The Iliad of Homer (Pope)/Book 12
THE BATTLE AT THE GRECIAN WALL
While thus the hero's pious cares attend
The cure and safety of his wounded friend,
Trojans and Greeks with clashing shields engage,
And mutual deaths are dealt with mutual rage.
Not long the trench or lofty walls oppose;
With gods averse the ill-fated works arose;
Their powers neglected, and no victim slain,
The walls are raised, the trenches sunk, in vain.
Without the gods, how short a period stands
The proudest monument of mortal hands!
This stood, while Hector and Achilles raged,
While sacred Troy the warring hosts engaged;
But when her sons were slain, her city burned,
And what survived of Greece to Greece returned;
Then Neptune and Apollo shook the shore,
Then Ida's summits poured their watery store;
Rhesus and Rhodius then unite their rills,
Caresus roaring down the stony hills,
Æsepus, Granicus, with mingled force,
And Xanthus foaming from his fruitful source;
And gulfy Simois, rolling to the main
Helmets, and shields, and godlike heroes slain:
These, turned by Phœbus from their wonted ways,
Deluged the rampire nine continual days;
The weight of waters saps the yielding wall,
And to the sea the floating bulwarks fall;
Incessant cataracts the Thunderer pours,
And half the skies descend in sluicy showers.
The god of ocean, marching stern before,
With his huge trident wounds the trembling shore,
Vast stones and piles from their foundation heaves,
And whelms the smoky ruin in the waves.
Now, smoothed with sand, and levelled by the flood,
No fragment tells where once the wonder stood;
In their old bounds the rivers roll again,
Shine 'twixt the hills, or wander o'er the plain.
But this the gods in later times perform;
As yet the bulwark stood, and braved the storm;
The strokes yet echoed of contending powers;
War thundered at the gates, and blood distained the towers.
Smote by the arm of Jove, with dire dismay
Close by their hollow ships the Grecians lay;
Hector's approach in every wind they hear,
And Hector's fury every moment fear.
He, like a whirlwind, tossed the scattering throng,
Mingled the troops, and drove the field along.
So, 'midst the dogs and hunters' daring bands,
Fierce of his might, a boar or lion stands;
Armed foes around a dreadful circle form,
And hissing javelins rain an iron storm;
His powers untamed their bold assault defy,
And, where he turns, the rout disperse, or die:
He foams, he glares, he bounds against them all,
And, if he falls, his courage makes him fall.
With equal rage encompassed Hector glows;
Exhorts his armies, and the trenches shows.
The panting steeds impatient fury breathe,
But snort and tremble at the gulf beneath;
Just on the brink, they neigh, and paw the ground,
And the turf trembles, and the skies resound;
Eager they viewed the prospect dark and deep,
Vast was the leap, and headlong hung the steep;
The bottom bare, a formidable show,
And bristled thick with sharpened stakes below.
The foot alone this strong defense could force,
And try the pass impervious to the horse.
This saw Polydamas; who, wisely brave,
Restrained great Hector, and this counsel gave:
"O thou! bold leader of our Trojan bands,
And you, confederate chiefs from foreign lands,
What entrance here can cumbrous chariots find,
The stakes beneath, the Grecian walls behind?
No pass through those without a thousand wounds;
No space for combat in yon narrow bounds.
Proud of the favors mighty Jove has shown,
On certain dangers we too rashly run:
If 'tis his will our haughty foes to tame,
Oh may this instant end the Grecian name!
Here, far from Argos, let their heroes fall,
And one great day destroy, and bury all!
But should they turn, and here oppress our train,
What hopes, what methods of retreat remain?
Wedged in the trench, by our own troops confused,
In one promiscuous carnage crushed and bruised,
All Troy must perish, if their arms prevail,
Nor shall a Trojan live to tell the tale.
Hear then, ye warriors, and obey with speed;
Back from the trenches let your steeds be led;
Then all alighting, wedged in to array,
Proceed on foot, and Hector lead the way.
So Greece shall stoop before our conquering power,
And this, if Jove consent, her fatal hour."
This counsel pleased: the godlike Hector sprung
Swift from his seat; his clanging armour rung.
The chief's example followed by his train,
Each quits his car, and issues on the plain.
By orders strict the charioteers enjoined,
Compel the coursers to their ranks behind.
The forces part in five distinguished bands,
And all obey their several chiefs' commands,
The best and bravest in the first conspire,
Pant for the fight, and threat the fleet with fire:
Great Hector glorious in the van of these,
Polydamas, and brave Cebriones.
Before the next graceful Paris shines,
And bold Alcathoüs, and Agenor joins,
The sons of Priam with the third appear,
Deïphobus, and Helenus the seer;
In arms with these the mighty Asius stood,
Who drew from Hyrtacus his nooble blood,
And whom Arisba's yellow coursers bore,
The coursers fed on Selle's winding shore.
Antenor's sons the fourth battalion guide,
And great Æneas, born on fountful Ide.
Dnine Sarpedon the last band obeyed,
Whom Glaucus and Asteropæus aid;
Next him, the bravest at their army's head,
But he more brave than all the hosts he led.
Now, with compacted shields, in close array,
The Moving legions speed their headlong way:
Already in their hope they fire the fleet,
And see the Grecians gasping at their feet.
While every Trojan thus, and every aid,
The advice of wise Polydamas obeyed;
Asius alone, confiding in his car,
His vaunted coursers urged to meet the war.
Unhappy hero! and advised in vain!
Those wheels returning ne'er shall mark the plain;
No more those coursers with triumphant joy
Restore their master to the gates of Troy!
Black death attends behind the Grecian wall,
And great Idomeneus shall boast thy fall!
Fierce to the left he drives, where from the plain
The flying Grecians strove their ships to gain;
Swift through the wall their horse and chariots past,
The gates half-opened to receive the last.
Thither, exulting in his force, he flies;
His following host with clamours rend the skies:
To plunge the Grecians headlong in the main,
Such their proud hopes, but all their hopes were vain!
To guard the gates two mighty chiefs attend,
Who, from the Lapiths' warlike race descend;
This Polypœtes, great Perithoüs' heir,
And that Leonteus, like the god of war;
As two tall oaks, before the wall they rise;
Their roots in earth, their heads amidst the skies:
Whose spreading arms, with leafy honours crowned,
Forbid the tempest, and protect the ground;
High on the hills appears their stately form,
And their deep roots for ever brave the storm.
So graceful these, and so the shock they stand
Of raging Asius, and his furious band.
Orestes, Acamas, in front appear,
And Œnomaus and Thoön close the rear.
In vain their clamours shake the ambient fields,
In vain around them beat their hollow shields;
The fearless brothers on the Grecians call,
To guard their navies, and defend their wall.
E'en when they saw Troy's sable troops impend,
And Greece tumultuous from her towers descend,
Forth from the portals rushed the intrepid pair,
Opposed their breasts, and stood themselves the war,
So two wild boars spring furious from their den,
Roused with the cries of dogs and voice of men;
On every side the crackling trees they tear,
And root the shrubs, and lay the forest bare;
They gnash their tusks, with fire their eyeballs roll,
Till some wide wound lets out their mighty soul.
Around their heads the whistling javelins sung;
With sounding strokes their brazen targets rung:
Fierce was the fight, while yet the Grecian powers
Maintained the walls, and manned the lofty towers:
To save their fleet, the last efforts they try,
And stones and darts in mingled tempests fly.
As when sharp Boreas blows abroad, and brings
The dreary winter on his frozen wings;
Beneath the low-hung clouds the sheets of snow
Descend, and whiten all the fields below:
So fast the darts on either army pour,
So down the rampires rolls the rocky shower;
Heavy, and thick, resound the battered shields,
And the deaf echo rattles round the fields.
With shame repulsed, with grief and fury driven,
The frantic Asius thus accuses heaven:
"In powers immortal who shall now believe?
Can those too flatter, and can Jove deceive?
What man can doubt but Troy's victorious power
Should humble Greece, and this her fatal hour?
But like when wasps from hollow crannies drive,
To guard the entrance of their common hive,
Darkening the rock, while, with unwearied wings,
They strike the assailants, and infix their stings;
A race determined, that to death contend:
So fierce, these Greeks their last retreat defend.
Gods! shall two warriors only guard their gates,
Repel an army, and defraud the fates?"
These empty accents mingled with the wind,
Nor moved great Jove's unalterable mind;
To godlike Hector and his matchless might
Was owed the glory of the destined fight.
Like deeds of arms through all the forts were tried,
And all the gates sustained an equal tide;
Through the long walls the stony showers were heard,
The blaze of flames, the flash of arms, appeared.
The spirit of a god my breast inspire,
To raise each act to life, and sing with fire!
While Greece unconquered kept alive the war,
Secure of death, confiding in despair,
And all her guardian gods, in deep dismay,
With unassisting arms deplored the day.
E'en yet the dauntless Lapithæ maintain
The dreadful pass, and round them heap the slain.
First Damasus, by Polypœtes' steel
Pierced through his helmet's brazen vizor, fell;
The weapon drank the mingled brains and gore;
The warrior sinks, tremendous now no more!
Next Ormenus and Pylon yield their breath:
Nor less Leonteus strews the field with death;
First through the belt Hippomachus he gored,
Then sudden waved his unresisted sword;
Antiphates, as through the ranks he broke,
The faulchion struck, and fate pursued the stroke;
Iämenus, Orestes, Menon, bled;
And round him rose a monument of dead.
Meantime, the bravest of the Trojan crew
Bold Hector and Polydamas pursue;
Fierce with impatience on the works to fall,
And wrap in rolling flames the fleet and wall.
These on the farther bank now stood and gazed,
By heaven alarmed, by prodigies amazed:
A signal omen stopped the passing host,
Their martial fury in their wonder lost,
Jove's bird on sounding pinions beat the skies;
A bleeding serpent of enormous size
His talons trussed; alive, and curling round,
He stung the bird, whose throat received the wound:
Mad with the smart, he drops the fatal prey,
In airy circle wings his painful way,
Floats on the winds, and rends the heaven with cries;
Amidst the host the fallen serpent lies:
They, pale with terror, mark its spires unrolled,
And Jove's portent with beating hearts behold.
Then first Polydamas the silence broke,
Long weighed the signal, and to Hector spoke:
"How oft, my brother, thy reproach I bear,
For words well meant, and sentiments sincere?
True to those counsels which I judge the best,
I tell the faithful dictates of my breast.
To speak his thoughts is every freeman's right,
In peace and war, in council and in fight;
And all I move, deferring to thy sway,
But tends to raise that power which I obey.
Then hear my words, nor may my words be vain;
Seek not, this day, the Grecian ships to gain,
For sure to warn us Jove his omen sent,
And thus my mind explains its clear event.
The victor eagle, whose sinister flight
Retards our host, and fills our hearts with fright,
Dismissed his conquest in the middle skies,
Allowed to seize, but not possess, the prize;
Thus, though we gird with fires the Grecian fleet,
Though these proud bulwarks tumble at our feet,
Toils unforeseen, and fiercer, are decreed;
More woes shall follow, and more heroes bleed.
So bodes my soul, and bids me thus advise;
For thus a skilful seer would read the skies."
To him then Hector with disdain returned:
Fierce as he spoke, his eyes with fury burned:
"Are these the faithful counsels of thy tongue?
Thy will is partial, not thy reason wrong:
Or if the purpose of thy heart thou vent,
Sure heaven resumes the little sense it lent.
What coward counsels would thy madness move,
Against the word, the will revealed of Jove?
The leading sign, the irrevocable nod,
And happy thunders of the favouring god,
These shall I slight? and guide my wavering mind
By wandering birds, that flit with every wind?
Ye vagrants of the sky! your wings extend,
Or where the suns arise, or where descend;
To right, to left, unheeded take your way,
While I the dictates of high heaven obey.
Without a sign, his sword the brave man draws,
And asks no omen but his country's cause.
But why shouldst thou suspect the war's success?
None fears it more, as none promotes it less:
Though all our chiefs amid yon ships expire,
Trust thy own cowardice to escape their fire.
Troy and her sons may find a general grave,
But thou canst live, for thou canst be a slave.
Yet should the fears that wary mind suggests
Spread their cold poison through our soldiers' breasts,
My javelin can revenge so base a part,
And free the soul that quivers in thy heart."
Furious he spoke, and, rushing to the wall,
Calls on his host; his host obey the call;
With ardour follow where their leader flies:
Redoubling clamours thunder in the skies.
Jove breathes a whirlwind from the hills of Ide,
And drifts of dust the clouded navy hide:
He fills the Greeks with terror and dismay,
And gives great Hector the predestined day.
Strong in themselves, but stronger in his aid,
Close to the works their rigid siege they laid;
In vain the mounds and massy beams defend,
While these they undermine, and those they rend;
Upheave the piles that prop the solid wall;
And heaps on heaps the smoky ruins fall.
Greece on her ramparts stands the fierce alarms;
The crowded bulwarks blaze with waving arms,
Shield touching shield, a long refulgent row;
Whence hissing darts, incessant, rain below.
The bold Ajaces fly from tower to tower,
And rouse, with flame divine, the Grecian power;
The generous impulse every Greek obeys;
Threats urge the fearful; and the valiant, praise.
"Fellows in arms! whose deeds are known to fame,
And you whose ardour hopes an equal name!
Since not alike endued with force or art,
Behold a day when each may act his part:
A day to fire the brave, and warm the cold,
To gain new glories, or augment the old.
Urge those who stand, and those who faint, excite,
Drown Hector's vaunts in loud exhorts of fight;
Conquest, not safety, fill the thoughts of all;
Seek not your fleet, but sally from the wall;
So Jove once more may drive their routed train,
And Troy lie trembling in her walls again."
Their ardour kindles all the Grecian powers;
And now the stones descend in heavier showers.
As when high Jove his sharp artillery forms,
And opes his cloudy magazine of storms;
In winter's bleak uncomfortable reign,
A snowy inundation hides the plain;
He stills the winds, and bids the skies to sleep;
Then pours the silent tempest, thick and deep:
And first the mountain tops are covered o'er,
Then the green fields, and then the sandy shore;
Bent with the weight the nodding woods are seen,
And one bright waste hides all the works of men:
The circling seas alone absorbing all,
Drink the dissolving fleeces as they fall.
So from each side increased the stony rain,
And the white ruin rises o'er the plain.
Thus godlike Hector and his troops contend
To force the ramparts, and the gates to rend;
Nor Troy could conquer, nor the Greeks would yield,
Till great Sarpedon towered amid the field;
For mighty Jove inspired with martial flame
His matchless son, and urged him on to fame.
In arms he shines, conspicuous from afar,
And bears aloft his ample shield in air;
Within whose orb the thick bull-hides were rolled,
Ponderous with brass, and bound with ductile gold:
And while two pointed javelins arm his hands,
Majestic moves along, and leads his Lycian bands.
So pressed with hunger, from the mountain's brow,
Descends a lion on the flocks below:
So stalks the lordly savage o'er the plain,
In sullen majesty, and stern disdain:
In vain loud mastiffs bay him from afar,
And shepherds gall him with an iron war;
Regardless, furious, he pursues his way;
He foams, he roars, he rends the panting prey.
Resolved alike, divine Sarpedon glows
With generous rage that drives him on the foes.
He views the towers, and meditates their fall;
To sure destruction dooms the aspiring wall:
Then, casting on his friend an ardent look,
Fired with the thirst of glory, thus he spoke:
"Why boast we, Glaucus, our extended reign,
Where Xanthus' streams enrich the Lycian plain,
Our numerous herds that range the fruitful field,
And hills where vines their purple harvest yield,
Our foaming bowls with purer nectar crowned,
Our feasts enhanced with music's sprightly sound?
Why on those shores are we with joy surveyed,
Admired as heroes, and as gods obeyed;
Unless great acts superior merit prove,
And vindicate the bounteous powers above?
'Tis ours, the dignity they give to grace;
The first in valour, as the first in place:
That when, with wondering eyes, our martial bands
Behold our deeds transcending our commands,
Such, they may cry, deserve the sovereign state,
Whom those that envy dare not imitate!
Could all our care elude the gloomy grave,
Which claims no less the fearful than the brave,
For lust of fame I should not vainly dare
In fighting fields, nor urge thy soul to war;
But since, alas! ignoble age must come,
Disease, and death's inexorable doom;
The life which others pay, let us bestow,
And give to fame what we to nature owe;
Brave though we fall, and honoured if we live,
Or let us glory gain, or glory give!"
He said: his words the listening chief inspire
With equal warmth, and rouse the warrior's fire;
The troops pursue their leaders with delight,
Rush to the foe, and claim the promised fight.
Menestheus from on high the storm beheld,
Threatening the fort, and blackening in the field;
Around the walls he gazed, to view from far
What aid appeared to avert the approaching war,
And saw where Teucer with the Ajaces stood,
Of fight insatiate, prodigal of blood.
In vain he calls; the din of helms and shields
Rings to the skies, and echoes through the fields;
The brazen hinges fly, the walls resound,
Heaven trembles, roar the mountains, thunders all the ground.
Then thus to Thoös:— "Hence with speed," he said,
"And urge the bold Ajaces to our aid;
Their strength united best may help to bear
The bloody labours of the doubtful war:
Hither the Lycian princes bend their course,
The best and bravest of the hostile force.
But if too fiercely there the foes contend,
Let Telamon, at least, our towers defend,
And Teucer haste, with his unerring bow,
To share the danger, and repel the foe."
Swift as the word, the herald speeds along
The lofty ramparts, through the martial throng;
And finds the heroes, bathed in sweat and gore,
Opposed in combat on the dusty shore.
"Ye valiant leaders of our warlike bands!
Your aid," said Thoös, "Peteus' son demands.
Your strength, united, best may help to bear
The bloody labours of the doubtful war:
Thither the Lycian princes bend their course,
The best and bravest of the hostile force.
But if too fiercely here the foes contend,
At least let Telamon those towers defend,
And Teucer haste, with his unerring bow,
To share the danger, and repel the foe."
Straight to the fort great Ajax turned his care,
And thus bespoke his brothers of the war:
"Now, valiant Lycomede! exert your might,
And, brave Oïleus, prove your force in fight:
To you I trust the fortune of the field,
Till by this arm the foe shall be repelled:
That done, expect me to complete the day——"
Then, with his seven-fold shield, he strode away.
With equal steps bold Teucer pressed the shore,
Whose fatal bow the strong Pandion bore.
High on the walls appeared the Lycian powers,
Like some black tempest gathering round the towers;
The Greeks, oppressed, their utmost force unite,
Prepared to labour in the unequal fight;
The war renews, mixed shouts and groans arise;
Tumultuous clamour mounts, and thickens in the skies.
Fierce Ajax first the advancing host invades,
And sends the brave Epicles to the shades,
Sarpedon's friend; across the warrior's way,
Rent from the walls a rocky fragment lay;
In modern ages not the strongest swain
Could heave the unwieldy burthen from the plain.
He poised, and swung it round; then tossed on high;
It flew with force, and laboured up the sky:
Full on the Lycian's helmet thundering down,
The ponderous ruin crushed his battered crown.
As skilful divers from some airy steep
Headlong descend, and shoot into the deep,
So falls Epicles; then in groans expires,
And murmuring to the shades the soul retires.
While to the ramparts daring Glaucus drew,
From Teucer's hand a winged arrow flew;
The bearded shaft the destined passage found;
And on his naked arm inflicts a wound.
The chief, who feared some foe's insulting boast
Might stop the progress of his warlike host,
Concealed the wound, and, leaping from his height,
Retired reluctant from the unfinished fight.
Divine Sarpedon with regret beheld
Disabled Glaucus slowly quit the field:
His beating breast with generous ardour glows,
He springs to fight, and flies upon the foes.
Alcmaön first was doomed his force to feel:
Deep in his breast he plunged the pointed steel;
Then, from the yawning wound with fury tore
The spear, pursued by gushing streams of gore:
Down sinks the warrior with a thundering sound,
His brazen armour rings against the ground.
Swift to the battlement the victor flies,
Tugs with full force, and every nerve applies;
It shakes; the ponderous stones disjointed yield:
The rolling ruins smoke along the field;
A mighty breach appears: the walls lie bare,
And, like a deluge, rushes in the war.
At once bold Teucer draws the twanging bow,
And Ajax sends his javelin at the foe:
Fixed in his belt the feathered weapon stood,
And through his buckler drove the trembling wood;
But Jove was present in the dire debate,
To shield his offspring, and avert his fate.
The prince gave back, not meditating flight,
But urging vengeance and severer fight;
Then, raised with hope, and fired with glory's charms,
His fainting squadrons to new fury warms:
"O where, ye Lycians! is the strength you boast?
Your former fame, and ancient virtue lost!
The breach lies open, but your chief in vain
Attempts alone the guarded pass to gain:
Unite, and soon that hostile fleet shall fall;
The force of powerful union conquers all."
This just rebuke inflamed the Lycian crew;
They join, they thicken, and the assault renew:
Unmoved the embodied Greeks their fury dare,
And fixed support the weight of all the war:
Nor could the Greeks repel the Lycian powers,
Nor the bold Lycians force the Grecian towers,
As on the confines of adjoining grounds,
Two stubborn swains with blows dispute their bounds;
They tug, they sweat: but neither gain, nor yield,
One foot, one inch, of the contended field:
Thus obstinate to death, they fight, they fall:
Nor these can keep, nor those can win, the wall.
Their manly breasts are pierced with many a wound,
Loud strokes are heard, and rattling arms resound;
The copious slaughter covers all the shore,
And the high ramparts drop with human gore.
As when two scales are charged with doubtful loads,
From side to side the trembling balance nods,
While some laborious matron, just and poor,
With nice exactness weighs her woolly store,
Till, poised aloft, the resting beam suspends
Each equal weight; nor this nor that descends:
So stood the war, till Hector's matchless might,
With fates prevailing, turned the scale of fight;
Fierce as a whirlwind up the walls he flies,
And fires his host with loud repeated cries:
"Advance, ye Trojans! lend your valiant hands,
Haste to the fleet, and toss the blazing brands!"
They hear, they run, and, gathering at his call,
Raise scaling engines, and ascend the wall:
Around the works a wood of glittering spears
Shoots up, and all the rising host appears.
A ponderous stone bold Hector heaved; to throw,
Pointed above, and rough and gross below:
Not two strong men the enormous weight could raise,
Such men as live in these degenerate days.
Yet this, as easy as a swain could bear
The snowy fleece, he tossed and shook in air:
For Jove upheld, and lightened of its load
The unwieldy rock, the labour of a god.
Thus armed, before the folded gates he came,
Of massy substance and stupendous frame;
With iron bars and brazen hinges strong,
On lofty beams of solid timber hung:
Then thundering through the planks, with forceful sway,
Drives the sharp rock: the solid beams give way;
The folds are shattered; from the crackling door
Leap the resounding bars, the flying hinges roar.
Now, rushing in, the furious chief appears,
Gloomy as night, and shakes two shining spears:
A dreadful gleam from his bright armour came,
And from his eyeballs flashed the living flame;
He moves a god, resistless in his course,
And seems a match for more than mortal force.
Then, pouring after, through the gaping space,
A tide of Trojans flows, and fills the place;
The Greeks behold, they tremble, and they fly:
The shore is heaped with death, and tumult rends the sky.
- ↑ Sarpedon.