The Iliad of Homer
Page: 306And short, or wide, the ungovern'd courser drive:
While with sure skill, though with inferior steeds,
The knowing racer to his end proceeds;
Fix'd on the goal his eye foreruns the course,
His hand unerring steers the steady horse,
And now contracts, or now extends the rein,
Observing still the foremost on the plain.
Mark then the goal, 'tis easy to be found;
Yon aged trunk, a cubit from the ground;
Of some once stately oak the last remains,
Or hardy fir, unperish'd with the rains:
Inclosed with stones, conspicuous from afar;
And round, a circle for the wheeling car.
(Some tomb perhaps of old, the dead to grace;
Or then, as now, the limit of a race.)
Bear close to this, and warily proceed,
A little bending to the left-hand steed;
But urge the right, and give him all the reins;
While thy strict hand his fellow's head restrains,
And turns him short; till, doubling as they roll,[pg 415]
The wheel's round naves appear to brush the goal.
Yet (not to break the car, or lame the horse)
Clear of the stony heap direct the course;
Lest through incaution failing, thou mayst be
A joy to others, a reproach to me.
So shalt thou pass the goal, secure of mind,
And leave unskilful swiftness far behind:
Though thy fierce rival drove the matchless steed
Which bore Adrastus, of celestial breed;
Or the famed race, through all the regions known,
That whirl'd the car of proud Laomedon."
Thus (nought unsaid) the much-advising sage
Concludes; then sat, stiff with unwieldy age.
Next bold Meriones was seen to rise,
The last, but not least ardent for the prize.
They mount their seats; the lots their place dispose
(Roll'd in his helmet, these Achilles throws).
Young Nestor leads the race: Eumelus then;
And next the brother of the king of men:
Thy lot, Meriones, the fourth was cast;
And, far the bravest, Diomed, was last.
They stand in order, an impatient train:
Pelides points the barrier on the plain,
And sends before old Phoenix to the place,
To mark the racers, and to judge the race.
At once the coursers from the barrier bound;
The lifted scourges all at once resound;
Their heart, their eyes, their voice, they send before;
And up the champaign thunder from the shore:
Thick, where they drive, the dusty clouds arise,
And the lost courser in the whirlwind flies;
Loose on their shoulders the long manes reclined,
Float in their speed, and dance upon the wind:
The smoking chariots, rapid as they bound,
Now seem to touch the sky, and now the ground.
While hot for fame, and conquest all their care,
(Each o'er his flying courser hung in air,)
Erect with ardour, poised upon the rein,
They pant, they stretch, they shout along the plain.
Now (the last compass fetch'd around the goal)
At the near prize each gathers all his soul,
Each burns with double hope, with double pain,
Tears up the shore, and thunders toward the main.