Argument: The Redemption of the Body of Hector
The gods deliberate about the redemption of Hector’s body. Jupiter sends Thetis to Achilles, to dispose him for the restoring it, and Iris to Priam, to encourage him to go in person and treat for it. The old king, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his queen, makes ready for the journey, to which he is encouraged by an omen from Jupiter. He sets forth in his chariot, with a waggon loaded with presents, under the charge of Idaeus the herald. Mercury descends in the shape of a young man, and conducts him to the pavilion of Achilles. Their conversation on the way. Priam finds Achilles at his table, casts himself at his feet, and begs for the body of his son: Achilles, moved with compassion, grants his request, detains him one night in his tent, and the next morning sends him home with the body: the Trojans run out to meet him. The lamentations of Andromache, Hecuba, and Helen, with the solemnities of the funeral.
The time of twelve days is employed in this book, while the body of Hector lies in the tent of Achilles; and as many more are spent in the truce allowed for his interment. The scene is partly in Achilles’ camp, and partly in Troy.
Now from the finish’d games the Grecian band Seek their black ships, and clear the crowded strand, All stretch’d at ease the genial banquet share, And pleasing slumbers quiet all their care. Not so Achilles: he, to grief resign’d, His friend’s dear image present to his mind, Takes his sad couch, more unobserved to weep; Nor tastes the gifts of all-composing sleep. Restless he roll’d around his weary bed, And all his soul on his Patroclus fed: The form so pleasing, and the heart so kind, That youthful vigour, and that manly mind, What toils they shared, what martial works they wrought, What seas they measured, and what fields they fought; All pass’d before him in remembrance dear, Thought follows thought, and tear succeeds to tear. And now supine, now prone, the hero lay, Now shifts his side, impatient for the day: Then starting up, disconsolate he goes Wide on the lonely beach to vent his woes. There as the solitary mourner raves, The ruddy morning rises o’er the waves: Soon as it rose, his furious steeds he join’d! The chariot flies, and Hector trails behind. And thrice, Patroclus! round thy monument Was Hector dragg’d, then hurried to the tent. There sleep at last o’ercomes the hero’s eyes; While foul in dust the unhonour’d carcase lies, But not deserted by the pitying skies: For Phoebus watch’d it with superior care, Preserved from gaping wounds and tainting air; And, ignominious as it swept the field, Spread o’er the sacred corse his golden shield. All heaven was moved, and Hermes will’d to go By stealth to snatch him from the insulting foe: But Neptune this, and Pallas this denies, And th’ unrelenting empress of the skies, E’er since that day implacable to Troy, What time young Paris, simple shepherd boy, Won by destructive lust (reward obscene), Their charms rejected for the Cyprian queen. But when the tenth celestial morning broke, To heaven assembled, thus Apollo spoke:
“Unpitying powers! how oft each holy fane Has Hector tinged with blood of victims slain? And can ye still his cold remains pursue? Still grudge his body to the Trojans’ view? Deny to consort, mother, son, and sire, The last sad honours of a funeral fire? Is then the dire Achilles all your care? That iron heart, inflexibly severe; A lion, not a man, who slaughters wide, In strength of rage, and impotence of pride; Who hastes to murder with a savage joy, Invades around, and breathes but to destroy! Shame is not of his soul; nor understood, The greatest evil and the greatest good. Still for one loss he rages unresign’d, Repugnant to the lot of all mankind; To lose a friend, a brother, or a son, Heaven dooms each mortal, and its will is done: Awhile they sorrow, then dismiss their care; Fate gives the wound, and man is born to bear. But this insatiate, the commission given By fate exceeds, and tempts the wrath of heaven: Lo, how his rage dishonest drags along Hector’s dead earth, insensible of wrong! Brave though he be, yet by no reason awed, He violates the laws of man and god.”
“If equal honours by the partial skies Are doom’d both heroes, (Juno thus replies,) If Thetis’ son must no distinction know, Then hear, ye gods! the patron of the bow. But Hector only boasts a mortal claim, His birth deriving from a mortal dame: Achilles, of your own ethereal race, Springs from a goddess by a man’s embrace (A goddess by ourself to Peleus given, A man divine, and chosen friend of heaven) To grace those nuptials, from the bright abode Yourselves were present; where this minstrel-god, Well pleased to share the feast, amid the quire Stood proud to hymn, and tune his youthful lyre.”
Then thus the Thunderer checks the imperial dame: “Let not thy wrath the court of heaven inflame; Their merits, nor their honours, are the same. But mine, and every god’s peculiar grace Hector deserves, of all the Trojan race: Still on our shrines his grateful offerings lay, (The only honours men to gods can pay,) Nor ever from our smoking altar ceased The pure libation, and the holy feast: Howe’er by stealth to snatch the corse away, We will not: Thetis guards it night and day. But haste, and summon to our courts above The azure queen; let her persuasion move Her furious son from Priam to receive The proffer’d ransom, and the corse to leave.”
He added not: and Iris from the skies, Swift as a whirlwind, on the message flies, Meteorous the face of ocean sweeps, Refulgent gliding o’er the sable deeps. Between where Samos wide his forests spreads, And rocky Imbrus lifts its pointed heads, Down plunged the maid; (the parted waves resound;) She plunged and instant shot the dark profound. As bearing death in the fallacious bait, From the bent angle sinks the leaden weight; So pass’d the goddess through the closing wave, Where Thetis sorrow’d in her secret cave: There placed amidst her melancholy train (The blue-hair’d sisters of the sacred main) Pensive she sat, revolving fates to come, And wept her godlike son’s approaching doom. Then thus the goddess of the painted bow: “Arise, O Thetis! from thy seats below, ’Tis Jove that calls.”—“And why (the dame replies) Calls Jove his Thetis to the hated skies? Sad object as I am for heavenly sight! Ah may my sorrows ever shun the light! Howe’er, be heaven’s almighty sire obey’d —” She spake, and veil’d her head in sable shade, Which, flowing long, her graceful person clad; And forth she paced, majestically sad.
Then through the world of waters they repair (The way fair Iris led) to upper air. The deeps dividing, o’er the coast they rise, And touch with momentary flight the skies. There in the lightning’s blaze the sire they found, And all the gods in shining synod round. Thetis approach’d with anguish in her face, (Minerva rising, gave the mourner place,) Even Juno sought her sorrows to console, And offer’d from her hand the nectar-bowl: She tasted, and resign’d it: then began The sacred sire of gods and mortal man:
“Thou comest, fair Thetis, but with grief o’ercast; Maternal sorrows; long, ah, long to last! Suffice, we know and we partake thy cares; But yield to fate, and hear what Jove declares Nine days are past since all the court above In Hector’s cause have moved the ear of Jove; ’Twas voted, Hermes from his godlike foe By stealth should bear him, but we will’d not so: We will, thy son himself the corse restore, And to his conquest add this glory more. Then hie thee to him, and our mandate bear: Tell him he tempts the wrath of heaven too far; Nor let him more (our anger if he dread) Vent his mad vengeance on the sacred dead; But yield to ransom and the father’s prayer; The mournful father, Iris shall prepare With gifts to sue; and offer to his hands Whate’er his honour asks, or heart demands.”
His word the silver-footed queen attends, And from Olympus’ snowy tops descends. Arrived, she heard the voice of loud lament, And echoing groans that shook the lofty tent: His friends prepare the victim, and dispose Repast unheeded, while he vents his woes; The goddess seats her by her pensive son, She press’d his hand, and tender thus begun:
“How long, unhappy! shall thy sorrows flow, And thy heart waste with life-consuming woe: Mindless of food, or love, whose pleasing reign Soothes weary life, and softens human pain? O snatch the moments yet within thy power; Not long to live, indulge the amorous hour! Lo! Jove himself (for Jove’s command I bear) Forbids to tempt the wrath of heaven too far. No longer then (his fury if thou dread) Detain the relics of great Hector dead; Nor vent on senseless earth thy vengeance vain, But yield to ransom, and restore the slain.”
To whom Achilles: “Be the ransom given, And we submit, since such the will of heaven.”
While thus they communed, from the Olympian bowers Jove orders Iris to the Trojan towers: “Haste, winged goddess! to the sacred town, And urge her monarch to redeem his son. Alone the Ilian ramparts let him leave, And bear what stern Achilles may receive: Alone, for so we will; no Trojan near Except, to place the dead with decent care, Some aged herald, who with gentle hand May the slow mules and funeral car command. Nor let him death, nor let him danger dread, Safe through the foe by our protection led: Him Hermes to Achilles shall convey, Guard of his life, and partner of his way. Fierce as he is, Achilles’ self shall spare His age, nor touch one venerable hair: Some thought there must be in a soul so brave, Some sense of duty, some desire to save.”
Then down her bow the winged Iris drives, And swift at Priam’s mournful court arrives: Where the sad sons beside their father’s throne Sat bathed in tears, and answer’d groan with groan. And all amidst them lay the hoary sire, (Sad scene of woe!) his face his wrapp’d attire Conceal’d from sight; with frantic hands he spread A shower of ashes o’er his neck and head. From room to room his pensive daughters roam; Whose shrieks and clamours fill the vaulted dome; Mindful of those, who late their pride and joy, Lie pale and breathless round the fields of Troy! Before the king Jove’s messenger appears, And thus in whispers greets his trembling ears:
“Fear not, O father! no ill news I bear; From Jove I come, Jove makes thee still his care; For Hector’s sake these walls he bids thee leave, And bear what stern Achilles may receive; Alone, for so he wills; no Trojan near, Except, to place the dead with decent care, Some aged herald, who with gentle hand May the slow mules and funeral car command. Nor shalt thou death, nor shall thou danger dread: Safe through the foe by his protection led: Thee Hermes to Pelides shall convey, Guard of thy life, and partner of thy way. Fierce as he is, Achilles’ self shall spare Thy age, nor touch one venerable hair; Some thought there must be in a soul so brave, Some sense of duty, some desire to save.”
She spoke, and vanish’d. Priam bids prepare His gentle mules and harness to the car; There, for the gifts, a polish’d casket lay: His pious sons the king’s command obey. Then pass’d the monarch to his bridal-room, Where cedar-beams the lofty roofs perfume, And where the treasures of his empire lay; Then call’d his queen, and thus began to say:
“Unhappy consort of a king distress’d! Partake the troubles of thy husband’s breast: I saw descend the messenger of Jove, Who bids me try Achilles’ mind to move; Forsake these ramparts, and with gifts obtain The corse of Hector, at yon navy slain. Tell me thy thought: my heart impels to go Through hostile camps, and bears me to the foe.”
The hoary monarch thus. Her piercing cries Sad Hecuba renews, and then replies: “Ah! whither wanders thy distemper’d mind? And where the prudence now that awed mankind? Through Phrygia once and foreign regions known; Now all confused, distracted, overthrown! Singly to pass through hosts of foes! to face (O heart of steel!) the murderer of thy race! To view that deathful eye, and wander o’er Those hands yet red with Hector’s noble gore! Alas! my lord! he knows not how to spare. And what his mercy, thy slain sons declare; So brave! so many fallen! To claim his rage Vain were thy dignity, and vain thy age. No — pent in this sad palace, let us give To grief the wretched days we have to live. Still, still for Hector let our sorrows flow, Born to his own, and to his parents’ woe! Doom’d from the hour his luckless life begun, To dogs, to vultures, and to Peleus’ son! Oh! in his dearest blood might I allay My rage, and these barbarities repay! For ah! could Hector merit thus, whose breath Expired not meanly, in unactive death? He poured his latest blood in manly fight, And fell a hero in his country’s right.”
“Seek not to stay me, nor my soul affright With words of omen, like a bird of night, (Replied unmoved the venerable man;) ’Tis heaven commands me, and you urge in vain. Had any mortal voice the injunction laid, Nor augur, priest, nor seer, had been obey’d. A present goddess brought the high command, I saw, I heard her, and the word shall stand. I go, ye gods! obedient to your call: If in yon camp your powers have doom’d my fall, Content — By the same hand let me expire! Add to the slaughter’d son the wretched sire! One cold embrace at least may be allow’d, And my last tears flow mingled with his blood!”
From forth his open’d stores, this said, he drew Twelve costly carpets of refulgent hue, As many vests, as many mantles told, And twelve fair veils, and garments stiff with gold, Two tripods next, and twice two chargers shine, With ten pure talents from the richest mine; And last a large well-labour’d bowl had place, (The pledge of treaties once with friendly Thrace:) Seem’d all too mean the stores he could employ, For one last look to buy him back to Troy!
Lo! the sad father, frantic with his pain, Around him furious drives his menial train: In vain each slave with duteous care attends, Each office hurts him, and each face offends. “What make ye here, officious crowds! (he cries). Hence! nor obtrude your anguish on my eyes. Have ye no griefs at home, to fix ye there: Am I the only object of despair? Am I become my people’s common show, Set up by Jove your spectacle of woe? No, you must feel him too; yourselves must fall; The same stern god to ruin gives you all: Nor is great Hector lost by me alone; Your sole defence, your guardian power is gone! I see your blood the fields of Phrygia drown, I see the ruins of your smoking town! O send me, gods! ere that sad day shall come, A willing ghost to Pluto’s dreary dome!”
He said, and feebly drives his friends away: The sorrowing friends his frantic rage obey. Next on his sons his erring fury falls, Polites, Paris, Agathon, he calls; His threats Deiphobus and Dius hear, Hippothous, Pammon, Helenes the seer, And generous Antiphon: for yet these nine Survived, sad relics of his numerous line.
“Inglorious sons of an unhappy sire! Why did not all in Hector’s cause expire? Wretch that I am! my bravest offspring slain. You, the disgrace of Priam’s house, remain! Mestor the brave, renown’d in ranks of war, With Troilus, dreadful on his rushing car,292 And last great Hector, more than man divine, For sure he seem’d not of terrestrial line! All those relentless Mars untimely slew, And left me these, a soft and servile crew, Whose days the feast and wanton dance employ, Gluttons and flatterers, the contempt of Troy! Why teach ye not my rapid wheels to run, And speed my journey to redeem my son?”
The sons their father’s wretched age revere, Forgive his anger, and produce the car. High on the seat the cabinet they bind: The new-made car with solid beauty shined; Box was the yoke, emboss’d with costly pains, And hung with ringlets to receive the reins; Nine cubits long, the traces swept the ground: These to the chariot’s polish’d pole they bound. Then fix’d a ring the running reins to guide, And close beneath the gather’d ends were tied. Next with the gifts (the price of Hector slain) The sad attendants load the groaning wain: Last to the yoke the well-matched mules they bring, (The gift of Mysia to the Trojan king.) But the fair horses, long his darling care, Himself received, and harness’d to his car: Grieved as he was, he not this task denied; The hoary herald help’d him, at his side. While careful these the gentle coursers join’d, Sad Hecuba approach’d with anxious mind; A golden bowl that foam’d with fragrant wine, (Libation destined to the power divine,) Held in her right, before the steed she stands, And thus consigns it to the monarch’s hands:
“Take this, and pour to Jove; that safe from harms His grace restore thee to our roof and arms. Since victor of thy fears, and slighting mine, Heaven, or thy soul, inspires this bold design; Pray to that god, who high on Ida’s brow Surveys thy desolated realms below, His winged messenger to send from high, And lead thy way with heavenly augury: Let the strong sovereign of the plumy race Tower on the right of yon ethereal space. That sign beheld, and strengthen’d from above, Boldly pursue the journey mark’d by Jove: But if the god his augury denies, Suppress thy impulse, nor reject advice.”
“’Tis just (said Priam) to the sire above To raise our hands; for who so good as Jove?” He spoke, and bade the attendant handmaid bring The purest water of the living spring: (Her ready hands the ewer and bason held:) Then took the golden cup his queen had fill’d; On the mid pavement pours the rosy wine, Uplifts his eyes, and calls the power divine:
“O first and greatest! heaven’s imperial lord! On lofty Ida’s holy hill adored! To stern Achilles now direct my ways, And teach him mercy when a father prays. If such thy will, despatch from yonder sky Thy sacred bird, celestial augury! Let the strong sovereign of the plumy race Tower on the right of yon ethereal space; So shall thy suppliant, strengthen’d from above, Fearless pursue the journey mark’d by Jove.”
Jove heard his prayer, and from the throne on high, Despatch’d his bird, celestial augury! The swift-wing’d chaser of the feather’d game, And known to gods by Percnos’ lofty name. Wide as appears some palace-gate display’d. So broad, his pinions stretch’d their ample shade, As stooping dexter with resounding wings The imperial bird descends in airy rings. A dawn of joy in every face appears: The mourning matron dries her timorous tears: Swift on his car the impatient monarch sprung; The brazen portal in his passage rung; The mules preceding draw the loaded wain, Charged with the gifts: Idaeus holds the rein: The king himself his gentle steeds controls, And through surrounding friends the chariot rolls. On his slow wheels the following people wait, Mourn at each step, and give him up to fate; With hands uplifted eye him as he pass’d, And gaze upon him as they gazed their last. Now forward fares the father on his way, Through the lone fields, and back to Ilion they. Great Jove beheld him as he cross’d the plain, And felt the woes of miserable man. Then thus to Hermes: “Thou whose constant cares Still succour mortals, and attend their prayers; Behold an object to thy charge consign’d: If ever pity touch’d thee for mankind, Go, guard the sire: the observing foe prevent, And safe conduct him to Achilles’ tent.”
The god obeys, his golden pinions binds,293 And mounts incumbent on the wings of winds, That high, through fields of air, his flight sustain, O’er the wide earth, and o’er the boundless main; Then grasps the wand that causes sleep to fly, Or in soft slumbers seals the wakeful eye: Thus arm’d, swift Hermes steers his airy way, And stoops on Hellespont’s resounding sea. A beauteous youth, majestic and divine, He seem’d; fair offspring of some princely line! Now twilight veil’d the glaring face of day, And clad the dusky fields in sober grey; What time the herald and the hoary king (Their chariots stopping at the silver spring, That circling Ilus’ ancient marble flows) Allow’d their mules and steeds a short repose, Through the dim shade the herald first espies A man’s approach, and thus to Priam cries: “I mark some foe’s advance: O king! beware; This hard adventure claims thy utmost care! For much I fear destruction hovers nigh: Our state asks counsel; is it best to fly? Or old and helpless, at his feet to fall, Two wretched suppliants, and for mercy call?”
The afflicted monarch shiver’d with despair; Pale grew his face, and upright stood his hair; Sunk was his heart; his colour went and came; A sudden trembling shook his aged frame: When Hermes, greeting, touch’d his royal hand, And, gentle, thus accosts with kind demand:
“Say whither, father! when each mortal sight Is seal’d in sleep, thou wanderest through the night? Why roam thy mules and steeds the plains along, Through Grecian foes, so numerous and so strong? What couldst thou hope, should these thy treasures view; These, who with endless hate thy race pursue? For what defence, alas! could’st thou provide; Thyself not young, a weak old man thy guide? Yet suffer not thy soul to sink with dread; From me no harm shall touch thy reverend head; From Greece I’ll guard thee too; for in those lines The living image of my father shines.”
“Thy words, that speak benevolence of mind, Are true, my son! (the godlike sire rejoin’d:) Great are my hazards; but the gods survey My steps, and send thee, guardian of my way. Hail, and be bless’d! For scarce of mortal kind Appear thy form, thy feature, and thy mind.”
“Nor true are all thy words, nor erring wide; (The sacred messenger of heaven replied;) But say, convey’st thou through the lonely plains What yet most precious of thy store remains, To lodge in safety with some friendly hand: Prepared, perchance, to leave thy native land? Or fliest thou now? — What hopes can Troy retain, Thy matchless son, her guard and glory, slain?”
The king, alarm’d: “Say what, and whence thou art Who search the sorrows of a parent’s heart, And know so well how godlike Hector died?” Thus Priam spoke, and Hermes thus replied:
“You tempt me, father, and with pity touch: On this sad subject you inquire too much. Oft have these eyes that godlike Hector view’d In glorious fight, with Grecian blood embrued: I saw him when, like Jove, his flames he toss’d On thousand ships, and wither’d half a host: I saw, but help’d not: stern Achilles’ ire Forbade assistance, and enjoy’d the fire. For him I serve, of Myrmidonian race; One ship convey’d us from our native place; Polyctor is my sire, an honour’d name, Old like thyself, and not unknown to fame; Of seven his sons, by whom the lot was cast To serve our prince, it fell on me, the last. To watch this quarter, my adventure falls: For with the morn the Greeks attack your walls; Sleepless they sit, impatient to engage, And scarce their rulers check their martial rage.”
“If then thou art of stern Pelides’ train, (The mournful monarch thus rejoin’d again,) Ah tell me truly, where, oh! where are laid My son’s dear relics? what befals him dead? Have dogs dismember’d (on the naked plains), Or yet unmangled rest, his cold remains?”
“O favour’d of the skies! (thus answered then The power that mediates between god and men) Nor dogs nor vultures have thy Hector rent, But whole he lies, neglected in the tent: This the twelfth evening since he rested there, Untouch’d by worms, untainted by the air. Still as Aurora’s ruddy beam is spread, Round his friend’s tomb Achilles drags the dead: Yet undisfigured, or in limb or face, All fresh he lies, with every living grace, Majestical in death! No stains are found O’er all the corse, and closed is every wound, Though many a wound they gave. Some heavenly care, Some hand divine, preserves him ever fair: Or all the host of heaven, to whom he led A life so grateful, still regard him dead.”
Thus spoke to Priam the celestial guide, And joyful thus the royal sire replied: “Blest is the man who pays the gods above The constant tribute of respect and love! Those who inhabit the Olympian bower My son forgot not, in exalted power; And heaven, that every virtue bears in mind, Even to the ashes of the just is kind. But thou, O generous youth! this goblet take, A pledge of gratitude for Hector’s sake; And while the favouring gods our steps survey, Safe to Pelides’ tent conduct my way.”
To whom the latent god: “O king, forbear To tempt my youth, for apt is youth to err. But can I, absent from my prince’s sight, Take gifts in secret, that must shun the light? What from our master’s interest thus we draw, Is but a licensed theft that ‘scapes the law. Respecting him, my soul abjures the offence; And as the crime, I dread the consequence. Thee, far as Argos, pleased I could convey; Guard of thy life, and partner of thy way: On thee attend, thy safety to maintain, O’er pathless forests, or the roaring main.”
He said, then took the chariot at a bound, And snatch’d the reins, and whirl’d the lash around: Before the inspiring god that urged them on, The coursers fly with spirit not their own. And now they reach’d the naval walls, and found The guards repasting, while the bowls go round; On these the virtue of his wand he tries, And pours deep slumber on their watchful eyes: Then heaved the massy gates, removed the bars, And o’er the trenches led the rolling cars. Unseen, through all the hostile camp they went, And now approach’d Pelides’ lofty tent. On firs the roof was raised, and cover’d o’er With reeds collected from the marshy shore; And, fenced with palisades, a hall of state, (The work of soldiers,) where the hero sat. Large was the door, whose well-compacted strength A solid pine-tree barr’d of wondrous length: Scarce three strong Greeks could lift its mighty weight, But great Achilles singly closed the gate. This Hermes (such the power of gods) set wide; Then swift alighted the celestial guide, And thus reveal’d —“Hear, prince! and understand Thou ow’st thy guidance to no mortal hand: Hermes I am, descended from above, The king of arts, the messenger of Jove, Farewell: to shun Achilles’ sight I fly; Uncommon are such favours of the sky, Nor stand confess’d to frail mortality. Now fearless enter, and prefer thy prayers; Adjure him by his father’s silver hairs, His son, his mother! urge him to bestow Whatever pity that stern heart can know.”
Thus having said, he vanish’d from his eyes, And in a moment shot into the skies: The king, confirm’d from heaven, alighted there, And left his aged herald on the car, With solemn pace through various rooms he went, And found Achilles in his inner tent: There sat the hero: Alcimus the brave, And great Automedon, attendance gave: These served his person at the royal feast; Around, at awful distance, stood the rest.
Unseen by these, the king his entry made: And, prostrate now before Achilles laid, Sudden (a venerable sight!) appears; Embraced his knees, and bathed his hands in tears; Those direful hands his kisses press’d, embrued Even with the best, the dearest of his blood!
As when a wretch (who, conscious of his crime, Pursued for murder, flies his native clime) Just gains some frontier, breathless, pale, amazed, All gaze, all wonder: thus Achilles gazed: Thus stood the attendants stupid with surprise: All mute, yet seem’d to question with their eyes: Each look’d on other, none the silence broke, Till thus at last the kingly suppliant spoke:
“Ah think, thou favour’d of the powers divine!294 Think of thy father’s age, and pity mine! In me that father’s reverend image trace, Those silver hairs, that venerable face; His trembling limbs, his helpless person, see! In all my equal, but in misery! Yet now, perhaps, some turn of human fate Expels him helpless from his peaceful state; Think, from some powerful foe thou seest him fly, And beg protection with a feeble cry. Yet still one comfort in his soul may rise; He hears his son still lives to glad his eyes, And, hearing, still may hope a better day May send him thee, to chase that foe away. No comfort to my griefs, no hopes remain, The best, the bravest, of my sons are slain! Yet what a race! ere Greece to Ilion came, The pledge of many a loved and loving dame: Nineteen one mother bore — Dead, all are dead! How oft, alas! has wretched Priam bled! Still one was left their loss to recompense; His father’s hope, his country’s last defence. Him too thy rage has slain! beneath thy steel, Unhappy in his country’s cause he fell!
“For him through hostile camps I bent my way, For him thus prostrate at thy feet I lay; Large gifts proportion’d to thy wrath I bear; O hear the wretched, and the gods revere!
“Think of thy father, and this face behold! See him in me, as helpless and as old! Though not so wretched: there he yields to me, The first of men in sovereign misery! Thus forced to kneel, thus grovelling to embrace The scourge and ruin of my realm and race; Suppliant my children’s murderer to implore, And kiss those hands yet reeking with their gore!”
These words soft pity in the chief inspire, Touch’d with the dear remembrance of his sire. Then with his hand (as prostrate still he lay) The old man’s cheek he gently turn’d away. Now each by turns indulged the gush of woe; And now the mingled tides together flow: This low on earth, that gently bending o’er; A father one, and one a son deplore: But great Achilles different passions rend, And now his sire he mourns, and now his friend. The infectious softness through the heroes ran; One universal solemn shower began; They bore as heroes, but they felt as man.
Satiate at length with unavailing woes, From the high throne divine Achilles rose; The reverend monarch by the hand he raised; On his white beard and form majestic gazed, Not unrelenting; then serene began With words to soothe the miserable man:
“Alas, what weight of anguish hast thou known, Unhappy prince! thus guardless and alone Two pass through foes, and thus undaunted face The man whose fury has destroy’d thy race! Heaven sure has arm’d thee with a heart of steel, A strength proportion’d to the woes you feel. Rise, then: let reason mitigate your care: To mourn avails not: man is born to bear. Such is, alas! the gods’ severe decree: They, only they are blest, and only free. Two urns by Jove’s high throne have ever stood, The source of evil one, and one of good; From thence the cup of mortal man he fills, Blessings to these, to those distributes ill; To most he mingles both: the wretch decreed To taste the bad unmix’d, is cursed indeed; Pursued by wrongs, by meagre famine driven, He wanders, outcast both of earth and heaven. The happiest taste not happiness sincere; But find the cordial draught is dash’d with care. Who more than Peleus shone in wealth and power What stars concurring bless’d his natal hour! A realm, a goddess, to his wishes given; Graced by the gods with all the gifts of heaven. One evil yet o’ertakes his latest day: No race succeeding to imperial sway; An only son; and he, alas! ordain’d To fall untimely in a foreign land. See him, in Troy, the pious care decline Of his weak age, to live the curse of thine! Thou too, old man, hast happier days beheld; In riches once, in children once excell’d; Extended Phrygia own’d thy ample reign, And all fair Lesbos’ blissful seats contain, And all wide Hellespont’s unmeasured main. But since the god his hand has pleased to turn, And fill thy measure from his bitter urn, What sees the sun, but hapless heroes’ falls? War, and the blood of men, surround thy walls! What must be, must be. Bear thy lot, nor shed These unavailing sorrows o’er the dead; Thou canst not call him from the Stygian shore, But thou, alas! may’st live to suffer more!”
To whom the king: “O favour’d of the skies! Here let me grow to earth! since Hector lies On the bare beach deprived of obsequies. O give me Hector! to my eyes restore His corse, and take the gifts: I ask no more. Thou, as thou may’st, these boundless stores enjoy; Safe may’st thou sail, and turn thy wrath from Troy; So shall thy pity and forbearance give A weak old man to see the light and live!”
“Move me no more, (Achilles thus replies, While kindling anger sparkled in his eyes,) Nor seek by tears my steady soul to bend: To yield thy Hector I myself intend: For know, from Jove my goddess-mother came, (Old Ocean’s daughter, silver-footed dame,) Nor comest thou but by heaven; nor comest alone, Some god impels with courage not thy own: No human hand the weighty gates unbarr’d, Nor could the boldest of our youth have dared To pass our outworks, or elude the guard. Cease; lest, neglectful of high Jove’s command, I show thee, king! thou tread’st on hostile land; Release my knees, thy suppliant arts give o’er, And shake the purpose of my soul no more.”
The sire obey’d him, trembling and o’eraw’d. Achilles, like a lion, rush’d abroad: Automedon and Alcimus attend, (Whom most he honour’d, since he lost his friend,) These to unyoke the mules and horses went, And led the hoary herald to the tent; Next, heap’d on high, the numerous presents bear, (Great Hector’s ransom,) from the polish’d car. Two splendid mantles, and a carpet spread, They leave: to cover and enwrap the dead. Then call the handmaids, with assistant toil To wash the body and anoint with oil, Apart from Priam: lest the unhappy sire, Provoked to passion, once more rouse to ire The stern Pelides; and nor sacred age, Nor Jove’s command, should check the rising rage. This done, the garments o’er the corse they spread; Achilles lifts it to the funeral bed: Then, while the body on the car they laid, He groans, and calls on loved Patroclus’ shade:
“If, in that gloom which never light must know, The deeds of mortals touch the ghosts below, O friend! forgive me, that I thus fulfil (Restoring Hector) heaven’s unquestion’d will. The gifts the father gave, be ever thine, To grace thy manes, and adorn thy shrine.”295
He said, and, entering, took his seat of state; Where full before him reverend Priam sate; To whom, composed, the godlike chief begun: “Lo! to thy prayer restored, thy breathless son; Extended on the funeral couch he lies; And soon as morning paints the eastern skies, The sight is granted to thy longing eyes: But now the peaceful hours of sacred night Demand reflection, and to rest invite: Nor thou, O father! thus consumed with woe, The common cares that nourish life forego. Not thus did Niobe, of form divine, A parent once, whose sorrows equall’d thine: Six youthful sons, as many blooming maids, In one sad day beheld the Stygian shades; Those by Apollo’s silver bow were slain, These, Cynthia’s arrows stretch’d upon the plain: So was her pride chastised by wrath divine, Who match’d her own with bright Latona’s line; But two the goddess, twelve the queen enjoy’d; Those boasted twelve, the avenging two destroy’d. Steep’d in their blood, and in the dust outspread, Nine days, neglected, lay exposed the dead; None by to weep them, to inhume them none; (For Jove had turn’d the nation all to stone.) The gods themselves, at length relenting gave The unhappy race the honours of a grave. Herself a rock (for such was heaven’s high will) Through deserts wild now pours a weeping rill; Where round the bed whence Achelous springs, The watery fairies dance in mazy rings; There high on Sipylus’s shaggy brow, She stands, her own sad monument of woe; The rock for ever lasts, the tears for ever flow.
“Such griefs, O king! have other parents known; Remember theirs, and mitigate thy own. The care of heaven thy Hector has appear’d, Nor shall he lie unwept, and uninterr’d; Soon may thy aged cheeks in tears be drown’d, And all the eyes of Ilion stream around.”
He said, and, rising, chose the victim ewe With silver fleece, which his attendants slew. The limbs they sever from the reeking hide, With skill prepare them, and in parts divide: Each on the coals the separate morsels lays, And, hasty, snatches from the rising blaze. With bread the glittering canisters they load, Which round the board Automedon bestow’d. The chief himself to each his portion placed, And each indulging shared in sweet repast. When now the rage of hunger was repress’d, The wondering hero eyes his royal guest: No less the royal guest the hero eyes, His godlike aspect and majestic size; Here, youthful grace and noble fire engage; And there, the mild benevolence of age. Thus gazing long, the silence neither broke, (A solemn scene!) at length the father spoke:
“Permit me now, beloved of Jove! to steep My careful temples in the dew of sleep: For, since the day that number’d with the dead My hapless son, the dust has been my bed; Soft sleep a stranger to my weeping eyes; My only food, my sorrows and my sighs! Till now, encouraged by the grace you give, I share thy banquet, and consent to live.”
With that, Achilles bade prepare the bed, With purple soft and shaggy carpets spread; Forth, by the flaming lights, they bend their way, And place the couches, and the coverings lay. Then he: “Now, father, sleep, but sleep not here; Consult thy safety, and forgive my fear, Lest any Argive, at this hour awake, To ask our counsel, or our orders take, Approaching sudden to our open’d tent, Perchance behold thee, and our grace prevent. Should such report thy honour’d person here, The king of men the ransom might defer; But say with speed, if aught of thy desire Remains unask’d; what time the rites require To inter thy Hector? For, so long we stay Our slaughtering arm, and bid the hosts obey.”
“If then thy will permit (the monarch said) To finish all due honours to the dead, This of thy grace accord: to thee are known The fears of Ilion, closed within her town; And at what distance from our walls aspire The hills of Ide, and forests for the fire. Nine days to vent our sorrows I request, The tenth shall see the funeral and the feast; The next, to raise his monument be given; The twelfth we war, if war be doom’d by heaven!”
“This thy request (replied the chief) enjoy: Till then our arms suspend the fall of Troy.”
Then gave his hand at parting, to prevent The old man’s fears, and turn’d within the tent; Where fair Briseis, bright in blooming charms, Expects her hero with desiring arms. But in the porch the king and herald rest; Sad dreams of care yet wandering in their breast. Now gods and men the gifts of sleep partake; Industrious Hermes only was awake, The king’s return revolving in his mind, To pass the ramparts, and the watch to blind. The power descending hover’d o’er his head: “And sleep’st thou, father! (thus the vision said:) Now dost thou sleep, when Hector is restored? Nor fear the Grecian foes, or Grecian lord? Thy presence here should stern Atrides see, Thy still surviving sons may sue for thee; May offer all thy treasures yet contain, To spare thy age; and offer all in vain.”
Waked with the word the trembling sire arose, And raised his friend: the god before him goes: He joins the mules, directs them with his hand, And moves in silence through the hostile land. When now to Xanthus’ yellow stream they drove, (Xanthus, immortal progeny of Jove,) The winged deity forsook their view, And in a moment to Olympus flew. Now shed Aurora round her saffron ray, Sprang through the gates of light, and gave the day: Charged with the mournful load, to Ilion go The sage and king, majestically slow. Cassandra first beholds, from Ilion’s spire, The sad procession of her hoary sire; Then, as the pensive pomp advanced more near, (Her breathless brother stretched upon the bier,) A shower of tears o’erflows her beauteous eyes, Alarming thus all Ilion with her cries:
“Turn here your steps, and here your eyes employ, Ye wretched daughters, and ye sons of Troy! If e’er ye rush’d in crowds, with vast delight, To hail your hero glorious from the fight, Now meet him dead, and let your sorrows flow; Your common triumph, and your common woe.”
In thronging crowds they issue to the plains; Nor man nor woman in the walls remains; In every face the self-same grief is shown; And Troy sends forth one universal groan. At Scaea’s gates they meet the mourning wain, Hang on the wheels, and grovel round the slain. The wife and mother, frantic with despair, Kiss his pale cheek, and rend their scatter’d hair: Thus wildly wailing, at the gates they lay; And there had sigh’d and sorrow’d out the day; But godlike Priam from the chariot rose: “Forbear (he cried) this violence of woes; First to the palace let the car proceed, Then pour your boundless sorrows o’er the dead.”
The waves of people at his word divide, Slow rolls the chariot through the following tide; Even to the palace the sad pomp they wait: They weep, and place him on the bed of state. A melancholy choir attend around, With plaintive sighs, and music’s solemn sound: Alternately they sing, alternate flow The obedient tears, melodious in their woe. While deeper sorrows groan from each full heart, And nature speaks at every pause of art.
First to the corse the weeping consort flew; Around his neck her milk-white arms she threw, “And oh, my Hector! Oh, my lord! (she cries) Snatch’d in thy bloom from these desiring eyes! Thou to the dismal realms for ever gone! And I abandon’d, desolate, alone! An only son, once comfort of our pains, Sad product now of hapless love, remains! Never to manly age that son shall rise, Or with increasing graces glad my eyes: For Ilion now (her great defender slain) Shall sink a smoking ruin on the plain. Who now protects her wives with guardian care? Who saves her infants from the rage of war? Now hostile fleets must waft those infants o’er (Those wives must wait them) to a foreign shore: Thou too, my son, to barbarous climes shall go, The sad companion of thy mother’s woe; Driven hence a slave before the victor’s sword Condemn’d to toil for some inhuman lord: Or else some Greek whose father press’d the plain, Or son, or brother, by great Hector slain, In Hector’s blood his vengeance shall enjoy, And hurl thee headlong from the towers of Troy.296 For thy stern father never spared a foe: Thence all these tears, and all this scene of woe! Thence many evils his sad parents bore, His parents many, but his consort more. Why gav’st thou not to me thy dying hand? And why received not I thy last command? Some word thou would’st have spoke, which, sadly dear, My soul might keep, or utter with a tear; Which never, never could be lost in air, Fix’d in my heart, and oft repeated there!”
Thus to her weeping maids she makes her moan, Her weeping handmaids echo groan for groan.
The mournful mother next sustains her part: “O thou, the best, the dearest to my heart! Of all my race thou most by heaven approved, And by the immortals even in death beloved! While all my other sons in barbarous bands Achilles bound, and sold to foreign lands, This felt no chains, but went a glorious ghost, Free, and a hero, to the Stygian coast. Sentenced, ’tis true, by his inhuman doom, Thy noble corse was dragg’d around the tomb; (The tomb of him thy warlike arm had slain;) Ungenerous insult, impotent and vain! Yet glow’st thou fresh with every living grace; No mark of pain, or violence of face: Rosy and fair! as Phoebus’ silver bow Dismiss’d thee gently to the shades below.”
Thus spoke the dame, and melted into tears. Sad Helen next in pomp of grief appears; Fast from the shining sluices of her eyes Fall the round crystal drops, while thus she cries.
“Ah, dearest friend! in whom the gods had join’d297 Tne mildest manners with the bravest mind, Now twice ten years (unhappy years) are o’er Since Paris brought me to the Trojan shore, (O had I perish’d, ere that form divine Seduced this soft, this easy heart of mine!) Yet was it ne’er my fate, from thee to find A deed ungentle, or a word unkind. When others cursed the authoress of their woe, Thy pity check’d my sorrows in their flow. If some proud brother eyed me with disdain, Or scornful sister with her sweeping train, Thy gentle accents soften’d all my pain. For thee I mourn, and mourn myself in thee, The wretched source of all this misery. The fate I caused, for ever I bemoan; Sad Helen has no friend, now thou art gone! Through Troy’s wide streets abandon’d shall I roam! In Troy deserted, as abhorr’d at home!”
So spoke the fair, with sorrow-streaming eye. Distressful beauty melts each stander-by. On all around the infectious sorrow grows; But Priam check’d the torrent as it rose: “Perform, ye Trojans! what the rites require, And fell the forests for a funeral pyre; Twelve days, nor foes nor secret ambush dread; Achilles grants these honours to the dead.”298
He spoke, and, at his word, the Trojan train Their mules and oxen harness to the wain, Pour through the gates, and fell’d from Ida’s crown, Roll back the gather’d forests to the town. These toils continue nine succeeding days, And high in air a sylvan structure raise. But when the tenth fair morn began to shine, Forth to the pile was borne the man divine, And placed aloft; while all, with streaming eyes, Beheld the flames and rolling smokes arise. Soon as Aurora, daughter of the dawn, With rosy lustre streak’d the dewy lawn, Again the mournful crowds surround the pyre, And quench with wine the yet remaining fire. The snowy bones his friends and brothers place (With tears collected) in a golden vase; The golden vase in purple palls they roll’d, Of softest texture, and inwrought with gold. Last o’er the urn the sacred earth they spread, And raised the tomb, memorial of the dead. (Strong guards and spies, till all the rites were done, Watch’d from the rising to the setting sun.) All Troy then moves to Priam’s court again, A solemn, silent, melancholy train: Assembled there, from pious toil they rest, And sadly shared the last sepulchral feast. Such honours Ilion to her hero paid, And peaceful slept the mighty Hector’s shade.299