Homer: The Iliad

Book VII

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

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BkVII:1-53 Apollo and Athene debate the battle

With this, glorious Hector sallied from the gate, alongside his brother Paris, both eager for war and strife. Like a fair breeze from heaven to sailors whose limbs are weary from driving their smooth pine oar-blades through the waves, so these two seemed to the waiting Trojans.

Paris at once slew Menesthius of Arne, the son of the club-wielding King Areïthous and ox-eyed Phylomedusa, while Hector struck Eïoneus on the neck with his sharp spear-blade below the fine helmet of bronze, and his limbs were loosened. Meanwhile, in the skirmish, Glaucus, Hippolochus’ son, the Lycian general, cast a spear at Iphinous, Dexius’ son, as he mounted his chariot behind his swift mares, striking him on the shoulder, and he toppled to the ground, and his limbs too were loosened.

Now when bright-eyed Athene saw the Greeks being slaughtered in this fierce encounter, she darted down from Olympian heights to holy Ilium. And Apollo, seeing her from Pergamus sped towards her, eager to grant the Trojans victory. So they met at the oak-tree, and kingly Apollo son of Zeus, spoke first: ‘Where are you rushing so eagerly from Olympus, now, daughter of mighty Zeus, and with what deep motive? Is it to turn the tide of battle and grant the Danaans victory, since you show no pity for the Trojan dead? If you will take my advice it would be best by far to end this day of strife and conflict. Let them fight another day with Ilium at issue since it delights the hearts of you undying goddesses to destroy this city.’

Bright-eyed Athene answered: ‘So be it, god that kills from afar; with that same thought I came here from Olympus. But how do you plan to stop these warriors fighting?’

Princely Apollo, son of Zeus, replied: ‘Let us rouse the mighty spirit of horse-taming Hector, and let him challenge one of the Greeks to meet him in mortal combat. The bronze-clad Achaeans, being provoked, will raise a champion to fight him.’

Athene and Apollo tempted to fight Hector

‘Athene and Apollo tempted to fight Hector’ - Crispijn van de Passe (I), 1613

That was his idea, and bright-eyed Athene instantly obeyed. For Helenus, beloved son of Priam, divined in his mind this plan, in which the immortals had concurred. He went straight to Hector’s side, saying: ‘Son of Priam, equal to Zeus in wisdom, will you be guided by your brother? Ask the Greeks and Trojans to be seated then challenge the Achaeans to produce a champion, to meet you man to man in mortal combat. For it is not your fate to die, your time has not yet come: so say the voices of the deathless ones I hear within me.’

BkVII:54-119 Hector issues a challenge

Hector was joyful at these words, and with a level spear-shaft held back the Trojan lines. They sat down, and Agamemnon made the bronze-greaved Achaeans do likewise. Then Athene and Apollo of the silver bow in the guise of vultures perched on aegis-bearing Zeus’ tall oak-tree, and enjoyed the sight of those warriors in serried ranks, bristling with spears, glittering with helmets and shields. Like a darkened arm of sea, when a fresh westerly ripples the surface, so the seated Greek and Trojan armies covered the plain.

Then standing between the two, Hector spoke: ‘Bronze-greaved Greeks, and you Trojans, hear what my heart tells me. Almighty Zeus has not preserved our truce, but with cruel intent makes us fight on till you Greeks conquer Troy’s high walls, or are slain yourselves beside your sailing ships. The finest men of Achaea lead your army. Let the man whose heart prompts him to challenge me step forward from your ranks, as your champion against this noble Hector. I say, and may Zeus bear witness: if your man slays me with his sharpened blade, let him strip me of my armour and bear it to the hollow ships, but leave my body to the Trojans to bear home, that they and their wives may give my corpse to the flames. But if I kill him, and Apollo grants me glory, I’ll take his armour to holy Ilium and hang it in Apollo the far-darter’s shrine, and give his corpse back to the benched ships so the long-haired Greeks may give him burial, heaping a mound for him by the broad Hellespont, that future voyagers sailing by, in their benched ships over the wine-dark sea, shall say: This is the mound of a warrior long ago, whom glorious Hector slew in his prime. So shall they speak, and to my undying glory.’

At this, a silence fell among the Greeks, ashamed to refuse but fearful of his challenge. Finally Menelaus, with reluctance, rose to his feet and reproached them bitterly: ‘Ah, you braggarts, you women of Achaea, no longer men! What a dark and dreadful thing, if not one Greek should stand to challenge Hector. Sit there and rot, turn to dust and slime, you cowardly crew. I will arm myself against him, though victory lies with the gods in heaven.’

So saying, he donned his fine armour. And Menelaus that would have signalled your death at the hands of Hector, the greater warrior, had not the Greek king leapt up to restrain you. Atreides himself, imperial Agamemnon, seized you by the right hand, saying: ‘Zeus-nurtured Menelaus you are mad! Such foolishness is not needed. Restrain yourself, however painful it might be, and think not of rivalling a greater warrior, Hector son of Priam, dreaded by all. Even Achilles shudders to confront this man on the field of glory, one who’s your superior by far. Be seated again with your comrades. We Greeks will find some other champion to fight him. Brave he may be, and filled with battle-lust, but he will be glad to kneel and rest if he survives this fatal combat and war’s fury.’

BkVII:120-160 Nestor speaks

With this wise counsel he swayed his brother’s mind, and Menelaus gave way. As his attendants gladly removed the armour from his shoulders, Nestor rose to address the Argives: ‘Now, this is enough to make Achaea weep! How that old horseman, Peleus, the noble orator, and leader still of the Myrmidons, would groan: he who once so enjoyed questioning me on the birth and lineage of every Argive: if he could hear of how those same men all cower now before Hector. He would raise his arms to the heavens, and pray that his spirit might leave his body and plunge to Hades!

Oh, Father Zeus, Athene and Apollo, if only I were young again and our Pylian host still fighting the Arcadian spearmen by swift-running Celadon, under Pheia’s walls, at the streams of Iardanus. Ereuthalion was their champion. Like a god he was, clad in the armour of noble King Areïthous whom men and fair women called the Mace-man, because he ignored long-spear or bow, and shattered the lines with his iron mace. Lycurgus killed him, and not by strength but guile, in a narrow defile where his iron mace was useless to protect him. Lycurgus caught him unawares, pierced him through the belly with his spear, and threw him backwards on the ground. Then he stripped him of his armour, a gift from Brazen Ares, and wore it later in battle. But as an aged king, Lycurgus gave it to his dear friend, Ereuthalion, to wear, so Ereuthalion challenged our champions in Areïthous’ armour. And for fear and trembling none dared accept. Though the youngest there, in my boldness my doughty heart spurred me to fight him, and Athene granted me glory. He was the tallest and strongest I ever slew: yet he lay sprawling there in all his mighty breadth and height. I wish I were young again and in my strength! Then Hector of the gleaming helm would swiftly meet his match. Yet though you are the pick of this Achaean army, not one of you has the nerve to run and meet him.’

BkVII:161-232 Ajax the Greater is chosen by lot to fight Hector

Nine men leapt to their feet at this rebuke. The first by far was King Agamemnon, then mighty Diomedes Tydeus’ son, next the Aiantes, full of martial spirit, Idomeneus then and his comrade Meriones, peer of Enyalius, divine slayer of men. Eurypylus followed, Euaemon’s famous son, while up sprang Thoas, son of Andraemon, and noble Odysseus too: all were ready to fight with prince Hector. The Gerenian horseman, Nestor, then spoke again: ‘Cast lots now, each of you, that one might be chosen. He will serve the Achaean cause well, and himself too, if he survives this fatal combat and war’s fury.’

At this, each of the nine marked his lot and threw it into Agamemnon’s helmet, while the soldiers lifted their arms to the heavens, and prayed to Zeus for the lot to fall on Ajax, or else Diomedes, or the king of golden Mycenae himself.’

Then Nestor of Gerenia shook the helmet, and out leapt the lot all desired: that of Ajax. A herald carried the lot round the circle of warriors from left to right, and each as he failed to recognise his mark denied it. But when he reached the one, who had marked and cast it into the helm, great Ajax himself, he placed the lot in his hand, and Ajax recognising his mark was filled with joy. He threw the lot on the ground at his feet, and shouted: ‘Friends, the lot is mine: my heart is overjoyed, for I foresee I shall conquer noble Hector. Now, while I don my battle gear, pray silently to almighty Zeus, the son of Cronos, so the Trojans cannot hear – or rather, no, pray openly, since we fear none. No man’s will shall put me to flight, against my own will, nor yet his skill; I was not born and raised in Salamis without skills of my own.’

At this, they prayed to almighty Zeus, the son of Cronos: ‘Father Zeus, who reigns from Ida, glorious and great, grant Ajax the victory and glorious renown: but, if you love Hector too and care for him, then grant equal strength and glory to both.’

As they prayed, Ajax donned the gleaming bronze. When his body was all armoured, he rushed to the fight like giant Ares entering the fray, among warriors Zeus has joined in war’s soul-destroying conflict. So, mighty Ajax, shield of Achaea, ran on with a smile on his grim face, covering the ground with long strides, shaking his long-shadowed spear. The Argives rejoiced to see him, but the Trojans trembled with fear in every limb, and even Hector’s heart beat faster. But, as challenger, it was too late for him to turn tail and slink back to the ranks. Now Ajax drew close, behind his tower-like shield of bronze, with its sevenfold layers of leather that Tychius of Hyle the master-currier had worked. He had overlaid hides of seven great bulls, fronted by an eighth layer of bronze. Protecting his chest, Telamonian Ajax halted near Hector and challenged him: ‘Now, Hector you’ll see, face to face, what we Greek generals are made of, even though Achilles lion-heart, breaker of men, waits idly among the beaked sea-vessels, angered by King Agamemnon. Many of us, still, dare face you. So let battle and mayhem commence.’

BkVII:233-312 Ajax and Hector fight

To this, great Hector of the gleaming helm replied: ‘Prince Ajax, heaven-born son of Telamon, don’t try to frighten me, like some feeble child or a woman ignorant of war. I know all there is to know of conflict and killing. I know how to swing my shield of seasoned hide to left and right, and how to use it sturdily in a fight. I know how to dash among the charging chariots drawn by the swiftest mares, and I know how to tread the measure of angry Ares in close encounter. Yet I’d not strike secretly at a man like you, but openly, and hope to hit you.’

With this, he balanced his long-shadowed spear, and threw. He struck Ajax’s fearful shield of seven-layered bull’s hide on its eighth layer, the covering of bronze. It pierced six layers but the seventh stopped it. Then heaven-born Ajax hurled his long-shadowed spear in turn, and struck Hector’s well-balanced shield. The great spear pierced the gleaming disc, forced its way through the ornate corselet, and tore the tunic on his flank. Yet Hector swerved and escaped dark death.

Then each together pulled back their long spears with both hands, and fell on one another like hungry lions, or strong wild boars. Hector with a thrust of his spear, struck Ajax’s shield square on, but the bronze point was turned and failed to pierce it. Ajax leapt on him and his spear went right through Hector’s shield, cutting his neck, so he reeled, and the dark blood flowed. Yet Hector of the gleaming helm fought on, giving ground to grasp a black stone, huge and jagged, from the dust. He caught Ajax’s fearful sevenfold bull’s hide shield on the boss, so the bronze covering rang. Then Ajax lifted a far larger rock, like a millstone, and hurled it, in turn, with measureless strength, bursting Hector’s shield and beating him to his knees, so he lay back on the ground, curled beneath the shield.

But Apollo swiftly brought him to his feet. Now they would have closed and thrust with their swords, if the heralds, messengers of Zeus and men, had failed to intervene, Talthybius the Greek, and Idaeus the Trojan, both prudent men. They raised their herald’s staves between the two, and then Idaeus, skilled in wise counsel, cried: ‘Cease to fight, dear sons: break off the combat. You are both loved by Cloud-Gathering Zeus, fine spearmen both; as all now can see. Moreover night is falling, and must be obeyed.’

Combat between Ajax and Hector

‘Combat between Ajax and Hector’ - Workshop of Bernard Picart, 1710

‘Idaeus,’ answered Telamonian Ajax, ‘Hector must say the word since he it was who challenged the best of us to fight. If he speaks out, I will consent gladly.’

Then Hector of the gleaming helm addressed him: ‘Ajax, a god granted you power and stature, wisdom too, and pre-eminence with the spear beyond all the other Greeks. Let us cease from combat for the day. Later we’ll fight and may a god judge between us, granting victory to one man or the other. But night falls now, and it is best to obey. Your presence will gladden the hearts of the Greeks beside your ships, your kith and kin above all, while mine will please the Trojans and their long-robed wives, through all great Priam’s city, who will meet to offer thankful prayers to the gods. But let us now exchange noble gifts, so that Greeks and Trojans alike may say: “Rivals, they fought in soul-devouring conflict, but then were reconciled and parted friends.”’

So saying, he handed Ajax his silver-studded sword, with its scabbard and trim baldric; while Ajax gave him his bright scarlet belt. So they parted, Ajax back to Achaean lines, Hector to the throng of Trojans, who rejoiced to see him there alive and whole, safe from Ajax’s strength and his unconquered arms. They brought him back home to the city scarce believing he’d survived. The bronze-greaved Greeks, for their part, led Ajax back to noble Agamemnon, elated by his deeds.

BkVII:313-378 Both sides take counsel

On reaching the royal huts, King Agamemnon sacrificed a five-year-old bull to almighty Zeus. They flayed, cut and dressed the carcase, slicing the meat skilfully, spitting and roasting it carefully, then drawing it from the spits. The work done, and the meal prepared, contentedly they shared the feast. Imperial Agamemnon, the warrior son of Atreus, granted Ajax the honour of receiving the long chine. Then when hunger and thirst were sated, aged Nestor whose counsel had often proved so potent offered his thoughts. He addressed the gathering, with benign intent, saying: ‘King Agamemnon, and all you leaders of the Greeks, many long-haired Achaeans have died, their dark blood spilled by fierce Ares on the banks of sweet-flowing Scamander, their souls all gone down to Hades. Let us declare a truce at dawn so as to gather the corpses and bring them back here on carts behind oxen and mule. We will burn them not far from the ships, so that each man who returns home may carry the remains of his friends to their children. Let us pile up earth over the pyre in a single mound, and build a high wall from there to protect the ships and ourselves, with strong gates wide enough for our chariots to pass, and a deep trench in front to hold back enemy chariots and soldiers, in case the Trojan attack presses us hard.’ So Nestor spoke, and all the leaders agreed.

Meanwhile the Trojans likewise gathered together in a crowd at the door of Priam’s palace on the citadel, Ilium: but a noisy and angry one. Antenor the wise spoke first: ‘Trojans, Dardanians, allies, hear the prompting of my heart. Now, let us give Argive Helen and all she owns back to the Atreidae. In fighting on, we break our solemn oath, and nothing will do us good unless we comply.’

As he finished, and was seated again, noble Paris, fair Helen’s husband, replied with winged words: ‘Antenor, what you have to say on this occasion displeases me. You can speak wiser words than these. If you mean them though, the gods have surely addled your wits. In this assembly of horse-taming Trojans I too speak out and say at once: I will never give up the woman, though the treasure I brought from Argos, that I am ready to grant them, with a gift from my own store.’

With this he too sat down, and Priam, scion of Dardanus, rose, wise as the gods in counsel. Benevolently, he spoke to all the assembly: ‘Trojans, Dardanians, and allies, hear the prompting of my heart. Take your supper in the town as usual, for now, but be wakeful and take care to mount a watch. Then, at dawn, let Idaeus go to the hollow ships, and tell the Atreidae, Agamemnon and Menelaus, of this offer Paris makes, who began the quarrel. And let him suggest to them as well that they cease hostilities till we have burned our dead. We can renew the war later, and then we may fight till some god judges between us, and grants victory to one side or the other.’

BkVII:379-432 The Trojan offer is rejected: the funeral pyres

The Trojans listened, and readily obeyed, taking their supper in their separate companies, and at dawn Idaeus went to the hollow ships, where he found the Danaan war-lords in conference by the stern of Agamemnon’s ship. He joined their circle and spoke in the clear tones of a herald: ‘My lord, Atreides, and you other leaders of the Achaean host, Priam and the lords of Troy have ordered me to declare an offer from Paris, the cause of all our quarrel, in hope of your acceptance. The treasure he brought to Troy in his hollow ships, and would he had perished first, he is willing to return with gifts of his own, but he will not yield great Menelaus’ wife, though the Trojans urged it. Further they ordered me to make this request too, in hope of your acceptance, that you cease hostilities till we have burned our dead. We can renew the war later, and then we may fight till some god judges between us, and grants victory to one side or the other.’

A silence fell at his words, but finally Diomedes of the loud war-cry spoke: ‘Let no one dream of accepting Paris’ gifts, not even if Helen were offered, since even a fool can see the coils of fate are wound about the Trojans.’

The Achaeans shouted their acclamation, cheering the words of Diomedes the horse-tamer, and Agamemnon now addressed the herald: ‘Idaeus, you hear the Achaean reply, which is mine too. As for the dead, however, I do not begrudge your burning their corpses. They should not be deprived of a speedy end among the flames. A truce then, and let Zeus the Thunderer, Hera’s lord, be witness to it.’ With this he raised his sceptre to the heavens, and Idaeus left for holy Ilium.

There the Trojans and Dardanians both were seated in conference, waiting together for Idaeus. He stood before them and gave the Greeks’ reply. Then they swiftly went to their twofold task, to fetch the wood and bring in the dead. And the Greeks for their part ran from their benched ships to do the same.

Now the Sun rising from the calm, deep-flowing streams of Ocean climbed the sky to light the field, as the two parties met. Yet it was hard to recognise the dead, till they had washed the blood-clots from them. Shedding hot tears they loaded them on wagons, but since great Priam had forbidden loud lament, the Trojans, grieving inwardly, heaped the corpses on the pyre in silence, and when the flames had died, returned to holy Ilium. The bronze-greaved Achaeans likewise wept within, and fed their corpses to the fire, and when the flames had died, went down to the hollow ships.

BkVII:433-482 Zeus orders the Greek defences destroyed

In the half-light of next dawn, a picked troop of Achaeans gathered round their pyre, and over it raised a single mound of earth dug from the plain, and built a wall stretching from it with high ramparts, to guard the ships and themselves, with strong gates wide enough for chariots to pass, and a trench broad and deep in front, planted with stakes.

The long-haired Greeks toiled, and the gods seated by Zeus, the Lord of Lightning, watched the great work of those bronze-clad Greeks with amazement. Poseidon, the Earth-shaker, spoke first: ‘Father Zeus is there a mortal left in the whole wide world who still shares his thoughts and plans with us? Have you seen how the long-haired Greeks are again behaving, building a wall to guard the ships, with a ditch around it, and not a single sacrifice to the gods? Surely its fame will reach to the ends of dawn, and men will forget the wall that I and Phoebus Apollo toiled to build for that warrior Laomedon.’

Zeus, the Cloud-gatherer was troubled, and said: ‘Well now, imperial Earth-shaker, what is this! Some other god weaker in strength of arm than you might share that fear, but rest assured your fame it is that will reach to the ends of dawn. And when the long-haired Greeks have sailed in their ships to their beloved land, shatter the wall, wash it to the sea, and cover the long beach again with sand. So let the work of these Achaeans perish.’

While they spoke together, the sun set, and the Achaeans completed their task. Then they slaughtered oxen by their huts and ate their supper. There were many ships carrying wine brought from Lemnos, sent by Euneos, Jason’s son, whom Hypsipyle bore to that leader of men. And he sent an extra thousand measures too, as a special gift to the Atreidae. The long-haired Greeks bought wine from these vessels, in exchange for bronze, glittering iron, cattle, hides, or slaves. All night the long-haired Achaeans feasted richly, as did the Trojans and their allies in the city, while through the dark hours Zeus took counsel, plotting evil against them, with ominous peals of thunder. At that sound, they paled with fear, and poured wine on the earth, not daring to drink till they had made libation to Zeus almighty. Then they lay down, and enjoyed the gift of sleep.