Homer: The Iliad

Book XVII

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

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Contents


BkXVII:1-81 Menelaus kills Euphorbus

Menelaus, son of Atreus, dear to Ares, was no sooner aware of Patroclus’ loss to the Trojans than he thrust his way to the front, and pushing past the warriors clad in bright bronze, straddled the dead man as a heifer stands lowing plaintively over its first born calf. There, red-haired Menelaus stood grasping his handy round-shield and his spear, ready to kill any man who tried to seize the corpse.

Menelaus carries the body of Patroclus from the battlefield

‘Menelaus carries the body of Patroclus from the battlefield’ - Workshop of Bernard Picart, 1710

Then Euphorbus, who had watched peerless Patroclus die, approached with his ash spear, and called to Menelaus, beloved of Ares: ‘Zeus-nurtured son of Atreus, leader of armies, withdraw, forget this corpse and its blood-stained armour. I was the first, among these Trojans and their allies, to strike Patroclus with my spear in the thick of the fighting. Now grant me my fair fame among the Trojans, or I’ll hurl this weapon at you, and rob you of that life that seems sweet as honey.’

Red-haired Menelaus, deeply angered, replied: ‘Father Zeus, how vile, such arrogance as this! Leopards, lions, vicious wild boars the bravest of the brave among creatures, show less effrontery than these sons of Panthous with their ash spears! Yet Hyperenor, the horse-tamer, had small profit from his youth, when he jeered at me and my attack, calling me the most contemptible of Danaans. He failed to make it home on his own two feet, I think, to bring joy to his dear wife and noble parents. Stand and face me and I’ll do for you, as well. Better be off though, and hide among the ranks, rather than do so, and come to harm. Even a fool knows trouble when it comes.’

But Euphorbus was undeterred by this, and answered: ‘Menelaus, ward of Zeus, you will pay the price now for my brother’s death, you boaster, you who made a widow of a new bride, and brought my parents untold pain and grief. Surely it will console them in their sorrow if I take your head and armour and place them in Panthous’ and lady Phrontis’ hands. The issue must not remain unresolved, whether our duel ends in flight or victory.’

So saying, he struck Menelaus on his firm round-shield, but its stout defence resisted deflecting the sharp point. Then Menelaus charged at him spear in hand, with a plea to Father Zeus; and as Euphorbus drew back stabbed him at the base of the throat, with all his weight behind the blow, trusting in his strength. Right through the tender neck the spear-blade passed, and Euphorbus fell with a thud, his armour clanging round him. His hair that was fine as the Graces’, the locks braided with gold and silver thread, was drenched in blood. Like a mighty gust of wind in some lonely place that uproots a fine olive sapling, a tall upstanding one that its planter set in a moist hollow, that quivered in every breeze and burst into white blossom, and lays it low on the ground, so did Menelaus, the son of Atreus, kill Panthous’s son Eurphorbus, he of the strong ash spear, and stripped him of his armour.

Battle for the body of Patroclus

‘Battle for the body of Patroclus’ - Crispijn van de Passe (I), 1613

Now none of the Trojans dared to tackle glorious Menelaus. He was like a mountain lion, that trusting in its strength seizes the fattest heifer from the grazing herd, grasping her neck first in his mighty jaws and cracking the bones, then devouring the blood and entrails in a fury, while the herdsmen and their dogs keep their distance, shouting loudly, but so filled with fear they dare not charge him. And the son of Atreus would have carried away Euphorbus’ fine armour, if Phoebus Apollo had not grudged it, and stirred up Hector against him, that peer of swift-footed Ares. Disguised as Mentes, chief of the Cicones, he uttered winged words to the Trojan leader: ‘Hector, why chase after warlike Achilles’ horses, a vain prize indeed and not for you, since, of mortal men, only Achilles whose mother is a goddess, can master them and drive them, while fierce Menelaus straddles Patroclus’ corpse, and has killed Eurphorbus, best of the Trojans, and put an end to all his brave deeds.’

BkXVII:82-139 Menelaus elicits Ajax’s help

With that the god returned to the toils of battle, while Hector’s mind was clouded with the deep darkness of grief. But, glancing along the lines, he quickly saw Euphorbus’ corpse on the ground in a pool of blood and Menelaus stripping him of his glorious armour. Giving a great cry, he ran through the front ranks of warriors, his bronze armour gleaming like the unquenchable fires of Hephaestus. And Menelaus heard his shout, and consulted his proud heart, anxiously: ‘Alas, if I abandon Patroclus and this noble armour, he who died fighting for recompense for me, I fear the contempt of every Greek who sees it. But if, out of shame, I fight Hector of the gleaming helm and all his host of Trojans, alone, they may well surround and overpower me. Yet why debate the point? When a warrior decides to fight with a man whom the gods exalt, to fight against their will, he straight away brings great sorrow on himself. So none of the Greeks will fault me for giving ground to Hector who fights with a god’s aid. Still, if I can find Ajax, of the loud war-cry, we two might turn and fight alongside one another, even against the will of the gods, hoping to save the corpse for Achilles, son of Peleus. Of many evils, that would prove the least.’

While he was still reflecting, the Trojans advanced, Hector at their head. Menelaus gradually retreated, abandoning the corpse, turning about continually like a bearded lion driven from a sheepfold by the dogs, and by men shouting and brandishing their spears, so his hot courage chills, and unwillingly he leaves the farm. Red-haired Menelaus left Patroclus lying there, but when he reached the ranks of his friends, he turned and sought out great Telamonian Ajax. He found him on the left flank rousing his comrades and urging them to fight, for Phoebus Apollo had filled them with dread. Menelaus ran across, and reaching him, cried: ‘Ajax, dear friend, come with me, we must race to defend the corpse of Patroclus, and bring his poor dead naked body at least to Achilles, now Hector of the gleaming helm has the armour.’

His words stirred warlike Ajax to action, and he and red-haired Menelaus ran through the front ranks of warriors. Hector was still there. Having stripped Patroclus of the glorious armour, he was dragging the corpse off to sever the head from the shoulders with a sharp blade, and feed the rest to the dogs of Troy. But when Ajax arrived, bearing his tower-like shield, Hector stepped back into the ranks of his friends, and mounting his chariot, gave the fine armour to his men to bear off to the city, and bring him glory. Then Ajax covered Patroclus’ body with his great shield, and straddled him like a lion with cubs that huntsmen meet in the woods shepherding its young, that exults in its power and masks its eyes, wrinkling its forehead; So Ajax stood, and with him, close by, Menelaus beloved of Ares, nursing his great grief in his heart.’

BkXVII:140-197 Hector dons Achilles’ armour

Meanwhile Glaucus, Hippolochus’ son, leader of the Lycians, anger in his face, was berating Hector: ‘You look the part, but in battle you fail to act it, Hector. Your fame is hollow, since you play the woman. See if you can save your city and your homeland by yourselves, you Trojans: we Lycians will not fight the Greeks for Troy, where no one thanks an ally for his endless efforts in this war. Since you left Sarpedon, your friend and guest, as Argive prey and spoil, why, indeed, should you try to save one of lower rank? Sarpedon, alive, was often an asset to your army and yourself, but you lacked the courage even to drive the dogs from his corpse, once he was dead. So, now, if these Lycians are mine: home we go and that spells ruin for Troy. Think if the Trojans were only filled with the courage without limit that men possess who toil and sweat in battle for their country, then we might drag Patroclus’ corpse back to Ilium. Were we to snatch his body from the field and take it to Priam’s great city, the Greeks would exchange it for Sarpedon’s body clad in its precious armour. For Achilles is the best of the Greeks beside the ships: he and his men who fight in close combat: and this squire who has fallen was his. Yet you even lack courage to stand against mighty Ajax, his battle-cry ringing in your ears, you daren’t look him in the eye, since he’s the better man.’

Hector of the gleaming helm answered angrily: ‘Is that you, Glaucus? Why so arrogant? I thought your wisdom was greatest of all in dark-soiled Lycia? Well, I reject your claim that I won’t face mighty Ajax. I’ve no fear of a fight, or the sound of chariots, but the will of aegis-bearing Zeus is all-powerful. He sends even a brave man reeling, and robs him of victory as easily as he sets him on. Come, my friend, and stand by my side, and watch me in action, then tell me whether this day I play the coward, as you say, or whether I put an end to many a Greek eager for fame, who tries to defend the corpse of Patroclus.’

With this, he shouted aloud to the warriors: ‘Trojans, Lycians and you Dardanians who like close combat, be men, my friends, and think of glorious war, while I don peerless Achilles’ armour, that fine battle-gear I stripped from mighty Patroclus whom I slew.’

Then Hector of the gleaming helm, ran swiftly over the field, into the near distance, to reach his men who were bearing Achilles’ bright armour to the city. There he halted, out of the bitter fight, and changed his armour. His own he handed to his warlike Trojans, for them to take to sacred Ilium, and donned the imperishable armour of Achilles, that the gods of Olympus had given his father, Peleus, and he in turn, now he was old, had given to his son, though the son would never wear it in old age.

BkXVII:198-261 The Greeks and Trojans engage

Now, when Zeus the Cloud-Gatherer, from afar, saw Hector donning godlike Achilles’ armour, he shook his head and murmured: ‘Unhappy man, cladding your body with the imperishable battle-gear of a mighty warrior before whom all others quail: blind you are to the death that inexorably nears you. You it is that killed his great and generous companion, and irreverently stripped him of that prize. Yes, I will grant you power enough for now, but you must pay, there will be no homecoming for you, nor will Andromache receive Achilles’ glorious armour from your hands.’

And the son of Cronos nodded his head, with its dark eyebrows, while subtly moulding the armour to Hector’s body. Now the spirit of Ares the war-god, dread Enyalius, entered him, filling him with courage and strengthening his limbs, and Hector, uttering his loud war-cry, re-joined the ranks of his glorious allies, and showed himself to all in the glittering armour of brave Peleus’ son. He spoke to each general, inspiring him to battle, to Mesthles, Glaucus, Medon, Thersilochus, Asteropaeus, Deisenor, Hippothous, Phorcys, Chromius, and Ennomus the augur, rousing them to fight with his eloquence: ‘Listen, you vast host of neighbours, and allies. I summoned you from your cities, not because I lacked numbers, or needed them, but because you were keen to defend the women and children of Troy from the fierce Achaeans, and to that purpose I spend my people’s wealth in gifts for you, and provisions, to maintain your strength and courage. So let every man attack the enemy, to live or die, that is the task of war. I will share half the spoils with whichever of you drives Ajax off, and drags Patroclus’ corpse into the ranks of us horse-taming Trojans, and I’ll share the glory with him too.’

At this, with spears extended, they charged full tilt at the Danaans, with high hopes, in their folly, of dragging the corpse away from Telamonian Ajax! Many a man he would kill beside the pile of dead. But now he spoke to Menelaus of the loud war-cry: ‘Zeus-nurtured Menelaus, my friend, I’ve lost hope that the two of us, single-handed, can win free from this fight. Patroclus who is dead, whose flesh may shortly glut the dogs and carrion birds of Troy, has less to fear than you and I, the living, faced with danger, for the fog of war shrouds Hector and cloaks our doom. Call now to the Greek generals, if there are any to hear.’

Menelaus responded with a piercing cry, calling out to the Danaans: ‘Friends, generals, leaders of the Argives, you who drink freely at the Atreidae’s table, and command the army, honoured by Zeus with glory, I cannot see you in the heat of battle, to name you one by one, but never mind the names now, charge together, your hearts filled with fury lest Patroclus’ corpse become a plaything for the dogs of Troy.’

Ajax the Lesser, son of Oïleus, heard him clear, and was the first to reach him, running towards him through the lines, and after him Idomeneus, and Meriones his companion, peer of Ares the man-killer. As for the rest, who could name from memory all those who rallied to the Achaean cause?

Bk XVII:262-318 Ajax drives back the Trojans

Now Hector led the packed ranks of Trojans in attack. The roar they made was like that of some mighty wave breaking against the current at the mouth of a rain-fed river, setting the headlands echoing, at the gateway to the crashing sea. But the Greeks stood firm over Patroclus’ corpse, united, walled about with their bronze shields. And Zeus wove a veil of dense mist round their bright helms, having lacked no love for Patroclus while he lived and was Achilles’ comrade, fearing now lest he become a plaything for the dogs of Troy. So Zeus inspired Patroclus’ friends to defend his body.

At first the Trojans pushed the bright-eyed Achaeans back, and they relinquished the body. Eager though the bold men of Troy were with their spears, they failed to kill a single Argive, though they did begin to haul the body away. Yet the Greek retreat was only momentary, for Ajax rallied them, he who was finest in looks and action of all the Danaans except for peerless Achilles. He charged through the front line, with the power of a wild boar that scatters the dogs and agile young huntsmen when he turns on them in some mountain glade. So glorious Ajax, son of great Telamon, broke the knot of Trojans gathered round Patroclus’ corpse, ready to win glory for their cause, and drag it to the city.

Hippothous, the noble son of Pelasgian Lethus, it was, who had bound a strap round the ankle-tendons, and delighted Hector and the rest by dragging the corpse off feet-first through the action. Now evil came on him swiftly, that no one can avoid despite all their efforts. For Telamonian Ajax charged at him through the throng, and once at close quarters struck at Hippothous’ helm with its bronze cheek-pieces, and horsehair crest. The point of the great spear in his massive hand split it wide open, and blood and brains from the wound spurted up the blade to its socket. Then Hippothous strength was gone, the strap fell from his hands, and he toppled forward onto the corpse of brave Patroclus. Far from fertile Larissa he died, brief was his span of life, felled by the spear of noble Ajax he brought his dear parents little joy for all the pains of his rearing.

Now Hector replied, hurling his gleaming spear at Ajax, who kept a careful eye on it, and dodged it by a hair’s breadth. It hit Schedius, the brave son of Iphitus. A powerful prince, best of the Phocians, he lived in a famous city, Panopeus. The spear struck beneath the centre of his collar-bone, the bronze point passing through and exiting at the base of his shoulder. He fell with a thud and the armour clanged around him.

Ajax, in turn, struck Phorcys, the warlike son of Phaenops, hitting him in the belly as he bestrode Hippothous, shattering the plate of his corselet, the blade letting out his bowels, so he fell in the dust clutching at the earth. At that, the Trojan front and even Hector gave ground, and the Greeks shouting loudly dragged away the bodies of Phorcys and Hippothous, and stripped the armour from their shoulders.

BkXVII:319-383 Aeneas counter-attacks

Losing heart, the vanquished Trojans would have been forced back to Ilium by the warlike Greeks who, through their strength and effort, would have won greater glory than Zeus intended, if Apollo, disguised as the herald Periphas, son of Epytus, who had grown old in Anchises’ palace and was kindly disposed towards his son, had not roused that selfsame Aeneas. So masked, Apollo, son of Zeus addressed him: ‘Not even lofty Ilium is safe, Aeneas, if the gods are against you, though I have seen men still trust in their own strength and efforts, courage and numbers, and hold their own despite the will of Zeus. Yet now when Zeus desires our victory not the Greeks’, you and your Trojans, filled with fear, will not fight.’

At his words, Aeneas looked him in the face, and knew him for Apollo, the Far-Striker. He called aloud: ‘Hector and all you other leaders, Trojans and allies, what shame this is to lose heart, and be driven back defeated to Ilium by these warrior Greeks. Yet a god, who stood but now at my side, tells me that Zeus, the Supreme Counsellor, will aid us in this fight. So let us take the Danaans head on, and make it hard for them if they try to carry Patroclus’ corpse back to the ships.’

So saying, he took up position, out in front of the foremost warriors, who rallied and turned to face the Greeks. Then, Aeneas wounded Leocritus, a son of Arisbas, and Lycomedes’ noble friend, thrusting at him with his spear. Lycomedes, beloved of Ares, was saddened by his fall, and running in close with a cast of his gleaming spear caught a general, Apisaon, Hippasus’ son, in the liver under the midriff, bringing him to his knees. Apisaon came from fertile Paeonia, its best warrior after Asteropaeus, who in sympathy ran forward, keen to fight. But the Greeks prevented close contact, walled in by their shields, as they encircled Patroclus’ corpse with outstretched spears. For Ajax, ranging to and fro, urged them not to give an inch, nor make a foray to outdo their comrades, but stand firm round the corpse in close order. So they fought, and the earth was drenched in dark blood, the Trojans and their allies falling like flies, and the Greeks too were bloodied though fewer of them were killed, remembering, packed together, to defend one another from random strikes.

So the fires of battle raged, and that part of the field where the leaders stood around Menoetius’ dead son, was cloaked in darkness, as if the light of sun or moon was lost. Yet the rest of the Trojans and the bronze-greaved Greeks fought in the clear light of day, lit by the piercing glare of the sun, with never a cloud over plain or mountain. They fought intermittently, avoiding each other’s deadly shafts, keeping at a distance. But the leaders there, in the centre, caught in the fog of war suffered attrition from the merciless bronze blades. Only two of the Greek generals, the noted warriors Thrasymedes and Antilochus, were unaware that peerless Patroclus was dead, thinking he was still among the living and fighting the Trojans where the lines converged. So, they fought further off, wherever their men were dying or in panic, as Nestor had told them so to act when he sent them out from the black ships to do battle.

BkXVII:384-480 Automedon dismounts to fight

All day long the intense conflict raged, and in the grim struggle sweat streamed over the eyes and hands, the knees and shins and feet of the warriors contending over the corpse of fleet-footed Achilles’ noble squire. They tugged the body to and fro in that narrow space, like men pulling at a great bull’s hide steeped in fat that a tanner gives them to stretch. They stand in a circle and all haul hard, so its moisture is expelled while the fat sinks in. Both sides never lost hope, the Trojans of dragging the corpse to Troy, the Greeks of bearing it to the hollow ships, while over it raged the fiercest of fights, savage enough to satisfy even Ares, stirrer of armies, or Athene, in their most wrathful moods. Such was the net of toil and grief that Zeus drew taut about men and horses over the corpse of Patroclus.

Now, as yet noble Achilles knew nothing of Patroclus’ death, for the fighting was under the walls of Troy far from the swift ships. Not for a moment did he think his friend would be killed, expecting him to return alive from the gate: nor did he dream that Patroclus might try to take the city itself without him. Nor did he himself expect to sack it. The fact that he would not do so was a prophetic statement of his mother’s that she communicated to him privately, bringing him news of Zeus’ intentions, though she told him nothing now of this latest tragedy, that the dearest of his friends was dead, and that round the corpse the warriors, grasping their sharp spears, fought and killed each other without cease. There, some bronze-clad Achaean would say to the rest: ‘Friends, if we retreat to the hollow ships, and yield this body to the horse-taming Trojans, who’ll drag it to their city and gain the glory, that would be small fame indeed for us: better the black earth swallow us instantly where we stand.’ While some brave Trojan would call out in turn: ‘Friends, let no man retreat, even if we are fated to die beside this corpse.’ So they encouraged others, and fought on, the clash of metal rising through the restless air to the bronze-coloured sky.

Now, far from the battle, Achilles’ immortal horses wept, as they had from the moment they first learned that their charioteer lay in the dust, slain by man-killing Hector. Though Automedon, brave son of Diores, tried gentle words and flicks of his pliant whip, and even threats, the pair refused to return to the ships by the wide Hellespont, or enter the battle beside the Greeks. Harnessed to the ornate chariot, they stood as still as pillars planted over the tombs of the dead, their heads bowed to earth. The hot tears poured from their eyes to the dust, as they wept for their charioteer, streaking their long manes that streamed from under the yoke on either side. And Zeus saw their grief and pitied them, and shaking his head, murmured: ‘Unhappy pair, why did we give you, ageless and immortal, to that mortal king, Peleus? Did we mean you to sorrow with these wretched men? For what is there more miserable than man, among all the things that move and breath on earth? Yet Hector shall not mount your ornate car: that I will not grant Priam’s son. It is enough he wears the armour, and boasts of it. I will fill your legs with vigour, your hearts with strength, so you may carry Automedon out of battle, back to the hollow ships, for I intend glory to the Trojans, to kill and kill till they reach those same benched ships, and the sun in setting brings the sacred dark.’

So saying, he breathed new strength into the pair, and shaking the dust from their manes, they drew the swift chariot lightly among Trojans and Greeks. And behind them Automedon stood, grieving for his comrade, the chariot darting in and out like a vulture scattering geese, fleeing from the Trojan lines again as swiftly as he charged them, unsettling them in the noise of battle. Yet he could not kill them, though he chased them down, unable, alone in the racing chariot, both to aim his spear, and control the sacred horses. But at last a comrade, Alcimedon, son of Laerces son of Haemon, saw him and ran behind the chariot, shouting: ‘Automedon, what god has robbed you of your senses, and filled your mind with foolish thoughts, that you fight alone at the front? Patroclus is dead: Hector wears Achilles’ armour now and glories in it.’

‘Alcimedon,’ Automedon, son of Diores answered, ‘which of us Greeks was ever equal to restraining and guiding the power of this immortal team except, while he lived, Patroclus, peer of the gods in wisdom? Yet since death and fate have overcome him, take the whip and the gleaming reins, while I dismount and fight.’

BkXVII:481-542 Automedon kills Aretus

At his words, Alcimedon mounted the swift war-chariot, and grasped the reins and whip, while Automedon leapt to the ground. Great Hector saw them, and promptly called to Aeneas: ‘Counsellor of the bronze-clad Trojans, Achilles’ chariot and team are here, I see, with a pair of vulnerable charioteers. We could capture them, if you’re agreed. These men could never hope to fight us both, and nor will they.’

Anchises’ mighty son readily joined him, and the two attacked, their shields of dried and toughened ox-hide clad with bronze on their shoulders. Chromius and godlike Aretus gave support, and the Trojans, in their folly, had high hopes of killing the Greeks and driving off the spirited horses. But Trojan blood it was that would be shed before they had finished with Automedon. He prayed to Father Zeus, and his heart was filled to its depths with strength and courage. He turned to Alcimedon, his loyal friend: ‘Keep the chariot close, Alcimedon. Let me feel the horses’ breath at my back. Hector, son of Priam, will not stop I think till he kills us both, mounts behind Achilles’ long-maned team, and scatters the Argive ranks, though perhaps he himself may yet be killed as he leads.’ So saying he shouted to Menelaus and the Aiantes: ‘Leaders of the Argives, the Trojan champions, Hector and Aeneas, are closing in on us. So leave the corpse to the bravest of your men to defend and help us the living fend off this fierce attack, war’s bitter sorrow, and the day of doom. All is in the hands of the gods still. As I throw this spear, let Zeus decide its fate.’

So saying, he aimed his long-shadowed spear and hurling it, struck Aretus on his round-shield, which proved a poor defence, the spear piercing the bronze, and driving clean through the belt into the lower belly. Aretus leapt and fell backwards, as an ox leaps and falls when a strong farmer with a sharp axe strikes behind the horns cutting the sinews, and the keen spear quivered in his entrails, as he died.

Then Hector cast his gleaming spear at Automedon, who keeping a careful eye on the missile, dodged it by bending forward. The long javelin fixed itself, butt-end quivering, in the ground behind him, till mighty Ares quelled the motion. Now, in their fury, they would have fought hand to hand with swords, if the Aiantes had not come between them, answering the call of their comrade. In fear of their attack, Hector, Aeneas, and godlike Chromius, retreated, leaving Aretus where he fell. Then Automedon, peer of swift Ares, stripped him of his armour, and rejoiced, saying: ‘It consoles my heart somewhat for Patroclus, though only a little for this is a lesser man.’

With this, he piled the blood-stained armour on the chariot, and climbed in himself, his limbs still red with gore, like a lion that has eaten a bull.’

BkXVII:543-596 Athene and Apollo enter the battle

Once more the net of fierce battle filled with pain and tears was stretched taut over Patroclus’ corpse. Athene, descending from Olympus, stirred the quarrel for far-echoing Zeus had sent her down to urge on the Greeks, according to his fresh intent. As Zeus displays a rainbow shimmering in a darkened sky as a sign of war, or a portent to mortals of some coming storm that chills the earth, halts labourers in the fields, and troubles the flocks, so Athene wrapped herself in a gleaming mist, entered the Danaan ranks, and roused the troops. Disguising herself as Phoenix in form and imitating his tireless speech, she first spoke to great Menelaus, who was nearest: ‘Surely you will be shamed, Menelaus, and taken to task, if noble Achilles’ faithful comrade is torn apart by the running dogs beneath the walls of Troy. Hold your ground, then, and rouse your men.’

‘Phoenix, venerable lord, my ancient friend,’ answered Menelaus of the loud war-cry, ‘if only Athene might grant me strength, and defend me from this hail of missiles, I’d stand over Patroclus and protect his corpse, grieved at heart by his death as I am. But Hector’s fury burns like mortal fire, and Zeus grants him glory as he lays about him with his spear.’

Bright-eyed Athene was filled with joy at his words, since he had named her before the other immortals. She strengthened his knees and shoulders, and gave him the persistent daring of a fly, that finds human blood so sweet it keeps attacking however often it is flicked away. With such courage she filled his heart’s depths, and straddling Patroclus he hurled his gleaming spear.

It struck, Podes, Eëtion’s son, a wealthy Trojan nobleman, a friend of Hector and his favourite companion at the feast. Red-haired Menelaus hurled his spear and struck him on the belt as he turned to run, the bronze blade passing through him. He fell with a crash, and Menelaus dragged the corpse away from the Trojans into the Greek lines.

Now Apollo the Far-Striker, disguised as Phaenops, Asius’ son Hector’s dearest foreign guest, from Abydos, addressed him as his friend: ‘Hector, who of the Greeks will not fill you with fear if you run from Menelaus, who was never much of a fighter, even if he does snatch the dead from our ranks single-handed before vanishing? Now he’s killed your faithful comrade, a sound fighter in the front line, I mean Podes, son of Eëtion.’

A black shroud of grief enfolded Hector, at these words, and he ran to the front, clad in his gleaming bronze. As he did so, Zeus veiled Ida in cloud, and taking up his glittering tasselled aegis, and shaking it, with many a flash of lightning and peal of thunder, drove the Greeks in rout, and granted power to the Trojans.

BkXVII:597-655 Ajax prays to Zeus

The first to die in the rout was Peneleos a Boeotian. As he faced the enemy he was struck a glancing blow on the top of the shoulder that sliced through to the bone. Polydamas had hurled the spear from short range. Then Hector, fighting hand to hand, wounded Leitus, son of brave Alectryon, in the wrist and put him out of action. He retreated, unable to grasp his spear or fight on. As Hector pursued him, Idomeneus struck Hector on the breastplate beside the nipple, but the long spear shaft broke at the socket, and the Trojans shouted in relief. Hector then cast in turn at Idomeneus, son of Deucalion, aboard his chariot, missing him by a hair’s-breadth, but striking Coeranus the charioteer, and squire to Meriones whom he had followed from the city of Lyctus. Idomeneus had come out from the curved ships on foot, and would have fallen to the Trojans if Coeranus had not brought Meriones and the chariot past at a gallop. Though a light of salvation to Idomenus, fending off from him the day of death, he himself was thus fated to die at the hands of man-killing Hector. The spear struck under his jaw below the ear, shattering the teeth at their roots, and slicing through his tongue. The reins fell from his hands and he toppled from the chariot, but Meriones gathered the reins and turned to Idomeneus: ‘Use the whip, and head for the fleet. You know yourself the power is no longer with us.’ And Idomeneus, hearing him, lashed the long-maned horses, and drained of courage drove for the hollow ships.

Great-hearted Ajax and Menelaus too had realised Zeus was turning the tide of battle, empowering the Trojans. Telamonian Ajax called out: ‘Look! Any fool can see that Father Zeus is helping them. Their spears strike home, Zeus guides them, regardless of the warrior’s skill, while ours fall short. Well, we must devise for ourselves how to retrieve the body and delight our dear friends, by returning safely. They look on anxiously and speak their fear, that the black ships will fall into the hands of this invincible man-killer Hector. If only we had a messenger to send to Achilles, who has not yet heard, I guess, that his beloved friend is dead. But there’s none to be seen, men and horses are shrouded in this fog. Father Zeus, save the sons of Achaea from the dark, and clear the heavens so our eyes can see. Kill us if you will, but in the light.’

Zeus had pity on his sorrowful prayer, and swiftly drove away the mist and darkness, so the whole battlefield lay clear in the sun. Then Ajax turned to Menelaus of the loud war-cry: ‘Look about, Menelaus, nurtured by Zeus, see if Antilochus, brave son of Nestor, is still alive, and ask him to run and tell warlike Achilles that his dear friend is dead.’

BkXVII:656-721 Menelaus sends Antilochus to Achilles

Menelaus of the loud war-cry agreed to his request, but left Patroclus’ body unwillingly, fearing it might fall to the enemy as a prize if the Achaeans fled. He was like a lion, weary of provoking the dogs and men that defend the pick of a herd, as they watch by night, which attacks in its hunger without success, met by blazing torches and a hail of missiles hurled by bold hands. Quailing before them, despite its eagerness, it slinks away sullenly at dawn. Menelaus, as he left, laid his responsibility on the others: ‘Meriones, and you Aiantes, leaders of the Argives, remember Patroclus and his kindnesses: he was always a gentle man in life, yet now death and fate have claimed him.’

With this, red-haired Menelaus, departed, glancing keenly round like an eagle that is said to have the sharpest sight of all birds and spots the swift hare in the undergrowth from high in the sky, swooping down to seize it and rob it of its life. So your sharp eyes Menelaus ranged through the ranks, in hopes of finding Antilochus alive. He soon saw him on the left flank, encouraging the men and urging them on. Closing on him, red-haired Menelaus called out: ‘Antilochus, nurtured by Zeus, come listen to an evil thing I would never have had happen. You must surely see how the gods are bringing us to ruin, and how power lies with the Trojans. Now Patroclus, best of the Achaeans, is dead, and every Danaan must miss him sorely. So, run swiftly to the ships and tell Achilles, in hope he will hasten to retrieve the corpse and bring it quickly to his hut, the naked corpse since Hector of the gleaming helm has the armour.’

Antilochus, horrified at his words, was speechless for a while, his eyes wet, his voice stifled. Yet nonetheless he responded to Menelaus by handing his armour to his peerless friend Laodocus, who was wheeling the horses to and from behind him, then, in tears, set off for the ships at a run, to carry the dreadful news to Achilles.

Menelaus decided not to stay and support Antilochus’ men, hard pressed though they were, and much as they would miss their leader. He sent noble Thrasymedes to them instead, while he ran back to his post beside the dead Patroclus and reaching the Aiantes reported: ‘I have sent our man to swift-footed Achilles, but, despite his hatred of Hector, I doubt he’ll take to the field without fresh armour. We must act without him, remove the corpse and ourselves escape dark death at the hands of these noisy Trojans.’

Great Telamonian Ajax replied: ‘You are right, peerless Menelaus. Do you and Meriones lift the corpse quickly and carry it from the field in your arms. Leave us to hold Hector and the Trojans. One in courage as we are one in name we are used to standing our ground, side by side, in the heat of battle.’

BkXVII:722-761 Patroclus’ corpse is carried from the field

Menelaus and Meriones lifted Patroclus’ body in their arms, and with a powerful effort raised him high in the air, while the Trojans seeing the Achaeans’ action, gave a great cry, and charged towards them as hounds in the hunt running before a pack of youths rush at a wild boar, eager to drag him down to destruction, but giving ground and scattering widely in flight, when he wheels among them trusting in his strength. So the Trojans came on at first, groups of them thrusting with swords and double-edged spears, but drained of colour when the Aiantes turned on them, scared to attack and fight for the body.

Meanwhile the two warriors hurried the corpse from the field and back to the hollow ships, as the fierce conflict raged like a fire that sweeps suddenly through a city, setting the houses on fire so they crumble in the intense glow, while a strong wind drives it onward roaring. After them as they went rose the endless din of chariots and spearmen. But they struggled forward with the corpse, like mules on a rough mountain track that exert all their strength to drag a log, to be used for a beam perhaps or a ship’s timber, hearts pounding as they heave wearily, soaked in sweat. And behind them the Aiantes held their ground, as a wooded ridge holds back the overflow of rivers, turning the powerful streams back over the plain, preventing the fierce flood breaking through.

Yet though the Aiantes stalled them, the Trojans were relentless, led by Aeneas, and glorious Hector. And as a flock of jackdaws or starlings fly, shrieking in alarm, when they see a death-dealing falcon swoop towards them, so the Achaean youths gave up the fight, and fled before the pair, with frantic cries. Many a fine piece of weaponry was lost at the trench and on either side as the Danaans fled, though the war continued unabated.