sorrowing and mourning here,
Wilt thou consume thy soul, nor give one thought
Either to food or love? Yet love is good,
And woman grief's best cure; for length of days
Is not thy doom, but, even now, thy death
And ruthless destiny are on the wing.
Mark me,--I come a lieger sent from Jove.
The Gods, he saith, resent it, but himself
More deeply than the rest, that thou detain'st
Amid thy fleet, through fury of revenge,
Unransom'd Hector. Be advised, accept
Ransom, and to his friends resign the dead.
To whom Achilles, swiftest of the swift.
Come then the ransomer, and take him hence;
If Jove himself command it,--be it so.
So they, among the ships, conferring sat
On various themes, the Goddess and her son;
Meantime Saturnian Jove commanded down
His swift ambassadress to sacred Troy.
Hence, rapid Iris! leave the Olympian heights.
And, finding noble Priam, bid him haste
Into Achaia's fleet, bearing such gifts
As may assuage Achilles, and prevail
To liberate the body of his son.
Alone, he must; no Trojan of them all
May company the senior thither, save
An ancient herald to direct his mules
And his wheel'd litter, and to bring the dead
Back into Ilium, whom Achilles slew.
Let neither fear of death nor other fear
Trouble him aught, so safe a guard and sure
We give him; Mercury shall be his guide
Into Achilles' presence in his tent.
Nor will himself Achilles slay him there,
Or even permit his death, but will forbid
All violence; for he is not unwise
Nor heedless, no--nor wilful to offend,
But will his suppliant with much grace receive.
He ceased; then Iris tempest-wing'd arose,
Jove's messenger, and, at the gates arrived
Of Priam, wo and wailing found within.
Around their father, in the hall, his sons
Their robes with tears water'd, while them amidst
The hoary King sat mantled, muffled close,
And on his venerable head and neck
Much dust was spread, which, rolling on the earth,
He had shower'd on them with unsparing hands.
The palace echoed to his daughters' cries,
And to the cries of matrons calling fresh
Into remembrance many a valiant chief
Now stretch'd in dust, by Argive hands destroy'd.
The messenger of Jove at Priam's side
Standing, with whisper'd accents low his ear
Saluted, but he trembled at the sound.
Courage, Dardanian Priam! fear thou nought;
To thee no prophetess of ill, I come;
But with kind purpose: Jove's ambassadress
Am I, who though remote, yet entertains
Much pity, and much tender care for thee.
Olympian Jove commands thee to redeem
The noble Hector, with an offering large
Of gifts that may Achilles' wrath appease.
Alone, thou must; no Trojan of them all
Hath leave to attend thy journey thither, save
An ancient herald to direct thy mules
And thy wheel'd litter, and to bring the dead
Back into Ilium, whom Achilles slew.
Let neither fear of death nor other fear
Trouble thee aught, so safe a guard and sure
He gives thee; Mercury shall be thy guide
Even to Achilles' presence in his tent.
Nor will himself Achilles slay thee there,
Or even permit thy death, but will forbid
All violence; for he is not unwise
Nor heedless, no--nor wilful to offend,
But will his suppliant with much grace receive.
So spake the swift ambassadress, and went.
Then, calling to his sons, he bade them bring
His litter forth, and bind the coffer on,
While to his fragrant chamber he repair'd
Himself, with cedar lined and lofty-roof'd,
A treasury of wonders into which
The Queen he summon'd, whom he thus bespake.
Hecuba! the ambassadress of Jove
Hath come, who bids me to the Grecian fleet,
Bearing such presents thither as may soothe
Achilles, for redemption of my son.
But say, what seems this enterprise to thee?
Myself am much inclined to it, I feel
My courage prompting me amain toward
The fleet, and into the Achaian camp.
Then wept the Queen aloud, and thus replied.
Ah! whither is thy wisdom fled, for which
Both strangers once, and Trojans honor'd thee?
How canst thou wish to penetrate alone
The Grecian fleet, and to appear before
His face, by whom so many valiant sons
Of thine have fallen? Thou hast an iron heart!
For should that savage man and faithless once
Seize and discover thee, no pity expect
Or reverence at his hands. Come--let us weep
Together, here sequester'd; for the thread
Spun for him by his destiny severe
When he was born, ordain'd our son remote
From us his parents to be food for hounds
In that chief's tent. Oh! clinging to his side,
How I could tear him with my teeth! His deeds,
Disgraceful to my son, then should not want
Retaliation; for he slew not him
Skulking, but standing boldly for the wives,
The daughters fair, and citizens of Troy,
Guiltless of flight, and of the wish to fly.
Whom godlike Priam answer'd, ancient King.
Impede me not who willing am to go,
Nor be, thyself, a bird of ominous note
To terrify me under my own roof,
For thou shalt not prevail. Had mortal man
Enjoin'd me this attempt, prophet, or priest,
Or soothsayer, I had pronounced him false
And fear'd it but the more. But, since I saw
The Goddess with these eyes, and heard, myself,
The voice divine, I go; that word shall stand;
And, if my doom be in the fleet of Greece
To perish, be it so; Achilles' arm
Shall give me speedy death, and I shall die
Folding my son, and satisfied with tears.
So saying, he open'd wide the elegant lids
Of numerous chests, whence mantles twelve he took
Of texture beautiful; twelve single cloaks;
As many carpets, with as many robes,
To which he added vests, an equal store.
He also took ten talents forth of gold,
All weigh'd, two splendid tripods, caldrons four,
And after these a cup of matchless worth
Given to him when ambassador in Thrace;
A noble gift, which yet the hoary King
Spared not, such fervor of desire he felt
To loose his son. Then from his portico,
With angry taunts he drove the gather'd crowds.
Away! away! ye dregs of earth, away!
Ye shame of human kind! Have ye no griefs
At home, that ye come hither troubling me?
Deem ye it little that Saturnian Jove
Afflicts me thus, and of my very best,
Best boy deprives me? Ah! ye shall be taught
Yourselves that loss, far easier to be slain
By the Achaians now, since he is dead.
But I, ere yet the city I behold
Taken and pillaged, with these aged eyes,
Shall find safe hiding in the shades below.
He said, and chased them with his staff; they left
In haste the doors, by the old King expell'd.
Then, chiding them aloud, his sons he call'd,
Helenus, Paris, noble Agathon,
Pammon, Antiphonus, and bold in fight
Polites, Dios of illustrious fame,
Hippothoüs and Deiphobus--all nine
He call'd, thus issuing, angry, his commands.
Quick! quick! ye slothful in your father's cause,
Ye worthless brood! would that in Hector's stead
Ye all had perish'd in the fleet of Greece!
Oh altogether wretched! in all Troy
No man had sons to boast valiant as mine,
And I have lost them all. Mestor is gone
The godlike, Troilus the steed-renown'd,
And Hector, who with other men compared
Seem'd a Divinity, whom none had deem'd
From mortal man derived, but from a God.
These Mars hath taken, and hath left me none
But scandals of my house, void of all truth,
Dancers, exact step-measurers, a band
Of public robbers, thieves of kids and lambs.
Will ye not bring my litter to the gate
This moment, and with all this package quick
Charge it, that we may hence without delay?
He said, and by his chiding awed, his sons
Drew forth the royal litter, neat, new-built,
And following swift the draught, on which they bound
The coffer; next, they lower'd from the wall
The sculptured boxen yoke with its two rings;
And with the yoke its furniture, in length
Nine cubits; this to the extremest end
Adjusting of the pole, they cast the ring
Over the ring-bolt; then, thrice through the yoke
They drew the brace on both sides, made it fast
With even knots, and tuck'd the dangling ends.
Producing, next, the glorious ransom-price
Of Hector's body, on the litter's floor
They heap'd it all, then yoked the sturdy mules,
A gift illustrious by the Mysians erst
Conferr'd on Priam; to the chariot, last,
They led forth Priam's steeds, which the old King
(In person serving them) with freshest corn
Constant supplied; meantime, himself within
The palace, and his herald, were employ'd
Girding themselves, to go; wise each and good.
And now came mournful Hecuba, with wine
Delicious charged, which in a golden cup
She brought, that not without libation due
First made, they might depart. Before the steeds
Her steps she stay'd, and Priam thus address'd.
Take this, and to the Sire of all perform
Libation, praying him a safe return
From hostile hands, since thou art urged to seek
The Grecian camp, though not by my desire.
Pray also to Idæan Jove cloud-girt,
Who oversees all Ilium, that he send
His messenger or ere thou go, the bird
His favorite most, surpassing all in strength,
At thy right hand; him seeing, thou shalt tend
With better hope toward the fleet of Greece.
But should loud-thundering Jove his lieger swift
Withhold, from me far be it to advise
This journey, howsoe'er thou wish to go.
To whom the godlike Priam thus replied.
This exhortation will I not refuse,
O Queen! for, lifting to the Gods his hands
In prayer for their compassion, none can err.
So saying, he bade the maiden o'er the rest,
Chief in authority, pour on his hands
Pure water, for the maiden at his side
With ewer charged and laver, stood prepared.
He laved his hands; then, taking from the Queen
The goblet, in his middle area stood
Pouring libation with his eyes upturn'd
Heaven-ward devout, and thus his prayer preferr'd.
Jove, great and glorious above all, who rulest,
On Ida's summit seated, all below!
Grant me arrived within Achilles' tent
Kindness to meet and pity, and oh send
Thy messenger or ere I go, the bird
Thy favorite most, surpassing all in strength,
At my right hand, which seeing, I shall tend
With better hope toward the fleet of Greece.
He ended, at whose prayer, incontinent,
Jove sent his eagle, surest of all signs,
The black-plumed bird voracious, Morphnos named,
And Percnos. Wide as the well-guarded door
Of some rich potentate his vans he spread
On either side; they saw him on the right,
Skimming the towers of Troy; glad they beheld
That omen, and all felt their hearts consoled.
Delay'd not then the hoary King, but quick
Ascending to his seat, his coursers urged
Through vestibule and sounding porch abroad.
The four-wheel'd litter led, drawn by the mules
Which sage Idæus managed, behind whom
Went Priam, plying with the scourge his steeds
Continual through the town, while all his friends,
Following their sovereign with dejected hearts,
Lamented him as going to his death.
But when from Ilium's gate into the plain
They had descended, then the sons-in-law
Of Priam, and his sons, to Troy return'd.
Nor they, now traversing the plain, the note
Escaped of Jove the Thunderer; he beheld
Compassionate the venerable King,
And thus his own son Mercury bespake.
Mercury! (for above all others thou
Delightest to associate with mankind
Familiar, whom thou wilt winning with ease
To converse free) go thou, and so conduct
Priam into the Grecian camp, that none
Of all the numerous Danaï may see
Or mark him, till he reach Achilles' tent.
He spake, nor the ambassador of heaven
The Argicide delay'd, but bound in haste
His undecaying sandals to his feet,
Golden, divine, which waft him o'er the floods
Swift as the wind, and o'er the boundless earth.
He took his rod with which he charms to sleep
All eyes, and theirs who sleep opens again.
Arm'd with that rod, forth flew the Argicide.
At Ilium and the Hellespontic shores
Arriving sudden, a king's son he seem'd,
Now clothing first his ruddy cheek with down,
Which is youth's loveliest season; so disguised,
His progress he began. They now (the tomb
Magnificent of Ilus past) beside
The river stay'd the mules and steeds to drink,
For twilight dimm'd the fields. Idæus first
Perceived him near, and Priam thus bespake.
Think, son of Dardanus! for we have need
Of our best thought. I see a warrior. Now,
Now we shall die; I know it. Turn we quick
Our steeds to flight; or let us clasp his knees
And his compassion suppliant essay.
Terror and consternation at that sound
The mind of Priam felt; erect the hair
Bristled his limbs, and with amaze he stood
Motionless. But the God, meantime, approach'd,
And, seizing ancient Priam's hand, inquired.
Whither, my father! in the dewy night
Drivest thou thy mules and steeds, while others sleep?
And fear'st thou not the fiery host of Greece,
Thy foes implacable, so nigh at hand?
Of whom should any, through the shadow dun
Of flitting night, discern thee bearing forth
So rich a charge, then what wouldst thou expect?
Thou art not young thyself, nor with the aid
Of this thine ancient servant, strong enough
Force to repulse, should any threaten force.
But injury fear none or harm from me;
I rather much from harm by other hands
Would save thee, thou resemblest so my sire.
Whom answer'd godlike Priam, hoar with age.
My son! well spoken. Thou hast judged aright.
Yet even me some Deity protects
Thus far; to whom I owe it that I meet
So seasonably one like thee, in form
So admirable, and in mind discreet
As thou art beautiful. Blest parents, thine!
To whom the messenger of heaven again,
The Argicide. Oh ancient and revered!
Thou hast well spoken all. Yet this declare,
And with sincerity; bear'st thou away
Into some foreign country, for the sake
Of safer custody, this precious charge?
Or, urged by fear, forsake ye all alike
Troy's sacred towers! since he whom thou hast lost,
Thy noble son, was of excelling worth
In arms, and nought inferior to the Greeks.
Then thus the godlike Priam, hoary King.
But tell me first who Thou art, and from whom
Descended, loveliest youth! who hast the fate
So well of my unhappy son rehearsed?
To whom the herald Mercury replied.
Thy questions, venerable sire! proposed
Concerning noble Hector, are design'd
To prove me. Him, not seldom, with these eyes
In man-ennobling fight I have beheld
Most active; saw him when he thinn'd the Greeks
With his sharp spear, and drove them to the ships.
Amazed we stood to notice him; for us,
Incensed against the ruler of our host,
Achilles suffer'd not to share the fight.
I serve Achilles; the same gallant bark
Brought us, and of the Myrmidons am I,
Son of Polyctor; wealthy is my sire,
And such in years as thou; six sons he hath,
Beside myself the seventh, and (the lots cast
Among us all) mine sent me to the wars.
That I have left the ships, seeking the plain,
The cause is this; the Greeks, at break of day,
Will compass, arm'd, the city, for they loathe
To sit inactive, neither can the chiefs
Restrain the hot impatience of the host.
Then godlike Priam answer thus return'd.
If of the band thou be of Peleus' son,
Achilles, tell me undisguised the truth.
My son, subsists he still, or hath thy chief
Limb after limb given him to his dogs?
Him answer'd then the herald of the skies.
Oh venerable sir! him neither dogs
Have eaten yet, nor fowls, but at the ships
His body, and within Achilles' tent
Neglected lies. Twelve days he so hath lain;
Yet neither worm which diets on the brave
In battle fallen, hath eaten him, or taint
Invaded. He around Patroclus' tomb
Drags him indeed pitiless, oft as day
Reddens the east, yet safe from blemish still
His corse remains. Thou wouldst, thyself, admire
Seeing how fresh the dew-drops, as he lies,
Rest on him, and his blood is cleansed away
That not a stain is left. Even his wounds
(For many a wound they gave him) all are closed,
Such care the blessed Gods have of thy son,
Dead as he is, whom living much they loved.
So he; then, glad, the ancient King replied.
Good is it, oh my son! to yield the Gods
Their just demands. My boy, while yet he lived,
Lived not unmindful of the worship due
To the Olympian powers, who, therefore, him
Remember, even in the bands of death.
Come then--this beauteous cup take at my hand--
Be thou my guard, and, if the Gods permit,
My guide, till to Achilles' tent I come.
Whom answer'd then the messenger of heaven.
Sir! thou perceivest me young, and art disposed
To try my virtue; but it shall not fail.
Thou bidd'st me at thine hand a gift accept,
Whereof Achilles knows not; but I fear
Achilles, and on no account should dare
Defraud him, lest some evil find me next.
But thee I would with pleasure hence conduct
Even to glorious Argos, over sea
Or over land, nor any, through contempt
Of such a guard, should dare to do thee wrong.
So Mercury, and to the chariot seat
Upspringing, seized at once the lash and reins,
And with fresh vigor mules and steeds inspired.
Arriving at the foss and towers, they found
The guard preparing now their evening cheer,
All whom the Argicide with sudden sleep
Oppress'd, then oped the gates, thrust back the bars,
And introduced, with all his litter-load
Of costly gifts, the venerable King.
But when they reached the tent for Peleus' son
Raised by the Myrmidons (with trunks of pine
They built it, lopping smooth the boughs away,
Then spread with shaggy mowings of the mead
Its lofty roof, and with a spacious court
Surrounded it, all fenced with driven stakes;
One bar alone of pine secured the door,
Which ask'd three Grecians with united force
To thrust it to its place, and three again
To thrust it back, although Achilles oft
Would heave it to the door himself alone;)
Then Hermes, benefactor of mankind,
That bar displacing for the King of Troy,
Gave entrance to himself and to his gifts
For Peleus' son design'd, and from the seat
Alighting, thus his speech to Priam turn'd.
Oh ancient Priam! an immortal God
Attends thee; I am Hermes, by command
Of Jove my father thy appointed guide.
But I return. I will not, entering here,
Stand in Achilles' sight; immortal Powers
May not so unreservedly indulge
Creatures of mortal kind. But enter thou,
Embrace his knees, and by his father both
And by his Goddess mother sue to him,
And by his son, that his whole heart may melt.
So Hermes spake, and to the skies again
Ascended. Then leap'd Priam to the ground,
Leaving Idæus; he, the mules and steeds
Watch'd, while the ancient King into the tent
Proceeded of Achilles dear to Jove.
Him there he found, and sitting found apart
His fellow-warriors, of whom two alone
Served at his side, Alcimus, branch of Mars
And brave Automedon; he had himself
Supp'd newly, and the board stood unremoved.
Unseen of all huge Priam enter'd, stood
Near to Achilles, clasp'd his knees, and kiss'd
Those terrible and homicidal hands
That had destroy'd so many of his sons.
As when a fugitive for blood the house
Of some chief enters in a foreign land,
All gaze, astonish'd at the sudden guest,
So gazed Achilles seeing Priam there,
And so stood all astonish'd, each his eyes
In silence fastening on his fellow's face.
But Priam kneel'd, and suppliant thus began.
Think, oh Achilles, semblance of the Gods!
On thy own father full of days like me,
And trembling on the gloomy verge of life.
Some neighbor chief, it may be, even now
Oppresses him, and there is none at hand,
No friend to suocor him in his distress.
Yet, doubtless, hearing that Achilles lives,
He still rejoices, hoping, day by day,
That one day he shall see the face again
Of his own son from distant Troy return'd.
But me no comfort cheers, whose bravest sons,
So late the flower of Ilium, all are slain.
When Greece came hither, I had fifty sons;
Nineteen were children of one bed, the rest
Born of my concubines. A numerous house!
But fiery Mars hath thinn'd it. One I had,
One, more than all my sons the strength of Troy,
Whom standing for his country thou hast slain--
Hector--his body to redeem I come
Into Achaia's fleet, bringing, myself,
Ransom inestimable to thy tent.
Reverence the Gods, Achilles! recollect
Thy father; for his sake compassion show
To me more pitiable still, who draw
Home to my lips (humiliation yet
Unseen on earth) his hand who slew my son.
So saying, he waken'd in his soul regret
Of his own sire; softly he placed his hand
On Priam's hand, and push'd him gently away.
Remembrance melted both. Rolling before
Achilles' feet, Priam his son deplored
Wide-slaughtering Hector, and Achilles wept
By turns his father, and by turns his friend
Patroclus; sounds of sorrow fill'd the tent.
But when, at length satiate, Achilles felt
His heart from grief, and all his frame relieved,
Upstarting from his seat, with pity moved
Of Priam's silver locks and silver beard,
He raised the ancient father by his hand,
Whom in wing'd accents kind he thus bespake.
Wretched indeed! ah what must thou have felt!
How hast thou dared to seek alone the fleet
Of the Achaians, and his face by whom
So many of thy valiant sons have fallen?
Thou hast a heart of iron, terror-proof.
Come--sit beside me--let us, if we may,
Great mourners both, bid sorrow sleep awhile.
There is no profit of our sighs and tears;
For thus, exempt from care themselves, the Gods
Ordain man's miserable race to mourn.
Fast by the threshold of Jove's courts are placed
Two casks, one stored with evil, one with good,
From which the God dispenses as he wills.
For whom the glorious Thunderer mingles both,
He leads a life checker'd with good and ill
Alternate; but to whom he gives unmixt
The bitter cup, he makes that man a curse,
His name becomes a by-word of reproach,
His strength is hunger-bitten, and he walks
The blessed earth, unblest, go where he may.
So was my father Peleus at his birth
Nobly endow'd with plenty and with wealth
Distinguish'd by the Gods past all mankind,
Lord of the Myrmidons, and, though a man,
Yet match'd from heaven with an immortal bride.
But even him the Gods afflict, a son
Refusing him, who might possess his throne
Hereafter; for myself, his only heir,
Pass as a dream, and while I live, instead
Of solacing his age, here sit, before
Your distant walls, the scourge of thee and thine.
Thee also, ancient Priam, we have heard
Reported, once possessor of such wealth
As neither Lesbos, seat of Macar, owns,
Nor eastern Phrygia, nor yet all the ports
Of Hellespont, but thou didst pass them all
In riches, and in number of thy sons.
But since the Powers of heaven brought on thy land
This fatal war, battle and deeds of death
Always surround the city where thou reign'st.
Cease, therefore, from unprofitable tears,
Which, ere they raise thy son to life again
Shall, doubtless, find fresh cause for which to flow.
To whom the ancient King godlike replied.
Hero, forbear. No seat is here for me,
While Hector lies unburied in your camp.
Loose him, and loose him now, that with these eyes
I may behold my son; accept a price
Magnificent, which may'st thou long enjoy,
And, since my life was precious in thy sight,
May'st thou revisit safe thy native shore!
To whom Achilles, lowering, and in wrath.
Urge me no longer, at a time like this,
With that harsh note; I am already inclin'd
To loose him. Thetis, my own mother came
Herself on that same errand, sent from Jove.
Priam! I understand thee well. I know
That, by some God conducted, thou hast reach'd
Achaia's fleet; for, without aid divine,
No mortal even in his prime of youth,
Had dared the attempt; guards vigilant as ours
He should not easily elude, such gates,
So massy, should not easily unbar.
Thou, therefore, vex me not in my distress,
Lest I abhor to see thee in my tent,
And, borne beyond all limits, set at nought
Thee, and thy prayer, and the command of Jove.
He said; the old King trembled, and obey'd.
Then sprang Pelides like a lion forth,
Not sole, but with his two attendant friends
Alcimus and Automedon the brave,
For them (Patroclus slain) he honor'd most
Of all the Myrmidons. They from the yoke
Released both steeds and mules, then introduced
And placed the herald of the hoary King.
They lighten'd next the litter of its charge
Inestimable, leaving yet behind
Two mantles and a vest, that, not unveil'd,
The body might be borne back into Troy.
Then, calling forth his women, them he bade
Lave and anoint the body, but apart,
Lest haply Priam, noticing his son,
Through stress of grief should give resentment scope,
And irritate by some affront himself
To slay him, in despite of Jove's commands.
They, therefore, laving and anointing first
The body, cover'd it with cloak and vest;
Then, Peleus' son disposed it on the bier,
Lifting it from the ground, and his two friends
Together heaved it to the royal wain.
Achilles, last, groaning, his friend invoked.
Patroclus! should the tidings reach thine ear,
Although in Ades, that I have released
The noble Hector at his father's suit,
Resent it not; no sordid gifts have paid
His ransom-price, which thou shalt also share.
So saying, Achilles to his tent return'd,
And on the splendid couch whence he had risen
Again reclined, opposite to the seat
Of Priam, whom the hero thus bespake.
Priam! at thy request thy son is loosed,
And lying on his bier; at dawn of day
Thou shalt both see him and convey him hence
Thyself to Troy. But take we now repast;
For even bright-hair'd Niobe her food
Forgat not, though of children twelve bereft,
Of daughters six, and of six blooming sons.
Apollo these struck from his silver bow,
And those shaft-arm'd Diana, both incensed
That oft Latona's children and her own
Numbering, she scorn'd the Goddess who had borne
Two only, while herself had twelve to boast.
Vain boast! those two sufficed to slay them all.
Nine days they welter'd in their blood, no man
Was found to bury them, for Jove had changed
To stone the people; but themselves, at last,
The Powers of heaven entomb'd them on the tenth.
Yet even she, once satisfied with tears,
Remember'd food; and now the rocks among
And pathless solitudes of Sipylus,
The rumor'd cradle of the nymphs who dance
On Acheloüs' banks, although to stone
Transform'd, she broods her heaven-inflicted woes.
Come, then, my venerable guest! take we
Refreshment also; once arrived in Troy
With thy dear son, thou shalt have time to weep
Sufficient, nor without most weighty cause.
So spake Achilles, and, upstarting, slew
A sheep white-fleeced, which his attendants flay'd,
And busily and with much skill their task
Administ'ring, first scored the viands well,
Then pierced them with the spits, and when the roast
Was finish'd, drew them from the spits again.
And now, Automedon dispensed around
The polish'd board bread in neat baskets piled,
Which done, Achilles portion'd out to each
His share, and all assail'd the ready feast.
But when nor hunger more nor thirst they felt,
Dardanian Priam, wond'ring at his bulk
And beauty (for he seem'd some God from heaven)
Gazed on Achilles, while Achilles held
Not less in admiration of his looks
Benign, and of his gentle converse wise,
Gazed on Dardanian Priam, and, at length
(The eyes of each gratified to the full)
The ancient King thus to Achilles spake.
Hero! dismiss us now each to our bed,
That there at ease reclined, we may enjoy
Sweet sleep; for never have these eyelids closed
Since Hector fell and died, but without cease
I mourn, and nourishing unnumber'd woes,
Have roll'd me in the ashes of my courts.
But I have now both tasted food, and given
Wine to my lips, untasted till with thee.
So he, and at his word Achilles bade
His train beneath his portico prepare
With all dispatch two couches, purple rugs,
And arras, and warm mantles over all.
Forth went the women bearing lights, and spread
A couch for each, when feigning needful fear,
Achilles thus his speech to Priam turn'd.
My aged guest beloved; sleep thou without;
Lest some Achaian chief (for such are wont
Ofttimes, here sitting, to consult with me)
Hither repair; of whom should any chance
To spy thee through the gloom, he would at once
Convey the tale to Agamemnon's ear,
Whence hindrance might arise, and the release
Haply of Hector's body be delay'd.
But answer me with truth. How many days
Wouldst thou assign to the funereal rites
Of noble Hector, for so long I mean
Myself to rest, and keep the host at home?
Then thus the ancient King godlike replied.
If thou indeed be willing that we give
Burial to noble Hector, by an act
So generous, O Achilles! me thou shalt
Much gratify; for we are shut, thou know'st,
In Ilium close, and fuel must procure
From Ida's side remote; fear, too, hath seized
On all our people. Therefore thus I say.
Nine days we wish to mourn him in the house;
To his interment we would give the tenth,
And to the public banquet; the eleventh
Shall see us build his tomb; and on the twelfth
(If war we must) we will to war again.
To whom Achilles, matchless in the race.
So be it, ancient Priam! I will curb
Twelve days the rage of war, at thy desire.
He spake, and at his wrist the right hand grasp'd
Of the old sovereign, to dispel his fear.
Then in the vestibule the herald slept
And Priam, prudent both, but Peleus' son
In the interior tent, and at his side
Brisëis, with transcendent beauty adorn'd.
Now all, all night, by gentle sleep subdued,
Both Gods and chariot-ruling warriors lay,
But not the benefactor of mankind,
Hermes; him sleep seized not, but deep he mused
How likeliest from amid the Grecian fleet
He might deliver by the guard unseen
The King of Ilium; at his head he stood
In vision, and the senior thus bespake.
Ah heedless and secure! hast thou no dread
Of mischief, ancient King, that thus by foes
Thou sleep'st surrounded, lull'd by the consent
And sufferance of Achilles? Thou hast given
Much for redemption of thy darling son,
But thrice that sum thy sons who still survive
Must give to Agamemnon and the Greeks
For thy redemption, should they know thee here.
He ended; at the sound alarm'd upsprang
The King, and roused his herald. Hermes yoked
Himself both mules and steeds, and through the camp
Drove them incontinent, by all unseen.
Soon as the windings of the stream they reach'd,
Deep-eddied Xanthus, progeny of Jove,
Mercury the Olympian summit sought,
And saffron-vested morn o'erspread the earth.
They, loud lamenting, to the city drove
Their steeds; the mules close follow'd with the dead.
Nor warrior yet, nor cinctured matron knew
Of all in Ilium aught of their approach,
Cassandra sole except. She, beautiful
As golden Venus, mounted on the height
Of Pergamus, her father first discern'd,
Borne on his chariot-seat erect, and knew:
The herald heard so oft in echoing Troy;
Him also on his bier outstretch'd she mark'd,
Whom the mules drew. Then, shrieking, through the streets
She ran of Troy, and loud proclaim'd the sight.
Ye sons of Ilium and ye daughters, haste,
Haste all to look on Hector, if ye e'er
With joy beheld him, while he yet survived,
From fight returning; for all Ilium erst
In him, and all her citizens rejoiced.
She spake. Then neither male nor female more
In Troy remain'd, such sorrow seized on all.
Issuing from the city-gate, they met
Priam conducting, sad, the body home,
And, foremost of them all, the mother flew
And wife of Hector to the bier, on which
Their torn-off tresses with unsparing hands
They shower'd, while all the people wept around.
All day, and to the going down of day
They thus had mourn'd the dead before the gates,
Had not their Sovereign from his chariot-seat
Thus spoken to the multitude around.
Fall back on either side, and let the mules
Pass on; the body in my palace once
Deposited, ye then may weep your fill.
He said; they, opening, gave the litter way.
Arrived within the royal house, they stretch'd
The breathless Hector on a sumptuous bed,
And singers placed beside him, who should chant
The strain funereal; they with many a groan
The dirge began, and still, at every close,
The female train with many a groan replied.
Then, in the midst, Andromache white-arm'd
Between her palms the dreadful Hector's head
Pressing, her lamentation thus began.
My hero! thou hast fallen in prime of life,
Me leaving here desolate, and the fruit
Of our ill-fated loves, a helpless child,
Whom grown to manhood I despair to see.
For ere that day arrive, down from her height
Precipitated shall this city fall,
Since thou hast perish'd once her sure defence,
Faithful protector of her spotless wives,
And all their little ones. Those wives shall soon
In Grecian barks capacious hence be borne,
And I among the rest. But thee, my child!
Either thy fate shall with thy mother send
Captive into a land where thou shalt serve
In sordid drudgery some cruel lord,
Or haply some Achaian here, thy hand
Seizing, shall hurl thee from a turret-top
To a sad death, avenging brother, son,
Or father by the hands of Hector slain;
For he made many a Grecian bite the ground.
Thy father, boy, bore never into fight
A milky mind, and for that self-same cause
Is now bewail'd in every house of Troy.
Sorrow unutterable thou hast caused
Thy parents, Hector! but to me hast left
Largest bequest of misery, to whom,
Dying, thou neither didst thy arms extend
Forth from thy bed, nor gavest me precious word
To be remember'd day and night with tears.
So spake she weeping, whom her maidens all
With sighs accompanied, and her complaint
Mingled with sobs Hecuba next began.
Ah Hector! dearest to thy mother's heart
Of all her sons, much must the Gods have loved
Thee living, whom, though dead, they thus preserve.
What son soever of our house beside
Achilles took, over the barren deep
To Samos, Imbrus, or to Lemnos girt
With rocks inhospitable, him he sold;
But thee, by his dread spear of life deprived,
He dragg'd and dragg'd around Patroclus' tomb,
As if to raise again his friend to life
Whom thou hadst vanquish'd; yet he raised him not.
But as for thee, thou liest here with dew
Besprinkled, fresh as a young plant, and more
Resemblest some fair youth by gentle shafts
Of Phoebus pierced, than one in battle slain.
So spake the Queen, exciting in all hearts
Sorrow immeasurable, after whom
Thus Helen, third, her lamentation pour'd.
Ah dearer far than all my brothers else
Of Priam's house! for being Paris' spouse,
Who brought me (would I had first died!) to Troy,
I call thy brothers mine; since forth I came
From Sparta, it is now the twentieth year,
Yet never heard I once hard speech from thee,
Or taunt morose, but if it ever chanced,
That of thy father's house female or male
Blamed me, and even if herself the Queen
(For in the King, whate'er befell, I found
Always a father) thou hast interposed
Thy gentle temper and thy gentle speech
To soothe them; therefore, with the same sad drops
Thy fate, oh Hector! and my own I weep;
For other friend within the ample bounds
Of Ilium have I none, nor hope to hear
Kind word again, with horror view'd by all.
So Helen spake weeping, to whom with groans
The countless multitude replied, and thus
Their ancient sovereign next his people charged.
Ye Trojans, now bring fuel home, nor fear
Close ambush of the Greeks; Achilles' self
Gave me, at my dismission from his fleet,
Assurance, that from hostile force secure
We shall remain, till the twelfth dawn arise.
All, then, their mules and oxen to the wains
Join'd speedily, and under Ilium's walls
Assembled numerous; nine whole days they toil'd,
Bringing much fuel home, and when the tenth
Bright morn, with light for human kind, arose,
Then bearing noble Hector forth, with tears
Shed copious, on the summit of the pile
They placed him, and the fuel fired beneath.
But when Aurora, daughter of the Dawn,
Redden'd the east, then, thronging forth, all Troy
Encompass'd noble Hector's pile around.
The whole vast multitude convened, with wine
They quench'd the pile throughout, leaving no part
Unvisited, on which the fire had seized.
His brothers, next, collected, and his friends,
His white bones, mourning, and with tears profuse
Watering their cheeks; then in a golden urn
They placed them, which with mantles soft they veil'd
Mæonian-hued, and, delving, buried it,
And overspread with stones the spot adust.
Lastly, short time allowing to the task,
They heap'd his tomb, while, posted on all sides,
Suspicious of assault, spies watch'd the Greeks.
The tomb once heap'd, assembling all again
Within the palace, they a banquet shared
Magnificent, by godlike Priam given.
Such burial the illustrious Hector found.
* * * * *
[I cannot take my leave of this noble poem, without expressing how much I am struck with this plain conclusion of it. It is like the exit of a great man out of company whom he has entertained magnificently; neither pompous nor familiar; not contemptuous, yet without much ceremony. I recollect nothing, among the works of mere man, that exemplifies so strongly the true style of great antiquity.]--TR.