The Fall of Troy

Page: 40

  Then these the Queen of Rivalry spurred on,
  As from the starting-line like falcons swift
  They sped away. Long doubtful was the race:
  Now, as the Argives gazed, would Aias' friends
  Shout, now rang out the answering cheer from friends
  Of Teucer. But when in their eager speed
  Close on the end they were, then Teucer's feet
  Were trammelled by unearthly powers: some god
  Or demon dashed his foot against the stock
  Of a deep-rooted tamarisk. Sorely wrenched
  Was his left ankle: round the joint upswelled
  The veins high-ridged. A great shout rang from all
  That watched the contest. Aias darted past
  Exultant: ran his Locrian folk to hail
  Their lord, with sudden joy in all their souls.
  Then to his ships they drave the kine, and cast
  Fodder before them. Eager-helpful friends
  Led Teucer halting thence. The leeches drew
  Blood from his foot: then over it they laid
  Soft-shredded linen ointment-smeared, and swathed
  With smooth bands round, and charmed away the pain.

  Then swiftly rose two mighty-hearted ones
  Eager to match their strength in wrestling strain,
  The son of Tydeus and the giant Aias.
  Into the midst they strode, and marvelling gazed
  The Argives on men shapen like to gods.
  Then grappled they, like lions famine-stung
  Fighting amidst the mountains o'er a stag,
  Whose strength is even-balanced; no whit less
  Is one than other in their deadly rage;
  So these long time in might were even-matched,
  Till Aias locked his strong hands round the son
  Of Tydeus, straining hard to break his back;
  But he, with wrestling-craft and strength combined,
  Shifted his hip 'neath Telamon's son, and heaved
  The giant up; with a side-twist wrenched free
  From Aias' ankle-lock his thigh, and so
  With one huge shoulder-heave to earth he threw
  That mighty champion, and himself came down
  Astride him: then a mighty shout went up.
  But battle-stormer Aias, chafed in mind,
  Sprang up, hot-eager to essay again
  That grim encounter. From his terrible hands
  He dashed the dust, and challenged furiously
  With a great voice Tydeides: not a whit
  That other quailed, but rushed to close with him.
  Rolled up the dust in clouds from 'neath their feet:
  Hurtling they met like battling mountain-bulls
  That clash to prove their dauntless strength, and spurn
  The dust, while with their roaring all the hills
  Re-echo: in their desperate fury these
  Dash their strong heads together, straining long
  Against each other with their massive strength,
  Hard-panting in the fierce rage of their strife,
  While from their mouths drip foam-flakes to the ground;
  So strained they twain with grapple of brawny hands.
  'Neath that hard grip their backs and sinewy necks
  Cracked, even as when in mountain-glades the trees
  Dash storm-tormented boughs together. Oft
  Tydeides clutched at Aias' brawny thighs,
  But could not stir his steadfast-rooted feet.
  Oft Aias hurled his whole weight on him, bowed
  His shoulders backward, strove to press him down;
  And to new grips their hands were shifting aye.
  All round the gazing people shouted, some
  Cheering on glorious Tydeus' son, and some
  The might of Aias. Then the giant swung
  The shoulders of his foe to right, to left;
  Then gripped him 'neath the waist; with one fierce heave
  And giant effort hurled him like a stone
  To earth. The floor of Troyland rang again
  As fell Tydeides: shouted all the folk.
  Yet leapt he up all eager to contend
  With giant Aias for the third last fall:
  But Nestor rose and spake unto the twain:
  "From grapple of wrestling, noble sons, forbear;
  For all we know that ye be mightiest
  Of Argives since the great Achilles died."

  Then these from toil refrained, and from their brows
  Wiped with their hands the plenteous-streaming sweat:
  They kissed each other, and forgat their strife.
  Then Thetis, queen of Goddesses, gave to them
  Four handmaids; and those strong and aweless ones
  Marvelled beholding them, for these surpassed
  All captive-maids in beauty and household-skill,
  Save only lovely-tressed Briseis. These
  Achilles captive brought from Lesbos' Isle,
  And in their service joyed. The first was made
  Stewardess of the feast and lady of meats;
  The second to the feasters poured the wine;
  The third shed water on their hands thereafter;
  The fourth bare all away, the banquet done.
  These Tydeus' son and giant Aias shared,
  And, parted two and two, unto their ships
  Sent they those fair and serviceable ones.

  Next, for the play of fists Idomeneus rose,
  For cunning was he in all athlete-lore;
  But none came forth to meet him, yielding all
  To him, the elder-born, with reverent awe.
  So in their midst gave Thetis unto him
  A chariot and fleet steeds, which theretofore
  Mighty Patroclus from the ranks of Troy
  Drave, when he slew Sarpedon, seed of Zeus,
  These to his henchmen gave Idomeneus
  To drive unto the ships: himself remained
  Still sitting in the glorious athlete-ring.
  Then Phoenix to the stalwart Argives cried:
  "Now to Idomeneus the Gods have given
  A fair prize uncontested, free of toil
  Of mighty arms and shoulders, honouring
  The elder-born with bloodless victory.
  But lo, ye younger men, another prize
  Awaiteth the swift play of cunning hands.
  Step forth then: gladden great Peleides' soul."

  He spake, they heard; but each on other looked,
  And, loth to essay the contest, all sat still,
  Till Neleus' son rebuked those laggard souls:
  "Friends, it were shame that men should shun the play
  Of clenched hands, who in that noble sport
  Have skill, wherein young men delight, which links
  Glory to toil. Ah that my thews were strong
  As when we held King Pelias' funeral-feast,
  I and Acastus, kinsmen joining hands,
  When I with godlike Polydeuces stood
  In gauntlet-strife, in even-balanced fray,
  And when Ancaeus in the wrestlers' ring
  Mightier than all beside, yet feared and shrank
  From me, and dared not strive with me that day,
  For that ere then amidst the Epeian men—
  No battle-blenchers they!—I had vanquished him,
  For all his might, and dashed him to the dust
  By dead Amaryncus' tomb, and thousands round
  Sat marvelling at my prowess and my strength.
  Therefore against me not a second time
  Raised he his hands, strong wrestler though he were;
  And so I won an uncontested prize.
  But now old age is on me, and many griefs.
  Therefore I bid you, whom it well beseems,
  To win the prize; for glory crowns the youth
  Who bears away the meed of athlete-strife."

  Stirred by his gallant chiding, a brave man
  Rose, son of haughty godlike Panopeus,
  The man who framed the Horse, the bane of Troy,
  Not long thereafter. None dared meet him now
  In play of fists, albeit in deadly craft
  Of war, when Ares rusheth through the field,
  He was not cunning. But for strife of hands
  The fair prize uncontested had been won
  By stout Epeius—yea, he was at point
  To bear it thence unto the Achaean ships;
  But one strode forth to meet him, Theseus' son,
  The spearman Acamas, the mighty of heart,
  Bearing already on his swift hands girt
  The hard hide-gauntlets, which Evenor's son
  Agelaus on his prince's hands had drawn
  With courage-kindling words. The comrades then
  Of Panopeus' princely son for Epeius raised
  A heartening cheer. He like a lion stood
  Forth in the midst, his strong hands gauntleted
  With bull's hide hard as horn. Loud rang the cheers
  From side to side of that great throng, to fire
  The courage of the mighty ones to clash
  Hands in the gory play. Sooth, little spur
  Needed they for their eagerness for fight.
  But, ere they closed, they flashed out proving blows
  To wot if still, as theretofore, their arms
  Were limber and lithe, unclogged by toil of war;