The Iliad of Homer (Pope)/Book 23

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BOOK XXIII

THE ARGUMENT

FUNERAL GAMES IN HONOUR OF PATROCLUS

Achilles and the Myrmidons do honours to the body of Patroclus. After the funeral feast he retires to the sea shore, where, falling asleep, the ghost of his friend appears to him, and demands the rites of burial: the next morning the soldiers are sent with mules and waggons to fetch wood for the pyre. The funeral procession, and the offering their hair to the dead. Achilles sacrifices several animals, and lastly, twelve Trojan captives, at the pile; then sets fire to it. He pays libations to the winds, which, at the instance of Iris, rise, and raise the flame. When the pile has burned all night, they gather the bones, place them in an urn of gold, and raise the tomb. Achilles institutes the funeral games: the chariot race, the fight of the cæstus, the wrestling, the foot-race, the single combat, the discus, the shooting with arrows, the darting the javelin: the various descriptions of which, and the various success of the several antagonists, make the greatest part of the book.".
In this book ends the thirtieth day: the night following, the ghost of Patroclus appears to Achilles: the one-and-thirtieth day is employed in felling the timber for the pile; the two-and -thirtieth in burning it; and the three-and-thirtieth in the games. The scene is generally on the sea-shore.

Thus humbled In the dust, the pensive train
Through the sad city mourned her hero slain.
The body soiled with dust, and black with gore,
Lies on broad Hellespont's resounding shore:
The Grecians seek their ships, and clear the strand,
All, but the martial Myrmidonian band:
These yet assembled great Achilles holds,
And the stern purpose of his mind unfolds:
"Not yet, my brave companions of the war,
Release your smoking coursers from the car;
But with his chariot each in order led,
Perform due honours to Patroclus dead;
Ere yet from rest or food we seek relief,
Some rites remain, to glut our rage of grief."
The troops obeyed; and thrice in order led,
Achilles first, their coursers round the dead,
And thrice their sorrows and laments renew;
Tears bathe their arms, and tears the sands bedew.
For such a warrior Thetis aids their woe,
Melts their strong hearts, and bids their eyes to flow;
But chief, Pelides; thick-succeeding sighs
Burst from his heart, and torrents from his eyes:
His slaughtering hands, yet red with blood, he laid
On his dead friend's cold breast, and thus he said:
"All hail, Patroclus! let thy honoured ghost,
Hear and rejoice on Pluto's dreary coast;
Behold! Achilles' promise is complete;
The bloody Hector stretched before thy feet.
Lo! to the dogs his carcass I resign;.
And twelve sad victims of the Trojan line,
Sacred to vengeance, instant shall expire,
Their lives effused around thy funeral pyre."
Gloomy he said, and, horrible to view,
Before the bier the bleeding Hector threw,
Prone on the dust. The Myrmidons around
Unbraced their armour, and the steeds unbound.
All to Achilles' sable ship repair,
Frequent and full, the genial feast to share.
Now from the well-fed swine black smokes aspire,
The bristly victims hissing o'er the fire;
The huge ox bellowing falls; with feebler cries
Expires the goat; the sheep In silence dies.
Around the hero's prostrate body flowed,
In one promiscuous stream, the reeking blood.
And now a band of Argive monarchs brings
The glorious victor to the king of kings.
From his dead friend the pensive warrior went,
With steps unwilling, to the regal tent.
The attending heralds, as by office bound,
With kindled flames the tripod-vase surround;
To cleanse his conquering hands from hostile gore,
They urged in vain; the chief refused, and swore:
"No drop shall touch me, by almighty Jove!
The first and greatest of the gods above!
Till on the pyre I place thee; till I rear
The grassy mound, and clip thy sacred hair.
Some ease at least those pious rites may give,
And soothe my sorrows, while I bear to live.
Howe'er, reluctant as I am, I stay,
And share your feast; but, with the dawn of day,
O king of men! it claims thy royal care,
That Greece the warrior's funeral pile prepare,
And bid the forests fall; such rites are paid
To heroes slumbering in eternal shade.
Then, when his earthly part shall mount in fire,
Let the leagued squadrons to their posts retire."
He spoke: they hear him, and the word obey;
The rage of hunger and of thirst allay,
Then ease in sleep the labours of the day.
But great Pelides, stretched along the shore,
Where dashed on rocks the broken billows roar,
Lies inly groaning ; while on either hand
The martial Myrmidons confusedly stand:
Along the grass his languid members fall,
Tired with his chase around the Trojan wall;
Hushed by the murmurs of the rolling deep,
At length he sinks in the soft arms of sleep.
When lo I the shade before his closing eyes
Of sad Patroclus rose, or seemed to rise:
In the same robe he living wore, he came,
In stature, voice, and pleasing look, the same.
The form familiar hovered o'er his head,
And, "Sleeps Achilles," thus the phantom said,
"Sleeps my Achilles, his Patroclus dead?
Living, I seemed his dearest, tenderest care,
But now forgot, I wander in the air:
Let my pale corse the rites of burial know,
And give me entrance in the realms below;
Till then, the spirit finds no resting-place,
But here and there the unbodied spectres chase
The vagrant dead around the dark abode,
Forbid to cross the irremeable flood.
Now give thy hand; for to the farther shore
When once we pass, the soul returns no more.
When once the last funereal flames ascend,
No more shall meet Achilles and his friend;
No more our thoughts to those we love make known,
Or quit the dearest to converse alone.
Me fate has severed from the sons of earth,
The fate foredoomed that waited from my birth:
Thee too it waits; before the Trojan wall
E'en great and godlike thou art doomed to fall.
Hear, then; and as in fate and love we join,
Ah, suffer that my bones may rest with thine!
Together have we lived, together bred,
One house received us, and one table fed:
That golden urn thy goddess-mother gave,
May mix our ashes in one common grave."
"And is it thou?" he answers, "to my sight
Once more return'st thou from the realms of night?
Oh more than brother! think each office paid,
Whate'er can rest a discontented shade;
But grant one last embrace, unhappy boy!
Afford at least that melancholy joy."
He said, and with his longing arms essayed
In vain to grasp the visionary shade;
Like a thin smoke he sees the spirit fly,
And hears a feeble, lamentable cry.
Confused he wakes; amazement breaks the bands
Of golden sleep, and, starting from the sands,
Pensive he muses with uplifted hands:
"'Tis true, 'tis certain; man, though dead, retains
Part of himself; the immortal mind remains:
The form subsists, without the body's aid,
Aërial semblance, and an empty shade!
This night, my friend, so late in battle lost,
Stood at my side a pensive, plaintive ghost;
E'en now familiar, as in life, he came,
Alas, how different! yet how like the same!"
Thus while he spoke, each eye grew big with tears;
And now the rosy-fingered morn appears,
Shews every mournful face with tears o'erspread,
And glares on the pale visage of the dead.
But Agamemnon, as the rites demand,
With mules and waggons sends a chosen band
To load the timber, and the pile to rear;
A charge consigned to Merion's faithful care.
With proper instruments they take the road,
Axes to cut, and ropes to sling the load.
First march the heavy mules, securely slow,
O'er hills, o'er dales, o'er crags, o'er rocks they go:
Jumping, high o'er the shrubs of the rough ground,
Rattle the clattering cars, and the shocked axles bound.
But when arrived at Ida's spreading woods,
Fair Ida, watered with descending floods,
Loud sounds the axe, redoubling strokes on strokes;
On all sides round the forest hurls her oaks
Headlong. Deep-echoing groan the thickets brown;
Then rustling, crackling, crashing, thunder down:
The wood the Grecians cleave, prepared to burn;
And the slow mules the same rough road return.
The sturdy woodmen equal burthens bore,
Such charge was given them, to the sandy shore;
There on the spot which great Achilles shewed,
They eased their shoulders and disposed the load;
Circling around the place, where times to come
Shall view Patroclus' and Achilles' tomb.
The hero bids his martial troops appear,
High on their cars, in all the pomp of war:
Each in refulgent arms his limbs attires,
All mount their chariots, combatants and squires.
The chariots first proceed, a shining train;
Then clouds of foot that smoke along the plain;
Next these a melancholy band appear,
Amidst, lay dead Patroclus on the bier:
O'er all the corse their scattered locks they throw:
Achilles next, oppressed with mighty woe,
Supporting with his hands the hero's head,
Bends o'er the extended body of the dead.
Patroclus decent on the appointed ground
They place, and heap the sylvan pile around.
But great Achilles stands apart in prayer,
And from his head divides the yellow hair;
Those curling locks which from his youth he vowed,
And sacred grew to Sperchius' honoured flood:
Then, sighing, to the deep his looks he cast,
And rolled his eyes around the watery waste:
"Sperchius! whose waves, in mazy errors lost,
Delightful roll along my native coast!
To whom we vainly vowed, at our return,
These locks to fall, and hecatombs to burn;
Full fifty rams to bleed in sacrifice,
Where to the day thy silver fountains rise,
And where in shade of consecrated bowers
Thy altars stand, perfumed with native flowers!
So vowed my father, but he vowed in vain;
No more Achilles sees his native plain;
In that vain hope these hairs no longer grow,
Patroclus bears them to the shades below."
Thus o'er Patroclus while the hero prayed,
On his cold hand the sacred lock he laid.
Once more afresh the Grecian sorrows flow:
And now the sun had set upon their woe;
But to the king of men thus spoke the chief:
"Enough, Atrides! give the troops relief:
Permit the mourning legions to retire,
And let the chiefs alone attend the pyre;
The pious care be ours, the dead to burn."
He said: the people to their ships return:
While those deputed to inter the slain,
Heap with a rising pyramid the plain,
A hundred foot in length, a hundred wide,
The growing structure spreads on every side;
High on the top the manly corse they lay,
And well-fed sheep and sable oxen slay:
Achilles covered with their fat the dead,
And the piled victims round the body spread;
Then jars of honey and of fragrant oil
Suspends around, low-bending o'er the pile.
Four sprightly coursers, with a deadly groan,
Pour forth their lives, and on the pyre are thrown.
Of nine large dogs, domestic at his board,
Fall two, selected to attend their lord.
Then last of all, and horrible to tell,
Sad sacrifice! twelve Trojan captives fell:
On these the rage of fire victorious preys,
Involves, and joins them in one common blaze.
Smeared with the bloody rites he stands on high,
And calls the spirit with a dreadful cry:
"All hail, Patroclus! let thy vengeful ghost
Hear and exult on Pluto's dreary coast.
Behold Achilles' promise fully paid,
Twelve Trojan heroes offered to thy shade;
But heavier fates on Hector's corse attend,
Saved from the flames, for hungry dogs to rend."
So spake he, threatening: but the gods made vain
His threat, and guard inviolate the slain:
Celestial Venus hovered o'er his head,
And roseate unguents, heavenly fragrance I shed:
She watched him all the night, and all the day,
And drove the bloodhounds from their destined prey.
Nor sacred Phoebus less employed his care:
He poured around a veil of gathered air,
And kept the nerves undried, the flesh entire,
Against the solar beam and Sirian fire.
Nor yet the pile, where dead Patroclus lies,
Smokes, nor as yet the sullen flames arise;
But, fast beside, Achilles stood in prayer,
Invoked the gods whose spirit moves the air,
And victims promised, and libations cast
To gentle zephyr and the Boreal blast:
He called the aerial Powers, along the skies
To breathe, and whisper to the fires to rise.
The winged Iris heard the hero's call,
And instant hastened to their airy hall,
Where, in old Zephyr's open courts on high,
Sat all the blustering brethren of the sky.
She shone amidst them, on her painted bow;
The rocky pavement glittered with the show.
All from the banquet rise, and each invites
The various goddess to partake the rites.
"Not so," the dame replied, "I haste to go
To sacred Ocean, and the floods below;
E'en now our solemn hecatombs attend,
And heaven is feasting on the world's green end,
With righteous Æthiops, uncomipted train!
Far on the extremest limits of the main.
But Peleus' son entreats, with sacrifice,
The western spirit, and the north to rise;
Let on Patroclus' pile your blast be driven,
And bear the blazing honours high to heaven."
Swift as the word, she vanished from their view:
Swift as the word, the winds tumultuous flew;
Forth burst the stormy band with thundering roar,
And heaps on heaps the clouds are tossed before.
To the wide main then stooping from the skies,
The heaving deeps in watery mountains rise:
Troy feels the blast along her shaking walls,
Till on the pile the gathered tempest falls.
The structure crackles in the roaring fires.
And all the night the plenteous flame aspires:
All night Achilles hails Patroclus' soul,
With large libation from the golden bowl,
As a poor father, helpless and undone,
Mourns o'er the ashes of an only son,
Takes a sad pleasure the last bones to burn,
And pour in tears, ere yet they close the urn:
So stayed Achilles, circling round the shore,
So watched the flames, till now they flame no more.
'Twas when, emerging through the shades of night,
The morning planet told the approach of light;
And, fast behind, Aurora's warmer ray
O'er the broad ocean poured the golden day:
Then sunk the blaze, the pile no longer burned,
And to their caves the whistling winds returned:
Across the Thracian seas their course they bore;
The ruffled seas beneath their passage roar.
Then, parting from the pile, he ceased to weep,
And sunk to quiet in the embrace of sleep,
Exhausted with his grief: meanwhile the crowd
Of thronging Grecians round Achilles stood:
The tumult waked him: from his eyes he shook
Unwilling slumber, and the chiefs bespoke:
"Ye kings and princes of the Achaian name!
First let us quench the yet remaining flame
With sable wine ; then, as the rites direct,
The hero's bones with careful view select:
Apart, and easy to be known they lie,
Amidst the heap, and obvious to the eye:
The rest around the margins will be seen,
Promiscuous, steeds and immolated men.
These, wrapped In double cauls of fat, prepare;
And in the golden vase dispose with care;
There let them rest, with decent honour laid,
Till I shall follow to the Infernal shade.
Meantime erect the tomb with pious hands,
A common structure on the humble sands;
Hereafter Greece some nobler work may raise,
And late posterity record our praise."
The Greeks obey; where yet the embers glow,
Wide o'er the pile the sable wine they throw,
And deep subsides the ashy heap below.
Next the white bones his sad companions place,
With tears collected, in the golden vase.
The sacred relics to the tent they bore;
The urn a veil of linen covered o'er.
That done, they bid the sepulchre aspire,
And cast the deep foundations round the pyre;
High in the midst they heap the swelling bed
Of rising earth, memorial of the dead.
The swarming populace the chief detains,
And leads amidst a wide extent of plains;
There placed them round; then from the ships proceeds
A train of oxen, mules, and stately steeds,
Vases and tripods, for the funeral games,
Resplendent brass, and more resplendent dames.
First stood the prizes to reward the force
Of rapid racers in the dusty course:
A woman for the first, in beauty's bloom,
Skilled in the needle, and the labouring loom;
And a large vase, where two bright handles rise,
Of twenty measures its capacious size.
The second victor claims a mare unbroke,
Big with a mule, unknowing of the yoke;
The third, a charger yet untouched by flame;
Four ample measures held the shining frame:
Two golden talents for the fourth were placed;
An ample double bowl[1] contents the last.
These in fair order ranged upon the plain,
The hero, rising, thus addressed the train:
"Behold the prizes, valiant Greeks! decreed
To the brave rulers of the racing steed;
Prizes which none beside ourself could gain,
Should our immortal coursers take the plain:
A race unrivalled, which from ocean's god
Peleus received, and on his son bestowed.
But this no time our vigour to display,
Nor suit with them the games of this sad day:
Lost is Patroclus now, that wont to deck
Their flowing manes, and sleek their glossy neck.
Sad, as they shared in human grief, they stand,
And trail those graceful honours on the sand!
Let others for the noble task prepare,
Who trust the courser, and the flying car."
Fired at his word, the rival racers rise;
But, far the first, Eumelus hopes the prize;
Famed through Pieria for the fleetest breed,
And skilled to -manage the high-bounding steed.
With equal ardour bold Tydides swelled,
The steeds of Tros beneath his yoke compelled,
Which late obeyed the Dardan chief's command,
When scarce a god redeemed him from his hand.
Then Menelaiis his Podargus brings,
And the famed courser of the king of kings:
Whom rich Echepolus, more rich than brave,
To 'scape the wars, to Agamemnon gave,
Æthe her name, at home to end his days,
Base wealth preferring to eternal praise.
Next him Antilochus demands the course,
With beating heart, and cheers his Pylian horse.
Experienced Nestor gives his son the reins,
Directs his judgment, and his heat restrains;
Nor idly warns the hoary sire, nor hears
The prudent son with unattending ears:
"My son, though youthful ardour fire thy breast,
The gods have loved thee, and with arts have blessed.
Neptune and Jove on thee conferred the skill
Swift round the goal to turn the flying wheel.
To guide thy conduct, little precept needs;
But slow, and past their vigour, are my steeds.
Fear not thy rivals, though for swiftness known,
Compare those rivals' judgment, and thy own:
It is not strength, but art, obtains the prize,
And to be swift is less than to be wise:
'Tis more by art, than force of numerous strokes,
The dexterous woodman shapes the stubborn oaks;
By art the pilot, through the boiling deep
And howling tempests, steers the fearless ship;
And 'tis the artist wins the glorious course,
Not those who trust in chariots and in horse.
Is vain, unskilful, to the goal they strive,
And short, or wide, the ungoverned courser drive:
While with sure skill, though with inferior steeds,
The knowing racer to his end proceeds;
Fixed on the goal his eye fore-runs the course,
His hand unerring steers the steady horse,
And now contracts, or now extends, the rein,
Observing still the foremost on the plain.
Mark then the goal, 'tis easy to be found;
Yon aged trunk, a cubit from the ground;
Of some once-stately oak the last remains,
Or hardy fir, unperished with the rains;
Enclosed with stones, conspicuous from afar,
And round, a circle for the wheeling car.
Some tomb perhaps of old, the dead to grace;
Or then, as now, the limit of a race.
Bear close to this, and warily proceed,
A little bending to the left-hand steed;
But urge the right, and give him all the reins;
While thy strict hand his fellow's head restrains,
And turns him short; till, doubling as they roll,
The wheel's round naves appear to brush the goal;
Yet, not to break the car, or lame the horse,
Clear of the stony heap direct the course;
Lest, through incaution failing, thou mayest be
A joy to others, a reproach to me.
So shalt thou pass the goal, secure of mind,
And leave unskilful swiftness far behind,
Though thy fierce rival drove the matchless steed
Which bore Adrastus, of celestial breed;
Or the famed race through all the regions known,
That whirled the car of proud Laomedon."
Thus, nought unsaid, the much-advising sage
Concludes; then sat, stiff with unwieldy age.
Next bold Meriones was seen to rise,
The last, but not least ardent for the prize.
They mount their seats; the lots their place dispose;
Rolled in his helmet, these Achilles throws;
Young Nestor leads the race; Eumelus then;
And next, the brother of the king of men:
Thy lot, Meriones, the fourth was cast;
And, far the bravest, Diomed, was last.
They stand in order, an impatient train,
Pelides points the barrier on the plain,
And sends before old Phoenix to the place,
To mark the racers, and to judge the race.
At once the coursers from the barrier bound;
The lifted scourges all at once resound;
Their heart, their eyes, their voice, they send before;
And up the champaign thunder from the shore:
Thick, where they drive, the dusty clouds arise,
And the lost courser in the whirlwind flies;
Loose on their shoulders the long manes reclined,
Float in their speed, and dance upon the wind:
The smoking chariots, rapid as they bound,
Now seem to touch the sky, and now the ground;
While hot for fame, and conquest all their care,
Each o'er his flying courser hung in air,
Erect with ardour, poised upon the rein,
They pant, they stretch, they shout along the plain.
Now, the last compass fetched around the goal,
At the near prize each gathers all his soul,
Each burns with double hope, with double pain
Tears up the shore, and thunders toward the main.
First flew Eumelus on Pheretian steeds;
With those of Tros, bold Diomed succeeds:
Close on Eumelus' back they puff the wind,
And seem just mounting on his car behind;
Full on his neck he feels the sultry breeze,
And, hovering o'er, their stretching shadows sees.
Then had he lost, or left a doubtful prize;
But angry Phœbus to Tydides flies,
Strikes from his hand the scourge, and renders vain
His matchless horses' labour on the plain.
Rage fills his eye with anguish, to survey,
Snatched from his hope, the glories of the day.
The fraud celestial Pallas sees with pain,
Springs to her knight, and gives the scourge again,
And fills his steeds with vigour. At a stroke,
She breaks his rival's chariot from the yoke:
No more their way the startled horses held;
The car reversed came rattling on the field;
Shot headlong from his seat, beside the wheel,
Prone on the dust the unhappy master fell;
His battered face and elbows strike the ground;
Nose, mouth, and front one undistinguished wound:
Grief stops his voice, a torrent drowns his eyes;
Before him far the glad Tydides flies;
Minerva's spirit drives his matchless pace,
And crowns him victor of the laboured race.
The next, though distant, Menelaüs succeeds;
While thus young Nestor animates his steeds:
"Now, now, my generous pair, exert your force;
Not that we hope to match Tydides' horse;
Since great Minerva wings their rapid way,
And gives their lord the honours of the day.
But reach Atrides I shall his mare out-go
Your swiftness? vanquished by a female foe?
Through your neglect, if, lagging on the plain,
The last ignoble gift be all we gain,
No more shall Nestor's hand your food supply;
The old man's fury rises, and ye die.
Haste, then! yon narrow road before our sight
Presents the occasion, could we use it right."
Thus he. The coursers at their master's threat
With quicker steps the sounding champaign beat.
And now Antilochus, with nice survey,
Observes the compass of the hollow way.
'Twas where by force of wintry torrents torn,
Fast by the road a 'precipice was worn:
Here, where but one could pass, to shun the throng,
The Spartan hero's chariot smoked along.
Close up the venturous youth resolves to keep,
Still edging near, and bears him toward the steep.
Atrides, trembling, casts his eye below,
And wonders at the rashness of his foe:
"Hold, stay your steeds—what madness thus to ride
This narrow way! Take larger field," he cried,
"Or both must fall." Atrides cried in vain;
He flies more fast, and throws up all the rein.
Far as an able arm the disc can send,
When youthful rivals their full force extend,
So far, Antilochus! thy chariot flew
Before the king: he, cautious, backward drew
His horse compelled; foreboding in his fears
The rattling ruin of the clashing cars,
The floundering coursers rolling on the plain,
And conquest lost through frantic haste to gain.
But thus upbraids his rival as he flies:
"Go, furious youth! ungenerous and unwise!
Go, but expect not I'll the prize resign;
Add perjury to fraud, and make it thine."
Then to his steeds with all his force he cries:
"Be swift, be vigorous, and regain the prize!
Your rivals, destitute of youthful force,
With fainting knees shall labour in the course,
And yield the glory yours." The steeds obey;
Already at their heels they wing their way,
And seem already to retrieve the day.
Meantime the Grecians in a ring beheld
The coursers bounding o'er the dusty field.
The first who marked them was the Cretan king;
High on a rising ground, above the ring,
The monarch sat; from whence with sure survey
He well observed the chief who led the way,
And heard from far his animating cries,
And saw the foremost steed with sharpened eyes;
On whose broad front a blaze of shining white,
Like the full moon, stood obvious to the sight.
He saw; and, rising, to the Greeks begun:
"Are yonder horse discerned by me alone?
Or can ye, all, another chief survey,
And other steeds, than lately led the way?
Those, though the swiftest, by some god withheld,
Lie sure disabled in the middle field:
For since the goal they doubled, round the plain
I search to find them, but I search in vain.
Perchance the reins forsook the driver's hand,
And, turned too short, he tumbled on the strand,
Shot from the chariot; while his coursers stray
With frantic fury from the destined way.
Rise then some other, and inform my sight;
For these dim eyes, perhaps, discern not right;
Yet sure he seems, to judge by shape and air,
The great Ætolian chief, renowned in war."
"Old man!" Oïleus rashly thus replies,
"Thy tongue too hastily confers the prize.
Of those who view the course, not sharpest eyed,
Nor youngest, yet the readiest to decide.
Eumelus' steeds high-bounding in the chase,
Still, as at first, unrivalled lead the race;
I well discern him, as he shakes the rein,
And hear his shouts victorious o'er the plain."
Thus he. Idomeneus incensed rejoined:
"Barbarous of words! and arrogant of mind!
Contentious prince! of all the Greeks beside
The last in merit, as the first in pride!
To vile reproach what answer can we make?
A goblet or a tripod let us stake,
And be the king the judge. The most unwise
Will learn their rashness, when thy pay the price."
He said: and Ajax, by mad passion borne,
Stern had replied; fierce scorn enhancing scorn
To fell extremes. But Thetis' god-like son,
Awful, amidst them rose; and thus begun:
"Forbear, ye chiefs! reproachful to contend:
Much would ye blame, should others thus offend:
And lo! the approaching steeds your contest end."
No sooner had he spoke, but, thundering near,
Drives, through a stream of dust, the charioteer;
High o'er his head the circling lash he wields;
His bounding horses scarcely touch the fields:
His car amidst the dusty whirlwind rolled,
Bright with the mingled blaze of tin and gold,
Refulgent through the cloud: no eye could find
The track his flying wheels had left behind:
And the fierce coursers urged their rapid pace
So swift, it seemed a flight, and not a race.
Now victor at the goal Tydides stands,
Quits his bright car, and springs upon the sands;
From the hot steeds the sweaty torrents stream;
The well-plied whip is hung athwart the beam:
With joy brave Sthenelus receives the prize,
The tripod-vase, and dame with radiant eyes:
These to the ships his train triumphant leads,
The chief himself unyokes the panting steeds.
Young Nestor follows, who by art, not force,
O'erpassed Atrides, second in the course.
Behind, Atrides urged the race, more near
Than to the courser in his swift career.
The following car, just touching with his heel
And brushing with his tail the whirling wheel:
Such, and so narrow, now the space between
The rivals, late so distant on the green;
So soon swift Æthe her lost ground regained,
One length, one moment, had the race obtained.
Merion pursued, at greater distance still,
With tardier coursers, and inferior skill.
Last came, Admetus! thy unhappy son;
Slow dragged the steeds his battered chariot on;
Achilles saw, and pitying thus begun:
"Behold! the man whose matchless art surpassed
The sons of Greece! the ablest, yet the last!
Fortune denies, but justice bids us pay,
Since great Tydides bears the first away,
To him the second honours of the day."
The Greeks consent with loud applauding cries,
And then Eumelus had received the prize,
But youthful Nestor, jealous of his fame,
The award opposes, and asserts his claim:
"Think not," he cries, "I tamely will resign,
O Peleus' son! the mare so justly mine.
What if the gods, the skilful to confound,
Have thrown the horse and horseman to the ground?
Perhaps he sought not heaven by sacrifice,
And vows omitted forfeited the prize.
If yet, distinction to thy friend to show,
And please a soul desirous to bestow,
Some gift must grace Eumelus; view thy store
Of beauteous handmaids, steeds, and shining ore;
An ample present let him thence receive,
And Greece shall praise thy generous thirst to give.
But this, my prize, I never shall forgo;
This, who but touches, warriors! is my foe."
Thus spake the youth, nor did his words offend;
Pleased with the well-turned flattery of a friend,
Achilles smiled: "The gift proposed," he cried,
"Antilochus! we shall ourselves provide.
With plates of brass the corselet covered o'er,
The same renowned Asteropseus wore,
Whose glittering margins raised with silver shine,
No vulgar gift, Eumelus, shall be thine."
He said: Automedon at his command
The corselet brought, and gave it to his hand.
Distinguished by his friend, his bosom glows
With generous joy: then Menelaüs rose;
The herald placed the sceptre in his hands,
And stilled the clamour of the shouting bands.
Not without cause incensed at Nestor's son,
And inly grieving, thus the king begun:
"The praise of wisdom, in thy youth obtained,
An act so rash, Antilochus, has stained.
Robbed of my glory and my just reward,
To you, O Grecians! be my wrong declared:
So not a leader shall our conduct blame,
Or judge me envious of a rival's fame.
But shall not we, ourselves, the truth maintain?
What needs appealing in a fact so plain?
What Greek shall blame me, if I bid thee rise,
And vindicate by oath the ill-gotten prize?
Rise, if thou darest, before thy chariot stand,
The driving scourge high lifted in thy hand,
And touch thy steeds, and swear thy whole intent
Was but to conquer, not to circumvent.
Swear by that god whose liquid arms surround
The globe, and whose dread earthquakes heave the ground."
The prudent chief with calm attention heard;
Then mildly thus: "Excuse, if youth hath erred;
Superior as thou art, forgive the offence,
Nor I thy equal, or in years, or sense.
Thou knowest the errors of unripened age,
Weak are its counsels, headlong is its rage.
The prize I quit, if thou thy wrath resign;
The mare, or aught thou ask'st, be freely thine,
Ere I become, from thy dear friendship torn,
Hateful to thee, and to the gods forsworn."
So spoke Antilochus; and at the word
The mare contested to the king restored.
Joy swells his soul, as when the vernal grain
Lifts the green ear above the springing plain,
The fields their vegetable life renew,
And laugh and glitter with the morning dew:
Such joy the Spartan's shining face o'erspread,
And lifted his gay heart, while thus he said:
"Still may our souls, O generous youth I agree;
'Tis now Atrides' turn to yield to thee.
Rash heat perhaps a moment might control,
Not break, the settled temper of thy soul.
Not but, my friend, 'tis still the wiser way
To waive contention with superior sway:
For ah I how few, who should like thee offend,
Like thee, have talents to regain the friend?
To plead indulgence, and thy fault atone,
Suffice thy father's merit, and thy own:
Generous alike for me, the sire and son
Have greatly suffered, and have greatly done.
I yield; that all may know my soul can bend,
Nor is my pride preferred before my friend."
He said: and pleased his passion to command,
Resigned the courser to Noemon's hand,
Friend of the youthful chief: himself content,
The shining charger to his vessel sent.
The golden talents Merion next obtained;
The fifth reward, the double bowl, remained.
Achilles this to reverend Nestor bears,
And thus the purpose of his gift declares:
"Accept thou this, O sacred sire," he said,
"In dear memorial of Patroclus dead;
Dead, and for ever lost, Patroclus lies,
For ever snatched from our desiring eyes!
Take thou this token of a grateful heart:
Though 'tis not thine to hurl the distant dart,
The quoit to toss, the ponderous mace to wield,
Or urge the race, or wrestle on the field:
Thy pristine vigour age has overthrown,
But left the glory of the past thy own."
He said, and placed the goblet at his side:
With joy the venerable king replied:
"Wisely and well, my son, thy words have proved
A senior honoured and a friend beloved!
Too true it is, deserted of my strength,
These withered arms and limbs have failed at length.
Oh! had I now that force I felt of yore,
Known through Buprasium and the Pylian shore!
Victorious then in every solemn game,
Ordained to Amarynces' mighty name;
The brave Epeians gave my glory way,
Ætolians, Pylians, all resigned the day.
I quelled Clytomedes in fights of hand,
And backward hurled Ancseus on the sand,
Surpassed Iphiclus in the swift career,
Phyleus and Polydorus, with the spear:
The sons of Actor won the prize of horse,
But won by numbers, nor by art or force:
For the famed twins, impatient to survey
Prize after prize by Nestor borne away,
Sprung to their car; and with united pains
One lashed the coursers, while one ruled the reins.
Such once I was! Now to these tasks succeeds
A younger race, that emulate our deeds:
I yield—alas! to age who must not yield?—
Though once the foremost hero of the field.
Go thou, my son! by generous friendship led,
With martial honours decorate the dead;
While pleased I take the gift thy hands present,
Pledge of benevolence, and kind intent;
Rejoiced, of all the numerous Greeks, to see
Not one but honours sacred age and me:
Those due distinctions thou so well canst pay
May the just gods return another day.
Proud of the gift, thus spake the Full of Days:
Achilles heard him, prouder of the praise.
The prizes next are ordered to the field,
For the bold champions who the caestus wield.
A stately mule, as yet by toils unbroke,
Of six years' age, unconscious of the yoke,
Is to the circus led, and firmly bound;
Next stands a goblet, massy, large, and round.
Achilles rising thus: "Let Greece excite
Two heroes equal to this hardy fight;
Who dares his foe with lifted arms provoke,
And rush beneath the long-descending stroke,
On whom Apollo shall the palm bestow,
And whom the Greeks supreme by conquest know,
This mule his dauntless labour shall repay;
The vanquished bear the massy bowl away."
The dreadful combat great Epe'us chose:
High o'er the crowd, enormous bulk! he rose,
And seized the beast, and thus began to say:
"Stand forth some man, to bear the bowl away!
Price of his ruin: for who dares deny
This mule my right? the undoubted victor I.
Others, 'tis owned, in fields of battle shine,
But the first honours of this fight are mine;
For who excels in all? Then let my foe
Draw near, but first his certain fortune know,
Secure, this hand shall his whole frame confound,
Mash all his bones, and all his body pound;
So let his friends be nigh, a needful train,
To heave the battered carcass off the plain."
The giant spoke; and in a stupid gaze
The host beheld him, silent with amaze!
'Twas thou, Euryalus! who durst aspire
To meet his might, and emulate thy sire,
The great Mecistheus; who in days of yore
In Theban games the noblest trophy bore,
The games ordained dead Œpidus to grace,
And singly vanquished the Cadmean race.
Him great Tydides urges to contend,
Warm with the hopes of conquest for his friend;
Officious with the cincture girds him round;
And to his wrists the gloves of death are bound.
Amid the circle now each champion stands,
And poises high in air his iron hands:
With clashing gauntlets now they fiercely close,
Their crackling jaws re-echo to the blows,
And painful sweat from all their members flows.
At length Epëus dealt a weighty blow
Full on the cheek of his unwary foe;
Beneath that ponderous arm's resistless sway
Down dropped he, nerveless, and extended lay.
As a large fish, when winds and waters roar,
By some huge billow dashed against the shore,
Lies panting: not less battered with his wound,
The bleeding hero pants upon the ground.
To rear his fallen foe the victor lends,
Scornful, his hand; and gives him to his friends;
Whose arms support him, reeling through the throng,
And dragging his disabled legs along;
Nodding, his head hangs down, his shoulder o'er;
His mouth and nostrils pour the clotted gore;
Wrapped round in mists he lies, and lost to thought;
His friends receive the bowl, too dearly bought.
The third bold game Achilles next demands,
And calls the wrestlers to the level sands:
A massy tripod for the victor lies,
Of twice six oxen its reputed price;
And next, the loser's spirits to restore,
A female captive, valued but at four.
Scarce did the chief the vigorous strife propose,
When tower-like Ajax and Ulysses rose.
Amid the ring each nervous rival stands,
Embracing rigid with implicit hands;
Close locked above, their heads and arms are mixed;
Below, their planted feet at distance fixed:
Like two strong rafters, which the builder forms
Proof to the wintry winds and howling storms,
Their tops connected, but at wider space
Fixed on the centre stands their solid base.
Now to the grasp each manly body bends;
The human sweat from every pore descends;
Their bones resound with blows: sides, shoulders, thighs,
Swell to each gripe, and bloody tumours rise.
Nor could Ulysses, for his art renowned,
O'erturn the strength of Ajax on the ground;
Nor could the strength of Ajax overthrow
The watchful caution of his artful foe.
While the long strife e'en tired the lookers on,
Thus to Ulysses spoke great Telamon:
"Or let me lift thee, chief, or lift thou me:
Prove we our force, and Jove the rest decree."
He said: and, straining, heaved him off the ground
With matchless strength: that time Ulysses found
The strength to evade, and where the nerves combine
His ankle struck: the giant fell supine;
Ulysses following, on his bosom lies;
Shouts of applause run rattling through the skies.
Ajax to lift, Ulysses next essays,
He barely stirred him, but he could not raise;
His knee locked fast, the foe's attempt denied;
And, grappling close, they tumble side by side.
Defiled with honourable dust, they roll,
Still breathing strife, and unsubdued of soul:
Again they rage, again to combat rise;
When great Achilles thus divides the prize:
"Your noble vigour, O my friends, restrain;
Nor weary out your generous strength in vain.
Ye both have won: let others who excel
Now prove that prowess you have proved so well."
The hero's words the willing chiefs obey,
From their tired bodies wipe the dust away,
And, clothed anew, the following games survey.
And now succeed the gifts ordained to grace
The youths contending in the rapid race:
A silver urn that full six measures held,
By none in weight or workmanship excelled:
Sidonian artists taught the frame to shine,
Elaborate with artifice divine;
Whence Tyrian sailors did the prize transport,
And gave to Thoas at the Lemnian port:
From him descended, good Eunseus heired
The glorious gift; and, for Lycaon spared,
To brave Patroclus gave the rich reward.
Now, the same hero's funeral rites to grace,
It stands the prize of swiftness in the race.
A well-fed ox was for the second placed;
And half a talent must content the last.
Achilles rising then bespoke the train:
"Who hope the palm of swiftness to obtain,
Stand forth, and bear these prizes from the plain."
The hero said, and, starting from his place,
Oïlean Ajax rises to the race;
Ulysses next; and he whose speed surpassed
His youthful equals, Nestor's son the last.
Ranged in a line the ready racers stand;
Pelides points the barrier with his hand:
All start at once; Oileus led the race;
The next Ulysses, measuring pace with pace:
Behind him, diligently close, he sped,
As closely following as the running thread
The spindle follows, and displays the charms
Of the fair spinster's breast, and moving arms:
Graceful in motion thus, his foe he plies,
And treads each footstep ere the dust can rise:
His glowing breath upon his shoulders plays;
The admiring Greeks loud acclamations raise:
To him they give their wishes, hearts, and eyes,
And send their souls before him as he flies.
Now three times turned in prospect of the goal,
The panting chief to Pallas lifts his soul:
"Assist, O goddess I" thus in thought he prayed,
And, present at his thought, descends the Maid.
Buoyed by her heavenly force, he seems to swim,
And feels a pinion lifting every limb.
All fierce, and ready now the prize to gain,
Unhappy Ajax stumbles on the plain,
O'erturned by Pallas, where the slippery shore
Was clogged with slimy dung, and mingled gore;
The self-same place beside Patroclus' pyre,
Where late the slaughtered victims fed the fire:
Besmeared with filth, and blotted o'er with clay,
Obscene to sight, the rueful racer lay:
The well-fed bull, the second prize, he shared,
And left the urn Ulysses' rich reward.
Then, grasping by the horn the mighty beast,
The baffled hero thus the Greeks addressed:
"Accursed fate! the conquest I forgo;
A mortal I, a goddess was my foe:
She urged her favourite on the rapid way,
And Pallas, not Ulysses, won the day."
Thus sourly wailed he, sputtering dirt and gore;
A burst of laughter echoed through the shore.
Antilochus, more humorous than the rest,
Takes the last prize and takes it with a jest:
"Why with our wiser elders should we strive?
The gods still love them, and they always thrive.
Ye see, to Ajax I must yield the prize;
He to Ulysses, still more aged and wise;
A green old age unconscious of decays,
That proves the hero born in better days!
Behold his vigour in this active race!
Achilles only boasts a swifter pace:
For who can match Achilles? He who can,
Must yet be more than hero, more than man."
The effect succeeds the speech. Pelides cries,
"Thy artful praise deserves a better prize.
Nor Greece in vain shall hear thy friend extolled;
Receive a talent of the purest gold."
The youth departs content. The host admire
The son of Nestor, worthy of his sire.
Next these a buckler, spear, and helm he brings,
Cast on the plain the brazen burthen rings:
Arms, which of late divine Sarpedon wore,
And great Patroclus in short triumph bore.
"Stand forth, the bravest of our host," he cries,
"Whoever dares deserve so rich a prize!
Now grace the lists before our army's sight
And, sheathed In steel, provoke his foe to fight.
Who first the jointed armour shall explore,
And stain his rival's mail with issuing gore;
The sword Asteropseus possessed of old,
A Thracian blade, distinct with studs of gold,
Shall pay the stroke, and grace the striker's side;
These arms in common let the chiefs divide:
For each brave champion, when the combat ends,
A sumptuous banquet at our tents attends."
Fierce at the word, up rose great Tydeus' son,
And the huge bulk of Ajax Telamon:
Clad in refulgent steel, on either hand,
The dreadful chiefs amid the circle stand:
Lowering they meet, tremendous to the sight;
Each Argive bosom beats with fierce delight.
Opposed in arms not long they idly stood,
But thrice they closed, and thrice the charge renewed.
A furious pass the spear of Ajax made
Through the broad shield, but at the corselet stayed:
Not thus the foe; his javelin aimed above
The buckler's margin, at the neck he drove.
But Greece now trembling for her hero's life,
Bade share the honours, and surcease the strife;
Yet still the victor's due Tydides gains,
With him the sword and studded belt remains.
Then hurled the hero, thundering on the ground,
A mass of iron, an enormous round,
Whose weight and size the circling Greeks admire,
Rude from the furnace, and but shaped by fire.
This mighty quoit Eetion wont to rear,
And from his whirling arm dismiss in air;
The giant by Achilles slain, he stowed
Among his spoils this memorable load.
For this he bids those nervous artists vie,
That teach the disc to sound along the sky:
"Let him whose might can hurl this bowl, arise:
Who farthest hurls it, takes it as his prize:
If he be one enriched with large domain
Of downs for flocks, and arable for grain,
Small stock of iron needs that man provide;
His hinds and swains whole years shall be supplied
From hence; nor ask the neighbouring city's aid
For ploughshares, wheels, and all the rural trade."
Stern Polypcetes stepped before the throng,
And great Leonteus, more than mortal strong:
Whose force with rival forces to oppose,
Up rose great Ajax; up Epeus rose.
Each stood in order: first Epeus threw;
High o'er the wondering crowds the whirling circle flew.
Leonteus next a little space surpassed,
And third, the strength of godlike Ajax cast:
O'er both their marks it flew; till, fiercely flung
From Polypoetes' arm, the discus sung:
Far as a swain his whirling sheephook[2] throws,
That distant falls among the grazing cows,
So past them all the rapid circle flies:
His friends, while loud applauses shake the skies,
With force conjoined heave off the weighty prize.
Those who in skilful archery contend
He next invites, the twanging bow to bend:
And twice ten axes casts amidst the round,
Ten double-edged, and ten that singly wound.,
The mast, which late a first-rate galley bore,
The hero fixes in the sandy shore:
To the tall top a milk-white dove they tie,
The trembling mark at which their arrows fly.
'Whose weapon strikes yon fluttering bird shall bear
These two-edged axes, terrible in war;
The single, he whose shaft divides the cord."
He said: experienced Merion took the word,
And skilful Teucer; in the helm they threw
Their lots inscribed, and forth the latter flew.
Swift from the string the sounding arrow flies;
But flies unblest! No grateful sacrifice,
No firstling lambs, unheedful I didst thou vow
To Phrebus, patron of the shaft and bow.
For this, thy well-aimed arrow, turned aside,
Erred from the dove, yet cut the cord that tied:
Adown the main-mast fell the parted string,
And the free bird to heaven displays her wing:
Seas, shores, and skies with loud applause resound,
And Merion eager meditates the wound:
He takes the bow, directs the shaft above,
And, following with his eye the soaring dove,
Implores the god to speed it through the skies,
With vows of firstling lambs, and grateful sacrifice.
The dove, in airy circles as she wheels,
Amid the clouds the piercing arrow feels;
Quite through and through the point its passage found,
And at his feet fell bloody to the ground.
The wounded bird, ere yet she breathed her last,
With flagging wings alighted on the mast,
A moment hung, and spread her pinions there,
Then sudden dropped, and left her life in air.
From the pleased crowd new peals of thunder rise,
And to the ships brave Merion bears the prize.
To close the funeral games, Achilles last
A massy spear amid the circle placed,
And ample charger of unsullied frame,
With flowers high wrought, not blackened yet by flame.
For these he bids the heroes prove their art,
Whose dexterous skill directs the flying dart.
Here too great Merion hopes the noble prize;
Nor here disdained the king of men to rise.
With joy Pelides saw the honour paid,
Rose to the monarch, and respectful said:
"Thee first in virtue, as in power supreme,
O king of nations I all thy Greeks proclaim;
In every martial game thy worth attest,
And know thee both their greatest and their best;
Take then the prize, but let brave Merion bear
This beamy javelin in thy brother's war."
Pleased from the hero's lips his praise to hear,
The king to Merion gives the brazen spear;
But, set apart for sacred use, commands
The glittering charger to Talthybius' hands.

  1. Book i., line 753, page 49.
  2. The staff bad a string attached to it. Some savage tribes of the Pacific Islands still use this device for assisting a throw.