The Iliad of Homer
Refulgent through the cloud: no eye could find
The track his flying wheels had left behind:
And the fierce coursers urged their rapid pace
So swift, it seem'd a flight, and not a race.
Now victor at the goal Tydides stands,
Quits his bright car, and springs upon the sands;
From the hot steeds the sweaty torrents stream;
The well-plied whip is hung athwart the beam:
With joy brave Sthenelus receives the prize,
The tripod-vase, and dame with radiant eyes:
These to the ships his train triumphant leads,
The chief himself unyokes the panting steeds.
Young Nestor follows (who by art, not force,
O'erpass'd Atrides) second in the course.
Behind, Atrides urged the race, more near
Than to the courser in his swift career
The following car, just touching with his heel
And brushing with his tail the whirling wheel:
Such, and so narrow now the space between
The rivals, late so distant on the green;
So soon swift Æthe her lost ground regain'd,
One length, one moment, had the race obtain'd.
Merion pursued, at greater distance still,
With tardier coursers, and inferior skill.
Last came, Admetus! thy unhappy son;
Slow dragged the steeds his batter'd chariot on:
Achilles saw, and pitying thus begun:
"Behold! the man whose matchless art surpass'd
The sons of Greece! the ablest, yet the last!
Fortune denies, but justice bids us pay
(Since great Tydides bears the first away)
To him the second honours of the day."
The Greeks consent with loud-applauding cries,
And then Eumelus had received the prize,
But youthful Nestor, jealous of his fame,
The award opposes, and asserts his claim.
"Think not (he cries) I tamely will resign,
O Peleus' son! the mare so justly mine.
What if the gods, the skilful to confound,
Have thrown the horse and horseman to the ground?
Perhaps he sought not heaven by sacrifice,
And vows omitted forfeited the prize.
If yet (distinction to thy friend to show,
And please a soul desirous to bestow)
Some gift must grace Eumelus, view thy store
Of beauteous handmaids, steeds, and shining ore;
An ample present let him thence receive,
And Greece shall praise thy generous thirst to give.
But this my prize I never shall forego;
This, who but touches, warriors! is my foe."
Thus spake the youth; nor did his words offend;
Pleased with the well-turn'd flattery of a friend,
Achilles smiled: "The gift proposed (he cried),
Antilochus! we shall ourself provide.
With plates of brass the corslet cover'd o'er,
(The same renown'd Asteropaeus wore,)
Whose glittering margins raised with silver shine,
(No vulgar gift,) Eumelus! shall be thine."
He said: Automedon at his command
The corslet brought, and gave it to his hand.
Distinguish'd by his friend, his bosom glows
With generous joy: then Menelaus rose;
The herald placed the sceptre in his hands,
And still'd the clamour of the shouting bands.
Not without cause incensed at Nestor's son,
And inly grieving, thus the king begun:
"The praise of wisdom, in thy youth obtain'd,
An act so rash, Antilochus! has stain'd.
Robb'd of my glory and my just reward,
To you, O Grecians! be my wrong declared:
So not a leader shall our conduct blame,
Or judge me envious of a rival's fame.
But shall not we, ourselves, the truth maintain?
What needs appealing in a fact so plain?
What Greek shall blame me, if I bid thee rise,
And vindicate by oath th' ill-gotten prize?
Rise if thou darest, before thy chariot stand,[pg 420]
The driving scourge high-lifted in thy hand;
And touch thy steeds, and swear thy whole intent
Was but to conquer, not to circumvent.
Swear by that god whose liquid arms surround
The globe, and whose dread earthquakes heave the ground!"
The prudent chief with calm attention heard;
Then mildly thus: "Excuse, if youth have err'd;
Superior as thou art, forgive the offence,
Nor I thy equal, or in years, or sense.
Thou know'st the errors of unripen'd age,
Weak are its counsels, headlong is its rage.
The prize I quit, if thou thy wrath resign;
The mare, or aught thou ask'st, be freely thine
Ere I become (from thy dear friendship torn)
Hateful to thee, and to the gods forsworn."
So spoke Antilochus; and at the word
The mare contested to the king restored.
Joy swells his soul: as when the vernal grain
Lifts the green ear above the springing plain,
The fields their vegetable life renew,
And laugh and glitter with the morning dew;
Such joy the Spartan's shining face o'erspread,
And lifted his gay heart, while thus he said:
"Still may our souls, O generous youth! agree
'Tis now Atrides' turn to yield to thee.
Rash heat perhaps a moment might control,
Not break, the settled temper of thy soul.
Not but (my friend) 'tis still the wiser way
To waive contention with superior sway;
For ah! how few, who should like thee offend,
Like thee, have talents to regain the friend!
To plead indulgence, and thy fault atone,
Suffice thy father's merit and thy own:
Generous alike, for me, the sire and son
Have greatly suffer'd, and have greatly done.
I yield; that all may know, my soul can bend,
Nor is my pride preferr'd before my friend."
He said; and pleased his passion to command,
Resign'd the courser to Noemon's hand,
Friend of the youthful chief: himself content,
The shining charger to his vessel sent.
The golden talents Merion next obtain'd;
The fifth reward, the double bowl, remain'd.
And thus the purpose of his gift declares:
"Accept thou this, O sacred sire! (he said)
In dear memorial of Patroclus dead;
Dead and for ever lost Patroclus lies,
For ever snatch'd from our desiring eyes!
Take thou this token of a grateful heart,[pg 421]
Though 'tis not thine to hurl the distant dart,
The quoit to toss, the ponderous mace to wield,
Or urge the race, or wrestle on the field:
Thy pristine vigour age has overthrown,