Argument: The Single Combat of Hector and Ajax
The battle renewing with double ardour upon the return of Hector, Minerva is under apprehensions for the Greeks. Apollo, seeing her descend from Olympus, joins her near the Scaean gate. They agree to put off the general engagement for that day, and incite Hector to challenge the Greeks to a single combat. Nine of the princes accepting the challenge, the lot is cast and falls upon Ajax. These heroes, after several attacks, are parted by the night. The Trojans calling a council, Antenor purposes the delivery of Helen to the Greeks, to which Paris will not consent, but offers to restore them her riches. Priam sends a herald to make this offer, and to demand a truce for burning the dead, the last of which only is agreed to by Agamemnon. When the funerals are performed, the Greeks, pursuant to the advice of Nestor, erect a fortification to protect their fleet and camp, flanked with towers, and defended by a ditch and palisades. Neptune testifies his jealousy at this work, but is pacified by a promise from Jupiter. Both armies pass the night in feasting but Jupiter disheartens the Trojans with thunder, and other signs of his wrath.
The three and twentieth day ends with the duel of Hector and Ajax, the next day the truce is agreed; another is taken up in the funeral rites of the slain and one more in building the fortification before the ships. So that somewhat about three days is employed in this book. The scene lies wholly in the field.
So spoke the guardian of the Trojan state, Then rush’d impetuous through the Scaean gate. Him Paris follow’d to the dire alarms; Both breathing slaughter, both resolved in arms. As when to sailors labouring through the main, That long have heaved the weary oar in vain, Jove bids at length the expected gales arise; The gales blow grateful, and the vessel flies. So welcome these to Troy’s desiring train, The bands are cheer’d, the war awakes again.
Bold Paris first the work of death begun On great Menestheus, Areithous’ son, Sprung from the fair Philomeda’s embrace, The pleasing Arne was his native place. Then sunk Eioneus to the shades below, Beneath his steely casque he felt the blow177 Full on his neck, from Hector’s weighty hand; And roll’d, with limbs relax’d, along the land. By Glaucus’ spear the bold Iphmous bleeds, Fix’d in the shoulder as he mounts his steeds; Headlong he tumbles: his slack nerves unbound, Drop the cold useless members on the ground.
When now Minerva saw her Argives slain, From vast Olympus to the gleaming plain Fierce she descends: Apollo marked her flight, Nor shot less swift from Ilion’s towery height. Radiant they met, beneath the beechen shade; When thus Apollo to the blue-eyed maid:
“What cause, O daughter of Almighty Jove! Thus wings thy progress from the realms above? Once more impetuous dost thou bend thy way, To give to Greece the long divided day? Too much has Troy already felt thy hate, Now breathe thy rage, and hush the stern debate; This day, the business of the field suspend; War soon shall kindle, and great Ilion bend; Since vengeful goddesses confederate join To raze her walls, though built by hands divine.”
To whom the progeny of Jove replies: “I left, for this, the council of the skies: But who shall bid conflicting hosts forbear, What art shall calm the furious sons of war?” To her the god: “Great Hector’s soul incite To dare the boldest Greek to single fight, Till Greece, provoked, from all her numbers show A warrior worthy to be Hector’s foe.”
At this agreed, the heavenly powers withdrew; Sage Helenus their secret counsels knew; Hector, inspired, he sought: to him address’d, Thus told the dictates of his sacred breast: “O son of Priam! let thy faithful ear Receive my words: thy friend and brother hear! Go forth persuasive, and a while engage The warring nations to suspend their rage; Then dare the boldest of the hostile train To mortal combat on the listed plain. For not this day shall end thy glorious date; The gods have spoke it, and their voice is fate.”
He said: the warrior heard the word with joy; Then with his spear restrain’d the youth of Troy, Held by the midst athwart. On either hand The squadrons part; the expecting Trojans stand; Great Agamemnon bids the Greeks forbear: They breathe, and hush the tumult of the war. The Athenian maid, and glorious god of day,178 With silent joy the settling hosts survey: In form of vultures, on the beech’s height They sit conceal’d, and wait the future fight.
The thronging troops obscure the dusky fields, Horrid with bristling spears, and gleaming shields. As when a general darkness veils the main, (Soft Zephyr curling the wide wat’ry plain,) The waves scarce heave, the face of ocean sleeps, And a still horror saddens all the deeps; Thus in thick orders settling wide around, At length composed they sit, and shade the ground. Great Hector first amidst both armies broke The solemn silence, and their powers bespoke:
“Hear, all ye Trojan, all ye Grecian bands, What my soul prompts, and what some god commands. Great Jove, averse our warfare to compose, O’erwhelms the nations with new toils and woes; War with a fiercer tide once more returns, Till Ilion falls, or till yon navy burns. You then, O princes of the Greeks! appear; ’Tis Hector speaks, and calls the gods to hear: From all your troops select the boldest knight, And him, the boldest, Hector dares to fight. Here if I fall, by chance of battle slain, Be his my spoil, and his these arms remain; But let my body, to my friends return’d, By Trojan hands and Trojan flames be burn’d. And if Apollo, in whose aid I trust, Shall stretch your daring champion in the dust; If mine the glory to despoil the foe; On Phoebus’ temple I’ll his arms bestow: The breathless carcase to your navy sent, Greece on the shore shall raise a monument; Which when some future mariner surveys, Wash’d by broad Hellespont’s resounding seas, Thus shall he say, ‘A valiant Greek lies there, By Hector slain, the mighty man of war,’ The stone shall tell your vanquish’d hero’s name. And distant ages learn the victor’s fame.”
This fierce defiance Greece astonish’d heard, Blush’d to refuse, and to accept it fear’d. Stern Menelaus first the silence broke, And, inly groaning, thus opprobrious spoke:
“Women of Greece! O scandal of your race, Whose coward souls your manly form disgrace, How great the shame, when every age shall know That not a Grecian met this noble foe! Go then! resolve to earth, from whence ye grew, A heartless, spiritless, inglorious crew! Be what ye seem, unanimated clay, Myself will dare the danger of the day; ’Tis man’s bold task the generous strife to try, But in the hands of God is victory.”
These words scarce spoke, with generous ardour press’d, His manly limbs in azure arms he dress’d. That day, Atrides! a superior hand Had stretch’d thee breathless on the hostile strand; But all at once, thy fury to compose, The kings of Greece, an awful band, arose; Even he their chief, great Agamemnon, press’d Thy daring hand, and this advice address’d: “Whither, O Menelaus! wouldst thou run, And tempt a fate which prudence bids thee shun? Grieved though thou art, forbear the rash design; Great Hectors arm is mightier far than thine: Even fierce Achilles learn’d its force to fear, And trembling met this dreadful son of war. Sit thou secure, amidst thy social band; Greece in our cause shall arm some powerful hand. The mightiest warrior of the Achaian name, Though bold and burning with desire of fame, Content the doubtful honour might forego, So great the danger, and so brave the foe.”
He said, and turn’d his brother’s vengeful mind; He stoop’d to reason, and his rage resign’d, No longer bent to rush on certain harms; His joyful friends unbrace his azure arms.
He from whose lips divine persuasion flows, Grave Nestor, then, in graceful act arose; Thus to the kings he spoke: “What grief, what shame Attend on Greece, and all the Grecian name! How shall, alas! her hoary heroes mourn Their sons degenerate, and their race a scorn! What tears shall down thy silvery beard be roll’d, O Peleus, old in arms, in wisdom old! Once with what joy the generous prince would hear Of every chief who fought this glorious war, Participate their fame, and pleased inquire Each name, each action, and each hero’s sire! Gods! should he see our warriors trembling stand, And trembling all before one hostile hand; How would he lift his aged arms on high, Lament inglorious Greece, and beg to die! Oh! would to all the immortal powers above, Minerva, Phoebus, and almighty Jove! Years might again roll back, my youth renew, And give this arm the spring which once it knew When fierce in war, where Jardan’s waters fall, I led my troops to Phea’s trembling wall, And with the Arcadian spears my prowess tried, Where Celadon rolls down his rapid tide.179 There Ereuthalion braved us in the field, Proud Areithous’ dreadful arms to wield; Great Areithous, known from shore to shore By the huge, knotted, iron mace he bore; No lance he shook, nor bent the twanging bow, But broke, with this, the battle of the foe. Him not by manly force Lycurgus slew, Whose guileful javelin from the thicket flew, Deep in a winding way his breast assailed, Nor aught the warrior’s thundering mace avail’d. Supine he fell: those arms which Mars before Had given the vanquish’d, now the victor bore: But when old age had dimm’d Lycurgus’ eyes, To Ereuthalion he consign’d the prize. Furious with this he crush’d our levell’d bands, And dared the trial of the strongest hands; Nor could the strongest hands his fury stay: All saw, and fear’d, his huge tempestuous sway Till I, the youngest of the host, appear’d, And, youngest, met whom all our army fear’d. I fought the chief: my arms Minerva crown’d: Prone fell the giant o’er a length of ground. What then I was, O were your Nestor now! Not Hector’s self should want an equal foe. But, warriors, you that youthful vigour boast, The flower of Greece, the examples of our host, Sprung from such fathers, who such numbers sway, Can you stand trembling, and desert the day?”
His warm reproofs the listening kings inflame; And nine, the noblest of the Grecian name, Up-started fierce: but far before the rest The king of men advanced his dauntless breast: Then bold Tydides, great in arms, appear’d; And next his bulk gigantic Ajax rear’d; Oileus follow’d; Idomen was there,180 And Merion, dreadful as the god of war: With these Eurypylus and Thoas stand, And wise Ulysses closed the daring band. All these, alike inspired with noble rage, Demand the fight. To whom the Pylian sage:
“Lest thirst of glory your brave souls divide, What chief shall combat, let the gods decide. Whom heaven shall choose, be his the chance to raise His country’s fame, his own immortal praise.”
The lots produced, each hero signs his own: Then in the general’s helm the fates are thrown,181 The people pray, with lifted eyes and hands, And vows like these ascend from all the bands: “Grant, thou Almighty! in whose hand is fate, A worthy champion for the Grecian state: This task let Ajax or Tydides prove, Or he, the king of kings, beloved by Jove.” Old Nestor shook the casque. By heaven inspired, Leap’d forth the lot, of every Greek desired. This from the right to left the herald bears, Held out in order to the Grecian peers; Each to his rival yields the mark unknown, Till godlike Ajax finds the lot his own; Surveys the inscription with rejoicing eyes, Then casts before him, and with transport cries:
“Warriors! I claim the lot, and arm with joy; Be mine the conquest of this chief of Troy. Now while my brightest arms my limbs invest, To Saturn’s son be all your vows address’d: But pray in secret, lest the foes should hear, And deem your prayers the mean effect of fear. Said I in secret? No, your vows declare In such a voice as fills the earth and air, Lives there a chief whom Ajax ought to dread? Ajax, in all the toils of battle bred! From warlike Salamis I drew my birth, And, born to combats, fear no force on earth.”
He said. The troops with elevated eyes, Implore the god whose thunder rends the skies: “O father of mankind, superior lord! On lofty Ida’s holy hill adored: Who in the highest heaven hast fix’d thy throne, Supreme of gods! unbounded and alone: Grant thou, that Telamon may bear away The praise and conquest of this doubtful day; Or, if illustrious Hector be thy care, That both may claim it, and that both may share.”
Now Ajax braced his dazzling armour on; Sheathed in bright steel the giant-warrior shone: He moves to combat with majestic pace; So stalks in arms the grisly god of Thrace,182 When Jove to punish faithless men prepares, And gives whole nations to the waste of wars, Thus march’d the chief, tremendous as a god; Grimly he smiled; earth trembled as he strode:183 His massy javelin quivering in his hand, He stood, the bulwark of the Grecian band. Through every Argive heart new transport ran; All Troy stood trembling at the mighty man: Even Hector paused; and with new doubt oppress’d, Felt his great heart suspended in his breast: ’Twas vain to seek retreat, and vain to fear; Himself had challenged, and the foe drew near.
Stern Telamon behind his ample shield, As from a brazen tower, o’erlook’d the field. Huge was its orb, with seven thick folds o’ercast, Of tough bull-hides; of solid brass the last, (The work of Tychius, who in Hyle dwell’d And in all arts of armoury excell’d,) This Ajax bore before his manly breast, And, threatening, thus his adverse chief address’d:
“Hector! approach my arm, and singly know What strength thou hast, and what the Grecian foe. Achilles shuns the fight; yet some there are, Not void of soul, and not unskill’d in war: Let him, unactive on the sea-beat shore, Indulge his wrath, and aid our arms no more; Whole troops of heroes Greece has yet to boast, And sends thee one, a sample of her host, Such as I am, I come to prove thy might; No more — be sudden, and begin the fight.”
“O son of Telamon, thy country’s pride! (To Ajax thus the Trojan prince replied) Me, as a boy, or woman, wouldst thou fright, New to the field, and trembling at the fight? Thou meet’st a chief deserving of thy arms, To combat born, and bred amidst alarms: I know to shift my ground, remount the car, Turn, charge, and answer every call of war; To right, to left, the dexterous lance I wield, And bear thick battle on my sounding shield But open be our fight, and bold each blow; I steal no conquest from a noble foe.”
He said, and rising, high above the field Whirl’d the long lance against the sevenfold shield. Full on the brass descending from above Through six bull-hides the furious weapon drove, Till in the seventh it fix’d. Then Ajax threw; Through Hector’s shield the forceful javelin flew, His corslet enters, and his garment rends, And glancing downwards, near his flank descends. The wary Trojan shrinks, and bending low Beneath his buckler, disappoints the blow. From their bored shields the chiefs their javelins drew, Then close impetuous, and the charge renew; Fierce as the mountain-lions bathed in blood, Or foaming boars, the terror of the wood. At Ajax, Hector his long lance extends; The blunted point against the buckler bends; But Ajax, watchful as his foe drew near, Drove through the Trojan targe the knotty spear; It reach’d his neck, with matchless strength impell’d! Spouts the black gore, and dims his shining shield. Yet ceased not Hector thus; but stooping down, In his strong hand up-heaved a flinty stone, Black, craggy, vast: to this his force he bends; Full on the brazen boss the stone descends; The hollow brass resounded with the shock: Then Ajax seized the fragment of a rock, Applied each nerve, and swinging round on high, With force tempestuous, let the ruin fly; The huge stone thundering through his buckler broke: His slacken’d knees received the numbing stroke; Great Hector falls extended on the field, His bulk supporting on the shatter’d shield: Nor wanted heavenly aid: Apollo’s might Confirm’d his sinews, and restored to fight. And now both heroes their broad falchions drew In flaming circles round their heads they flew; But then by heralds’ voice the word was given. The sacred ministers of earth and heaven: Divine Talthybius, whom the Greeks employ. And sage Idaeus on the part of Troy, Between the swords their peaceful sceptres rear’d; And first Idaeus’ awful voice was heard:
“Forbear, my sons! your further force to prove, Both dear to men, and both beloved of Jove. To either host your matchless worth is known, Each sounds your praise, and war is all your own. But now the Night extends her awful shade; The goddess parts you; be the night obey’d.”184
To whom great Ajax his high soul express’d: “O sage! to Hector be these words address’d. Let him, who first provoked our chiefs to fight, Let him demand the sanction of the night; If first he ask’d it, I content obey, And cease the strife when Hector shows the way.”
“O first of Greeks! (his noble foe rejoin’d) Whom heaven adorns, superior to thy kind, With strength of body, and with worth of mind! Now martial law commands us to forbear; Hereafter we shall meet in glorious war, Some future day shall lengthen out the strife, And let the gods decide of death or life! Since, then, the night extends her gloomy shade, And heaven enjoins it, be the night obey’d. Return, brave Ajax, to thy Grecian friends, And joy the nations whom thy arm defends; As I shall glad each chief, and Trojan wife, Who wearies heaven with vows for Hector’s life. But let us, on this memorable day, Exchange some gift: that Greece and Troy may say, ‘Not hate, but glory, made these chiefs contend; And each brave foe was in his soul a friend.’”
With that, a sword with stars of silver graced, The baldric studded, and the sheath enchased, He gave the Greek. The generous Greek bestow’d A radiant belt that rich with purple glow’d. Then with majestic grace they quit the plain; This seeks the Grecian, that the Phrygian train.
The Trojan bands returning Hector wait, And hail with joy the Champion of their state; Escaped great Ajax, they survey him round, Alive, unarm’d, and vigorous from his wound; To Troy’s high gates the godlike man they bear Their present triumph, as their late despair.
But Ajax, glorying in his hardy deed, The well-arm’d Greeks to Agamemnon lead. A steer for sacrifice the king design’d, Of full five years, and of the nobler kind. The victim falls; they strip the smoking hide, The beast they quarter, and the joints divide; Then spread the tables, the repast prepare, Each takes his seat, and each receives his share. The king himself (an honorary sign) Before great Ajax placed the mighty chine.185 When now the rage of hunger was removed, Nestor, in each persuasive art approved, The sage whose counsels long had sway’d the rest, In words like these his prudent thought express’d:
“How dear, O kings! this fatal day has cost, What Greeks are perish’d! what a people lost! What tides of blood have drench’d Scamander’s shore! What crowds of heroes sunk to rise no more! Then hear me, chief! nor let the morrow’s light Awake thy squadrons to new toils of fight: Some space at least permit the war to breathe, While we to flames our slaughter’d friends bequeath, From the red field their scatter’d bodies bear, And nigh the fleet a funeral structure rear; So decent urns their snowy bones may keep, And pious children o’er their ashes weep. Here, where on one promiscuous pile they blazed, High o’er them all a general tomb be raised; Next, to secure our camp and naval powers, Raise an embattled wall, with lofty towers; From space to space be ample gates around, For passing chariots; and a trench profound. So Greece to combat shall in safety go, Nor fear the fierce incursions of the foe.” ’Twas thus the sage his wholesome counsel moved; The sceptred kings of Greece his words approved.
Meanwhile, convened at Priam’s palace-gate, The Trojan peers in nightly council sate; A senate void of order, as of choice: Their hearts were fearful, and confused their voice. Antenor, rising, thus demands their ear: “Ye Trojans, Dardans, and auxiliars, hear! ’Tis heaven the counsel of my breast inspires, And I but move what every god requires: Let Sparta’s treasures be this hour restored, And Argive Helen own her ancient lord. The ties of faith, the sworn alliance, broke, Our impious battles the just gods provoke. As this advice ye practise, or reject, So hope success, or dread the dire effect.”
The senior spoke and sate. To whom replied The graceful husband of the Spartan bride: “Cold counsels, Trojan, may become thy years But sound ungrateful in a warrior’s ears: Old man, if void of fallacy or art, Thy words express the purpose of thy heart, Thou, in thy time, more sound advice hast given; But wisdom has its date, assign’d by heaven. Then hear me, princes of the Trojan name! Their treasures I’ll restore, but not the dame; My treasures too, for peace, I will resign; But be this bright possession ever mine.”
’Twas then, the growing discord to compose, Slow from his seat the reverend Priam rose: His godlike aspect deep attention drew: He paused, and these pacific words ensue:
“Ye Trojans, Dardans, and auxiliar bands! Now take refreshment as the hour demands; Guard well the walls, relieve the watch of night. Till the new sun restores the cheerful light. Then shall our herald, to the Atrides sent, Before their ships proclaim my son’s intent. Next let a truce be ask’d, that Troy may burn Her slaughter’d heroes, and their bones inurn; That done, once more the fate of war be tried, And whose the conquest, mighty Jove decide!”
The monarch spoke: the warriors snatch’d with haste (Each at his post in arms) a short repast. Soon as the rosy morn had waked the day, To the black ships Idaeus bent his way; There, to the sons of Mars, in council found, He raised his voice: the host stood listening round.
“Ye sons of Atreus, and ye Greeks, give ear! The words of Troy, and Troy’s great monarch, hear. Pleased may ye hear (so heaven succeed my prayers) What Paris, author of the war, declares. The spoils and treasures he to Ilion bore (Oh had he perish’d ere they touch’d our shore!) He proffers injured Greece: with large increase Of added Trojan wealth to buy the peace. But to restore the beauteous bride again, This Greece demands, and Troy requests in vain. Next, O ye chiefs! we ask a truce to burn Our slaughter’d heroes, and their bones inurn. That done, once more the fate of war be tried, And whose the conquest, mighty Jove decide!”
The Greeks gave ear, but none the silence broke; At length Tydides rose, and rising spoke: “Oh, take not, friends! defrauded of your fame, Their proffer’d wealth, nor even the Spartan dame. Let conquest make them ours: fate shakes their wall, And Troy already totters to her fall.”
The admiring chiefs, and all the Grecian name, With general shouts return’d him loud acclaim. Then thus the king of kings rejects the peace: “Herald! in him thou hear’st the voice of Greece For what remains; let funeral flames be fed With heroes’ corps: I war not with the dead: Go search your slaughtered chiefs on yonder plain, And gratify the manes of the slain. Be witness, Jove, whose thunder rolls on high!” He said, and rear’d his sceptre to the sky.
To sacred Troy, where all her princes lay To wait the event, the herald bent his way. He came, and standing in the midst, explain’d The peace rejected, but the truce obtain’d. Straight to their several cares the Trojans move, Some search the plains, some fell the sounding grove: Nor less the Greeks, descending on the shore, Hew’d the green forests, and the bodies bore. And now from forth the chambers of the main, To shed his sacred light on earth again, Arose the golden chariot of the day, And tipp’d the mountains with a purple ray. In mingled throngs the Greek and Trojan train Through heaps of carnage search’d the mournful plain. Scarce could the friend his slaughter’d friend explore, With dust dishonour’d, and deformed with gore. The wounds they wash’d, their pious tears they shed, And, laid along their cars, deplored the dead. Sage Priam check’d their grief: with silent haste The bodies decent on the piles were placed: With melting hearts the cold remains they burn’d, And, sadly slow, to sacred Troy return’d. Nor less the Greeks their pious sorrows shed, And decent on the pile dispose the dead; The cold remains consume with equal care; And slowly, sadly, to their fleet repair. Now, ere the morn had streak’d with reddening light The doubtful confines of the day and night, About the dying flames the Greeks appear’d, And round the pile a general tomb they rear’d. Then, to secure the camp and naval powers, They raised embattled walls with lofty towers:186 From space to space were ample gates around, For passing chariots, and a trench profound Of large extent; and deep in earth below, Strong piles infix’d stood adverse to the foe.
So toil’d the Greeks: meanwhile the gods above, In shining circle round their father Jove, Amazed beheld the wondrous works of man: Then he, whose trident shakes the earth, began:
“What mortals henceforth shall our power adore, Our fanes frequent, our oracles implore, If the proud Grecians thus successful boast Their rising bulwarks on the sea-beat coast? See the long walls extending to the main, No god consulted, and no victim slain! Their fame shall fill the world’s remotest ends, Wide as the morn her golden beam extends; While old Laomedon’s divine abodes, Those radiant structures raised by labouring gods, Shall, razed and lost, in long oblivion sleep.” Thus spoke the hoary monarch of the deep.
The almighty Thunderer with a frown replies, That clouds the world, and blackens half the skies: “Strong god of ocean! thou, whose rage can make The solid earth’s eternal basis shake! What cause of fear from mortal works could move187 The meanest subject of our realms above? Where’er the sun’s refulgent rays are cast, Thy power is honour’d, and thy fame shall last. But yon proud work no future age shall view, No trace remain where once the glory grew. The sapp’d foundations by thy force shall fall, And, whelm’d beneath the waves, drop the huge wall: Vast drifts of sand shall change the former shore: The ruin vanish’d, and the name no more.”
Thus they in heaven: while, o’er the Grecian train, The rolling sun descending to the main Beheld the finish’d work. Their bulls they slew; Back from the tents the savoury vapour flew. And now the fleet, arrived from Lemnos’ strands, With Bacchus’ blessings cheered the generous bands. Of fragrant wines the rich Eunaeus sent A thousant measures to the royal tent. (Eunaeus, whom Hypsipyle of yore To Jason, shepherd of his people, bore,) The rest they purchased at their proper cost, And well the plenteous freight supplied the host: Each, in exchange, proportion’d treasures gave;188 Some, brass or iron; some, an ox, or slave. All night they feast, the Greek and Trojan powers: Those on the fields, and these within their towers. But Jove averse the signs of wrath display’d, And shot red lightnings through the gloomy shade: Humbled they stood; pale horror seized on all, While the deep thunder shook the aerial hall. Each pour’d to Jove before the bowl was crown’d; And large libations drench’d the thirsty ground: Then late, refresh’d with sleep from toils of fight, Enjoy’d the balmy blessings of the night.