Greek and Roman Mythology > The Iliad

The Iliad

The war continued without decisive results for nine years. Then
an event occurred which seemed likely to be fatal to the cause of
the Greeks, and that was a quarrel between Achilles and
Agamemnon. It is at this point that the great poem of Homer, the
Iliad, begins. The Greeks, though unsuccessful against Troy, had
taken the neighboring and allied cities, and in the division of
the spoil a female captive, by name Chryseis, daughter of
Chryses, priest of Apollo, had fallen to the share of Agamemnon.
Chryses came bearing the sacred emblems of his office, and begged
the release of his daughter. Agamemnon refused. Thereupon
Chryses implored Apollo to afflict the Greeks till they should be
forced to yield their prey. Apollo granted the prayer of his
priest, and sent pestilence into the Grecian camp. Then a
council was called to deliberate how to allay the wrath of the
gods and avert the plague. Achilles boldly charged their
misfortunes upon Agamemnon as caused by his withholding Chryseis.
Agamemnon enraged, consented to relinquish his captive, but
demanded that Achilles should yield to him in her stead Briseis,
a maiden who had fallen to Achilles' share in the division of the
spoil. Achilles submitted, but forthwith declared that he would
take no further part in the war. He withdrew his forces from the
general camp and openly avowed his intention of returning home to
Greece.

The gods and goddesses interested themselves as much in this
famous war as the parties themselves. It was well known to them
that fate had decreed that Troy should fall, at last, if her
enemies should persevere and not voluntarily abandon the
enterprise. Yet there was room enough left for chance to excite
by turns the hopes and fears of the powers above who took part
with either side. Juno and Minerva, in consequence of the slight
put upon their charms by Paris, were hostile to the Trojans;
Venus for the opposite cause favored them. Venus enlisted her
admirer Mars on the same side, but Neptune favored the Greeks.
Apollo was neutral, sometimes taking one side, sometimes the
other, and Jove himself, though he loved the good King Priam, yet
exercised a degree of impartiality; not however without
exceptions.

Thetis, the mother of Achilles, warmly resented the injury done
to her son. She repaired immediately to Jove's palace, and
besought him to make the Greeks repent of their injustice to
Achilles by granting success to the Trojan arms. Jupiter
consented; and in the battle which ensued the Trojans were
completely successful. The Greeks were driven from the field,
and took refuge in their ships. Then Agamemnon called a council
of his wisest and bravest chiefs. Nestor advised that an embassy
should be sent to Achilles to persuade him to return to the
field; that Agamemnon should yield the maiden, the cause of the
dispute, with ample gifts to atone for the wrong he had done.
Agamemnon consented, and Ulysses, Ajax, and Phoenix were sent to
carry to Achilles the penitent message. They performed that
duty, but Achilles was deaf to their entreaties. He positively
refused to return to the field, and persisted in his resolution
to embark for Greece without delay. The Greeks had constructed a
rampart around their ships, and now, instead of besieging Troy,
they were in a manner besieged themselves within their rampart.
The next day after the unsuccessful embassy to Achilles, a battle
was fought, and the Trojans, favored by Jove, were successful,
and succeeded in forcing a passage through the Grecian rampart,
and were about to set fire to the ships. Neptune, seeing the
Greeks so pressed, came to their rescue. He appeared in the form
of Calchas the prophet, encouraged the warriors with his shouts,
and appealed to each individually till he raised their ardor to
such a pitch that they forced the Trojans to give way. Ajax
performed prodigies of valor, and at length encountered Hector.
Ajax shouted defiance, to which Hector replied, and hurled his
lance at the huge warrior. It was well aimed, and struck Ajax
where the belts that bore his sword and shield crossed each other
on the breast. The double guard prevented its penetrating, and
it fell harmless. Then Ajax, seeing a huge stone, one of those
that served to prop the ships, hurled it at Hector. It struck
him in the neck and stretched him on the plain. His followers
instantly seized him, and bore him off stunned and wounded.

While Neptune was thus aiding the Greeks and driving back the
Trojans, Jupiter saw nothing of what was going on, for his
attention had been drawn from the field by the wiles of Juno.
That goddess had arrayed herself in all her charms, and, to crown
all, had borrowed of Venus her girdle called Cestus, which had
the effect to heighten the wearer's charms to such a degree that
they were quite irresistible. So prepared, Juno went to join her
husband, who sat on Olympus watching the battle. When he beheld
her she looked so charming that the fondness of his early love
revived, and, forgetting the contending armies and all other
affairs of state, he thought only of her and let the battle go as
it would.

But this absorption did not continue long, and when, upon turning
his eyes downward, he beheld Hector stretched on the plain almost
lifeless from pain and bruises, he dismissed Juno in a rage,
commanding her to send Iris and Apollo to him. When Iris came he
sent her with a stern message to Neptune, ordering him instantly
to quit the field. Apollo was dispatched to heal Hector's
bruises and to inspirit his heart. These orders were obeyed with
such speed that while the battle still raged, Hector returned to
the field and Neptune betook himself to his own dominions.

An arrow from Paris's bow wounded Machaon, son of Aesculapius,
who inherited his father's art of healing, and was therefore of
great value to the Greeks as their surgeon, besides being one of
their bravest warriors. Nestor took Machaon in his chariot and
conveyed him from the field. As they passed the ships of
Achilles, that hero, looking out over the field, saw the chariot
of Nestor and recognized the old chief, but could not discern who
the wounded chief was. So calling Patroclus, his companion and
dearest friend, he sent him to Nestor's tent to inquire.

Patroclus, arriving at Nestor's tent, saw Machaon wounded, and
having told the cause of his coming would have hastened away, but
Nestor detained him, to tell him the extent of the Grecian
calamities. He reminded him also how, at the time of departing
for Troy, Achilles and himself had been charged by their
respective fathers with different advice; Achilles to aspire to
the highest pitch of glory, Patroclus, as the elder, to keep
watch over his friend, and to guide his inexperience. "Now,"
said Nestor, "is the time for such influence. If the gods so
please, thou mayest win him back to the common cause; but if not
let hm at least send his soldiers to the field, and come thou,
Patroclus, clad in his armor, and perhaps the very sight of it
may drive back the Trojans."

Patroclus was strongly moved with this address, and hastened back
to Achilles, revolving in his mind all he had seen and heard. He
told the prince the sad condition of affairs at the camp of their
late associates; Diomedes, Ulysses, Agamemnon, Machaon, all
wounded, the rampart broken down, the enemy among the ships
preparing to burn them, and thus to cut off all means of return
to Greece. While they spoke the flames burst forth from one of
the ships. Achilles, at the sight, relented so far as to grant
Patroclus his request to lead the Myrmidons (for so were
Achilles' soldiers called) to the field, and to lend him his
armor that he might thereby strike more terror into the minds of
the Trojans. Without delay the soldiers were marshalled,
Patroclus put on the radiant armor and mounted the chariot of
Achilles, and led forth the men ardent for battle. But before he
went, Achilles strictly charged him that he should be content
with repelling the foe. "Seek not," said he, "to press the
Trojans without me, lest thou add still more to the disgrace
already mine." Then exhorting the troops to do their best he
dismissed them full of ardor to the fight.

Patroclus and his Myrmidons at once plunged into the contest
where it raged hottest; at the sight of which the joyful Grecians
shouted and the ships reechoed the acclaim. The Trojans, at the
sight of the well-known armor, struck with terror, looked every
where for refuge. First those who had got possession of the ship
and set it on fire left and allowed the Grecians to retake it and
extinguish the flames. Then the rest of the Trojans fled in
dismay. Ajax, Menelaus, and the two sons of Nestor performed
prodigies of valor. Hector was forced to turn his horses' heads
and retire from the enclosure, leaving his men entangled in the
fosse to escape as they could. Patroclus drove them before him,
slaying many, none daring to make a stand against him.

At last Sarpedon, son of Jove, ventured to oppose himself in
fight to Patroclus. Jupiter looked down upon him and would have
snatched him from the fate which awaited him, but Juno hinted
that if he did so it would induce all others of the inhabitants
of heaven to interpose in like manner whenever any of their
offspring were endangered; to which reason Jove yielded.
Sarpedon threw his spear but missed Patroclus, but Patroclus
threw his with better success. It pierced Sarpedon's breast and
he fell, and, calling to his friends to save his body from the
foe, expired. Then a furious contest arose for the possession of
the corpse. The Greeks succeeded and stripped Sarpedon of his
armor; but Jove would not allow the remains of his son to be
dishonored, and by his command Apollo snatched from the midst of
the combatants the body of Sarpedon and committed it to the care
of the twin brothers Death and Sleep, by whom it was transported
to Lycia, the native land of Sarpedon, where it received due
funeral rites.

Thus far Patroclus had succeeded to his utmost wish in repelling
the Trojans and relieving his countrymen, but now came a change
of fortune. Hector, borne in his chariot, confronted him.
Patroclus threw a vast stone at Hector, which missed its aim, but
smote Cebriones, the charioteer, and knocked him from the car.
Hector leaped from the chariot to rescue his friend, and
Patroclus also decended to complete his victory. Thus the two
heroes met face to face. At this decisive moment the poet, as if
reluctant to give Hector the glory, records that Phoebus took
part against Patroclus. He struck the helmet from his head and
the lance from his hand. At the same moment an obscure Trojan
wounded him in the back, and Hector pressing forward pierced him
with his spear. He fell mortally wounded.

Then arose a tremendous conflict for the body of Patroclus, but
his armor was at once taken possession of by Hector, who,
retiring a short distance, divested himself of his own armor and
put on that of Achilles, then returned to the fight. Ajax and
Menelaus defended the body, and Hector and his bravest warriors
struggled to capture it. The battle raged with equal fortune,
when Jove enveloped the whole face of heaven with a dark cloud.
The lightning flashed, the thunder roared, and Ajax, looking
round for some one whom he might dispatch to Achilles to tell him
of the death of his friend and of the imminent danger that his
remains would fall into the hands of the enemy, could see no
suitable messenger. It was then that he exclaimed in those
famous lines so often quoted,

"Father of heaven and earth! Deliver thou
Achaia's host from darkness; clear the skies;
Give day; and, since thy sovereign will is such,
Destruction with it; but, oh, give us day."
Cowper.

Or, as rendered by Pope,

"Lord of earth and air!
Oh, king! Oh, father! Hear my humble prayer!
Dispel this cloud, the light of heaven restore;
Give me to see and Ajax asks no more;
If Greece must perish we thy will obey
But let us perish in the face of day."

Jupiter heard the prayer and dispersed the clouds. Then Ajax
sent Antilochus to Achilles with the intelligence of Patroclus's
death, and of the conflict raging for his remains. The Greeks at
last succeeded in bearing off the body to the ships, closely
pursued by Hector and Aeneas and rest of the Trojans.

Achilles heard the fate of his friend with such distress that
Antilochus feared for a while that he would destroy himself. His
groans reached the ears of his mother, Thetis, far down in the
deeps of ocean where she abode, and she hastened to him to
inquire the cause. She found him overwhelmed with self-reproach
that he had indulged his resentment so far, and suffered his
friend to fall a victim to it. But his only consolation was the
hope of revenge. He would fly instantly in search of Hector.
But his mother reminded him that he was now without armor, and
promised him, if he would but wait till the morrow, she would
procure for him a suit of armor from Vulcan more than equal to
that he had lost. He consented, and Thetis immediately repaired
to Vulcan's palace. She found him busy at his forge making
tripods for his own use, so artfully constructed that they moved
forward of their own accord when wanted, and retired again when
dismissed. On hearing the request of Thetis, Vulcan immediately
laid aside his work and hastened to comply with her wishes. He
fabricated a splendid suit of armor for Achilles, first a shield
adorned with elaborate devices, then a helmet crested with gold,
then a corslet and greaves of impenetrable temper, all perfectly
adapted to his form, and of consummate workmanship. It was all
done in one night, and Thetis, receiving it, descended with it to
earth and laid it down at Achilles' feet at the dawn of day.

The first glow of pleasure that Achilles had felt since the death
of Petroclus was at the sight of this splendid armor. And now
arrayed in it, he went forth into the camp, calling all the
chiefs to council. When they were all assembled he addressed
them. Renouncing his displeasure against Agamemnon and bitterly
lamenting the miseries that had resulted from it, he called on
them to proceed at once to the field. Agamemnon made a suitable
reply, laying all the blame on Ate, the goddess of discord, and
thereupon complete reconcilement took place between the heroes.

Then Achilles went forth to battle, inspired with a rage and
thirst for vengeance that made him irresistible. The bravest
warriors fled before him or fell by his lance. Hector, cautioned
by Apollo, kept aloof, but the god, assuming the form of one of
Priam's sons, Lycaon, urged AEneas to encounter the terrible
warrior. AEneas, though he felt himself unequal, did not decline
the combat. He hurled his spear with all his force against the
shield, the work of Vulcan. It was formed of five metal plates;
two were of brass, two of tin, and one of gold. The spear
pierced two thicknesses, but was stopped in the third. Achilles
threw his with better success. It pierced through the shield of
Aeneas, but glanced near his shoulder and made no wound. Then
AEneas seized a stone, such as two men of modern times could
hardly lift, and was about to throw it, and Achilles, with sword
drawn, was about to rush upon him, when Neptune, who looked out
upon the contest, moved with pity for AEneas, who he saw would
surely fall a victim if not speedily rescued, spread a cloud
between the combatants, and lifting AEneas from the ground, bore
him over the heads of warriors and steeds to the rear of the
battle. Achilles, when the mist cleared away, looked round in
vain for his adversary, and acknowledging the prodigy, turned his
arms against other champions. But none dared stand before him,
and Priam looking down from his city walls beheld his whole army
in full flight towards the city. He gave command to open wide
the gates to receive the fugitives, and to shut them as soon as
the Trojans should have passed, lest the enemy should enter
likewise. But Achilles was so close in pursuit that that would
have been impossible if Apollo had not, in the form of Agenor,
Priam's son, encountered Achilles for a while, then turned to
fly, and taken the way apart from the city. Achilles pursued and
had chased his supposed victim far from the walls, when Apollo
disclosed himself, and Achilles, perceiving how he had been
deluded, gave up the chase.

But when the rest had escaped into the town Hector stood without,
determined to await the combat. His old father called to him
from the walls and begged him to retire nor tempt the encounter.
His mother, Hecuba, also besought him to the same effect, but all
in vain. "How can I," said he to himself, "by whose command the
people went to this day's contest, where so many have fallen,
seek safety for myself against a single foe? But what if I offer
him to yield up Helen and all her treasures and ample of our own
beside? Ah no! It is too late. He would not even hear me
through, but slay me while I spoke." While he thus ruminated,
Achilles approached, terrible as Mars, his armor flashing
lighting as he moved. At that sight Hector's heart failed him
and he fled. Achilles swiftly pursued. They ran, still keeping
near the walls, till they had thrice encircled the city. As
often as Hector approached the walls Achilles intercepted him and
forced him to keep out in a wider circle. But Apollo sustained
Hector's strength, and would not let him sink in weariness. Then
Pallas, assuming the form of Deiphobus, Hector's bravest brother,
appeared suddenly at his side. Hector saw him with delight, and,
thus strengthened, stopped his flight and turned to meet
Achilles. Hector threw his spear, which struck the shield of
Achilles and bounded back. He turned to receive another from the
hand of Deiphobus, but Deiphobus was gone. Then Hector
understood his doom and said, "Alas! It is plain this is my hour
to die! I thought Deiphobus at hand, but Pallas deceived me, and
he is still in Troy. But I will not fall inglorious." So
saying, he drew his falchion from his side and rushed at once to
combat. Achilles, secured behind his shield, waited the approach
of Hector. When he came within reach of his spear, Achilles,
choosing with his eye a vulnerable part where the armor leaves
the neck uncovered, aimed his spear at that part, and Hector
fell, death-wounded, and feebly said, "Spare my body! Let my
parents ransom it, and let me receive funeral rites from the sons
and daughters of Troy." To which Achilles replied, "Dog, name
not ransom nor pity to me, on whom you have brought such dire
distress. No! Trust me, nought shall save thy carcass from the
dogs. Though twenty ransoms and thy weight in gold were offered,
I would refuse it all."

So saying, he stripped the body of its armor, and fastening cords
to the feet, tied them behind his chariot, leaving the body to
trail along the ground. Then mounting the chariot he lashed the
steeds, and so dragged the body to and fro before the city. What
words can tell the grief of King Priam and Queen Hecuba at this
sight! His people could scarce restrain the old king from
rushing forth. He threw himself in the dust, and besought them
each by name to give him way. Hecuba's distress was not less
violent. The citizens stood round them weeping. The sound of
the mourning reached the ears of Andromache, the wife of Hector,
as she sat among her maidens at work, and anticipating evil she
went forth to the wall. When she saw the sight there presented,
she would have thrown herself headlong from the wall, but fainted
and fell into the arms of her maidens. Recovering, she bewailed
her fate, picturing to herself her country ruined, herself a
captive, and her son dependent for his bread on the charity of
strangers.

When Achilles and the Greeks had taken their revenge on the
killer of Patroclus they busied themselves in paying due funeral
rites to their friend. A pile was erected, and the body burned
with due solemnity; and then ensued games of strength and skill,
chariot races, wrestling, boxing, and archery. Then the chiefs
sat down to the funeral banquet and after that retired to rest.
But Achilles neither partook of the feast nor of sleep. The
recollection of his lost friend kept him awake, remembering their
companionship in toil and dangers, in battle or on the perilous
deep. Before the earliest dawn he left his tent, and joining to
his chariot his swift steeds, he fastened Hector's body to be
dragged behind. Twice he dragged him round the tomb of
Patroclus, leaving him at length stretched in the dust. But
Apollo would not permit the body to be torn or disfigured with
all this abuse, but preserved it free from all taint or
defilement.

When Achilles indulged his wrath in thus disgracing brave Hector,
Jupiter in pity summoned Thetis to his presence. He told her to
go to her son and prevail on him to restore the body of Hector to
his friends. Then Jupiter sent Iris to King Priam to encourage
him to go to Achilles and beg the body of his son. Iris
delivered her message, and Priam immediately prepared to obey.
He opened his treasures and took out rich garments and cloths,
with ten talents in gold and two splendid tripods and a golden
cup of matchless workmanship. Then he called to his sons and
bade them draw forth his litter and place in it the various
articles designed for a ransom to Achilles.

When all was ready, the old king with a single companion, as aged
as himself, the herald Idaeus, drove forth from the gates,
parting there with Hecuba his queen, and all his friends, who
lamented him as going to certain death.

But Jupiter, beholding with compassion the venerable king, sent
Mercury to be his guide and protector. Mercury, assuming the
form of a young warrior, presented himself to the aged couple,
and while at the sight of him they hesitated whether to fly or
yield, the god approached, and grasping Priam's hand, offered to
be their guide to Achilles' tent. Priam gladly accepted his
offered service, and he, mounting the carriage, assumed the reins
and soon conveyed them to the tent of Achilles. Mercury's wand
put to sleep all the guards, and without hindrance he introduced
Priam into the tent where Achilles sat, attended hy two of his
warriors. The old king threw himself at the feet of Achilles and
kissed those terrible hands which had destroyed so many of his
sons. "Think, O Achilles," he said, "of thy own father, full of
days like me, and trembling on the gloomy verge of life. Perhaps
even now some neighbor chief oppresses him, and there is none at
hand to succor him in his distress. Yet doubtless knowing that
Achilles lives he still rejoices, hoping that one day he shall
see thy face again. But no comfort cheers me, whose bravest
sons, so late the flower of Ilium, all have fallen. Yet one I
had, one more than all the rest the strength of my age, whom
fighting for his country, thou hast slain. I come to redeem his
body, bringing inestimable ransom with me. Achilles, reverence
the gods! Recollect thy father! For his sake show compassion to
me!" These words moved Achilles and he wept; remembering by
turns his absent father and his lost friend. Moved with pity of
Priam's silver locks and beard, he raised him from the earth and
thus spake: "Priam, I know that thou has reached this place
conducted by some god, for without divine aid no mortal even in
the prime of youth had dared the attempt. I grant thy request;
moved thereto by the evident will of Jove." So saying he arose,
and went forth with his two friends, and unloaded of its charge
the litter, leaving two mantles and a robe for the covering of
the body, which they placed on the litter, and spread the
garments over it, that not unveiled it should be borne back to
Troy. Then Achilles dismissed the old king with his attendants,
having first pledged himself to allow a truce of twelve days for
the funeral solemnities.

As the litter approached the city and was descried from the
walls, the people poured forth to gaze once more on the face of
their hero. Foremost of all, the mother and the wife of Hector
came, and at the sight of the lifeless body renewed their
lamentations. The people all wept with them, and to the going
down of the sun there was no pause or abatement of their grief.

The next day preparations were made for the funeral solemnities.
For nine days the people brought wood and built the pile, and on
the tenth they placed the body on the summit and applied the
torch; while all Troy, thronging forth, encompassed the pile.
When it had completely burned, they quenched the cinders with
wine, collected the bones and placed them in a golden urn, which
they buried in the earth, and reared a pile of stones over the
spot.

"Such honors Ilium to her hero paid,
And peaceful slept the mighty Hector's shade."
Pope's Homer




Myth Collection


Achelous and HerculesAcis and GalateaAdmetus and Alcestis
Agamemnon, Orestes, and ElectraAmphionAmphitrite
AntigoneApollo and DaphneApollo and Hyacinthus
AriadneArionAristaeus
Aurora and TithonusBacchusBaucis and Philemon
CadmusCastor and PolluxCephalus and Procris
Ceyx and HalcyoneClytieCupid and Psyche
DaedalusDiana and ActaeonDryope
Echo and NarcissusEndymionErisichthon
Glaucus and ScyllaHebe and GanymedeHercules
IbycusIo and CallistoLeucothea dnd Palaemon
LinusMarsyasMedea and Aeson
MelampusMenelaus and HelenMidas
Minerva and ArachneMonstersMusaeus
NeptuneNereus and DorisNiobe
Nisus and ScyllaOrionOrpheus and Eurydice
Pegasus and the ChimaeraPenelopePerseus and Medusa
PhaetonPluto and ProsperinePrometheus and Pandora
PygmalionPyramus and ThisbePython
RhoecusSapphoSimonides
ThamyrisThe Calydonian HuntThe Camenae
The CentaursThe Golden FleeceThe Graeae and Gorgons
The Griffin, or GryphonThe IliadThe Myrmidons
The PygmiesThe Rural DeitiesThe Sphinx
The Trojan WarThe Water DeitiesThe Winds
TheseusThetisVenus and Adonis
Vertumnus and Pomona

 
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