David Bruce: Homer’s ILIAD: A Retelling in Prose — Book 17: The Fight Over Patroclus’ Corpse

Book 17: The Fight Over Patroclus’ Corpse

Red-haired Menelaus saw that the Trojans had slain Patroclus. He ran to the corpse and stood over it to protect it like a mother cow protects her first-born calf. Menelaus stood over the corpse with his spear and his shield.

Euphorbus wanted the fruits of his kill, so he challenged Menelaus. Close to the corpse, he boasted to Menelaus, “I was the first Trojan to wound Patroclus. I speared him. Let me have the corpse to further my kleos. If not, I will kill you, also.”

War-seasoned Menelaus replied, “Zeus, listen to this arrogant youngster! Listen to his boasts! The leopard, the lion, and the wild boar are all proud, but none is as proud as the sons of Panthous: Euphorbus and Hyperenor. Earlier, Hyperenor challenged me. He insulted me and said that I was the weakest of all the Greek warriors. I sent him home, but he did not go home alive. His homecoming brought no joy to his wife and his parents. And now you challenge me! Go back to the other Trojan troops. Stay safe. Challenge me, and I will give you a bloody death. I will give you a bloody education about whom you ought not to challenge.”

Euphorbus did not retreat to the Trojan troops. He replied, “Menelaus, now you will pay for the life of my brother whom you killed. You boast about making his wife a widow. You boast about bringing grief to his and my parents. I can lessen their grief by bringing them gifts: your bloody head and your bloody armor. I will give them to my parents: Panthous and Phrontis. But let’s stop talking. It’s time to fight and see who will kill the other.”

Euphorbus stabbed Menelaus’ shield. The shield was stronger and bent the point of Euphorbus’ weapon. Euphorbus retreated, and Menelaus pursued him and speared him in the throat. Menelaus put all his strength into the thrust of his spear. The spear went through Euphorbus’ soft neck, and Euphorbus fell. He was a young man, and he paid attention to his hair, which he braided like the hair of the Graces. He decorated his hair with gold and silver clips. But his hair and clips were bloody now.

A farmer will tend a young olive tree on a hilltop. The farmer waters it carefully, and the young olive tree bursts into bloom. But a gale wind arises and rips it out of the earth, and it lies on the ground, fallen and dead. Euphorbus was like that young olive tree.

Menelaus had killed him, and now Menelaus stripped him of his armor.

Menelaus was like a powerful and dangerous mountain lion that sees a herd and picks out the best heifer. The mountain lion bites the heifer’s neck and kills it and then begins eating the heifer. The dogs and shepherds make a lot of noise, but they are too afraid to attack the mountain lion.

The Trojans were afraid to challenge Menelaus as he stripped the armor from Euphorbus’ corpse.

Apollo took the shape of the Trojan Mentor and challenged Hector, who was trying to capture Achilles’ immortal horses. Disguised as a mortal man, Apollo said to Hector, “You have better things to do than chase Achilles’ immortal horses. Only Achilles, whose mother is immortal, can control them. Menelaus is protecting Patroclus’ corpse. He has killed Euphorbus!”

Hector surveyed the battlefield and saw Menelaus stripping the armor off Euphorbus’ corpse, which was still spurting blood. Hector charged Menelaus and filled the air with a war cry. Menelaus heard Hector and said to himself, “What is the best thing for me to do? If I leave Euphorbus’ armor and Patroclus’ corpse, won’t I be criticized? After all, Patroclus was fighting to help redeem the honor that Paris stole from me. But am I able to fight Hector and his Trojans by myself? They can circle me and kill me. I am one warrior against many. Be careful. Hector is having a day of glory; Zeus is helping him. If Zeus is helping Hector, the Greek warriors will forgive me for retreating.

“I need help to fight Hector. If I can find Great Ajax, he and I together could fight Hector and his Trojans. Then we could bring Patroclus’ corpse back to Achilles’ camp. This is a bad situation, and this course of action is the best that we can do in it.”

Hector and the Trojans kept charging toward Menelaus, and he retreated. He left behind Patroclus’ corpse, but he kept turning to look back to be ready to fight if necessary. He was like a lion that the dogs and farmhands force away from the farm. The lion does not want to leave, but the dogs and farmhands force it to.

Menelaus reached the other Greeks and looked for Great Ajax, who was fighting on the left flank. Great Ajax was trying to convince the other Greek warriors to fight fiercely — Apollo had made them afraid. Menelaus ran to him and said, “Friend, help me. Patroclus is dead. Help me to recover his body so that we may bring it to Achilles. Hector is now stripping Achilles’ armor from Patroclus’ body so we cannot bring the armor back to Achilles.”

Great Ajax went with Menelaus. Hector was eager to chop off Patroclus’ head and then drag the rest of the corpse to Troy to feed the dogs and birds. But Great Ajax charged him, and Hector threw Achilles’ armor to aides to take back to Troy. Hector retreated, and Great Ajax guarded Patroclus’ corpse. He was like a lion guarding its cubs when hunters see them. Menelaus stood beside Great Ajax.

Glaucus, who was now the leader of the troops from Lydia, said to Hector, “Where is your fighting fury? You need to start planning how to save Troy without the help of the Lycians. Why should we fight for you if you are going to allow the Greeks to let dogs and birds eat Sarpedon’s body? Sarpedon fought fiercely for Troy when he was alive. Now you are unwilling to fight for him and save his body from dogs and birds. If I can get the Lycians to obey my orders, we will leave Troy and return to Lycia. If only you could fight well enough to get Patroclus’ corpse and drag it to Troy, we could trade it for Sarpedon’s armor and corpse.”

Glaucus did not know that Apollo had taken Sarpedon’s body to Lycia. He thought that the Greeks had taken Sarpedon’s armor and body back to the Greek ships.

Glaucus continued, “Patroclus was a great warrior and Achilles’ great friend. The Greeks will definitely trade to get his body back. But you are afraid to fight Great Ajax. He is a better, stronger, fiercer warrior than you!”

Hector replied, “Glaucus, you are a good man and a good warrior, but you are speaking nonsense. I thought that you were more intelligent. I am not afraid to fight Great Ajax. But Zeus is more powerful than any mortal. Zeus can turn a brave man into a coward. Zeus can also make a brave man even braver. He both gives and takes away kleos. Watch me fight! See if I am a coward or if I can stop a Greek from trying to protect Patroclus’ corpse.”

Hector shouted to the Trojans, “Be ready to fight. I am going to put on the armor of Achilles — armor that I stripped from Patroclus’ corpse!”

He ran after the aides who were taking Achilles’ armor to Troy. Away from the fighting, Hector took off his own armor and put on Achilles’ armor. When Achilles’ father grew old, he gave this armor to Achilles, but Achilles would not grow old.

Zeus saw Hector putting on Achilles’ armor. He knew that Hector would soon die. Zeus said, “Poor Hector. You are not thinking of dying, but death is quickly coming for you. The armor you are putting on is that of a great warrior — a great warrior whose kind and gentle and strong friend you killed. You stripped Achilles’ armor from Achilles’ friend. I will give you strength and fierceness in battle to recompense you for your death that is soon to come. You will never return from battle alive, Hector. You will never give Achilles’ armor to your loving wife, Andromache.”

Zeus bowed his head. He changed Achilles’ armor so that it fitted Hector well. Ares filled Hector with fighting fury. Hector motivated his men to fight well: Mesthles, Glaucus, Medon, Thersilochus, Asteropaeus, Disenor, Hippothous, Phorcys, Chromius, and the prophet Ennomus, who knew how to interpret bird-signs. Hector told them, “Listen to me, all of you allies. When I called on you to come to Troy and fight, it was not for show. I needed and need you to protect Trojan women and children. That is what I want. I tax the Trojans to give you gifts and food so that you will fight fiercely. So let us now fight the Greeks. Let us feel the joy of war. If anyone can force back Great Ajax and drag the dead Patroclus to our chariots to haul back to Troy, that warrior will get half of the spoils and he will get kleos that will be the equal of my own.”

This reward was worth fighting for. The Trojans and Trojan allies attacked Great Ajax, hoping to get the body of Patroclus and drag it to Troy, but their hope was foolish. Great Ajax was a mighty warrior, and he had killed many men around the corpse of Patroclus. Still, Great Ajax said to Menelaus, “We are outnumbered. Theirs is a mighty force. I don’t think that we can stay here, alone. I am afraid that Patroclus’ corpse will feed dogs and birds inside the walls of Troy, and I am afraid that you and I will die here. Hector and his Trojans are covering the battlefield. Shout for help. I hope that someone will hear you.”

Menelaus was known as the lord of the war cry. He shouted, “All Greek captains who fight for Agamemnon and me and drink our wine and command your own men, help us. I can’t see where you are because of the dust kicked up by so many warriors, but come and save Patroclus’ corpse. Don’t let the Trojans feed it to the dogs and birds!”

Little Ajax heard him and ran to help. He arrived first, followed by Idomeneus and Idomeneus’ second-in-command, Meriones. More captains followed them, but only the gods can name them all.

Hector charged the Greeks the way that surf charges into the mouth of a swollen river. The surf booms as it crashes against land. The Trojans charged the Greeks, but the Greeks were ready to fight them. They stood ready to fight in a circle around Patroclus’ body holding their shields in front of them. Zeus created a heavy fog to help hide Patroclus’ corpse. Zeus had not hated Patroclus when the mortal was alive, and Zeus did not want Trojan dogs to eat Patroclus’ corpse.

The Trojans forced the Greeks to retreat and leave Patroclus’ corpse behind although they did not kill any Greeks. Instead, they tried to drag away Patroclus’ corpse. Great Ajax, the best warrior of the Greeks except for Achilles, led the Greeks as they attacked the Trojans. He fought in front like a wild boar that charges dogs and hunters and makes them run and pursues them. Now Great Ajax charged the Trojans and forced them to scatter although they wanted to drag Patroclus’ body back to Troy.

The Trojan Hippothous had tied a shield strap around Patroclus’ ankle. He was dragging the corpse away, hoping to win kleos and praise from Hector. Great Ajax charged Hippothous and speared him through his helmet, cracking the horsehair crest. Hippothous’ brain burst out of his skull as he dropped Patroclus’ foot. Hippothous’ body fell onto Patroclus’ body, face-to-face. Hippothous died far from Larissa, his home. The spear of Great Ajax prevented Hippothous from repaying his parents who had reared him. He died too young.

Hector hurled his spear at Great Ajax, but he dodged death and the spear hit Schedius, who was from Phocis. Hector’s spear went through his collarbone and came out through his shoulder. He fell, and his armor rattled.

Great Ajax stabbed Phorcys, who was trying to protect the corpse of Hippothous. Great Ajax ripped open Phorcys’ belly and his intestines fell out. Phorcys fell and clawed at the ground. The Trojans backed away, and the Greeks dragged away the corpses of Hippothous and Phorcys and stripped off their armor.

The Trojan warriors were on the verge of running back to Troy, overcome by fear, and the Greeks would have seized great kleos because of their own great merit despite the will of Zeus. But Apollo took the form of the Trojan Periphas, the son of a herald to Aeneas’ father. Disguised as a mortal, Apollo spurred Aeneas to fight fiercely: “Aeneas, no one can save himself when the gods are against him. But here and now Zeus is for you and the Trojans. Zeus wants the Trojans to triumph over the Greeks. So why are you and the other Trojans so afraid and so unwilling to fight?”

Aeneas looked at the god and recognized him, and then Aeneas shouted to the Trojans, “Hector! Trojan captains! Don’t retreat to Troy! A god just told me that Zeus wants us to fight and win. So charge the Greeks! Don’t let them take Patroclus’ corpse back to the ships! Not without a fight!”

Aeneas went to the front of the Trojan line and the Trojans turned around and faced the Greeks. Aeneas speared Leocritus all the way through his body. Leocritus’ friend Lycomedes grieved but hurled his spear and buried it in the liver of the Trojan ally Apisaon, the best of the warriors from Paeonia, except for Asteropaeus.

Asteropaeus wanted revenge, but the Greeks maintained a good defensive formation, protecting themselves with their shields, surrounding Patroclus’ corpse, and defending it with their spears.

Great Ajax gave the Greeks orders: “Protect the corpse! Nobody try to be a hero! Stay in defensive formation, and don’t jump in front of the line to try to make a kill. Stand shoulder to shoulder, and protect the corpse of Patroclus.”

Warriors on both sides inflicted mortal wounds, and blood covered the ground. But the Trojans suffered many more deaths than the Greeks, who fought in tight formation. Greek warriors defended Greek warriors.

The battle around Patroclus was difficult to see because of the haze of dust kicked up by warriors and fog sent by Zeus, but other parts of the battlefield were clear, lit well by bright sunlight on a cloudless day. Some warriors fought from a distance, shooting arrows and dodging arrows. Others fought face-to-face and suffered as warriors hacked at opposing warriors.

Fighting in the front lines on one side of the battle, the Greeks Antilochus and Thrasymedes did not know that Patroclus had died. They thought that he was still alive and fighting in the front lines although Nestor had ordered them to keep watch and note who had died and whether any Greeks were retreating.

The fighting and the dying continued all day. The work of war did not stop.

Around the corpse of Patroclus, warriors sweated. In the fight to possess Patroclus’ body, the warriors engaged in a tug of war. A tanner sometimes gives a huge bull’s hide to his laborers, and they stretch it, pulling it as hard as they can. Much like that, Greeks and Trojans grabbed Patroclus’ body and pulled. The Trojans hoped to bring the corpse to Troy. The Greeks hoped to bring the corpse to their ships and to Achilles. Ares, god of war, delighted in the struggle and the slaughter.

Achilles still did not know that the Trojans had killed Patroclus, whose death had occurred far from the ships and by the walls of Troy. Achilles believed that Patroclus was still alive and would return soon. Achilles thought, Would Patroclus try to conquer Troy without my help? No.

Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, had told him many things, but she had never told him directly that Patroclus would die without him nearby to protect him and keep him alive.

The fight continued over Patroclus’ body, and a Greek shouted, “We can’t return to our ships without Patroclus’ body! We will lose kleos! It is better to die here and now than to let the Trojans take his corpse to Troy!” And a Trojan shouted, “Keep fighting even if you are fated to die beside the corpse of Patroclus!”

So they fought and kept fighting, but away from the fighting Achilles’ immortal horses wept. Achilles’ charioteer tried to get the horses to return to the ships, but they resisted. Sometimes, he whipped them. Sometimes, he tried to coax them with winning words. But they stayed and continued to mourn. Their heads hung low like the depictions of horses on a gravemarker. Achilles’ immortal horses wept, grieving for the death of Patroclus and the coming death of Achilles.

Zeus saw the immortal horses, and he pitied them. He said, “Why did we give you to a mortal: Achilles’ father, Peleus? He will die, but you horses are immortal and will never grow older or die. Did we want you to suffer? Did we want you to learn about the pain of mortals? Mortals suffer more than any other being on the earth. Almost all animals are mortal, but they do not know that they are mortal and do not think about their coming deaths. Gods are immortal and know that they will never die. Only human beings are mortal and know that they will die and think about their coming deaths. This makes mortals wretched. However, I will never allow Hector to capture you immortal horses and use you to pull his chariot. He has Achilles’ armor. That is enough. Hector can boast now, but he will die soon. But I will give you immortal horses strength so that you can save the life of Automedon and take him back to the ships. I am giving the Trojans a day of glory. They will kill and kill again until they drive the Greeks back to their ships.”

Odysseus was still wounded and unable to fight. Watching the battle from the ships, he thought, The gods are born and they grow older until they reach a certain age and then they stop aging. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are all mature men and they will never grow older. Apollo and Hermes are young men, and they will never grow older. Human beings can grow old. Human beings are mortal, and they can die at a young age or at an old age, but they will definitely die. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Mortality makes our decisions important. We have only a very limited amount of time to live. Will we spend it wisely or foolishly? A god can waste thousands of years on trivial pursuits and still have eternity to do something important. Human beings can’t. And who is a hero? A hero is someone who risks his life to save other people. Great Ajax is a hero. He fought magnificently to keep the Trojans from setting fire to our ships. He saved himself, true, but he saved the rest of us, too. Only a mortal can be a hero. A god in a good mood may go into a burning house and save someone, but the god is risking little. The god can’t die. If the god is injured — or wounded in battle — the god will quickly heal. And saving someone will take only a little of the eternity of time that lies before the god. A mortal who tries to rescue someone from a burning building is risking everything: life. Mortality need not be a curse; mortality is what makes heroism possible.

Zeus gave Achilles’ immortal horses strength, and they galloped, taking Automedon with them. Automedon did his best to control the horses. They came close to the Trojans, but no spearman stood in the chariot, so no one could kill a Trojan.

Alcimedon shouted, “Automedon, what are you doing? These are poor battle tactics! You have no spearman! Patroclus is dead, and Hector is wearing Achilles’ armor that Patroclus wore to battle!”

Automedon replied, “Alcimedon, you are a good charioteer. You are better at controlling these horses than anyone except Achilles and Patroclus. You take over and drive this team. I’ll fight on foot.”

Alcimedon climbed aboard the chariot, and Automedon jumped to the ground. Hector saw them and said to Aeneas, “I see Achilles’ team. They have drivers who cannot control them. You and I can capture them, if you work with me. These two Greeks can’t stand up to us.”

Hector and Aeneas, and their fellow Trojans Chromius and Aretus, moved to capture the horses and to kill Automedon and Alcimedon. But Automedon was alert. He shouted, “Alcimedon, keep the horses close to me. Hector hopes to kill both of us and take the horses. He is so implacable that he will do that or die in the attempt.”

Then Automedon called for help: “Great Ajax! Little Ajax! Menelaus! Let other warriors defend Patroclus’ body. Because of you three, we Greeks are still alive. Here come Aeneas and Hector — they are Troy’s best warriors! They are better warriors than I, but the gods may bless me as I hurl my spear.”

Automedon hurled his spear and hit Aretus’ shield. The shield broke, and the spear rammed through Aretus’ shield and war-belt and stuck in his stomach. A farmhand sometimes kills a bull for butchering. He swings an ax and hits the bull behind its horns. The bull rears up and then falls. Much like that, Aretus reared up and then fell on his back. The spear quivered in his intestines.

Hector hurled his spear at Automedon, who saw it coming and dodged death. Now Hector and Automedon would have fought with swords, but Great Ajax and Little Ajax arrived in answer to Automedon’s call for help, and the Trojans backed away. Hector, Aeneas, and Chromius left the dead Aretus behind. Automedon started to strip off Aretus’ armor, shouting, “I have made the psyche of Patroclus feel a little better although this dead warrior is only half the man that Patroclus was.”

Automedon then climbed into Achilles’ chariot. His hands and feet were dripping blood just like the paws of a lion that has killed and fed on a bull.

The fight for Patroclus’ body intensified. Zeus sent Athena to the battlefield to encourage the Greeks. He wanted the Greeks to rally — briefly — on the day of Hector’s triumph. Zeus sometimes sends a lurid rainbow as an omen to warn humans of approaching war or a blizzard that will put an end to all kinds of work. Iris, whose mode of transportation is the rainbow, sometimes brings news of war and other tragedies. Now Athena came wrapped in a lurid cloud to encourage the Greeks to kill and kill again. Lurid clouds sometimes forecast bad weather.

The first Greek she encouraged was Menelaus. She assumed the form of Phoenix and said to him, “You will be ashamed if the Greeks succeed in taking the corpse of Patroclus to Troy and allow the dogs and birds to eat it, so fight fiercely and encourage your men to fight fiercely!”

Menelaus replied, “Phoenix, I pray to Athena that she will give me strength and courage to defend Patroclus’ body. Hector is fierce and never stops stabbing with his spear. He never stops killing. Zeus is giving him kleos today.”

Menelaus had prayed to Athena instead of any of the other gods — she was thrilled. She answered his prayer and gave him strength and courage. She also gave him persistence. A horsefly is persistent. It wants human blood. Each time the man brushes the horsefly away, back again it comes. It wants to feed on human blood.

Standing over the corpse of Patroclus, Menelaus hurled his spear and hit Podes, cutting his war-belt and ripping his skin and body. Podes fell. He had been a drinking buddy to Hector, and he had been courteous and wealthy.

Apollo assumed the form of the Trojan ally Phaenops, a man whom Hector valued most of his foreign allies. The disguised Apollo said, “Hector, why are you afraid of Menelaus? He has not been a great warrior before today, but now you are holding off from attacking him although he has killed your friend Podes.”

Hector felt grief and rushed to fight Menelaus, and at that moment Zeus hurled a thunderbolt from Mount Ida, and he shook his storm-shield that could cause any army to panic. Zeus was now giving the Trojans triumph and routing the Greeks.

Peneleos was the first Greek to be hurt. Polydamas speared his shoulder and hit bone.

Hector speared Leitus in the wrist. No longer could he fight the Trojans with spears. Leitus ran for the ships.

Hector rushed at Idomeneus, but Idomeneus speared him. He hit Hector’s breastplate, but his spear broke. The Trojans shouted, first in horror and then in relief. Hector hurled his spear at Idomeneus and missed him but hit Coeranus, the charioteer and aide of Meriones. Idomeneus was fighting on foot that day, but Coeranus saved Idomeneus’ life by driving the chariot up to him. Although Coeranus saved Idomeneus’ life, he lost his own life. Hector’s spear came up under Coeranus’ jaw. His teeth fell from his mouth, and his tongue was cut in two. He fell to the ground, taking the reins with him.

Meriones grabbed the reins and said to Idomeneus, “Whip the horses and drive to the ships. The Greeks will not be victorious today.” Idomeneus obeyed.

Great Ajax and Menelaus saw that the Trojans were winning. In frustration, Great Ajax said, “Anyone can see that Zeus favors the Trojans now. All Trojan weapons hit a Greek target, even when weak warriors hurl them. Our spears hit only ground. They are harmless to Trojans. What is the best thing we can now do? How can we save our own lives and still carry Patroclus’ body back to the ships? Right now, Hector is invincible. We cannot stop him. We need to get word to Achilles that Patroclus is dead. I am sure that he does not know. But I can’t see anyone we can send to Achilles. This dust and fog make it impossible to see! Zeus, at least make it so that we can see! If you are going to kill us, at least do it in the clear sunlight!”

Zeus heard and granted Great Ajax’ prayer. The dust and fog dissipated, and the sun shone. Great Ajax could see.

He said to Menelaus, “Look for Antilochus, Nestor’s son. He is a swift runner. If he is still alive, he is the one to carry the bad news to Achilles, to tell Achilles that his great friend Patroclus is dead.”

Menelaus was exhausted but obeyed. A lion grows exhausted from fighting the dogs and men who guard sheep and cattle. The lion craves meat, but the dogs and men fight him all night long. The lion charges and charges again, but the men and dogs fight him and drive him away from the sheep and cattle each time. Finally, at dawn, the lion leaves, exhausted and hungry.

Menelaus left Patroclus’ body, reluctantly. He was afraid that the Trojans would capture the corpse. He said to Great Ajax, Little Ajax, and Meriones, “Remember how gentle and kind Patroclus was when he was alive. Protect his corpse, now that he is dead.”

Menelaus then left and searched for Antilochus, looking to the left and to the right like a sharp-eyed eagle that flies high, looks for and sees a rabbit, and swoops down and tears its life away. Menelaus hoped that Antilochus was still alive. Fortunately, he quickly saw him on the left flank. Menelaus called to him, “Antilochus, today victory goes to Troy. They have killed Patroclus. Run to Achilles and tell him the horrible news: Patroclus is dead. Hector killed him. If Achilles acts quickly, he may be able to help us to bring Patroclus’ body — stripped of armor as it is — back to the ships.”

Antilochus hated the message that he had to bring to Achilles: His best friend was dead. He gave his armor to his aide Laodocus, and then he ran as fast as he could to Achilles’ camp. Antilochus wept as he ran.

Menelaus put Thrasymedes in charge of the men whom Antilochus had commanded, and then he ran to defend the corpse of Patroclus, standing alongside Great Ajax, Little Ajax, and Meriones. He told the two Ajaxes, “Antilochus is taking the news of Patroclus’ death to Achilles. But how can Achilles help us? He has no armor! He is a big, strong, powerful man, and ordinary armor will not fit him. He will be furious at Hector, but how can he fight him? Achilles is not invulnerable, although he does have a goddess for his mother. So what can we do to take Patroclus’ body back to the ships?”

Great Ajax said, “You and Meriones grab hold of the body and carry it. Little Ajax and I will protect you and fight Hector and the Trojans. We two Ajaxes are no strangers to war, no strangers to protecting others.”

Menelaus and Meriones lifted Patroclus’ body onto their shoulders. The Trojans and their allies closed in to attack. The Trojans were like dogs that attack a wounded boar before the hunters can reach it. The hounds want to rip apart the boar, but it turns back and charges the pack of hounds. They are afraid, and they scatter out of the boar’s path. The Trojans charged them, and Great Ajax and Little Ajax turned toward them, and the Trojans were afraid.

They made their way to the ships as the Trojans pursued them like a flash fire racing its way to a city, catching houses on fire as winds whip it to frenzy. Much like that, the Trojans bore down on the Greeks. Menelaus and Meriones worked like mules pulling heavy loads of timber as they worked to get Patroclus’ body to the ships.

The two Ajaxes fought off the Trojans. Great Ajax and Little Ajax were like a rocky ridge that stops the waters of a flood. The Trojans kept coming, led by Hector and Aeneas. They were like hawks or falcons pursuing crows or starlings as they pursued the Greeks, who raced for the ships.


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David Bruce: Homer’s ILIAD: A Retelling in Prose — Book 16: Patroclus Fights and Dies

Book 16: Patroclus Fights and Dies

As Greeks and Trojans fought and killed each other, Patroclus reached Achilles’ camp. Patroclus was crying, and his tears ran down his face like water runs down the face of a rock.

Achilles saw him coming, and he saw his tears. He said gently to his best friend, “Why are you crying, Patroclus? You are crying like a young girl holding on to her mother’s skirts and begging to be picked up. The young girl looks up pleadingly at her busy mother, who picks her up. Your tears remind me of the tears of a little girl like that.

“But why are you crying? Do you have a message for our warriors or for me? Do you have a message from home? The last I heard, your father and my father were still alive. If our fathers have died, then we should cry.

“Or are you crying because the Trojans are defeating the Greeks? The Greeks are dying against their ships because Agamemnon insulted me.

“Please tell me why you are crying. Don’t keep the reason a secret from me.”

Patroclus groaned and answered, “Achilles, please don’t be angry at me! The Greeks are being hit hard! Many of our champions are wounded and unable to fight! Diomedes, Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Eurypylus have all been wounded. Healers are trying to help them, but these warriors cannot fight.

“Achilles, I hope that I never grow as angry as you! You have courage and fighting ability, but you are not using them to defend the troops. Peleus must not be your father! Thetis must not be your mother! No, your parents must be the ocean and rocks.

“Are you worried about a prophecy? Are you worried about something that Thetis said that Zeus told her? So be it. But at least send me into battle wearing your armor. That way the Trojans will think that I am you, Achilles, and that will give the Greek warriors a chance to regroup. Our Myrmidons are fresh and ready to fight. The Trojans have been fighting hard and are exhausted. The Myrmidons and I can fight these Trojans and force them away from the ships!”

Patroclus did not know it, but he was pleading to go to his own death.

Achilles replied, “No, Patroclus, I am not worried about any prophecy. I am not worried about anything that my mother has said to me. But I am still angry at the way that Agamemnon treated me. I am the greatest Greek warrior, and yet he took my prize of honor — Briseis — away from me. To earn Briseis, I conquered an entire city. The Greeks awarded her to me. Agamemnon treated me like a beggar, not like an honored warrior!

“I cannot be angry forever. However, I said that I would not fight until the Trojans reached my own camp, my own ships. But I do not want all the Greeks to die. So put on my armor and fight with our Myrmidons! The Trojans are triumphant and have fought the Greek warriors back into this little strip of land where we have our camps and our ships. Why? Because I am not fighting. The Trojans do not see my distinctive armor and so they are not afraid. If they were to see my armor, they would flee.

“If Agamemnon were to come to me now with a real apology and not just a bribe, I would return to battle. Maybe he will do that later, after you have saved the Greeks and their ships.

“I hear the Trojans fighting at our camps. I do not hear the battle cries of Diomedes or hated Agamemnon. All I can hear is Hector urging his troops on to fight. All I can hear are the triumphant cries of Trojans. They are routing the Greeks.

“So fight, Patroclus, and save the Greeks. Fight the Trojans away from our camps and ships. Fight the Trojans before they set fire to all the ships.

“Listen, Patroclus, and remember. Fight hard. By doing so, you will win kleos for yourself and for me. If you fight hard and save the Greeks, I think that Agamemnon will give me a real apology, Briseis, and treasure. But after you have forced the Trojans away from the camps and ships, stop fighting. Come back to my camp. Even if Zeus and Hera are allowing you to win great kleos, do not fight the Trojans on the plain in front of Troy. Leave that for me to do later.

“Remember, Patroclus, do not take the battle back to Troy. If you were to fight on the plain, Apollo, who respects the Trojans, may decide to fight you.

“Again, Patroclus, listen and remember: Once you have forced the Trojans away from the Greek camps and ships, return to my camp. Don’t continue to fight. Let the other warriors die on the plain.

“I wish that the Trojan warriors and the Greek warriors could all die fighting, and then you and I could conquer Troy all by ourselves!”

Great Ajax was still fighting magnificently, but he was exhausted. The Trojans were forcing him back. His left arm ached from holding up his shield. Trojan weapons kept hitting his helmet and shield. He breathed hard, gasping for breath, and sweat streamed down his body. Everywhere he looked, he saw enemy warriors.

Muses, sing to me how fire came to the Greek ships!

Hector battled Great Ajax and cut off the head of his spear. Suddenly, Great Ajax was holding a useless stick, not a deadly weapon. Great Ajax knew that Zeus was now on the side of the Trojans and was bringing them victory.

Great Ajax was forced to retreat — without a spear, he had no other choice.

The Trojans flung fire on a ship, and smoke filled the air.

Achilles saw the smoke. He slapped his thighs hard and ordered Patroclus, “Get ready for battle. At least one ship is on fire. The Trojans must not burn all the ships. The Greeks will have no way to escape the enemy. Put on my armor, and I will encourage the Myrmidons to fight well.”

Patroclus put on the armor of Achilles: greaves to protect his legs, breastplate, sword, shield, and helmet. He took two spears, but neither belonged to Achilles. Achilles’ spear was so big and heavy that only Achilles could use it well in battle. The Centaur Chiron had given it to Peleus, Achilles’ father. Its purpose was to kill warriors.

Patroclus ordered Automedon, the charioteer of Achilles, to yoke Achilles’ horses to the chariot. Automedon yoked Roan Beauty and Dapple to the chariot. Bold Dancer served as the trace horse. Achilles won the purebred Bold Dancer when he conquered King Eetion’s city.

Achilles gathered the Myrmidons together. They were armed and ready for battle. They were as hungry to fight and kill Trojans as wolves are hungry to hunt in a pack and rip apart their prey and eat the raw meat as their jaws drip with blood.

Achilles had brought fifty ships to Troy. Each ship carried fifty warriors. Five commanders led his troops into battle.

Menesthius led the first battalion. He was the son of the god of the river Spercheus — the river-god had slept with the mortal Polydora. But people called Menesthius the son of a mortal man, Boris, who had given Polydora many gifts and had married her.

Eudorus led the second battalion. Like Menesthius, he was born to an unmarried mother and he had an immortal father. Hermes lusted for Polymela after seeing her dancing and singing to the immortal Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Hermes climbed up to her bedchamber one night and slept with her, and she gave birth to Eudorus, a good leader and warrior. As soon as Eudorus was born, the mortal Echecles led Polymela to his home and married her.

Pisander led the third battalion. He fought well with spears — better than any Myrmidon except Patroclus and Achilles.

Phoenix, Achilles’ old friend and father figure, led the fourth battalion.

Alcimedon led the fifth and final battalion.

After all the battalions were assembled and ready to fight, Achilles commanded them, “Myrmidons, remember the threats you made against the Trojans while I was angry and kept you out of battle! You blamed me. You complained, ‘Achilles is merciless. He forces his warriors not to fight. We might as well go home in our ships since Achilles feels such anger!’ You warriors denounced my anger and me! You have no need to complain now. You are going back into battle. Fight the Trojans away from the Greek camps and ships!”

The Myrmidon warriors moved closer together in tight fighting formation. They were as close as the stones in a well-built wall built for a house that can resist strong winds. And now Patroclus and Automedon came and stood in front of them, eager to fight in the vanguard — in the front lines!

Achilles went to his shelter and opened a chest that contained war-shirts and cloaks and rugs. It also contained his drinking cup — the one that he used to pour libations of wine to Zeus, the king of gods and men. He purified his drinking cup with sulphur and then rinsed it with water. He washed his hands and poured wine into his drinking cup.

Achilles poured out the wine as a sacrifice to Zeus and prayed, “You heard my earlier prayer and answered it. You made the Trojans triumphant. Once more, please listen to my prayer and answer it. I will not fight now, but I am sending my best friend, Patroclus, into battle with my Myrmidons. Give him so much courage and fighting ability that Hector will know that Patroclus is a mighty warrior in his own right and does not need me by his side to protect him. Give him kleos. Allow him to fight the Trojans away from the Greek camps and ships. But once he has done that, allow him to come back to my camp safely with my armor and with the Myrmidons!”

Zeus heard Achilles’ prayers, but he would grant only one of the two requests. Yes, Patroclus would drive the Trojans away from the Greek camps and ships. No, Patroclus would not safely return to Achilles’ camp.

Achilles stored the cup in his chest and then returned to watch Patroclus and the Myrmidons go into battle.

Patroclus and the Myrmidons swarmed into battle like wasps that have been angered by idiot boys who make travel on a road dangerous by torturing wasps and making them all too eager to fight for their home and for their young.

Patroclus shouted to the Myrmidons, “Be warriors and fight! Win kleos for Achilles. Achilles is the greatest Greek warrior, and we are the greatest Greek troops. We must fight well so that Agamemnon realizes how much he needs Achilles and us!”

The Trojans saw Achilles’ distinctive armor and his charioteer, and they thought that Achilles had returned to battle. They thought that Achilles had put aside his anger and was now fighting for the Greeks. The Trojans looked around — what would be a good escape route?

Patroclus made the first kill. He hurled his spear at the Trojans and their allies around the burning ship and hit the shoulder of Pyraechmes, the leader of the Paeonians. Pyraechmes fell, and his Paeonians panicked. Patroclus drove them away from the burning ship. The Greeks battered back the Trojans.

The Greeks were rallying. Zeus sometimes moves a storm cloud away from the top of a mountain, and suddenly the mountain peaks can be seen in the bright air. Much like that, the Greek warriors suddenly could be seen as they battered back the Trojans.

But the Trojans were not being routed. They had been forced away from the ships, but they stood and held their ground. The fierce fighting continued.

Patroclus saw Areilycus moving, and he speared him in the hip. The spear broke bone and came out through his body. Areilycus fell on his face.

Menelaus speared Thoas in the chest over his shield.

The Trojan Amphiclus tried to kill Meges, but Meges speared him at the top of his thickly muscled thigh. The spear tore through the muscles, and Amphiclus died.

Now the sons of Nestor gained glory! Two brothers killed two brothers!

Antilochus speared the Trojan Atymnius in the side and through his body. Atymnius fell at the feet of Antilochus.

Enraged at the death of Atymnius, his brother, the Trojan Maris charged forward and stood over his brother’s corpse. Maris wanted to kill Antilochus, but Thrasymedes, Antilochus’ brother, stabbed Maris in the shoulder. His spear cut through the tendons and the socket and tore off Maris’ entire arm. Atymnius and Maris were the sons of Amisodarus, who had bred the Chimaera, which was a lion in the front, a snake in the rear, and a goat in between. The Chimaera had killed many men, and now Antilochus and Thrasymedes had killed the sons of the man who had bred the Chimaera.

Little Ajax ran at Cleobulus and could have taken him alive but instead plunged his sword in Cleobulus’ neck and through his neckbone.

The Greek Peneleos and the Trojan Lycon hurled spears at each other and missed, and so now they fought with swords. Lycon chopped off the horsehair crest of Peneleos’ helmet, but Peneleos’ sword entered Lycon’s neck through the ear. Lycon’s head drooped as he fell, but some skin still connected his head to his body.

Meriones ran at the Trojan Acamas as he mounted his chariot. Meriones stabbed him through the right shoulder.

Idomeneus speared Erymas in his mouth. His skull split, his teeth shattered, and blood gushed from his nose and mouth as he died.

Wolves will harry a flock and kill sheep and lambs when a careless shepherd gives them the opportunity. Much like that, the Greek warriors killed Trojans, who were losing their lust for battle.

Great Ajax, newly rearmed with a spear, wanted to kill Hector, but Hector was an experienced warrior who was always alert for spears and arrows. Hector knew that the Greeks had the momentum, but he defended his warriors.

But the Greeks could not be stopped. Their battle cries filled the air. The Greeks were like a storm cloud that Zeus uses to bring cyclones. The Trojans retreated past the Greek wall and into the trench. Hector’s horses carried him away as the Trojans struggled in the trench. In the confusion, chariots crashed.

Patroclus charged the Trojans and shouted, “Kill them all!”

The Trojan line broke, dust rose in the air, and the Trojans retreated. Horses galloped away from the Greek camps and ships. Trojans fell from and were run over by their own chariots.

Patroclus charged wherever he saw the greatest number of Trojan warriors. The immortal horses of Achilles kept him safe, and Patroclus sought Hector, but Hector’s horses kept him away from Patroclus.

Zeus can grow angry at evil men who lie in assemblies. He sends rains to flood and wash away the land that men have plowed. The floodwaters scream as they rush down to the sea. Much like that, the Trojan horses screamed.

Patroclus drove to the front of the Trojans running to Troy and then he turned, wanting to stop them from reaching Troy. He wanted to slaughter them on the plain between the ships and the city. He killed and killed again, avenging the many Greeks whom the Trojans had killed in the battle at the ships.

The shield of the Trojan Pronous did not protect part of his chest — Patroclus speared him there.

The Trojan Thestor was crouching, terrified in his chariot. He dropped the reins. Patroclus speared him in the right jawbone between his teeth. The spearhead stopped in Thestor’s head, and Patroclus lifted him out of the chariot just like a fisherman lifts a fish out of the sea. Patroclus dropped Thoas’ body facedown on the battlefield.

Patroclus killed, and he killed quickly. He made corpses out of Amphoterus, Erymas, Epaltes, Tlepolemus, Echius, Pyris, Ipheus, Euippus, and Polymeus. The corpses lay on the earth that nourishes us all.

Sarpedon saw Patroclus killing so many warriors. He shouted to his Lycian warriors, “Where is your joy of war? Why are you running away? Attack! I will fight this warrior myself. We have seen him clearly enough that we know he is not Achilles although he is wearing Achilles’ armor. I will find out who this warrior is — he is routing our troops!”

Sarpedon and Patroclus jumped from their chariots and charged each other and shouted war cries. They were like two vultures that swoop and attack each other.

Zeus watched from Mount Olympus and pitied his son, Sarpedon, whose fate had arrived. Zeus said to Hera, his wife, “Sarpedon is the mortal son I love the most. He is fated now to die at the hands of Patroclus. I don’t know what to do. Should I pick him up and put him — alive — in his home country of Lycia? Or should I allow Patroclus to kill him, as is fated?”

Hera protested, “Sarpedon is a mortal man, and his fate was set when he was born. He is fated to die here — now. Do you wish to keep a mortal man from dying? If you save Sarpedon, the other gods and goddesses will want to save their sons. Many warriors battling in front of Troy have an immortal god or goddess for a parent. Do you think the result will be good?

“I have a better idea. Allow Sarpedon to die as fated. Allow Patroclus to kill your son. After Sarpedon has died, send the immortals Death and Sleep to pick his corpse up and carry it to Lycia, where he can be properly buried so his psyche can enter the Land of the Dead. That is an honor that the dead deserve.”

Zeus agreed to do as Hera wished, but he cried tears — not of water, but of blood — that wet the ground.

Patroclus and Sarpedon came close to each other, and Patroclus hurled his spear. He missed Sarpedon, but he killed Thrasymedes, Sarpedon’s charioteer. His spear spilled Thrasymedes’ intestines.

Sarpedon hurled his spear, missing Patroclus but hitting Bold Dancer, Achilles’ mortal trace horse, in the shoulder. The horse fell, screaming, and died. Achilles’ two immortal horses reared. Automedon quickly drew his sword and cut the dead horse free, and then he was able to control the chariot and two immortal horses again.

Sarpedon hurled his second spear, but it harmlessly passed over Patroclus’ left shoulder.

Patroclus then hurled his second spear and struck Sarpedon between the midriff and the heart. Sarpedon fell the way that an oak or an elm falls that shipwrights have cut for lumber. Sarpedon fell in front of his chariot and horses. He clawed the ground and bellowed like a bull that a lion is killing. As Sarpedon died, he shouted, “Glaucus, be a leader and a warrior. Find the Lycians and protect my body. Get possession of it so that I may receive a proper funeral and my psyche can enter the Land of the Dead. Don’t let the Greeks strip my armor. You will be ashamed whenever you remember that. Fight to get my corpse!”

Patroclus put one of his feet on Sarpedon’s corpse and pulled out his spear. As he pulled out his spear, he pulled out Sarpedon’s inner organs. Sarpedon’s last breath and his inner organs exited his body together. The Myrmidons held on to Sarpedon’s horses that were now straining to run away.

Glaucus had heard Sarpedon’s last request, but Glaucus was wounded — Teucer had shot Glaucus’ right arm with an arrow when Glaucus was fighting at the Greek wall.

Glaucus prayed, “Hear me, Apollo. Wherever you are, you can hear a prayer to you, especially one that comes from a man who is in pain. My right arm has an ugly wound. My entire arm throbs with pain. The blood keeps running, and I can’t use my shoulder or arm. I can’t pick up and use a spear. I can’t even hold a spear steady. I can’t fight, and the Lycians’ best warrior — Sarpedon — is dead. Sarpedon was Zeus’ son, and Zeus did not keep him alive!

“Help me, Apollo. Heal my wound. Stop the pain. Make me able to fight again. I want to rally the Lycians and get possession of the corpse of Sarpedon.”

Apollo heard and answered Glaucus’ prayer. The pain stopped. The blood clotted. Glaucus could use his arm and shoulder. He was ready to go to battle. He was grateful that Apollo had quickly answered his prayer.

Glaucus gathered the Lycians together, and then he ran for the Trojan lines and Hector. He found Polydamas, Agenor, Aeneas, and Hector, and he said, “Hector, have you forgotten your allies? We have come to Troy to fight for you far from our homes. We bleed and die here. But we need you to fight, too. Sarpedon is dead. I was close enough to recognize the warrior who killed him. He was Patroclus, who is wearing Achilles’ armor. Fight to get Sarpedon’s corpse! Don’t let the Greeks strip his armor! Don’t let the Greeks mutilate his corpse! The Myrmidons would gladly do that to get revenge for all the Greek warriors we killed as we attacked their ships!”

The Trojans grieved for Sarpedon, who had been a formidable warrior for their city. Hector drove them at the Greeks, and Patroclus rallied his troops. He yelled, “Great Ajax! Little Ajax! Fight! Sarpedon is dead — he was the first to tear down part of our defensive wall. Let’s get his corpse and tear off his armor! And let’s kill anyone who tries to stop us!”

Trojans and Greeks now fought around the body of Sarpedon. They shouted cries of war, and Zeus spread darkness around the corpse of his son Sarpedon to make the fighting more difficult.

The Trojans killed the first warrior in the battle over Sarpedon’s body. The Myrmidon Epigeus had ruled a city, but he killed a kinsman and fled for his life. He went to Peleus and Thetis and begged for help. They sent him to the Trojan War with Achilles. As Epigeus grabbed Sarpedon’s body, Hector hit him with a rock and split his skull in his helmet.

Grieving for Epigeus, Patroclus drove straight at the enemy army like a hawk diving at crows and starlings. Patroclus threw a rock and hit Sthenelaus in the neck, snapping the tendons that hold the head up.

Hector and the Trojans retreated a short distance — the distance of a spear toss in a game of strength or in battle. Glaucus was the first to turn back to fight the Greeks. Bathycles was about to catch up to Glaucus when Glaucus suddenly turned and speared him in the chest. A brave Greek died. Bad news for the Greeks. Good news for the Trojans.

Trojans and Greeks swarmed over Sarpedon’s body.

Meriones speared Laogonus under his jaw and ear. Laogonus’ psyche left his corpse.

Aeneas hurled his spear at Meriones, but Meriones saw the spear and ducked. Aeneas’ spear stuck in the ground and quivered. Aeneas shouted, “Meriones, you should be dead! I barely missed you!”

Meriones replied, “Aeneas, you are a good warrior, but you can’t kill everyone you would like to kill. Like me, you are mortal. If I were to spear you in the intestines, I would win kleos and you would earn a trip to the Land of the Dead.”

Patroclus said to Meriones, “Why waste time with threats? They won’t force the Trojans away from Sarpedon’s body. The only thing that will do that is a fight with many deaths. Don’t talk! Fight!”

The sound of weapons hitting shields and bodies was as loud as the sound of men cutting trees on a mountain. The woodsmen’s axes can be heard far away, and so could the warriors’ swords and spears.

Fallen weapons, blood, and dust hid Sarpedon’s body. Not even a scout with sharp eyes could see him clearly. But the warriors kept fighting over the corpse — they were like flies buzzing over a milk-filled bucket.

Zeus kept watching the battle over the corpse of his son. He was thinking of the best way for Patroclus to meet his fate. He would die, yes, but how? Should he die in the battle over the corpse of Sarpedon? Should Hector kill Patroclus now and strip Achilles’ armor off Patroclus’ body? Or should Patroclus kill and kill again and earn more kleos?

Zeus decided to allow Patroclus to earn more kleos. Patroclus would drive Hector and the other Trojans back to Troy. Zeus created fear in Hector, and Hector jumped in his chariot and shouted, “Trojans, retreat!” Hector knew that Zeus was now favoring Patroclus and the Greeks.

With Zeus’ aid, the Greeks routed the Trojans and the Lycians. Sarpedon, the Lycians’ leader, was dead, and they were now afraid. Now the Greeks stripped the armor off Sarpedon’s body. Patroclus gave it to aides to take to the ships.

Zeus ordered Apollo, “Get the corpse of my son, Sarpedon, and wipe the blood off him. Take him away from the battle. Bathe his corpse in a river, anoint him with oil, and dress him in fine robes. Then give Sarpedon’s body to the immortals Sleep and Death to take home to Lycia. There his corpse will receive a proper funeral. This is an honor that the living owe the dead.”

Apollo obeyed. He went to the battlefield and picked up Sarpedon’s body. He wiped off the blood, bathed Sarpedon in a river, and dressed him in fine clothing. He then handed over the corpse to the immortals Sleep and Death, who took the corpse to Lycia.

Patroclus kept fighting. He ignored Achilles’ order to return to the camp after he had forced the Trojans away from the ships. Zeus put the urge to fight in Patroclus.

Patroclus killed and killed again and won great kleos. He killed Adrestus, Autonous, Echeclus, Perimus, Epistor, Melanippus, Elasus, Mulius, and Pylartes. The other Trojans fled.

Patroclus and the Greeks might have conquered Troy, but Apollo himself stood on the city’s ramparts and fought off their attack. Three times Patroclus hurled himself against the city ramparts, and three times Apollo forced him back. The fourth time Patroclus began to hurl himself at Troy, Apollo shouted, “Patroclus, stop! Troy is not fated to fall before you! And it is not fated to fall before Achilles!”

Patroclus then backed away, respecting the god.

Hector thought about what he should do. Should he continue to fight? Should he call his army to go back inside the walls of Troy? Apollo assumed the form of the mortal Asius and said, “Hector, keep fighting out here! You are a mighty warrior. Challenge Patroclus. Apollo may help you to kill him!”

Hector ordered his charioteer, “Cebriones, let’s go where the fighting is fiercest!”

Hector sought Patroclus, the most devastating Greek warrior now on the battlefield. Patroclus saw Hector, got off his chariot, and seized and hurled a rock. He threw it hard, and he hit Hector’s charioteer. The rock hit Cebriones in between his eyes and crushed his skull. Cebriones’ eyes hit the ground before the rest of his body did.

Patroclus taunted the corpse, “This man has great ability as a tumbler! He knows how to dive! He would do well at diving for oysters in the sea!”

Patroclus ran to the corpse of Cebriones as Hector leapt from his chariot and rushed toward Patroclus. The two warriors fought over the corpse the way that lions fight over a freshly killed stag. Hector grabbed the corpse’s head, and Patroclus grabbed one of the corpse’s feet. They fought to gain possession of the corpse.

The East and South winds sometimes roar in a wooded mountain valley, and the branches of trees thrash against each other. Trees fall with a crash. Greeks and Trojans crashed against each other. Each side fought to defeat the other side; no warrior thought of fleeing. Around the corpse of Cebriones, arrows, spears, and rocks flew. Weapons struck shields. Cebriones lay dead; he was no longer a master horseman.

The fighting continued until and past noon, and then the Greeks mounted a fiercer offensive. They dragged the corpse of Cebriones away from the Trojans and stripped its armor.

Patroclus charged the Trojans three times, and each time he charged he killed nine warriors.

But the fourth time Patroclus charged, he met his fate.

Apollo came up behind Patroclus and hit him with the force of a god. Patroclus was stunned. Apollo knocked off Patroclus’ helmet, broke his spear, knocked his shield to the ground, and ripped off his breastplate. Patroclus was vulnerable and exposed to the enemy warriors.

A young warrior named Euphorbus speared Patroclus in the back in between the shoulder blades. Although Euphorbus was young, he was a good warrior. This was his first battle in which chariots were used, and he had killed twenty charioteers.

Euphorbus wounded Patroclus, but he did not kill him. He pulled his spear out of Patroclus’ body and ran back to the Trojan troops. Euphorbus would not finish off Patroclus, vulnerable as he was.

Hector saw the wounded Patroclus trying to stagger back to the Greek troops. Hector rushed forward and speared him in the intestines and the spear went through his body and out his back. Patroclus fell. A lion and a boar sometimes fight. The boar is fierce, but the lion kills him as the boar struggles to breathe. So Hector killed Patroclus.

Hector said, “Patroclus, you thought that you could conquer Troy. You thought that you could make slaves of the Trojan women and drag them to your ships and take them to Greece. Fool! The Trojans and I are fighting so that the Trojan women can continue to be free. I fight for them, but as for you, I will allow the vultures to eat your corpse!

“Achilles must have given you this order: ‘Don’t return to my camp until after you have killed Hector.’ You tried to obey the order, but you failed.”

Struggling to breathe, Patroclus replied, “Victory is yours — today. You have defeated me, but Zeus and Apollo are the ones who killed me. Without the help of the gods, you and nineteen other Hectors would have all died at the end of my spear. Apollo and my fate killed me. The mortal Euphorbus helped. You are only the third of those who killed me, and you simply finished me off after I was already disarmed and wounded. I am a dying man, and I have the gift of prophecy. You do not have much longer to live. Death and your fate are swiftly coming for you. I see that you will die at the end of the spear of a great warrior — Achilles!”

Patroclus died, and his psyche, mourning the loss of life, went to the Land of the Dead.

Hector said, “Who can tell what the future will bring? Why are you trying to prophesy? Achilles may very well go down to the Land of the Dead before I do. Achilles may die at the end of my spear!”

Hector put his foot on Patroclus’ chest and pulled out his spear. He then ran after the charioteer Automedon and tried to kill him, but Achilles’ immortal horses kept Automedon out of danger and away from death.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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David Bruce: Homer’s ILIAD: A Retelling in Prose — Book 15: The Battle at the Ships

Book 15: The Battle at the Ships

The Trojans fled, and the Greeks pursued and killed them. Zeus woke up and looked down at the battle. He sprang to his feet. This was not how the battle was supposed to go. The Greeks were winning, and Hector struggled to breathe as he vomited blood. Great Ajax, a mighty warrior, had earlier wounded him with a rock.

Zeus told Hera, “You are treacherous. You stopped Hector’s attack and made the Greeks victorious while I was sleeping. Don’t be surprised if you suffer for what you have done. I can whip you. Remember that I once strung you up in the air with two huge anvils strung on your feet. I tied your hands with a golden chain — you could not break it. The other Olympian gods wanted to help you, but I would not let them. If a god tried to help you, I caught him and threw him far away. The god hit the earth headfirst and endured agonizing pain. That was how angry I was at you when you sent my son, Heracles, off course after he defeated Troy. You always hated my son, and you planned pain for him. But I saved Heracles and took him to his home. If you don’t remember how I punished you then, I can easily help you to remember. Your seductiveness will not help you.”

Hera was afraid of her husband’s anger. She told him, “I did not directly tell Poseidon to help the Greeks. It must have been his own idea. He hates the Trojans. He pitied the Greeks when their backs were against their ships. My advice to Poseidon is to always obey your will!”

Zeus was pleased by Hera’s words although he still knew that she was, is, and will be treacherous to him. He told her, “I like what you are telling me. If you obey me and follow my orders, then Poseidon will have to bend to my will even when he would like to oppose me.

“Hera, go to Mount Olympus and tell Iris and Apollo to come to me. I will order Iris to go to Poseidon and order him to stop helping the Greeks. I will tell Apollo to help Hector rejoin the battle. Hector will rout the Greeks and send them back to their ships. Achilles will send his best friend, Patroclus, into battle. Hector will kill Patroclus but only after Patroclus has had an aristeia and has slaughtered many Trojans, including my own son, Sarpedon. Angry at the death of Patroclus, Achilles will kill Hector. From that time, the fighting will continue until the Greeks conquer Troy.

“I will not allow any god or goddess to take part in the war until I have kept my promise to Thetis and exalted her son, Achilles.”

Hera obeyed her husband — immediately. She flew to Mount Olympus as quickly as thought. The gods greeted her with cups of nectar. She accepted a cup from Themis, who asked her, “Why have you returned here? You look worried. I can guess that your husband, Zeus, has threatened you.”

Hera replied, “I don’t want to think about my husband’s threat. You know how angry Zeus can get and the ways that he can punish a god or goddess. Continue being the hostess here, Themis, and no doubt you will hear all. What my husband is planning will not bring joy to all the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus.”

The gods looked concerned. Hera’s lips smiled, but her forehead frowned. She said, “Anyone who tries to oppose Zeus is a fool. We try to get our way, but he is stronger than we are, and he does not concern himself with our happiness. All of us must accept whatever pain he throws our way.”

Hera then sent some pain Ares’ way. She said, “Ares is going to feel some pain right now. His son, Ascalaphus, is dead — killed in battle. I do believe that Ares has claimed to be his father.”

Ares felt pain and grief. He slapped his thighs hard and said, “Would anyone here blame me if I went to the battle and avenged the death of my son? Would anyone here blame me if I did that — even though Zeus might throw a thunderbolt at me that would knock me to the ground amid dust and dead warriors?”

Ares ordered the immortals Rout and Terror to hitch his horses to his chariot. He put on his armor — he wanted to avenge his son. But Athena stopped him. She tore his helmet from his head and snatched away his shield and spear. She told him, “Don’t be stupid, and don’t do something stupid. Haven’t you been listening to Hera? If you go to the battle now, soon you will return, whipped by Zeus. And Zeus won’t stop after causing you pain. He will leave the battle and come to Mount Olympus and batter us — all of us: the guilty and the innocent. Don’t be angry at the death of your son. A better warrior than your son has died by now or soon will die.”

Ares sat down.

Hera summoned Iris and Apollo to her and told them, “Go to Zeus on Mount Ida, and do whatever he orders you to do.”

Iris and Apollo flew to Zeus. He was pleased to see them arrive so quickly — Hera had followed the orders he had given to her.

Zeus told Iris, “Go to Poseidon and tell him to leave the battle. He can go to Mount Olympus or to the sea, whichever he chooses. Tell him that if he does not obey me to beware because I am stronger and older than he is. It is best for him to obey my orders.”

Iris swooped down to the battle and found Poseidon and gave him Zeus’ message. Poseidon was angry. He complained to Iris, “Who is Zeus to give me orders? He is my brother, along with Hades. Rhea is the mother and Cronus is the father of all three of us. Zeus is the oldest of us three brothers. We split the world into three parts, and we shook lots to see who would get each part of the world. I became the god of the sea, Hades became the god of the Land of the Dead, which is also known by the name Hades, and Zeus became the god of the sky. But common to all of us is Mount Olympus and the land.

“Why should I follow his orders? He is powerful, but he needs to be content with the sky and not try to control the land, too. If he wants to order someone around, let him give orders to his sons and daughters!”

Iris asked, “Do you really think it wise to give that answer to Zeus? How do you think he will react to it? Aren’t you willing to bend even a little? Be careful. The Furies are avenging goddesses who concern themselves with familial violence and punish those whom they regard at fault — remember that the Furies protect older brothers.”

Poseidon replied, “Yours are wise words — you are right, Iris. You have wisdom, but I am still angry when Zeus threatens me although I am his brother and equal. I will bend to his will. But I say this: If Zeus should decree that Troy not be conquered — against the wishes of Athena, Hera, Hephaestus, Hermes, and me — then the anger between us shall never end.”

Poseidon caused an earthquake and then dove into the sea. The Greek warriors immediately missed his leadership and presence.

Immediately afterward, Zeus sent Apollo away with his orders: “Go to Hector. Poseidon has left the battle. If he had not, we would have fought. I would have won, but it is better for both him and me that Poseidon simply do what I tell him to do. Take my shield — it will panic the Greeks. But most of all, put courage into Hector so that he will fiercely attack the Greeks.”

Apollo quickly followed his father’s orders. He swooped like a hawk from Mount Ida and found Hector. Hector was sitting up, recovering from being hit with the rock that Great Ajax had thrown at him. Hector began to recognize his fellow warriors. Zeus revived him, and Hector’s gasping and heavy sweating stopped.

Apollo said to him, “Hector, why are you so far away from the fighting?”

Hector replied, “Which of the gods are you? I am surprised that you don’t know that I was killing Greeks when Great Ajax threw a rock at me and hit my chest. I thought my time to journey to the Land of the Dead had come.”

Apollo said, “Be courageous. Zeus has sent me — Apollo — to help you and to protect you. I saved you once before. Get in your chariot, and command your Trojans to get in their chariots and attack the Greeks. I will go ahead of you and help you to drive the Greeks back.”

This was good news for Hector, who recovered fully from his wound. He was like a well-fed stallion breaking free of a tether and racing to a river to cool off in its currents. The stallion is alive and proud. Hector was eager to kill and kill again.

The Greeks saw the Trojans coming. The Greeks turned around and ran. Imagine dogs and huntsmen going after a stag or mountain goat but a mountain lion appears and attacks. The dogs and huntsmen flee. The Greeks had been attacking the Trojans, but when they saw Hector they turned around and ran.

But the Greek Thoas — a good spearman and one of the best young debaters — did not run, and he tried to convince other Greeks not to run. He called to the Greeks, “Look! Hector is back when I thought that he had died — killed by Great Ajax! Once more, a god has saved Hector. Zeus must be his friend.

“Warriors, follow my advice. All of you who consider yourselves common soldiers, leave and go back to the ships and prepare to defend them. But the best of us will fight Hector! I don’t think that he can get past us.”

The Greeks’ best warriors knew that this was good advice. They gathered around Great Ajax, Idomeneus, Teucer, Meriones, and Meges. The common soldiers withdrew to the ships.

The Trojans charged. Hector led them, but out in front was the god Apollo bearing Zeus’ shield — a shield that caused panic in opposing warriors. Hephaestus had made it for Zeus, and now Apollo wielded its power.

The Greeks stood their ground. Both sides shouted cries of war, and arrows darkened the sky. Many arrows hit their targets, cutting deep into the bodies of warriors. Many other arrows landed in the ground.

As long as Apollo did not shake Zeus’ shield and instead held it steady, both sides fought well. But when Apollo shook Zeus’ shield and stared at the Greeks, they panicked and fled. They looked like herds of cattle or flocks of sheep that are fleeing carnivorous beasts that pursue them when the cowherd or shepherd is gone and they have no defense. Hector and his Trojans killed Greeks and gained kleos.

Hector killed Stichius and Menelaus’ friend Arcesilaus.

Aeneas killed Medon and Iasus. Medon had the same father as Little Ajax: Oileus. However, Medon had killed a relative who was related to King Oileus’ wife. Iasus fought with the Athenian warriors.

The Trojan Polydamas killed the Greek Mecisteus.

The Trojan Polites killed the Greek Echius.

The Trojan Agenor killed the Greek Clonius.

Paris, illicit husband of Helen, killed the Greek Deiochus. Paris speared him in the shoulder as Deiochus fled; the spear exited Deiochus’ body through the chest.

The Trojans tore off the bloody armor from Greek corpses as the Greeks fled past the trench and inside the wall.

Hector shouted, “Leave the armor! Storm the ships! I will kill anyone who does not fight! His corpse will not be buried! The dogs and birds will eat it!”

Hector charged in his chariot, shouting a cry of war. The Trojans yelled with the joy of war and of killing, charging in the chariots in a line with Hector’s chariot.

Apollo made their way smooth. He kicked and filled in the trench for a distance as long as a man can throw a spear when he is really trying, and then he knocked down the Greek wall as easily as if he were a boy who builds a sand castle and then knocks it down for fun. Trojans charged over the fallen wall.

The Greeks ran to the ships. They prayed to the gods. Nestor prayed most fervently: He stretched his arms up to the sky and prayed, “Zeus, if anyone in Argos sacrificed to you and you accepted the sacrifice and promised us a safe return home, please remember your promise now! Don’t let us die here!”

Zeus heard Nestor’s prayer, and in reply he cracked thunder across the sky. The Trojans heard the thunder. Thinking that it was a favorable omen for them, they attacked more fiercely.

Imagine a huge wave crashing over the sides of a ship — that is how the Trojans charged over the fallen wall. The Trojans fought from chariots, but the Greeks fought from the decks of ships. The Trojans threw spears. The Greeks used long pikes to keep the Trojans from the ships. The pikes were normally used in sea battles.

As the armies fought, Patroclus heard them as he sat with the wounded Eurypylus, talking to him and treating his injuries with pain-killing drugs. Hearing the Trojans so close to the ships, he slapped his thighs hard and said, “Eurypylus, I need to leave now even though you need my help. I hear the sounds of fighting at the ships. An aide can help you; I need to rush to Achilles and try to convince him to fight. If a god helps me, I may be able to persuade him. I am his friend; he may listen to me.”

Patroclus left the shelter of Eurypylus and started running.

The Greeks were keeping the Trojans away from the ships, but they were not able to force the Trojans back. The line of battle between the two armies was taut like a chalk-line used to mark the timber of a ship. The two armies were evenly matched in fighting prowess now as the Greeks fought to save the ships and the Trojans fought to destroy the ships. Desperation gave the Greeks strength, and hope gave the Trojans strength.

Hector and Great Ajax were fighting over the same ship. Hector could not set it on fire; Great Ajax could not drive Hector away — Apollo was helping Hector. The Trojan Caletor brought fire to the ship, but Great Ajax speared him in the chest and Caletor fell dead at Hector’s feet.

Hector shouted to the Trojans, “Keep fighting! Rescue Caletor’s corpse before the Greeks can strip the armor. Caletor has fallen!”

Hector threw his spear at Great Ajax. He missed Great Ajax but hit Lycophron, who had killed a man in his homeland and had moved to Great Ajax’ land. Hector’s spear cut through Lycophron’s skull above the ear. Lycophron fell from the ship and his back hit the ground.

Great Ajax yelled, “Teucer, our friend is dead. We all lived in the same halls. We respected him. Are you ready to avenge his death?”

Teucer ran to Great Ajax’ side and fired off an arrow that hit Clitus, the charioteer of Polydamas. Clitus was struggling with the horses, trying hard to charge the Greeks and follow the orders of Hector, but Clitus met his fate. Teucer’s arrow hit him in the back of the neck, and he fell, leaving the chariot empty, but Polydamas caught the horses and gave the reins to Astynous, ordering him, “Keep the chariot nearby!” Then Polydamas returned to the battle for the ships.

Teucer readied himself to shoot an arrow at Hector. He saw an opening to a mortal spot, but Zeus was watching and caused the string of Teucer’s bow to break. The arrow went wide of the mark.

Teucer complained to Great Ajax, “A god must be helping the Trojans. A god has snapped the string of my bow — a new string that I fastened to my bow this morning so I could fill the sky with arrows.”

Great Ajax said, “Set aside your bow and arrows since a god will not allow you to fight with them. Fight with a spear and a shield. We will not allow the Trojans to easily set fire to the ships.”

Teucer threw his bow in back of the battle line and armed himself with a shield, helmet, and spear. He stood by Great Ajax.

Hector had seen Teucer’s bowstring break. He shouted, “Trojans, fight on! Zeus is on our side. He has ruined the bowstring of the Greeks’ best archer. Zeus is giving us kleos; he is giving the Greeks defeat. Everybody, fight! We are fighting for Troy and our loved ones! There is no dishonor in fighting and even dying to keep a wife and sons safe!”

Great Ajax also shouted encouragement to his fellow Greeks, “Do you want Hector and the Trojans to set fire to the ships? Listen to him shout! He is inviting the Trojans to a battle, not to a dance! Let us fight up close and face-to-face. How we fight now determines whether we live or die!”

Hector killed Schedius.

Great Ajax killed Laodamas.

The Trojan Polydamas killed Otus, one of Meges’ friends.

Meges saw Otus die, and he quickly tried to kill Polydamas, but Apollo protected the Trojan and Meges missed. But Meges did stab Croesmus in the chest.

As Meges was stripping off Croesmus’ armor, the Trojan Dolops tried to kill him. Dolops was strong, and his spear went through Meges’ shield, but Meges’ breastplate saved his life. Euphetes had hosted Dolops’ father and had given him the breastplate that Dolops wore to war.

Meges cut at Dolops’ helmet, which fell to the ground, but Dolops did not retreat. Menelaus speared Dolops — the spear went into the back of Dolops’ shoulder and came out his chest. He fell facedown, and the two armies scrambled to strip off his armor.

Hector rallied his Trojans, especially Melanippus, a cousin of Dolops. Melanippus used to graze sheep at a distance from Troy, but when Greek ships and war arrived, he returned to Troy to fight. Priam respected him.

Hector shouted, “Melanippus! Your cousin is dead! Let’s kill the Greeks and avenge his death!”

Great Ajax also rallied his Greeks: “Be warriors! Make a reputation for yourselves! What will people say about you after this battle? Dread being called a coward! Be a hero instead! Win kleos!”

Great Ajax fired up the Greeks, and Zeus fired up the Trojans.

Menelaus saw Antilochus, the swift son of Nestor and challenged him, “Among the younger warriors, you are the fastest and you fight fiercely! Show us what kind of fighting skill you’ve got!”

Antilochus moved forward and hurled his spear. The Trojans tried to dodge the spear, but it hit Melanippus in the chest. He fell, and Antilochus rushed toward him like a dog jumping on a deer that a hunter has just wounded.

Hector saw Antilochus and rushed toward him. Antilochus saw Hector and turned and ran. Antilochus was like a wild beast that has killed a dog or a herdsman and runs away before groups of men are able to hunt him. Hector and the Trojans tried to kill Antilochus, but he made it safely back to his fellow Greek warriors.

The Trojans stormed the Greek ships. Zeus wanted to give Hector kleos, and so he gave him courage. Zeus wanted Hector to set on fire a Greek ship. The burning of a ship would fulfill Zeus’ promise to Thetis: It would show the Greeks how much they needed Achilles, who would soon fight and push the Trojans away from the ships and back to Troy.

Hector was wild to set the ships on fire. His eyes burned, and his mouth foamed. He was like a flash fire that consumes everything in its path. Zeus glorified Hector, whose life would soon end — Achilles would send him to the Land of the Dead.

But now Hector was killing Greeks. He fought where the greatest number of Greek warriors wearing fine armor fought — he wanted to kill the best of the Greeks. But despite his anger, he could not smash through their line. They were like a stone wall or a granite cliff. Storms and waves assault the granite cliff, but it does not move. Still, Hector charged at their mass like a huge wave storming at a ship. The huge wave — driven by a hurricane — crashes over the ship and the sailors are afraid.

The Greek warriors feared Hector as he charged again. He was like a lion killing sheep and cattle. A lone inexperienced herdsman cannot keep the lion from slaughtering the animals. All he can do is to herd the living animals away as the lion feasts on meat. The Greeks fled. Zeus and Hector made them flee, even though Hector killed only one Greek: Periphetes. His father was Copreus, a herald of Eurystheus. Copreus, following orders, summoned Heracles again and again to perform one of his famous twelve labors. Copreus was an ignoble father, and he had a noble but unlucky son. Turning to flee, Periphetes tripped on his shield and fell to the ground. Hector rushed up to him and speared him in the chest. The other Greeks saw him die — they were unable to prevent his death. They dreaded facing Hector.

The Greeks were now at the ships, and the Trojans were driving them back from the first row of ships lined up away from the shore. The Greeks had no choice but to retreat a little way, but they regrouped at the tents. Discipline made them take a stand, as did the thought of what would happen to them if the ships were set on fire.

Nestor pleaded with the Greeks to fight: “What do you want people to say about you after this battle is over? That you were a coward? Or that you were a hero? Remember that you have parents and other loved ones who will hear stories about you. Fight! Don’t run! Win kleos!”

The Greeks listened to Nestor. Athena cleared away the dust that had arisen from the fighting. The Greeks and the Trojans could clearly see each other on the battle lines. Each side knew the army it was fighting. Each side knew that this was an opportunity to earn kleos. All the Greek warriors clearly saw Hector and his Trojans — those fighting in the front lines and those who were the Trojan reserves.

Great Ajax fought as well as he had ever fought. He wanted to be where the fighting was most fierce. He jumped from the deck of one ship to the deck of another, stabbing Trojans with his long pike. He was like a skilled rider who yokes together four horses and races them while he jumps from one horse’s back to another horse’s back and another’s. The crowd watches, not believing that such skill can exist. Great Ajax jumped from deck to deck — fighting, and shouting to encourage the Greeks to hold off the Trojans.

Hector was like an eagle swooping down on flocks of geese, cranes, or swans. Hector swooped at a ship of war, and Zeus urged him on.

Again, troops battled at the ships. They fought so fiercely that it seemed as if all the troops were fresh. The Greeks were afraid that this was their day to die. The Trojans were hopeful that this was their day to win the war — they wanted to burn Greek ships and kill Greek warriors.

Finally, Hector achieved a moment that he had wanted ever since the Greeks came to Troy. He reached a ship. It had brought Protesilaus to Troy, but it would not take him home to Greece. Warriors fought at close range now: face-to-face. Their weapons were hatchets, battle-axes, swords, and short spears — not arrows and long spears for throwing. The weapons and blood of fallen warriors covered the ground. Hector held onto the ship and screamed, “Bring fire! This day makes up for all the other days. The Greeks came here to make war on us. I wanted to fight, but Troy’s elders insisted on trying to wait out a siege. Zeus helped the Greeks then, but Zeus is helping us now!”

Inspired by Hector, the Trojans fought more fiercely, and even forced back Great Ajax — Trojan weapons forced him to back up slow inch by slow inch, all unwillingly. He moved to a bridge erected between two ships and continued to spear Trojans with his pike. He shouted to his fellow Greeks, “Fight with fury! We are all the warriors we have! We have no warriors in reserve! We have nowhere to retreat! The sea is in back of us, the Trojans are in front of us, and the best and only thing we can do is fight!”

With each breath, Great Ajax speared a Trojan bringing fire to Hector. Great Ajax stabbed twelve Trojans.

Looking down at the battlefield, Zeus thought, The warriors whom Great Ajax just killed were fated to die on this day. The same is true of all the other warriors who have died or will die today. Each mortal human being is given a certain amount of life. Each mortal human being is given a certain moira — share or portion or lot — of life. Each mortal human being has a fate.

Fate is what is bound to happen. Fate is what we gods know was bound to happen. Mortals do not have that foreknowledge. When a warrior is hit in a mortal place with a weapon, only then does the warrior know that he was fated to die on that day.

The fate of warriors varies. Many warriors will die on the battlefield, but many warriors will survive. Some Greek warriors will return home and live a long life. Gods know the fate of mortals, but mortals almost always do not know their fate unless they receive help from a prophet or a god.

Achilles is unusual both in that he has two fates — almost all mortals have only one fate — and in that he knows that he has two fates. Very few mortals know when they are fated to die.

We gods and goddesses have unusual abilities, of course. We know the fates of human beings in advance. Thetis knows that Achilles, her son, has two fates. I know that Sarpedon is fated to die in this battle. I also know that Patroclus will kill Sarpedon, Hector — with help — will kill Patroclus, and Achilles will kill Hector.

Cities also have fates. Troy is fated to fall in the tenth year of the war.

Fate can be malleable. We gods can make things happen that may seem to go against fate. Troy is fated to fall, yet I can make the Trojans be victorious for a while. But Troy will still fall in the tenth year of the war.

I, Zeus, am powerful. Am I powerful enough to keep my son, Sarpedon, alive although he is fated to die on this day? I don’t know. I want my son to live, and I am tempted to allow my son to keep living past the day he is fated to die, but I don’t know what the consequences would be if I did that. Would going against fate create terrible consequences in the universe — consequences that even I would not be able to control? Almost certainly. Tempted though I am to allow Sarpedon to continue to live past this day, and despite the grief that I feel now and will feel again when he dies, it is best that I allow my son to die.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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David Bruce: Homer’s ILIAD: A Retelling in Prose — Book 14: Hera Deceives Zeus

Book 14: Hera Deceives Zeus

In his tent, Nestor heard the cries of the warriors on both sides. He said to Machaon, “The cries are growing fiercer, and they are near the ships! You stay here and drink wine. Hecamede will draw you a bath and wash the blood off of you. I am going to find out how the battle is going.”

Nestor grabbed a shield that belonged to his son, Thrasymedes, who was using Nestor’s shield. He also grabbed a spear. Outside his tent, he stopped, sick and stunned. Part of the Greek wall had been knocked down, and the Trojans were across the wall! What was the best thing to do: to get in his chariot and join the Greeks or go to Agamemnon and form a plan of action? He went to find Agamemnon as the warriors continued to cut and kill each other.

The other kings — those who had been wounded — were with Agamemnon; they knew that the battle was going badly for the Greeks. Diomedes, Odysseus, and Agamemnon were all too badly wounded to fight.

The shore in front of Troy was not wide enough to house all their ships, and so the Greeks had hauled many up on land in rows and built a wall to protect them. That was where the wounded kings met. They saw Nestor coming toward them and dreaded that he was bringing bad news.

Agamemnon said to Nestor, “Why have you come here, away from the battle where warriors are dying? Hector is keeping good his threat to me that he would force back our troops and burn our ships. So he threatened then, and so he does now! Our troops must be as angry at me as Achilles is. They must have no more will for battle.”

Nestor replied, “Indeed, we are facing a disaster. I’m not certain that even Zeus could help us. Part of the wall is down, and the Trojans are fiercely attacking. Look up and down the lines, and it is impossible to tell which section — right, middle, left — is the most threatened by the Trojans. Carnage is everywhere, and Trojan war cries fill the sky! We need a plan of action. We need tactics. Clearly, wounded warriors cannot fight.”

Agamemnon said, “The Trojans have almost reached the ships. The fortifications — the wall and the trench — are useless. They did not hold back the Trojans. We had hoped that they would be permanent barriers, but Zeus must be giving the Trojans victory. Zeus used to help us, and now he helps the Trojans, but always he must have planned an ultimate Trojan victory.

“Listen to me. Let us take the ships that lie along the shore and push them into the sea. When night comes, unless the Trojans attack during darkness, we will put the rest of the ships into the sea and sail for home. It is better to run away than to die.”

Odysseus, master of tactics, hissed, “Don’t be stupid, Agamemnon. With orders like that, you don’t deserve to command warriors. Instead, you should command cowards. Zeus has decreed that we fight, not run away. Do you really want to run away from the Trojans after we have endured so much for so many years?

“What would happen if your warriors found about your plan? These are the warriors who live or die as they follow your orders. Our warriors are fighting, and yet you want to put ships in the sea? The warriors would see the ships and think that we are deserting them and leaving them to their deaths. They will look to the right and see death. They will look ahead of them and see death. They will look to the left and see death. They will then stop fighting and run for the ships with Trojan warriors pursuing them and slaughtering them. Your plan will get all of us killed! We need the warriors to keep fighting — not try to run away!”

Agamemnon said, “You are right, Odysseus. What you say is direct and true. I will not order you or anyone else to haul the ships to the sea against your will. But does anyone have a plan of action that we can follow?”

Diomedes replied, “I do. Please listen to me, although I am the youngest commander. Although I am young, I come from a notable family. My father is Tydeus, dead now and buried in Thebes. Portheus, his grandfather, gave birth to three sons: Agrius, Melas, and Oeneus, who is my grandfather. Oeneus stayed at home and did not wander, but my father wandered over the earth. He decided to live in Argos, where he married a daughter of Adrastus and lived in a grand house with lots of cropland and orchards and pastures for sheep. He was a superior spearman, as all of you know. So my family is notable, and if my advice is good, you ought to follow it.

“We need to return to the battle. Really, we have no choice. Because of our wounds, we cannot fight. We will stay out of the range of spears and arrows so that we do not double our wounds. But our warriors will see us and be encouraged — they will know that we are not planning to run away and leave them to die.”

This was good advice, and they went to the battle.

Poseidon had been watching. Taking the shape of an old veteran, he said to Agamemnon, “Achilles must be happy right now to see that his companions are dying, cut down by Trojan weapons. He has no compassion in him, so I hope he dies! I hope that a god kills him! But the gods are not angry at you, Agamemnon. They will not let all the Greeks die. Soon you will see the Trojans create a huge cloud of dust as they run away from us and to Troy!”

Poseidon then ran to the front lines and shouted as loud as nine thousand or ten thousand warriors — a cry loud enough to put courage in each Greek’s heart.

Hera was also watching. She saw Poseidon helping the Greeks, and she saw Zeus on Mount Ida looking away from the Trojan War, bored with the battle. She wanted the Greeks to win, and she hated that Zeus wanted the Trojans to win for now.

Hera wondered if she could form a plan that would allow the Greeks to be triumphant and push back the Trojans. How could she allow Poseidon to be more active in helping the Greeks?

Eventually, she found a plan. She would beautify herself and go to Zeus on Mount Ida. If Zeus were to have sex with her, he would go to sleep and Poseidon could do whatever he wanted on the battlefield to help the Greeks.

She went to her bedroom, built for her by Hephaestus, and prepared for her feminine aristeia. She used ambrosia to clean her body and then rubbed her body with olive oil to make it soft. The scent of this special olive oil wafted from Mount Olympus to below and made the earth smell sweet. She combed her hair and braided it, and then she dressed herself in robes that Athena had made. A golden brooch and a waistband kept the robes closed. She wore earrings and a headdress and a veil — Hera, who was a married woman, wore a headdress and a veil — and she put on sandals.

She was not finished yet. She went to Aphrodite, goddess of sexual passion, and asked for a favor: “Will you lend me something, or will you hold it against me that I favor the Greeks?”

Aphrodite replied, “Tell me what you want. If I can, I will lend it to you.”

Hera lied to get what she wanted: “I am going to visit Ocean and Mother Tethys, my friends who took care of me after Zeus overpowered his father, Cronus. Ocean and Mother Tethys are fighting, and they have not made love for a long time. I want to convince them to make up and to enjoy themselves in bed again. Lend me something that will accomplish that.”

Aphrodite said, “It would be wrong to deny your request. This is exactly what you need.”

She took off her breastband and lent it to Hera. The breastband was something that no mortal man or immortal god could resist.

Aphrodite said to Hera, “Take this breastband. Whoever wears it will immediately make males much more than merely interested.”

Hera smiled.

Aphrodite went to her home, and Hera went to the god Sleep before she went to Zeus. She needed one more thing for her plan.

To Sleep, whose twin is Death, she said, “I have something to ask of you. If you give it to me, I will owe you. I want you to put Zeus to sleep after I have made love to him. I will give you a solid gold throne that I will have my son, Hephaestus, make for you. He will also make you a stool for your feet.”

But Sleep replied, “Hera, I would put to sleep whatever god you wish — except Zeus. The only way I will put Zeus to sleep is if he himself requests it. Remember when you had me put Zeus to sleep because of Heracles?”

Hera replied, “Of course I do. I hate all the bastard children my husband, Zeus, has fathered. One of them was Heracles. I also hate all the mortal women who have given birth to those bastards. It does not matter to me whether the women had sex with my husband willingly or not.”

Sleep continued, “You wanted to cause trouble for Heracles after he sacked Troy because the Trojan king Laomedon would not give him the horses he had promised, so you made me make Zeus fall asleep. You called up a storm that caused Heracles to go far off course, and Zeus was furious when he woke up. He flung gods out of his way as he searched for me — he regarded me as being the guiltiest. I fled to the goddess Night, and Zeus gave up searching for me. Now you want me to do something that will get me in that much trouble again.”

Hera replied, “You have nothing to worry about. Zeus loved his son Heracles. Do you think that he values the Trojan warriors as much as he did his son Heracles? But if you do what I say, I will get you a wife. I will arrange a marriage between you and Pasithea, one of the younger Graces.”

Sleep said, “You will! Swear an oath, and it’s a deal! I can’t sleep during the day because I keep thinking about Pasithea.”

Hera swore an oath in which she named all the Titans punished in Tartarus. She and Sleep then wrapped themselves in fog to hide themselves and went to Mount Ida, where Zeus was resting. Sleep climbed up a high pine tree before Zeus saw him, and Hera went alone to her husband.

Hera’s breastband that she borrowed from Aphrodite, goddess of sexual passion, immediately worked. Her husband wanted to have sex with her.

Zeus said to Hera, “Where are you going? Why are you here?”

Hera replied, “I am going to visit Ocean and Mother Tethys, who are fighting and have not made love for a long time. They are my friends, and I want to reconcile their quarrel. I want them to enjoy themselves in bed again. My horses and chariot are nearby, but I came to you first so that you would know what I am doing. I do not want to make you angry.”

Zeus said, “Why are you in such a hurry? You can visit Ocean and Mother Tethys tomorrow. Today — right now — have sex with me. I have never so wanted to have sex with anyone — mortal or immortal.

“I am hornier than I was when I had sex with the wife of Ixion. She bore to me a son: Pirithous.”

Hera thought, I know that you had sex with the wife of Ixion and that she bore you a bastard son, and I hate it.

Zeus continued, “I am hornier than I was when I had sex with Danaë, who bore me a son: Perseus.”

Hera thought, I know that you had sex with Danaë and that she bore you a bastard son, and I hate it.

Zeus continued, “I am hornier than I was when I had sex with Europa, who bore me twin sons: Minos and Rhadamanthys.”

Hera thought, I know that you had sex with Europa and that she bore you twin bastard sons, and I hate it.

Zeus continued, “I am hornier than I was when I had sex with Alcmena, who bore me a son: Heracles.”

Hera thought, I know that you had sex with Alcmena and that she bore you a bastard son, and I hate it.

Zeus continued, “I am hornier than I was when I had sex with Semele, who bore me a son: Dionysus.”

Hera thought, I know that you had sex with Semele and that she bore you a bastard son, and I hate it.

Zeus continued, “I am hornier than I was when I had sex with the goddess Demeter, who bore me a daughter: Persephone.”

Hera thought, I know that you had sex with Demeter and that she bore you a bastard daughter, and I hate it.

Zeus continued, “I am hornier than I was when I had sex with the goddess Leto, who bore me twins: Apollo and Artemis.”

Hera thought, I know that you had sex with Leto and that she bore you bastard twins, and I hate it. Zeus, my husband, you know nothing about how to seduce a wife!

Zeus continued, “I am hornier than I have ever been. Let us have sex right here, right now!”

Hera said, “What are you saying? Here on Mount Ida! Any god and goddess can see us making love. If one sees us making love, he or she will tell the other gods and goddesses. I don’t wish to be the subject of gossip. If you want to make love to me, we can go to your bedroom, which Hephaestus made for you, and shut the doors.”

Zeus said, “Don’t worry. I will bring clouds around Mount Ida to hide us. Not even the sun will see us.”

Zeus had sex with Hera, and under and around them grew green grass and beautiful flowers. Zeus and Hera did not touch the ground. Drops of dew rained down on them.

Zeus immediately fell asleep afterward, and the god Sleep rushed to the Greek ships and told Poseidon, “Fight for the Greeks! Zeus is asleep for a while at least. He made love to Hera, and I made him go into a soothing sleep.”

Poseidon said to the Greek warriors, “Do you want Hector to win? Do you want the Trojans to set fire to your ships! That’s what he wants, now that Achilles is not fighting for us. But if we fight well, we need not miss Achilles. We can defeat Hector without his help.

“Listen to me. Let us make sure that the best fighters have the best armor. If a big, strong warrior has a small shield and a small, weak warrior has a big shield, make them exchange shields. We need to make sure that our best fighters stay alive.”

This was good advice, and the Greek commanders knew it. Diomedes, Odysseus, and Agamemnon arranged exchanges of armor. Poseidon led the warriors into battle.

On one side, Hector led the Trojans, and on the other side, Poseidon led the Greeks. The surf pounded the shore, and the warriors clashed against each other and shrieked cries of war.

Not so loud was the sound of waves crashing on the shore, not so loud was the crackling of a rampaging forest fire, not so loud was a storm wind tearing branches off of oak trees — none of these was so loud as the cries of war as Trojans killed Greeks and Greeks killed Trojans.

Hector ran forward and threw his spear at Great Ajax. It hit him just where two straps — one for his shield and one for his sword — crossed his chest. The straps saved his life. Hector was angry and backed up to rejoin his troops.

Great Ajax picked up a rock and threw it at Hector. It went over the edge of his shield and hit him on his chest close to his throat. Hector spun around and fell like an oak tree hit by a thunderbolt from Zeus falls, ripping up its roots and scaring passersby.

Hector fell, and his spear and helmet fell, too. The Greeks ran to try to kill him. The Trojans — who were faster than the Greeks — ran to save him. Aeneas, Polydamas, Agenor, Sarpedon, Glaucus, and all their Trojan and allied troops saved Hector’s life. They protected him with shields and lifted him up and put him in a chariot and drove him away from the fighting.

When they reached the ford of the river Xanthus, they lifted him out of the chariot and poured water over him. Hector’s eyes cleared. He got to his knees, vomited, and fell unconscious.

The Greeks fought the Trojans harder than ever, now that Hector was injured. Little Ajax speared Satnius, who was named after the river Satniois, where his father, Enops, and his mother, the nymph of the ford, had coupled. Little Ajax speared him in the side.

The Trojan Polydamas threw a spear and hit Prothoënor, the son of Antenor, in the shoulder. He fell and grabbed the ground with both hands. Polydamas boasted, “Once again I’ve thrown my spear and hit my target: a Greek who will go down to the Land of the Dead.”

The Greeks detested that boast. Prothoënor had fallen at the feet of Giant Ajax, who, angered, threw his spear at Polydamas, who jumped to the side. The spear missed Polydamas but hit Archelochus, cutting through his neck. His torso, arms, and legs fell to the ground, but his head hit the ground first.

Great Ajax yelled at Polydamas, “Your spear hit Prothoënor, and my spear hit Archelochus. I think it’s a good trade. This man looks like a warrior, not a coward. He must be the brother or the son of Antenor.”

Great Ajax knew that Prothoënor was a son of Antenor. Acamas, Prothoënor’s brother, straddled the corpse and speared the Greek Promachus, who was trying to drag away the corpse by the feet.

Acamas boasted to the Greeks, “You also can suffer and die. Some day all of you will be like Promachus. He did not live long after the death of my brother. Warriors pray for blood relatives. If the warrior dies in battle, a blood relative will avenge his death.”

The Greeks wanted to avenge the death of Promachus. The Greek Peneleos charged the Trojan Acamas, who ran, so Peneleos stabbed Ilioneus, on whose father Hermes had showered riches but whose mother had given birth to only one son. Peneleos stabbed Ilioneus under an eyebrow. One eyeball was scooped out, and the spear went into Ilioneus’ eye socket and out the back of his head. Ilioneus sat down, his hands to his sides, and Peneleos cut off his head. Hoisting his spear with Ilioneus’ head at the end like the top of a poppy, Peneleos displayed the grisly flower to the Trojans and boasted, “Tell the loving parents of Ilioneus that he isn’t coming home anymore. I have avenged the death of the Greek Promachus, whose wife will grieve when he does not return home from the war.”

The Trojans were afraid now, and they fled, pursued by Greeks who killed them.

Great Ajax killed Hyrtius, commander of the Mysians.

Antilochus killed Phalces and Mermerus.

Meriones killed Morys and Hippotion.

Teucer killed Periphetes and Prothoon.

Menelaus killed Hyperenor, spearing him in the side and spilling his intestines.

Little Ajax killed the greatest number of Trojans. He was fast on his feet, and he outran many fleeing Trojans and sent them to the Land of the Dead.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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David Bruce: Homer’s ILIAD: A Retelling in Prose — Book 13: The Trojans Attack the Ships

Book 13: The Trojans Attack the Ships

Zeus had driven Hector against the Greeks and had allowed him to earn great kleos by smashing the gates of the Greeks. Now, as Greeks fought and died to save their ships and as Trojans fought and died to save their wives and children, Zeus grew bored and stopped watching the war. His eyes turned north to Thrace. He did not believe that any god would disobey his orders and fight for the Greeks or for the Trojans.

Poseidon had been watching Zeus. Seeing that Zeus was no longer watching the war, Poseidon decided to help the Greeks. He pitied them. Walking only four steps, Poseidon traveled from Samothrace, an island in the northeastern Aegean, to Aegae, a city in the northern Peloponnesus. He yoked his horses to his battle-chariot and put on armor and drove his chariot and team of horses to Troy. Dolphins swam with the chariot.

In between Tenedos, an island near Troy, and Imbros, another island near Troy, is a sea-cave. Poseidon stopped there and unyoked his immortal horses. He gave them ambrosia to eat, and he put golden hobbles on their feet. Then he went to the Greek camps.

The Trojans fought alongside Hector, screaming war cries. Now was a chance to burn the Greek ships and ensure that Trojan wives and children would be safe from Greek enslavement and other atrocities by the Greeks.

Poseidon assumed the shape and voice of Calchas, the Greek prophet. He spoke to Great Ajax and Little Ajax, “Both of you, fight to save the Greeks! Now is not the time to rest. Elsewhere, the Greek warriors will be able to hold off the Trojans and their allies. Here the Trojans may very well break through. If you two fight as hard as you can, and inspire other Greek warriors to fight as hard as they can, then you can keep Hector and the Trojans away from the ships — even if Zeus helps Hector!”

Poseidon touched Great Ajax and Little Ajax with his staff and inspirited both warriors with courage and strength and fighting prowess. Then Poseidon sped away as quickly as a hawk high in the air swoops down to the plain to attack larks and swallows.

Little Ajax recognized that a god had visited them. Little Ajax said, “Great Ajax, one of the Olympian gods has visited us. This was not the prophet Calchas. Such speed! He had to have been a god! And now my spirit is transformed! I am ready to fight — and to fight well!”

Great Ajax said, “I can feel it, too. I feel strong, and I want to fight Hector face-to-face.”

Poseidon sped to other Greeks, those in the rear, resting, exhausted from the battle, and disheartened by seeing the Trojans attack so fiercely so close to the ships.

Poseidon said to Teucer, Leitus, Peneleos, Thoas, Deipyrus, Meriones, and Antilochus, “You are acting like raw recruits, not like experienced warriors! Have you no shame? If you don’t join the fighting now, the Trojans will win. The Trojans have now almost reached the ships, although before today they were like frightened deer — good for nothing but food for carnivorous beasts: jackals, leopards, and wolves. For months, the Trojans did not want to fight the Greeks. They stayed behind their walls. But now the Trojans are far from the walls of Troy. Agamemnon has been a bad leader, and many Greek warriors are standing around, doing nothing. Achilles and his warriors stay by their ships, not fighting. But so what! So Agamemnon erred by insulting Achilles! How can we not fight now! We must fight or lose honor and kleos!

“I would not criticize someone who has been a coward from the beginning. Of course they are cowards now! But you have been warriors! Why are you holding back now! Hector has knocked down our gates, and the Trojans are near the ships!”

Inspired by Poseidon’s words, the Greek warriors went back into battle. They fought beside Great Ajax and Little Ajax. Even Ares, the god of war, would respect their fighting ability. So would Athena. Here were good warriors to stop Hector. They stood side-by-side, helmet-by-helmet, and spear-by-spear, and they were prepared to gain kleos.

Hector and his Trojans stormed against them. Hector was like a boulder that a river has loosened. The boulder hurtles downward, trampling timber until it reaches the plain. Hector crashed against the Greek warriors, but the Greeks stopped him. They jabbed at him with their two-edged spears, and he was forced back. He shouted to his troops, “Attack! They cannot hold us away from the ships! If Zeus’ word to me is true, I will crush them on this day!”

Deiphobus, a son of Priam, moved forward. The Greek Meriones hurled his spear. A hit! The spear hit Deiphobus’ shield, but did not penetrate it. The shield was strong, and Meriones’ spear shaft snapped. Meriones retreated, furious that he had not killed Deiphobus and furious that he had ruined his weapon. He ran back to the ships to get another spear.

The other warriors continued to fight. Teucer killed Imbrius, who had wed an illegitimate daughter of Priam: Medesicaste. He lived in Pedaeon, but when the war started, he went to Troy to fight for his father-in-law. Teucer stabbed him under the ear, pulled out his spear, and down Imbrius fell like a tree that had been cut down with an ax.

Teucer charged forward to strip Imbrius’ armor, and Hector hurled his spear. Teucer saw it and dodged, barely avoiding death. But the spear hit the Greek Amphimachus in the chest. Hector charged forward to strip off Amphimachus’ helmet, and Great Ajax stabbed at him with a spear — Hector’s armor protected him from death. But Great Ajax stabbed at Hector’s shield and forced him away from the corpses of Imbrius and Amphimachus.

The Greeks hauled away both corpses by their feet. Stichius and Menestheus carried Amphimachus’ body away. Great Ajax and Little Ajax carried Imbrius’ body away. After two lions take away a goat from dogs, they lift it in their jaws so they can carry it away. Great Ajax and Little Ajax lifted the body of Imbrius and stripped his armor.

Little Ajax, furious over the death of Amphimachus, cut off Imbrius’ head and threw it like a ball at the Trojans. It landed at Hector’s feet.

Amphimachus was a grandson of Poseidon. Angered, the god of the sea spurred on the Greeks to fight the Trojans. He moved among the ships and camps and found the Cretan commander Idomeneus, who had been taking care of a wounded friend who had been gashed in the back of the knee. Idomeneus made sure a healer was with his friend, and then he went to his camp to get his armor — he wanted to return to battle.

Poseidon, taking the form and voice of Thoas, said to him, “Greeks used to boast about how well they would fight the Trojans. Were those empty boasts?”

Idomeneus replied, “Thoas, no Greek is to blame. All of us know how to fight — and fight well. No one is panicked. No one is a coward. It is Zeus’ will for the Trojans to triumph now. You yourself, Thoas, are a warrior. Encourage all Greek warriors you see.”

Poseidon said, “May any coward die and stay here and never return home! May anyone who stays away from the battle become food for dogs and birds! Quick, get your armor and let us fight together. Even cowards, when they fight together instead of singly, have some power. You and I, warriors fighting together, will be much more effective than any cowards who fight together.”

Poseidon left, and Idomeneus went to his camp. He put on his shining armor, left, and found Meriones, who had returned to the camp to get a spear.

Idomeneus said, “Meriones, friend, why aren’t you fighting? Are you wounded? Did your spear break? Do you have a message for me? I am ready to fight! I am ready to do battle!”

Meriones understood that Idomeneus was encouraging him to return to the battle. He replied, “Idomeneus, I have come to the camps to get a spear. If you have one I can use, it will save me time. I ruined my spear in a wasted throw against Deiphobus.”

Idomeneus said, “If you need a spear, I have twenty of them. I took them from Trojans I have killed. I don’t fight from a distance. I fight up close, and my reward is taking spears, shields, helmets, and armor from the warriors I kill.”

Meriones replied, “I also fight up close, and my ship and shelter have hoards of Trojan weapons and plunder. But my camp is far from here. I fight in the front lines — courageously. You are a witness to that.”

Idomeneus said, “Yes, I am. You are a warrior who would be picked to be part of an ambush. We need our best warriors for that. Ambushes reveal who is brave and who is cowardly. Cowards change color; their skin grows pale. They move around, excited. Their heart beats rapidly. Their teeth chatter. But the skin of a brave warrior does not grow pale. The brave warrior is in control of himself. The brave warrior is alert but not panicked. The brave warrior is ready to wreak damage against the enemy. The brave warrior is ready to wade in the blood of the enemy.

“No one can deny your bravery. If you were wounded in battle, your wound would be in the front, not in the back. The wound would be in your chest or in your belly as you charged forward.

“Let’s go to the front lines now. Go to my shelter and choose a spear to wield.”

Meriones ran to Idomeneus’ tent and seized a spear, and the two warriors headed for the front lines.

Meriones asked Idomeneus, “Where should we join the fighting? Where are we most needed: right, center, or left? I think we Greeks are most outfought on the left flank.”

Idomeneus replied, “Plenty of Greeks are guarding the middle. Great Ajax, Little Ajax, and Teucer can hold off Hector. Even if Hector is mad to shed Greek blood and burn our ships, he won’t be able to unless Zeus himself sets the ships on fire. Great Ajax is second to no mortal warrior. In single combat, Great Ajax would stand up to Achilles, although Achilles would be the victor in a footrace. So let’s fight on the left flank. Either we will win kleos for ourselves, or we will give kleos to our enemy.”

When the Trojans saw Meriones and Idomeneus, they attacked. Sometimes, wind scatters piles of dust on a dirt road. Much like that, the dust obscured the air as warriors fought. They slashed each other, and their armor shone. Only a man who loved war could find joy in that slaughter.

Zeus and Poseidon wished different outcomes for the warriors. Poseidon wanted a Greek victory every battle. Zeus wanted a Trojan victory on this particular day so that Hector could gain kleos, but Zeus had no intention of allowing all the Greek warriors to be killed. Zeus simply wanted to honor his promise to Achilles’ mother, Thetis.

Zeus was still not watching the battle, so Poseidon was still encouraging the Greeks to fight fiercely, but he was not doing so openly. Zeus was the stronger god, and Poseidon would not resist his will openly. But both gods wanted the deaths of many mortals.

Idomeneus, despite his grey hair, killed Othryoneus, who had come to Troy and asked to marry Priam’s most beautiful daughter, Cassandra. He did not pay a bride-price, but instead vowed to fight well for Troy and to drive the Greeks away. Priam nodded his head in assent to the marriage, but Idomeneus speared Othryoneus through his breastplate.

Idomeneus shouted over the corpse, “Can you keep your promise to Priam now, Othryoneus? I think not. So why not make an agreement with the Greeks? If you do, we will allow you to marry Agamemnon’s most beautiful daughter. We will lead her here from Greece so you can be married, but you must help us to destroy the city of Troy. If you make an agreement with us, the outcome will be better than the outcome of your agreement with Priam.”

Idomeneus grabbed one of Othryoneus’ feet and tried to drag away the corpse, but Asius jumped from his chariot and tried to kill Idomeneus. He failed. Idomeneus speared Asius just under the chin and the spear came out the back of Asius’ head. Asius fell the way a tree falls that has been cut by the builders of boats.

Asius’ driver panicked and did not drive the chariot away from the Greeks. Antilochus, a son of Nestor, speared him through the breastplate. Asius’ driver gasped and died, falling out of the chariot. Antilochus drove the chariot and horses to the Greek side.

Deiphobus, angry at the death of Asius, hurled a spear at Idomeneus, who ducked under his shield and avoided death as the spear flew past, merely grazing the shield. But the spear hit Hypsenor and split his liver. His knees could not hold him.

Deiphobus shouted, “Asius has died, but he will have company on his way to the Land of the Dead!”

Antilochus grieved for Hypsenor, who was wounded but not dead. Antilochus ran forward and stood over him, protecting him with his shield. The Greeks Mecisteus and Alastor helped Hypsenor, in pain and groaning, back to the ships.

Idomeneus kept fighting. He was ready to kill many Trojans or to go himself to the Land of the Dead. He killed Alcathous, who had married Hippodamia, the daughter of Anchises, who had fathered Aeneas with Aphrodite. Hippodamia’s parents loved her. She was skilled at crafts. Idomeneus killed her husband, a brave man, by spearing him in the chest, cracking the metal that protected his ribs. Idomeneus’ spear stuck in his heart, which beat and made the spear quiver — for a short time.

Idomeneus, king of Crete, shouted to Deiphobus, “We have killed three men — Asius, Asius’ driver, and Alcathous — for the man you boasted about killing! Try to fight me! I dare you! I am related to Zeus himself. He fathered the Cretan king Minos, who fathered Deucalion, who fathered me, whose purpose in life right now is to make your life and the lives of all Trojans miserable.”

Deiphobus wondered which was the better course of action: to fight Idomeneus by himself or get a friend to help him fight Idomeneus. He left and found Aeneas, who was by himself, sulking, angry at Priam, who he felt did not give him enough credit for the deeds he performed in battle.

Deiphobus said to Aeneas, “We need you now. Your sister’s husband is dead, and we need to get the corpse so that we can give it a proper burial. Fight with me to recover the corpse of Alcathous, who helped to raise you when you were a child. Idomeneus has killed him.”

Aeneas charged at Idomeneus, who did not scare easily or at all. He was an experienced warrior. A wild mountain boar will stand up to hunters and dogs, not retreating but ready to take a life or many lives. So Idomeneus stood up to Aeneas and did not retreat. But with his experience, he knew he needed help.

Idomeneus called for other Greeks to come to him: Ascalaphus, Aphareus, Deipyrus, Meriones, and Antilochus. He shouted, “Come here, friends, and help me face Aeneas! I am alone, and he is a young, powerful warrior. If he and I were the same age, I would fight him alone. Either I would win kleos, or he would!”

Idomeneus had called to his friends, and they came running. But Aeneas called to Deiphobus, Paris, and Agenor, and they and other warriors ran to him.

Greeks and Trojans fought over the corpse of Alcathous. The Greeks wanted the corpse so that they could ransom it or mistreat it by allowing dogs and birds to eat it, thus preventing Alcathous’ psyche — his soul — from entering the Land of the Dead. The Trojans wanted the corpse so that they could give it a proper funeral and allow his psyche to enter the Land of the Dead.

Aeneas threw his spear at Idomeneus, but Idomeneus ducked and Aeneas’ spear hit only earth.

Idomeneus speared Oenomaus in the belly and his entrails spilled on the ground. Oenomaus’ hands clawed at the earth. Idomeneus pulled his spear out of Oenomaus’ intestines, and Oenomaus’ hands stilled. But Idomeneus could not strip Oenomaus’ armor; the Trojans’ weapons drove him back. Idomeneus did not run away, but he was forced back, slow step by slow step.

Deiphobus threw his spear at Idomeneus, a man he hated, but missed Idomeneus and instead hit Ascalaphus, son of the war god Ares. The spear went all the way through his shoulder and he fell, grabbed at the ground, and died.

Ares did not know that one of his sons had died. He was on Olympus, away from the battle as Zeus had ordered.

The fight over the corpse of Alcathous raged on. Deiphobus managed to strip away Alcathous’ helmet, but Meriones stabbed him in the upper arm and Deiphobus dropped the helmet and it clanged on the ground. Meriones pulled his spear out of Deiphobus’ upper arm and then retreated.

Deiphobus’ brother, Polites, another son of Priam, grabbed him around the waist with both hands and dragged him away from the fighting and to the Trojans’ horses and chariots, one of which bore him back to Troy with blood running down his arm.

Aeneas slit open the throat of Aphareus, who had hoped to kill him. Aphareus’ head slumped, and he fell.

Antilochus saw Thoon attempting to run away. Antilochus sprang at him and severed the vein that runs the length of the back to the nape of the neck. Thoon fell on his back and reached his hands out to his friends. Antilochus wanted to strip off Thoon’s armor, but Trojan weapons struck his shield, which protected him. Antilochus was not wounded as he lashed out with his spear at the Trojans who were trying to kill him.

Adamas, the son of Asius, was watching Antilochus. He ran at Antilochus and stabbed with his spear. It hit Antilochus’ shield and broke. Half remained stuck in the shield, and half fell to the ground.

Adamas retreated, but Meriones speared him, thrusting his spear in between Adamas’ naval and genitals. This is the worst injury that can be suffered in battle. Adamas grabbed the spear and writhed. He fought death the way a wild bull resists the huntsmen who have captured him and are beginning to drag him away. Adamas fought death, but death quickly won. Meriones pulled his spear out of Adamas’ body, and Adamas’ body became a corpse.

The Trojan Helenus charged the Greek Deipyrus and his sword split the side of Deipyrus’ head, knocking off his helmet. A Greek picked up the helmet, and Deipyrus’ eyes went dark.

The death of Deipyrus angered Menelaus, who charged Helenus. Arming himself with a bow, Helenus shot an arrow at Menelaus’ chest. A direct hit, but the arrow bounced off Menelaus’ breastplate. Black beans and chickpeas fly when tossed from a shovel by a winnower. Much like that, Helenus’ arrow bounced off Menelaus’ chest.

Menelaus aimed at Helenus’ hand that was grabbing the bow, and the spearhead punched through his hand and cracked his bow. Helenus retreated, wounded but alive, and Agenor removed the spear from Helenus’ hand and made a sling for his arm.

Pisander and Menelaus rushed at each other. Menelaus hurled his spear. It missed Pisander, who stabbed with his spear at Menelaus’ shield. The spear broke, but Pisander still hoped for victory. Menelaus drew a sword, and Pisander grabbed his ax. Both warriors hacked at each other, each hoping to kill the other. Pisander hacked at Menelaus’ helmet. But Menelaus hacked Pisander between the eyes. Pisander’s bones broke, his blood sprayed, and his eyes fell out of his head. Pisander’s body crashed. To get his sword out of Pisander’s corpse, Menelaus had to step on Pisander’s chest and then pull on the sword.

Menelaus stripped off Pisander’s armor and boasted over the corpse, “You Trojans have not treated me well. Zeus is the god of xenia, but you Trojans stole my wife and much of my treasure. You had no reason to do such evil; Paris received good xenia in my palace. Now, you want to set fire to our ships and kill us all. That is not going to happen!

“Zeus, you are supposed to be wise, but you are helping the Trojans to kill and kill again. Why should you be favoring the Trojans? The Trojans want war. Usually, a person will get enough of something: sleep, even sex, and other good things. But the Trojans never get enough of war.”

Menelaus gave the bloody armor of Pisander to his aides and then started fighting again.

Harpalion was the next Trojan ally — a Paphlagonian — to fight Menelaus. Harpalion stabbed Menelaus’ shield, but the spear did not punch through to kill Menelaus. Harpalion retreated, but Meriones shot an arrow at him and hit him in the right buttock. The arrow reached his bladder. Harpalion sank to the ground and died, wriggling like an earthworm. His fellow Paphlagonians bore his corpse to Troy. His father, King Pylaemenes, walked beside the corpse and wept.

Paris wanted to avenge the death of Harpalion. He shot an arrow at Euchenor, whose father was a prophet: Polyidus of Corinth. Like Achilles, Euchenor had two fates. Euchenor’s father had told him that he could fight at Troy and die in battle or stay at home and die of illness. Euchenor decided to go to Troy and die, both to avoid paying the tax that Agamemnon levied on those warriors who would not go to Troy and to avoid a slow death from illness. Paris’ arrow hit Euchenor in the neck, and Euchenor’s death was quick.

The warriors kept fighting on the right flank, but Hector did not know that his men were being bested there. Poseidon kept encouraging the Greeks to fight well.

But Hector fought well, too. He was still where he had broken through the gates. Here were the ships of Protesilaus and Great Ajax, and here the wall was lower. This was the weakest part of the Greek defenses, and Hector was attacking it.

The warriors resisting Hector included Menestheus, Phidas, Stichius, Bias, Meges, Amphion, Dracius, and Medon, the bastard son of King Oileus. Medon was Little Ajax’ half-brother, but they lived in separate cities. Medon had been banished from the land of his birth because he had killed a relative — someone whom his stepmother valued. Also fighting here, beside each other, were Little Ajax and Great Ajax. They were like two oxen yoked together and working hard as sweat poured off them.

Many of the Greeks were ready to fight up close, but the Locrians — the people with whom Little Ajax was kinsman — preferred to fight from a distance, with arrows. The two kinds of warriors fought together. Greeks in heavy armor fought in the front lines, while behind them the Locrians sent swarms of arrows against the Trojans.

The Trojans were being outfought, so Polydamas ran up to Hector and said, “Listen to me! You are a great warrior, but these battle tactics are not working. Being a great warrior and being a great tactician are two separate things. The gods give gifts to mortals, but no single mortal gets all the gifts of the gods. One man is a great warrior, another man is a great dancer, another man is a great singer and musician, and Zeus gives yet another man great intelligence. The man with great intelligence can help many other men.

“Listen to what I think is the best course of action. Draw back. Find your best commanders. Form a plan of action. Is it best to keep attacking the Greeks? Or is it best to return to Troy? I am afraid that the Greeks may defeat us. Remember that Achilles is not fighting now. He and his warriors are well rested. If he begins to fight, he will defeat us today the way we defeated the Greeks yesterday.”

Hector agreed. He called to Polydamas, “Stay here. I will return soon.”

Hector searched for Deiphobus, Helenus, Adamas the son of Asius, and Asius. Where were they? Dead or wounded. Adamas and Asius lay by the Greek ships; the Trojans had not recovered their corpses. The others, wounded, had returned to Troy.

But Hector did find Paris and said to him, “Where is Deiphobus? Where is Helenus? Where are Adamas and Asius? Where is Othryoneus? Is Troy to be conquered because you are mad for women?”

Paris replied, “I am fighting hard. On other days, I may have stayed away from battle, but not today. My mother did not give birth to a coward. Ever since you attacked the Greeks on this day, we have been fighting hard with no letup.

“The warriors whose names you mentioned are dead, except for Deiphobus and Helenus, who are wounded and back at Troy. Their wounds are in the hand or arm; Zeus did not let them die.

“Lead us. We are ready to fight. We are not afraid of battle. As long as our strength holds, we will fight.”

Hector was ready to fight again. The fighting was most fierce around the Trojans Cebriones, Polydamas, Phalces, Orthaeus, Polyphetes, and Palmys, and the newly arrived allies Ascanius and Morys. Imagine storm winds and thunder pounding sea waves and making them higher. The Trojans charged like that. Hector led them.

The Trojans tested the Greek lines, looking for a weak point, but the Greeks held firm.

Great Ajax challenged Hector, “Come closer! We can fight well, but Zeus is giving you aid today. Without his help, you could not defeat us. Do you hope to set fire to our ships? We will defend them. Before you can set fire to our ships, we will have conquered Troy. Soon, you will run from us and pray to Zeus to make your horses fast.”

A bird flew to Great Ajax’ right — the lucky side. The Greeks were encouraged by the bird-sign and cheered.

Hector yelled to Great Ajax, “I know that today is the Greeks’ day of doom. I know that you will die with the rest of the other Greeks. If you and I fight, my spear will rip your skin. If you and I fight, your corpse will feed dogs and birds.”

The Trojans charged and yelled, and the Greeks yelled as they prepared to resist the charge, and the air was filled with the cries of war.

Ares, the god of war, who was resting on Olympus, thought, An aristeia is a warrior’s day of glory in battle, a day in which the hero is nearly unstoppable. The warrior fights so well that bards keep his memory alive after the warrior dies by singing about the warrior’s aristeia. Of course, many warriors in the Trojan War will have such days of excellence in battle.

An aristeia can have a few different parts, although an aristeia need not have all of them to be considered an aristeia.

First, the warrior arms himself in armor that shines like fire.

Second, the warrior turns the tide of battle and wreaks havoc against the enemy and kills many opposing warriors.

Third, the warrior is wounded, but recovers, often with the help of a god, and reenters the battle.

Fourth, the warrior kills an especially important enemy.

Fifth, the opposing sides battle over the corpse of the opposing warrior.

A warrior who has an aristeia is a warrior whose name will be remembered after he dies.


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David Bruce: Homer’s ILIAD: A Retelling in Prose — Book 12: The Trojans Storm the Barricade

Book 12: The Trojans Storm the Barricade

As Patroclus helped Eurypylus, the Greeks and Trojans fought before the Greek trench and wall. At any time, it seemed that the Trojans would break down the wall and bring fire to the ships — the Greeks had neglected to sacrifice to the gods and so their defensive fortifications would not protect them.

After the war, the wall would not last long. After the war, it would vanish. After many warriors died, and after Troy fell in the tenth year of the war, and after the Greeks had sailed for home, Poseidon and Apollo would turn their anger to the wall. They would turn rivers — the Rhesus and Heptaporus and Caresus and Rhodius and Grenicus and Aesepus — against it. They would also turn the Scamander and Simois rivers against it — rivers into which fell shields and helmets and the corpses of warriors who seemed half god and half mortal. Apollo would join all these rivers together and direct their force against the wall for nine days as Zeus sent cloudburst after cloudburst and Poseidon ripped apart the foundations of the wall. The Greeks had built the wall with their own hard work, but the gods knocked it down and covered it with smooth sand, and then the rivers flowed in their natural channels again.

In the future, Poseidon and Apollo made it look as if a wall had never existed there.

But now the wall still stood, and the battle raged before it. Hector was driving the Greeks back to their ships. Hector fought like a whirlwind. Hector fought like a boar that hunters have cornered but that wheels around and attacks. The hunters hurl their spears at the boar, but the boar with its strength and bravery charges the hunters again and again. What will kill the boar will be its own courage. It charges, and the hunters give way, and the boar charges again.

Hector kept charging, kept rallying his warriors, kept trying to reach the ships so he could keep his wife and son safe at Troy.

But the Greek trench stopped his horses. They whinnied and balked. The trench was deep, and the far side was lined with sharpened stakes.

Polydamas warned Hector, “The trench is too deep for our chariots, and just beyond it is the Greek wall. The Greeks have the advantage. If Zeus is on our side and wants us to win and to kill the Greeks, I hope he helps us soon. I hope that the Greeks die here, far from their homes.

“What if the Greeks attack while we and our chariots are in the trench? What if the Greeks are triumphant? The warriors and chariots will be in a disorganized mass of confusion.

“It is best if we don’t fight here with chariots. Let everyone dismount from the chariots and fight on foot. All of us will follow you, Hector, in a mass attack. We can defeat the Greeks on foot.”

Hector agreed. He leapt from his chariot, and so did the other Trojans. They lined up their chariots and prepared to fight on foot. Five captains led five battalions of Trojans and Trojan allies against the Greeks.

The largest battalion was with Hector and Polydamas. Cebriones was third in command.

Paris led the second battalion. With him were Alcathous and Agenor.

Helenus led the third battalion. Second in command was Deiphobus. Both of them were sons of Priam. Third in command was Asius — huge stallions had carried him to Troy.

Aeneas led the fourth battalion. With him were Acamas and Archelochus, two sons of Antenor.

The fifth battalion consisted of many of the Trojans’ allies. Sarpedon, the son of Zeus, led them. Next in command were Glaucus and Asteropaeus. They were the best men next to Sarpedon.

The five battalions charged the Greeks, intending to break through the wall and reach the ships.

Almost all Trojans followed Polydamas’ plan of fighting on foot, but Asius did not. He charged the Greeks in his chariot — fool! He was fated to die. Idomeneus’ spear would take his life.

Asius charged the ships on the left, straight toward some gates through which the Greeks passed after a battle.

The gates were open — two warriors who kept them open so that any straggling Greeks could make their way to safety guarded them. Asius drove straight at the gates with his warriors following him.

The two Greek warriors guarding the gates were Polypoetes and Leonteus. They were like deeply rooted, huge oak trees on a mountain ridge, standing up to storms.

They stood up to Asius, who was followed by Trojan warriors yelling cries of war. Following Asius was Adamas, his son, as well as Iamenus, Orestes, Thoon, and Oenomaus.

Polypoetes and Leonteus yelled to the other Greeks, “Defend the ships!” Polypoetes and Leonteus then stood in front of the gates and fought like two wild boars on a hilltop taking on hunters and dogs, charging and shattering trees, fighting men and dogs with their tusks until a hunter spears them. Meanwhile, Greek warriors from the wall behind Polypoetes and Leonteus threw rocks at the Trojans and their allies.

Blow on blow sounded on the Greeks’ armor and on the Trojan allies’ armor.

Asius cried, “Zeus, I did not believe that the Greeks could withstand our charge. The Greeks are like wasps or bees defending their homes and their young. The bees keep the hunters of honey away. Although only two warriors are in front, they will not stop defending the gates until either they kill all of us or we kill both of them.”

Zeus heard Asius, but Zeus would give kleos to Hector, not to Asius.

At the gates they fought. It is impossible to tell the story with the detail with which a god could tell it. But the Greeks were desperate — what would happen if the Trojan allies broke through the wall? The gods who supported the Greeks were dejected, but the Greek warriors Polypoetes and Leonteus kept fighting and kept killing.

Polypoetes’ spearhead went through Damasus’ metal helmet and through his skull. His brain splattered inside his helmet.

Polypoetes then killed Pylon and Ormenus and stripped their armor from their corpses.

Leonteus speared Hippomachus in the belly and then drew his sword and killed Antiphates, Menon, Orestes, and Iamenus. Corpses littered the ground.

While Polypoetes and Leonteus stripped the armor of the warriors they had killed, the warriors led by Hector and Polydamas witnessed a bird-sign sent by Zeus. An eagle was flying on their left — the unlucky, sinister side. It clutched in its talons a huge bloodied snake. Still alive, the snake bit the eagle’s throat, and the eagle dropped it. It fell in the midst of the Trojan warriors and wriggled.

Polydamas the prophet was able to interpret the sign. He said to Hector, “Often you criticize me when I interpret a bird-sign or other sign from the gods, although my advice is good. You don’t think that anyone should criticize you in council and especially during a war. But I have to tell you what I have learned from this bird-sign. Stop the attack and return to Troy. The eagle bloodied the snake, but the eagle was unable to feed it to its nestlings. We have bloodied the Greeks in battle today, but we will be unable to continue to do so. Eventually, the Greeks will batter us back to Troy, defeated. That is what this bird-sign shows us.”

Hector said, “Polydamas, shut up. You are wrong. I have heard a message from Zeus himself that this is my day of triumph. I will not put that aside because of a bird-sign. Not all movements of birds are signs from the gods. I pay no attention to birds on the right, lucky side or to birds on the left, unlucky side or to birds in the middle. I do pay attention to messages given to me from Zeus.

“The best thing that all of us can do is to fight for our country. We have wives and children and parents and other family members to protect. You yourself have nothing to fear in war. The rest of us risk our lives and may die trying to set the Greek ships on fire, but you are so cowardly that you will not fight long or hard.

“I warn you not to hold back from the fighting. I warn you not to convince even one of our warriors to hold back from the fighting. If you do, I myself will kill you with my spear!”

Hector led the Trojans in a charge against the Greeks, and Zeus sent a dust storm against the Greeks. This was the day on which Zeus would allow Hector to win great kleos.

Hector and his Trojans were mad to tear down the Greek wall. They tried to use levers to tear it down, and they tried to wreck the foundations so that the wall would fall. But the Greeks kept fighting. They used shields to plug holes in the wall, and from the wall they threw rocks at the Trojans.

Great Ajax and Little Ajax were on the wall, calling on their fellow Greeks to fight fiercely: “Warriors! Commanders! Look at the Trojans as they attack! This is not the time to rest! We can either achieve victory and live or we can be defeated and die! There is no other outcome! May Zeus help us to achieve victory!”

Zeus sometimes sends a snowstorm from which flakes of snow fall and cover the highlands and the lowlands, the plowed fields and the beaches, everything except the sea. Rocks thrown by Greeks and by Trojans were as plentiful as those flakes of snow.

Zeus inspired Sarpedon, his son, to achieve a great feat and so earn kleos. Sarpedon charged straight at the Greeks, holding his shield in front of him. He was like a hungry mountain lion wanting to feed on some sheep. Even if the lion chances on herdsmen protecting the flocks with spears and with dogs, the lion still charges. Either the lion kills a sheep and carries it away or the herdsmen kill the lion.

Sarpedon called to his second-in-command, “Glaucus, why do our fellow Lycians honor us with the best meat and the best wine? Why do our countrymen respect us as if we were gods? Why do we have the best vineyards and the best cropland?

“They do it because of times like this. Our duty is to fight in the front lines. Our duty is to fight so well that a fellow warrior will say, ‘Our kings of Lycia have earned kleos. Our kings eat the best food and drink the best wine, and they deserve it. They have great fighting ability, and they lead us during war!’

“Glaucus, my friend, if it were possible for us to leave this battle and never die and never age, to be immortal and eternally young, I would never fight again. Nor would I command you to fight. But immortality for us is not possible because death is not optional.

“Death in any of a thousand forms awaits you and me and all men. All living men will die. No living man will escape his fate. So let us fight! Let us kill and earn kleos for ourselves, or let us be killed and earn kleos for another warrior! Let us achieve such great feats that we will be remembered after we die!”

Glaucus heard him and responded by charging at the Greeks. Sarpedon and Glaucus led the Lycian warriors in the attack.

Menestheus saw them charging and knew he needed reinforcements. Who could help defend the wall at that spot? He saw Great Ajax and Little Ajax with Teucer, the archer who had been wounded earlier but, rested now, had come from the camps to help fight the Trojans. They were too far away for them to hear Menestheus shout. The Trojans and Greeks yelled as they fought before the bolted gates.

Menestheus sent a herald to give Great Ajax a message: “Ask Great Ajax to come here and fight. Better, ask Great Ajax and Little Ajax to come here and fight. The Lycians are attacking with a mighty force and we will be hard pressed to resist it. But if their part of the wall is strongly under attack, let Little Ajax stay there. But let Great Ajax and Teucer fight here.”

The runner took off and delivered the message: More warriors were needed to fight off the Lycians.

Great Ajax told Little Ajax, “Stay here. You and Lycomedes command the Greeks in their fight with the Trojans. I will return soon — after I have fought off this fresh attack.”

Great Ajax and Teucer went to Menestheus. Pandion, Teucer’s comrade, carried Teucer’s bow. The Lycians were attacking in force, storming against the Greeks like a tornado.

Great Ajax was the first to kill a Lycian. He threw a rock that a strong man of today would find difficult to lift with both hands. The rock struck Epicles, one of Sarpedon’s friends, and splintered his skull.

Teucer shot an arrow that wounded Glaucus, hitting him in his shoulder blade.

Sarpedon felt sorrow for his friend, but he kept on fighting. Sarpedon stabbed Alcmaon and then drew his spear out of Alcmaon’s body. Alcmaon fell headfirst from the wall.

And now Sarpedon grabbed the wall and wrenched it, and a part of the wall fell. A gap in the wall was before him, a gap through which hundreds of Trojans could attack.

Teucer and Great Ajax both targeted Sarpedon. Teucer aimed an arrow at him and shot and hit Sarpedon’s war-belt. But Zeus made sure that Sarpedon — his son — was not wounded. Sarpedon was not yet fated to die.

Great Ajax stabbed at Sarpedon and hit his shield, which held off Great Ajax’ spear. But Great Ajax forced Sarpedon back — slowly, unwillingly.

Sarpedon shouted to his Lycians, “Fight harder! I’ve knocked down part of the wall! Now we need to charge through it! The harder we fight together, the more Greeks we will kill!”

The Lycians rallied around Sarpedon, but the Greeks also rallied. What would happen to the Greeks if the Trojans and Trojan allies got through the wall? The Lycians were unable to push the Greeks back and get through the wall, and the Greeks were unable to push the Lycians back.

Two farmers sometimes fight over boundary stones, and each tries to get more territory. They fight it out with measuring rods, but the Greeks and the Lycians were fighting it out with spears and swords as they jabbed and hacked at each other.

Many warriors were wounded, sometimes in the back and sometimes when a spear punched through a shield. Everywhere was the blood of Greeks and Lycians — on rocks, on the ground, on pieces of the wall, and on weapons. But the Trojans and their allies could not pour through the gap in the wall. Greeks and Trojans were evenly matched.

But Hector arrived, and Zeus gave him the glory of storming the wall. Hector shouted, “Charge, Trojans! Get through the wall! Burn the ships!”

Hector’s warriors gathered around him, and Hector picked up a huge boulder that no two men of today could easily lift into a wagon. But Hector lifted it as easily as a shepherd can lift the fleece of a ram.

Hector ran toward the gates. They were sturdily built, with two crossbars locking them. Hector threw the boulder against the gates, using his weight as he did so. The boulder smashed the gates and knocked them down.

Hector’s armor blazed. No Greek could stop him as he battled his way through the gate, shouting to his warriors, “Storm the wall!”

They obeyed him. Some climbed over the wall, and some followed Hector through the gate.

The Trojans forced the Greeks back. Nothing was behind the Greeks except their camps and ships. They had nowhere to escape the fighting.

Zeus, watching the battle, thought, What are these warriors fighting for? Hector and the Trojans are fighting to save their wives, children, parents, other family members, and siblings. The Greeks are fighting to get Helen back. But what else are these warriors fighting for?

Although it is difficult for an immortal god to understand, my own son, Sarpedon, explained it well in his speech to his friend and second-in-command, Glaucus. They are fighting for something that Achilles at this time completely rejects: kleos. Achilles told the embassy of Odysseus, Phoenix, and Great Ajax that he is no longer willing to fight for kleos and timê. In doing that, he is completely rejecting what Sarpedon, Glaucus, and every other warrior — Greek or Trojan or Trojan ally — wants. He is rejecting the Warrior Ethic on which mortal society is built.

The human condition is mortality. Every human being must die. Many, many warriors have died and are dying here. For human beings, death is not optional. Everyone must face death, and warriors face it almost daily. Every mortal, including the mortal’s friends and family and the mortal himself, must die. They have to accept that, and although they accept that, they also have to eat, sleep, and try to find joy in life.

For these warriors, only one kind of meaningful afterlife exists, and it cannot be found in Hades, the Land of the Dead. Every mortal dies and goes to Hades, a gloomy and unhappy place. The breath of life leaves the mortal body and, once the body has had a proper funeral, the warrior’s psyche, or soul, enters Hades. The only thing worse than being a soul in the Land of the Dead is being a soul that is not allowed to enter the Land of the Dead. The dead belong with the dead.

Kleos aphthiton is the only kind of meaningful or significant afterlife available to a warrior. It is not a living body but a living reputation. Kleos is fame or glory or reputation; it is what people say about you after you are dead. Kleos aphthiton is undying kleos. The body of the warrior will die, but if he fights well enough in battle, his kleos will be everlasting — people will remember his name and he will be talked about after he is dead. Epic poets such as Homer who is yet to be born will sing songs about him.

The only alternative is to be forgotten.

The way that a warrior can get kleos aphthiton is to kill and/or to be killed — or both. Many of the warriors who achieve immortality by having their exploits sung have killed other warriors and were killed themselves.

Achilles told Odysseus, Phoenix, and Great Ajax about his two fates that he learned about from his goddess mother, Thetis. If he returns home to Greece, his life will be long but he will die with no kleos. If he stays at Troy, he will die young but his kleos will be aphthiton — everlasting.

Previously, Achilles has been willing to die for kleos, but Agamemnon has shown him that kleos can be taken away arbitrarily. Timê is related to kleos in that if the warrior gets lots of timê, the warrior will also get lots of kleos; however, kleos is what the warrior is truly fighting for. Agamemnon took away Achilles’ timê: Briseis. If Agamemnon can take away Achilles’ timê — and therefore his kleos — arbitrarily, then Achilles says that kleos is not worth dying for.

Achilles can get kleos aphthiton, but only at the price of killing many, many Trojans and at the price of dying young.

My son Sarpedon stated the Heroic Ethic clearly. Death is not optional, and therefore what warriors ought to do is to fight bravely and win kleos. By killing or being killed, warriors can either win kleos for themselves or give kleos to others.

Achilles, of course, has rejected the Heroic Ethic. He said that he loves life and therefore he no longer values kleos and timê. This is entirely different from what the other warriors believe.

Achilles, in rejecting kleos and timê, rejects everything that his warrior society believes in. He is rejecting the Heroic Ethic, and he is rejecting everything that he has built his life on up to this point.

Achilles is examining the Heroic Ethic and asking if it is worthwhile.


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David Bruce: Homer’s ILIAD: A Retelling in Prose — Book 11: Agamemnon has a Day of Glory, but the Greeks Face Disaster

Book 11: Agamemnon has a Day of Glory, but the Greeks Face Disaster

Dawn rose, and Zeus brought the goddess Strife to the Greek ships. She was the only goddess he wanted to take part in the coming battle. She stood on Odysseus’ ship, which was moored in the middle of all the Greek ships. A shout from Odysseus’ ship would reach the ships of Great Ajax and of Achilles, which were at the far ends of the line of ships. Strife yelled now and raised the battle-fury inside each Greek. They had heard what damage Diomedes and Odysseus had inflicted on the Trojans during the night, and their morale was restored.

Agamemnon also called to his warriors to arm themselves as he was doing. He put greaves on his legs, and he wore his breastplate — it was a guest-gift from Cinyras, lord of Cyprus. The breastplate had ten bands of blue enamel and twelve bands of gold and twenty bands of tin, and it was decorated with the figures of dark blue snakes. Agamemnon’s sword had golden studs at the hilt, and his scabbard was sheathed in silver. His shield had ten rings of bronze and twenty disks of tin and was decorated with the figure of a Gorgon with burning eyes. His shield-belt, glinting with silver, was decorated with the figure of a dark blue snake with three heads. His helmet had four knobs in front and two horns and a horsehair crest on top. Finally, he picked up two spears with bronze points that flashed like lightning. Today would be a day of glory for him — a day on which he would win kleos — and Athena and Hera exalted him with the sound of thunder.

Those who fought in chariots got ready, each warrior telling each driver, “Line up with the other chariots in good battle-order.”

But Zeus meant for this day to be a day of glory for the Trojans, although the Greeks would have some success, too. He sent a wave of terror over the Greeks, and he made the sky rain blood. Today, Zeus intended that many warriors would die.

The Trojans also prepared for battle. They grouped around Hector, Polydamas, Aeneas, and three of Antenor’s sons, all in their prime: Polybus, Agenor, and the still unwed Acamas.

Hector’s round shield blazed: This would be a day of glory for him, a day on which he would win kleos. Hector made his way along the front lines, making sure that his warriors were prepared to fight.

The two armies attacked each other. No one thought of fleeing. All fought. The goddess Strife was pleased; this was what she liked to see.

The other gods and goddesses stayed away from the battle. Zeus had forbidden them to go to the battlefield. They were unhappy, but Zeus did not care. Zeus stayed apart from the other gods and goddesses, and he watched the war. Warriors were killing, and they were being killed.

All morning, the two armies were evenly matched and neither had an advantage. But at noon, the time when a woodsman wearies from chopping down trees and thinks of food, the Greeks gained the advantage.

Agamemnon killed and killed again. He killed Bienor, who fought from a chariot, and he killed Oileus, the driver of Bienor’s chariot. After the death of Bienor, Oileus leapt from the chariot and charged at Agamemnon, but Agamemnon speared him through his helmet. Agamemnon’s spear burst through metal and bone, and Oileus’ brain splattered inside his helmet. Agamemnon left both Bienor and Oileus lying dead on the ground after he stripped off their armor.

Next Agamemnon killed two sons of Priam: the bastard Isus and the legitimate Antiphus. Isus drove the chariot from which Antiphus fought. Previously, Achilles had captured both of them on a spur of Mount Ida. They had been watching their sheep, but Achilles tied Isus and Antiphus with ropes made from willow shoots. Achilles had allowed them to be ransomed. Now Agamemnon stabbed Isus in the chest beside a nipple, and he slashed Antiphus with a sword. He knew both Trojans, having seen them when Achilles captured them. Agamemnon was like a lion whose jaws break the backbones of fawns and tear out their hearts. The mother doe may be near but can do nothing, and the Trojans nearby could do nothing to save the lives of Isus and Antiphus.

Next Agamemnon killed Pisander and Hippolochus, the two sons of Antimachus, whom Paris had bribed with gold and gifts to oppose the return of Helen to her legitimate husband. Now Agamemnon saw Pisander and Hippolochus in a chariot. They were having trouble controlling the horses — they had dropped the reins. Like a lion, Agamemnon appeared before them, and they pleaded for their lives: “Take us alive and ransom us. Our father, Antimachus, has much treasure in his house: bronze and gold and iron. Don’t kill us!”

So they begged, but Agamemnon replied, “So you are the sons of Antimachus? He once tried to kill my brother, Menelaus, who was in his house as part of an embassy with Odysseus. They had a safe-conduct guarantee, but your father ignored it. You are Antimachus’ sons? Then you deserve to die!”

He threw Pisander off the chariot and thrust a spear into his chest. Hippolochus tried to run away, but Agamemnon used his sword to cut off his arms and head. What was left of Hippolochus’ body rolled on the ground like a log.

Agamemnon left the two corpses behind and charged the Trojans with his warriors following him. The Greeks killed and killed again. Agamemnon was like a fire burning dry timber with a wind blowing — everything toppled before his army’s onslaught. Trojan chariots emptied as the warriors they were supposed to carry fell dead to the ground, now of more use to vultures than to wives.

Zeus kept Hector away from the onslaught of Agamemnon as the Greek commander pushed back the Trojan warriors. Agamemnon, splattered with blood, pursued the Trojan warriors as they fled to Troy. The Trojans reached the Scaean Gates, and then they faced the Greeks again.

But some Trojans lagged behind, and Agamemnon chased them down. He was like a lion pursuing cattle that had scattered. The lion snaps the neck of its victim and then eats its victim’s blood and meat. Like the lion pursuing its victims, so Agamemnon pursued the Trojans.

But just as Agamemnon came near Troy, Zeus called the messenger goddess Iris to him and gave her a message: “Go to Hector and tell him that as long as Agamemnon is fighting, Hector must hold back and not fight him but command his warriors to fight. But once Agamemnon is wounded, whether by spear or by arrow, and leaves the battlefield, then Hector must fight because on this day I will give Hector great power. On this day, Hector will kill and kill again. He will drive the Greeks back to their ships. I will give Hector great power until the sun sets.”

Iris obeyed and told Hector, “Zeus has a message for you. As long as you see Agamemnon fighting, don’t engage him in combat. But as soon as Agamemnon is wounded and withdraws from battle, then you may attack. On this day, Zeus will give you great power to kill and kill again until the sun sets.”

Hector leapt from his chariot. Carrying two spears, he went along the front lines and encouraged his warriors to fight. The two armies faced each other, and Agamemnon charged.

Muses, tell us who first tried to stop Agamemnon.

Iphidamas tried to stop Agamemnon, but he failed. His mother’s father, Cisseus, raised Iphidamas in Thrace. Cisseus was the father of Theano. When Iphidamas grew up and wished to gain kleos in war, Cisseus tried to stop him by getting him a wife. But Iphidamas sailed off to war with twelve ships at his command. He left them at Percote and marched with his warriors by foot to Troy, and now he came closer and closer to Agamemnon.

Agamemnon threw his spear at Iphidamas but missed. Iphidamas tried to stab Agamemnon in the waist, but his spear point could not pierce Agamemnon’s war-belt. Agamemnon grabbed Iphidamas’ spear and pulled and wrenched it from Iphidamas’ grasp, then he sprang toward Iphidamas and slashed his neck with a sword. Iphidamas dropped to the ground, far from his wife, whom he had known so short a time. He had paid a hundred oxen as a bride-price and had promised in addition a thousand goats and sheep, but Agamemnon killed him and stripped off his armor.

But Coon, Iphidamas’ brother, saw him die. He charged Agamemnon from the side and slashed his arm with a spear. Agamemnon did not quit the fighting despite his bloody wound. Coon grabbed his brother’s foot and tried to drag away his brother’s corpse. He called for help from other Trojans, but Agamemnon thrust his spear under Coon’s shield and wounded him and then swung his sword and cut off Coon’s head, which fell onto his brother’s corpse. These two sons of Antenor went together to the Land of the Dead.

Agamemnon kept fighting, thrusting with his spear, slashing with his sword, and throwing rocks. As long as the blood flowed from his wound, he fought, but when the blood stopped flowing, the pain came — pain as great as that felt by a woman giving birth, pains brought by the daughters of Hera.

Agamemnon jumped back in his chariot and told his driver to return to the ships, but first he told his warriors, “Keep fighting! Keep the Trojans away from our ships! Zeus has sent me a wound that keeps me from fighting.”

Agamemnon’s charioteer drove him to the Greek ships, away from the battle.

Hector had been watching. He knew that now was the time that Zeus would grant him great power to kill and kill again. He shouted to his troops, “Be warriors! Now is the time for battle fury! Agamemnon is wounded and cannot fight. The Greeks’ best warrior flees the battlefield! Now is the time to attack!”

Hector led his warriors in a charge against the Greeks. Who was the first he killed, and who was the last he killed? He killed Asaeus first, and then he killed Autonous, Opites, Dolops, Opheltius, Agelaus, Aesymnus, Orus, and Hipponous. He kept on fighting. He battered Greek warriors the way the West wind batters clouds.

The Greeks could have been routed, but Odysseus shouted to Diomedes, “Can’t we fight harder than we are fighting now? Fight with me. We will die if Hector destroys our ships!”

Diomedes replied, “I will stand by you and fight, but clearly Zeus is helping the Trojans and not the Greeks.”

Despite his pessimistic words, Diomedes speared the left breast of Thymbraeus. Odysseus killed Molion, the aide of Thymbraeus. Diomedes and Odysseus left the corpses and then charged the Trojans. They were like two wild boars that want to kill and kill again. Diomedes and Odysseus attacked the Trojans the way that two wild boars attack the pack of dogs that hunts them. Their attack gave the Greek warriors who had fled from Hector a chance to regroup.

Diomedes killed two more warriors who were riding in a chariot: the two sons of Merops, who understood prophecy and foresaw the future. He refused to give his two sons permission to fight in the war, but they disobeyed him. Fate knew when and where they would die. Diomedes killed both sons: Adrestus and Amphius. Meanwhile, Odysseus killed both Hippodamus and Hypirochus.

Zeus watched the battle from Mount Ida.

Diomedes killed Agastrophus. Diomedes hit his hip joint with a spear. If Agastrophus’ horses had been near, he could have escaped. No such luck. His driver kept the horses by the side of the battle while Agastrophus fought. Agastrophus died.

Hector saw Diomedes and charged. Diomedes called to Odysseus, “A mighty warrior is headed our way like a massive wave ready to wreck a ship. Let’s stand up to him!”

Diomedes concentrated and hurled his spear. No miss! A hit! But Diomedes’ spear hit Hector’s helmet, and metal bounced off metal. Hector was hurt and retreated. He retreated a long way and then sank down onto one knee before he lost consciousness.

Diomedes ran to his spear and recovered it, and Hector regained consciousness. He boarded his chariot and drove toward his warriors and away from death.

Diomedes shouted after Hector, “Once again you have escaped death, but I nearly killed you! Apollo must have helped you. The next time we meet I will kill you if a god helps me as much as Apollo helps you. But since you are no longer here, I will kill as many other Trojans as I can!”

Diomedes started to strip the armor off the corpse of Agastrophus. Paris saw him, and aimed an arrow at him. He loosed the arrow, and it pinned Diomedes’ foot to the ground.

Paris laughed and shouted, “You’re wounded, but I wish it were a mortal wound. I wish that I had sent an arrow deep in your intestines! Then my Trojans could rally; you have scared them the way a lion scares goats.”

Diomedes, unafraid, replied, “You are brave with a bow and arrow, pretty boy who chases girls. But a real man fights up close with a spear. Let’s you and I face each other with spears — no fighting from a distance! No wounds from an arrow. All you have done is to wound my foot. A woman or child could do that. An arrow is a toy. But look at my spear — it has weight and sharpness. When a spear hits a warrior, the warrior’s wife weeps and his children become orphans. The corpse of the warrior turns the ground red, and suddenly the warrior is sought after by dogs and birds, not by women.”

Odysseus had come running and stood in front of Diomedes to protect him. Diomedes kneeled and pulled out the arrow. The pain came, and Diomedes boarded his chariot and told his driver to head for the Greek ships.

Now Odysseus stood alone. An experienced warrior, he knew he was in a dangerous situation. He thought, What will happen to me now? If I flee, I will disgrace myself. But if I stay, the result can be worse. Zeus panicked the other Greeks, and they fled. Cowards will run, but the man who wants to win kleos must fight and either kill or be killed.

Some Trojan warriors approached him, thinking to kill him and not knowing that they would be killed. Odysseus was like a wild boar caught in a thicket by hunters and their dogs. They think they have the wild boar trapped and ready to be killed, but the wild boar bursts out of the thicket and charges the hunters.

Like the wild boar, Odysseus attacked. He wounded Deiopites in the shoulder, and then he killed Thoon and Ennomus. The Trojan Chersidamas jumped down from his chariot, and Odysseus speared him under his shield and split him open from crotch to navel.

Then Odysseus speared Charops, whose brother, Socus, moved in to defend Charops’ corpse and shouted at Odysseus, “Today you will kill both sons of my father, Hippasus, and strip their armor — or I will kill you!”

Socus stabbed with his spear. It went through Odysseus’ shield and through Odysseus’ breastplate and through the skin over Odysseus’ ribs, but Athena kept the wound from being mortal — she would not let the spear kill him.

Odysseus knew that the wound was not mortal; he was an experienced man of war and had seen many wounds. He said to Socus, “Today is your day to die. You have wounded me enough to make me withdraw to the ships, but I shall not leave until I have taken your life. You will die and increase my kleos!”

Panicked, Socus turned to run, and Odysseus’ spear hit him in the back between his shoulders. The spear punched through his chest. Odysseus boasted over Socus’ corpse, “You raced death and lost. Your grieving father and mother will never be able to close your eyes in death and will never be able to give you a proper funeral. Vultures will claw out your eyes, and their wings will beat your corpse. Your soul will not be able to enter the Land of the Dead. But if I die in this battle, the Greek warriors will give me a proper funeral. My soul will enter the Land of the Dead quickly. Your soul will weep.”

Odysseus pulled Socus’ spear out of his body, and the blood gushed. The Trojans saw that he was wounded and attacked. Odysseus retreated now, and he yelled three times as loudly as he could for Greek warriors to help him.

Menelaus heard Odysseus’ cries for help and said to Great Ajax, “Odysseus sounds as if he is in trouble — in danger of being overpowered by the Trojan warriors. Let’s save him. The great warrior may be wounded!”

Menelaus and Great Ajax ran and found Trojans besieging Odysseus the way jackals besiege a stag that has just been wounded by a hunter. The stag escapes the hunter and runs fast for a long time, but now the wound saps his strength. If a lion arrives, the lion will scatter the jackals and kill the stag.

Odysseus’ life was in danger as the Trojans attacked him, but he fought back and kept himself alive. Great Ajax arrived and stood in front of Odysseus. The Trojans saw Great Ajax and scattered in panic. Menelaus led Odysseus away from the Trojans, supporting him with his arm. A chariot arrived and took Odysseus to the ships and safety.

Great Ajax charged the Trojans and killed Doryclus, a bastard son of Priam. Then Great Ajax wounded Pandocus, Lysander, Pyrasus, and Pylartes. Great Ajax swept the Trojans from the field the way a flash flood rushes downward and sweeps away everything in its path, including entire forests.

Hector did not see the Trojan rout because he was fighting off to the side, a place of fierce killing. Nestor and Idomeneus were there, and war cries sounded. Hector killed and killed again.

The Greeks fought back, but Paris wounded the fighter and healer Machaon with an arrow that pierced his right shoulder. Now the Greeks feared for Machaon’s life. Idomeneus shouted to Nestor, “Mount your chariot and rescue Machaon. Drive him back to the ships. He is a healer and can cut out spearheads and arrowheads. One healer is worth many warriors!”

Nestor knew that Idomeneus was right. He mounted his chariot, and Machaon climbed aboard, and Nestor drove the horses quickly to the ships.

The Trojan Cebriones saw Great Ajax fighting and shouted to Hector, “We are fighting well here, but we are off to the side. Our troops in the middle need help — they are being routed. Great Ajax is routing them — I recognize him by his huge shield. Let’s fight in the middle! Let’s go where the fighting is most fierce! Let’s go where warriors hack each other to death and war cries fill the sky!”

Cebriones drove Hector toward the middle. Their chariot passed over fallen warriors and blood sprayed into the air and onto the chariot. Hector fought with his spear and his sword, and he threw rocks, but he did not fight Great Ajax man-to-man.

Zeus forced Great Ajax to retreat. Great Ajax stood, stunned by Zeus. Holding his seven-layer oxhide shield that had an additional metal layer, he retreated, slow step by slow step. He was like a lion trying to kill cattle so he could get his fill of meat, but the oxherds stay awake all night and beat the lion away. At dawn, the lion leaves, still hungry.

Great Ajax continued to retreat. He was like an ass some boys were driving down a road. They try to lead him, but he breaks into a field and eats his fill of crops while the boys break sticks on his back. Finally, after the ass has eaten his fill, the boys succeed in driving him down the road. So now Great Ajax retreated slowly, but he kept stabbing with his spear and he more than anyone kept the Trojans from the ships. The Trojans kept throwing spears at him. Some spears lodged in his shield, but many spears fell into the earth short of their target. Many Trojans were too afraid to come close to Great Ajax.

The Greek warrior Eurypylus saw Great Ajax under attack by spear-throwing Trojans and ran to assist him. Standing by Great Ajax’ side, Eurypylus threw a spear and hit Apisaon in the liver. Eurypylus started to strip off Apisaon’s armor. Paris saw him and drew an arrow on his bow. He shot, and the arrow buried itself in Eurypylus’ right thigh. The shaft of the arrow snapped off.

Eurypylus moved back to the Greek side and cried aloud, “Greeks, help Great Ajax! Too many Trojans are battling him! Come and keep Great Ajax away from death!”

Greek warriors came running and fought, and Great Ajax kept fighting, too.

As they fought, Nestor’s chariot took Machaon the healer away from the battle. Achilles saw them — he was watching the battle from his ships. He called to his best friend, Patroclus, who quickly came. In doing so, he took his first steps toward death.

Patroclus asked, “What do you want, Achilles?”

Achilles replied, “The battle is going badly for the Greeks, I think they will beg me for my help. They need me. Badly. Go and ask Nestor who is the warrior he drove away from the battle just now. It looked like Machaon, but I saw him only from the back. The chariot was moving quickly.”

Patroclus left the camp immediately.

Nestor and Machaon reached Nestor’s camp. Eurymedon, Nestor’s driver, took care of the horses, and Nestor and Machaon went inside the tent and sat. Inside the tent was Hecamede, a woman whom the Greeks had given to Nestor after Achilles conquered Tenedos — a prize given to Nestor on account of his wisdom. She mixed for them Pramnian wine with goat cheese and barley, and the two men drank and banished their thirst.

The solid gold wine cup she mixed the wine in was so heavy that an average man could barely lift it, but Nestor — despite his age — could lift it easily.

Patroclus appeared at the door of the tent. Nestor was not the person to miss an opportunity — he could not talk to Achilles, who would not listen to him, but he could talk to Patroclus, who might listen to him. Nestor stood up, took Patroclus by the hand, and drew Patroclus inside the tent, despite Patroclus’ wish to go immediately.

Patroclus protested, “I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time to stay here. Achilles sent me to find out who was wounded, and I can see the wounded man here: Machaon. I need to let Achilles know immediately — he can be impatient, as you well know.”

But Nestor would not let Patroclus leave. He said, “Is Achilles grieving for just one wounded man? Many Greek warriors have been wounded. Our finest warriors are out of commission because they have been wounded by arrows or by spears. Diomedes and Odysseus and Agamemnon and Eurypylus and here, Machaon, are all wounded and unable to fight.

“Achilles does not care. He is brave, but he does not respect our pain or our lives. When will he return and fight? When our ships are destroyed by fire? When all that is left is a final stand with our backs against the sea? When most of us are dead?”

Nestor thought, I hope that you are paying attention, Patroclus. I am trying to impress upon you how desperately we need another fighter.

Nestor continued, “I am old, and I wish that I were young again so that I could go into battle. When I was young, I fought well.

“When we fought the Epeans in a feud, I killed Itymoneus. The Epeans had raided our cattle, and so we were raiding their cattle. I threw a spear and killed him, and the Epeans near him ran away in panic. We got fifty herds of cattle, fifty herds of sheep, fifty droves of pigs, fifty herds of goats, and one hundred and fifty horses, all of which were mares and many of which were nursing foals.

“We drove them all back home to Pylos, and my father, Neleus, was proud of me and proud of the plunder. I was young, and this was my first raiding party.”

Nestor thought, I hope that you are paying attention, Patroclus. I am trying to impress upon you that a young warrior can win plunder by fighting and can make his father proud.

Nestor continued, “In the morning, a herald cried out, ‘Pylians, come collect what is due to you from the wealth of Elis, the realm of the Epeans!’ Much was due to us from the Epeans. Years before, Heracles had attacked us and killed many Pylians. My father had twelve sons, but eleven died during that attack. Heracles had weakened the Pylians, and the Epeans took advantage, harassing us and stealing our herding animals.

“Following our raid on the Epeans, my father took a herd of cattle and a flock of sheep: three hundred animals. The Epeans owed him much. He also took four fast horses and their chariot. They belonged to my father, but when he sent them to a race, the Epean warlord Augeas stole them and threatened their driver before sending him away.

“So now my father, Neleus, received a treasure in payment for the Epeans’ bad conduct in years past. My father gave the rest of the haul to his people so all could share in the spoils.”

Nestor thought, I hope that you are paying attention, Patroclus. I am trying to impress upon you that a young warrior can right wrongs.

Nestor continued, “But three days after the raid, the Epeans showed up ready to fight. Among them were the twin brothers known as the Moliones: Cteatus and Eurytus. They were thought to have had a mortal father, but their real father was Poseidon. They were still young and not fully experienced in war.

“The Epeans surrounded a frontier fortress named Thryoëssa, but Athena supported us. She came to us and shouted, ‘To arms! Get ready to fight!’ She gathered many warriors and formed an army.

“But I was still young, and my father did not want me to fight — he thought that I was too young and inexperienced. He even hid my horses, hoping that he could keep me away from the fighting.

“But I was determined to fight, and I walked to the battle, where I distinguished myself. That night, we waited at the Minyeos River for dawn. We had men on horseback and men on foot. We then marched, armed for battle, to the ford at the Alpheus River, which we reached at noon. We sacrificed to Zeus, the Alpheus River, Poseidon, and Athena. We ate the evening meal and then slept.

“The Epeans still surrounded Thryoëssa, but that dawn we arrived and started fighting. We prayed to Zeus and Athena for victory.

“I was the first to make a kill and to take a chariot and team of horses. I speared Mulius, son-in-law to the Epean king. Mulius had married blond Agamede, who understood the properties of drugs. As Mulius fell to the ground, I leaped into his chariot and charged their lines. They were shocked that Mulius had died.

“I took fifty chariots that day, and I killed two Epeans for each chariot I took. I could have killed both Moliones, but their real father, Poseidon, protected them. He hid them in fog and took them from the battlefield.

“Zeus gave us victory! We pushed the Epeans back, slaughtering them all the way and stripping off their armor. We pushed them far away, and finally Athena stopped us as I killed my final man.

“We went back to Pylos. The Pylians gave glory to the god Zeus and to the mortal me: Nestor.”

Nestor thought, I hope that you are paying attention, Patroclus. I am trying to impress upon you that a young warrior can win kleos.

Nestor continued, “That is how I was when I was young.

“But what about Achilles? What is he doing? He has great courage, but no one is benefiting from it, not even him. He will grieve when all of us are dead.

“Patroclus, remember your father, Menoetius, and what he told you. When he sent you to Agamemnon so that you could go to the Trojan War, Odysseus and I heard what he told you. We had come to your country to look for warriors. In the palace of Peleus, we found you, your father, and Achilles. Peleus was sacrificing to Zeus. He had sacrificed an ox and was pouring wine to Zeus.

“You and Achilles were carving the meat when we appeared. Achilles was startled by our sudden appearance, but he led us into the hall and gave us good xenia. He gave us a place to sit and meat to eat and wine to drink.

“After we had eaten, I spoke and invited you and Achilles to come to Troy. Both of you were willing. Peleus told his son, Achilles, ‘Be the best. Be the bravest. Be proud.’ And your father, Menoetius, told you, ‘Achilles has nobler blood than you do because a goddess is his mother, but you are older than he is. He is stronger by far than you, but you can advise him well. Guide him to do the right thing for others and for himself.’ This is what your father told you. Odysseus and I heard him. You must have forgotten what your father told you.

“But it is not too late to advise Achilles. You can tell him what I have told you about our battered army and wounded warriors. Perhaps you can convince him to fight. You are his best friend.

“But if he is worried about what his mother, Thetis, has told him about his fate, then convince Achilles to send you into battle. You can lead all of Achilles’ warriors into battle. You may bring victory to our side.

“And convince Achilles to allow you to wear his armor. That way, the Trojans will think that you are Achilles and they will be afraid to attack, and that will give our warriors time to rest and regroup. You are rested, and Achilles’ warriors are rested. All of you can force the Trojan warriors back to Troy and away from our ships!”

Nestor’s speech was effective. Patroclus burned to go into battle, and he took off running to Achilles’ camp.

But by Odysseus’ ship, he saw Eurypylus, limping, with an arrow in his thigh. Sweat dripped from his head and body, and blood flowed down his thigh, but he was able to walk.

Patroclus said to him, “The Greeks are doomed. Far from home, you will die at Troy — Greek corpses will feed dogs and birds. Eurypylus, is there a way to stop Hector? Or will he batter down the Greeks?”

Eurypylus replied, “We have no hope, Patroclus. We will be battered back to our ships. Arrows and spears have wounded the best of us, and we are unable to fight. Help me, please. Take me to my ship and cut this arrow out of my flesh. Clean the wound and give me the healing drugs that Achilles taught you and that Achilles learned from Chiron, the best of the Centaurs.

“We have two healers: Podalirius and Machaon. Podalirius is on the battlefield, fighting, and Machaon needs a healer — an arrow wounded him.”

Patroclus replied, “We are in a bad situation. I was going to Achilles to tell him what I have learned from Nestor, but I will help you.”

Supporting Eurypylus, Patroclus walked with him to his ship. An aide put down some oxhides, and Eurypylus lay down. Patroclus cut out the arrow. Patroclus crushed a root in his hands and covered the wound with it. Eurypylus’ pain stopped, and the blood quit flowing.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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