The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 5

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CHAPTER V.

THE BROKEN OATH.

Meanwhile the gods sat in council in the hall of Zeus; and fair Hebe poured out for them the nectar, and they pledged each other in cups of gold, looking down upon the city of Troy. Then spake Zeus, seeking to provoke Hera with taunting words:—

"Two helpers hath Menelaüs among the goddesses, even Hera and Athené. But now they sit still and take their pleasure, while Aphrodité walketh beside Paris, and delivereth him from instant death. Yet, seeing that Menelaüs hath prevailed, let us consider what shall next be done. Shall we stir up war again, or make peace between the hosts? If it please you to make peace, then let Menelaüs take Helen to his home again, and let Priam's city continue."

So he spake. But Hera and Athené sat wrathful side by side, meditating evil in their hearts against the men of Troy. Athené kept silence, for all the fury that raged within her, but Hera could not contain her wrath, and spake:—

"What is this thou sayest, son of Chronos? Wouldst thou make void all my toil and trouble, with which I have gathered this people together, that Priam and his sons may be destroyed? Do as thou wilt; but it pleaseth not the other gods."

To her Zeus spake in answer wrathfully: "Tell us what evil have Priam and the sons of Priam done in thy sight that thou desirest so pitilessly the downfall of this fair city of Troy? Verily wert thou to pass within the gates, and eat Priam raw, and his sons with him, then might thy hate be satisfied. Do, then, as thou wilt. Let not this matter breed ill-will betwixt me and thee. Yet remember what I say. If I be minded to destroy in time to come some city that thou lovest, say me not nay, nor hinder me, for in this have I yielded to thy will, though sore unwilling. Verily of all the cities of men that lie beneath the stars, I have loved holy Troy the best. Never there has my altar failed of feast and banquet and the sweet savour that is the due of gods."

Then Hera answered: "Three cities have I that I love, Argos and Sparta and Mycenæ. If they have offended thee, destroy them; I begrudge them not; nor, indeed, could I withstand thy will. Yet my toil also should not be made vain; for I, too, am a daughter of Chronos, and first in place among the immortals, seeing that I am thy wife, who art the King. Come, therefore, let us yield to one another, and the other gods will follow us. Let now Athené go down, and bring it to pass that some one of the Trojans begin the strife and break the truce."

Thus she ended, and Zeus said not nay, but spake straightway to Athené: "Make haste, get thee down to the host, and bring it to pass that the men of Troy break the truce."

So Athené sped down from the top of Olympus, like to a star which Zeus sends as a sign to sailors on the sea, or to some host that goeth forth to battle; and wonder cometh upon all that behold it.

Among the host of Troy she went, taking upon herself the shape of Laodocus, son of Antenor, and went to Pandarus, son of Lycaon, where he stood among his men. Then the false Laodocus said: "Pandarus, darest thou aim an arrow at Menelaüs? Truly the Trojans would love thee well, and Paris best of all, if they could see Menelaüs slain by an arrow from thy bow. Aim then, but first pray to Apollo, and vow that thou wilt offer a hundred beasts when thou returnest to thy city Zeleia."

Now Pandarus had a bow made of the horns of a wild goat which he had slain; sixteen palms long were the horns, and a cunning workman had made them smooth, and put a tip of gold whereon to fasten the bow-string. And Pandarus strung his bow, his comrades hiding him with their shields. Then he took an arrow from his quiver, and laid it on the bow-string, and drew the string to his breast, till the arrow-head touched the bow, and let fly. Right well aimed was the dart, but it was not the will of heaven that it should slay Menelaüs. For the daughter of Zeus stood before him, and turned aside the shaft, waving it from him as a mother waveth a fly from her child when he lieth asleep. She guided it to where the golden clasps of the belt came together, and the breastplate overlapped. It passed through the belt, and through the corselet, and through the girdle, and pierced the skin. Then the red blood rushed out and stained the white skin, even as some Lycian or Carian woman stains the white ivory with red to adorn the war-horse of a king. Even so were the thighs and legs and ankles of Menelaüs dyed with blood.

Sore dismayed was King Agamemnon to see the blood; sore dismayed also was the brave Menelaüs, till he spied the barb of the arrow, and knew that the wound was not deep. But Agamemnon cried: "It was in an evil hour for thee, my brother, that I made a covenant with these false sons of Troy. Right well, indeed, I know that oath and sacrifice are not in vain. For though Zeus fulfil not now his purpose, yet will he take vengeance at the last, and the guilty shall suffer, they and their wives, and their children. Troy shall fall; but woe is me if thou shouldst die, Menelaüs. For the Greeks will straight go back to their fatherland, and the fair Helen will be left a boast to the sons of Troy, and I shall have great shame when one of them shall say, as he leaps on the tomb of the brave Menelaüs, 'Surely the great Agamemnon has avenged himself well; for he brought an army hither, but now is gone back to his home, but left Menelaüs here.' May the earth swallow me up before that day!"

"Nay," said Menelaüs; "fear not, for the arrow hath but grazed the skin."

Then King Agamemnon bade fetch the physician. So the herald fetched Machaon, the physician. And Machaon came, and drew forth the arrow, and when he had wiped away the blood he put healing drugs upon the wound, which Cheiron, the wise healer, had given to his father.

But while this was doing, King Agamemnon went throughout the host, and if he saw any one stirring himself to get ready for the battle he praised him and gave him good encouragement; but whomsoever he saw halting and lingering and slothful, him he blamed and rebuked whether he were common man or chief. The last that he came to was Diomed, son of Tydeus with Sthenelus, son of Capaneus, standing by his side. And Agamemnon spake: "How is this, son of Tydeus? Shrinkest thou from the battle? This was not thy father's wont. I never saw him, indeed, but I have heard that he was braver than all other men. Once he came to Mycenæ with great Polyneices to gather allies against Thebes. And the men of Mycenæ would have sent them, only Zeus showed evil signs from heaven and forbade them. Then the Greeks sent Tydeus on an embassy to Thebes, where he found many of the sons of Cadmus feasting in the palace of Eteocles; but Tydeus was not afraid, though he was but one among many. He challenged them to contend with him in sport, and in everything he prevailed. But the sons of Cadmus bare it ill, and they laid an ambush for Tydeus as he went back, fifty men with two leaders, Mæon and Lycophon. But Tydeus slew them all, leaving only Mæon alive, that he might carry back the tidings to Thebes. Such was thy father; but his son is worse in battle, but better, it may be, in speech."

Nothing said Diomed, for he reverenced the King; but Sthenelus cried out: "Why speakest thou false, King Agamemnon, knowing the truth? We are not worse but better than our fathers. Did not we take Thebes, though we had fewer men than they, who indeed took it not?" But Diomed frowned and said: "Be silent, friend. I blame not King Agamemnon, that he rouses the Greeks to battle. Great glory will it be to him if they take the city, and great loss if they be worsted. But it is for us to be valiant."

So he passed through all the host. And the Greeks went forward to the battle, as the waves that curl themselves, then dash upon the shore, throwing high the foam. In order they went after their chiefs; you had thought them dumb, so silent were they. But the Trojans were like a flock of ewes which wait to be milked, and bleat hearing the voice of their lambs, so confused a cry went out from their army, for there were men of many tongues gathered together. And on either side the gods urged them on.

Among the Trojan ranks was Ares, and among the Greeks Athené, and with her Fear, and Flight, and Strife that never grows weary, sister and comrade of Ares. Mean is her stature at the first, but in the end she holds her head to heaven, while she walks with her feet upon the earth.