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

A poem by William Cowper

Argument Of The Ninth Book.

By advice of Nestor, Agamemnon sends Ulysses, Phoenix, and Ajax to the tent of Achilles with proposals of reconciliation. They execute their commission, but without effect. Phoenix remains with Achilles; Ulysses and Ajax return.

So watch'd the Trojan host; but thoughts of flight,
Companions of chill fear, from heaven infused,
Possess'd the Grecians; every leader's heart
Bled, pierced with anguish insupportable.
As when two adverse winds blowing from Thrace,
Boreas and Zephyrus, the fishy Deep
Vex sudden, all around, the sable flood
High curl'd, flings forth the salt weed on the shore
Such tempest rent the mind of every Greek.
Forth stalk'd Atrides with heart-riving wo
Transfixt; he bade his heralds call by name
Each Chief to council, but without the sound
Of proclamation; and that task himself
Among the foremost sedulous perform'd.
The sad assembly sat; when weeping fast
As some deep[1] fountain pours its rapid stream
Down from the summit of a lofty rock,
King Agamemnon in the midst arose,
And, groaning, the Achaians thus address'd.
Friends, counsellors and leaders of the Greeks!
In dire perplexity Saturnian Jove
Involves me, cruel; he assured me erst,
And solemnly, that I should not return
Till I had wasted wall-encircled Troy;
But now (ah fraudulent and foul reverse!)
Commands me back inglorious to the shores
Of distant Argos, with diminish'd troops.
So stands the purpose of almighty Jove,
Who many a citadel hath laid in dust,
And shall hereafter, matchless in his power.
Haste therefore. My advice is, that we all
Fly with our fleet into our native land,
For wide-built Ilium shall not yet be ours.
He ceased, and all sat silent; long the sons
Of Greece, o'erwhelm'd with sorrow, silent sat,
When thus, at last, bold Diomede began.
Atrides! foremost of the Chiefs I rise
To contravert thy purpose ill-conceived,
And with such freedom as the laws, O King!
Of consultation and debate allow.
Hear patient. Thou hast been thyself the first
Who e'er reproach'd me in the public ear
As one effeminate and slow to fight;
How truly, let both young and old decide.
The son of wily Saturn hath to thee
Given, and refused; he placed thee high in power,
Gave thee to sway the sceptre o'er us all,
But courage gave thee not, his noblest gift.[2]
Art thou in truth persuaded that the Greeks
Are pusillanimous, as thou hast said?
If thy own fears impel thee to depart,
Go thou, the way is open; numerous ships,
Thy followers from Mycenæ, line the shore.
But we, the rest, depart not, 'till the spoil
Of Troy reward us. Or if all incline
To seek again their native home, fly all;
Myself and Sthenelus will persevere
Till Ilium fall, for with the Gods we came.
He ended; all the admiring sons of Greece
With shouts the warlike Diomede extoll'd,
When thus equestrian Nestor next began.
Tydides, thou art eminently brave
In fight, and all the princes of thy years
Excell'st in council. None of all the Greeks
Shall find occasion just to blame thy speech
Or to gainsay; yet thou hast fallen short.
What wonder? Thou art young; and were myself
Thy father, thou should'st be my latest born.
Yet when thy speech is to the Kings of Greece,
It is well-framed and prudent. Now attend!
Myself will speak, who have more years to boast
Than thou hast seen, and will so closely scan
The matter, that Atrides, our supreme,
Himself shall have no cause to censure me.
He is a wretch, insensible and dead
To all the charities of social life,
Whose pleasure is in civil broils alone.[3]
But Night is urgent, and with Night's demands
Let all comply. Prepare we now repast,
And let the guard be stationed at the trench
Without the wall; the youngest shall supply
That service; next, Atrides, thou begin
(For thou art here supreme) thy proper task.
Banquet the elders; it shall not disgrace
Thy sovereignty, but shall become thee well.
Thy tents are fill'd with wine which day by day
Ships bring from Thrace; accommodation large
Hast thou, and numerous is thy menial train.
Thy many guests assembled, thou shalt hear
Our counsel, and shalt choose the best; great need
Have all Achaia's sons, now, of advice
Most prudent; for the foe, fast by the fleet
Hath kindled numerous fires, which who can see
Unmoved? This night shall save us or destroy.[4]
He spake, whom all with full consent approved.
Forth rush'd the guard well-arm'd; first went the son
Of Nestor, Thrasymedes, valiant Chief;
Then, sons of Mars, Ascalaphus advanced,
And brave Iälmenus; whom follow'd next
Deipyrus, Aphareus, Meriones,
And Lycomedes, Creon's son renown'd.
Seven were the leaders of the guard, and each
A hundred spearmen headed, young and bold.
Between the wall and trench their seat they chose,
There kindled fires, and each his food prepared.
Atrides, then, to his pavilion led
The thronging Chiefs of Greece, and at his board
Regaled them; they with readiness and keen
Dispatch of hunger shared the savory feast,
And when nor thirst remain'd nor hunger more
Unsated, Nestor then, arising first,
Whose counsels had been ever wisest deem'd,
Warm for the public interest, thus began.
Atrides! glorious sovereign! King of men!
Thou art my first and last, proem and close,
For thou art mighty, and to thee are given
From Jove the sceptre and the laws in charge,
For the advancement of the general good.
Hence, in peculiar, both to speak and hear
Become thy duty, and the best advice,
By whomsoever offer'd, to adopt
And to perform, for thou art judge alone.
I will promulge the counsel which to me
Seems wisest; such, that other Grecian none
Shall give thee better; neither is it new,
But I have ever held it since the day
When, most illustrious! thou wast pleased to take
By force the maid Briseïs from the tent
Of the enraged Achilles; not, in truth,
By my advice, who did dissuade thee much;
But thou, complying with thy princely wrath,
Hast shamed a Hero whom themselves the Gods
Delight to honor, and his prize detain'st.
Yet even now contrive we, although late,
By lenient gifts liberal, and by speech
Conciliatory, to assuage his ire.
Then answer'd Agamemnon, King of men.
Old Chief! there is no falsehood in thy charge;
I have offended, and confess the wrong.
The warrior is alone a host, whom Jove
Loves as he loves Achilles, for whose sake
He hath Achaia's thousands thus subdued.
But if the impulse of a wayward mind
Obeying, I have err'd, behold me, now,
Prepared to soothe him with atonement large
Of gifts inestimable, which by name
I will propound in presence of you all.
Seven tripods, never sullied yet with fire;
Of gold ten talents; twenty cauldrons bright;
Twelve coursers, strong, victorious in the race;
No man possessing prizes such as mine
Which they have won for me, shall feel the want
Of acquisitions splendid or of gold.
Seven virtuous female captives will I give
Expert in arts domestic, Lesbians all,
Whom, when himself took Lesbos, I received
My chosen portion, passing womankind
In perfect loveliness of face and form.
These will I give, and will with these resign
Her whom I took, Briseïs, with an oath
Most solemn, that unconscious as she was
Of my embraces, such I yield her his.
All these I give him now; and if at length
The Gods vouchsafe to us to overturn
Priam's great city, let him heap his ships
With gold and brass, entering and choosing first
When we shall share the spoil. Let him beside
Choose twenty from among the maids of Troy,
Helen except, loveliest of all their sex.
And if once more, the rich milk-flowing land
We reach of Argos, he shall there become
My son-in-law, and shall enjoy like state
With him whom I in all abundance rear,
My only son Orestes. At my home
I have three daughters; let him thence conduct
To Phthia, her whom he shall most approve.
Chrysothemis shall be his bride, or else
Laodice; or if she please him more,
Iphianassa; and from him I ask
No dower;[5] myself will such a dower bestow
As never father on his child before.
Seven fair well-peopled cities I will give
Cardamyle and Enope, and rich
In herbage, Hira; Pheræ stately-built,
And for her depth of pasturage renown'd
Antheia; proud Æpeia's lofty towers,
And Pedasus impurpled dark with vines.
All these are maritime, and on the shore
They stand of Pylus, by a race possess'd
Most rich in flocks and herds, who tributes large,
And gifts presenting to his sceptred hand,
Shall hold him high in honor as a God.
These will I give him if from wrath he cease.
Let him be overcome. Pluto alone
Is found implacable and deaf to prayer,
Whom therefore of all Gods men hate the most.
My power is greater, and my years than his
More numerous, therefore let him yield to me.
To him Gerenian Nestor thus replied.
Atrides! glorious sovereign! King of men!
No sordid gifts, or to be view'd with scorn,
Givest thou the Prince Achilles. But away!
Send chosen messengers, who shall the son
Of Peleus, instant, in his tent address.
Myself will choose them, be it theirs to obey.
Let Phoenix lead, Jove loves him. Be the next
Huge Ajax; and the wise Ulysses third.
Of heralds, Odius and Eurybates
Shall them attend. Bring water for our hands;
Give charge that every tongue abstain from speech
Portentous, and propitiate Jove by prayer.
He spake, and all were pleased. The heralds pour'd
Pure water on their hands;[6] attendant youths
The beakers crown'd, and wine from right to left
Distributed to all. Libation made,
All drank, and in such measure as they chose,
Then hasted forth from Agamemnon's tent.
Gerenian Nestor at their side them oft
Instructed, each admonishing by looks
Significant, and motion of his eyes,
But most Ulysses, to omit no means
By which Achilles likeliest might be won.
Along the margin of the sounding deep
They pass'd, to Neptune, compasser of earth,
Preferring vows ardent with numerous prayers,
That they might sway with ease the mighty mind
Of fierce Æacides. And now they reach'd
The station where his Myrmidons abode.
Him solacing they found his heart with notes
Struck from his silver-framed harmonious lyre;
Among the spoils he found it when he sack'd
Eëtion's city; with that lyre his cares
He sooth'd, and glorious heroes were his theme.[7]
Patroclus silent sat, and he alone,
Before him, on Æacides intent,
Expecting still when he should cease to sing.
The messengers advanced (Ulysses first)
Into his presence; at the sight, his harp
Still in his hand, Achilles from his seat
Started astonish'd; nor with less amaze
Patroclus also, seeing them, arose.
Achilles seized their hands, and thus he spake.[8]
Hail friends! ye all are welcome. Urgent cause
Hath doubtless brought you, whom I dearest hold
(Though angry still) of all Achaia's host.
So saying, he introduced them, and on seats
Placed them with purple arras overspread,
Then thus bespake Patroclus standing nigh.
Son of Menætius! bring a beaker more
Capacious, and replenish it with wine
Diluted[9] less; then give to each his cup;
For dearer friends than these who now arrive
My roof beneath, or worthier, have I none.
He ended, and Patroclus quick obey'd,
Whom much he loved. Achilles, then, himself
Advancing near the fire an ample[10] tray,
Spread goats' flesh on it, with the flesh of sheep
And of a fatted brawn; of each a chine.
Automedon attending held them fast,
While with sharp steel Achilles from the bone
Sliced thin the meat, then pierced it with the spits.
Meantime the godlike Menætiades
Kindled fierce fire, and when the flame declined,
Raked wide the embers, laid the meat to roast,
And taking sacred salt from the hearth-side
Where it was treasured, shower'd it o'er the feast.
When all was finish'd, and the board set forth,
Patroclus furnish'd it around with bread
In baskets, and Achilles served the guests.
Beside the tent-wall, opposite, he sat
To the divine Ulysses; first he bade
Patroclus make oblation; he consign'd
The consecrated morsel to the fire,
And each, at once, his savoury mess assail'd.
When neither edge of hunger now they felt
Nor thirsted longer, Ajax with a nod
Made sign to Phoenix, which Ulysses mark'd,
And charging high his cup, drank to his host.
Health to Achilles! hospitable cheer
And well prepared, we want not at the board
Of royal Agamemnon, or at thine,
For both are nobly spread; but dainties now,
Or plenteous boards, are little our concern.[11]
Oh godlike Chief! tremendous ills we sit
Contemplating with fear, doubtful if life
Or death, with the destruction of our fleet,
Attend us, unless thou put on thy might.
For lo! the haughty Trojans, with their friends
Call'd from afar, at the fleet-side encamp,
Fast by the wall, where they have kindled fires
Numerous, and threaten that no force of ours
Shall check their purposed inroad on the ships.
Jove grants them favorable signs from heaven,
Bright lightnings; Hector glares revenge, with rage
Infuriate, and by Jove assisted, heeds
Nor God nor man, but prays the morn to rise
That he may hew away our vessel-heads,
Burn all our fleet with fire, and at their sides
Slay the Achaians struggling in the smoke.
Horrible are my fears lest these his threats
The Gods accomplish, and it be our doom
To perish here, from Argos far remote.
Up, therefore! if thou canst, and now at last
The weary sons of all Achaia save
From Trojan violence. Regret, but vain,
Shall else be thine hereafter, when no cure
Of such great ill, once suffer'd, can be found.
Thou therefore, seasonably kind, devise
Means to preserve from such disast'rous fate
The Grecians. Ah, my friend! when Peleus thee
From Phthia sent to Agamemnon's aid,
On that same day he gave thee thus in charge.
"Juno, my son, and Pallas, if they please,
Can make thee valiant; but thy own big heart
Thyself restrain. Sweet manners win respect.
Cease from pernicious strife, and young and old
Throughout the host shall honor thee the more."
Such was thy father's charge, which thou, it seems,
Remember'st not. Yet even now thy wrath
Renounce; be reconciled; for princely gifts
Atrides gives thee if thy wrath subside.
Hear, if thou wilt, and I will tell thee all,
How vast the gifts which Agamemnon made
By promise thine, this night within his tent.
Seven tripods never sullied yet with fire;
Of gold ten talents; twenty cauldrons bright;
Twelve steeds strong-limb'd, victorious in the race;
No man possessing prizes such as those
Which they have won for him, shall feel the want
Of acquisitions splendid, or of gold.
Seven virtuous female captives he will give,
Expert in arts domestic, Lesbians all,
Whom when thou conquer'dst Lesbos, he received
His chosen portion, passing woman-kind
In perfect loveliness of face and form.
These will he give, and will with these resign
Her whom he took, Briseïs, with an oath
Most solemn, that unconscious as she was
Of his embraces, such he yields her back.
All these he gives thee now! and if at length
The Gods vouchsafe to us to overturn
Priam's great city, thou shalt heap thy ships
With gold and brass, entering and choosing first,
When we shall share the spoil; and shalt beside
Choose twenty from among the maids of Troy,
Helen except, loveliest of all their sex.
And if once more the rich milk-flowing land
We reach of Argos, thou shalt there become
His son-in-law, and shalt enjoy like state
With him, whom he in all abundance rears,
His only son Orestes. In his house
He hath three daughters; thou may'st home conduct
To Phthia, her whom thou shalt most approve.
Chrysothemis shall be thy bride; or else
Laodice; or if she please thee more
Iphianassa; and from thee he asks
No dower; himself will such a dower bestow
As never father on his child before.
Seven fair well-peopled cities will he give;
Cardamyle and Enope; and rich
In herbage, Hira; Pheræ stately-built,
And for her depth of pasturage renown'd,
Antheia; proud Æpeia's lofty towers,
And Pedasus impurpled dark with vines.
All these are maritime, and on the shore
They stand of Pylus, by a race possess'd
Most rich in flocks and herds, who tribute large
And gifts presenting to thy sceptred hand,
Shall hold thee high in honor as a God.
These will he give thee, if thy wrath subside.
But should'st thou rather in thine heart the more
Both Agamemnon and his gifts detest,
Yet oh compassionate the afflicted host
Prepared to adore thee. Thou shalt win renown
Among the Grecians that shall never die.
Now strike at Hector. He is here;--himself
Provokes thee forth; madness is in his heart,
And in his rage he glories that our ships
Have hither brought no Grecian brave as he.
Then thus Achilles matchless in the race.
Laertes' noble son, for wiles renown'd!
I must with plainness speak my fixt resolve
Unalterable; lest I hear from each
The same long murmur'd melancholy tale.
For I abhor the man, not more the gates
Of hell itself, whose words belie his heart.
So shall not mine. My judgment undisguised
Is this; that neither Agamemnon me
Nor all the Greeks shall move; for ceaseless toil
Wins here no thanks; one recompense awaits
The sedentary and the most alert,
The brave and base in equal honor stand,
And drones and heroes fall unwept alike.
I after all my labors, who exposed
My life continual in the field, have earn'd
No very sumptuous prize. As the poor bird
Gives to her unfledged brood a morsel gain'd
After long search, though wanting it herself,
So I have worn out many sleepless nights,
And waded deep through many a bloody day
In battle for their wives.[12] I have destroy'd
Twelve cities with my fleet, and twelve, save one,
On foot contending in the fields of Troy.
From all these cities, precious spoils I took
Abundant, and to Agamemnon's hand
Gave all the treasure. He within his ships
Abode the while, and having all received,
Little distributed, and much retained;
He gave, however, to the Kings and Chiefs
A portion, and they keep it. Me alone
Of all the Grecian host he hath despoil'd;
My bride, my soul's delight is in his hands,
And let him, couch'd with her, enjoy his fill
Of dalliance. What sufficient cause, what need
Have the Achaians to contend with Troy?
Why hath Atrides gather'd such a host,
And led them hither? Was't not for the sake
Of beauteous Helen? And of all mankind
Can none be found who love their proper wives
But the Atridæ? There is no good man
Who loves not, guards not, and with care provides
For his own wife, and, though in battle won,
I loved the fair Briseïs at my heart.
But having dispossess'd me of my prize
So foully, let him not essay me now,
For I am warn'd, and he shall not prevail.
With thee and with thy peers let him advise,
Ulysses! how the fleet may likeliest 'scape
Yon hostile fires; full many an arduous task
He hath accomplished without aid of mine;
So hath he now this rampart and the trench
Which he hath digg'd around it, and with stakes
Planted contiguous--puny barriers all
To hero-slaughtering Hector's force opposed.
While I the battle waged, present myself
Among the Achaians, Hector never fought
Far from his walls, but to the Scæan gate
Advancing and the beech-tree, there remain'd.
Once, on that spot he met me, and my arm
Escaped with difficulty even there.
But, since I feel myself not now inclined
To fight with noble Hector, yielding first
To Jove due worship, and to all the Gods,
To-morrow will I launch, and give my ships
Their lading. Look thou forth at early dawn,
And, if such spectacle delight thee aught,
Thou shalt behold me cleaving with my prows
The waves of Hellespont, and all my crews
Of lusty rowers active in their task.
So shall I reach (if Ocean's mighty God
Prosper my passage) Phthia the deep-soil'd
On the third day. I have possessions there,
Which hither roaming in an evil hour
I left abundant. I shall also hence
Convey much treasure, gold and burnish'd brass,
And glittering steel, and women passing fair
My portion of the spoils. But he, your King,
The prize he gave, himself resumed,
And taunted at me. Tell him my reply,
And tell it him aloud, that other Greeks
May indignation feel like me, if arm'd
Always in impudence, he seek to wrong
Them also. Let him not henceforth presume,
Canine and hard in aspect though he be,
To look me in the face. I will not share
His counsels, neither will I aid his works.
Let it suffice him, that he wrong'd me once,
Deceived me once, henceforth his glozing arts
Are lost on me. But let him rot in peace
Crazed as he is, and by the stroke of Jove
Infatuate. I detest his gifts, and him
So honor as the thing which most I scorn.
And would he give me twenty times the worth
Of this his offer, all the treasured heaps
Which he possesses, or shall yet possess,
All that Orchomenos within her walls,
And all that opulent Egyptian Thebes
Receives, the city with a hundred gates,
Whence twenty thousand chariots rush to war,
And would he give me riches as the sands,
And as the dust of earth, no gifts from him
Should soothe me, till my soul were first avenged
For all the offensive license of his tongue.
I will not wed the daughter of your Chief,
Of Agamemnon. Could she vie in charms
With golden Venus, had she all the skill
Of blue-eyed Pallas, even so endow'd
She were no bride for me. No. He may choose
From the Achaians some superior Prince,
One more her equal. Peleus, if the Gods
Preserve me, and I safe arrive at home,
Himself, ere long, shall mate me with a bride.
In Hellas and in Phthia may be found
Fair damsels many, daughters of the Chiefs
Who guard our cities; I may choose of them,
And make the loveliest of them all my own.
There, in my country, it hath ever been
My dearest purpose, wedded to a wife
Of rank convenient, to enjoy in peace
Such wealth as ancient Peleus hath acquired.
For life, in my account, surpasses far
In value all the treasures which report
Ascribed to populous Ilium, ere the Greeks
Arrived, and while the city yet had peace;
Those also which Apollo's marble shrine
In rocky Pytho boasts. Fat flocks and beeves
May be by force obtain'd, tripods and steeds
Are bought or won, but if the breath of man
Once overpass its bounds, no force arrests
Or may constrain the unbodied spirit back.
Me, as my silver-footed mother speaks
Thetis, a twofold consummation waits.
If still with battle I encompass Troy,
I win immortal glory, but all hope
Renounce of my return. If I return
To my beloved country, I renounce
The illustrious meed of glory, but obtain
Secure and long immunity from death.
And truly I would recommend to all
To voyage homeward, for the fall as yet
Ye shall not see of Ilium's lofty towers,
For that the Thunderer with uplifted arm
Protects her, and her courage hath revived.
Bear ye mine answer back, as is the part
Of good ambassadors, that they may frame
Some likelier plan, by which both fleet and host
May be preserved; for, my resentment still
Burning, this project is but premature.
Let Phoenix stay with us, and sleep this night
Within my tent, that, if he so incline,
He may to-morrow in my fleet embark,
And hence attend me; but I leave him free.
He ended; they astonish'd at his tone
(For vehement he spake) sat silent all,
Till Phoenix, aged warrior, at the last
Gush'd into tears (for dread his heart o'erwhelm'd
Lest the whole fleet should perish) and replied.
If thou indeed have purposed to return,
Noble Achilles! and such wrath retain'st
That thou art altogether fixt to leave
The fleet a prey to desolating fires,
How then, my son! shall I at Troy abide
Forlorn of thee? When Peleus, hoary Chief,
Sent thee to Agamemnon, yet a child,[13]
Unpractised in destructive fight, nor less
Of councils ignorant, the schools in which
Great minds are form'd, he bade me to the war
Attend thee forth, that I might teach thee all,
Both elocution and address in arms.
Me therefore shalt thou not with my consent
Leave here, my son! no, not would Jove himself
Promise me, reaping smooth this silver beard,
To make me downy-cheek'd as in my youth;
Such as when erst from Hellas beauty-famed
I fled, escaping from my father's wrath
Amyntor, son of Ormenus, who loved
A beauteous concubine, and for her sake
Despised his wife and persecuted me.
My mother suppliant at my knees, with prayer
Perpetual importuned me to embrace
The damsel first, that she might loathe my sire.
I did so; and my father soon possess'd
With hot suspicion of the fact, let loose
A storm of imprecation, in his rage
Invoking all the Furies to forbid
That ever son of mine should press his knees.
Tartarian Jove[14] and dread Persephone
Fulfill'd his curses; with my pointed spear
I would have pierced his heart, but that my wrath
Some Deity assuaged, suggesting oft
What shame and obloquy I should incur,
Known as a parricide through all the land.
At length, so treated, I resolved to dwell
No longer in his house. My friends, indeed,
And all my kindred compass'd me around
With much entreaty, wooing me to stay;
Oxen and sheep they slaughter'd, many a plump
Well-fatted brawn extended in the flames,
And drank the old man's vessels to the lees.
Nine nights continual at my side they slept,
While others watch'd by turns, nor were the fires
Extinguish'd ever, one, beneath the porch
Of the barr'd hall, and one that from within
The vestibule illumed my chamber door.
But when the tenth dark night at length arrived,
Sudden the chamber doors bursting I flew
That moment forth, and unperceived alike
By guards and menial woman, leap'd the wall.
Through spacious Hellas flying thence afar,
I came at length to Phthia the deep-soil'd,
Mother of flocks, and to the royal house
Of Peleus; Peleus with a willing heart
Receiving, loved me as a father loves
His only son, the son of his old age,
Inheritor of all his large demesnes.
He made me rich; placed under my control
A populous realm, and on the skirts I dwelt
Of Phthia, ruling the Dolopian race.
Thee from my soul, thou semblance of the Gods,
I loved, and all illustrious as thou art,
Achilles! such I made thee. For with me,
Me only, would'st thou forth to feast abroad,
Nor would'st thou taste thy food at home, 'till first
I placed thee on my knees, with my own hand
Thy viands carved and fed thee, and the wine
Held to thy lips; and many a time, in fits
Of infant frowardness, the purple juice
Rejecting thou hast deluged all my vest,
And fill'd my bosom. Oh, I have endured
Much, and have also much perform'd for thee,
Thus purposing, that since the Gods vouchsaf'd
No son to me, thyself shouldst be my son,
Godlike Achilles! who shouldst screen perchance
From a foul fate my else unshelter'd age.
Achilles! bid thy mighty spirit down.
Thou shouldst not be thus merciless; the Gods,
Although more honorable, and in power
And virtue thy superiors, are themselves
Yet placable; and if a mortal man
Offend them by transgression of their laws,
Libation, incense, sacrifice, and prayer,
In meekness offer'd turn their wrath away.
Prayers are Jove's daughters,[15] wrinkled,[16] lame, slant-eyed,
Which though far distant, yet with constant pace
Follow Offence. Offence, robust of limb,
And treading firm the ground, outstrips them all,
And over all the earth before them runs
Hurtful to man. They, following, heal the hurt.
Received respectfully when they approach,
They help us, and our prayers hear in return.
But if we slight, and with obdurate heart
Resist them, to Saturnian Jove they cry
Against us, supplicating that Offence
May cleave to us for vengeance of the wrong.
Thou, therefore, O Achilles! honor yield
To Jove's own daughters, vanquished, as the brave
Have ofttimes been, by honor paid to thee.
For came not Agamemnon as he comes
With gifts in hand, and promises of more
Hereafter; burn'd his anger still the same,
I would not move thee to renounce thy own,
And to assist us, howsoe'er distress'd.
But now, not only are his present gifts
Most liberal, and his promises of more
Such also, but these Princes he hath sent
Charged with entreaties, thine especial friends,
And chosen for that cause, from all the host.
Slight not their embassy, nor put to shame
Their intercession. We confess that once
Thy wrath was unreprovable and just.
Thus we have heard the heroes of old times
Applauded oft, whose anger, though intense,
Yet left them open to the gentle sway
Of reason and conciliatory gifts.
I recollect an ancient history,
Which, since all here are friends, I will relate.
The brave Ætolians and Curetes met
Beneath the walls of Calydon, and fought
With mutual slaughter; the Ætolian powers
In the defence of Calydon the fair,
And the Curetes bent to lay it waste:
That strife Diana of the golden throne
Kindled between them, with resentment fired
That Oeneus had not in some fertile spot
The first fruits of his harvest set apart
To her; with hecatombs he entertained
All the Divinities of heaven beside,
And her alone, daughter of Jove supreme,
Or through forgetfulness, or some neglect,
Served not; omission careless and profane!
She, progeny of Jove, Goddess shaft-arm'd,
A savage boar bright-tusk'd in anger sent,
Which haunting Oeneus' fields much havoc made.
Trees numerous on the earth in heaps he cast
Uprooting them, with all their blossoms on.
But Meleager, Oeneus' son, at length
Slew him, the hunters gathering and the hounds
Of numerous cities; for a boar so vast
Might not be vanquish'd by the power of few,
And many to their funeral piles he sent.
Then raised Diana clamorous dispute,
And contest hot between them, all alike,
Curetes and Ætolians fierce in arms
The boar's head claiming, and his bristly hide.
So long as warlike Meleager fought,
Ætolia prosper'd, nor with all their powers
Could the Curetes stand before the walls.
But when resentment once had fired the heart
Of Meleager, which hath tumult oft
Excited in the breasts of wisest men,
(For his own mother had his wrath provoked
Althæa) thenceforth with his wedded wife
He dwelt, fair Cleopatra, close retired.
She was Marpessa's daughter, whom she bore
To Idas, bravest warrior in his day
Of all on earth. He fear'd not 'gainst the King
Himself Apollo, for the lovely nymph
Marpessa's sake, his spouse, to bend his bow.
Her, therefore, Idas and Marpessa named
Thenceforth Alcyone, because the fate
Of sad Alcyone Marpessa shared,
And wept like her, by Phoebus forced away.
Thus Meleager, tortured with the pangs
Of wrath indulged, with Cleopatra dwelt,
Vex'd that his mother cursed him; for, with grief
Frantic, his mother importuned the Gods
To avenge her slaughter'd brothers[17] on his head.
Oft would she smite the earth, while on her knees
Seated, she fill'd her bosom with her tears,
And call'd on Pluto and dread Proserpine
To slay her son; nor vain was that request,
But by implacable Erynnis heard
Roaming the shades of Erebus. Ere long
The tumult and the deafening din of war
Roar'd at the gates, and all the batter'd towers
Resounded. Then the elders of the town
Dispatch'd the high-priests of the Gods to plead
With Meleager for his instant aid,
With strong assurances of rich reward.
Where Calydon afforded fattest soil
They bade him choose to his own use a farm
Of fifty measured acres, vineyard half,
And half of land commodious for the plow.
Him Oeneus also, warrior grey with age,
Ascending to his chamber, and his doors
Smiting importunate, with earnest prayers
Assay'd to soften, kneeling to his son.
Nor less his sisters woo'd him to relent,
Nor less his mother; but in vain; he grew
Still more obdurate. His companions last,
The most esteem'd and dearest of his friends,
The same suit urged, yet he persisted still
Relentless, nor could even they prevail.
But when the battle shook his chamber-doors
And the Curetes climbing the high towers
Had fired the spacious city, then with tears
The beauteous Cleopatra, and with prayers
Assail'd him; in his view she set the woes
Numberless of a city storm'd--the men
Slaughter'd, the city burnt to dust, the chaste
Matrons with all their children dragg'd away.
That dread recital roused him, and at length
Issuing, he put his radiant armor on.
Thus Meleager, gratifying first
His own resentment from a fatal day
Saved the Ætolians, who the promised gift
Refused him, and his toils found no reward.
But thou, my son, be wiser; follow thou
No demon who would tempt thee to a course
Like his; occasion more propitious far
Smiles on thee now, than if the fleet were fired.
Come, while by gifts invited, and receive
From all the host, the honors of a God;
For shouldst thou, by no gifts induced, at last
Enter the bloody field, although thou chase
The Trojans hence, yet less shall be thy praise.
Then thus Achilles, matchless in the race.
Phoenix, my guide, wise, noble and revered!
I covet no such glory! the renown
Ordain'd by Jove for me, is to resist
All importunity to quit my ships
While I have power to move, or breath to draw.
Hear now, and mark me well. Cease thou from tears.
Confound me not, pleading with sighs and sobs
In Agamemnon's cause; O love not him,
Lest I renounce thee, who am now thy friend.
Assist me rather, as thy duty bids,
Him to afflict, who hath afflicted me,
So shalt thou share my glory and my power.
These shall report as they have heard, but here
Rest thou this night, and with the rising morn
We will decide, to stay or to depart.
He ceased, and silent, by a nod enjoin'd
Patroclus to prepare an easy couch
For Phoenix, anxious to dismiss the rest
Incontinent; when Ajax, godlike son
Of Telamon, arising, thus began.
Laertes' noble son, for wiles renown'd:
Depart we now; for I perceive that end
Or fruit of all our reasonings shall be none.
It is expedient also that we bear
Our answer back (unwelcome as it is)
With all dispatch, for the assembled Greeks
Expect us. Brave Achilles shuts a fire
Within his breast; the kindness of his friends,
And the respect peculiar by ourselves
Shown to him, on his heart work no effect.
Inexorable man! others accept
Even for a brother slain, or for a son
Due compensation;[18] the delinquent dwells
Secure at home, and the receiver, soothed
And pacified, represses his revenge.
But thou, resentful of the loss of one,
One virgin (such obduracy of heart
The Gods have given thee) can'st not be appeased
Yet we assign thee seven in her stead,
The most distinguish'd of their sex, and add
Large gifts beside. Ah then, at last relent!
Respect thy roof; we are thy guests; we come
Chosen from the multitude of all the Greeks,
Beyond them all ambitious of thy love.
To whom Achilles, swiftest of the swift.
My noble friend, offspring of Telamon!
Thou seem'st sincere, and I believe thee such.
But at the very mention of the name
Of Atreus' son, who shamed me in the sight
Of all Achaia's host, bearing me down
As I had been some vagrant at his door,
My bosom boils. Return ye and report
Your answer. I no thought will entertain
Of crimson war, till the illustrious son
Of warlike Priam, Hector, blood-embrued,
Shall in their tents the Myrmidons assail
Themselves, and fire my fleet. At my own ship,
And at my own pavilion it may chance
That even Hector's violence shall pause.[19]
He ended; they from massy goblets each
Libation pour'd, and to the fleet their course
Resumed direct, Ulysses at their head.
Patroclus then his fellow-warriors bade,
And the attendant women spread a couch
For Phoenix; they the couch, obedient, spread
With fleeces, with rich arras, and with flax
Of subtlest woof. There hoary Phoenix lay
In expectation of the sacred dawn.
Meantime Achilles in the interior tent,
With beauteous Diomeda by himself
From Lesbos brought, daughter of Phorbas, lay.
Patroclus opposite reposed, with whom
Slept charming Iphis; her, when he had won
The lofty towers of Scyros, the divine
Achilles took, and on his friend bestow'd.
But when those Chiefs at Agamemnon's tent
Arrived, the Greeks on every side arose
With golden cups welcoming their return.
All question'd them, but Agamemnon first.
Oh worthy of Achaia's highest praise,
And her chief ornament, Ulysses, speak!
Will he defend the fleet? or his big heart
Indulging wrathful, doth he still refuse?
To whom renown'd Ulysses thus replied.
Atrides, Agamemnon, King of men!
He his resentment quenches not, nor will,
But burns with wrath the more, thee and thy gifts
Rejecting both. He bids thee with the Greeks
Consult by what expedient thou may'st save
The fleet and people, threatening that himself
Will at the peep of day launch all his barks,
And counselling, beside, the general host
To voyage homeward, for that end as yet
Of Ilium wall'd to heaven, ye shall not find,
Since Jove the Thunderer with uplifted arm
Protects her, and her courage hath revived.
Thus speaks the Chief, and Ajax is prepared,
With the attendant heralds to report
As I have said. But Phoenix in the tent
Sleeps of Achilles, who his stay desired,
That on the morrow, if he so incline,
The hoary warrior may attend him hence
Home to his country, but he leaves him free.
He ended. They astonish'd at his tone
(For vehement he spake) sat silent all.
Long silent sat the afflicted sons of Greece,
When thus the mighty Diomede began.
Atrides, Agamemnon, King of men!
Thy supplications to the valiant son
Of Peleus, and the offer of thy gifts
Innumerous, had been better far withheld.
He is at all times haughty, and thy suit
Hath but increased his haughtiness of heart
Past bounds: but let him stay or let him go
As he shall choose. He will resume the fight
When his own mind shall prompt him, and the Gods
Shall urge him forth. Now follow my advice.
Ye have refresh'd your hearts with food and wine
Which are the strength of man; take now repose.
And when the rosy-finger'd morning fair
Shall shine again, set forth without delay
The battle, horse and foot, before the fleet,
And where the foremost fight, fight also thou.
He ended; all the Kings applauded warm
His counsel, and the dauntless tone admired
Of Diomede. Then, due libation made,
Each sought his tent, and took the gift of sleep.

* * * * *

There is much in this book which is worthy of close attention. The consummate genius, the varied and versatile power, the eloquence, truth, and nature displayed in it, will always be admired. Perhaps there is no portion of the poem more remarkable for these attributes.--FELTON.

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