Homer: The Iliad

Book VI

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

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BkVI:1-71 Agamemnon kills Adrastus

So the Greeks and Trojans were left to their grim conflict, and the battle, in a hail of bronze-tipped spears, surged this way and that over the plain, between Simoïs and the streams of Xanthus.

Telamonian Ajax, bulwark of the Achaeans, was the first to shatter a Trojan company and give his comrades hope, felling the best of the Thracian warriors, Acamas, tall and powerful son of Eussorus. He struck him first on the ridge of his horsehair-crested helmet, and drove the bronze spear-point into the bone, so darkness filled his eyes.

Then Diomedes, of the loud war-cry, killed Axylus, son of Teuthras. He was a rich man from fine Arisbe, loved for the hospitality shown at his roadside home. But none of his friends were there that day to face the enemy and save him from his sad fate; for Diomedes killed both him and his charioteer Calesius, and they went down under the earth.

And Euryalus killed Dresus and Opheltius then chased down Aesepus and Pedasus, whom the water-nymph Abarbarea bore to peerless Bucolion. He was the eldest bastard son of noble Laomedon, who lay with the nymph while shepherding his flock. She bore him twins, and now Euryalus, son of Mecisteus, loosed their noble limbs, they in their prime, stripping the armour from their breasts.

Now rugged Polypoetes killed Astyalus, while Odysseus slew Pidytes of Percote with his bronze spear, and Teucer noble Aretaon. Then Antilochus, Nestor’s son, with his shining spear downed Ablerus, and Agamemnon, king of men, felled Elatus, who lived in hilly Pedasus by the banks of sweet-flowing Satnioïs. As Phylacus fled before him, Leitus slew him there, while in turn Eurypylus laid Melanthius low.

But Menelaus, of the loud war-cry, took Adrastus alive, for the man’s horses bolting across the plain in terror tangled with a tamarisk bough and, snapping the shaft where it met the chariot, fled towards the city caught up in the general rout: but Adrastus was flung from the chariot and landed face down in the dust beside a wheel. Menelaus, son of Atreus, was soon before him, grasping a long-shadowed spear. Then Adrastus clasped him by the knees and begged: ‘Take me alive, son of Atreus, and win a noble ransom; there are great treasures of iron, bronze, and gold finely-worked in my rich father’s house. He would pay you a mighty ransom if he heard I’d been taken alive to a Greek ship.’

So he tried to soften the other’s heart, and Menelaus, it is true, was about to send him off with a squire to the swift Achaean ships, when Agamemnon arrived at the run, calling out: ‘Dear Menelaus, why such compassion? Were these Trojans kind to you back home? Let none escape death at our hands, not even the child in the womb; let not a one survive, let all Ilium die: leave none behind as witnesses to mourn.’

His brother’s mind was changed by his words of wisdom; and Menelaus thrust Adrastus away for the king to spear him in the side. Backward he fell and the son of Atreus, planting his foot on his chest, drew forth the ashen spear.

Meanwhile Nestor was shouting loudly, calling out to the Greeks: ‘My friends, you sons of Ares, Danaan warriors, no lingering here in your eagerness to loot, so you might scurry back to the ships carrying the best spoils. Let us kill these men; then you may strip the corpses on the field at your ease.’

BkVI:72-118 Helenus asks Hector to urge the City to pray

His words filled every man with fresh strength and courage. The Trojans would have been driven back to Ilium, defeated and disheartened by the Greek attack, if Helenus, Priam’s son, the greatest augur in Troy, had not found Hector and Aeneas: ‘You two above all command the Trojan and Lycian effort, since you are the finest in war and counsel in every way. Gather the troops, and make a stand before the gates, lest they end by throwing themselves into their women’s arms and our enemies rejoice. When you have rallied every company, we’ll hold our ground and fight the Greeks here, weary as we are, since fate demands it. Then go to the city, Hector, and speak to our mother, Hecabe. Let her gather the older women on the Acropolis, at bright-eyed Athene’s shrine: unlock the doors of the sacred temple, and lay on the knees of shining-haired Athene, the largest and loveliest robe from the palace, the one she prizes most. Then let her make a vow to sacrifice a dozen yearling heifers, unused to the goad, in her temple, so that she may take pity on Troy, and the Trojan women and children, and keep that savage warrior Diomedes from Ilium, that great panic-maker, who I say has proved the mightiest of the Greeks. Not even Achilles, prince of men, is as feared, and he they say is son of a goddess. This son of Tydeus, in his merciless rage, is unrivalled in his power.’

Hector promptly obeyed, and fully-armed leapt down from his chariot. Brandishing two sharp spears he went everywhere among the men, urging them on, and stirring the hum of battle. They wheeled about and turned to face the Greeks, who then gave ground and stopped their slaughter, thinking some god had come from the starry heavens to assist the Trojans, they rallied now so strongly. Hector cried aloud to the army: ‘Brave Trojans, and glorious allies, my friends, be men and think on furious valour, while I enter Ilium and tell our wives and Elders to pray to the gods and promise sacrifice.’

With this, Hector of the gleaming helm, departed, and as he went the black leather rim that ran round the outermost edge of his bossed shield tapped at his ankles and his neck.

BkVI:119-211 Glaucus meets Diomedes and tells his lineage

Now Diomedes and Glaucus, son of Hippolochus, met in the space between the armies, eager for the fight. When they had come within range, the son of Tydeus, he of the loud war-cry, called: ‘What mighty man are you, among mortals? I have never seen you on the field of honour before today, yet facing my long-shadowed spear, you show greater daring than all the rest. Unhappy are those whose sons meet my fury. But if you be one of the gods from heaven, I will not fight with the immortals. Not even mighty Lycurgus, son of Dryas, survived his war with the gods for long. He chased the nymphs, who nursed frenzied Dionysus, through the sacred hills of Nysa, and struck by the murderous man’s ox-goad their holy wands fell from their hands. But Dionysus fleeing, plunged beneath the waves, trembling and terrified by the man’s loud cries, and Thetis took him to her breast. Then the gods who take their ease were angered by Lycurgus, and Zeus blinded him. So that, hated by the immortals, he soon died. No way then would I wish to oppose the blessed gods. But if you are mortal, and eat the food men grow, come on, and meet the toils of fate the sooner.’

‘Brave Diomedes’, Hippolochus’ son replied, ‘why ask my lineage? Like the generations of leaves are those of men. The wind blows and one year’s leaves are scattered on the ground, but the trees bud and fresh leaves open when spring comes again. So a generation of men is born as another passes away. Still if you wish to know my lineage, listen well to what others know already. There’s a town called Ephyre in a corner of Argos, the horse-pasture, and a man lived there called Sisyphus, the craftiest of men, a son of Aeolus. He had a son called Glaucus, and Glaucus was father of peerless Bellerophon, to whom the gods gave beauty and every manly grace. But Zeus made him subject to King Proetus, who was stronger and plotted against him, and drove him from Argive lands. Now Proetus’ wife, the fair Anteia, longed madly for Bellerephon, and begged him to lie with her in secret, but wise Bellerephon was a righteous man and could not be persuaded. So she wove a web of deceit, and said to King Proetus: ‘Kill this Bellerephon, who tried to take me by force, or die in the doing of it.’ The king was angered by her words. He would not kill Bellerephon, as his heart shrank from murder, but he packed him off to Lycia, and scratching many deadly signs on a folded tablet, gave him that fatal token, and told him to hand it to the Lycian king, his father-in-law, so to engineer his death. Bellerephon went to Lycia escorted by peerless gods, and when he reached the streams of Xanthus the king of great Lycia welcomed him with honour, entertaining him for nine days, and sacrificing nine oxen. But when rosy-fingered Dawn lit the tenth day his host questioned him, and asked what token he brought him from his son-in-law Proetus.

On first deciphering the fatal message, he ordered Bellerephon to kill the monstrous Chimaera, spawned by gods and not men, that had a lion’s head, goat’s body and serpent’s tail, and breathed out deadly blasts of scorching fire. But Bellerephon slew her, guided by the gods. Next he was sent against the notorious Solymi, and fought, he said, the mightiest battle he ever fought. Then thirdly he slaughtered the Amazons, women the equal of men. The king planned a deadly ruse for his return, staging an ambush by the pick of the Lycian warriors. But not one of them returned: the peerless Bellerephon killed them all. The king then realised he was a true son of the gods, and offered him his daughter and half of his kingdom, to stay. The Lycians moreover marked out for him an estate of the first rank, with tracts of orchards and plough-land for his delight.

The lady bore Bellerephon, that warlike man, three children, Isander, Hippolochus and Laodameia. Zeus the Counsellor slept with Laodameia and she bore godlike Sarpedon, now a bronze-clad warrior. But the time came when Bellerephon too was loathed by the gods, and wandered off alone over the Aleian plain, eating his heart away and shunning the ways of men. Ares, unwearied by war, killed his son Isander, battling with the glorious Solymi; and Laodameia was slain in anger by Artemis of the Golden Reins. Hippolochus remained and fathered me, and from him I claim descent. He sent me here to Troy and charged me earnestly to be the best and bravest, and not bring shame on my ancestors the best men in Ephyre and all broad Lycia. Such is my lineage, from that blood am I sprung.’

Diomedes, of the loud war-cry rejoiced at these words. Planting his spear in the fertile earth, he spoke to the Lycian general courteously: ‘You are, then, a friend of long-standing to my father’s house, since noble Oeneus once entertained peerless Bellerephon in his palace, and kept him there twenty days. Moreover they exchanged fine friendship gifts. Oeneus gave him a bright scarlet belt, and Bellerephon replied with a two-handled gold cup, which was there in the palace when I came away. But Tydeus my father I scarce remember, since I was a little child when he left, when the Achaean warriors died at Thebes. So I will be your good friend at home in Argos, and you will be mine in Lycia, should I come to visit. Let us avoid each other’s spear in the battle, there are plenty more Trojans and their worthy allies for me to slay, if a god lets my feet overtake them, and many Greeks for you to kill, if you can. Let us exchange our armour then, that those around may know that our grandfather’s friendship makes us two friends.’

At this, the two leapt down from their chariots, and clasped each other’s hands as a pledge of their good faith. But Zeus, the son of Cronos, robbed Glaucus of his wits, for he gave Diomedes, son of Tydeus, golden armour for bronze, a hundred oxen’s worth for that of nine.

BkVI:237-311 Hecabe prays to Athene

Now when Hector reached the oak tree by the Scaean Gate, he was besieged by the Trojan wives and daughters asking after their sons and husbands, brothers and friends. He ordered them to pray to the gods, and sorrow hung about many.

Then he came to Priam’s lovely palace, fronted by marble colonnades, and enclosing fifty chambers of polished stone, adjoining one another, where Priam’s sons slept beside their wives and opposite within the court twelve well-roofed closely-adjoining chambers of polished stone for his noble daughters and his sons-in-law. There his gracious mother met him, with Laodice fairest of her daughters. ‘My son,’ she cried, clasping his hand, ‘why are you here and not in the midst of dreadful battle? Those vile Achaeans must be closing in on the city that you come to the Acropolis to pray to Zeus. Wait till I fetch you some sweet honeyed wine, first to pour a libation to Zeus and the other gods, and then for your relief if you will drink. Wine fortifies a man wearied by toil, as you must be wearied defending us.’

Mighty Hector of the gleaming helm replied: ‘No honeyed wine for me, my lady mother, lest you weaken me and I lose strength and courage. Nor should I dare to pour Zeus a libation of bright wine with unwashed hands, nor pray to the son of Cronos, lord of the thunder clouds, spattered with blood and filth. You though must gather the older women, and take burnt offerings to the temple of Athene ever first to chase the spoils, and take her the best and largest robe in your palace, the one you love the most, and lay it on her knees. Vow to golden-haired Athene that you’ll sacrifice at her shrine a dozen yearling heifers, unused to the goad, and beg her to have pity on holy Ilium, and on the Trojan women and children, and bar Diomedes from the city, that savage spearmen, and panic-maker. Go now, to the shrine of Athene the Warrior, while I find Paris and rouse him, if he will listen. Better the earth swallow him now. Zeus made him a great bane to the Trojans, to great Priam and his sons. If I saw him bound for Hades’ palace, then would my heart, I say, be free of grief.’

Hector asks his mother and his sisters to make an offering to Athene

‘Hector asks his mother and his sisters to make an offering to Athene’ - Crispijn van de Passe (I), 1613

At this, his mother went to the palace, calling for her maids, and they gathered the older women of the city. Meanwhile she went down to the vaulted treasure chamber where she kept her richly-worked robes, embroidered by Sidonian women, whom princely Paris had brought himself from Sidon, when he sailed the seas on that voyage that brought him high-born Helen. From these Hecabe chose the largest and most richly embroidered that had lain beneath the rest, and now gleamed like a star. Then she set out, with the throng of older women hurrying after.

At the shrine of Athene on the Acropolis, lovely Theano flung open the doors. She, whom Troy had appointed priestess of Athene, was daughter to Cisseus, and wife to Antenor, the horse-tamer. They lifted their hands to Athene, with ecstatic cries, while lovely Theano took the robe, laid it on golden-haired Athene’s knees, then prayed to the daughter of Zeus. ‘Lady Athene, fairest of goddesses, protectress of the city, shatter Diomedes’ spear. Topple him headlong before the Scaean Gate, and we will sacrifice in your shrine twelve yearling heifers, unused to the goad. Take pity on the city, the Trojan women and their little ones.’ So Theano prayed, but Pallas Athene denied the prayer.

BkVI:312-368 Hector rouses Paris

While they prayed to Almighty Zeus’ daughter, Hector went to Paris’ fine home, built by the best workmen in the fertile land of Troy. They had fashioned court, hall and sleeping-chambers close to Priam’s palace and Hector’s own house on the citadel. There, Zeus-beloved Hector entered, his long spear in his hand, the spear-blade glittering before him, its socket made of gold.

He found Paris in his rooms busy with his splendid weapons, the shield and cuirass, and handling his curved bow. Argive Helen sat there too, among her ladies, superintending their fine handiwork. Catching sight of Paris, Hector rebuked him with scornful words: ‘It is wrong to be so perverse, nursing anger in your heart, while your friends die at the gates of the city and high on the battlements, yet you are the reason the sounds of war echo through Troy. You yourself would reproach those you found shirking the field of battle, so rouse yourself, before flames consume the city!’

Paris replied: ‘Hector, since you are right and just in your rebuke, I will explain. Listen and reflect. I don’t take to my room through anger against the Trojans, or indignation, but rather in sorrow. Indeed but now my wife sought to change my mind with gentle words, urging me to fight: and I myself agree it might be best, since victory shifts from one man to another. So wait a moment while I don my gear, or you go on ahead and I’ll follow, and overtake you.’

To this Hector of the gleaming helm made no answer, but Helen spoke to him in gentle tones: ‘Brother, I am indeed that wicked she-dog whom all abhor. I wish that on the day of my birth, some vile blast of wind had blown me to the mountains, or into the waves of the echoing sea, where the waters would have drowned me, and none of this would have come about. But since the gods ordained this fate, I wish that I had a better man for husband, who felt the reproaches and contempt of his fellow men. But this man of mine is fickle, and ever will be so, and will reap the harvest of it hereafter. But enter, now and be seated, my brother, since you are the most troubled in mind of all, through my shamelessness and Paris’ folly. Zeus has brought an evil fate upon us, and in days to come we shall be a song for those yet unborn.’

‘No, I shall not sit here, Helen,’ Hector of the gleaming helm replied: ‘kind though you are, you’ll not persuade me. Already my heart burns to aid our Trojans who miss me greatly when I’m gone. But urge your man to follow swiftly, so he overtakes me in the city. I go now to see my wife, my little boy, my people, not knowing if I shall see them again, or whether the gods have doomed me to die at Achaean hands.’

BkVI:369-439 Hector speaks with Andromache

With this, Hector of the gleaming helm departed for his fine house, but failed to find white-armed Andromache at home. She had gone with her son and a fair companion, to the battlements, where she stood in tears and sorrow. Failing to find his peerless wife, Hector stood at the threshold and spoke to her servants: ‘Tell me, you maids, where is white-armed Andromache? Is she visiting one of my sisters, or my noble brothers’ fair wives, or has she gone to Athene’s shrine, where the rest of Troy’s noble women seek to influence the dread goddess?’

‘Hector,’ a busy housemaid replied, ‘if you wish to know the truth, she has done none of those things, but hearing our men were hard pressed, and the Greeks had won a great victory, she rushed to the battlements, in great distress, and the nurse followed carrying your son.’

At this, Hector sped from the house and retraced his path through the broad streets. When, after crossing the city, he reached the Scaean Gate by which he intended to leave, his wife came running to meet him. Richly-dowered, Andromache was the daughter of brave Eëtion, who lived in Thebe below wooded Placus, and ruled the Cilicians. Now she ran to her bronze-clad husband, and the nurse was with her, holding a little boy in her arms, a baby son, Hector’s bright star. Hector called him Scamandrius, but the rest Astyanax, since, to them, Hector alone protected Ilium. Hector smiled, and gazed at his son in silence, but Andromache crept weeping to his side, and clasped his hand, saying: ‘Husband, this courage of yours dooms you. You show no pity for your little son or your wretched wife, whom you’ll soon make a widow. The Achaeans must soon join arms against you, and destroy you. If I lose you I were better dead, for should you meet your fate, there will be no more joy for me only sorrow. I have no royal father or mother. Achilles killed my noble father when he sacked Cicilian Thebe, that many-peopled city with its high gates. But he shrank from despoiling Eëtion though he slew him, sending him to the pyre in his ornate armour, and heaping a mound above him, round which the mountain-nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, planted elm trees. And seven brothers of mine, swift-footed mighty Achilles sent to Hades, all on a day, killing them there among their shambling-gaited cattle and white fleecy sheep. My mother, queen below wooded Placus, he dragged here with the rest of his spoils, but freed her for a princely ransom, only for Artemis of the bow to slay her in her father’s house. Hector you are parent, brother, husband to me. Take pity on me now, and stay here on the battlements, don’t make your son an orphan your wife a widow. Station your men above the fig-tree there, where the wall’s most easily scaled, and the city lies then wide open. Thrice their best men led by the two Aiantes, great Idomeneus, the Atreidae, and brave Diomedes, have tested the wall there. Someone skilled in divining has told them, or maybe their own experience urges them to try.’

BkVI:440-493 Hector takes leave of his wife and son

‘Lady,’ said Hector of the gleaming helm, ‘I too am concerned, but if I hid from the fighting like a coward, I would be shamed before all the Trojans and their wives in their trailing robes. Nor is it my instinct, since I have striven ever to excel always in the vanguard of the battle, seeking to win great glory for my father and myself. And deep in my heart I know the day is coming when sacred Ilium will fall, Priam, and his people of the ashen spear. But the thought of the sad fate to come, not even Hecabe’s or Priam’s, nor my many noble brothers’ who will bite the dust at the hands of their foes, not even that sorrow moves me as does the thought of your grief when some bronze-clad Greek drags you away weeping, robbing you of your freedom. Perhaps in Argos you’ll toil at the loom at some other woman’s whim, or bear water all unwillingly from some spring, Messeïs or Hypereia, bowed down by the yoke of necessity. Seeing your tears, they will say: ‘There goes the wife of Hector, foremost of all the horse-taming Trojans, when the battle raged at Troy.’ And you will sorrow afresh at those words, lacking a man like me to save you from bondage. May I be dead, and the earth piled above me, before I hear your cries as they drag you away.’

With this, glorious Hector held out his arms to take his son, but the child, alarmed at sight of his father, shrank back with a cry on his fair nurse’s breast, fearing the helmet’s bronze and the horsehair crest nodding darkly at him. His father and mother smiled, and glorious Hector doffed the shining helmet at once and laid it on the ground. Then he kissed his beloved son, dandled him in his arms, and prayed aloud: ‘Zeus, and all you gods, grant that this boy like me may be foremost among the Trojans, as mighty in strength, and a powerful leader of Ilium. And some day may they say of him, as he returns from war, “He’s a better man than his father”, and may he bear home the blood-stained armour of those he has slain, so his mother’s heart may rejoice.’

Hector bids farewell to Andromache

‘Hector bids farewell to Andromache’ - Workshop of Bernard Picart, 1710

With this he placed the child in his dear wife’s arms, and she took him to her fragrant breast, smiling through her tears. Her husband was touched with pity at this, and stroked her with his hand, saying: ‘Andromache, dear wife, don’t grieve for me too deeply yet. None will send me to Hades before my time: though no man, noble or humble, once born can escape his fate. Go home, and attend to your tasks, the loom and spindle, and see the maids work hard. War is a man’s concern, the business of every man in Ilium, and mine above all.’

BkVI:494-529 Hector and Paris go to fight

So saying, glorious Hector took up his helmet with its horse-hair crest, while his wife returned home, weeping profusely with many a backward glance. She soon came to man-killing Hector’s fine palace, gathered her crowd of women, and roused them to lamentation. Thus they mourned for Hector while he still lived, believing he could not escape an Achaean attack in strength, and return alive from the battlefield.

Paris meanwhile did not linger long in his high house, but donned his fine armour with bronze trappings, and fleet of foot sped surely through the city. Like a stable-fed stallion, who has had his fill, and breaks the halter and gallops over the fields in triumph, to bathe in the lovely river as is his wont, tossing his head while his mane streams over his shoulders, glorying in his power as his strong legs carry him to the pastures, the haunts of mares; so Paris, son of Priam, strode swiftly down from Pergamus, glittering in his armour like the shining sun, and filled with joy.

He soon overtook his brother, noble Hector, about to leave the place where he’d talked with his wife. Godlike Paris was first to speak: ‘Brother, I fear my long delay has kept you waiting: I failed to arrive as you requested.’

Hector of the gleaming helm answered him: ‘Perverse man, no one with reason would decry your martial efforts, since you have courage; but you malinger when it suits, and shun the fight. It grieves me when I hear reproaches against you on Trojan lips, you who caused them all this trouble. Go on, we will be reconciled later, if Zeus grants that we drive the bronze-greaved Greeks from the soil of Troy, and we make a free libation in the palace, to the heavenly gods who live forever.’