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

Page: 149

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Pressed to his side meanwhile, and, all in tears,
Clung to his hand, and, thus beginning, said:—
‘Too brave! thy valor yet will cause thy death.
Thou hast no pity on thy tender child,
Nor me, unhappy one, who soon must be
Thy widow. All the Greeks will rush on thee
To take thy life. A happier lot were mine,
If I must lose thee, to go down to earth,
For I shall have no hope when thou art gone,—
Nothing but sorrow. Father have I none,
And no dear mother.
* * *
Hector, thou
Art father and dear mother now to me,
And brother and my youthful spouse besides.
In pity keep within the fortress here,
Nor make thy child an orphan nor thy wife
A widow.’
[323] Then answered Hector, great in war: ‘All this
I bear in mind, dear wife; but I should stand
Ashamed before the men and long-robed dames
Of Troy, were I to keep aloof and shun
The conflict, coward-like.’”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

Then he stretched out his arms for his infant son, who, however, shrank back affrighted at the sight of his brilliant helmet and nodding plumes, and would not go to him until he had set the gleaming headdress aside. After a passionate prayer for his little heir’s future welfare, Hector gave the child back to Andromache, and, with a last farewell embrace, sprang into his chariot and drove away.

“‘Sorrow not thus, beloved one, for me.
No living man can send me to the shades
Before my time; no man of woman born,
Coward or brave, can shun his destiny.
But go thou home, and tend thy labors there,—
The web, the distaff,—and command thy maids
To speed the work. The cares of war pertain
To all men born in Troy, and most to me.’”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
Greeks repelled.

Paris, ashamed now of his former flight, soon joined his brother upon the battlefield, and together they performed many deeds of valor. The time had now come when Jupiter was about to redeem the promise given to Thetis, for little by little the Greeks were forced to yield before the might of the Trojans, who, stimulated by their partial success, and fired by Hector’s example, performed miracles of valor, and finally drove their assailants into their intrenchments.

Death and defeat now dogged the very footsteps of the Greek forces, who were driven, inch by inch, away from the walls, ever nearer the place where their vessels rode at anchor. They now ardently longed for the assistance of Achilles, whose mere presence, in days gone by, had filled the Trojan hearts with terror; [324] but the hero, although Briseis had been returned unmolested, paid no heed to their entreaties for aid, and remained a sullen and indifferent spectator of their flight, while the Trojans began to set fire to some of the vessels of their fleet.

“The goddess-born Achilles, swift of foot,
Beside his ships still brooded o’er his wrath,
Nor came to counsel with the illustrious chiefs,
Nor to the war, but suffered idleness
To eat his heart away; for well he loved
Clamor and combat.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

Discouraged by all these reverses, in spite of their brave resistance, the Greeks, in despair, concluded that the gods had entirely forsaken them, and beat a hasty and ignominious retreat to the shore, closely followed by the enemy, who uttered loud cries of triumph.

Patroclus dons Achilles’ armor.

Patroclus, Achilles’ intimate friend, then hastened to the hero’s side to inform him of his comrades’ flight, and implore him once more to rescue them from inevitable death. But Achilles, summoning all his pride to his assistance, did not waver in his resolve. Suddenly Patroclus remembered that the mere sight of Achilles’ armor might suffice to arrest the enemy’s advance and produce a diversion in favor of the Greeks: so he asked permission to wear it and lead the Myrmidons, Achilles’ trusty followers, into the fray.

“Send me at least into the war,
And let me lead thy Myrmidons, that thus
The Greeks may have some gleam of hope. And give
The armor from thy shoulders. I will wear
Thy mail, and then the Trojans, at the sight,
May think I am Achilles, and may pause
From fighting, and the warlike sons of Greece,
Tired as they are, may breathe once more, and gain
A respite from the conflict.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

[325] Achilles had sworn, it is true, not to return to the scene of strife, but was quite willing to lend men and arms, if they might be of any use, and immediately placed them at his friend’s disposal. Hastily Patroclus donned the glittering armor, called aloud to the Myrmidons to follow his lead, and rushed forth to encounter the enemy.

Death of Patroclus.

The Trojans paused in dismay, thinking Achilles had come, and were about to take flight, when all at once they discovered the fraud. With renewed courage, they opposed the Greek onslaught. Many heroes bit the dust in this encounter, among others Sarpedon, the son of Jupiter and Europa (p. 45),—whose remains were borne away from the battlefield by the twin divinities Sleep and Death,—ere Hector, son of Priam, and chief among the Trojan warriors, challenged Patroclus to single combat. Needless to say, the two closed in deadly battle, and fought with equal valor, until Patroclus, already exhausted by his previous efforts, and betrayed by the gods, finally succumbed.

“The hero fell
With clashing mail, and all the Greeks beheld
His fall with grief.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

With a loud cry of victory, Hector wrenched the armor off the mangled corpse, and quickly withdrew to array himself in the brilliant spoils. The tidings of Patroclus’ fall spread rapidly all through the Grecian camp, and reached Achilles, who wept aloud when he heard that his beloved friend, who had left him but a short time before full of life and energy, was now no more. So noisily did the hero mourn his loss, that Thetis, in the quiet ocean depths, heard his groans, and rushed to his side to ascertain their cause.

Achilles’ grief.

Into his mother’s sympathetic ear Achilles poured the whole story of his grief and loss, while she gently strove to turn his thoughts aside from the sad event, and arouse an interest for some pursuit less dangerous than [326] war. All her efforts were vain, however; for Achilles’ soul thirsted for revenge, and he repeatedly swore he would go forth and slay his friend’s murderer.

“No wish
Have I to live, or to concern myself
In men’s affairs, save this: that Hector first,
Pierced by my spear, shall yield his life, and pay
The debt of vengeance for Patroclus slain.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

Then, in sudden dread lest Hector should fall by another’s hand, or withdraw from the battlefield and thus escape his vengeance, Achilles would have rushed from his tent unarmed; but his mother prevailed upon him to wait until the morrow, when she promised to bring him a full suit of armor from Vulcan’s own hand. Rapidly Thetis then traversed the wide space which separates the coast of Asia Minor from Mount Ætna, where Vulcan labored at his forge.

“She found him there
Sweating and toiling, and with busy hand
Plying the bellows.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
Achilles’ armor.

Arrived before him, she breathlessly made known her errand, and the god promised that the arms should be ready within the given time, and immediately set to work to fashion them. By his skillful hands the marvelous weapons were forged; and when the first streak of light appeared above the horizon, he consigned them to Thetis, who hastened back to her son’s tent, where she found him still bewailing the loss of Patroclus.