The Iliad of Homer (Pope)/Book 7
THE SINGLE COMBAT OF HECTOR AND AJAX
So spoke the guardian of the Trojan state,
Then rushed impetuous through the Scæan gate.
Him Paris followed to the dire alarms;
Both breathing slaughter, both resolved in arms.
As when to sailors labouring through the main,
That long had heaved the weary oar in vain,
Jove bids at length the expected gales arise;
The gales blow grateful, and the vessel flies:
So welcome these to Troy's desiring train:
The bands are cheered, the war awakes again.
Bold Paris first the work of death begun
On great Menestheus, Areïthous' son;
Sprung from the fair Philomeda's embrace,
The pleasing Arnè was his native place.
Then sunk Eioneus to the shades below;
Beneath his steely casque he felt the blow
Full on his neck, from Hector's weighty hand;
And rolled, with limbs relaxed, along the land.
By Glaucus' spear the bold Iphinous bleeds,
Fixed in the shoulder as he mounts his steeds;
Headlong he tumbles: his slack nerves unbound
Drop the cold useless members on the ground.
When now Minerva saw her Argives slain,
From vast Olympus to the gleaming plain
Fierce she descends: Apollo marked her flight,
Nor shot less swift from Ilion's towery height:
Radiant they met, beneath the beechen shade;
When thus Apollo to the blue-eyed Maid:
"What cause, O daughter of almighty Jove,
Thus wings thy progress from the realms above?
Once more impetuous dost thou bend thy way
To give to Greece the long-divided day?
Too much has Troy already felt thy hate,
Now breathe thy rage, and hush the stern debate:
This day the business of the field suspend;
War soon shall kindle, and great Ilion bend,
Since vengeful goddesses confederate join
To raze her walls, though built by hands divine."
To whom the progeny of Jove replies:
"I left for this the council of the skies:
But who shall bid conflicting hosts forbear,
What art shall calm the furious sons of war?"
To her the god: "Great Hector's soul incite
To dare the boldest Greek to single fight,
Till Greece, provoked, from all her numbers shew
A warrior worthy to be Hector's foe."
At this agreed, the heavenly powers withdrew;
Sage Helenus their secret counsels knew:
Hector inspired he sought: to him addressed,
Thus told the dictates of his sacred breast:
"O son of Priam! let thy faithful ear
Receive my words; thy friend and brother hear!
Go forth persuasive, and awhile engage
The warring nations to suspend their rage;
Then dare the boldest of the hostile train
To mortal combat on the listed plain,
For not this day shall end thy glorious date;
The gods have spoke it, and their voice is fate."
He said: the warrior heard the word with joy;
Then with his spear restrained the youth of Troy,
Held by the midst athwart. On either hand
The squadrons part; the expecting Trojans stand,
Great Agamemnon bids the Greeks forbear;
They breathe, and hush the tumult of the war.
The Athenian Maid, and glorious god of day,
With silent joy the settling hosts survey:
In form of vultures, on the beech's height
They sit concealed, and wait the future fight.
The thronging troops obscure the dusky fields,
Horrid with bristling spears, and gleaming shields.
As when a general darkness veils the main,
Soft Zephyr curling the wide watery plain,
The waves scarce heave, the face of ocean sleeps,
And a still horror saddens all the deeps:
Thus in thick orders settling wide around,
At length composed they sit, and shade the ground.
Great Hector first amidst both armies broke
The solemn silence, and their powers bespoke:
"Hear, all ye Trojan, all ye Grecian bands,
What my soul prompts, and what some god commands.
Great Jove, averse our warfare to compose,
O'erwhelms the nations with new toils and woes;
War with a fiercer tide once more returns,
Till Ilion falls, or till yon navy burns.
You then, O princes of the Greeks, appear;
'Tis Hector speaks, and calls the gods to hear:
From all your troops select the boldest knight,
And him, the boldest, Hector dares to fight.
Here if I fall, by chance of battle slain,
Be his my spoil, and his these arms remain;
But let my body, to my friends returned,
By Trojan hands, and Trojan flames be burned.
And if Apollo, in whose aid I trust,
Shall stretch your daring champion in the dust;
If mine the glory to despoil the foe,
On Phœbus' temple I'll his arms bestow;
The breathless carcass to your navy sent,
Greece on the shore shall raise a monument;
Which when some future mariner surveys,
Washed by broad Hellespont's resounding seas,
Thus shall he say, A valiant Greek lies there,
By Hector slain, the mighty man of war.
The stone shall tell your vanquished hero's name,
And distant ages learn the victor's fame."
This fierce defiance Greece astonished heard,
Blushed to refuse, and to accept it feared.
Stern Menelaüs first the silence broke,
And, inly groaning, thus opprobrious spoke:
"Women of Greece! oh, scandal of your race,
Whose coward souls your manly forms disgrace,
How great the shame, when every age shall know
That not a Grecian met this noble foe.
Go then, resolve to earth from whence ye grew,
A heartless, spiritless, inglorious crew!
Be what ye seem, unanimated clay;
Myself will dare the danger of the day.
'Tis man's bold task the generous strife to try,
But in the hands of God is victory."
These words scarce spoke, with generous ardour pressed,
His manly limbs in azure arms he dressed:
That day, Atrides, a superior hand
Had stretched thee breathless on the hostile strand;
But all at once, thy fury to compose,
The kings of Greece, an awful band, arose:
E'en he their chief, great Agamemnon, pressed
Thy daring hand, and this advice addressed:
"Whither, O Menelaüs! wouldst thou run,
And tempt a fate which prudence bids thee shun?
Grieved though thou art, forbear the rash design;
Great Hector's arm is mightier far than thine.
E'en fierce Achilles learned its force to fear,
And trembling met this dreadful son of war.
Sit thou secure amidst thy social band;
Greece in our cause shall arm some powerful hand.
The mightiest warrior of the Achaian name,
Though bold, and burning with desire of fame,
Content, the doubtful honour might forgo,
So great the danger, and so brave the foe."
He said, and turned his brother's vengeful mind;
He stooped to reason, and his rage resigned,
No longer bent to rush on certain harms:
His joyful friends unbrace his azure arms.
He from whose lips divine persuasion flows,
Grave Nestor, then, in graceful act arose.
Thus to the kings he spoke: "What grief, what shame,
Attend on Greece, and all the Grecian name!
How shall, alas! her hoary heroes mourn
Their sons degenerate, and their race a scorn!
What tears shall down thy silver beard be rolled,
O Peleus, old in arms, in wisdom old!
Once with what joy the generous prince would hear
Of every chief who fought this glorious war,
Participate their fame, and pleased inquire
Each name, each action, and each hero's sire?
Gods! should he see our warriors trembling stand,
And trembling all before one hostile hand;
How would he lift his aged arms on high,
Lament inglorious Greece, and beg to die!
Oh! would to all the immortal Powers above,
Minerva, Phœbus, and almighty Jove!
Years might again roll back, my youth renew,
And give this arm the spring which once it knew:
When, fierce in war, where Jardan's waters fall,
I led my troops to Phea's trembling wall,
And with the Arcadian spears my prowess tried,
Where Celadon rolls down his rapid tide.
There Ereuthalion braved us in the field,
Proud, Areïthous' dreadful arms to wield;
Great Areïthous, known from shore to shore
By the huge, knotted, iron mace he bore;
No lance he shook, nor bent the twanging bow,
But broke, with this, the battle of the foe.
Him not by manly force Lycurgus slew,
Whose guileful javelin from the thicket flew,
Deep in a winding way his breast assailed,
Nor aught the warrior's thundering mace availed:
Supine he fell: those arms which Mars before
Had given the vanquished, now the victor bore:
But when old age had dimmed Lycurgus' eyes,
To Ereuthalion he consigned the prize.
Furious with this, he crushed our levelled bands,
And dared the trial of the strongest hands;
Nor could the strongest hands his fury stay;
All saw, and feared, his huge tempestuous sway;
Till I, the youngest of the host, appeared,
And, youngest, met whom all our army feared.
I fought the chief; my arms Minerva crowned:
Prone fell the giant o'er a length of ground.
What then he was, oh were your Nestor now!
Not Hector's self should want an equal foe.
But warriors, you, that youthful vigour boast,
The flower of Greece, the examples of our host,
Sprung from such fathers, who such numbers sway,
Can you stand trembling, and desert the day?"
His warm reproofs the listening kings inflame;
And nine, the noblest of the Grecian name,
Upstarted fierce: but far before the rest
The king of men advanced his dauntless breast;
Then bold Tydides, great in arms, appeared;
And next his bulk gigantic Ajax reared.
Oileus followed: Idomen was there,
And Merion, dreadful as the god of war:
With these Eurypylus and Thoas stand,
And wise Ulysses closed the daring band.
All these, alike inspired with noble rage,
Demand the fight. To whom the Pylian sage:
"Lest thirst of glory your brave souls divide,
What chief shall combat, let the lots decide.
Whom heaven shall choose, be his the chance to raise
His country's fame, his own immortal praise."
The lots produced, each hero signs his own;
Then in the general's helm the fates are thrown.
The people pray with lifted eyes and hands,
And vows like these ascend from all the bands:
"Grant thou, Almighty! in whose hand is fate,
A worthy champion for the Grecian state.
This task let Ajax or Tydides, prove,
Or he, the king of kings, beloved by Jove."
Old Nestor shook the casque. By heaven inspired,
Leaped forth the lot, of every Greek desired.
This from the right to left the herald bears,
Held out in order to the Grecian peers;
Each to his rival yields the mark unknown,
Till godlike Ajax finds the lot his own;
Surveys the inscription with rejoicing eyes,
Then casts before him, and with transport cries:
"Warriors! I claim the lot, and arm with joy;
Be mine the conquest of this chief of Troy.
Now, while my brightest arms my limbs invest,
To Saturn's son be all your vows addressed:
But pray in secret, lest the foes should hear,
And deem your prayers the mean effect of fear.
Said I in secret? No, your vows declare
In such a voice as fills the earth and air.
Lives there a chief whom Ajax ought to dread,
Ajax, in all the toils of battle bred?
From warlike Salamis I drew my birth,
And, born to combats, fear no force of earth."
He said. The troops with elevated eyes,
Implore the god whose thunder rends the skies:
"O father of mankind, superior lord!
On lofty Ida's holy hill adored;
Who in the highest heaven hast fixed thy throne,
Supreme of gods! unbounded, and alone:
Grant thou, that Telamon may bear away
The praise and conquest of this doubtful day;
Or if illustrious Hector be thy care,
That both may claim it, and that both may share."
Now Ajax braced his dazzling armour on;
Sheathed in bright steel the giant warrior shone:
He moves to combat with majestic pace;
So stalks in arms the grizly god of Thrace,
When Jove to punish faithless men prepares,
And gives whole nations to the waste of wars.
Thus marched the chief, tremendous as a god;
Grimly he smiled: earth trembled as he strode:
His massy javelin quivering in his hand,
He stood, the bulwark of the Grecian band.
Through every Argive heart new transport ran;
All Troy stood trembling at the mighty man.
E'en Hector paused; and, with new doubt oppressed,
Felt his great heart suspended in his breast:
'Twas vain to seek retreat, and vain to fear;
Himself had challenged, and the foe drew near.
Stern Telamon behind his ample shield,
As from a brazen tower, o'erlooked the field.
Huge was its orb, with seven thick folds o'ercast
Of tough bull-hides; of solid brass the last;
The work of Tychius, who in Hylè dwelled,
And all in arts of armoury excelled.
This Ajax bore before his manly breast,
And, threatening, thus his adverse chief addressed:
"Hector! approach my arm, and singly know
What strength thou hast, and what the Grecian foe.
Achilles shuns the fight; yet some there are
Not void of soul, and not unskilled in war:
Let him, inactive on the sea-beat shore,
Indulge his wrath, and aid our arms no more;
Whole troops of heroes Greece has yet to boast,
And sends thee one, a sample of her host.
Such as I am, I come to prove thy might;
No more——be sudden, and begin the fight."
"O son of Telamon, thy country's pride!"
To Ajax thus the Trojan prince replied,
"Me, as a boy or woman, wouldst thou fright,
New to the field, and trembling at the fight?
Thou meet'st a chief deserving of thy arms,
To combat born, and bred amidst alarms:
I know to shift my ground, remount the car,
Turn, charge, and answer every call of war:
To right, to left, the dexterous lance I wield,
And bear thick battle on my sounding shield.
But open be our fight, and bold each blow;
I steal no conquest from a noble foe."
He said, and, rising high above the field,
Whirled the long lance against the sevenfold shield
Full on the brass descending from above
Through six bull-hides the furious weapon drove.
Till in the seventh it fixed. Then Ajax threw;
Through Hector's shield the forceful javelin flew;
His corselet enters, and his garment rends,
And, glancing downwards, near his flank descends.
The wary Trojan shrinks, and, bending low
Beneath his buckler, disappoints the blow.
From their bored shields the chiefs their javelins drew,
Then close impetuous, and the charge renew:
Fierce as the mountain lions bathed in blood,
Or foaming boars, the terror of the wood.
At Ajax, Hector his long lance extends;
The blunted point against the buckler bends.
But Ajax, watchful as his foe drew near,
Drove through the Trojan targe the knotty spear;
It reached his neck, with matchless strength impelled;
Spouts the black gore, and dims the shining shield.
Yet ceased not Hector thus; but, stooping down,
In his strong hand upheaved a flinty stone,
Black, craggy, vast: to this his force he bends;
Full on the brazen boss the stone descends;
The hollow brass resounded with the shock.
Then Ajax seized the fragment of a rock,
Applied each nerve, and, swinging round on high,
With force tempestuous let the ruin fly:
The huge stone thundering through his buckler broke;
His slackened knees received the numbing stroke;
Great Hector falls extended on the field,
His bulk supporting on the shattered shield:
Nor wanted heavenly aid: Apollo's might
Confirmed his sinews, and restored to fight.
And now both heroes their broad faulchions drew;
In flaming circles round their heads they flew;
But then by heralds' voice the word was given,
The sacred ministers of earth and heaven:
Divine Talthybius whom the Greeks employ,
And sage Idæus on the part of Troy,
Between the swords their peaceful sceptres reared;
And first Idæus' awful voice was heard:
"Forbear, my sons! your farther force to prove,
Both dear to men, and both beloved of Jove.
To either host your matchless worth is known,
Each sounds your praise, and war is all your own.
But now the night extends her awful shade:
The goddess parts you: be the night obeyed."
To whom great Ajax his high soul expressed:
"O sage! to Hector be these words addressed.
Let him, who first provoked our chiefs to fight,
Let him demand the sanction of the night;
If first he ask it, I content obey,
And cease the strife when Hector shews the way.
"O first of Greeks!" his noble foe rejoined,
"Whom heaven adorns, superior to thy kind,
With strength of body, and with worth of mind,
Now martial law commands us to forbear;
Hereafter we shall meet in glorious war;
Some future day shall lengthen out the strife,
And let the gods decide of death or life:
Since then the night extends her gloomy shade,
And heaven enjoins it, be the night obeyed.
Return, brave Ajax, to thy Grecian friends,
And joy the nations whom thy arm defends;
As I shall glad each chief, and Trojan wife,
Who wearies heaven with vows for Hector's life.
But let us, on this memorable day,
Exchange some gift; that Greece and Troy may say,
'Not hate, but glory, made these chiefs contend;
And each brave foe was in his soul a friend.'"
With that, a sword with stars of silver graced,
The baldrick studded, and the sheath enchased,
He gave the Greek. The generous Greek bestowed
A radiant belt that rich with purple glowed.
Then with majestic grace they quit the plain;
This seeks the Grecian, that the Phrygian train.
The Trojan bands returning Hector wait,
And hail with joy the champion of their state:
Escaped great Ajax, they surveyed him round,
Alive, unharmed, and vigorous from his wound.
To Troy's high gates the godlike man they bear,
Their present triumph, as their late despair.
But Ajax, glorying in his hardy deed,
The well-armed Greeks to Agamemnon lead.
A steer for sacrifice the king designed,
Of full live years, and of the nobler kind.
The victim falls; they strip the smoking hide,
The beast they quarter, and the joints divide;
Then spread the tables, the repast prepare.
Each takes his seat, and each receives his share.
The king himself, an honorary sign,
Before great Ajax placed the mighty chine.
When now the rage of hunger was removed,
Nestor, in each persuasive art approved,
The sage whose counsels long had swayed the rest,
In words like these his prudent thought expressed:
"How dear, O king! this fatal day has cost!
What Greeks are perished! what a people lost!
What tides of blood have drenched Scamander's shore!
What crowds of heroes sunk, to rise no more!
Then hear me, chief, nor let the morrow's light
Awake thy squadrons to new toils of fight:
Some space at least permit the war to breathe,
While we to flames our slaughtered friends bequeath,
From the red field their scattered bodies bear,
And nigh the fleet a funeral structure rear;
So decent urns their snowy bones may keep,
And pious children o'er their ashes weep.
Here, where on one promiscuous pile they blazed,
High o'er them all a general tomb be raised;
Next, to secure our camp, and naval powers,
Raise an embattled wall, with lofty towers;
From space to space be ample gates around,
For passing chariots, and a trench profound.
So Greece to combat shall in safety go,
Nor fear the fierce incursions of the foe."
'Twas thus the sage his wholesome counsel moved;
The sceptred kings of Greece his words approved.
Meanwhile, convened at Priam's palace gate.
The Trojan peers in nightly council sat:
A senate void of order, as of choice,
Their hearts were fearful, and confused their voice.
Antenor rising, thus demands their ear:
"Ye Trojans, Dardans, and auxiliars, hear!
'Tis heaven the counsel of my breast inspires,
And I but move what every god requires:
Let Sparta's treasures be this hour restored,
And Argive Helen own her ancient lord.
The ties of faith, the sworn alliance broke,
Our impious battles the just gods provoke.
As this advice ye practise, or reject,
So hope success, or dread the dire effect."
The senior spoke, and sat. To whom replied
The graceful husband of the Spartan bride:
"Cold counsels, Trojan, may become thy years,
But sound ungrateful in a warrior's ears:
Old man, if void of fallacy or art,
Thy words express the purpose of thy heart,
Thou, in thy time, more sound advice hast given;
But wisdom has its date, assigned by heaven.
Then hear me, princes of the Trojan name!
Their treasures I'll restore, but not the dame;
My treasures, too, for peace I will resign;
But be this bright possession ever mine."
'Twas then, the growing discord to compose,
Slow from his seat the reverend Priam rose;
His godlike aspect deep attention drew:
He paused, and these pacific words ensue:
"Ye Trojans, Dardans, and auxiliar bands,
Now take refreshment as the hour demands;
Guard well the walls, relieve the watch of night,
Till the new sun restores the cheerful light:
Then shall our herald, to the Atrides sent,
Before their ships proclaim my son's intent.
Next let a truce be asked, that Troy may burn
Her slaughtered heroes, and their bones inurn;
That done, once more the fate of war be tried,
And whose the conquest, mighty Jove decide!"
The monarch spoke: the warriors snatched with haste,
Each at his post in arms, a short repast.
Soon as the rosy morn had waked the day,
To the black ships Idæus bent his way;
There, to the sons of Mars, in council found,
He raised his voice: the host stood listening round:
" Yes sons of Arteus, and ye Greeks, give ear!
The words of Troy, and Troy's great monarch, hear.
Pleased may ye hear—so heaven succeed my prayers!—
What Paris, author of the war, declares.
The spoils and treasures he to Ilion bore—
O had he perished ere they touched our shore!—
He proffers injured Greece; with large increase
Of added Trojan wealth, to buy the peace.
But, to restore the beauteous bride again,
This Greece demands, and Troy requests in vain.
Next, O ye chiefs! we ask a truce to burn
Our slaughtered heroes, and their bones inurn.
That done, once more the fate of war be tried,
And whose the conquest, mighty Jove decide!"
The Greeks give ear, but none the silence broke;
At length Tydides rose, and rising spoke:
"O take not, friends, defrauded of your fame,
Their proffered wealth, nor e'en the Spartan dame.
Let conquest make them ours: fate shakes their wall,
And Troy already totters to her fall."
The admiring chiefs, and all the Grecian name,
With general shouts returned him loud acclaim.
Then thus the king of kings rejects the peace:
"Herald! in him thou hearest the voice of Greece.
For what remains, let funeral flames be fed
With heroes' corps: I war not with the dead:
Go, search your slaughtered chiefs on yonder plain,
And gratify the manes of the slain.
Be witness, Jove, whose thunder rolls on high!"
He said, and reared his sceptre to the sky.
To sacred Troy, where all her princes lay
To wait the event, the herald bent his way.
He came, and, standing in the midst, explained
The peace rejected, but the truce obtained.
Straight to their several cares the Trojans move;
Some search the plain, some fell the sounding grove:
Nor less the Greeks, descending on the shore,
Hewed the green forests, and the bodies bore.
And now from forth the chambers of the main,
To shed his sacred light on earth again,
Arose the golden chariot of the day,
And tipped the mountains with a purple ray.
In mingled throngs the Greek and Trojan train
Through heaps of carnage searched the mournful plain.
Scarce could the friend his slaughtered friend explore,
With dust dishonoured, and deformed with gore.
The wounds they washed, their pious tears they shed,
And, laid along their cars, deplored the dead.
Sage Priam checked their grief: with silent haste
The bodies decent on the piles were placed:
With melting hearts the cold remains they burned;
And sadly slow to sacred Troy returned.
Nor less the Greeks their pious sorrows shed,
And decent on the pile dispose the dead;
The cold remains consume with equal care;
And slowly, sadly, to their fleet repair.
Now, ere the morn had streaked with reddening light
The doubtful confines of the day and night;
About the dying flames the Greeks appeared,
And round the pile a general tomb they reared.
Then, to secure the camp and naval powers,
They raised embattled walls with lofty towers:
From space to space were ample gates around,
For passing chariots; and a trench profound,
Of large extent: and deep in earth below
Strong piles infixed stood adverse to the foe.
So toiled the Greeks: meanwhile the gods above,
In shining circle round their father Jove,
Amazed beheld the wondrous works of man:
Then he whose trident shakes the earth began:
"What mortals henceforth shall our power adore,
Our fanes frequent, our oracles implore,
If the proud Grecians thus successful boast
Their rising bulwarks on the sea-beat coast?
See the long walls extending to the main,
No god consulted, and no victim slain!
Their fame shall fill the world's remotest ends,
Wide as the morn her golden beam extends.
While old Laömedon's divine abodes,
Those radiant structures raised by labouring gods,
Shall, razed and lost, in long oblivion sleep."
Thus spoke the hoary monarch of the deep.
The almighty Thunderer with a frown replies,
That clouds the world, and blackens half the skies:
"Strong god of ocean! thou, whose rage can make
The solid earth's eternal basis shake,
What cause of fear from mortal works could move
The meanest subject of our realms above?
Where'er the sun's refulgent rays are cast
Thy power is honoured, and thy fame shall last.
But yon proud work no future age shall view,
No trace remain where once the glory grew.
The sapped foundations by thy force shall fall,
And, whelmed beneath thy waves, drop the huge wall:
Vast drifts of sand shall change the former shore,
The ruin vanished, and the name no more."
Thus they in heaven: while o'er the Grecian train
The rolling sun descending to the main
Beheld the finished work. Their bulls they slew;
Black from the tents the savoury vapours flew.
And now the fleet, arrived from Lemnos' strands,
With Bacchus' blessings cheered the generous bands.
Of fragrant wines the rich Eunæus sent
A thousand measures to the royal tent:
Eunæus, whom Hypsipyle of yore
To Jason, shepherd of his people, bore.
The rest they purchased at their proper cost,
And well the plenteous freight supplied the host:
Each, in exchange, proportioned treasures gave;
Some brass, or iron, some an ox or slave.
All night they feast, the Greek and Trojan powers;
Those on the fields, and these within their towers.
But Jove averse the signs of wrath displayed,
And shot red lightnings through the gloomy shade:
Humbled they stood; pale horror seized on all,
While the deep thunder shook the aërial hall.
Each poured to Jove, before the bowl was crowned,
And large libations drenched the thirsty ground;
Then late, refreshed with sleep from toils of fight,
Enjoyed the balmy blessings of the night.
- ↑ Prince of Lemnos.