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

A poem by William Cowper

Argument Of The Nineteenth Book.

Achilles is reconciled to Agamemnon, and clothed in new armor forged by Vulcan, leads out the Myrmidons to battle.

Now rose the morn in saffron vest attired
From ocean, with new day for Gods and men,
When Thetis at the fleet of Greece arrived,
Bearing that gift divine. She found her son
All tears, and close enfolding in his arms
Patroclus, while his Myrmidons around
Wept also;[1] she amid them, graceful, stood,
And seizing fast his hand, him thus bespake.
Although our loss be great, yet, oh my son!
Leave we Patroclus lying on the bier
To which the Gods ordain'd him from the first.
Receive from Vulcan's hands these glorious arms,
Such as no mortal shoulders ever bore.
So saying, she placed the armor on the ground
Before him, and the whole bright treasure rang.
A tremor shook the Myrmidons; none dared
Look on it, but all fled. Not so himself.
In him fresh vengeance kindled at the view,
And, while he gazed, a splendor as of fire
Flash'd from his eyes. Delighted, in his hand
He held the glorious bounty of the God,
And, wondering at those strokes of art divine,
His eager speech thus to his mother turn'd.[2]
The God, my mother! hath bestow'd in truth
Such armor on me as demanded skill
Like his, surpassing far all power of man.
Now, therefore, I will arm. But anxious fears
Trouble me, lest intrusive flies, meantime,
Breed worms within the spear-inflicted wounds
Of Menoetiades, and fill with taint
Of putrefaction his whole breathless form.[3]
But him the silver-footed Goddess fair
Thus answer'd. Oh, my son! chase from thy mind
All such concern. I will, myself, essay
To drive the noisome swarms which on the slain
In battle feed voracious. Should he lie
The year complete, his flesh shall yet be found
Untainted, and, it may be, fragrant too.
But thou the heroes of Achaia's host
Convening, in their ears thy wrath renounce
Against the King of men, then, instant, arm
For battle, and put on thy glorious might.
So saying, the Goddess raised his courage high.
Then, through the nostrils of the dead she pour'd
Ambrosia, and the ruddy juice divine
Of nectar, antidotes against decay.
And now forth went Achilles by the side
Of ocean, calling with a dreadful shout
To council all the heroes of the host.[4]
Then, even they who in the fleet before
Constant abode, helmsmen and those who held
In stewardship the food and public stores,
All flock'd to council, for that now at length
After long abstinence from dread exploits
Of war, Achilles had once more appear'd.
Two went together, halting on the spear,
(For still they felt the anguish of their wounds)
Noble Ulysses and brave Diomede,
And took an early seat; whom follow'd last
The King of men, by Coön in the field
Of furious battle wounded with a lance.
The Grecians all assembled, in the midst
Upstood the swift Achilles, and began.
Atrides! we had doubtless better sped
Both thou and I, thus doing, when at first
With cruel rage we burn'd, a girl the cause.
I would that Dian's shaft had in the fleet
Slain her that self-same day when I destroy'd
Lyrnessus, and by conquest made her mine!
Then had not many a Grecian, lifeless now,
Clench'd with his teeth the ground, victim, alas!
Of my revenge; whence triumph hath accrued
To Hector and his host, while ours have cause
For long remembrance of our mutual strife.
But evils past let pass, yielding perforce
To sad necessity. My wrath shall cease
Now; I resign it; it hath burn'd too long.
Thou therefore summon forth the host to fight,
That I may learn meeting them in the field,
If still the Trojans purpose at our fleet
To watch us this night also. But I judge
That driven by my spear to rapid flight,
They shall escape with weary limbs[5] at least.
He ended, and the Grecians brazen-greaved
Rejoiced that Peleus' mighty son had cast
His wrath aside. Then not into the midst
Proceeding, but at his own seat, upstood
King Agamemnon, and them thus bespake.
Friends! Grecian heroes! Ministers of Mars!
Arise who may to speak, he claims your ear;
All interruption wrongs him, and distracts,
Howe'er expert the speaker. Who can hear
Amid the roar of tumult, or who speak?
The clearest voice, best utterance, both are vain
I shall address Achilles. Hear my speech
Ye Argives, and with understanding mark.
I hear not now the voice of your reproach[6]
First; ye have oft condemn'd me. Yet the blame
Rests not with me; Jove, Destiny, and she
Who roams the shades, Erynnis, caused the offence.
She fill'd my soul with fury on that day
In council, when I seized Achilles' prize.
For what could I? All things obey the Gods.
Ate, pernicious Power, daughter of Jove,
By whom all suffer, challenges from all
Reverence and fear. Delicate are her feet
Which scorn the ground, and over human heads
She glides, injurious to the race of man,
Of two who strive, at least entangling one.
She injured, on a day, dread Jove himself
Most excellent of all in earth or heaven,
When Juno, although female, him deceived,
What time Alcmena should have brought to light
In bulwark'd Thebes the force of Hercules.
Then Jove, among the gods glorying, spake.
Hear all! both Gods and Goddesses, attend!
That I may make my purpose known. This day
Birth-pang-dispensing Ilithya brings
An hero forth to light, who, sprung from those
That sprang from me, his empire shall extend
Over all kingdoms bordering on his own.
To whom, designing fraud, Juno replied.
Thou wilt be found false, and this word of thine
Shall want performance. But Olympian Jove!
Swear now the inviolable oath, that he
Who shall, this day, fall from between the feet
Of woman, drawing his descent from thee,
Shall rule all kingdoms bordering on his own.
She said, and Jove, suspecting nought her wiles,
The great oath swore, to his own grief and wrong.
At once from the Olympian summit flew
Juno, and to Achaian Argos borne,
There sought the noble wife[7] of Sthenelus,
Offspring of Perseus. Pregnant with a son
Six months, she now the seventh saw at hand,
But him the Goddess premature produced,
And check'd Alcmena's pangs already due.
Then joyful to have so prevail'd, she bore
Herself the tidings to Saturnian Jove.
Lord of the candent lightnings! Sire of all!
I bring thee tidings. The great prince, ordain'd
To rule the Argive race, this day is born,
Eurystheus, son of Sthenelus, the son
Of Perseus; therefore he derives from thee,
Nor shall the throne of Argos shame his birth.
She spake; then anguish stung the heart of Jove
Deeply, and seizing by her glossy locks
The Goddess Ate, in his wrath he swore
That never to the starry skies again
And the Olympian heights he would permit
The universal mischief to return.
Then, whirling her around, he cast her down
To earth. She, mingling with all works of men,
Caused many a pang to Jove, who saw his son
Laborious tasks servile, and of his birth
Unworthy, at Eurystheus' will enjoin'd.
So when the hero Hector at our ships
Slew us, I then regretted my offence
Which Ate first impell'd me to commit.
But since, infatuated by the Gods
I err'd, behold me ready to appease
With gifts of price immense whom I have wrong'd.
Thou, then, arise to battle, and the host
Rouse also. Not a promise yesternight
Was made thee by Ulysses in thy tent
On my behalf, but shall be well perform'd.
Or if it please thee, though impatient, wait
Short season, and my train shall bring the gifts
Even now; that thou may'st understand and know
That my peace-offerings are indeed sincere.
To whom Achilles, swiftest of the swift.
Atrides! Agamemnon! passing all
In glory! King of men! recompense just
By gifts to make me, or to make me none,
That rests with thee. But let us to the fight
Incontinent. It is no time to play
The game of rhetoric, and to waste the hours
In speeches. Much remains yet unperform'd.
Achilles must go forth. He must be seen
Once more in front of battle, wasting wide
With brazen spear, the crowded ranks of Troy.
Mark him--and as he fights, fight also ye.
To whom Ulysses ever-wise replied.
Nay--urge not, valiant as thou art thyself,
Achaia's sons up to the battlements
Of Ilium, by repast yet unrefresh'd,
Godlike Achilles!--For when phalanx once
Shall clash with phalanx, and the Gods with rage
Both hosts inspire, the contest shall not then
Prove short. Bid rather the Achaians take
Both food and wine, for they are strength and might.
To stand all day till sunset to a foe
Opposed in battle, fasting, were a task
Might foil the best; for though his will be prompt
To combat, yet the power must by degrees
Forsake him; thirst and hunger he must feel,
And his limbs failing him at every step.
But he who hath his vigor to the full
Fed with due nourishment, although he fight
All day, yet feels his courage unimpair'd,
Nor weariness perceives till all retire.
Come then--dismiss the people with command
That each prepare replenishment. Meantime
Let Agamemnon, King of men, his gifts
In presence here of the assembled Greeks
Produce, that all may view them, and that thou
May'st feel thine own heart gladden'd at the sight.
Let the King also, standing in the midst,
Swear to thee, that he renders back the maid
A virgin still, and strange to his embrace,
And let thy own composure prove, the while,
That thou art satisfied. Last, let him spread
A princely banquet for thee in his tent,
That thou may'st want no part of just amends.
Thou too, Atrides, shalt hereafter prove
More just to others; for himself, a King,
Stoops not too low, soothing whom he hath wrong'd.
Him Agamemnon answer'd, King of men.
Thou hast arranged wisely the whole concern,
O Läertiades, and I have heard
Thy speech, both words and method with delight.
Willing I am, yea more, I wish to swear
As thou hast said, for by the Gods I can
Most truly. Let Achilles, though of pause
Impatient, suffer yet a short delay
With all assembled here, till from my tent
The gifts arrive, and oaths of peace be sworn.
To thee I give it in peculiar charge
That choosing forth the most illustrious youths
Of all Achaia, thou produce the gifts
from my own ship, all those which yesternight
We promised, nor the women leave behind.
And let Talthybius throughout all the camp
Of the Achaians, instant, seek a boar
For sacrifice to Jove and to the Sun.
Then thus Achilles matchless in the race.
Atrides! most illustrious! King of men!
Expedience bids us to these cares attend
Hereafter, when some pause, perchance, of fight
Shall happen, and the martial rage which fires
My bosom now, shall somewhat less be felt.
Our friends by Priameian Hector slain,
Now strew the field mangled, for him hath Jove
Exalted high, and given him great renown.
But haste, now take refreshment; though, in truth
Might I direct, the host should by all means
Unfed to battle, and at set of sun
All sup together, this affront revenged.
But as for me, no drop shall pass my lips
Or morsel, whose companion lies with feet
Turn'd to the vestibule, pierced by the spear,
And compass'd by my weeping train around.
No want of food feel I. My wishes call
For carnage, blood, and agonies and groans.
But him, excelling in all wisdom, thus
Ulysses answer'd. Oh Achilles! son
Of Peleus! bravest far of all our host!
Me, in no scanty measure, thou excell'st
Wielding the spear, and thee in prudence, I
Not less. For I am elder, and have learn'd
What thou hast yet to learn. Bid then thine heart
Endure with patience to be taught by me.
Men, satiate soon with battle, loathe the field
On which the most abundant harvest falls,
Reap'd by the sword; and when the hand of Jove
Dispenser of the great events of war,
Turns once the scale, then, farewell every hope
Of more than scanty gleanings. Shall the Greeks
Abstain from sustenance for all who die?
That were indeed severe, since day by day
No few expire, and respite could be none.
The dead, die whoso may, should be inhumed.
This, duty bids, but bids us also deem
One day sufficient for our sighs and tears.
Ourselves, all we who still survive the war,
Have need of sustenance, that we may bear
The lengthen'd conflict with recruited might,
Case in enduring brass.--Ye all have heard
Your call to battle; let none lingering stand
In expectation of a farther call,
Which if it sound, shall thunder prove to him
Who lurks among the ships. No. Rush we all
Together forth, for contest sharp prepared,
And persevering with the host of Troy.
So saying, the sons of Nestor, glorious Chief,
He chose, with Meges Phyleus' noble son,
Thoas, Meriones, and Melanippus
And Lycomedes. These, together, sought
The tent of Agamemnon, King of men.
They ask'd, and they received. Soon they produced
The seven promised tripods from the tent,
Twice ten bright caldrons, twelve high-mettled steeds,
Seven lovely captives skill'd alike in arts
Domestic, of unblemish'd beauty rare,
And last, Brisëis with the blooming cheeks.
Before them went Ulysses, bearing weigh'd
Ten golden talents, whom the chosen Greeks
Attended laden with the remnant gifts.
Full in the midst they placed them. Then arose
King Agamemnon, and Talthybius
The herald, clear in utterance as a God,
Beside him stood, holding the victim boar.
Atrides, drawing forth his dagger bright,
Appendant ever to his sword's huge sheath,
Sever'd the bristly forelock of the boar,
A previous offering. Next, with lifted hands
To Jove he pray'd, while, all around, the Greeks
Sat listening silent to the Sovereign's voice.
He look'd to the wide heaven, and thus he pray'd.
First, Jove be witness! of all Powers above
Best and supreme; Earth next, and next the Sun!
And last, who under Earth the guilt avenge
Of oaths sworn falsely, let the Furies hear!
For no respect of amorous desire
Or other purpose, have I laid mine hand
On fair Brisëis, but within my tent
Untouch'd, immaculate she hath remain'd.
And if I falsely swear, then may the Gods
The many woes with which they mark the crime
Of men forsworn, pour also down on me!
So saying, he pierced the victim in his throat
And, whirling him around, Talthybius, next,
Cast him into the ocean, fishes' food.[8]
Then, in the centre of Achaia's sons
Uprose Achilles, and thus spake again.
Jove! Father! dire calamities, effects
Of thy appointment, fall on human-kind.
Never had Agamemnon in my breast
Such anger kindled, never had he seized,
Blinded by wrath, and torn my prize away,
But that the slaughter of our numerous friends
Which thence ensued, thou hadst, thyself, ordained.
Now go, ye Grecians, eat, and then to battle.
So saying, Achilles suddenly dissolved
The hasty council, and all flew dispersed
To their own ships. Then took the Myrmidons
Those splendid gifts which in the tent they lodged
Of swift Achilles, and the damsels led
Each to a seat, while others of his train
Drove forth the steeds to pasture with his herd.
But when Brisëis, bright as Venus, saw
Patroclus lying mangled by the spear,
Enfolding him around, she shriek'd and tore
Her bosom, her smooth neck and beauteous cheeks.
Then thus, divinely fair, with tears she said.
Ah, my Patroclus! dearest friend of all
To hapless me, departing from this tent
I left thee living, and now, generous Chief!
Restored to it again, here find thee dead.
How rapid in succession are my woes!
I saw, myself, the valiant prince to whom
My parents had betroth'd me, slain before
Our city walls; and my three brothers, sons
Of my own mother, whom with long regret
I mourn, fell also in that dreadful field.
But when the swift Achilles slew the prince
Design'd my spouse, and the fair city sack'd
Of noble Mynes, thou by every art
Of tender friendship didst forbid my tears,
Promising oft that thou would'st make me bride
Of Peleus' godlike son, that thy own ship
Should waft me hence to Phthia, and that thyself
Would'st furnish forth among the Myrmidons
Our nuptial feast. Therefore thy death I mourn
Ceaseless, for thou wast ever kind to me.
She spake, and all her fellow-captives heaved
Responsive sighs, deploring each, in show,
The dead Patroclus, but, in truth, herself.[9]
Then the Achaian Chiefs gather'd around
Achilles, wooing him to eat, but he
Groan'd and still resolute, their suit refused--
If I have here a friend on whom by prayers
I may prevail, I pray that ye desist,
Nor longer press me, mourner as I am,
To eat or drink, for till the sun go down
I am inflexible, and will abstain.
So saying, the other princes he dismiss'd
Impatient, but the sons of Atreus both,
Ulysses, Nestor and Idomeneus,
With Phoenix, hoary warrior, in his tent
Abiding still, with cheerful converse kind
Essay'd to soothe him, whose afflicted soul
All soothing scorn'd till he should once again
Rush on the ravening edge of bloody war.
Then, mindful of his friend, groaning he said
Time was, unhappiest, dearest of my friends!
When even thou, with diligent dispatch,
Thyself, hast spread a table in my tent,
The hour of battle drawing nigh between
The Greeks and warlike Trojans. But there lies
Thy body now, gored by the ruthless steel,
And for thy sake I neither eat nor drink,
Though dearth be none, conscious that other wo
Surpassing this I can have none to fear.
No, not if tidings of my father's death
Should reach me, who, this moment, weeps, perhaps,
In Phthia tears of tenderest regret
For such a son; while I, remote from home
Fight for detested Helen under Troy.
Nor even were he dead, whom, if he live,
I rear in Scyros, my own darling son,
My Neoptolemus of form divine.[10]
For still this hope I cherish'd in my breast
Till now, that, of us two, myself alone
Should fall at Ilium, and that thou, restored
To Phthia, should'st have wafted o'er the waves
My son from Scyros to his native home,
That thou might'st show him all his heritage,
My train of menials, and my fair abode.
For either dead already I account
Peleus, or doubt not that his residue
Of miserable life shall soon be spent,
Through stress of age and expectation sad
That tidings of my death shall, next, arrive.
So spake Achilles weeping, around whom
The Chiefs all sigh'd, each with remembrance pain'd
Of some loved object left at home. Meantime
Jove, with compassion moved, their sorrow saw,
And in wing'd accents thus to Pallas spake.
Daughter! thou hast abandon'd, as it seems,
Yon virtuous Chief for ever; shall no care
Thy mind engage of brave Achilles more?
Before his gallant fleet mourning he sits
His friend, disconsolate; the other Greeks
Sat and are satisfied; he only fasts.
Go then--instil nectar into his breast,
And sweets ambrosial, that he hunger not.
So saying, he urged Minerva prompt before.
In form a shrill-voiced Harpy of long wing
Through ether down she darted, while the Greeks
In all their camp for instant battle arm'd.
Ambrosial sweets and nectar she instill'd
Into his breast, lest he should suffer loss
Of strength through abstinence, then soar'd again
To her great Sire's unperishing abode.
And now the Grecians from their gallant fleet
All pour'd themselves abroad. As when thick snow
From Jove descends, driven by impetuous gusts
Of the cloud-scattering North, so frequent shone
Issuing from the fleet the dazzling casques,
Boss'd bucklers, hauberks strong, and ashen spears.
Upwent the flash to heaven; wide all around
The champain laugh'd with beamy brass illumed,
And tramplings of the warriors on all sides
Resounded, amidst whom Achilles arm'd.
He gnash'd his teeth, fire glimmer'd in his eyes,
Anguish intolerable wrung his heart
And fury against Troy, while he put on
His glorious arms, the labor of a God.
First, to his legs his polish'd greaves he clasp'd
Studded with silver, then his corselet bright
Braced to his bosom, his huge sword of brass
Athwart his shoulder slung, and his broad shield
Uplifted last, luminous as the moon.
Such as to mariners a fire appears,
Kindled by shepherds on the distant top
Of some lone hill; they, driven by stormy winds,
Reluctant roam far off the fishy deep,
Such from Achilles' burning shield divine
A lustre struck the skies; his ponderous helm
He lifted to his brows; starlike it shone,
And shook its curling crest of bushy gold,
By Vulcan taught to wave profuse around.
So clad, godlike Achilles trial made
If his arms fitted him, and gave free scope
To his proportion'd limbs; buoyant they proved
As wings, and high upbore his airy tread.
He drew his father's spear forth from his case,
Heavy and huge and long. That spear, of all
Achaia's sons, none else had power to wield;
Achilles only could the Pelian spear
Brandish, by Chiron for his father hewn
From Pelion's top for slaughter of the brave.
His coursers, then, Automedon prepared
And Alcimus, adjusting diligent
The fair caparisons; they thrust the bits
Into their mouths, and to the chariot seat
Extended and made fast the reins behind.
The splendid scourge commodious to the grasp
Seizing, at once Automedon upsprang
Into his place; behind him, arm'd complete
Achilles mounted, as the orient sun
All dazzling, and with awful tone his speech
Directed to the coursers of his Sire.
Xanthus, and Balius of Podarges' blood
Illustrious! see ye that, the battle done,
Ye bring whom now ye bear back to the host
Of the Achaians in far other sort,
Nor leave him, as ye left Patroclus, dead.[11]
Him then his steed unconquer'd in the race,
Xanthus answer'd from beneath his yoke,
But, hanging low his head, and with his mane
Dishevell'd all, and streaming to the ground.
Him Juno vocal made, Goddess white-arm'd.
And doubtless so we will. This day at least
We bear thee safe from battle, stormy Chief!
But thee the hour of thy destruction swift
Approaches, hasten'd by no fault of ours,
But by the force of fate and power divine.
For not through sloth or tardiness on us
Aught chargeable, have Ilium's sons thine arms
Stript from Patroclus' shoulders, but a God
Matchless in battle, offspring of bright-hair'd
Latona, him contending in the van
Slew, for the glory of the Chief of Troy.
We, Zephyrus himself, though by report
Swiftest of all the winds of heaven, in speed
Could equal, but the Fates thee also doom
By human hands to fall, and hands divine.
The interposing Furies at that word
Suppress'd his utterance,[12] and indignant, thus,
Achilles, swiftest of the swift, replied.
Why, Xanthus, propheciest thou my death?
It ill beseems thee. I already know
That from my parents far remote my doom
Appoints me here to die; yet not the more
Cease I from feats if arms, till Ilium's host
Shall have received, at length, their fill of war.
He said, and with a shout drove forth to battle.

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