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The Iliad
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Book XII

SO THE son of Menoetius was attending to the hurt of Eurypylus
within the tent, but the Argives and Trojans still fought
desperately, nor were the trench and the high wall above it, to
keep the Trojans in check longer. They had built it to protect
their ships, and had dug the trench all round it that it might
safeguard both the ships and the rich spoils which they had
taken, but they had not offered hecatombs to the gods. It had
been built without the consent of the immortals, and therefore it
did not last. So long as Hector lived and Achilles nursed his
anger, and so long as the city of Priam remained untaken, the
great wall of the Achaeans stood firm; but when the bravest of
the Trojans were no more, and many also of the Argives, though
some were yet left alive—when, moreover, the city was sacked in
the tenth year, and the Argives had gone back with their ships to
their own country—then Neptune and Apollo took counsel to
destroy the wall, and they turned on to it the streams of all the
rivers from Mount Ida into the sea, Rhesus, Heptaporus, Caresus,
Rhodius, Grenicus, Aesopus, and goodly Scamander, with Simois,
where many a shield and helm had fallen, and many a hero of the
race of demigods had bitten the dust. Phoebus Apollo turned the
mouths of all these rivers together and made them flow for nine
days against the wall, while Jove rained the whole time that he
might wash it sooner into the sea. Neptune himself, trident in
hand, surveyed the work and threw into the sea all the
foundations of beams and stones which the Achaeans had laid with
so much toil; he made all level by the mighty stream of the
Hellespont, and then when he had swept the wall away he spread a
great beach of sand over the place where it had been. This done
he turned the rivers back into their old courses.
This was what Neptune and Apollo were to do in after time; but as
yet battle and turmoil were still raging round the wall till its
timbers rang under the blows that rained upon them. The Argives,
cowed by the scourge of Jove, were hemmed in at their ships in
fear of Hector the mighty minister of Rout, who as heretofore
fought with the force and fury of a whirlwind. As a lion or wild
boar turns fiercely on the dogs and men that attack him, while
these form solid wall and shower their javelins as they face
him—his courage is all undaunted, but his high spirit will be
the death of him; many a time does he charge at his pursuers to
scatter them, and they fall back as often as he does so—even so
did Hector go about among the host exhorting his men, and
cheering them on to cross the trench.
But the horses dared not do so, and stood neighing upon its
brink, for the width frightened them. They could neither jump it
nor cross it, for it had overhanging banks all round upon either
side, above which there were the sharp stakes that the sons of
the Achaeans had planted so close and strong as a defence against
all who would assail it; a horse, therefore, could not get into
it and draw his chariot after him, but those who were on foot
kept trying their very utmost. Then Polydamas went up to Hector
and said, "Hector, and you other captains of the Trojans and
allies, it is madness for us to try and drive our horses across
the trench; it will be very hard to cross, for it is full of
sharp stakes, and beyond these there is the wall. Our horses
therefore cannot get down into it, and would be of no use if they
did; moreover it is a narrow place and we should come to harm.
If, indeed, great Jove is minded to help the Trojans, and in his
anger will utterly destroy the Achaeans, I would myself gladly
see them perish now and here far from Argos; but if they should
rally and we are driven back from the ships pell-mell into the
trench there will be not so much as a man get back to the city to
tell the tale. Now, therefore, let us all do as I say; let our
squires hold our horses by the trench, but let us follow Hector
in a body on foot, clad in full armour, and if the day of their
doom is at hand the Achaeans will not be able to withstand us."
Thus spoke Polydamas and his saying pleased Hector, who sprang in
full armour to the ground, and all the other Trojans, when they
saw him do so, also left their chariots. Each man then gave his
horses over to his charioteer in charge to hold them ready for
him at the trench. Then they formed themselves into companies,
made themselves ready, and in five bodies followed their leaders.
Those that went with Hector and Polydamas were the bravest and
most in number, and the most determined to break through the wall
and fight at the ships. Cebriones was also joined with them as
third in command, for Hector had left his chariot in charge of a
less valiant soldier. The next company was led by Paris,
Alcathous, and Agenor; the third by Helenus and Deiphobus, two
sons of Priam, and with them was the hero Asius—Asius, the son
of Hyrtacus, whose great black horses of the breed that comes
from the river Selleis had brought him from Arisbe. Aeneas, the
valiant son of Anchises, led the fourth; he and the two sons of
Antenor, Archelochus and Acamas, men well versed in all the arts
of war. Sarpedon was captain over the allies, and took with him
Glaucus and Asteropaeus whom he deemed most valiant after
himself—for he was far the best man of them all. These helped to
array one another in their ox-hide shields, and then charged
straight at the Danaans, for they felt sure that they would not
hold out longer and that they should themselves now fall upon the
The rest of the Trojans and their allies now followed the counsel
of Polydamas but Asius, son of Hyrtacus, would not leave his
horses and his esquire behind him; in his foolhardiness he took
them on with him towards the ships, nor did he fail to come by
his end in consequence. Nevermore was he to return to wind-beaten
Ilius, exulting in his chariot and his horses; ere he could do
so, death of ill-omened name had overshadowed him and he had
fallen by the spear of Idomeneus the noble son of Deucalion. He
had driven towards the left wing of the ships, by which way the
Achaeans used to return with their chariots and horses from the
plain. Hither he drove and found the gates with their doors
opened wide, and the great bar down—for the gatemen kept them
open so as to let those of their comrades enter who might be
flying towards the ships. Hither of set purpose did he direct his
horses, and his men followed him with a loud cry, for they felt
sure that the Achaeans would not hold out longer, and that they
should now fall upon the ships. Little did they know that at the
gates they should find two of the bravest chieftains, proud sons
of the fighting Lapithae—the one, Polypoetes, mighty son of
Pirithous, and the other Leonteus, peer of murderous Mars. These
stood before the gates like two high oak trees upon the
mountains, that tower from their wide-spreading roots, and year
after year battle with wind and rain—even so did these two men
await the onset of great Asius confidently and without flinching.
The Trojans led by him and by Iamenus, Orestes, Adamas the son of
Asius, Thoon and Oenomaus, raised a loud cry of battle and made
straight for the wall, holding their shields of dry ox-hide above
their heads; for a while the two defenders remained inside and
cheered the Achaeans on to stand firm in the defence of their
ships; when, however, they saw that the Trojans were attacking
the wall, while the Danaans were crying out for help and being
routed, they rushed outside and fought in front of the gates like
two wild boars upon the mountains that abide the attack of men
and dogs, and charging on either side break down the wood all
round them tearing it up by the roots, and one can hear the
clattering of their tusks, till some one hits them and makes an
end of them—even so did the gleaming bronze rattle about their
breasts, as the weapons fell upon them; for they fought with
great fury, trusting to their own prowess and to those who were
on the wall above them. These threw great stones at their
assailants in defence of themselves their tents and their ships.
The stones fell thick as the flakes of snow which some fierce
blast drives from the dark clouds and showers down in sheets upon
the earth—even so fell the weapons from the hands alike of
Trojans and Achaeans. Helmet and shield rang out as the great
stones rained upon them, and Asius, the son of Hyrtacus, in his
dismay cried aloud and smote his two thighs. "Father Jove," he
cried, "of a truth you too are altogether given to lying. I made
sure the Argive heroes could not withstand us, whereas like
slim-waisted wasps, or bees that have their nests in the rocks by
the wayside—they leave not the holes wherein they have built
undefended, but fight for their little ones against all who would
take them—even so these men, though they be but two, will not be
driven from the gates, but stand firm either to slay or be
He spoke, but moved not the mind of Jove, whose counsel it then
was to give glory to Hector. Meanwhile the rest of the Trojans
were fighting about the other gates; I, however, am no god to be
able to tell about all these things, for the battle raged
everywhere about the stone wall as it were a fiery furnace. The
Argives, discomfited though they were, were forced to defend
their ships, and all the gods who were defending the Achaeans
were vexed in spirit; but the Lapithae kept on fighting with
might and main.
Thereon Polypoetes, mighty son of Pirithous, hit Damasus with a
spear upon his cheek-pierced helmet. The helmet did not protect
him, for the point of the spear went through it, and broke the
bone, so that the brain inside was scattered about, and he died
fighting. He then slew Pylon and Ormenus. Leonteus, of the race
of Mars, killed Hippomachus the son of Antimachus by striking him
with his spear upon the girdle. He then drew his sword and sprang
first upon Antiphates whom he killed in combat, and who fell face
upwards on the earth. After him he killed Menon, Iamenus, and
Orestes, and laid them low one after the other.
While they were busy stripping the armour from these heroes, the
youths who were led on by Polydamas and Hector (and these were
the greater part and the most valiant of those that were trying
to break through the wall and fire the ships) were still standing
by the trench, uncertain what they should do; for they had seen a
sign from heaven when they had essayed to cross it—a soaring
eagle that flew skirting the left wing of their host, with a
monstrous blood-red snake in its talons still alive and
struggling to escape. The snake was still bent on revenge,
wriggling and twisting itself backwards till it struck the bird
that held it, on the neck and breast; whereon the bird being in
pain, let it fall, dropping it into the middle of the host, and
then flew down the wind with a sharp cry. The Trojans were struck
with terror when they saw the snake, portent of aegis-bearing
Jove, writhing in the midst of them, and Polydamas went up to
Hector and said, "Hector, at our councils of war you are ever
given to rebuke me, even when I speak wisely, as though it were
not well, forsooth, that one of the people should cross your will
either in the field or at the council board; you would have them
support you always: nevertheless I will say what I think will be
best; let us not now go on to fight the Danaans at their ships,
for I know what will happen if this soaring eagle which skirted
the left wing of our host with a monstrous blood-red snake in its
talons (the snake being still alive) was really sent as an omen
to the Trojans on their essaying to cross the trench. The eagle
let go her hold; she did not succeed in taking it home to her
little ones, and so will it be—with ourselves; even though by a
mighty effort we break through the gates and wall of the
Achaeans, and they give way before us, still we shall not return
in good order by the way we came, but shall leave many a man
behind us whom the Achaeans will do to death in defence of their
ships. Thus would any seer who was expert in these matters, and
was trusted by the people, read the portent."
Hector looked fiercely at him and said, "Polydamas, I like not of
your reading. You can find a better saying than this if you will.
If, however, you have spoken in good earnest, then indeed has
heaven robbed you of your reason. You would have me pay no heed
to the counsels of Jove, nor to the promises he made me—and he
bowed his head in confirmation; you bid me be ruled rather by the
flight of wild-fowl. What care I whether they fly towards dawn or
dark, and whether they be on my right hand or on my left? Let us
put our trust rather in the counsel of great Jove, king of
mortals and immortals. There is one omen, and one only—that a
man should fight for his country. Why are you so fearful? Though
we be all of us slain at the ships of the Argives you are not
likely to be killed yourself, for you are not steadfast nor
courageous. If you will not fight, or would talk others over from
doing so, you shall fall forthwith before my spear."
With these words he led the way, and the others followed after
with a cry that rent the air. Then Jove the lord of thunder sent
the blast of a mighty wind from the mountains of Ida, that bore
the dust down towards the ships; he thus lulled the Achaeans into
security, and gave victory to Hector and to the Trojans, who,
trusting to their own might and to the signs he had shown them,
essayed to break through the great wall of the Achaeans. They
tore down the breastworks from the walls, and overthrew the
battlements; they upheaved the buttresses, which the Achaeans had
set in front of the wall in order to support it; when they had
pulled these down they made sure of breaking through the wall,
but the Danaans still showed no sign of giving ground; they still
fenced the battlements with their shields of ox-hide, and hurled
their missiles down upon the foe as soon as any came below the
The two Ajaxes went about everywhere on the walls cheering on the
Achaeans, giving fair words to some while they spoke sharply to
any one whom they saw to be remiss. "My friends," they cried,
"Argives one and all—good bad and indifferent, for there was
never fight yet, in which all were of equal prowess—there is now
work enough, as you very well know, for all of you. See that you
none of you turn in flight towards the ships, daunted by the
shouting of the foe, but press forward and keep one another in
heart, if it may so be that Olympian Jove the lord of lightning
will vouchsafe us to repel our foes, and drive them back towards
the city."
Thus did the two go about shouting and cheering the Achaeans on.
As the flakes that fall thick upon a winter's day, when Jove is
minded to snow and to display these his arrows to mankind—he
lulls the wind to rest, and snows hour after hour till he has
buried the tops of the high mountains, the headlands that jut
into the sea, the grassy plains, and the tilled fields of men;
the snow lies deep upon the forelands, and havens of the grey
sea, but the waves as they come rolling in stay it that it can
come no further, though all else is wrapped as with a mantle, so
heavy are the heavens with snow—even thus thickly did the stones
fall on one side and on the other, some thrown at the Trojans,
and some by the Trojans at the Achaeans; and the whole wall was
in an uproar.
Still the Trojans and brave Hector would not yet have broken down
the gates and the great bar, had not Jove turned his son Sarpedon
against the Argives as a lion against a herd of horned cattle.
Before him he held his shield of hammered bronze, that the smith
had beaten so fair and round, and had lined with ox hides which
he had made fast with rivets of gold all round the shield; this
he held in front of him, and brandishing his two spears came on
like some lion of the wilderness, who has been long famished for
want of meat and will dare break even into a well-fenced
homestead to try and get at the sheep. He may find the shepherds
keeping watch over their flocks with dogs and spears, but he is
in no mind to be driven from the fold till he has had a try for
it; he will either spring on a sheep and carry it off, or be hit
by a spear from some strong hand—even so was Sarpedon fain to
attack the wall and break down its battlements. Then he said to
Glaucus son of Hippolochus, "Glaucus, why in Lycia do we receive
especial honour as regards our place at table? Why are the
choicest portions served us and our cups kept brimming, and why
do men look up to us as though we were gods? Moreover we hold a
large estate by the banks of the river Xanthus, fair with orchard
lawns and wheat-growing land; it becomes us, therefore, to take
our stand at the head of all the Lycians and bear the brunt of
the fight, that one may say to another, 'Our princes in Lycia eat
the fat of the land and drink best of wine, but they are fine
fellows; they fight well and are ever at the front in battle.' My
good friend, if, when we were once out of this fight, we could
escape old age and death thenceforward and forever, I should
neither press forward myself nor bid you do so, but death in ten
thousand shapes hangs ever over our heads, and no man can elude
him; therefore let us go forward and either win glory for
ourselves, or yield it to another."
Glaucus heeded his saying, and the pair forthwith led on the host
of Lycians. Menestheus son of Peteos was dismayed when he saw
them, for it was against his part of the wall that they came—
bringing destruction with them; he looked along the wall for some
chieftain to support his comrades and saw the two Ajaxes, men
ever eager for the fray, and Teucer, who had just come from his
tent, standing near them; but he could not make his voice heard
by shouting to them, so great an uproar was there from crashing
shields and helmets and the battering of gates with a din which
reached the skies. For all the gates had been closed, and the
Trojans were hammering at them to try and break their way through
them. Menestheus, therefore, sent Thootes with a message to Ajax.
"Run, good Thootes," he said, "and call Ajax, or better still bid
both come, for it will be all over with us here directly; the
leaders of the Lycians are upon us, men who have ever fought
desperately heretofore. But if they have too much on their hands
to let them come, at any rate let Ajax son of Telamon do so, and
let Teucer, the famous bowman, come with him."
The messenger did as he was told, and set off running along the
wall of the Achaeans. When he reached the Ajaxes he said to them,
"Sirs, princes of the Argives, the son of noble Peteos bids you
come to him for a while and help him. You had better both come if
you can, or it will be all over with him directly; the leaders of
the Lycians are upon him, men who have ever fought desperately
heretofore; if you have too much on your hands to let both come,
at any rate let Ajax, son of Telamon, do so, and let Teucer, the
famous bowman, come with him."
Great Ajax son of Telamon heeded the message, and at once spoke
to the son of Oileus. "Ajax," said he, "do you two, yourself and
brave Lycomedes, stay here and keep the Danaans in heart to fight
their hardest. I will go over yonder, and bear my part in the
fray, but I will come back here at once as soon as I have given
them the help they need."
With this, Ajax son of Telamon set off, and Teucer, his brother
by the same father, went also, with Pandion to carry Teucer's
bow. They went along inside the wall, and when they came to the
tower where Menestheus was (and hard pressed indeed did they find
him) the brave captains and leaders of the Lycians were storming
the battlements as it were a thick dark cloud, fighting in close
quarters, and raising the battle-cry aloud.
First, Ajax son of Telamon killed brave Epicles, a comrade of
Sarpedon, hitting him with a jagged stone that lay by the
battlements at the very top of the wall. As men now are, even one
who is in the bloom of youth could hardly lift it with his two
hands, but Ajax raised it high aloft and flung it down, smashing
Epicles' four-crested helmet so that the bones of his head were
crushed to pieces, and he fell from the high wall as though he
were diving, with no more life left in him. Then Teucer wounded
Glaucus the brave son of Hippolochus as he was coming on to
attack the wall. He saw his shoulder bare and aimed an arrow at
it, which made Glaucus leave off fighting. Thereon he sprang
covertly down for fear some of the Achaeans might see that he was
wounded and taunt him. Sarpedon was stung with grief when he saw
Glaucus leave him, still he did not leave off fighting, but aimed
his spear at Alcmaon the son of Thestor and hit him. He drew his
spear back again and Alcmaon came down headlong after it with his
bronzed armour rattling round him. Then Sarpedon seized the
battlement in his strong hands, and tugged at it till it all gave
way together, and a breach was made through which many might
Ajax and Teucer then both of them attacked him. Teucer hit him
with an arrow on the band that bore the shield which covered his
body, but Jove saved his son from destruction that he might not
fall by the ships' sterns. Meanwhile Ajax sprang on him and
pierced his shield, but the spear did not go clean through,
though it hustled him back that he could come on no further. He
therefore retired a little space from the battlement, yet without
losing all his ground, for he still thought to cover himself with
glory. Then he turned round and shouted to the brave Lycians
saying, "Lycians, why do you thus fail me? For all my prowess I
cannot break through the wall and open a way to the ships
single-handed. Come close on behind me, for the more there are of
us the better."
The Lycians, shamed by his rebuke, pressed closer round him who
was their counsellor and their king. The Argives on their part
got their men in fighting order within the wall, and there was a
deadly struggle between them. The Lycians could not break through
the wall and force their way to the ships, nor could the Danaans
drive the Lycians from the wall now that they had once reached
it. As two men, measuring-rods in hand, quarrel about their
boundaries in a field that they own in common, and stickle for
their rights though they be but in a mere strip, even so did the
battlements now serve as a bone of contention, and they beat one
another's round shields for their possession. Many a man's body
was wounded with the pitiless bronze, as he turned round and
bared his back to the foe, and many were struck clean through
their shields; the wall and battlements were everywhere deluged
with the blood alike of Trojans and of Achaeans. But even so the
Trojans could not rout the Achaeans, who still held on; and as
some honest hard-working woman weighs wool in her balance and
sees that the scales be true, for she would gain some pitiful
earnings for her little ones, even so was the fight balanced
evenly between them till the time came when Jove gave the greater
glory to Hector son of Priam, who was first to spring towards the
wall of the Achaeans. When he had done so, he cried aloud to the
Trojans, "Up, Trojans, break the wall of the Argives, and fling
fire upon their ships."
Thus did he hound them on, and in one body they rushed straight
at the wall as he had bidden them, and scaled the battlements
with sharp spears in their hands. Hector laid hold of a stone
that lay just outside the gates and was thick at one end but
pointed at the other; two of the best men in a town, as men now
are, could hardly raise it from the ground and put it on to a
waggon, but Hector lifted it quite easily by himself, for the son
of scheming Saturn made it light for him. As a shepherd picks up
a ram's fleece with one hand and finds it no burden, so easily
did Hector lift the great stone and drive it right at the doors
that closed the gates so strong and so firmly set. These doors
were double and high, and were kept closed by two cross-bars to
which there was but one key. When he had got close up to them,
Hector strode towards them that his blow might gain in force and
struck them in the middle, leaning his whole weight against them.
He broke both hinges, and the stone fell inside by reason of its
great weight. The portals re-echoed with the sound, the bars held
no longer, and the doors flew open, one one way, and the other
the other, through the force of the blow. Then brave Hector
leaped inside with a face as dark as that of flying night. The
gleaming bronze flashed fiercely about his body and he had two
spears in his hand. None but a god could have withstood him as he
flung himself into the gateway, and his eyes glared like fire.
Then he turned round towards the Trojans and called on them to
scale the wall, and they did as he bade them—some of them at
once climbing over the wall, while others passed through the
gates. The Danaans then fled panic-stricken towards their ships,
and all was uproar and confusion.
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