The Iliad of Homer
He said, and placed the goblet at his side;
With joy the venerable king replied:
"Wisely and well, my son, thy words have proved
A senior honour'd, and a friend beloved!
Too true it is, deserted of my strength,
These wither'd arms and limbs have fail'd at length.
Oh! had I now that force I felt of yore,
Known through Buprasium and the Pylian shore!
Victorious then in every solemn game,
Ordain'd to Amarynces' mighty name;
The brave Epeians gave my glory way,
Ætolians, Pylians, all resign'd the day.
I quell'd Clytomedes in fights of hand,
And backward hurl'd Ancaeus on the sand,
Surpass'd Iphyclus in the swift career,
Phyleus and Polydorus with the spear.
The sons of Actor won the prize of horse,
But won by numbers, not by art or force:
For the famed twins, impatient to survey
Prize after prize by Nestor borne away,
Sprung to their car; and with united pains
One lash'd the coursers, while one ruled the reins.
Such once I was! Now to these tasks succeeds
A younger race, that emulate our deeds:
I yield, alas! (to age who must not yield?)
Though once the foremost hero of the field.
Go thou, my son! by generous friendship led,
With martial honours decorate the dead:
While pleased I take the gift thy hands present,
(Pledge of benevolence, and kind intent,)
Rejoiced, of all the numerous Greeks, to see
Not one but honours sacred age and me:
Those due distinctions thou so well canst pay,
May the just gods return another day!"
Proud of the gift, thus spake the full of days:
Achilles heard him, prouder of the praise.
The prizes next are order'd to the field,
For the bold champions who the caestus wield.
A stately mule, as yet by toils unbroke,
Of six years' age, unconscious of the yoke,
Is to the circus led, and firmly bound;
Next stands a goblet, massy, large, and round.
Achilles rising, thus: "Let Greece excite
Two heroes equal to this hardy fight;
Who dare the foe with lifted arms provoke,[pg 422]
And rush beneath the long-descending stroke.
On whom Apollo shall the palm bestow,
And whom the Greeks supreme by conquest know,
This mule his dauntless labours shall repay,
The vanquish'd bear the massy bowl away."
This dreadful combat great Epeus chose;291
High o'er the crowd, enormous bulk! he rose,
And seized the beast, and thus began to say:
"Stand forth some man, to bear the bowl away!
(Price of his ruin: for who dares deny
This mule my right; the undoubted victor I)
Others, 'tis own'd, in fields of battle shine,
But the first honours of this fight are mine;
For who excels in all? Then let my foe
Draw near, but first his certain fortune know;
Secure this hand shall his whole frame confound,
Mash all his bones, and all his body pound:
So let his friends be nigh, a needful train,
To heave the batter'd carcase off the plain."
The giant spoke; and in a stupid gaze
The host beheld him, silent with amaze!
'Twas thou, Euryalus! who durst aspire
To meet his might, and emulate thy sire,
The great Mecistheus; who in days of yore
In Theban games the noblest trophy bore,
(The games ordain'd dead OEdipus to grace,)
And singly vanquish the Cadmean race.
Him great Tydides urges to contend,
Warm with the hopes of conquest for his friend;
Officious with the cincture girds him round;
And to his wrist the gloves of death are bound.
Amid the circle now each champion stands,
And poises high in air his iron hands;
With clashing gauntlets now they fiercely close,[pg 423]
Their crackling jaws re-echo to the blows,
And painful sweat from all their members flows.
At length Epeus dealt a weighty blow
Full on the cheek of his unwary foe;
Beneath that ponderous arm's resistless sway
Down dropp'd he, nerveless, and extended lay.
As a large fish, when winds and waters roar,
By some huge billow dash'd against the shore,
Lies panting; not less batter'd with his wound,
The bleeding hero pants upon the ground.
To rear his fallen foe, the victor lends,
Scornful, his hand; and gives him to his friends;
Whose arms support him, reeling through the throng,
And dragging his disabled legs along;
Nodding, his head hangs down his shoulder o'er;
His mouth and nostrils pour the clotted gore;292
Wrapp'd round in mists he lies, and lost to thought;
His friends receive the bowl, too dearly bought.
The third bold game Achilles next demands,
And calls the wrestlers to the level sands:
A massy tripod for the victor lies,
Of twice six oxen its reputed price;
And next, the loser's spirits to restore,
A female captive, valued but at four.
Scarce did the chief the vigorous strife prop
When tower-like Ajax and Ulysses rose.
Amid the ring each nervous rival stands,
Embracing rigid with implicit hands.
Close lock'd above, their heads and arms are mix'd:
Below, their planted feet at distance fix'd;
Like two strong rafters which the builder forms,
Proof to the wintry winds and howling storms,
Their tops connected, but at wider space
Fix'd on the centre stands their solid base.
Now to the grasp each manly body bends;
The humid sweat from every pore descends;
Their bones resound with blows: sides, shoulders, thighs
Swell to each gripe, and bloody tumours rise.
Nor could Ulysses, for his art renown'd,
O'erturn the strength of Ajax on the ground;
Nor could the strength of Ajax overthrow
The watchful caution of his artful foe.
While the long strife even tired the lookers on,
Thus to Ulysses spoke great Telamon:
"Or let me lift thee, chief, or lift thou me:
Prove we our force, and Jove the rest decree."
He said; and, straining, heaved him off the ground
With matchless strength; that time Ulysses found
The strength to evade, and where the nerves combine
His ankle struck: the giant fell supine;
Ulysses, following, on his bosom lies;