Homer: The Iliad

Book XIII

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved

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Contents


BkXIII:1-80 Poseidon rouses the Aiantes

Now, when Zeus had brought Hector and his Trojans as far as the ships, he left them and their enemies to ceaseless toil and suffering, and turned his glowing eyes to distant lands, those of the Thracian horsemen, the Mysians who fight hand to hand, the proud Hippemolgi who drink mare’s milk, and the Abii, who love justice most. He gave Troy not another glance, little dreaming that some god might help the Trojans or the Greeks.

But Poseidon, the Earth-Shaker, kept no blind watch. He sat on the summit peak of wooded Samothrace, and gazed spellbound at the progress of the war. From there all Ida could be viewed, the city of Priam and the Greek ships. Having risen from the sea, he sat there pitying the Greeks as the Trojans overcame them, filled with indignation against Zeus.

Then he strode swiftly down the rocky slopes, while the high peaks and the woodland trembled under the god’s feet as he passed. He took three strides and the fourth achieved his goal, Aegae, where his great palace built in the depths of the sea stands gold and gleaming, unfading forever. There he harnessed his swift paired team to his chariot, horses with hooves of bronze and flowing golden manes. Clothing himself in gold, he seized his fine golden whip, mounted his chariot and drove out across the waves. Knowing their lord, sea-creatures from the deeps played beneath him on every side, and the ocean in delight parted before him. Onwards he sped, the bronze-axle un-wetted, and the prancing horses brought him to the Achaean fleet.

There is a broad cavern in the depths half way between Tenedos and rocky Imbros. There the Earth-Shaker halted, loosed his horses, and fed them their ambrosial fodder. He hobbled their legs with unbreakable gold restraints, so they would stay till his return while he approached the Greek camp.

There the Trojans, like a storm of wind or fire, were sweeping furiously on behind Hector, son of Priam, with scarcely a cry, thinking to take the ships, and slaughter the best of the Greeks beside them. But Poseidon, Earth-Shaker, who wraps the Earth about, emerging from the depths in the guise of Calchas, with tireless voice, roused the Argives. First he spoke to the ever-eager Aiantes: ‘You two could save the army if you filled your thoughts with glory and not the chill of defeat. Elsewhere the bronze-greaved Greeks will stand fast, and I have little fear of the powerful arms of those Trojans who have swarmed across the wall, but I am deeply afraid that here evil may befall us, for that madman Hector leads them on like a blazing brand, he who boasts he is a scion of mighty Zeus. Let a god only plant this one thought in your minds to stand fast and rally the rest, then you might drive him from the swift ships, for all his fury, even though the Olympian himself spurs him on.’

With that, the Earth-Shaker, who wraps the Earth about, touched them with his staff, making their limbs feel light; giving new strength to their feet and hands. Then, like a hawk in the air, poised high over some sheer rock face, that sweeps down over the plain chasing its winged quarry Poseidon Earth-Shaker vanished swiftly from their sight. Oïleus’ son, the fleet of foot, was first of the two Aiantes to know the god. He turned at once to the son of Telamon: ‘Ajax that was not Calchas, diviner and seer: not him, by the shape of calf and heel as he left us: it was one of the gods of Olympus, in his likeness, urging us to fight on by the ships. The gods are plainly known. Now my heart is filled with fire for war and conflict, and my hands and feet feel new strength.’

Telamonian Ajax replied: ‘I too feel new strength in feet and hands, and a fresh eagerness to grasp the spear and fight, even to battle Hector, Priam’s son, in his fury.’

BkXIII:81-135 Poseidon inspires the Greeks

Poseidon aids the Greeks

‘Poseidon aids the Greeks’ - Workshop of Bernard Picart, 1710

So they talked, savouring the joy of battle the god had put in their hearts, while Poseidon roused those Greeks recovering at the sterns of the ships. They were dropping from exhaustion, grieved at the sight of the Trojans swarming across the wall. They gazed at them with tear-filled eyes, seeing no hope of escape. But the Earth-Shaker passed lightly through the ranks, inspiring the best battalions. First he stirred Teucer and Leitus, Peneleos, Thoas, Deipyrus, Meriones and Antilochus, lords of the loud war-cry, and addressed them with winged words, spurring them on: ‘Shame on you, Argive weaklings! You I trusted to save the ships. If you shirk the fight, then the day of Trojan victory has indeed arrived. What a wonderful sight it is, a shocking thing I never thought to see, Trojans among the ships, men no better than panic-stricken hinds in the woods, cowardly and lacking fight, a prey to panthers, wolves, and jackals. That’s how little, in the past at least, Trojans enjoyed facing the arms and power of the Greeks. But now, far from their city, they fight by the hollow ships, all because of our leader’s intransigence, and the cowardice of those, who because of a quarrel, would rather die than defend the fleet. Even if the warrior son of Atreus, imperial Agamemnon, caused it, by offending swift-footed Achilles, it is not for us to shirk the fight. Let us atone for the fault, and quickly: good men seek amends. You, among the best of the army, do badly skulking here. I could forgive some weakling for hesitating to fight, but your indolence angers me. Such slackness will bring greater ruin. Do you not fear shame and reproach, now true war is waged, and Hector of the loud war-cry, feeling his power, has shattered the barred gates and brings the fight to the ships?’

So Poseidon, who wraps the Earth around, roused the Greeks with his words, till the warriors crowded round the two Aiantes, a show of strength to deter Ares or Athene goader of armies. The pick of the brave stood there to await noble Hector and the Trojans, a hedge of spears, serried ranks of overlapping shields, helm touching helm, man beside man. And the horse-hair crests of the gleaming helms brushed each other as they turned their heads, so close-packed were the men, while their spears, brandished boldly, crossed, and firm in purpose they yearned for the fight.

Poseidon inspires the Greeks

‘Poseidon inspires the Greeks’ - Crispijn van de Passe (I), 1613

BkXIII:136-205 The death of Amphimachus

Now Hector lead the Trojans forward in close formation. As a boulder, that some river swollen by winter rain pries from the brow of a hill, undermining the heavy stone’s support, so that it bounds high in the air and speeds on its way through the echoing woods till it reaches level ground then comes to rest despite its weight, so Hector among the Greek huts and ships threatened to reach the sea, killing as he went, till he met the closed ranks of the Achaeans where he came to a halt. The Greeks facing lunged at him with their double-edged spear-blades and swords, pushing him back till he staggered and gave ground. Then he called aloud to the Trojans with a piercing cry: ‘Trojans, Lycians and you Dardanians who love close combat, stand fast. The Greeks though they form a wall will not hold me back for long. They will give way before my spear if the greatest of gods, the Thunderer, Hera’s lord, is truly at my back.’

With this he roused every man’s strength and spirit, including that of Deiphobus, Priam’s son, who strode to the front, his courage high, covering himself with his round shield, stepping forward lightly. Now Meriones launched his gleaming spear, which hit that same round ox-hide shield but failed to penetrate. The long shaft broke from the socket, as Deiphobus thrust the shield away from his body, fearful of warlike Meriones’ blade. That warrior slipped back into the ranks, angry at his failure and the loss of his broken spear, and set off along the line of Greek huts and ships to fetch a long spear left in his hut.

The rest fought on amidst the endless cries of battle. Teucer, son of Telamon killed first, slaying Imbrius the spearman, son of Mentor breeder of horses. Imbrius lived in Pedaeum before the Danaans landed, married to Medesicaste, a natural daughter of Priam. But when the Greeks arrived in their curved ships, he returned to Ilium and was honoured among the Trojans, living in Priam’s palace and treated by him as one of his children. Now Teucer, son of Telamon, pierced him beneath the ear with a thrust of his long lance which he then dragged free. Imbrius fell like a tall ash-tree, a landmark topping some summit till the bronze axe brings it low and its soft leaves lie in the dust. He fell, and his bronze inlaid armour rang around him.

Now Teucer rushed to strip the armour from him, but Hector sent a gleaming spear towards him in full flight. Teucer, his gaze alert, barely avoided the bronze spear-blade, but it struck brave Amphimachus, Cteatus’ son and grandson of Actor, in the chest as he entered the fray. He fell with a thud and his armour clanged above him. Hector ran in to tear the close-fitting helm from Amphimachus’ head, and as he did so Ajax lunged with his gleaming spear but failed to lodge the blade in Hector’s flesh, sheathed as it was in heavy bronze, yet it struck his shield boss and Ajax thrust him back with all his strength, till he retreated from the bodies and the Greeks dragged them away. Then Stichius and noble Menestheus, the Athenian generals, carried Amphimachus’ corpse behind the Greek lines, while the two Aiantes dragged Imbrius away, their hearts filled with reckless courage. Like two lions that snatch a goat from before the dogs, and carry it in their jaws through thick brush, holding it high off the ground, so the two warriors held Imbrius’ corpse aloft and stripped away the armour. Angered by Amphimachus’ death, the son of Oileus, severed the head from the tender neck, and with a swing of his arm sent it whirling like a ball through the ranks, to fall in the dust at Hector’s feet.

BkXIII:206-238 Poseidon rouses Idomeneus

Now Poseidon was heart-sore when his grandson Amphimachus fell in the dread encounter, and he passed along the huts and ships to rouse the Greeks while he planned sorrow for the Trojans. There he met the famed spearman Idomeneus who had just left a warrior, lately come from the field, nursing a sword-cut across the knee. His comrades had brought him in, and Idomeneus was on his way to his hut, having left orders for the healers, before returning to the fight. Poseidon spoke to him, disguising his voice as that of Thoas, Andraemon’s son, lord of the Aetolians in Pleuron and lofty Calydon, and honoured by his people like a god: ‘Idomeneus, Counsellor of the Cretans, where now are those threats we Greeks aimed at the Trojans?’

‘Thoas,’ replied the Cretan commander, ‘none here are to blame, as far as I can see. We are all adept in war, and free of cowardly fear, and not one of us has panicked and fled the field. It must be the will of almighty Zeus that we Greeks should die here far from Argos and unremembered. Yet you were always steady in battle, and rallied others when you saw them shirking. Do so now, Thoas: rouse every man.’

‘Idomeneus’, answered Poseidon, Earth-Shaker ‘may the man who shirks the fight today never return home from Troy but lie here sport for the dogs. Seize your weapons and follow me, we two must toil together and hope we can be of help. Even the worst of warriors fight better side by side, while we two are a match for the very best.’

BkXIII:239-329 Idomeneus and Meriones rejoin the fight

With that Poseidon re-entered the conflict, a god among men, while Idomeneus made his way to his sturdy hut, donned his fine armour, seized a pair of spears and set forth swift as the lightning bolt Zeus grasps in his hand and hurls from gleaming Olympus, as an omen for humankind. And the bronze on the warrior’s chest, as he ran, flashed bright as the lightning.

Not far from the hut he found Meriones, his noble squire, there to retrieve the bronze spear he sought, and Idomeneus questioned him: ‘Meriones, my nephew, Molus’ son: my dearest comrade, why do you leave the field? Are you wounded, feeling the hurt from some blade? Or am I summoned? For my part, I’ve no wish to stay here, I’d rather fight.’

Discreetly, Meriones answered: ‘Idomeneus, Counsellor of the bronze-clad Cretans, I seek a spear, hoping to find one in our huts: I shattered my last on reckless Deiophobus’ shield.’

‘You will find twenty spears, leaning against the wall by the bright entrance,’ Idomeneus, the Cretan general, replied, ‘Trojan spears, from the ones I kill. I prefer to fight man to man, so I win spears and helms, bossed shields and gleaming breastplates.’

Discreetly, Meriones answered: ‘I have a pile of Trojan weapons in my black ship and the hut, though yours are nearer. I too am not forgetful of glory, and stand in the front rank, where glory is won when battle is joined. Perhaps others of the bronze-clad Greeks are ignorant of my skill, but you I know have seen it for yourself.’

‘I know your courage:’ Idomeneus, the Cretan general, replied, ‘no need to remind me. If we chose the finest men for an ambush, say, where bravery is most needed, no one could ignore your courage and strength. An ambush soon separates brave men from cowards. The coward continually changes colour, anxiety stops him sitting still, he shifts his weight from side to side, his heart beats fast as he thinks of dying, and his teeth chatter together. But the brave man never changes colour, and taking his place is free of paralyzing fear, praying only to begin the fight at once. If you were struck by arrow or spear in the heat of battle, it would not be in the neck or back from behind: you would take it in your chest or belly, as you ran into the maul of men at the front. But come now, we must not linger here chattering like children, and incur reproach. Go to my hut and get a sturdy spear.’

With this, Meriones, peer of swift Ares, retrieved a bronze spear from the hut, and followed Idomeneus, eager for battle. As Ares, killer of men, and Panic, his son, powerful and unconquerable, who follows him, routing the bravest warrior, arm themselves for war and set out from Thrace to join the Ephyri or the proud Phlegyans, and bring one or the other glory, turning a deaf ear to the other, so Meriones and Idomeneus, leaders of men, set out for battle, clad in gleaming bronze.

And Meriones addressed the son of Deucalion: ‘Idomeneus, where will you join the lines, on the right, in the centre, or perhaps on the left? There I would think the long-haired Greeks are most at risk.’

Idomeneus, the Cretan leader, replied: ‘Others can defend the centre, the Aiantes, and Teucer the best of our archers, a good man in a tight place. They will give Hector, son of Priam, his fill of fighting, however keen he is, and mighty. He will find it hard, despite his fury, to conquer their strength and dauntless arms, and set fire to the swift ships, unless Zeus himself tosses a blazing brand among them. Great Telamonian Ajax will never yield to mortal man that eats bread made of Demeter’s grain, and can be cut by a bronze blade or crushed by mighty boulders. He would even stand against Achilles, breaker of armies, face to face, though in fleetness of foot Achilles is unrivalled. So, as you say, let us make for the left, and discover swiftly whether we shall win glory or grant it to another.’

Meriones, peer of swift Ares, then led the way, till they reached the ranks at the place Idomeneus pointed out.

BkXIII:330-401 Idomeneus kills Asius

When the Trojans saw Idomeneus, fierce as flame, and his squire, both clad in ornate armour, they shouted to each other through the ranks, and attacked as one. The strife of battle swirled about the ships’ sterns, and in a storm of dust, like the dense cloud stirred from the roads by shrill gusts on a windy day, the battalions clashed together, eager to put one another to the sword. The killing field bristled with long flesh-cutting spears, and eyes were dazzled by the flash of bronze from glittering helms, burnished breastplates, and gleaming shields, as the armies met. A man would need a heart of steel to rejoice at the sight of such conflict and not be saddened.

Now the two mighty sons of Cronos, divided in their aims, were creating sad conflict for mortal men. Zeus wanted victory for Troy and Hector, to endorse fleet-footed Achilles, yet had no wish for the Greeks to meet utter ruin on the Trojan shore, wanting only to humour Thetis and her proud son. Poseidon meanwhile urged the Greeks on, leaving the grey sea secretly, to steal among them, for indignant against Zeus he was grieved to see them fall before the Trojans. Both may have sprung from one stock, one parentage, but Zeus was the elder and the wiser. So Poseidon took care not to help openly, but in human guise roused the Argive army. And now the two knotted the cords, and drew taut the net of mighty conflict and dark war over both the armies, a net none could break or un-knot, that undid many a man.

Idomeneus called out to the Danaans and, though his hair was flecked with grey, leapt upon the Trojans and routed them. He killed Othryoneus,Troy’s ally from Cabesus, who had lately responded to news of war. He had asked for Priam’s loveliest daughter, Cassandra, offering no bride-price but promising to drive the Greeks by force from Troy. Priam agreed and promised, and trusting in that promise Othryoneus fought. Now Idomeneus aimed and hurled his bright spear, striking him as he strode forward proudly. The bronze corselet failed to save him, and the blade pierced him square in the belly. He fell with a thud to the ground, and Idomeneus mocked: ‘Othryoneus, if only you could accomplish all you promised Priam, you would have his daughter as promised, and be the happiest of mortal men. Yet we could promise the same, and grant you the loveliest of Atreides’ daughters. Only follow us and sack the great citadel of Ilium, and we will bring her from Argos to wed you. Come now and follow me, so we can agree this marriage by the sea-going ships. You will find us reasonable about the price.’

With this, Idomeneus the warrior took the corpse by the foot and dragged it through the throng. But Asius, on foot, his two great horses breathing at his back restrained by his charioteer, strode to the rescue, eager to hurl his spear at Idomeneus. The latter, too quick for him, caught him with a thrust of his spear in the throat, beneath the chin, and drove the point right through. Asius fell like an oak, poplar, or towering pine, felled in the mountains by the woodsman’s sharp axe, to make ships’ timbers. He lay outstretched before his horses, groaning and clutching at the bloodstained dust. His charioteer, terror-stricken, lost what wits he had left, scared to turn the horses and escape the enemy, and Antilochus coolly aimed and struck his body with a spear. The bronze corselet failed to save him, and the blade pierced him square in the belly. Gasping he fell headlong from the fine chariot, and Antilochus, son of noble Nestor, drove the horses out of the Trojan into the Greek lines.

BkXIII:402-467 Idomeneus kills Alcathous

Now Deiphobus, grieved over Asius, approached Idomeneus and let fly his gleaming lance. But Idomeneus, eyeing him cautiously, dodged the bronze spear, covered by the round shield he always carried. Cunningly worked with bright bronze and ox-hide, it was fitted with two cross bars, and crouching behind this he watched the spear pass by, clanging against the shield as it did so. Yet Deiphobus’ missile did not leave his hand in vain, striking a general Hypsenor, Hippasus’ son, under the midriff in the liver, loosening his knees. Deiphobus gave a terrifying shout, crying: ‘Now Asius does not lie un-avenged, and though he goes to meet Hades, the Warden of the Gate, his heart will rejoice I send him an escort!’

The Argives were grieved at his words of triumph that stirred resentment nowhere more deeply than in Antilochus’ fierce spirit; nevertheless he in turn did not fail his fallen comrade, but ran to protect his friend, covering him with his shield. Then two loyal companions Mecisteus, son of Echius, and noble Alastor, lifted and carried Hypsenor, groaning deeply, to the hollow ships.

Idomeneus meanwhile fought on in his fury, eager to send some Trojan to the darkness, or fall himself fending off a Greek defeat. Now the warrior Alcathous, dear son of Zeus-nurtured Aesyetes, was son-in-law to Anchises having wed Hippodameia his eldest daughter, whom her royal parents loved deeply not least for her peerless beauty, her womanly skills, and wisdom sufficient to attract the finest in all Troy. This man now fell to Idomeneus, with Poseidon’s aid. The god cast a spell over Alcathous’ bright eyes, and froze his noble limbs so he could neither turn to flee nor escape the spear. As he stood rooted to the spot, like a column or a tall leafy tree, Idomeneus the brave struck him square on the chest with a spear-thrust, splitting his bronze armour, which had till them protected him from harm, but now rang harshly as the blade tore it. With a thud he fell, and the spear-butt quivered while the point remained lodged in his beating heart, till mighty Ares quelled it.

Idomeneus shouted fiercely: ‘Deiphobus, are we quit now of your boasting, with three men dead to your one? You are god-possessed. Then stand and face me now, and meet a son of Zeus, on your own soil. Zeus made his son Minos King of Crete, and Minos in turn fathered peerless Deucalion who begot me, lord of many men in our spacious isle. And I was brought here by ship to be your bane, and your father’s and all in Troy.’

Deiphobus, at this, debated whether to give ground, and call on a brave comrade for support, or try the thing himself. He thought the best course was to seek out Aeneas, and found him standing idle at the rear, since Aeneas was angered at great Priam, because he showed him little honour, though he was among the finest warriors. Deiphobus spoke to him winged words: ‘Aeneas, counsellor of Trojans, if you care for your brother-in-law, you must save him now. Come, rescue Alcathous, who is family, and reared you, as a child in the palace. He has fallen to that great spearman Idomeneus.’

BkXIII:468-525 Deiphobus kills Ascalaphus

His words stirred Aeneas’ heart in his breast, and his mind set on conflict he sought out Idomeneus. But he in turn was not to be frightened like some child. Rather he waited like a wild boar in the mountains, trusting in his own strength, one challenged by the noisy crowd of huntsmen in some remote place, whose back bristles, whose eyes blaze fire, whetting his tusks, ready to take on dogs and men. So, Idomeneus the famous spearman waited for Aeneas hastening to aid the Trojans, and gave no ground, but called to his friends Ascalaphus, Aphareus, Deipyrus, Meriones and Antilochus, battle-hardened warriors. He spoke winged words to urge them on: ‘Here friends, to my aid. Alone I dread fleet-footed Aeneas’ charge. He is a mighty slayer of men in battle, with the flower of youth upon him, filled with its strength. Were we matched in age as we are in fury then either of us might gain victory.’

At this, hearts beating as one, they closed ranks around him, crouched behind sloped shields. For his part, Aeneas too summoned his friends, Deiphobus, Paris and noble Agenor, fellow leaders of the Trojans. The army followed, as the flock follows the ram from the pasture to the stream, gladdening the shepherd’s heart as Aeneas’ heart was gladdened seeing the warriors massed behind him.

Then the long spears clashed together, in a struggle over Alcathous’ corpse, and the bronze breastplates rang loud as they thrust at one another in the crowd. Two brave men, above all, Aeneas and Idomeneus, peers of Ares, strove eagerly to pierce each other’s flesh with the merciless bronze. First Aeneas cast at Idomeneus, who eyeing him carefully dodged the spear, which quivered, its point in the earth, hurled in vain from that powerful hand. Then Idomeneus threw, striking Oenomaus square in the belly, shattering the bronze plate and disembowelling him. He lay in the dust clutching the earth. Idomeneus drew his long-shadowed spear from the wound, yet failed to strip away the rest of the armour, assailed by a hail of missiles. He was no longer as nimble in following up his throw or avoiding another’s. In a close fight he kept pitiless death at bay, but was too slow on his feet to retreat swiftly. So, as he fell back step by step, Deiphobus, who nursed resentment against him, hurled his gleaming spear. For a second time he missed Idomeneus, hitting Ascalaphus Enyalius’ son: the heavy spear entering his shoulder. Down in the dust he went, clutching the ground. Mighty Ares, of the echoing cry, was unaware his son had fallen. He was still seated with the other immortals, on the summit of Olympus, beneath the golden clouds, kept back from the war by Zeus’ command.

BkXIII:526-575 The death of Adamas

Now they clashed in close combat over Ascalaphus, and Deiphobus tore the shining helmet from his head. But Meriones leapt, like a god of war, at Deiphobus, piercing his arm with his spear, so the plumed helmet fell from his hand and rang on the ground. Like a vulture, Meriones hopped in, and plucked the heavy spear from the upper arm, then dodged back among his friends. Polites, wrapping his arm round his brother Deiphobus’ waist, led him from the thick of the fighting towards his inlaid chariot at the rear, where the charioteer waited with the swift horses. They carried him, groaning deeply, to the city, fresh blood streaming from the wound, while those he left fought on, amidst ceaseless tumult.

Now Aeneas charged at Aphareus, Caletor’s son, striking him in the throat with a sharp spear as he turned towards him. His head slumped to one side, as his shield and helmet crushed him, and death that slays the spirit engulfed him. Meanwhile Antilochus, seizing his chance, leapt at Thoön whose back was turned, slashing at him, severing the spinal chord, slicing clean through so Thoön fell backwards in the dust, his hands stretched towards his close comrades. Antilochus, though, ran forwards and, warily, while the circling Trojans threatened to pierce his wide gleaming shield, started to strip away the shoulder armour. But Poseidon, Earth-Shaker, guarded Nestor’s son closely, even amongst the shower of missiles, and no deadly bronze tip passed Antilochus’ defences to graze his tender flesh. For Antilochus, though ringed by enemies, always ranged against them, forever brandishing and shaking his restless spear, ready to hurl it at his target or challenge a man in close combat.

Now as he aimed again into the ranks, Adamas son of Asius saw him and charging in struck him square on the shield with his keen spear-blade. But dark-haired Poseidon, unwilling to grant that spear a life, robbed it of its true force, and half the shaft fell to the ground while the other half lodged in the shield like a charred stump. Adamas shrank back into his crowd of comrades, dodging fate. But Meriones pursued him and hurled his spear, catching the man midway between crotch and navel, where Ares gives greatest pain to wretched mortals. There the spear stuck and Adamas doubled over the deep-set shaft, writhed around, like a bullock that mountain herdsmen have roped, and drag along by force against its will. For a little while he struggled, till Meriones reached him and dragged his spear from the wound, then darkness filled Adamas’ eyes.

BkXIII:576-642 Menelaus kills Peisander

Now, in close combat, Helenus struck Deipyrus on the temple with Thracian long-sword, tearing away his helm which fell to the ground where an Achaean warrior scooped it up as it rolled at the warriors’ feet. So the darkness of night shrouded Deipyrus’ eyes.

Menelaus, of the loud war-cry, the son of Atreus, grieved at the sight, strode menacingly towards Helenus, the noble warrior brandishing his sharp spear as Helenus bent his bow. At the same instant both let fly, with spear and arrow. Priam’s son hit Menelaus in the chest with his shaft, but the deadly missile glanced from his breastplate. As swiftly as black bean or chickpea leaps from the broad shovel when the winnower wields it in a gust of wind on the wide threshing floor so did the deadly arrow rebound from the breastplate, and fall far off. But Menelaus struck Helenus on the hand that held the gleaming bow, and the bronze blade pierced through his hand, gouging the wood. Helenus fell back among his friends, dodging fate, his hand trailing by his side, the spear-shaft dragging behind. Brave Agenor disengaged the spear from the wound, and bound the hand with a width of twisted wool that his squire carried for his lord, to make a sling.

Now, dark fate led Peisander to attack you great Menelaus, sending him to death at your hands in the heat of battle. As they met, the son of Atreus saw his spear turned aside, while Peisander struck at great Menelaus’ shield, failing though to drive the bronze blade through, since the shield resisted and the shaft broke at the socket. Still he was filled with joy, and hoped for victory. But Atreides drew his silver-studded sword and charged, while behind his shield Peisander clasped his fine bronze axe with its shaft of olive-wood long and gleaming. They clashed together. Peisander caught Menelaus on the ridge of his horse-hair crested helm, close to the plume. But Menelaus’ blow fell on Peisander’s forehead at the base of the nose, shattering the bone with a loud crack, so the blood-filled eyeballs leapt from their sockets and fell in the dust at his feet, and he doubled over and fell. Setting his foot on the man’s chest, Menelaus stripped off the armour, shouting: ‘This is how we’ll drive you far from our ships, rash Trojans, you horse-tamers drunk on the sound of battle. Treacherous cowards, never at a loss for wretched shameful deeds, like the outrage you committed on me, without respect for Zeus the Thunderer, who made the guest-laws, and one day will topple your mighty city. You stole my wife, and crossed the sea with her and a weight of treasure, though you were guests of mine, and now you are keen to spread fire through our sea-going ships, and slay the whole Greek army. But keen as you are, you’ll be halted! Father Zeus, men say you are greatest in wisdom, above both gods and men, yet you are the cause of this, favouring men of violence, these ungovernable Trojans, who never weary of the din of this evil war. All things sate us, sleep, love, sweet song and the peerless dance. Of all these surely, rather than war, a man would seek his fill; yet these Trojans only seek their fill of battle.’

With this glorious Menelaus stripped the corpse of its blood-stained armour, handing it to his friends, then re-entered the front ranks of the fight.

BkXIII:643-722 The Greeks resist Hector

Once there, Menelaus was charged by Harpalion, son of King Pylaemenes, who had followed his dear father to Troy, but was fated never to return to his native land. Closing in, he thrust at Atreides’ shield, striking it squarely but failing to drive the bronze tip through. Glancing back warily, lest any man graze his flesh with a bronze blade, he retreated into the ranks, dodging fate. But as he turned, Meriones let fly a bronze-tipped arrow, striking him on the right buttock, so the arrow passed beneath the bone and into the bladder. He collapsed on the spot, and sinking into the arms of his friends, breathed out his life and lay in the dust like a worm, the dark blood flowing and soaking the ground. The brave Paphlagonians gathered round and lifted him into a chariot then grieving they took him to sacred Ilium, and his father, weeping, went with them, his son still un-avenged.

Yet Paris was deeply angered by his death, for Harpalion had been his host among the Paphlagonians, and in great wrath he let fly a bronze-tipped arrow. It struck an Achaean, Euchenor, rich and brave, the son of the seer Polyidus, of Corinth. He set sail for Troy knowing his fate since his aged father prophesied he would either die of a fatal illness at home, or be slain by the Trojans among the ships. He avoided the pain of the deadly disease and the heavy fine the Greeks would have levied for his absence. But now Paris’s shaft struck his jaw, under the ear, his spirit fled swiftly from his corpse, and the dread darkness engulfed him.

So the fighting raged like wildfire, but Hector, beloved of Zeus, had no news from the left of the ships where the Argives were killing his troops, and soon would have gained the glory, so mighty a help was Poseidon, who surrounds and shakes the earth, for he added his strength to the Greeks, and urged them on. Hector remained where he’d first won through the gate and wall, and broken the close-knit ranks of Danaan shield-men. There, where the wall was lowest, the ships of Ajax and Protesilaus were beached by the grey sea, and there the chariots and infantry fought most fiercely.

The Boeotians, Locrians, Phthians, the brave Epeians, and the Ionians with their long tunics, had laboured to halt Hector’s attack on the ships, unable to drive back that noble warrior, who came on like a fiery flame. Picked men of Athens were fighting there, led by Menestheus son of Peteos, with Pheidas, Stichius and brave Bias. Meges, Phyleus’ son led the Epeians, with Amphion and Dracius. While the front ranks of the Phthians charged behind Medon and stalwart Podarces. Medon was a natural son of godlike Oïleus, and brother to Ajax the lesser, but lived in Phylace far from his native land, exiled for killing a kinsman of his stepmother Eriopis, Oïleus’ wife. Podarces, in turn, was Iphiclus’s son, and the grandson of Phylacus. These, in full armour, fought in the front ranks of the brave Phthians, defending the ships alongside the Boeotians.

Ajax, swift son of Oïleus, was inseparable from Ajax the son of Telamon. Just like two wine-dark oxen, that strain at the wooden plough on fallow land, sweat streaming from the base of their horns, held apart by the polished yoke as they slice the furrow till the plough reaches the border of the field, so these two laboured close together. Behind Telamon’s son his comrades were grouped, mighty men, who would hold his shield when his limbs grew weary or drenched with sweat. But the Locrians stood back behind the brave son of Oïleus, having no heart for close fighting, since they lacked the bronze helms with thick horsehair plumes, the round shields and ash spears. They trusted in bows, and slings of well-wound sheep’s wool, the weapons they brought to Troy, and with these they fired missiles thick and fast, trying to break the Trojan lines. So those in front with their heavy armour grappled with the Trojans led by bronze-clad Hector, while those behind fired from cover, till the Trojans no longer attacked, thrown into confusion.

BkXIII:723-787 Polydamas gives Hector advice

They might well have retreated, in disarray, from the ships and huts to windy Troy, if Polydamas had not approached brave Hector, saying: ‘Hector you’re a hard man to convince. Because some god made you mighty in war, you think you are wisest in counsel also; but you cannot encompass all things in yourself. The gods give one man prowess in battle, another in dance, another in singing and playing the lyre, while Zeus, the Far-Echoer, gives some other man a wise mind by which others profit and many are saved, he himself knowing best. So I will say what I think is best.

The battle flares all around you, and the brave Trojans this side the wall are either separated from the front or scattered among the ships and outnumbered. Why not call all the leaders back and re-group? Then we could think things through, and decide whether to launch an all-out attack on the benched ships, and see if the gods will truly grant us victory, or retreat from the ships unscathed. I fear myself the Greeks may pay us back for yesterday, since they have a man insatiable in war who waits idle by the ships, but who, I think, will not hold back from this fight much longer.’

Hector appreciated Polydamas’ wise words, and swiftly leapt to the ground from his chariot fully armed, to give his reply: ‘Polydamas, keep back the leaders here, while I go to the front. I will be back as soon as I’ve given them clear orders.’

So saying he gave a great shout and ran swiftly through the ranks of the Trojans and their allies, light gleaming from him brightly as if from mountain snow. Hearing Hector’s cry, the men rushed towards that point, and gathered round equable Polydamas, the son of Panthous. Meanwhile Hector was ranging the front, seeking Deiphobus, the great Lord Helenus, Adamas son of Asius, and his father, the son of Hyrtacus. He found that even those still alive were not unscathed. Two lay dead at Argive hands by the sterns of the Greek ships, the other two were back inside the city wall, wounded by thrusting and flying spear-blade. One leader however he did find on the left flank of that grievous conflict, noble Paris, the husband of blonde Helen. He was encouraging his men and urging them on to fight, when Hector arrived to reproach him: ‘Sinful Paris, so handsome, so mad for the women, tell me where Deiphobus is, you seducer, and great Lord Helenus, Adamas, his father Asius, and Othryoneus? Tell me before lofty Ilium is ruined utterly, and we go to certain destruction.’

‘Hector’, godlike Paris replied: ‘since you choose to blame the blameless, if I ever retreated from a fight, it would not be now, for I was not born an utter coward. From the moment you roused your men to rush the ships we have held our ground here battling the Greeks. But three of the friends you ask after are dead, of them all only Deiphobus and great Lord Helenus have withdrawn from the fight, wounded by spear-blades, one in the arm, the other the hand, yet spared death by the son of Cronus. Lead on then, wherever your heart and spirit urge you, while we shall follow you eagerly. Nor I think will we lack courage, that is, while strength lasts, for no man can fight when his strength has gone, however eager he is for battle.’

BkXIII:788-837 Ajax and Hector exchange words

So Paris placated his brother, and they set out for the front where the noise was loudest, where Cebriones fought and peerless Polydamas, Phalces, Orthaeus, and godlike Polyphetes, Palmys, and Ascanius and Morys, the sons of Hippotion, who had arrived with a relieving force, from fertile Ascania the previous day, and were now roused by Zeus to war. They advanced like a deadly storm that scours the earth, to the thunder of Father Zeus, and stirs the sea with stupendous roaring, leaving surging waves in its path over the echoing waters, serried ranks of great arched breakers white with foam. So the Trojans, in close formation, gleaming with bronze advanced behind their leaders. Foremost was Hector, son of Priam, and peer of the war-god Ares. He held his balanced round-shield in front, with its layers of hide and surface of beaten bronze, while the crest of his gleaming helm quivered over his temples.

Ascanius in the Trojan Camp

‘Ascanius in the Trojan Camp’ - Crispijn van de Passe (I), 1612

Covered by this shield he advanced cautiously, probing the enemy battalions on every side, looking for signs of weakness. Yet he could not shake the Achaeans’ resolve. Ajax, indeed, strode forward to challenge him: ‘Madman, come closer! Are you trying to scare us Greeks away? We too know something of war: it was Zeus’ hostile lash we faced. You hope to destroy our fleet, but we have means to defend them. Your well-peopled city will be taken and sacked before ever you capture our ships. As for you, the time is nigh when you’ll run, praying to Father Zeus and the other gods that your long-maned horses fly faster than falcons as they carry you back to Troy in a cloud of dust.’

As he spoke, an eagle flew by on the right, high up in the sky, and seeing the omen the Achaean army raised a shout of joy. But glorious Hector retorted: ‘Ajax, you boaster, what foolish words! For my part, as surely as I’d wish to spend my days as the son of aegis-bearing Zeus, with royal Hera for mother, and honoured like Athene and Apollo, so surely this day brings evil to you Greeks, one and all. Yes, you too, if you have the courage to stand against my long spear that will tear your lily-white skin, you too will die among them, and your flesh and sinew will glut the dogs of Troy and birds of prey where you lie by the Greek ships.’

So saying, he led the charge, and the army followed with a deafening roar, as the Trojans took up the cry. The Argives shouted their answer, and summoning their courage awaited this onslaught by all the pride of Troy. Then the noise of the two armies rose to high heaven, towards Zeus’s splendour.