The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII.

THE ADVENTURE OF ULYSSES AND DIOMED.

The other chiefs of the Greeks slept that night; but King Agamemnon slept not; sore troubled was he in heart. For when he looked towards Troy, and saw the many fires, and heard the sound of flute and pipe and the murmur of men, he was astonished; and when he looked towards the ships he groaned, and tare his hair, thinking what evil might come to the people. Then it seemed good to him to seek counsel from Nestor, if haply they two might devise some useful device. So he arose, and drew his coat about his breast, and bound the sandals on his feet, and wrapped a tawny lion's hide about him, and took a spear in his hand.

To Menelaüs also came no sleep that night. So he arose, and wrapped a leopard's skin about him, and put on his head a cap of bronze, and took a spear in his hand, and went to seek his brother.

He found him arming by his ship, and said: "Why armest thou? Wilt thou send some one to spy out the doings of the Trojans? I fear me much that no man will undertake the task to go alone, for it is a daring deed."

To him replied King Agamemnon: "We have need of good counsel, my brother, that we may save the people. Truly the mind of Zeus is changed; for never hath a man wrought such destruction in one day as did Hector on the Greeks, and yet he is not the son either of goddess or of god. But now run thou to Ajax and Idomeneus, and call them to the council, and I will go to Nestor."

So the chiefs were gathered to the council. First of all they went to the company of them that watched the camp. These they found not sleeping but awake, like to dogs that hear the sound of some wild beast in the wood, so did the watch look towards the plain, thinking to hear the sound of the feet of the Trojans.

Gladly did old Nestor see them, and spake, saying, "Such be your watch, my children, lest we become a prey to our enemies."

Then he hasted to cross the trench, and with him went the other princes. In an open space they sat down that was clear of dead, even where Hector had turned back from slaying the Greeks.

And Nestor rose and said: "Is there now a man who will go among the sons of Troy, and see what they are minded to do? Great honour will he win, and gifts withal."

Then Diomed said, "I am ready to go, but I would fain have some one with me. To have a companion gives comfort and courage, and, indeed, two wits are better than one to take counsel and to foresee."

And many were willing to go with Diomed. Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Less, and Meriones, and Thrasymedes, old Nestor's son (and no one, indeed, wished it more than he), and Menelaüs and Ulysses.

But Agamemnon said, "Choose the best man, O Diomed, and regard not the birth or rank of any." This he said, fearing for his brother Menelaüs.

And Diomed answered: "Nay, but if I may choose, whom should I choose rather than the wise Ulysses? Brave is he, and prudent, and Athené loves him well."

But Ulysses said: "Praise me not overmuch, nor blame me. Only let us go, for the night is far spent."

So these two armed themselves. Diomed took a two-edged sword and a shield, and a helmet without a crest, and Ulysses a bow and a quiver and a sword, and a helmet of hide with the white teeth of a wild boar about it. Then both prayed to Athené that she would help them, and after that they went through the darkness like to two lions, trampling over dead bodies and arms and blood.

But Hector, meanwhile, was thinking on the same things, for he called the chiefs to a council and said: "Who now will go and spy among the Greeks, and see what they purpose to do on the morrow, and whether they are keeping watch through the night. A goodly reward shall he have, even a chariot and horses, the best that there are in the camp of the Greeks."

Then stood up a certain Dolon, the son of the herald Eumedes. Ill-favoured was he, but a swift runner, the only son of his father, but he had five sisters. He said:—

"I will go, Hector; but come, lift up thy sceptre, and swear to me that thou wilt give me the chariot and the horses of Achilles."

So Hector sware to him, but it was an idle oath. And Dolon took his bow, and a helmet of grisly wolf-skin, and a sharp spear, and went his way in haste. But Ulysses saw him, and said:—

"Here cometh a man, Diomed, but whether he be a spy or a spoiler of the dead I know not. Let him pass by a space that we may take him. If he outrun us, press him with thy spear towards the ships; only let him not turn back to the city."

So they lay down among the dead, a little out of the way, and Dolon passed by them unknowing; but when he had gone a little space they ran upon him. For a while he stood hearkening to their steps, for he thought that Hector had sent comrades to call him back. But when they were a spear's throw from him, or less, he knew them for foes and fled. And just as two dogs follow a fawn or a hare, so they two ran, pursuing Dolon. And when he had well-nigh reached the trench, for they kept him that he should not turn back to the city, Diomed rushed forward and cried:—

"Stay, or I will slay thee with my spear."

And he threw the spear, and smote not the man indeed, for that he wished not, but made it pass over his shoulder, so that it stood in the ground before him. Then Dolon stood trembling and pale, and with teeth chattering with fear. And the two heroes, breathing hard, came up and laid hands on him. And he said, weeping:—

"Hold me to ransom; much gold and bronze and iron will my father give, if he hear that I am a prisoner at the ships."

Then said the wise Ulysses: "Be of good cheer, and think not of death. But tell us truly, why wast thou coming hither through the darkness? To spoil the dead, or, at Hector's bidding, to spy out our affairs at the ships, or on some errand of thine own?"

And Dolon answered, "Hector persuaded me, promising to give me the horses and chariot of Achilles, and he bade me go and spy out what ye purposed to do on the morrow, and whether ye were keeping watch in the night."

And Ulysses smiled and said: "Surely it was a great reward that thy soul desired. The horses of Achilles are grievous for any man to drive, save for him that is born of a goddess. But tell me, where is Hector, and where are the watches of the sons of Troy?"

Then Dolon answered: "Hector holds council with the chiefs by the tomb of Ilus. But as for the army, there are no watches set, save only where be the Trojans themselves. But as for the allies, they sleep secure, and trust to the Trojans to watch for them, seeing that they have not wives or children near."

Then Ulysses asked, "Do they sleep, then, among the Trojans, or apart?"

"Next to the sea," said Dolon, "are the men of Caria and Pæonia, and close to these the men of Lycia and Mysia and Phrygia. But if ye wish to enter the camp, lo! apart from all are some newcomers, Thracians, with Rhesus,


Diomed and Ulysses returning with the spoils of Rhesus.jpg

Diomed and Ulysses returning with the spoils of Rhesus.


their King. Never have I seen horses so fair and tall as his. Whiter are they than snow, and swifter than the winds. But do ye now send me to the ships, or, if ye will, bind me and leave me here."

But Diomed said: "Think not to escape, Dolon, though thy news is good; for then wouldst thou come again to spy out our camp or to fight. But if I slay thee, thou wilt trouble the Greeks no more."

So he slew him, and took from him his arms, hanging them on a tamarisk tree, and made a mark with reeds and tamarisk boughs, that they might know the place as they came back. So they went on across the plain and came to where the men of Thrace lay sleeping, and by each man were his arms in fair array, and his horses; but in the midst lay King Rhesus, with his horses tethered to the chariot-rail. Then Diomed began to slay. As a lion rushes on a flock, so rushed he on the men of Thrace. Twelve he slew, and as he slew them Ulysses dragged them out of the way, that there might be a clear road for the horses, lest they should start back, fearing the dead bodies, for they were not used to war. And the thirteenth was King Rhesus himself, who panted in his sleep, for an evil dream was on him. And meanwhile Ulysses drove the horses out of the encampment, smiting them with his bow, for he had not thought to take the whip out of the chariot. Then he whistled, making a sign to Diomed that he should come, for Diomed lingered, doubting whether he might not slay yet more. But Athené whispered in his ear:—

"Think of thy return, lest haply some god rouse the Trojans against thee."

And, indeed, Apollo was even then rousing them. For Hippocoön, cousin to King Rhesus, awoke, and seeing the place of the horses empty and his comrades slain, groaned aloud, and called to the King, and the Trojans were roused, and flocked together with tumult and shouting. But Diomed and Ulysses meanwhile had mounted the horses, and were riding to the ships. Glad were their comrades to see them safe returned, and praised them much for all that they had done.