The Iliad of Homer (Pope)/Book 19

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The Iliad of Homer by Homer, translated by Alexander Pope
Book 19 : The Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon




Thetis brings to her son the armour made by Vulcan. She preserves the body of his friend from corruption, and commands him to assemble the army, to declare his resentment at an end. Agamemnon and Achilles are solemnly reconciled: the speeches, presents, and cere monies on that occasion. Achilles is with great difficulty persuaded to refrain from the battle till the troops have refreshed themselves, by the advice of Ulysses. The presents are conveyed to the tent of Achilles: where Beriseïs laments over the body of Patroclus. The hero obstinately refuses all repast, and gives himself up to lamentations for his friend. Minerva descends to strengthen him, by the order of Jupiter. He arms for the fight; his appearance described. He addresses himself to his horses, and reproaches them with the death of Patroclus. One of them is miraculously endued with voice, and inspired to prophesy his fate; but the hero, not astonished by that prodigy, rushes with fury to the combat.
The thirtieth day. The scene is on the sea-shore.

Soon as Aurora heaved her orient head
Above the waves that blushed with early red,
With new-born day to gladden mortal sight,
And gild the courts of heaven with sacred light,
The immortal arms the goddess-mother bears
Swift to her son: her son she finds in tears,
Stretched o'er Patroclus' corse, while all the rest
Their sovereign's sorrows in their own expressed.
A ray divine her heavenly presence shed,
And thus, his hand soft touching, Thetis said:
"Suppress, my son, this rage of grief, and know
It was not man, but heaven, that gave the blow:
Behold what arms by Vulcan are bestowed,
Arms worthy thee, or fit to grace a god."
Then drops the radiant burden on the ground;
Clang the strong arms, and ring the shores around;
Back shrink the Myrmidons with dread surprise,
And from the broad effulgence turn their eyes.
Unmoved, the hero kindles at the show,
And feels with rage divine his bosom glow;
From his fierce eyeballs living flames expire,
And flash incessant like a stream of fire:
He turns the radiant gift, and feeds his mind
On all the immortal artist had designed.
"Goddess," he cried, "these glorious arms, that shine
With matchless art, confess the hand divine.
Now to the bloody battle let me bend:
But ah I the relics of my slaughtered friend!
In those wide wounds through which his spirit fled,
Shall flies and worms obscene pollute the dead?"
"That unavailing care be laid aside"
The azure goddess to her son replied;
"Whole years untouched, uninjured shall remain,
Fresh as in life, the carcass of the slain.
But go, Achilles, as affairs require,
Before the Grecian peers renounce thine ire;
Then uncontrolled in boundless war engage,
And heaven with strength supply the mighty rage!"
Then in the nostrils of the slain she poured
Nectareous drops, and rich ambrosia showered
O'er all the corse : the flies forbid their prey,
Untouched it rests, and sacred from decay.
Achilles to the strand obedient went;
The shores resounded with the voice he sent.
The heroes heard, and all the naval train
That tend the ships, or guide them o'er the main,
Alarmed, transported, at the well-known sound,
Frequent and full, the great assembly crowned;
Studious to see that terror of the plain,
Long lost to battle, shine in arms again.
Tydides and Ulysses first appear,
Lame with their wounds, and leaning on the spear:
These on the sacred seats of council placed,
The king of men, Atrides, came the last,
He too sore wounded by Agenor's son.
Achilles, rising in the midst, begun:
"Oh monarch! better far had been the fate
Of thee, of me, of all the Grecian state,
If, ere the day when, by mad passion swayed,
Rash we contended for the black-eyed maid,
Preventing Dian had despatched her dart,
And shot the shining mischief to the heart
Then many a hero had not pressed the shore,
Nor Troy's glad fields been fattened with our gore:
Long, long shall Greece the woes we caused bewail,
And sad posterity repeat the tale.
But this, no more the subject of debate,
Is past, forgotten, and resigned to fate:
Why should, alas I a mortal man, as I,
Burn with a fury that can never die?
Here, then, my anger ends: let war succeed,
And e'en as Greece hath bled, let Dion bleed.
Now call the hosts, and try, if in our sight,
Troy yet shall dare to camp a second night?
I deem their mightiest, when this arm he knows,
Shall 'scape with transport, and with joy repose."
He said; his finished wrath with loud acclaim
The Greeks accept, and shout Pelides' name.
When thus, not rising from his lofty throne,
In state unmoved, the king of men begun:
"Hear me, ye sons of Greece I with silence hear,
And grant your monarch an impartial ear:
Awhile your loud untimely joy suspend,
And let your rash injurious clamours end:
Unruly murmurs, or ill-timed applause,
Wrong the best speaker, and the justest cause.
Nor charge on me, ye Greeks, the dire debate;
Know, angry Jove, and all-compelling Fate,
With fell Erinnys, urged my wrath that day,
When from Achilles' arms I forced the prey.
What then could I, against the will of heaven,
Not by myself, but vengeful At6 driven?
She, Jove's dread daughter, fated to infest
The race of mortals, entered in my breast;
Not on the ground that haughty Fury treads,
But prints her lofty footsteps on the heads
Of mighty men; inflicting as she goes
Long-festering wounds, inextricable woes.
Of old, she stalked amidst the bright abodes:
And Jove himself, the sire of men and gods,
The world's great ruler, felt her venomed dart;
Deceived by Juno's wiles and female art.
For when Alcmena's nine long months were run,
And Jove expected his immortal son,
To gods and goddesses the unruly joy
He showed, and vaunted of his matchless boy:
'From us,' he said, 'this day an infant springs,
Fated to rule, and born a king of kings.'
Saturnia asked an oath, to vouch the truth,
And fix dominion on the favoured youth.
The Thunderer, unsuspicious of the fraud,
Pronounced those solemn words that bind a god.
The peaceful goddess, from Olympus' height,
Swift to Achaian Argos bent her night;
Scarce seven moons gone, lay Sthenelus's wife;
She pushed her lingering infant into life:
Her charms Alcmena's coming labours stay,
And stop the babe just issuing to the day.
Then bids Saturnius bear his oath in mind;
'A youth,' said she, 'of Jove's immortal kind
Is this day born: from Sthenelus he springs,
And claims thy promise to be king of kings.'
Grief seized the Thunderer, by his oath engaged;
Stung to the soul, he sorrowed and he raged.
From his ambrosial head, where perched she sat,
He snatched the fury-goddess of debate,
The dread, the irrevocable oath he swore,
The immortal seats should ne'er behold her more;
And whirled her headlong down, for ever driven
From bright Olympus and the starry heaven;
Thence on the nether world the Fury fell;
Ordained with man's contentious race to dwell.
Full oft the god his son's hard toils bemoaned,
Cursed the dire Fury, and in secret groaned.
E'en thus, like Jove himself, was I misled,
While raging Hector heaped our camps with dead.
"What can the errors of my rage atone?
My martial troops, my treasures, are thy own:
This instant from the navy shall be sent
Whatever Ulysses promised at thy tent;
But thou, appeased, propitious to our prayer,
Resume thy arms, and shine again in war."
"O king of nations! whose superior sway,"
Returns Achilles, "all our hosts obey!
To keep or send the presents be thy care;
To us, 'tis equal: all we ask is war.
While yet we talk, or but an instant shun
The fight, our glorious work remains undone.
Let every Greek who sees my spear confound
The Trojan ranks, and deal destruction round,
With emulation, what I act, survey,
And learn from thence the business of the day."
The son of Peleus thus: and thus replies
The great in councils, Ithacus the wise:
"Though, godlike, thou art by no toils oppressed,
At least our armies claim repast and rest:
Long and laborious must the combat be,
When by the gods inspired, and led by thee.
Strength is derived from spirits and from blood,
And those augment by generous wine and food;
What boastful son of war, without that stay,
Can last a hero through a single day?
Courage may prompt; but, ebbing out his strength,
Mere unsupported man must yield at length;
Shrunk with dry famine, and with toils declined,
The drooping body will desert the mind:
But built anew, with strength-conferring fare,
With limbs and soul untamed, he tires a war.
Dismiss the people then, and give command,
With strong repast to hearten every band;
But let the presents to Achilles made,
In full assembly of all Greece be laid.
The king of men shall rise in public sight,
And solemn swear, observant of the rite,
That, spotless as she came, the maid removes,
Pure irom his arms, and guiltless of his loves.
That done, a sumptuous banquet shall be made,
And the full price of injured honour paid.
Stretch not henceforth, O prince! thy sovereign might,
Beyond the bounds of reason and of right;
'Tis the chief praise that e'er to kings belonged,
To right with justice whom with power they wronged."
To him the monarch: "Just is thy decree,
Thy words give joy, and wisdom breathes in thee.
Each due atonement gladly I prepare;
And, heaven regard me, as I justly swear!
Here then awhile let Greece assembled stay,
Nor great Achilles grudge this short delay;
Till from the fleet our presents be conveyed,
And, Jove 'attesting, the firm compact made.
A train of noble youth the charge shall bear;
These to select, Ulysses, be thy care;
In order ranked let all our gifts appear,
And the fair train of captives close the rear:
Talthybius shall the victim boar convey,
Sacred to Jove, and yon bright orb of day."
"For this," the stern ^acides replies,
"Some less important season may suffice,
When the stern fury of the war is o'er,
And wrath extinguished burns my breast no more.
By Hector slain, their faces to the sky,
All grim with gaping wounds our heroes lie:
Those call to war I and, might my voice incite,
Now, now this instant, should commence the fight.
Then, when the day's complete, let generous bowls,
And copious banquets, glad your weary souls.
Let not my palate know the taste of food,
Till my insatiate rage be cloyed with blood:
Pale lies my friend, with wounds disfigured o'er,
And his cold feet are pointed to the door.
Revenge is all my soul I no meaner care,
Interest, or thought, has room to harbour there;
Destruction be my feast, and mortal wounds,
And scenes of blood, and agonizing sounds."
"O first of Greeks!" Ulysses thus rejoined,
"The best and bravest of the warrior-kind!
Thy praise it is in dreadful camps to shine,
But old experience and calm wisdom, mine.
Then hear my counsel, and to reason yield;
The bravest soon are satiate of the field;
Though vast the heaps that strew the crimson plain,
The bloody harvest brings but little gain:
The scale of conquest ever wavering lies,
Great Jove but turns it, and the victor dies!
The great, the bold, by thousands daily fall,
And endless were the grief to weep for all.
Eternal sorrows what avails to shed?
Greece honours not with solemn fasts the dead:
Enough, when death demands the brave, to pay
The tribute of a melancholy day;
One chief with patience to the grave resigned,
Our care devolves on others left behind.
Let generous food supplies of strength produce,
Let rising spirit flow from sprightly juice,
Let their warm heads with scenes of battle glow,
And pour new furies on the feebler foe.
Yet a short interval, and none shall dare
Expect a second summons to the war;
Who waits for that, the dire effect shall find,
If trembling hi the ship he lags behind.
Embodied, to the battle let us bend,
And all at once on haughty Troy descend."
And now the delegates Ulysses sent,
To bear the presents from the royal tent.
The sons of Nestor, Phyleus' valiant heir,
Thoas and Merion, thunderbolts of war,
With Lycomedes of Creontian strain,
And Melanippus, formed the chosen train.
Swift as the word was given, the youths obeyed;
Twice ten bright vases in the midst they laid;
A row of six fair tripods then succeeds;
And twice the number of high-bounding steeds;
Seven captives next a lovely line compose;
The eighth Briseis, like the blooming rose,
Closed the bright band: great Ithacus before,
First of the train, the golden talents bore:
The rest in public view the chiefs dispose,
A splendid scene! Then Agamemnon rose:
The boar Talthybius held: the Grecian lord
Drew the broad cutlass sheathed beside his sword;
The stubborn bristles from the victim's brow
He crops, and, offering, meditates his vow.
His hands uplifted to the attesting skies,
On heaven's broad marble roof were fixed his eyes;
The solemn words a deep attention draw,
And Greece around sat thrilled with sacred awe:
"Witness, thou first! thou greatest power above;
All-good, all-wise, and all-surveying Jove!
And mother earth, and heaven's revolving light,
And ye, fell furies of the realms of night,
Who rule the dead, and horrid woes prepare
For perjured kings, and all who falsely swear!
The black-eyed maid inviolate removes,
Pure and unconscious of my manly loves.
If this be false, heaven all its vengeance shed,
And levelled thunder strike my guilty head!"
With that, his weapon deep inflicts the wound:
The bleeding savage tumbles to the ground:
The sacred herald rolls the victim slain,
A feast for fish, into the foaming main.
Then thus Achilles: "Hear, ye Greeks I and know,
Whatever we feel, 'tis Jove inflicts the woe:
Not else Atrides could our rage inflame,
Nor from my arms, unwilling, force the dame.
'Twas Jove's high will alone, o'er-ruling all,
That doomed our strife, and doomed the Greeks to fall.
Go then, ye chiefs, indulge the genial rite;
Achilles waits you, and expects the fight."
The speedy council at his word adjourned;
To their black vessels all the Greeks returned:
Achilles sought his tent. His train before
Marched onward, bending with the gifts they bore.
Those in the tents the squires industrious spread;
The foaming coursers to the stalls they led.
To their new seats the female captives move:
Brisei's, radiant as the queen of love,
Slow as she passed, beheld with sad survey
Where, gashed with cruel wounds, Patroclus lay.
Prone on the body fell the heavenly fair,
Beat her sad breast, and tore her golden hair;
All-beautiful in grief, her humid eyes,
Shining with tears, she lifts, and thus she cries:
"Ah youth! for ever dear, for ever kind,
Once tender friend of my distracted mind I
I left thee fresh in life, in beauty gay;
Now find thee cold, inanimated clay!
What woes my wretched race of life attend!
Sorrows on sorrows, never doomed to end!
The first loved consort of my virgin bed
Before these eyes in fatal battle bled;
My three brave brothers in one mournful day
All trod the dark irremeable way:
Thy friendly arm upreared me from the plain,
And dried my sorrows for a husband slain;
Achilles' care you promised I should prove,
The first, the dearest partner of his love;
That rites divine should ratify the band,
And make me empress in his native land.
Accept these grateful tears! for thee they flow,
For thee, that ever felt another's woe!"
Her sister captives echoed groan for groan,
Nor mourned Patroclus' fortunes, but their own.
The leaders pressed[1] the chief on every side;
Unmoved he heard them, and with sighs denied:
"If yet Achilles have a friend, whose care
Is bent to please him, this request forbear:
Till yonder sun descend, ah, let me pay
To grief and anguish one abstemious day."
He spoke, and from the warriors turned his face:
Yet still the brother-kings of Atreus' race,
Nestor, Idomeneus, Ulysses sage,
And Phoenix, strive to calm his grief and rage:
His rage they calm not, nor his grief control:
He groans, he raves, he sorrows from his soul.
"Thou too, Patroclus!" thus his heart he vents,
"Hast spread the inviting banquet in our tents;
Thy sweet society, thy winning care,
Oft stayed Achilles, rushing to the war.
But now, alas 1 to death's cold arms resigned,
What banquet but revenge can glad my mind?
What greater sorrow could afflict my breast,
What more, if hoary Peleus were deceased?
Who now, perhaps, in Phthia dreads to hear
His son's sad fate, and drops a tender tear.
What more, should Neoptolemus the brave,
My only offspring, sink into the grave?
If yet that offspring lives: I distant far,
Of all neglectful, wage a hateful war.
I could not this, this cruel stroke attend;
Fate claimed Achilles, but might spare his friend.
I hoped Patroclus might survive to rear
My tender orphan with a parent's care,
From Scyros' isle conduct him o'er the main,
And glad his eyes with his paternal reign,
The lofty palace and the large domain.
For Peleus breathes no more the vital air;
Or drags a wretched life of age and care,
But till the news of my sad fate invades
His hastening soul, and sinks him to the shades."
Sighing he said: his grief the heroes joined,
Each stole a tear, for what he left behind.
Their mingled grief the sire of heaven surveyed,
And thus, with pity, to his blue-eyed Maid:
"Is then Achilles now no more thy care,
And dost thou thus desert the great in war?
Lo, where yon sails their canvas wings extend,
All comfortless he sits, and wails his friend;
Ere thirst and want his forces have oppressed,
Haste and infuse ambrosia in his breast."
He spoke, and sudden at the word of Jove
Shot the descending goddess from above.
So swift through ether the shrill Harpy springs,
The wide air floating to her ample wings.
To great Achilles she her flight addressed,
And poured divine ambrosia in his breast,
With nectar sweet, refection of the gods;
Then, swift ascending, sought the bright abodes.
Now issued from the ships the warrior train,
And like a deluge poured upon the plain.
As when the piercing blasts of Boreas blow,
And scatter o'er the fields the driving snow;
From dusky clouds the fleecy winter flies,
Whose dazzling lustre whitens all the skies:
So helms succeeding helms, so shields from shields
Catch the quick beams, and brighten all the fields;
Broad glittering breast-plates, spears with pointed rays,
Mix in one stream, reflecting blaze on blaze:
Thick beats the centre as the coursers bound,
With splendour flame the skies, and laugh the fields around.
Full in the midst, high towering o'er the rest,
His limbs in arms divine Achilles dressed;
Arms which the father of the fire bestowed,
Forged on the eternal anvils of the god.
Grief and revenge his furious heart inspire,
His glowing eyeballs roll with living fire;
He grinds his teeth, and furious with delay
Overlooks the embattled host, and hopes the bloody day.
The silver cuishes first his thighs infold;
Then o'er his breast was braced the hollow gold:
The brazen sword a various baldric tied,
That, starred with gems, hung glittering at his side;
And, like the moon, the broad refulgent shield
Blazed with long rays, and gleamed athwart the field.
So to night-wandering sailors, pale with fears,
Wide o'er the watery waste a light appears,
Which on the far-seen mountain blazing high,
Streams from some lonely watch-tower to the sky:
With mournful eyes they gaze and gaze again;
Loud howls the storm, and drives them o'er the main.
Next, his high head the helmet graced; behind
The sweepy crest hung floating in the wind:
Like the red star, that from his flaming hair
Shakes down diseases, pestilence, and war;
So streamed the golden honours from his head,
Trembled the sparkling plumes, and the loose glories shed.
The chief beholds himself with wondering eyes;
His arms he poises, and his motions tries;
Buoyed by some inward force, he seems to swim,
And feels a pinion lifting every limb.
And now he shakes his great paternal spear,
Ponderous and huge, which not a Greek could rear:
From Pelion's cloudy top an ash entire
Old Chiron felled, and shaped it for his sire;
A spear which stern Achilles only wields,
The death of heroes, and the dread of fields.
Automedon and Alcimus prepare
The immortal coursers and the radiant car,
The silver traces sweeping at their side;
Their fiery mouths resplendent bridles tied;
The ivory-studded reins, returned behind,
Waved o'er their backs, and to the chariot joined.
The charioteer then whirled the lash around,
And swift ascended at one active bound.
All bright in heavenly arms, above his squire
Achilles mounts, and sets the field on fire;
Not brighter Phœbus in the ethereal way
Flames from his chariot, and restores the day.
High o'er the host, all terrible he stands,
And thunders to his steeds these dread commands:
"Xanthus and Balius! of Podarges' strain,
Unless ye boast that heavenly race in vain,
Be swift, be mindful of the load ye bear,
And learn to make your master more your care:
Through faltering squadrons bear my slaughtering sword,
Nor, as ye left Patroclus, leave your lord"
The generous Xanthus, as the words he said,
Seemed sensible of woe, and drooped his head:
Trembling he stood before the golden wain,
And bowed to dust the honours of his mane;
When, strange to tell! so Juno willed, he broke
Eternal silence, and portentous spoke:
"Achilles! yes! this day at least we bear
Thy rage in safety through the files of war:
But come it will, the fatal time must come,
Not ours the fault, but God decrees thy doom;
Not through our crime, or slowness in the course,
Fell thy Patroclus, but by heavenly force:
The bright far-shooting god who gilds the day—
Confessed we saw him—tore his arms away.
No: could our swiftness o'er the winds prevail,
Or beat the pinions of the western gale,
All were in vain: the fates thy death demand,
Due to a mortal and immortal hand."
Then ceased for ever, by the Furies tied,
His fateful voice. The intrepid chief replied
With unabated rage: "So let it be!
Portents and prodigies are lost on me:
I know my fates: to die, to see no more
My much-loved parents, and my native shore
Enough: when heaven ordains, I sink in night;
Now perish Troy! "He said, and rushed to fight.

  1. Pressed him to eat and drink.