The Illiad: The Fifth Battle, at the Ships; and the Acts of Ajax.

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

The Fifth Battle, at the Ships; and the Acts of Ajax.

Jupiter, awaking, sees the Trojans repulsed from the trenches, Hector in a swoon, and Neptune at the head of the Greeks; he is highly incensed at the artifice of Juno, who appeases him by her submissions; she is then sent to Iris and Apollo. Juno, repairing to the assembly of the gods, attempts with extraordinary address to incense them against Jupiter; in particular she touches Mars with a violent resentment; he is ready to take arms, but is prevented by Minerva. Iris and Apollo obey the orders of Jupiter; Iris commands Neptune to leave the battle, to which, after much reluctance and passion, he consents. Apollo reinspires Hector with vigour, brings him back to the battle, marches before him with his aegis, and turns the fortune of the fight. He breaks down the first part of the Grecian wall; the Trojans rush in, and attempt to fire the first line of the fleet, but are yet repelled by the greater Ajax with a prodigious slaughter.

Now when the Trojans had recross'd the trench
And palisades, and in their headlong flight
Many had fall'n by Grecian swords, the rest,
Routed, and pale with fear, made head awhile
Beside their cars; then Jove on Ida's height
At golden-throned Juno's side awoke;
Rising, he saw the Trojans and the Greeks,
Those in confusion, while behind them press'd
The Greeks, triumphant, Neptune in their midst:
He saw too Hector stretch'd upon the plain,
His comrades standing round; senseless he lay,
Drawing short breath, blood gushing from his mouth;
For by no feeble hand the blow was dealt.
Pitying, the Sire of Gods and men beheld,
And thus, with sternest glance, to Juno spoke:
"This, Juno, is thy work! thy wicked wiles
Have Hector quell'd, and Trojans driv'n to flight:
Nor know I but thyself mayst reap the fruit,
By shameful scourging, of thy vile deceit.
Hast thou forgotten how in former times
I hung thee from on high, and to thy feet
Attach'd two pond'rous anvils, and thy hands
With golden fetters bound, which none might break?
There didst thou hang amid the clouds of Heav'n;
Through all Olympus' breadth the Gods were wroth;
Yet dar'd not one approach to set thee free.
If any so had ventur'd, him had I
Hurl'd from Heav'n's threshold till to earth he fell,
With little left of life. Yet was not quench'd
My wrath on godlike Hercules' account,
Whom thou, with Boreas, o'er the wat'ry waste
With fell intent didst send; and tempest-toss'd,
Cast him ashore on Coos' fruitful isle.
I rescued him from thence, and brought him back,
After long toil, to Argos' grassy plains.
This to thy mind I bring, that thou mayst learn
To cease thy treach'rous wiles, nor hope to gain
By all thy lavish'd blandishments of love,
Wherewith thou hast deceived me, and betray'd."
He said; and terror seiz'd the stag-ey'd Queen;
Who thus with winged words address'd her Lord:
"By Earth I swear, and yon broad Heav'n above,
And Stygian stream beneath, the weightiest oath
Of solemn pow'r to bind the blessed Gods;
By thine own sacred head, our nuptial bed,
Whose holy tie I never could forswear;
That not by my suggestion and advice
Earth-shaking Neptune on the Trojan host,
And Hector, pours his wrath, and aids the Greeks;
In this he but obeys his own desire,
Who looks with pity on the Grecian host
Beside their ships o'erborne; and could my words
Prevail, my counsel were to shape his course,
O cloud-girt King, obedient to thy will."
She said; the Sire of Gods and men, well pleas'd,
Her answer heard, and thus with gracious smile:
"If, stag-ey'd Queen, in synod of the Gods
Thy counsels shall indeed with mine agree,
Neptune, how strong soe'er his wish, must change
His course, obedient to thy will and mine;
And if in all sincerity thou speak,
Go to th' assembled Gods, and hither send
Iris, and Phoebus of the silver bow;
That she may to the Grecian camp repair,
And bid that Neptune from the battle-field
Withdraw, and to his own domain retire;
While Phoebus Hector to the fight restores,
Inspiring new-born vigour, and allaying
The mortal pains which bow his spirit down:
Then, heartless fear infusing in the Greeks,
Put them to flight, that flying they may fall
Beside Achilles' ships; his comrade then,
Patroclus, he shall send to battle forth
To be by Hector slain, in front of Troy;
Yet not to fall till many valiant youths
Have felt his prowess; and, amid the rest,
My son, Sarpedon; by his comrade's death
Enrag'd, Achilles Hector shall subdue;
Thenceforth my counsel is, that from the ships
The Trojan force shall still be backward driv'n,
Until at length, by Pallas' deep designs,
The Greeks possess the lofty walls of Troy.
Yet will not I my anger intermit,
Nor suffer other of th' immortal Gods
To aid the Greeks, till Peleus' son behold
His wish accomplish'd, and the boon obtain'd
I promis'd once, and with a nod confirm'd,
That day when sea-born Thetis clasp'd my knees,
And pray'd me to avenge her warrior son."
Thus he; the white-arm'd Queen of Heav'n submiss
His mandate heard; and from th' Idaean mount
With rapid flight to high Olympus sped.
Swift as the mind of man, who many a land
Hath travell'd o'er, and with reflective thought
Recalls, "here was I such a day, or here,"
And in a moment many a scene surveys;
So Juno sped o'er intervening space;
Olympus' heights she reach'd, and in the house
Of Jove appear'd amid th' assembled Gods.
They at her coming rose, with golden cups
Greeting their Queen's approach; the rest she pass'd,
And from the hand of fair-fac'd Themis took
The proffer'd cup, who first had run to meet,
And thus with winged words address'd the Queen:
"Juno, why com'st thou hither? and with looks
Of one distraught with, fear? hath Saturn's son,
Thy mighty Lord, thus sore affrighted thee?"
To whom the white-arm'd Goddess, Juno, thus:
"Forbear thy questions, Themis; well thou know'st
How haughty and imperious is his mind;
Thou for the Gods in haste prepare the feast;
Then shalt thou learn, amid th' Immortals all,
What evil he designs; nor all, I ween,
His counsels will approve, or men, or Gods,
Though now in blissful ignorance they feast."
She said, and sat; the Gods, oppress'd with care,
Her farther speech awaited; on her lips
There dwelt indeed a smile, but not a ray
Pass'd o'er her dark'ning brow, as thus her wrath
Amid th' assembled Gods found vent in words:
"Fools are we all, who madly strive with Jove,
Or hope, by access to his throne, to sway,
By word or deed, his course; from all apart,
He all our counsels heeds not, but derides;
And boasts o'er all th' immortal Gods to reign
In unapproach'd pre-eminence of pow'r.
Prepare then each his sev'ral woe to bear;
On Mars e'en now, methinks, the blow hath fall'n;
Since in the fight, the man he loves the best,
And boasts his son, Ascalaphus, is slain."
She said; and Mars, enrag'd, his brawny thigh
Smote with his hands, and thus, lamenting, spoke:
"Blame not, ye Gods, who on Olympus dwell,
That to the Grecian ships I haste, to avenge
My slaughter'd son, though blasted by Heav'n's fire
'Twere mine 'mid corpses, blood, and dust to lie."
He said, and gave command to Fear and Flight
To yoke his ear; and donn'd his glitt'ring arms.
Then from the throne of Jove had heavier wrath
And deeper vengeance on th' Immortals fall'n,
But Pallas, in alarm for all the Gods,
Quitting in haste the throne whereon she sat,
Sprang past the vestibule, and from his head
The helmet lifted, from his arm the shield;
Took from his sturdy hand, and rear'd upright,
The brazen spear; then with reproachful words
She thus assail'd th' impetuous God of War;
"Frantic, and passion-maddened, thou art lost!
Hast thou no ears to hear! or are thy mind
And sense of rev'rence utterly destroyed?
Or heard'st thou not what white-arm'd Juno spoke,
Fresh from the presence of Olympian Jove?
Wouldst thou, thine evil destiny fulfill'd,
By hard constraint, despite thy grief, be driv'n
Back to Olympus; and to all the rest
Confusion and disaster with thee bring?
At once from valiant Trojans and from Greeks
His thoughts would be diverted, and his wrath
Embroil Olympus, and on all alike,
Guilty or not, his anger would be pour'd.
Waive then thy vengeance for thy gallant son;
Others as brave of heart, as strong of arm,
Have fall'n, and yet must fall; and vain th' attempt
To watch at once o'er all the race of men."
Thus saying, to his seat again she forc'd
Th' impetuous Mars: meanwhile, without the house,
Juno, by Jove's command, Apollo call'd,
And Iris, messenger from God to God;
And thus to both her winged words address'd:
"Jove bids you with all speed to Ida haste;
And when, arriv'd, before his face ye stand,
Whate'er he orders, that observe and do."
Thus Juno spoke, and to her throne return'd;
While they to spring-abounding Ida's heights,
Wild nurse of forest beasts, pursued their way;
Th' all-seeing son of Saturn there they found
Upon the topmost crag of Gargarus,
An incense-breathing cloud around him spread.
Before the face of cloud-compelling Jove
They stood; well-pleas'd he witness'd their approach
In swift obedience to his consort's words,
And thus to Iris first his speech address'd:
"Haste thee, swift Iris, and to Ocean's King
My message bear, nor misreporting aught,
Nor aught omitting; from the battle-field
Bid him retire, and join th' assembled Gods,
Or to his own domain of sea withdraw.
If my commands he heed not, nor obey,
Let him consider in his inmost soul
If, mighty though he be, he dare await
My hostile coming; mightier far than him,
His elder born; nor may his spirit aspire
To rival me, whom all regard with awe."
He said; swift-footed Iris, at the word,
From Ida's heights to sacred Ilium sped.
Swift as the snow-flakes from the clouds descend,
Or wintry hail before the driving blast
Of Boreas, ether-born; so swift to Earth
Descended Iris; by his side she stood,
And with these words th' Earth-shaking God address'd:
"A message, dark-hair'd Circler of the Earth,
To thee I bring from AEgis-bearing Jove.
He bids thee straightway from the battle-field
Retire, and either join th' assembled Gods,
Or to thine own domain of sea withdraw.
If his commands thou heed not, nor obey,
Hither he menaces himself to come,
And fight against thee; but he warns thee first,
Beware his arm, as mightier far than thee,
Thine elder born; nor may thy spirit aspire
To rival him, whom all regard with awe."
To whom in tow'ring wrath th' Earth-shaking God:
"By Heav'n, though great he be, he yet presumes
Somewhat too far, if me, his equal born,
He seeks by force to baffle of my will.
We were three brethren, all of Rhaea born
To Saturn; Jove and I, and Pluto third,
Who o'er the nether regions holds his sway.
Threefold was our partition; each obtain'd
His meed of honour due; the hoary Sea
By lot my habitation was assign'd;
The realms of Darkness fell to Pluto's share;
Broad Heav'n, amid the sky and clouds, to Jove;
But Earth, and high Olympus, are to all
A common heritage; nor will I walk
To please the will of Jove; though great he be,
With his own third contented let him rest:
Nor let him think that I, as wholly vile,
Shall quail before his arm; his lofty words
Were better to his daughters and his sons
Address'd, his own begotten; who perforce
Must listen to his mandates, and obey."
To whom swift-footed Iris thus replied:
"Is this, then, dark-hair'd Circler of the Earth,
The message, stern and haughty, which to Jove
Thou bidd'st me bear? perchance thine angry mood
May bend to better counsels; noblest minds
Are easiest bent; and o'er superior age
Thou know'st th' avenging Furies ever watch."
To whom Earth-shaking Neptune thus replied:
"Immortal Iris, weighty are thy words,
And in good season spoken; and 'tis well
When envoys are by sound discretion led.
Yet are my heart and mind with grief oppress'd,
When me, his equal both by birth and fate,
He seeks with haughty words to overbear.
I yield, but with indignant sense of wrong.
This too I say, nor shall my threat be vain:
Let him remember, if in my despite,
'Gainst Pallas', Juno's, Hermes', Vulcan's will,
He spare to overthrow proud Ilium's tow'rs,
And crown with victory the Grecian arms,
The feud between us never can be heal'd."
Th' Earth-shaker said, and from the field withdrew
Beneath the ocean wave, the warrior Greeks
His loss deploring; to Apollo then
The Cloud-compeller thus his speech address'd:
"Go straight to Hector of the brazen helm,
Good Phoebus; for beneath the ocean wave
Th' Earth-shaker hath withdrawn, escaping thus
My high displeasure; had he dar'd resist,
The tumult of our strife had reach'd the Gods
Who in the nether realms with Saturn dwell.
Yet thus 'tis better, both for me and him,
That, though indignant, to my will he yields;
For to compel him were no easy task.
Take thou, and wave on high thy tassell'd shield,
The Grecian warriors daunting: thou thyself,
Far-darting King, thy special care bestow
On noble Hector; so restore his strength
And vigour, that in panic to their ships,
And the broad Hellespont, the Greeks be driv'n.
Then will I so by word and deed contrive
That they may gain fresh respite from their toil."
He said, nor did Apollo not obey
His Sire's commands; from Ida's heights he flew,
Like to a falcon, swooping on a dove,
Swiftest of birds; then Priam's son he found,
The godlike Hector, stretch'd at length no more,
But sitting, now to consciousness restor'd,
With recognition looking on his friends;
The cold sweat dried, nor gasping now for breath,
Since by the will of AEgis-bearing Jove
To life new waken'd; close beside him stood
The Far-destroyer, and address'd him thus:
"Hector, thou son of Priam, why apart
From all thy comrades art thou sitting here,
Feeble and faint? What trouble weighs thee down?"
To whom thus Hector of the glancing helm
With falt'ring voice: "Who art thou, Prince of Gods,
Who thus enquirest of me? know'st thou not
How a huge stone, by mighty Ajax hurl'd,
As on his comrades by the Grecian ships
I dealt destruction, struck me on the breast,
Dash'd to the earth, and all my vigour quell'd?
I deem'd in sooth this day my soul, expir'd,
Should see the dead, and Pluto's shadowy realm."
To whom again the far-destroying King:
"Be of good cheer; from Saturn's son I come
From Ida's height to be thy guide and guard;
Phoebus Apollo, of the golden sword,
I, who of old have thy protector been,
Thee and thy city guarding. Rise then straight;
Summon thy num'rous horsemen; bid them drive
Their flying cars to assail the Grecian ships:
I go before: and will thy horses' way
Make plain and smooth, and daunt the warrior Greeks."
His words fresh vigour in the chief infus'd.
As some proud steed, at well-fill'd manger fed,
His halter broken, neighing, scours the plain,
And revels in the widely-flowing stream
To bathe his sides; then tossing high his head,
While o'er his shoulders streams his ample mane,
Light-borne on active limbs, in conscious pride,
To the wide pastures of the mares he flies;
So vig'rous, Hector plied his active limbs,
His horsemen summoning at Heav'n's command.
As when a rustic crowd of men and dogs
Have chas'd an antler'd stag, or mountain goat,
That 'mid the crags and thick o'ershadowing wood
Hath refuge found, and baffled their pursuit:
If, by the tumult rous'd, a lion stand,
With bristling mane, before them, back they turn,
Check'd in their mid career; ev'n so the Greeks,
Who late in eager throngs were pressing on,
Thrusting with swords and double-pointed spears,
When Hector moving through the ranks they saw,
Recoil'd, and to their feet their courage fell.
To whom thus Thoas spoke, Andraemon's son,
AEtolia's bravest warrior, skill'd to throw
The jav'lin, dauntless in the stubborn fight;
By few surpass'd in speech, when in debate
In full assembly Grecian youths contend.
He thus with prudent speech began, and said:
"Great is the marvel which our eyes behold,
That Hector see again to life restor'd,
Escap'd the death we hop'd him to have met
Beneath the hands of Ajax Telamon.
Some God hath been his guard, and Hector sav'd,
Whose arm hath slack'd the knees of many a Greek:
So will he now; for not without the aid
Of Jove, the Lord of thunder, doth he stand
So boldly forth, so eager for the fight.
Hear, then, and all by my advice be rul'd:
Back to the ships dismiss the gen'ral crowd;
While of our army we, the foremost men,
Stand fast, and meeting him with levell'd spears,
Hold him in check; and he, though brave, may fear
To throw himself amid our serried ranks."
He said: they heard, and all obey'd his words:
The mighty Ajax, and Idomeneus
The King, and Teucer, and Meriones,
And Meges, bold as Mars, with all their best,
Their stedfast battle rang'd, to wait th' assault
Of Hector and his Trojans; while behind,
Th' unwarlike many to the ships retir'd.
The Trojan mass came on, by Hector led
With haughty stride; before him Phoebus went,
His shoulders veil'd in cloud; his arm sustain'd
The awful AEgis, dread to look on, hung
With shaggy tassels round and dazzling bright;
Which Vulcan, skilful workman, gave to Jove,
To scatter terror 'mid the souls of men.
This on his arm, the Trojan troops he led.
Firm stood the mass of Greeks; from either side
Shrill clamours rose; and fast from many a string
The arrows flew, and many a jav'lin, hurl'd
By vig'rous arms; some buried in the flesh
Of stalwart youths, and many, ere they reach'd
Their living mark, fell midway on the plain,
Fix'd in the ground, in vain athirst for blood.
While Phoebus motionless his AEgis held,
Thick flew the shafts, and fast the people fell
On either side; but when he turn'd its flash
Full in the faces of the astonish'd Greeks,
And shouted loud, their spirits within them quail'd,
Their fiery courage borne in mind no more.
As when two beasts of prey, at dead of night.
With sudden onset scatter wide a herd
Of oxen, or a num'rous flock of sheep,
Their keepers absent; so unnerv'd by fear
The Greeks dispers'd; such panic 'mid their ranks,
That vict'ry so might crown the Trojan arms,
Apollo sent; and as the masses broke,
Each Trojan slew his man; by Hector's hand
Fell Stichius and Arcesilas; the one,
The leader of Boeotia's brass-clad host,
The other, brave Menestheus' trusted friend.
AEneas Medon slew, and Iasus;
Medon, the great Oileus' bastard son,
Brother of Ajax; he in Phylace,
Far from his native home, was driv'n to dwell;
Since one to Eriopis near akin,
His sire Oileus' wife, his hand had slain:
And Iasus, th' Athenian chief, was deem'd
The son of Sphelus, son of Bucolus.
Polydamas amid the foremost ranks
Mecistes slew, Polites Echius,
Agenor Olonius; while from Paris' hand
An arrow, 'mid the crowd of fugitives
Shot from behind, beneath the shoulder struck
Deiocus, and through his chest was driv'n:
These while the Trojans of their arms despoil'd,
Through ditch and palisades promiscuous dash'd
The flying Greeks, and gain'd, hard-press'd, the wall;
While loudly Hector to the Trojans call'd
To assail the ships, and leave the bloody spoils:
"Whom I elsewhere, and from the ships aloof
Shall find, my hand shall doom him on the spot;
For him no fun'ral pyre his kin shall light,
Or male or female; but before the wall
Our city's dogs his mangled flesh shall tear."
He said; and on his horses' shoulder point
Let fall the lash, and loudly through the ranks
Call'd on the Trojans; they, with answ'ring shout
And noise unspeakable, urg'd on with him
Their harness'd steeds; Apollo, in the van,
Trod down with ease th' embankment of the ditch,
And fill'd it in; and o'er it bridg'd a way
Level and wide, far as a jav'lin's flight
Hurl'd by an arm that proves its utmost strength.
O'er this their columns pass'd; Apollo bore
His AEgis o'er them, and cast down the wall;
Easy, as when a child upon the beach,
In wanton play, with hands and feet o'erthrows
The mound of sand, which late in play he rais'd;
So, Phoebus, thou, the Grecian toil and pains
Confounding, sentest panic through their souls.
Thus hemm'd beside the ships they made their stand,
While each exhorted each, and all, with hands
Outstretch'd, to ev'ry God address'd their pray'r:
And chief, Gerenian Nestor, prop of Greece,
With hands uplifted tow'rd the starry Heav'n:
"O Father Jove! if any e'er to Thee
On corn-clad plains of Argos burnt the fat
Of bulls and sheep, and offer'd up his pray'r
For safe return; and thine assenting nod
Confirm'd thy promise; O remember now
His pray'r; stave off the pitiless day of doom,
Nor let the Greeks to Trojan arms succumb."
Thus Nestor pray'd; loud thunder'd from on high
The Lord of counsel, as he heard the pray'r
Of Neleus' aged son; with double zeal,
The Trojans, as the mind of Jove they knew,
Press'd on the Greeks, with warlike ardour fir'd.
As o'er the bulwarks of a ship pour down
The mighty billows of the wide-path'd sea,
Driv'n by the blast, that tosses high the waves,
So down the wall, with shouts, the Trojans pour'd;
The cars admitted, by the ships they fought
With double-pointed spears, and hand to hand;
These on their chariots, on the lofty decks
Of their dark vessels those, with pond'rous spars
Which on the ships were stor'd for naval war,
Compact and strong, their heads encas'd in brass.
While yet beyond the ships, about the wall
The Greeks and Trojans fought, Patroclus still
Within the tent of brave Eurypylus
Remaining, with his converse sooth'd the chief,
And healing unguents to his wound applied,
Of pow'r to charm away the bitter pains;
But when the Trojans pouring o'er the wall,
And routed Greeks in panic flight he saw,
Deeply he groan'd, and smiting on his thigh
With either palm, in anguish thus he spoke:
"Eurypylus, how great soe'er thy need,
I can no longer stay; so fierce the storm
Of battle rages; but th' attendants' care
Will all thy wants supply; while I in haste
Achilles seek, and urge him to the war;
Who knows but Heav'n may grant me to succeed?
For great is oft a friend's persuasive pow'r."
He said, and quickly on his errand sped.
Meanwhile the Greeks, in firm array, endur'd
The onset of the Trojans; nor could these
The assailants, though in numbers less, repel;
Nor those again the Grecian masses break,
And force their passage through the ships and tents,
As by a rule, in cunning workman's hand,
Who all his art by Pallas' aid has learnt,
A vessel's plank is smooth and even laid,
So level lay the balance of the fight.
Others round other ships maintain'd the war,
But Hector that of Ajax sought alone.
For that one ship they two unwearied toil'd;
Nor Hector Ajax from his post could move,
And burn the ship with fire; nor he repel
The foe who came protected by a God.
Then noble Ajax with his jav'lin smote
Caletor, son of Clytius, through the breast,
As tow'rd the ship a blazing torch he bore;
Thund'ring he fell, and dropp'd his hand the torch.
But Hector, when his eyes his kinsman saw
By the dark vessel, prostrate in the dust,
On Trojans and on Lycians call'd aloud:
"Trojans and Lycians, and ye Dardans, fam'd
In close encounter, in this press of war
Slack not your efforts; haste to save the son
Of Clytius, nor let Greeks his arms possess,
Who 'mid their throng of ships has nobly fall'n."
At Ajax, as he spoke, his gleaming spear
He threw, but miss'd his aim; yet Lycophron,
His comrade, of Cythera, Mastor's son
(Who flying from Cythera's lovely isle
With guilt of bloodshed, near to Ajax dwelt),
Standing beside the chief, above the ear
He struck, and pierc'd the brain: from the tall prow
Backwards he fell, his limbs relax'd in death.
Then Ajax, shudd'ring, on his brother call'd:
"Good Teucer, we have lost a faithful friend,
The son of Mastor, our Cytheran guest,
Whom as a father all rever'd; who now
Lies slain by noble Hector. Where are then
Thine arrows, swift-wing'd messengers of fate,
And where thy trusty bow, Apollo's gift?"
Thus Ajax; Teucer heard, and ran in haste,
And stood beside him, with his bended bow,
And well-stor'd quiver: on the Trojans fast
He pour'd his shafts; and struck Pisenor's son,
Clitus, the comrade of Polydamas,
The noble son of Panthous; he the reins
Held in his hand, and all his care bestow'd
To guide his horses; for, where'er the throng
Was thickest, there in Hector's cause, and Troy's,
He still was found; but o'er him hung the doom
Which none might turn aside; for from behind
The fateful arrow struck him through the neck;
Down from the car he fell; swerving aside,
The startled horses whirl'd the empty car.
Them first the King Polydamas beheld,
And stay'd their course; to Protiaon's son,
Astynous, then he gave them, with command
To keep good watch, and still be near at hand;
Then 'mid the foremost join'd again the fray.
Again at Hector of the brazen helm
An arrow Teucer aim'd; and had the shaft
The life of Hector quench'd in mid career,
Not long the fight had rag'd around the ships:
But Jove's all-seeing eye beheld, who watch'd
O'er Hector's life, and Teucer's hopes deceiv'd.
The bow's well-twisted string he snapp'd in twain,
As Teucer drew; the brass-tipp'd arrow flew
Wide of the mark, and dropp'd his hand the bow.
Then to his brother, all aghast, he cried:
"O Heav'n, some God our best-laid schemes of war
Confounds, who from my hand hath, wrench'd the bow,
And snapp'd the newly-twisted string, which I
But late attach'd, my swift-wing'd shafts to bear."
Whom answer'd thus great Ajax Telamon:
"O friend, leave there thine arrows and thy bow,
Marr'd by some God who grudges our renown;
But take in hand thy pond'rous spear, and cast
Thy shield about thy shoulders, and thyself
Stand forth, and urge the rest, to face the foe.
Let us not tamely yield, if yield we must,
Our well-built ships, but nobly dare the fight."
"Thus Ajax spoke; and Teucer in the tent
Bestowed his bow, and o'er his shoulders threw
His fourfold shield; and on his firm-set head
A helm he plac'd, well-wrought, with horsehair plume,
That nodded, fearful, o'er his brow; his hand
Grasp'd the firm spear, with sharpen'd point of brass:
Then ran, and swiftly stood by Ajax' side.
Hector meanwhile, who saw the weapon marr'd,
To Trojans and to Lycians call'd aloud:
"Trojans and Lycians, and ye Dardans fam'd
In close encounter, quit ye now like men;
Against the ships your wonted valour show.
E'en now, before our eyes, hath Jove destroy'd
A chieftain's weapon. Easy 'tis to trace
O'er human wars th' o'erruling hand of Jove,
To whom he gives the prize of victory,
And whom, withholding aid, he minishes,
As now the Greeks, while we his favour gain.
Pour then your force united on the ships;
And if there be among you, who this day
Shall meet his doom, by sword or arrow slain,
E'en let him die! a glorious death is his
Who for his country falls; and dying, leaves
Preserv'd from danger, children, wife, and home,
His heritage uninjur'd, when the Greeks
Embarking hence shall take their homeward way."
His words fresh courage rous'd in ev'ry breast.
Ajax, on th' other side, address'd the Greeks:
"Shame on ye, Greeks! this very hour decides
If we must perish, or be sav'd, and ward
Destruction from our ships; and can ye hope
That each, if Hector of the glancing helm
Shall burn our ships, on foot can reach his home?
Or hear ye not, how, burning to destroy
Our vessels, Hector cheers his forces on?
Not to the dance, but to the fight he calls;
Nor better counsel can for us be found,
Than in close fight with heart and hand to join.
'Twere better far at once to die, than live
Hemm'd in and straiten'd thus, in dire distress,
Close to our ships, by meaner men beset."
His words fresh courage rous'd in ev'ry breast.
Then Hector Schedius, Perimedes' son,
The Thracian leader, slew; on th' other side
Ajax the captain of the foot o'ercame,
Laodamas, Antenor's noble son;
While of his arms Polydamas despoil'd
Cyllenian Otus, friend of Phyleus' son,
The proud Epeians' leader; Meges saw,
And rush'd upon him; but Polydamas,
Stooping, the blow evaded; him he miss'd;
For Phoebus will'd not Panthous' son should fall
In the front rank contending; but the spear
Smote Croesmus through the breast; thund'ring he fell,
And from his corpse the victor stripp'd his arms.
Him Dolops, son of Lampus, spearman skill'd,
Well train'd in ev'ry point of war, assail'd
(The son of Lampus he, the prince of men,
Son of Laomedon); from close at hand
Forward he sprang, and thrust at Meges' shield;
But him the solid corslet which he wore,
With breast and back-piece fitted, sav'd from harm:*
The corslet Phyleus brought from Ephyra,
By Selles' stream; Euphetes, King of men,
Bestow'd it as a friendly gift, to wear
In battle for a guard from hostile spears;
Which from destruction now preserv'd his son.
Next Meges struck, with keen-edg'd spear, the crown
Of Dolops' brass-bound, horsehair-crested helm,
Sev'ring the horsehair plume, which, brilliant late
With crimson dye, now lay defil'd in dust.
Yet fought he on, and still for vict'ry hop'd;
But warlike Menelaus to the aid
Of Meges came; of Dolops unobserv'd
He stood, and from behind his shoulder pierc'd;
The point, its course pursuing, through his breast
Was driv'n, and headlong on his face he fell.
Forthwith, advanc'd the two to seize the spoils;
But loudly Hector on his kinsmen call'd;
On all, but chief on Icetaon's son,
The valiant Melanippus; he erewhile,
In far Percote, ere the foes appear'd,
Pastur'd his herds; but when the ships of Greece
Approach'd the shore, to Ilium back he came;
There, 'mid the Trojans eminent, he dwelt
In Priam's house, belov'd as Priam's son.
Him Hector call'd by name, and thus address'd:
"Why, Melanippus, stand we idly thus?
Doth not thy slaughter'd kinsmen touch thy heart?
See how they rush on Dolops' arms to seize;
Then on! no distant war must now be wag'd,
But hand to hand, till or the Greeks be slain,
Or lofty Troy, with all her children, fall."
He said, and led the way; him follow'd straight
The godlike chief; great Ajax Telamon
Meanwhile the Greeks encourag'd to the fight,
And cried, "Brave comrades, quit ye now like men;
Bear a stout heart; and in the stubborn fight
Let each to other mutual succour give;
By mutual succour more are sav'd than fall;
In timid flight nor fame nor safety lies."
He said; and pond'ring well his words, they stood,
Firm in defence; as with a wall of brass
The ships they guarded; though against them Jove
Led on the Trojans; Menelaus then
With stirring words Antilochus address'd:
"Antilochus, than thou, of all the Greeks
Is none more active, or more light of foot;
None stronger hurls the spear; then from the crowd
Spring forth, and aim to reach some Trojan's life."
Thus saying, he withdrew; fir'd by his words,
Forth sprang the youth, and pois'd his glitt'ring spear,
Glancing around him; back the Trojans drew
Before his aim; nor flew the spear in vain;
But through the breast it pierc'd, as on he came,
Brave Melanippus, Icetaon's son.
Thund'ring he fell, and loud his armour rang.
Forth sprang Antilochus, as springs a hound
Upon a fawn, which from its lair disturb'd
A hunter's shaft has struck, and quell'd its pow'rs;
So, Melanippus, sprang to seize thy spoils
The stout Antilochus; but not unmark'd
Of Hector's eye, who, hast'ning through the press,
Advanc'd to meet him; waited not th' attack,
Bold warrior as he was, Antilochus,
But trembling fled: as when a beast of prey,
Conscious of evil deed, amid the herd
The guardian dog or herdsman's self has slain,
And flies, ere yet th' avenging crowd collect;
So fled the son of Nestor; onward press'd,
By Hector led, the Trojans; loud their shouts,
As on the Greeks their murd'rous shafts they pour'd:
Yet turn'd he, when his comrades' ranks he reach'd.
Then on the ships, as rav'ning lions, fell
The Trojans: they but work'd the will of Jove,
Who still their courage rais'd, and quell'd the Greeks;
Of vict'ry these debarr'd, and those inspir'd;
For so he will'd, that Hector, Priam's son,
Should wrap in fire the beaked ships of Greece,
And Thetis to the uttermost obtain
Her over-bold petition; yet did Jove,
The Lord of counsel, wait but to behold
The flames ascending from the blazing ships:
For from that hour the Trojans, backward driv'n,
Should to the Greeks the final triumph leave.
With such design, to seize the ships, he fir'd
Th' already burning zeal of Priam's son;
Fiercely he rag'd, as terrible as Mars
With brandish'd spear; or as a raging fire
'Mid the dense thickets on the mountain side.
The foam was on his lips; bright flash'd his eyes
Beneath his awful brows, and terribly
Above his temples wav'd amid the fray
The helm of Hector; Jove himself from Heav'n.
His guardian hand extending, him alone
With glory crowning 'mid the host of men;
But short his term of glory: for the day
Was fast approaching, when, with Pallas' aid,
The might of Peleus' son should work his doom.
Oft he essay'd to break the ranks, where'er
The densest and throng noblest arms he saw;
But strenuous though his efforts, all were vain:
They, mass'd in close array, his charge withstood;
Firm as a craggy rock, upstanding high,
Close by the hoary sea, which meets unmov'd
The boist'rous currents of the whistling winds,
And the big waves that bellow round its base;
So stood unmov'd the Greeks, and undismay'd.
At length, all blazing in his arms, he sprang
Upon the mass; so plunging down, as when
On some tall vessel, from beneath the clouds
A giant billow, tempest-nurs'd, descends;
The deck is drench'd in foam; the stormy wind
Howls in the shrouds; th' affrighted seamen quail
In fear, but little way from death remov'd;
So quail'd the spirit in ev'ry Grecian breast.
As when a rav'ning lion on a herd
Of heifers falls, which on some marshy mead
Feed numberless, beneath the care of one,
Unskill'd from beasts of prey to guard his charge;
And while beside the front or rear he walks,
The lion on th' unguarded centre springs,
Seizes on one, and scatters all the rest;
So Hector, led by Jove, in wild alarm
Scatter'd the Grecians all; but one alone,
Brave Periphetes, of Mycenae, slew;
The son of Copreus, whom Eurystheus sent
His envoy to the might of Hercules;
Far nobler than the father was the son;
In speed of foot, in warlike might, in mind,
In all, among Mycenians foremost he;
Who now on Hector fresh renown conferr'd;
For, backward as he stepp'd, against the rim
Of the broad shield which for defence he bore,
Down reaching to his feet, he tripp'd, and thus
Entangled, backward fell; and as he fell,
Around his temples clatter'd loud his helm.
Hector beheld, and o'er him stood in haste,
And with his spear transfix'd his breast, and slew
Before his comrades' eyes; yet dar'd not one,
Though grieving for their comrade's loss, advance
To rescue; such of Hector was their awe.
They fronted now the ships; the leading prows
Which first were drawn on shore, still barr'd their way;
Yet on they stream'd; and from the foremost ships,
Now hardly press'd, the Greeks perforce retir'd;
But closely mass'd before the tents they stood,
Not scatter'd o'er the camp; by shame restrain'd,
And fear; and loudly each exhorted each.
Gerenian Nestor chief, the prop of Greece,
Thus by their fathers singly each adjur'd:
"Quit ye like men, dear friends; and think it shame
To forfeit now the praise of other men;
Let each man now his children and his wife,
His fortunes and his parents, bear in mind;
And not the living only, but the dead;
For them, the absent, I, your suppliant, pray,
That firm ye stand, and scorn disgraceful flight."
His words fresh courage rous'd in ev'ry breast;
And from their eyeballs Pallas purg'd away
The film of darkness; and on ev'ry side,
Both tow'rd the ships and tow'rd the level fight,
Clear light diffus'd; there Hector they discern'd,
And all his comrades, those who stood aloof,
And those who near the ships maintain'd the war.
Then was not Ajax' mighty soul content
To stand where stood the other sons of Greece;
Along the vessels' lofty decks he mov'd
With haughty stride; a pond'rous boarding-pike,
Well polish'd, and with rivets well secur'd,
Of two and twenty cubits' length, he bore,
As one well-skill'd in feats of horsemanship,
Who from a troop of horses on the plain
Has parted four, and down the crowded road,
While men and women all in wonder gaze,
Drives tow'rd the city; and with force untir'd
From one to other springs, as on they fly;
O'er many a vessel's deck so Ajax pass'd
With lofty stride, and voice that reach'd to Heav'n,
As loudly shouting on the Greeks he call'd
To save their ships and tents: nor Hector stay'd
Amid the closely buckler'd Trojan ranks;
But, as upon a flock of birds, that feed
Beside a river's bank, or geese, or cranes,
Or long-neck'd swans, a fiery eagle swoops;
So on the dark-prow'd ship with furious rush
Swept Hector down; him Jove with mighty hand
Sustain'd, and with him forward urg'd the crowd.
Fierce round the ships again the battle rag'd;
Well might ye deem no previous toil had worn
Their strength, who in that dread encounter met;
With edge so keen, and stubborn will they fought.
But varying far their hopes and fears: the Greeks
Of safety and escape from death despair'd;
While high the hopes in ev'ry Trojan's breast,
To burn the ships, and slay the warlike Greeks;
So minded each, oppos'd in arms they stood.
On a swift-sailing vessel's stern, that bore
Protesilaus to the coast of Troy,
But to his native country bore not thence,
Hector had laid his hand; around that ship
Trojans and Greeks in mutual slaughter join'd.
The arrow's or the jav'lin's distant flight
They waited not, but, fir'd with equal rage,
Fought hand to hand, with axe and hatchet keen,
And mighty swords, and double-pointed spears.
Many a fair-hilted blade, with iron bound,
Dropp'd from the hands, or from the sever'd arms,
Of warrior chiefs; the dark earth ran with blood:
Yet loos'd not Hector of the stern his hold,
But grasp'd the poop, and on the Trojans call'd;
"Bring fire, and all together loud and clear
Your war-cry raise; this day will Jove repay
Our labours all, with capture of those ships,
Which hither came, against the will of Heav'n,
And which on us unnumber'd ills have brought,
By our own Elders' fault, who me, desiring
Ev'n at their vessels' sterns to urge the war,
Withheld, and to the town the troops confin'd.
But Jove all-seeing, if he then o'errul'd
Our better mind, himself is now our aid."
Thus he: they onward press'd with added zeal;
Nor Ajax yet endur'd, by hostile spears
Now sorely gall'd; yet but a little space,
Back to the helmsman's sev'n-foot board he mov'd,
Expecting death; and left the lofty deck,
Where long he stood on guard; but still his spear
The Trojans kept aloof, whoe'er essay'd
Amid the ships to launch th' unwearied flames;
And, loudly shouting, to the Greeks he call'd:
"Friends, Grecian heroes, ministers of Mars,
Quit ye like men! dear friends, remember now
Your wonted valour! think ye in your rear
To find supporting forces, or some fort
Whose walls may give you refuge from your foe?
No city is nigh, whose well-appointed tow'rs,
Mann'd by a friendly race, may give us aid;
But here, upon the well-arm'd Trojans' soil,
And only resting on the sea, we lie
Far from our country; not in faint retreat,
But in our own good arms, our safety lies."
He said; and with his sharp-edg'd spear his words
He follow'd up; if any Trojan dar'd,
By Hector's call inspir'd, with fiery brand
To assail the ships, him with his ponderous spear
Would Ajax meet; and thus before the ships
Twelve warriors, hand to hand, his prowess felt.
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