The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 8

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Hector came into the city by the Scæan gates, and as he went wives and mothers crowded about him, asking how it had fared with their husbands and sons. But he said nought, save to bid them pray; and indeed there was sore news for many, if he had told that which he knew. Then he came to the palace of King Priam, and there he saw Hecuba, his mother, and with her Laodicé, fairest of her daughters. She caught him by the hand and said:—

"Why hast thou come from the battle, my son? Do the Greeks press thee hard, and art thou minded to pray to Father Zeus from the citadel? Let me bring thee honey-sweet wine, that thou mayest pour out before him, aye, and that thou mayest drink thyself, and gladden thy heart."

But Hector said: "Give me not wine, my mother, lest thou weaken my knees and make me forget my courage. Nor must I pour out an offering with Zeus thus, with unwashed hands. But do thou gather the mothers of Troy together, and go to the temple of Athené and take a robe, the one that is the most precious and beautiful in thy stores, and lay it on the knees of the goddess, and pray her to keep this dreadful Diomed from the walls of Troy; and forget not to vow therewith twelve heifers as a sacrifice. As for me, I will go and seek Paris, if perchance he will come with me to the war. Would that the earth might open and swallow him up, for of a truth he is a curse to King Priam and to Troy."

Then went Queen Hecuba into her house, and gave command to her maids that they should assemble the aged women of the city. Afterwards she went to her store-chamber, where lay the well-wrought robes, work of Sidonian women, which Paris himself brought from Sidon, when he sailed upon the broad sea bringing home with him high-born Helen. The fairest robe of all did the Queen take. Bright as a star it was, and it lay the undermost of all.

And when she and the aged women that were with her came to the temple of Athené that was in the citadel, Theano, Antenor's wife, whom the Trojans had made priestess of Athené, opened the doors to them. They lifted their hands, and cried aloud, and Theano laid the garment on the knees of the goddess, and spake, saying:—

"Lady Athené, that keepest the city, break now the spear of Diomed, and let him fall upon his face before the Scæan gates. So will we sacrifice to thee twelve heifers that have not felt the goad, if only thou wilt have pity upon our town, and on the wives and little ones of the men of Troy."

So prayed Theano, but Athené heeded not her words.

Meanwhile Hector went to the house of Paris, where it stood on the citadel, near to his own dwelling and the dwelling of Priam. He found him busy with his arms, and the fair Helen sat near him and gave their tasks to her maidens.

When Hector saw his brother, he spake to him bitter words, taunting him, as if it were

Hector chiding Paris.jpg

Hector chiding Paris.

by reason of his anger that he stood aloof from the battle. "Verily thou doest not well to be angry. The people perish about the walls, and the war burns hot round the city; and all for thy sake. Rouse thee, lest it be consumed."

And Paris answered: "Brother, thou hast spoken well. It was not in wrath that I sat here. I was vexed at my sore defeat. But now my wife has urged me to join the battle; and truly it is well, for victory comes now to one and now to another. Wait thou, then, till I put on my arms, or, if thou wouldst depart, I will overtake thee."

Then spake Helen with soothing words: "O my brother, would that I had perished on the day when my mother bare me! But if this might not be, would that the gods had made me the wife of one who feared the blame of his fellow-men; but this man hath no understanding, no, nor ever will have. Surely, he shall eat of the fruit of his ill-doing. But come in, sit thee down in this chair, for my heart is weary because of my sin and of the sin of my husband. Verily Zeus hath ordained for us an evil fate, so that our story shall be sung in days that are yet to come."

But Hector said: "Ask me not to rest, for I am eager to help the men of Troy, for verily their need is sore. But do thou urge thy husband that he overtake me while I am yet within the city, for now I go to my home that I may see my wife and my little son, because I know not whether I shall return to them again."

So Hector departed and went to his own home, seeking his wife Andromaché, but found her not, for she was on a tower of the wall with her child and her child's nurse, weeping sore for fear. And Hector spake to the maids:—

"Tell me, whither went the white-armed Andromaché; to see some sister-in-law, or to the temple of Athené with the mothers of Troy?"

"Nay," said an aged woman, keeper of the house. "She went to one of the towers of the wall, for she had heard that the Greeks were pressing our people hard. She hasted like as she were mad, and the nurse carried the child."

So Hector ran through the city to the Scæan gates, and there Andromaché spied him, and hasted to meet him—Andromaché, daughter of King Eëtion, of Thebé-under-Placus. And with her was the nurse, bearing the young child on her bosom—Hector's only child, beautiful, headed as a star. His father called him Scamandrius, after the river, but the sons of Troy called him Astyanax, the "City-King," because it was his father who saved the city. Silently he smiled when he saw the child, but Andromaché clasped his hand and wept, and said:—

"O Hector, thy courage will bring thee to death. Thou hast no pity on thy wife and child, but sparest not thyself, and all the Greeks will rush on thee and slay thee. It were better for me, losing thee, to die; for I have no comfort but thee. My father is dead, for Achilles slew him in Thebé—slew him but spoiled him not, so much he reverenced him. With his arms he burnt him, and the mountain-nymphs planted poplars about his grave. Seven brethren I had, and they all fell in one day by the hand of the great Achilles. And my mother, she is dead, for when she had been ransomed, Artemis smote her with an arrow in her father's house. But thou art father to me, and mother, and brother, and husband also. Have pity, then, and stay here upon the wall, lest thou leave me a widow and thy child an orphan. And set the people here in array by this fig tree, where the city is easiest to be taken; for there come the bravest of the Greeks, Ajax the Greater, and Ajax the Less, and Idomeneus, and the two sons of Atreus, and the son of Tydeus."

But Hector said: "Nay, let these things be my care. I would not that any son or daughter of Troy should see me skulking from the war. And my own heart loathes the thought, and bids me fight in the front. Well I know, indeed, that Priam, and the people of Priam, and holy Troy, will perish. Yet it is not for Troy, or for the people, or even for my father or my mother that I care so much, as for thee in the day when some Greek shall carry thee away captive, and thou shalt ply the loom or carry the pitcher in the land of Greece. And some one shall say when he sees thee, 'This was

The Meeting of Hector and Andromaché.jpg

The Meeting of Hector and Andromaché.

Hector's wife, who was the bravest of the sons of Troy.' May the earth cover me before that day!"

Then Hector stretched out his arms to his child. But the child drew back into the bosom of his nurse, with a loud cry, fearing the shining bronze and the horse-hair plume which nodded awfully from his helmet top. Then father and mother laughed aloud. And Hector took the helmet from his head, and laid it on the ground, and caught his child in his hands, and kissed him and dandled him, praying aloud to Father Zeus and all the gods.

"Grant, Father Zeus and all ye gods, that this child may be as I am, great among the sons of Troy; and may they say some day, when they see him carrying home the bloody spoils from the war, 'A better man than his father, this,' and his mother shall be glad at heart."

Then he gave the child to his mother, and she clasped him to her breast, and smiled a tearful smile. And her husband's heart was moved; and he stroked her with his hand, and spake:—

"Be not troubled over much. No man shall slay me against the ordering of fate; but as for fate, that, methinks, no man may escape, be he coward or brave. But go, ply thy tasks, the shuttle and the loom, and give their tasks to thy maidens, and let men take thought for the battle."

Then Hector took up his helmet from the ground, and Andromaché went her way to her home, oft turning back her eyes. And when she was come, she and all her maidens wailed for the living Hector as though he were dead, for she thought that she should never see him any more returning safe from the battle.

And as Hector went his way, Paris came running, clad in shining arms, like to some proud steed which has been fed high in his stall, and now scours the plain with head aloft and mane streaming over his shoulders. And he spake to Hector:—

"I have kept thee, I fear, when thou wast in haste, nor came at thy bidding."

But Hector answered: "No man can blame thy courage, only thou wilfully heldest back from the battle. Therefore do the sons of Troy speak shame of thee. But now let us go to the war."

So they went together out of the gates, and fell upon the hosts of the Greeks and slew many chiefs of fame, and Glaucus the Lycian went with them.