Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 151

“‘Leave we the dead, my son, since it hath pleased
The gods that he should fall; and now receive
This sumptuous armor, forged by Vulcan’s hand,
Beautiful, such as no man ever wore.’”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
Death of Hector.

Thus armed, mounted in his chariot drawn by his favorite steeds, and driven by his faithful charioteer Automedon, Achilles went forth to battle, and finally seeing Hector, whom alone he wished to meet, he rushed upon him with a hoarse cry of rage. The Trojan hero, at the mere sight of the deadly hatred which shone in Achilles’ eyes, turned to flee. Achilles pursued him, and taunted him with his cowardice, until Hector turned and fought with all the courage and recklessness of despair.

Their blows fell like hail, a cloud of dust enveloped their struggling forms, and the anxious witnesses only heard the dull thud of the blows and the metallic clash of the weapons. Suddenly there came a loud cry, then all was still; and when the dust-cloud had blown away, the Trojans from the ramparts, where they had waited in agony for the issue of the fight, beheld Achilles tear the armor from their champion’s body, bind the corpse to his chariot, and drive nine times round the city walls, Hector’s princely head dragging in the dust. Priam, Hecuba, and Andromache, Hector’s beautiful young wife, tearfully watched this ignominious treatment, and finally saw Achilles drive off to the spot where Patroclus’ funeral pile was laid, and there abandon the corpse.

Achilles then returned to his tent, where for a long time he [329] continued to mourn his friend’s untimely end, refusing to be comforted.

The gods’ decree.

The gods, from their celestial abode, had also witnessed this heartrending scene, and now Jupiter sent Iris to Thetis, and bade her hasten down to Achilles and command him to restore Hector’s body to his mourning family. He also directed Mercury to lead Priam, unseen, into Achilles’ tent, to claim and bear away his son’s desecrated corpse. Thetis, seeking Achilles in his tent, announced the will of Jove:—

“I am come
A messenger from Jove, who bids me say
The immortals are offended, and himself
The most, that thou shouldst in thy spite detain
The corse of Hector at the beaked ships,
Refusing its release. Comply thou, then,
And take the ransom and restore the dead.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
Return of Hector’s body.

Mercury acquitted himself with his usual dispatch, and soon guided Priam in safety through the Grecian camp to Achilles’ tent, where the aged king fell at the hero’s feet, humbly pleading for his son’s body, and proffering a princely ransom in exchange.

Achilles, no longer able to refuse this entreaty, and touched by a father’s tears, consigned Hector’s corpse to the old man’s care, and promised an armistice of fourteen days, that the funeral rites in both camps might be celebrated with all due pomp and solemnity; and with the burial of Hector the Iliad comes to a close.

Death of Penthesilea.

At the end of the truce the hostilities were renewed, and the Trojans were reinforced by the arrival of Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, who, with a chosen troop of warrior maidens, came to offer her aid. The brave queen afforded them, however, only temporary relief, as she was slain by Achilles in their very first encounter.

He, too, however, was doomed to die “in the flower of his youth and beauty,” and the Fates had almost finished spinning [330] his thread of life. In an early skirmish, while in close pursuit of the Trojans, Thetis’ son had once caught sight of Polyxena, daughter of Priam, and had been deeply smitten by her girlish charms. He now vainly tried to make peace between the conflicting nations, hoping that, were the war but ended, he might obtain her hand in marriage.

Death of Achilles.

His efforts to make peace failed; but at last he prevailed upon Priam to celebrate his betrothal with Polyxena, with the stipulation that the marriage would take place as soon as the war was over. The betrothal ceremony was held without the city gates; and Achilles was just about to part from his blushing betrothed, when Paris, ever treacherous, stole behind him and shot a poisoned arrow into his vulnerable heel, thus slaying the hero who had caused so many brave warriors to bite the dust.

“Thus great Achilles, who had shown his zeal
In healing wounds, died of a wounded heel.”
O. W. Holmes.

His armor—the glorious armor forged by Vulcan—was hotly contested for by Ulysses and Ajax. The former finally obtained the coveted weapons; and Ajax’ grief at their loss was so intense, that he became insane, and killed himself in a fit of frenzy, while Polyxena, inconsolable at her betrothed’s death, committed suicide on the magnificent tomb erected over his remains on the Trojan plain.

Philoctetes’ arrows.