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Book XIX

NOW when Dawn in robe of saffron was hasting from the streams of
Oceanus, to bring light to mortals and immortals, Thetis reached
the ships with the armour that the god had given her. She found
her son fallen about the body of Patroclus and weeping bitterly.
Many also of his followers were weeping round him, but when the
goddess came among them she clasped his hand in her own, saying,
"My son, grieve as we may we must let this man lie, for it is by
heaven's will that he has fallen; now, therefore, accept from
Vulcan this rich and goodly armour, which no man has ever yet
borne upon his shoulders."
As she spoke she set the armour before Achilles, and it rang out
bravely as she did so. The Myrmidons were struck with awe, and
none dared look full at it, for they were afraid; but Achilles
was roused to still greater fury, and his eyes gleamed with a
fierce light, for he was glad when he handled the splendid
present which the god had made him. Then, as soon as he had
satisfied himself with looking at it, he said to his mother,
"Mother, the god has given me armour, meet handiwork for an
immortal and such as no-one living could have fashioned; I will
now arm, but I much fear that flies will settle upon the son of
Menoetius and breed worms about his wounds, so that his body, now
he is dead, will be disfigured and the flesh will rot."
Silver-footed Thetis answered, "My son, be not disquieted about
this matter. I will find means to protect him from the swarms of
noisome flies that prey on the bodies of men who have been killed
in battle. He may lie for a whole year, and his flesh shall still
be as sound as ever, or even sounder. Call, therefore, the
Achaean heroes in assembly; unsay your anger against Agamemnon;
arm at once, and fight with might and main."
As she spoke she put strength and courage into his heart, and she
then dropped ambrosia and red nectar into the wounds of
Patroclus, that his body might suffer no change.
Then Achilles went out upon the seashore, and with a loud cry
called on the Achaean heroes. On this even those who as yet had
stayed always at the ships, the pilots and helmsmen, and even the
stewards who were about the ships and served out rations, all
came to the place of assembly because Achilles had shown himself
after having held aloof so long from fighting. Two sons of Mars,
Ulysses and the son of Tydeus, came limping, for their wounds
still pained them; nevertheless they came, and took their seats
in the front row of the assembly. Last of all came Agamemnon,
king of men, he too wounded, for Coon son of Antenor had struck
him with a spear in battle.
When the Achaeans were got together Achilles rose and said, "Son
of Atreus, surely it would have been better alike for both you
and me, when we two were in such high anger about Briseis, surely
it would have been better, had Diana's arrow slain her at the
ships on the day when I took her after having sacked Lyrnessus.
For so, many an Achaean the less would have bitten dust before
the foe in the days of my anger. It has been well for Hector and
the Trojans, but the Achaeans will long indeed remember our
quarrel. Now, however, let it be, for it is over. If we have been
angry, necessity has schooled our anger. I put it from me: I dare
not nurse it for ever; therefore, bid the Achaeans arm forthwith
that I may go out against the Trojans, and learn whether they
will be in a mind to sleep by the ships or no. Glad, I ween, will
he be to rest his knees who may fly my spear when I wield it."
Thus did he speak, and the Achaeans rejoiced in that he had put
away his anger.
Then Agamemnon spoke, rising in his place, and not going into the
middle of the assembly. "Danaan heroes," said he, "servants of
Mars, it is well to listen when a man stands up to speak, and it
is not seemly to interrupt him, or it will go hard even with a
practised speaker. Who can either hear or speak in an uproar?
Even the finest orator will be disconcerted by it. I will expound
to the son of Peleus, and do you other Achaeans heed me and mark
me well. Often have the Achaeans spoken to me of this matter and
upbraided me, but it was not I that did it: Jove, and Fate, and
Erinys that walks in darkness struck me mad when we were
assembled on the day that I took from Achilles the meed that had
been awarded to him. What could I do? All things are in the hand
of heaven, and Folly, eldest of Jove's daughters, shuts men's
eyes to their destruction. She walks delicately, not on the solid
earth, but hovers over the heads of men to make them stumble or
to ensnare them.
"Time was when she fooled Jove himself, who they say is greatest
whether of gods or men; for Juno, woman though she was, beguiled
him on the day when Alcmena was to bring forth mighty Hercules in
the fair city of Thebes. He told it out among the gods saying,
'Hear me, all gods and goddesses, that I may speak even as I am
minded; this day shall an Ilithuia, helper of women who are in
labour, bring a man child into the world who shall be lord over
all that dwell about him who are of my blood and lineage.' Then
said Juno all crafty and full of guile, 'You will play false, and
will not hold to your word. Swear me, O Olympian, swear me a
great oath, that he who shall this day fall between the feet of a
woman, shall be lord over all that dwell about him who are of
your blood and lineage.'
"Thus she spoke, and Jove suspected her not, but swore the great
oath, to his much ruing thereafter. For Juno darted down from the
high summit of Olympus, and went in haste to Achaean Argos where
she knew that the noble wife of Sthenelus son of Perseus then
was. She being with child and in her seventh month, Juno brought
the child to birth though there was a month still wanting, but
she stayed the offspring of Alcmena, and kept back the Ilithuiae.
Then she went to tell Jove the son of Saturn, and said, 'Father
Jove, lord of the lightning—I have a word for your ear. There is
a fine child born this day, Eurystheus, son to Sthenelus the son
of Perseus; he is of your lineage; it is well, therefore, that he
should reign over the Argives.'
"On this Jove was stung to the very quick, and in his rage he
caught Folly by the hair, and swore a great oath that never
should she again invade starry heaven and Olympus, for she was
the bane of all. Then he whirled her round with a twist of his
hand, and flung her down from heaven so that she fell on to the
fields of mortal men; and he was ever angry with her when he saw
his son groaning under the cruel labours that Eurystheus laid
upon him. Even so did I grieve when mighty Hector was killing the
Argives at their ships, and all the time I kept thinking of Folly
who had so baned me. I was blind, and Jove robbed me of my
reason; I will now make atonement, and will add much treasure by
way of amends. Go, therefore, into battle, you and your people
with you. I will give you all that Ulysses offered you yesterday
in your tents: or if it so please you, wait, though you would
fain fight at once, and my squires shall bring the gifts from my
ship, that you may see whether what I give you is enough."
And Achilles answered, "Son of Atreus, king of men Agamemnon, you
can give such gifts as you think proper, or you can withhold
them: it is in your own hands. Let us now set battle in array; it
is not well to tarry talking about trifles, for there is a deed
which is as yet to do. Achilles shall again be seen fighting
among the foremost, and laying low the ranks of the Trojans: bear
this in mind each one of you when he is fighting."
Then Ulysses said, "Achilles, godlike and brave, send not the
Achaeans thus against Ilius to fight the Trojans fasting, for the
battle will be no brief one, when it is once begun, and heaven
has filled both sides with fury; bid them first take food both
bread and wine by the ships, for in this there is strength and
stay. No man can do battle the livelong day to the going down of
the sun if he is without food; however much he may want to fight
his strength will fail him before he knows it; hunger and thirst
will find him out, and his limbs will grow weary under him. But a
man can fight all day if he is full fed with meat and wine; his
heart beats high, and his strength will stay till he has routed
all his foes; therefore, send the people away and bid them
prepare their meal; King Agamemnon will bring out the gifts in
presence of the assembly, that all may see them and you may be
satisfied. Moreover let him swear an oath before the Argives that
he has never gone up into the couch of Briseis, nor been with her
after the manner of men and women; and do you, too, show yourself
of a gracious mind; let Agamemnon entertain you in his tents with
a feast of reconciliation, that so you may have had your dues in
full. As for you, son of Atreus, treat people more righteously in
future; it is no disgrace even to a king that he should make
amends if he was wrong in the first instance."
And King Agamemnon answered, "Son of Laertes, your words please
me well, for throughout you have spoken wisely. I will swear as
you would have me do; I do so of my own free will, neither shall
I take the name of heaven in vain. Let, then, Achilles wait,
though he would fain fight at once, and do you others wait also,
till the gifts come from my tent and we ratify the oath with
sacrifice. Thus, then, do I charge you: take some noble young
Achaeans with you, and bring from my tents the gifts that I
promised yesterday to Achilles, and bring the women also;
furthermore let Talthybius find me a boar from those that are
with the host, and make it ready for sacrifice to Jove and to the
sun."
Then said Achilles, "Son of Atreus, king of men Agamemnon, see to
these matters at some other season, when there is breathing time
and when I am calmer. Would you have men eat while the bodies of
those whom Hector son of Priam slew are still lying mangled upon
the plain? Let the sons of the Achaeans, say I, fight fasting and
without food, till we have avenged them; afterwards at the going
down of the sun let them eat their fill. As for me, Patroclus is
lying dead in my tent, all hacked and hewn, with his feet to the
door, and his comrades are mourning round him. Therefore I can
take thought of nothing save only slaughter and blood and the
rattle in the throat of the dying."
Ulysses answered, "Achilles, son of Peleus, mightiest of all the
Achaeans, in battle you are better than I, and that more than a
little, but in counsel I am much before you, for I am older and
of greater knowledge. Therefore be patient under my words.
Fighting is a thing of which men soon surfeit, and when Jove, who
is war's steward, weighs the upshot, it may well prove that the
straw which our sickles have reaped is far heavier than the
grain. It may not be that the Achaeans should mourn the dead with
their bellies; day by day men fall thick and threefold
continually; when should we have respite from our sorrow? Let us
mourn our dead for a day and bury them out of sight and mind, but
let those of us who are left eat and drink that we may arm and
fight our foes more fiercely. In that hour let no man hold back,
waiting for a second summons; such summons shall bode ill for him
who is found lagging behind at our ships; let us rather sally as
one man and loose the fury of war upon the Trojans."
When he had thus spoken he took with him the sons of Nestor, with
Meges son of Phyleus, Thoas, Meriones, Lycomedes son of Creontes,
and Melanippus, and went to the tent of Agamemnon son of Atreus.
The word was not sooner said than the deed was done: they
brought out the seven tripods which Agamemnon had promised, with
the twenty metal cauldrons and the twelve horses; they also
brought the women skilled in useful arts, seven in number, with
Briseis, which made eight. Ulysses weighed out the ten talents of
gold and then led the way back, while the young Achaeans brought
the rest of the gifts, and laid them in the middle of the
assembly.
Agamemnon then rose, and Talthybius whose voice was like that of
a god came to him with the boar. The son of Atreus drew the knife
which he wore by the scabbard of his mighty sword, and began by
cutting off some bristles from the boar, lifting up his hands in
prayer as he did so. The other Achaeans sat where they were all
silent and orderly to hear the king, and Agamemnon looked into
the vault of heaven and prayed saying, "I call Jove the first and
mightiest of all gods to witness, I call also Earth and Sun and
the Erinyes who dwell below and take vengeance on him who shall
swear falsely, that I have laid no hand upon the girl Briseis,
neither to take her to my bed nor otherwise, but that she has
remained in my tents inviolate. If I swear falsely may heaven
visit me with all the penalties which it metes out to those who
perjure themselves."
He cut the boar's throat as he spoke, whereon Talthybius whirled
it round his head, and flung it into the wide sea to feed the
fishes. Then Achilles also rose and said to the Argives, "Father
Jove, of a truth you blind men's eyes and bane them. The son of
Atreus had not else stirred me to so fierce an anger, nor so
stubbornly taken Briseis from me against my will. Surely Jove
must have counselled the destruction of many an Argive. Go, now,
and take your food that we may begin fighting."
On this he broke up the assembly, and every man went back to his
own ship. The Myrmidons attended to the presents and took them
away to the ship of Achilles. They placed them in his tents,
while the stable-men drove the horses in among the others.
Briseis, fair as Venus, when she saw the mangled body of
Patroclus, flung herself upon it and cried aloud, tearing her
breast, her neck, and her lovely face with both her hands.
Beautiful as a goddess she wept and said, "Patroclus, dearest
friend, when I went hence I left you living; I return, O prince,
to find you dead; thus do fresh sorrows multiply upon me one
after the other. I saw him to whom my father and mother married
me, cut down before our city, and my three own dear brothers
perished with him on the self-same day; but you, Patroclus, even
when Achilles slew my husband and sacked the city of noble Mynes,
told me that I was not to weep, for you said you would make
Achilles marry me, and take me back with him to Phthia, we should
have a wedding feast among the Myrmidons. You were always kind to
me and I shall never cease to grieve for you."
She wept as she spoke, and the women joined in her lament-making
as though their tears were for Patroclus, but in truth each was
weeping for her own sorrows. The elders of the Achaeans gathered
round Achilles and prayed him to take food, but he groaned and
would not do so. "I pray you," said he, "if any comrade will hear
me, bid me neither eat nor drink, for I am in great heaviness,
and will stay fasting even to the going down of the sun."
On this he sent the other princes away, save only the two sons of
Atreus and Ulysses, Nestor, Idomeneus, and the knight Phoenix,
who stayed behind and tried to comfort him in the bitterness of
his sorrow: but he would not be comforted till he should have
flung himself into the jaws of battle, and he fetched sigh on
sigh, thinking ever of Patroclus. Then he said—
"Hapless and dearest comrade, you it was who would get a good
dinner ready for me at once and without delay when the Achaeans
were hasting to fight the Trojans; now, therefore, though I have
meat and drink in my tents, yet will I fast for sorrow. Grief
greater than this I could not know, not even though I were to
hear of the death of my father, who is now in Phthia weeping for
the loss of me his son, who am here fighting the Trojans in a
strange land for the accursed sake of Helen, nor yet though I
should hear that my son is no more—he who is being brought up in
Scyros—if indeed Neoptolemus is still living. Till now I made
sure that I alone was to fall here at Troy away from Argos, while
you were to return to Phthia, bring back my son with you in your
own ship, and show him all my property, my bondsmen, and the
greatness of my house—for Peleus must surely be either dead, or
what little life remains to him is oppressed alike with the
infirmities of age and ever present fear lest he should hear the
sad tidings of my death."
He wept as he spoke, and the elders sighed in concert as each
thought on what he had left at home behind him. The son of Saturn
looked down with pity upon them, and said presently to Minerva,
"My child, you have quite deserted your hero; is he then gone so
clean out of your recollection? There he sits by the ships all
desolate for the loss of his dear comrade, and though the others
are gone to their dinner he will neither eat nor drink. Go then
and drop nectar and ambrosia into his breast, that he may know no
hunger."
With these words he urged Minerva, who was already of the same
mind. She darted down from heaven into the air like some falcon
sailing on his broad wings and screaming. Meanwhile the Achaeans
were arming throughout the host, and when Minerva had dropped
nectar and ambrosia into Achilles so that no cruel hunger should
cause his limbs to fail him, she went back to the house of her
mighty father. Thick as the chill snow-flakes shed from the hand
of Jove and borne on the keen blasts of the north wind, even so
thick did the gleaming helmets, the bossed shields, the strongly
plated breastplates, and the ashen spears stream from the ships.
The sheen pierced the sky, the whole land was radiant with their
flashing armour, and the sound of the tramp of their treading
rose from under their feet. In the midst of them all Achilles put
on his armour; he gnashed his teeth, his eyes gleamed like fire,
for his grief was greater than he could bear. Thus, then, full of
fury against the Trojans, did he don the gift of the god, the
armour that Vulcan had made him.
First he put on the goodly greaves fitted with ancle-clasps, and
next he did on the breastplate about his chest. He slung the
silver-studded sword of bronze about his shoulders, and then took
up the shield so great and strong that shone afar with a
splendour as of the moon. As the light seen by sailors from out
at sea, when men have lit a fire in their homestead high up among
the mountains, but the sailors are carried out to sea by wind and
storm far from the haven where they would be—even so did the
gleam of Achilles' wondrous shield strike up into the heavens. He
lifted the redoubtable helmet, and set it upon his head, from
whence it shone like a star, and the golden plumes which Vulcan
had set thick about the ridge of the helmet, waved all around it.
Then Achilles made trial of himself in his armour to see whether
it fitted him, so that his limbs could play freely under it, and
it seemed to buoy him up as though it had been wings.
He also drew his father's spear out of the spear-stand, a spear
so great and heavy and strong that none of the Achaeans save only
Achilles had strength to wield it; this was the spear of Pelian
ash from the topmost ridges of Mt. Pelion, which Chiron had once
given to Peleus, fraught with the death of heroes. Automedon and
Alcimus busied themselves with the harnessing of his horses; they
made the bands fast about them, and put the bit in their mouths,
drawing the reins back towards the chariot. Automedon, whip in
hand, sprang up behind the horses, and after him Achilles mounted
in full armour, resplendent as the sun-god Hyperion. Then with a
loud voice he chided with his father's horses saying, "Xanthus
and Balius, famed offspring of Podarge—this time when we have
done fighting be sure and bring your driver safely back to the
host of the Achaeans, and do not leave him dead on the plain as
you did Patroclus."
Then fleet Xanthus answered under the yoke—for white-armed Juno
had endowed him with human speech—and he bowed his head till his
mane touched the ground as it hung down from under the yoke-band.
"Dread Achilles," said he, "we will indeed save you now, but the
day of your death is near, and the blame will not be ours, for it
will be heaven and stern fate that will destroy you. Neither was
it through any sloth or slackness on our part that the Trojans
stripped Patroclus of his armour; it was the mighty god whom
lovely Leto bore that slew him as he fought among the foremost,
and vouchsafed a triumph to Hector. We two can fly as swiftly as
Zephyrus who they say is fleetest of all winds; nevertheless it
is your doom to fall by the hand of a man and of a god."
When he had thus said the Erinyes stayed his speech, and Achilles
answered him in great sadness, saying, "Why, O Xanthus, do you
thus foretell my death? You need not do so, for I well know that
I am to fall here, far from my dear father and mother; none the
more, however, shall I stay my hand till I have given the Trojans
their fill of fighting."
So saying, with a loud cry he drove his horses to the front.
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