Ovid: The Metamorphoses
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved
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- Bk XII:1-38 Iphigenia at Aulis
- Bk XII:39-63 The House of Rumour
- Bk XII:64-145 The death and transformation of Cycnus
- Bk XII:146-209 Nestor tells the story of Caeneus-Caenis
- Bk XII:210-244 Nestor tells of the battle of Lapiths and Centaurs
- Bk XII:245-289 The deaths of Amycus, Gryneus, Cometes
- Bk XII:290-326 The deaths of Corythus, Aphidas and others
- Bk XII:327-392 Pirithoüs, Theseus and Peleus join the fight
- Bk XII:393-428 Cyllarus and Hylonome
- Bk XII:429-535 The transformation of Caeneus
- Bk XII:536-579 Nestor tells of the death of Periclymenus
- Bk XII:579-628 The death of Achilles
Bk XII:1-38 Iphigenia at Aulis
The father, Priam, mourned for the son, Aesacus, not knowing that he was still alive in winged form. Hector with his brothers had also, inappropriately, offered sacrifices at a tomb inscribed with his name. Paris was not present at this sad ritual, he, who presently brought extended war on his country because of the wife he had stolen. The whole Pelasgian race, joined together to pursue him, in a thousand ships, and vengeance would not have been long in coming had not fierce winds made the seas un-navigable, and the land of Boeotia detained the waiting ships in the fishing-grounds of Aulis. After they had prepared a sacrifice to Jupiter there, after the customs of their country, and when the ancient altar was alive with the kindled flames, the Greeks saw a dark-green snake sliding into a plane tree that stood near to where they had begun the sacrifice. There was a nest with eight young birds in the crown of the tree, and these the serpent seized and swallowed in its eager jaws, together with the mother bird who circled her doomed fledglings.
They looked at it wonderingly, but Calchas, the seer, son of Thestor, interpreted the truth, saying: ‘We will conquer, Greeks, rejoice! Troy will fall, though our efforts will be of long duration,’ and he divined nine years of war from the nine birds. The snake was turned to stone, exactly as it was, twined around the green branches, and stamped in the stone its serpent shape.
Boreas, the north-wind, continued to stir the waves violently, and would not grant the warships a crossing, and some thought Neptune was sparing Troy, because he had built its walls. But not Calchas. He knew and did not withhold from them, that a virgin’s blood would appease the wrath of Diana, the virgin goddess. When consideration of the common cause had conquered affection, and the king had suppressed the father, and as Iphigenia stood, among her weeping attendants, before the altar, to surrender her innocent blood, the goddess was vanquished, and veiled their eyes in mist, and, in the midst of the rites and confusion of the sacrifice, and the cries of the suppliants, they say she substituted a hind for the Mycenean girl. When, therefore, Diana had been appeased, by the required victim, and the sea’s anger had subsided simultaneously with that of Phoebe, the thousand ships, driven by a tail wind, reached the shores of Phrygia, after many adventures.
Bk XII:39-63 The House of Rumour
There is a place at the centre of the World, between the zones of earth, sea, and sky, at the boundary of the three worlds. From here, whatever exists is seen, however far away, and every voice reaches listening ears. Rumour lives there, choosing a house for herself on a high mountain summit, adding innumerable entrances, a thousand openings, and no doors to bar the threshold. It is open night and day: and is all of sounding bronze. All rustles with noise, echoes voices, and repeats what is heard. There is no peace within: no silence anywhere. Yet there is no clamour, only the subdued murmur of voices, like the waves of the sea, if you hear them far off, or like the sound of distant thunder when Jupiter makes the dark clouds rumble.
Crowds fill the hallways: a fickle populace comes and goes, and, mingling truth randomly with fiction, a thousand rumours wander, and confused words circulate. Of these, some fill idle ears with chatter, others carry tales, and the author adds something new to what is heard. Here is Credulity: here is rash Error, empty Delight, and alarming Fear, sudden Sedition, and Murmurings of doubtful origin. Rumour herself sees everything that happens in the heavens, throughout the ocean, and on land, and inquires about everything on earth.
Bk XII:64-145 The death and transformation of Cycnus
She had spread the news that the Greek fleet was nearing, filled with brave warriors, and so the arrival of the armed host was no surprise. The Trojans opposed the landing, and defended their coast. You, Protesilaüs, were the first to fall beneath Hector’s deadly spear, and joining in battle cost the Greeks dearly, and they knew mighty Hector’s spirit by the slaughter. The Phrygians learnt at no small expense of blood, the power of an Achaian hand. Now the Sigean shores ran red: now Cycnus, a son of Neptune, had consigned a thousand men to death: now Achilles pursued in his chariot, and laid whole columns of men low with a blow of his spear from Pelion. Searching the battlelines for Cycnus or for Hector, he came upon Cycnus (His meeting with Hector postponed till the tenth year of the war).
Then Achilles, urging on his horses, their snowy necks straining against the harness, he drove his chariot straight at the enemy, striking out, with the quivering spear, with all his strength, saying: ‘O youth, whoever you may be, take death’s comfort in being killed by Achilles of Haemonia!’ So Aeacides spoke: His heavy spear followed the words, but although there was certainly no error in the flight of the spear, still the sharp point of the flying blade had no effect, and only bruised Cycnus’s chest, like a blunted weapon. ‘O son of the goddess,’ Cycnus said, ‘fame has made you known to me, why are you amazed I have no wound? (He was indeed amazed) Neither this helmet you see, with its yellow horsehair crest, nor the hollow shield weighing down my left arm, is to protect me: they only look to serve as ornament. Mars too wears his armour for this reason! Take away the use of this protective covering: I will still escape unharmed. It is worth something to be the son, not of Nereus’s daughter, but of him who rules Nereus and his daughters, and the whole ocean as well.’
He spoke, and hurled his spear at Achilles, but it stuck fast in his round bronze shield. It tore through the bronze and nine layers of bull’s hide, but was stopped by a tenth. Shaking it off, the Greek hero once more threw a quivering spear from his mighty hand. Again his enemy’s body was whole and unharmed. A third spear could not even graze Cycnus though he laid himself open to it. Achilles flared up, like a bull in the arena, when it charges with its deadly horns at the Carthaginian cloak, and finds it escapes damage. He examined the spear to see if the iron point had been loosened: it was fixed to the shaft. ‘Is my hand enfeebled,’ he said, ‘so that the power it had is lacking against this man?’ Certainly it was strong enough when I led the overthrow of Lyrnessus’s walls, or when I drenched the island of Tenedos, and Mysian Thebes, Eetion’s city, in their own blood, when the River Caïcus ran red with the slaughter of those around it, and Telephus twice felt the touch of my spear. Here also, my right hand has prevailed, and will prevail, striking so many, the heaps of corpses I made and see on the shore.’
He spoke, and as if not believing the results of his previous actions, he threw the spear straight at Menoetes, one of the Lycian men, simultaneously piercing his breastplate and the breast beneath. As the dying man beat his head against the solid earth, Achilles pulled the spear from the hot wound, and cried: ‘This is the hand, and this is the spear with which I have just been victorious: I shall use it on this enemy, and I pray his end may be the same.’ Thus he pursued the death of Cycnus again, and the ashen shaft did not err, thudding unavoidably into the left shoulder, from which it recoiled as if from a wall or a solid rock. Achilles saw that Cycnus was stained with blood where it struck, and exulted, but in vain: there was no wound: it was Menoetes’s blood! Then truly maddened, he leapt headlong from his high chariot, and seeking out his charmed enemy, at close quarters, with glittering sword, saw shield and helmet carved through, but still the iron blunted on the impenetrable body. He could stand it no longer, and he beat at the face and hollow temples of his enemy three or four times with his raised shield and sword-hilt.
One presses as the other gives way: he rushes and harries him, allowing no respite from the shock. Fear grips Cycnus, shadows swim in front of his eyes, and, as he steps backwards, his retreating step is blocked, by a boulder, on the open ground. As he is trapped with his body bent against it, Achilles turns him over with great force, and dashes him to the ground. Then pressing his hard knees and shield into Cycnus’s chest, he pulls on the helmet straps, which, tightening under the chin, squeeze the throat and windpipe, and stop the passage of breath. He prepares to strip his defeated enemy: he sees empty armour: the god of the sea has changed the body into that of a white bird, whose name is the one he bore, but a moment ago.
Bk XII:146-209 Nestor tells the story of Caeneus-Caenis
This battle brought about that truce, of many days duration, when both sides grounded their weapons and rested. While alert sentries patrolled the Trojan walls and alert sentries patrolled the Greek trenches, a feast day arrived, on which Achilles, the victor over Cycnus, was propitiating Pallas with the blood of a sacrificial cow. When its entrails had been placed on the blazing altars, and the perfume the gods love had climbed to the heavens, part was put aside for their holy rites, and the rest set out on the tables. The leaders reclined on couches, and ate their fill of the roasted meat, while they quenched their thirst, and drowned their cares, with wine. The zither, the sound of singing, the long boxwood flute pierced with many holes, was not their entertainment, rather they lengthened the night with talk, and courage was their theme. They talked of their enemies’ battles, and of their own, and delighted in recounting, in turn, the dangers they had encountered and survived. What else should Achilles speak of, and what else should be spoken of in great Achilles’s presence?
The foremost talk was of his latest victory, the overthrow of Cycnus. It seemed wondrous to all of them that a warrior should have a body no spear could penetrate, impervious to wounds, and that blunted iron swords. Achilles himself and the Greeks were marvelling at it, when Nestor said: ‘Cycnus has been the only one among your generation who ignored swords, and whom no blow could pierce. But, long ago, I myself saw one Caeneus of Thessaly, who could take a thousand strokes with unwounded body: Thessalian Caeneus, I say, who, famous for his exploits, lived on Mount Othrys, and what made it more remarkable in him, he had been born a woman.’ All who there were interested by this strange wonder, and asked him to tell the story.
Achilles, among the rest, said: ‘Say on, old one! O ancient eloquence, wisdom of our age, all of us equally desire to hear, who Caeneus was, why he was changed to his opposite, what campaign you met him in, fighting against whom, by whom he was overcome, if anyone overcame him.’ Then the old warrior said: ‘Though the slowness of age hampers me, and many things I once saw have slipped from me, I can still remember many. Nothing sticks more firmly in my mind than this, amongst all those acts, in battle and at home, and if length of years alone enabled a man to report many deeds, I have lived two hundred years: now I live in my third century.
Elatus’s daughter, Caenis, loveliest of the virgins of Thessaly, was famous for her beauty, a girl longed for in vain, the object of many suitors throughout the neighbouring cities and your own (since she was one of your people, Achilles). Perhaps Peleus also would have tried to wed her, but he had already taken your mother in marriage, or she was promised to your father. Caenis would not agree to any marriage, but (so rumour has it) she was walking along a lonely beach, and the god took her by force. When Neptune had enjoyed his new love he said: “Make your wish, without fear of refusal. Ask for what you most want!” (The same rumour mentioned this.)
“This injury evokes the great desire never to be able to suffer any such again. Grant I might not be a woman: you will have given me everything,” Caenis said. She spoke the last words in a deeper tone that might have been the sound of a man’s voice. So it was: the god of the deep ocean had already accepted her wish, and had granted, over and above it, that as a man Caeneus would be protected from all wounds, and never fall to the sword. Caeneus, the Atracides, left, happy with his gifts, and spent his time in manly pastimes, roaming the Thessalian fields.’
Bk XII:210-244 Nestor tells of the battle of Lapiths and Centaurs
‘Pirithoüs, the daring son of Ixion, married Hippodame, and invited the cloud-born centaurs to take their place at tables, set in lines, in a tree-shaded cave. Caeneus, and the other Thessalian princes were there, and I was there myself. The festive palace echoed with the noisy crowd. See, they were singing the marriage song, and the great hall smoked with fires, and in came the virgin surrounded by a throng of young wives and mothers, conspicuous, in her beauty. We declared Pirithoüs to be blessed in his bride, which almost betrayed his good fortune. For your heart was heated by the sight of the girl as much as by wine, Eurytus, most savage of the savage Centaurs: and drunkenness twinned with lust ruled it.
At once the tables were overturned and the banquet in turmoil, and the new bride was grabbed by the hair and dragged off by force. Eurytus seized Hippodame: the others whosoever they wished to, or could, and it looked like the rape of a city. The palace sounded with women’s cries. We all leaped up quickly, and Theseus, first, shouted out: ‘What foolishness drives you to this, Eurytus, that you challenge Pirithoüs in my presence, and unknowingly attack two in one? Lest his words were in vain, the brave hero pushed aside those threatening him, and rescued the girl from the madmen. The other made no reply (since he could not defend his actions with words) but attacked her champion, with violent hands, striking at his face and noble chest.
There chanced to be an ancient mixing-bowl nearby, embossed with raised designs, and Theseus raised the huge thing, he himself being huger, and threw it straight at Eurytus’s face. He fell backwards, drumming his feet on the blood-soaked earth, gouts of blood spurting from mouth and wound equally, along with brain-matter and wine. His twin-natured brothers, taking fire at his death, emulated each other, in shouting: ‘To arms! To arms!’ with a single voice. Wine gave them courage, and, in the first battle, cups, fragile jars, and round basins were sent flying, things intended for feasting, now used for fighting and killing.’
Bk XII:245-289 The deaths of Amycus, Gryneus, Cometes
‘First, Amycus, son of Ophion, did not fear to despoil the inner shrine of its offerings, and snatched, first, from the sanctuary, a chandelier, thickly hung with gleaming lamps, and raising it on high, as one wields a sacrificial axe to break the bull’s snowy neck, he dashed it against the forehead of Celadon, the Lapith, leaving him with the bones of his face crushed past recognition. His eyes leapt from their sockets, and his nose, pushed in, as the bones of his face shattered, was driven into his palate. At this, Pelates of Pella, wrenching a leg from a maple-wood table, knocked Amycus to the ground, his chin driven into his chest: and his enemy sent him to the shadows of Tartarus with a second wound, as he spat out teeth, mixed with dark blood.
Then Gryneus, standing near the smoking altar, gazing at it with wild eyes, shouted: “Why not put this to use?” and lifting the huge altar with its flames, he threw it into the midst of the crowd of Lapiths, crushing two of them, Broteas and Orios: Orios’s mother was Mycale, who was often known to draw down the horned moon by her incantations despite its struggles. “You will not escape with impunity, if I can find a weapon.” said Exadius, who found the equivalent of a spear in a stag’s antlers that hung on a tall pine tree, as a votive offering. Gryneus was pierced in the eyes by the twin branches, and his eyeballs gouged out, one of which stuck to the horn, and the other slipped down onto his beard, and hung there in a clot of blood.
Then Rhoetus snatched up a burning brand from the altar, wood from a plum tree, and swinging it down from the right hand side, broke Charaxus’s temples protected by yellow hair. The hair flared like a dry cornfield, set alight by the quick flames, and the blood seared in the wound gave out a terrible sizzling noise, as a bar of iron is prone to do, when the smith takes it, red-hot, from the fire, with curved tongs, and plunges it into a bath of water: it whistles and hisses immersed in the bubbling liquid.
The wounded man shook the rapacious flames from his shaggy hair, and tearing a stone sill from the ground lifted it on his shoulders, a load for oxen, its very weight preventing him from hurling it as far as his enemy: but the mass of stone crushed his friend Cometes, who was standing nearer. Rhoetus could not contain his delight, saying: “May the rest of the crowd on your side be as formidable as that!” and he renewed his attack with the half-burned branch, and with three or four heavy blows broke through the joints of his skull until the bones sank into the fluid brain.’
Bk XII:290-326 The deaths of Corythus, Aphidas and others
‘The victor turned his attention to Euagrus, Corythus and Dryas. When Corythus, one of these, fell, whose first downy hair covered his cheeks, Euagrus cried: “What glory is there on your part in shedding the blood of a boy?” Rhoetus stopped him from speaking, thrusting the fiery flames into the man’s open mouth, and down his throat. He pursued you, also, savage Dryas, whirling the branch round his head, but with a different result. As Rhoetus came on exulting in the succession of killings, you ran him through with a charred stake, where neck and shoulder meet. Rhoetus groaned and with an effort wrenched the stake out of the solid bone: then he ran, drenched in his own blood. Orneus and Lycabas, also ran; Medon, wounded in the right shoulder; Thaumas and Pisenor; and Mermeros who had recently overcome everyone by his fleetness of foot, and now ran more slowly from the wound he had suffered. Pholus, Melaneus, and Abas the boar-hunter also fled, and Asbolus, the augur, who had vainly tried to dissuade them from fighting. To Nessus, who also ran with him, fearful of being wounded, he said: “Do not flee! You are fated to be preserved for Hercules’s bow.” But Eurynomus, and Lycidas, Areos and Imbreus did not escape death: all these Dryas’s hand killed as they fronted him. You also received a wound in front, Crenaeus, though you had turned your back in flight: as you looked back the heavy blade took you between the eyes, where nose and forehead meet.
Aphidas lay amongst the intense noise, without waking, all his strength sunk in endless sleep, still holding a cup of mixed wine, in his limp hand, stretched out on the shaggy skin of a bear from Mount Ossa. Phorbas caught sight of him at a distance, uselessly idle in the fight, and fitting his fingers into the strap of his javelin said: “Go drink your wine mixed with the waters of Styx.” Without hesitating he hurled his spear at the youth, and the ash shaft tipped with iron was driven through his neck, as he chanced to be lying with his head thrown back. He did not feel death, and the black blood flowed from his welling throat, onto the couch and into the wine-cup itself.’
Bk XII:327-392 Pirithoüs, Theseus and Peleus join the fight
‘I saw Petraeus trying to tear an oak-tree full of acorns from the ground. While he had his arms round it, bending it this way and that, and shaking the loosened trunk, Pirithoüs sent a lance through his ribs, and pinned his writhing body to the hard wood. They say that Lycus fell by Pirithoüs’s might, and Chromis by Pirithoüs’s might, but Dictys and Helops gave the victor a greater title to fame. Helops was transfixed by a javelin that passed through both temples; hurled from the right and piercing the left ear. Dictys, fleeing in desperate panic, pressed hard by Ixion’s son, stumbled on a mountain height, and fell headlong, breaking a huge flowering ash with the weight of his body, and entangling his entrails in the shattered tree.
Aphareus was there, his avenger, who tried to hurl a rock torn from the mountainside: but as he tried Theseus, the son of Aegeus, caught him with his oaken club and broke the massive bones of his elbow. Having neither time nor desire to inflict further injury on his worthless body, he leaped onto tall Bienor’s back, unused to carrying anything but its owner, and, pressing his knees into the centaur’s flanks, and clutching the mane with his left hand, he shattered the face, the mouth uttering threats, and the solid temples, with his knotted club. With the club he overthrew Nedymnus, and Lycopes the javelin-thrower; Hippasos, his chest protected by a flowing beard, and Ripheus, who towered above the treetops; Thereus, also, who used to take bears on the mountain slopes of Thessaly, and carry them home angry and alive.
Demoleon could no longer stand the success Theseus was enjoying: he had been trying, with great effort, to tear up the solid trunk of an ancient pine. Unable to do it, he broke it off and hurled it at the enemy. But Theseus drew well away from the oncoming missile, warned by Pallas, or so he would have us believe. The tree trunk did not fall without effect, since it severed tall Crantor’s chest and left shoulder from the neck. He was your father’s armour bearer, Achilles, whom Amyntor king of the Dolopians, having been defeated in battle, gave to Peleus, the Aeacides, as a true pledge of peace.
When Peleus, some distance away, saw him torn apart by the frightful wound he shouted: “Accept this tribute to the dead, at least, Crantor, dearest of youths,” and with his powerful arm, he hurled his ash spear, at full strength, at Demoleon. It ruptured the ribcage, and stuck quivering in the bone. The centaur pulled out the shaft minus its head (he tried with difficulty to reach that also) but the head was caught in his lung. The pain itself strengthened his will: wounded, he reared up at his enemy and beat the hero down with his hooves. Peleus received the resounding blows on helmet and shield, and defending his upper arms, and controlling the weapon he held out, with one blow through the arm he pierced the bi-formed breast.
Peleus had already, before this, killed Phlegraeos and Hyles, from a distance, and Iphinoüs and Clanis in close conflict. He added Dorylas to these, who wore a wolfskin cap on his head, and instead of a deadly spear, carried a magnificent pair of crooked bull’s horns, dyed red with copious blood.
I shouted to him (my courage giving me strength) “See how your horns give way before my spear” and I threw my javelin. Since he could not evade it, he blocked a wound to his forehead with his right hand, and his hand was pinned to his forehead. He screamed, but Peleus (as he stood near him) struck him with his sword in mid-stomach, as he came to a halt there, overcome by the harsh wound. Dorylas leapt forward fiercely, dragging his guts on the ground, and as he dragged he trampled them, and as he trampled he tore them, entangled his legs in them, and fell, with emptied belly.’
Bk XII:393-428 Cyllarus and Hylonome
‘Nor did your beauty, Cyllarus, if indeed we attribute beauty to your centaur race, save you in the fighting.
His beard was beginning to show; a beard the colour of gold; and a golden mane fell from his shoulders half way down his flanks. He had a liveliness of expression that was pleasing; his neck and shoulders, chest and hands, and all his human parts, you would praise as almost sculpted by an artist. Nor was the equine part below marred, or inferior to the human: give him a horse’s head and neck and he would be worthy of a Castor, the back so fit for a rider, the deep chest so muscular. He was blacker than pitch all over, except for a white tail, and legs also snow-white.
Many females of his race courted him, but one, Hylonome, won him, none lovelier, among the female centaurs, in the deep forests. She alone held Cyllarus’s affections, by endearments, by loving and admitting love; and by her appearance, as far as those limbs allow its cultivation: now she would smooth her mane with a comb, now entwine it with rosemary, now violets or roses: or else she wore bright lilies. She bathed her face twice a day in the spring that fell from the woods, on the heights near Pagasae, twice dipped her body in the stream. She would wear only selected skins of wild beasts that became her, over her shoulder or across her left flank. Their love was equally shared. They wandered the mountainsides together, rested at the same time in caves: and now they had both come to the palace of the Lapiths, and both fought fiercely.
A javelin (who threw it is unknown) came from the left and took you, Cyllarus, below the place where the chest swells to the neck. When the weapon was withdrawn the heart, though only slightly pierced, grew cold with the whole body. Immediately Hylonome clasped the dying limbs, sealed the wound with her hand, placed her mouth on his, and tried to prevent the passage of his spirit. Seeing he was dead, with words that the noise prevented from reaching my ears, she threw herself onto the spear that had pierced him, embracing her husband in dying.’
Bk XII:429-535 The transformation of Caeneus
‘Still Phaeocomes stands before my eyes, he, who had tied six lion skins together with knotted cords, as a covering, protecting both man and horse. Hurling a log, that two teams of oxen could hardly move, he crushed the skull-bone of Tectaphos, son of Olenus. The broad dome of his head was shattered, and the soft brain matter oozed out through the hollow nostrils, eyes and ears, like curdled milk through the oak lattice, or as liquid trickles through a coarse sieve, under the weight, and squeezes thickly through the close mesh. But even as Phaecomes prepared to strip the arms from the fallen man (your father knows this), I thrust my sword deep into the despoiler’s thigh. Chthonius and Teleboas also fell to my sword: the first carried a forked branch, the other a spear: he gave me a wound with the spear - see, the scar! - the mark of the old wound is still visible. In those days I would have been sent to capture Troy’s citadel; then, I could have entertained Hector greatly with my weapons, if not overcome him. But Hector at that time was a child or not yet born, now my age has weakened me.
What need to tell you how Periphas conquered dual-shaped Pyraethus? Why tell of Ampyx who drove his cornel-wood spear that had lost its tip into the opposing face of four-footed Echeclus? Macareus threw a crowbar at the chest of Pelethronian Erigdupus, killing him: and I remember how a hunting spear, from the hand of Nessus, buried itself in Cymelus’s groin. Nor would you have thought Mopsus, Ampycus’s son, only prophesied the future: bi-formed Hodites fell to Mopsus’s throw, trying in vain to speak, his tongue fixed to the floor of his mouth, the floor of his mouth to his throat.
Caeneus had killed five: Styphelos, Bromus, Antimachus, Elymus; and Pyracmos, who was armed with a battle-axe. I do not recall their wounds, but I noted their number, and their names. Then Latreus rushed forward, massive in body and limbs, armed with the spoils of Emathian Halesus whom he had killed. He was between youth and age, but had the strength of youth, his hair greying on his temples. Prancing in a circle, turning to face each of the battle-lines in turn, and conspicuous for his Macedonian lance, helmet and shield, he clashed his weapons, pouring out many proud words, into the empty air. “Do I have to put up with you, Caenis? For you will always be a woman, Caenis, to me. Does your natal origin not remind you; does not the act you were rewarded for come to mind, at what cost you gained this false aspect of a man? Consider what you were born as, or what you experienced, go, pick up your distaff and basket of wool and twist the spun thread with your thumb: leave war to men.”
At this Caeneus threw his spear, ploughing a furrow in the centaur’s side, where man and horse joined, as he was stretched out in the act of galloping. Maddened with pain, Latreus struck the Phylleian youth in his unprotected face, with the lance: but it bounced off like a hailstone from a rooftop, or a small pebble from a hollow drum. Then he closed up on him, and tried to thrust his sword into his impenetrable side: the sword found no way in. The centaur shouted: “You will still not escape! I will kill you with the sword’s edge if the point is blunt.” Turning his blade sideways he reached out for his enemy’s loins with his long right arm. The blow resounded, as if it struck a body of marble, and the weapon fractured in pieces as it hit the firm flesh.
When he had exposed his unwounded limbs for long enough to his wondering enemy, Caeneus said: “Now let me try your body with my blade!’ and he drove his fatal weapon into the other’s side, turning and twisting his hand, buried in the guts, causing wound on wound. See, the centaurs maddened, rushed on him with a great shout, and all aimed and threw their spears at the one man. The spears fell, blunted: and Caeneus, son of Elatus, remained unpierced and unbloodied by all their efforts. This marvel astonished them.
“Oh, what overwhelming shame!” Monychus exclaimed. “A people defeated by one who is scarcely a man: yet he is the man, and we, with our half-hearted attempts are what he once was. What use are our huge limbs? What use our twin powers, and that double nature uniting the strongest living things in us? We are not sons of a divine mother: nor of Ixion who was such as aspired to captivate great Juno: we are overcome by an enemy, who is half a man! Roll down rocks and tree trunks on him, and whole mountainsides, and crush that stubborn spirit with the forests we hurl! Let their mass constrict his throat, and let weight work instead of wounds.”
He spoke, and finding a chance tree-trunk toppled by a furious southerly wind, he threw it at his powerful enemy. He served as the example, and in a little while Mount Othrys was bare of trees, and Pelion had lost its shade. Buried under the huge pile, Caeneus strained against the weight of trees, and propped up the mass of oak on his strong shoulders, but as it mounted above his mouth and face, he had no breath of the air that he breathed, and lacking it, often, he tried in vain to raise himself into the air, and throw off the forest piled on him, and often heaved, as if steep Mount Ida, that we see there, look, was shaken by an earthquake.
His fate is doubtful: some said his body was thrust down to empty Tartarus, by the mass of forest: but Mopsus, the son of Ampycus denied this. He saw a bird with tawny wings fly into the clear air from the midst of the pile, which I saw also, then, for the first and last time ever. As Mopsus watched him smoothly circling his camp in flight, making a great noise, he pursued him with mind and vision, saying “Hail to you, Caeneus, glory of the race of Lapiths, once a great hero, but now a bird alone!” The thing was believed because of its author: grief was added to anger, and we could barely accept one man being conquered by so many enemies. Nor did we cease to work off our pain with the sword until half were dead, and half, fleeing, were swallowed by the night.’
Bk XII:536-579 Nestor tells of the death of Periclymenus
As the hero from Pylos told of this battle between the Lapiths and the half-human Centaurs, Tlepolemus, son of Hercules, leader of the Rhodians, could not keep his mouth silent in his indignation at Hercules, the descendant of Alceus, being overlooked. He said ‘Old man, it is amazing that your recital forgot to praise Hercules: certainly my father often used to tell me of the cloud-born centaurs he defeated.’ Nestor answered him, sternly. ‘Why do you force me to remember wrongs, to re-open wounds healed by the years, and to reveal hatred for your father and the injuries he did me? He has done deeds beyond belief, the gods know, and filled the earth with his praises: that, I wish I could deny. But we do not praise Deïphobus, or Polydamas, or Hector: who praises an enemy indeed?
That father of yours razed Messene’s walls; destroyed the innocent cities of Elis and Pylos, and overthrew my household gods with fire and sword. I say nothing of the others he killed: there were twelve of us, sons of Neleus, outstanding young men, all except myself fell to Hercules’s strength. We must accept that the others could be defeated: the death of Periclymenus was strange, whom Neptune, founder of Neleus’s bloodline, had granted the power to assume any form he wished and reverse that which he had assumed. Now, after he had changed to every form in turn, he reverted to the shape of a bird, the eagle that carries the lightning bolts in its curved talons, beloved by the king of the gods. He tore at the hero’s face with all the power of his wings, his hooked beak, and crooked claws. Then, as he soared among the clouds, and hung poised there, the Tirynthian fired his unerring bow at him, and pierced him where the wing meets the side.
The wound was not fatal, but the sinews, severed by the wound, failed, devoid of movement or power of flight. He fell to earth, his weakened pinions not mastering the air, and the arrow, clinging lightly to the wing, was driven upwards with the body’s weight, and forced through the top of the breast into the left side of the throat.
Now, O most glorious leader of the Rhodian fleet, do you think I should cry out your Hercules’s praises? Yet I look for no other revenge for my brothers than to be silent about his mighty deeds: there is unbroken friendship between you and me.’
Bk XII:579-628 The death of Achilles
But the god of the trident, who rules the ocean waters, grieved, with a father’s feelings, for the son changed into a swan, the bird of Phaethon, and, hating fierce Achilles, he nursed an excessive anger in his memory.
And now, when the war against Troy had lasted for almost ten years, he called to Sminthean Apollo, the unshorn, in these words: ‘O, by far the best loved of my brother’s sons, who built the walls of Troy with me, to no purpose, do you sigh at all to see these battlements at the moment of their destruction? Do you grieve at all that so many thousands died defending her walls? Not to name all of them, does not the shade come before you of Hector, dragged round his own citadel, Pergama? But savage Achilles, crueller than war itself, is still alive, ravager of our creation. Let him be given up to me. I would let him feel what I can do with my three-pronged spear: but since I am not allowed to meet face to face with the enemy, destroy him unexpectedly with a hidden arrow!’
The Delian god nodded, and satisfying his own and his uncle’s desire, he came to the Trojan lines, wrapped in a cloud, and there, among human massacre, he saw Paris firing infrequent shafts at unknown Greeks. Showing himself as a god, he said: ‘Why waste your arrows on the blood of the rank and file? If you care for your own, aim at Achilles, grandson of Aeacus, and avenge your dead brothers!’ He spoke, and, pointing to Pelides, who, with his weapon, was strewing the ground with Trojan bodies, he turned Paris’s bow towards him, and guided the unerring shaft with deadly hand. This was the one thing that could delight old Priam since Hector’s death.
So, Achilles, conqueror of so much greatness, you are conquered, by the cowardly thief of the wife of a Greek! If your death had to be by a woman’s hand, in war, you would rather have fallen to an Amazon’s two-edged axe.
Now Achilles, grandson of Aeacus, the terror of the Phrygians, the glory and defence of the Pelasgian name, the invincible captain in battle, was burned: one god, Vulcan, armed him, and that same god consumed him. Now he is ash, and little if anything remains of Achilles, once so mighty, hardly enough to fill an urn. But his fame lives, enough to fill a world. That equals the measure of the man, and, in that, the son of Peleus is truly himself, and does not know the void of Tartarus.
So that you might know whose it was, even his shield makes war: and arms, for his arms, are raised. Diomede, son of Tydeus, and the lesser Ajax, Oileus’s son, dare not claim them, nor the younger son of Atreus, Menelaüs, nor the elder, Agamemnon, greater in warfare, nor the rest. Only Ajax, the son of Telamon, and Ulysses, Laërtes’s son, were confident enough for such glory. Agamemnon, the descendant of Tantalus, in order to escape the invidious burden of choosing between them, ordered the leaders of the Greeks to meet in the middle of the camp, and he transferred judgement of the dispute to them all.