Argument: The Battle of the Gods, and the Acts of Achilles
Jupiter, upon Achilles’ return to the battle, calls a council of the gods, and permits them to assist either party. The terrors of the combat described, when the deities are engaged. Apollo encourages AEneas to meet Achilles. After a long conversation, these two heroes encounter; but AEneas is preserved by the assistance of Neptune. Achilles falls upon the rest of the Trojans, and is upon the point of killing Hector, but Apollo conveys him away in a cloud. Achilles pursues the Trojans with a great slaughter.
The same day continues. The scene is in the field before Troy.
Thus round Pelides breathing war and blood Greece, sheathed in arms, beside her vessels stood; While near impending from a neighbouring height, Troy’s black battalions wait the shock of fight. Then Jove to Themis gives command, to call The gods to council in the starry hall: Swift o’er Olympus’ hundred hills she flies, And summons all the senate of the skies. These shining on, in long procession come To Jove’s eternal adamantine dome. Not one was absent, not a rural power That haunts the verdant gloom, or rosy bower; Each fair-hair’d dryad of the shady wood, Each azure sister of the silver flood; All but old Ocean, hoary sire! who keeps His ancient seat beneath the sacred deeps. On marble thrones, with lucid columns crown’d, (The work of Vulcan,) sat the powers around. Even he whose trident sways the watery reign Heard the loud summons, and forsook the main, Assumed his throne amid the bright abodes, And question’d thus the sire of men and gods:
“What moves the god who heaven and earth commands, And grasps the thunder in his awful hands, Thus to convene the whole ethereal state? Is Greece and Troy the subject in debate? Already met, the louring hosts appear, And death stands ardent on the edge of war.”
“’Tis true (the cloud-compelling power replies) This day we call the council of the skies In care of human race; even Jove’s own eye Sees with regret unhappy mortals die. Far on Olympus’ top in secret state Ourself will sit, and see the hand of fate Work out our will. Celestial powers! descend, And as your minds direct, your succour lend To either host. Troy soon must lie o’erthrown, If uncontroll’d Achilles fights alone: Their troops but lately durst not meet his eyes; What can they now, if in his rage he rise? Assist them, gods! or Ilion’s sacred wall May fall this day, though fate forbids the fall.”
He said, and fired their heavenly breasts with rage. On adverse parts the warring gods engage: Heaven’s awful queen; and he whose azure round Girds the vast globe; the maid in arms renown’d; Hermes, of profitable arts the sire; And Vulcan, the black sovereign of the fire: These to the fleet repair with instant flight; The vessels tremble as the gods alight. In aid of Troy, Latona, Phoebus came, Mars fiery-helm’d, the laughter-loving dame, Xanthus, whose streams in golden currents flow, And the chaste huntress of the silver bow. Ere yet the gods their various aid employ, Each Argive bosom swell’d with manly joy, While great Achilles (terror of the plain), Long lost to battle, shone in arms again. Dreadful he stood in front of all his host; Pale Troy beheld, and seem’d already lost; Her bravest heroes pant with inward fear, And trembling see another god of war.
But when the powers descending swell’d the fight, Then tumult rose: fierce rage and pale affright Varied each face: then Discord sounds alarms, Earth echoes, and the nations rush to arms. Now through the trembling shores Minerva calls, And now she thunders from the Grecian walls. Mars hovering o’er his Troy, his terror shrouds In gloomy tempests, and a night of clouds: Now through each Trojan heart he fury pours With voice divine, from Ilion’s topmost towers: Now shouts to Simois, from her beauteous hill; The mountain shook, the rapid stream stood still.
Above, the sire of gods his thunder rolls, And peals on peals redoubled rend the poles. Beneath, stern Neptune shakes the solid ground; The forests wave, the mountains nod around; Through all their summits tremble Ida’s woods, And from their sources boil her hundred floods. Troy’s turrets totter on the rocking plain, And the toss’d navies beat the heaving main. Deep in the dismal regions of the dead,259 The infernal monarch rear’d his horrid head, Leap’d from his throne, lest Neptune’s arm should lay His dark dominions open to the day, And pour in light on Pluto’s drear abodes, Abhorr’d by men, and dreadful even to gods.260
Such war the immortals wage; such horrors rend The world’s vast concave, when the gods contend First silver-shafted Phoebus took the plain Against blue Neptune, monarch of the main. The god of arms his giant bulk display’d, Opposed to Pallas, war’s triumphant maid. Against Latona march’d the son of May. The quiver’d Dian, sister of the day, (Her golden arrows sounding at her side,) Saturnia, majesty of heaven, defied. With fiery Vulcan last in battle stands The sacred flood that rolls on golden sands; Xanthus his name with those of heavenly birth, But called Scamander by the sons of earth.
While thus the gods in various league engage, Achilles glow’d with more than mortal rage: Hector he sought; in search of Hector turn’d His eyes around, for Hector only burn’d; And burst like lightning through the ranks, and vow’d To glut the god of battles with his blood.
AEneas was the first who dared to stay; Apollo wedged him in the warrior’s way, But swell’d his bosom with undaunted might, Half-forced and half-persuaded to the fight. Like young Lycaon, of the royal line, In voice and aspect, seem’d the power divine; And bade the chief reflect, how late with scorn In distant threats he braved the goddess-born.
Then thus the hero of Anchises’ strain: “To meet Pelides you persuade in vain: Already have I met, nor void of fear Observed the fury of his flying spear; From Ida’s woods he chased us to the field, Our force he scattered, and our herds he kill’d; Lyrnessus, Pedasus in ashes lay; But (Jove assisting) I survived the day: Else had I sunk oppress’d in fatal fight By fierce Achilles and Minerva’s might. Where’er he moved, the goddess shone before, And bathed his brazen lance in hostile gore. What mortal man Achilles can sustain? The immortals guard him through the dreadful plain, And suffer not his dart to fall in vain. Were God my aid, this arm should check his power, Though strong in battle as a brazen tower.”
To whom the son of Jove: “That god implore, And be what great Achilles was before. From heavenly Venus thou deriv’st thy strain, And he but from a sister of the main; An aged sea-god father of his line; But Jove himself the sacred source of thine. Then lift thy weapon for a noble blow, Nor fear the vaunting of a mortal foe.”
This said, and spirit breathed into his breast, Through the thick troops the embolden’d hero press’d: His venturous act the white-arm’d queen survey’d, And thus, assembling all the powers, she said:
“Behold an action, gods! that claims your care, Lo great AEneas rushing to the war! Against Pelides he directs his course, Phoebus impels, and Phoebus gives him force. Restrain his bold career; at least, to attend Our favour’d hero, let some power descend. To guard his life, and add to his renown, We, the great armament of heaven, came down. Hereafter let him fall, as Fates design, That spun so short his life’s illustrious line:261 But lest some adverse god now cross his way, Give him to know what powers assist this day: For how shall mortal stand the dire alarms, When heaven’s refulgent host appear in arms?”262
Thus she; and thus the god whose force can make The solid globe’s eternal basis shake: “Against the might of man, so feeble known, Why should celestial powers exert their own? Suffice from yonder mount to view the scene, And leave to war the fates of mortal men. But if the armipotent, or god of light, Obstruct Achilles, or commence the fight. Thence on the gods of Troy we swift descend: Full soon, I doubt not, shall the conflict end; And these, in ruin and confusion hurl’d, Yield to our conquering arms the lower world.”
Thus having said, the tyrant of the sea, Coerulean Neptune, rose, and led the way. Advanced upon the field there stood a mound Of earth congested, wall’d, and trench’d around; In elder times to guard Alcides made, (The work of Trojans, with Minerva’s aid,) What time a vengeful monster of the main Swept the wide shore, and drove him to the plain.
Here Neptune and the gods of Greece repair, With clouds encompass’d, and a veil of air: The adverse powers, around Apollo laid, Crown the fair hills that silver Simois shade. In circle close each heavenly party sat, Intent to form the future scheme of fate; But mix not yet in fight, though Jove on high Gives the loud signal, and the heavens reply.
Meanwhile the rushing armies hide the ground; The trampled centre yields a hollow sound: Steeds cased in mail, and chiefs in armour bright, The gleaming champaign glows with brazen light. Amid both hosts (a dreadful space) appear, There great Achilles; bold AEneas, here. With towering strides Aeneas first advanced; The nodding plumage on his helmet danced: Spread o’er his breast the fencing shield he bore, And, so he moved, his javelin flamed before. Not so Pelides; furious to engage, He rush’d impetuous. Such the lion’s rage, Who viewing first his foes with scornful eyes, Though all in arms the peopled city rise, Stalks careless on, with unregarding pride; Till at the length, by some brave youth defied, To his bold spear the savage turns alone, He murmurs fury with a hollow groan; He grins, he foams, he rolls his eyes around Lash’d by his tail his heaving sides resound; He calls up all his rage; he grinds his teeth, Resolved on vengeance, or resolved on death. So fierce Achilles on AEneas flies; So stands AEneas, and his force defies. Ere yet the stern encounter join’d, begun The seed of Thetis thus to Venus’ son:
“Why comes AEneas through the ranks so far? Seeks he to meet Achilles’ arm in war, In hope the realms of Priam to enjoy, And prove his merits to the throne of Troy? Grant that beneath thy lance Achilles dies, The partial monarch may refuse the prize; Sons he has many; those thy pride may quell: And ’tis his fault to love those sons too well, Or, in reward of thy victorious hand, Has Troy proposed some spacious tract of land An ample forest, or a fair domain, Of hills for vines, and arable for grain? Even this, perhaps, will hardly prove thy lot. But can Achilles be so soon forgot? Once (as I think) you saw this brandish’d spear And then the great AEneas seem’d to fear: With hearty haste from Ida’s mount he fled, Nor, till he reach’d Lyrnessus, turn’d his head. Her lofty walls not long our progress stay’d; Those, Pallas, Jove, and we, in ruins laid: In Grecian chains her captive race were cast; ’Tis true, the great Aeneas fled too fast. Defrauded of my conquest once before, What then I lost, the gods this day restore. Go; while thou may’st, avoid the threaten’d fate; Fools stay to feel it, and are wise too late.”
To this Anchises’ son: “Such words employ To one that fears thee, some unwarlike boy; Such we disdain; the best may be defied With mean reproaches, and unmanly pride; Unworthy the high race from which we came Proclaim’d so loudly by the voice of fame: Each from illustrious fathers draws his line; Each goddess-born; half human, half divine. Thetis’ this day, or Venus’ offspring dies, And tears shall trickle from celestial eyes: For when two heroes, thus derived, contend, ’Tis not in words the glorious strife can end. If yet thou further seek to learn my birth (A tale resounded through the spacious earth) Hear how the glorious origin we prove From ancient Dardanus, the first from Jove: Dardania’s walls he raised; for Ilion, then, (The city since of many-languaged men,) Was not. The natives were content to till The shady foot of Ida’s fountful hill.263 From Dardanus great Erichthonius springs, The richest, once, of Asia’s wealthy kings; Three thousand mares his spacious pastures bred, Three thousand foals beside their mothers fed. Boreas, enamour’d of the sprightly train, Conceal’d his godhead in a flowing mane, With voice dissembled to his loves he neigh’d, And coursed the dappled beauties o’er the mead: Hence sprung twelve others of unrivall’d kind, Swift as their mother mares, and father wind. These lightly skimming, when they swept the plain, Nor plied the grass, nor bent the tender grain; And when along the level seas they flew,264 Scarce on the surface curl’d the briny dew. Such Erichthonius was: from him there came The sacred Tros, of whom the Trojan name. Three sons renown’d adorn’d his nuptial bed, Ilus, Assaracus, and Ganymed: The matchless Ganymed, divinely fair, Whom heaven, enamour’d, snatch’d to upper air, To bear the cup of Jove (ethereal guest, The grace and glory of the ambrosial feast). The two remaining sons the line divide: First rose Laomedon from Ilus’ side; From him Tithonus, now in cares grown old, And Priam, bless’d with Hector, brave and bold; Clytius and Lampus, ever-honour’d pair; And Hicetaon, thunderbolt of war. From great Assaracus sprang Capys, he Begat Anchises, and Anchises me. Such is our race: ’tis fortune gives us birth, But Jove alone endues the soul with worth: He, source of power and might! with boundless sway, All human courage gives, or takes away. Long in the field of words we may contend, Reproach is infinite, and knows no end, Arm’d or with truth or falsehood, right or wrong; So voluble a weapon is the tongue; Wounded, we wound; and neither side can fail, For every man has equal strength to rail: Women alone, when in the streets they jar, Perhaps excel us in this wordy war; Like us they stand, encompass’d with the crowd, And vent their anger impotent and loud. Cease then — Our business in the field of fight Is not to question, but to prove our might. To all those insults thou hast offer’d here, Receive this answer: ’tis my flying spear.”
He spoke. With all his force the javelin flung, Fix’d deep, and loudly in the buckler rung. Far on his outstretch’d arm, Pelides held (To meet the thundering lance) his dreadful shield, That trembled as it stuck; nor void of fear Saw, ere it fell, the immeasurable spear. His fears were vain; impenetrable charms Secured the temper of the ethereal arms. Through two strong plates the point its passage held, But stopp’d, and rested, by the third repell’d. Five plates of various metal, various mould, Composed the shield; of brass each outward fold, Of tin each inward, and the middle gold: There stuck the lance. Then rising ere he threw, The forceful spear of great Achilles flew, And pierced the Dardan shield’s extremest bound, Where the shrill brass return’d a sharper sound: Through the thin verge the Pelean weapon glides, And the slight covering of expanded hides. AEneas his contracted body bends, And o’er him high the riven targe extends, Sees, through its parting plates, the upper air, And at his back perceives the quivering spear: A fate so near him, chills his soul with fright; And swims before his eyes the many-colour’d light. Achilles, rushing in with dreadful cries, Draws his broad blade, and at AEneas flies: AEneas rousing as the foe came on, With force collected, heaves a mighty stone: A mass enormous! which in modern days No two of earth’s degenerate sons could raise. But ocean’s god, whose earthquakes rock the ground. Saw the distress, and moved the powers around:
“Lo! on the brink of fate AEneas stands, An instant victim to Achilles’ hands; By Phoebus urged; but Phoebus has bestow’d His aid in vain: the man o’erpowers the god. And can ye see this righteous chief atone With guiltless blood for vices not his own? To all the gods his constant vows were paid; Sure, though he wars for Troy, he claims our aid. Fate wills not this; nor thus can Jove resign The future father of the Dardan line:265 The first great ancestor obtain’d his grace, And still his love descends on all the race: For Priam now, and Priam’s faithless kind, At length are odious to the all-seeing mind; On great AEneas shall devolve the reign, And sons succeeding sons the lasting line sustain.”
The great earth-shaker thus: to whom replies The imperial goddess with the radiant eyes: “Good as he is, to immolate or spare The Dardan prince, O Neptune! be thy care; Pallas and I, by all that gods can bind, Have sworn destruction to the Trojan kind; Not even an instant to protract their fate, Or save one member of the sinking state; Till her last flame be quench’d with her last gore, And even her crumbling ruins are no more.”
The king of ocean to the fight descends, Through all the whistling darts his course he bends, Swift interposed between the warrior flies, And casts thick darkness o’er Achilles’ eyes.266 From great AEneas’ shield the spear he drew, And at his master’s feet the weapon threw. That done, with force divine he snatch’d on high The Dardan prince, and bore him through the sky, Smooth-gliding without step, above the heads Of warring heroes, and of bounding steeds: Till at the battle’s utmost verge they light, Where the slow Caucans close the rear of fight. The godhead there (his heavenly form confess’d) With words like these the panting chief address’d:
“What power, O prince! with force inferior far, Urged thee to meet Achilles’ arm in war? Henceforth beware, nor antedate thy doom, Defrauding fate of all thy fame to come. But when the day decreed (for come it must) Shall lay this dreadful hero in the dust, Let then the furies of that arm be known, Secure no Grecian force transcends thy own.”
With that, he left him wondering as he lay, Then from Achilles chased the mist away: Sudden, returning with a stream of light, The scene of war came rushing on his sight. Then thus, amazed; “What wonders strike my mind! My spear, that parted on the wings of wind, Laid here before me! and the Dardan lord, That fell this instant, vanish’d from my sword! I thought alone with mortals to contend, But powers celestial sure this foe defend. Great as he is, our arms he scarce will try, Content for once, with all his gods, to fly. Now then let others bleed.” This said, aloud He vents his fury and inflames the crowd: “O Greeks! (he cries, and every rank alarms) Join battle, man to man, and arms to arms! ’Tis not in me, though favour’d by the sky, To mow whole troops, and make whole armies fly: No god can singly such a host engage, Not Mars himself, nor great Minerva’s rage. But whatsoe’er Achilles can inspire, Whate’er of active force, or acting fire; Whate’er this heart can prompt, or hand obey; All, all Achilles, Greeks! is yours to-day. Through yon wide host this arm shall scatter fear, And thin the squadrons with my single spear.”
He said: nor less elate with martial joy, The godlike Hector warm’d the troops of Troy: “Trojans, to war! Think, Hector leads you on; Nor dread the vaunts of Peleus’ haughty son. Deeds must decide our fate. E’en these with words Insult the brave, who tremble at their swords: The weakest atheist-wretch all heaven defies, But shrinks and shudders when the thunder flies. Nor from yon boaster shall your chief retire, Not though his heart were steel, his hands were fire; That fire, that steel, your Hector should withstand, And brave that vengeful heart, that dreadful hand.”
Thus (breathing rage through all) the hero said; A wood of lances rises round his head, Clamours on clamours tempest all the air, They join, they throng, they thicken to the war. But Phoebus warns him from high heaven to shun The single fight with Thetis’ godlike son; More safe to combat in the mingled band, Nor tempt too near the terrors of his hand. He hears, obedient to the god of light, And, plunged within the ranks, awaits the fight.
Then fierce Achilles, shouting to the skies, On Troy’s whole force with boundless fury flies. First falls Iphytion, at his army’s head; Brave was the chief, and brave the host he led; From great Otrynteus he derived his blood, His mother was a Nais, of the flood; Beneath the shades of Tmolus, crown’d with snow, From Hyde’s walls he ruled the lands below. Fierce as he springs, the sword his head divides: The parted visage falls on equal sides: With loud-resounding arms he strikes the plain; While thus Achilles glories o’er the slain:
“Lie there, Otryntides! the Trojan earth Receives thee dead, though Gygae boast thy birth; Those beauteous fields where Hyllus’ waves are roll’d, And plenteous Hermus swells with tides of gold, Are thine no more.”— The insulting hero said, And left him sleeping in eternal shade. The rolling wheels of Greece the body tore, And dash’d their axles with no vulgar gore.
Demoleon next, Antenor’s offspring, laid Breathless in dust, the price of rashness paid. The impatient steel with full-descending sway Forced through his brazen helm its furious way, Resistless drove the batter’d skull before, And dash’d and mingled all the brains with gore. This sees Hippodamas, and seized with fright, Deserts his chariot for a swifter flight: The lance arrests him: an ignoble wound The panting Trojan rivets to the ground. He groans away his soul: not louder roars, At Neptune’s shrine on Helice’s high shores, The victim bull; the rocks re-bellow round, And ocean listens to the grateful sound. Then fell on Polydore his vengeful rage,267 The youngest hope of Priam’s stooping age: (Whose feet for swiftness in the race surpass’d:) Of all his sons, the dearest, and the last. To the forbidden field he takes his flight, In the first folly of a youthful knight, To vaunt his swiftness wheels around the plain, But vaunts not long, with all his swiftness slain: Struck where the crossing belts unite behind, And golden rings the double back-plate join’d Forth through the navel burst the thrilling steel; And on his knees with piercing shrieks he fell; The rushing entrails pour’d upon the ground His hands collect; and darkness wraps him round. When Hector view’d, all ghastly in his gore, Thus sadly slain the unhappy Polydore, A cloud of sorrow overcast his sight, His soul no longer brook’d the distant fight: Full in Achilles’ dreadful front he came, And shook his javelin like a waving flame. The son of Peleus sees, with joy possess’d, His heart high-bounding in his rising breast. “And, lo! the man on whom black fates attend; The man, that slew Achilles, is his friend! No more shall Hector’s and Pelides’ spear Turn from each other in the walks of war.”— Then with revengeful eyes he scann’d him o’er: “Come, and receive thy fate!” He spake no more.
Hector, undaunted, thus: “Such words employ To one that dreads thee, some unwarlike boy: Such we could give, defying and defied, Mean intercourse of obloquy and pride! I know thy force to mine superior far; But heaven alone confers success in war: Mean as I am, the gods may guide my dart, And give it entrance in a braver heart.”
Then parts the lance: but Pallas’ heavenly breath Far from Achilles wafts the winged death: The bidden dart again to Hector flies, And at the feet of its great master lies. Achilles closes with his hated foe, His heart and eyes with flaming fury glow: But present to his aid, Apollo shrouds The favour’d hero in a veil of clouds. Thrice struck Pelides with indignant heart, Thrice in impassive air he plunged the dart; The spear a fourth time buried in the cloud. He foams with fury, and exclaims aloud:
“Wretch! thou hast ‘scaped again; once more thy flight Has saved thee, and the partial god of light. But long thou shalt not thy just fate withstand, If any power assist Achilles’ hand. Fly then inglorious! but thy flight this day Whole hecatombs of Trojan ghosts shall pay.”
With that, he gluts his rage on numbers slain: Then Dryops tumbled to the ensanguined plain, Pierced through the neck: he left him panting there, And stopp’d Demuchus, great Philetor’s heir. Gigantic chief! deep gash’d the enormous blade, And for the soul an ample passage made. Laoganus and Dardanus expire, The valiant sons of an unhappy sire; Both in one instant from the chariot hurl’d, Sunk in one instant to the nether world: This difference only their sad fates afford That one the spear destroy’d, and one the sword.
Nor less unpitied, young Alastor bleeds; In vain his youth, in vain his beauty pleads; In vain he begs thee, with a suppliant’s moan, To spare a form, an age so like thy own! Unhappy boy! no prayer, no moving art, E’er bent that fierce, inexorable heart! While yet he trembled at his knees, and cried, The ruthless falchion oped his tender side; The panting liver pours a flood of gore That drowns his bosom till he pants no more.
Through Mulius’ head then drove the impetuous spear: The warrior falls, transfix’d from ear to ear. Thy life, Echeclus! next the sword bereaves, Deep though the front the ponderous falchion cleaves; Warm’d in the brain the smoking weapon lies, The purple death comes floating o’er his eyes. Then brave Deucalion died: the dart was flung Where the knit nerves the pliant elbow strung; He dropp’d his arm, an unassisting weight, And stood all impotent, expecting fate: Full on his neck the falling falchion sped, From his broad shoulders hew’d his crested head: Forth from the bone the spinal marrow flies, And, sunk in dust, the corpse extended lies. Rhigmas, whose race from fruitful Thracia came, (The son of Pierus, an illustrious name,) Succeeds to fate: the spear his belly rends; Prone from his car the thundering chief descends. The squire, who saw expiring on the ground His prostrate master, rein’d the steeds around; His back, scarce turn’d, the Pelian javelin gored, And stretch’d the servant o’er his dying lord. As when a flame the winding valley fills, And runs on crackling shrubs between the hills; Then o’er the stubble up the mountain flies, Fires the high woods, and blazes to the skies, This way and that, the spreading torrent roars: So sweeps the hero through the wasted shores; Around him wide, immense destruction pours And earth is deluged with the sanguine showers As with autumnal harvests cover’d o’er, And thick bestrewn, lies Ceres’ sacred floor; When round and round, with never-wearied pain, The trampling steers beat out the unnumber’d grain: So the fierce coursers, as the chariot rolls, Tread down whole ranks, and crush out heroes’ souls, Dash’d from their hoofs while o’er the dead they fly, Black, bloody drops the smoking chariot dye: The spiky wheels through heaps of carnage tore; And thick the groaning axles dropp’d with gore. High o’er the scene of death Achilles stood, All grim with dust, all horrible in blood: Yet still insatiate, still with rage on flame; Such is the lust of never-dying fame!