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The Iliad of Homer

Part 8 out of 8

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beneath it. This done, they brought from the store-chamber the
rich ransom that was to purchase the body of Hector, and they set
it all orderly on the waggon; then they yoked the strong
harness-mules which the Mysians had on a time given as a goodly
present to Priam; but for Priam himself they yoked horses which
the old king had bred, and kept for own use.

Thus heedfully did Priam and his servant see to the yolking of
their cars at the palace. Then Hecuba came to them all sorrowful,
with a golden goblet of wine in her right hand, that they might
make a drink-offering before they set out. She stood in front of
the horses and said, "Take this, make a drink-offering to father
Jove, and since you are minded to go to the ships in spite of me,
pray that you may come safely back from the hands of your
enemies. Pray to the son of Saturn lord of the whirlwind, who
sits on Ida and looks down over all Troy, pray him to send his
swift messenger on your right hand, the bird of omen which is
strongest and most dear to him of all birds, that you may see it
with your own eyes and trust it as you go forth to the ships of
the Danaans. If all-seeing Jove will not send you this messenger,
however set upon it you may be, I would not have you go to the
ships of the Argives."

And Priam answered, "Wife, I will do as you desire me; it is well
to lift hands in prayer to Jove, if so be he may have mercy upon

With this the old man bade the serving-woman pour pure water over
his hands, and the woman came, bearing the water in a bowl. He
washed his hands and took the cup from his wife; then he made the
drink-offering and prayed, standing in the middle of the
courtyard and turning his eyes to heaven. "Father Jove," he said,
"that rulest from Ida, most glorious and most great, grant that I
may be received kindly and compassionately in the tents of
Achilles; and send your swift messenger upon my right hand, the
bird of omen which is strongest and most dear to you of all
birds, that I may see it with my own eyes and trust it as I go
forth to the ships of the Danaans."

So did he pray, and Jove the lord of counsel heard his prayer.
Forthwith he sent an eagle, the most unerring portent of all
birds that fly, the dusky hunter that men also call the Black
Eagle. His wings were spread abroad on either side as wide as the
well-made and well-bolted door of a rich man's chamber. He came
to them flying over the city upon their right hands, and when
they saw him they were glad and their hearts took comfort within
them. The old man made haste to mount his chariot, and drove out
through the inner gateway and under the echoing gatehouse of the
outer court. Before him went the mules drawing the four-wheeled
waggon, and driven by wise Idaeus; behind these were the horses,
which the old man lashed with his whip and drove swiftly through
the city, while his friends followed after, wailing and lamenting
for him as though he were on his road to death. As soon as they
had come down from the city and had reached the plain, his sons
and sons-in-law who had followed him went back to Ilius.

But Priam and Idaeus as they showed out upon the plain did not
escape the ken of all-seeing Jove, who looked down upon the old
man and pitied him; then he spoke to his son Mercury and said,
"Mercury, for it is you who are the most disposed to escort men
on their way, and to hear those whom you will hear, go, and so
conduct Priam to the ships of the Achaeans that no other of the
Danaans shall see him nor take note of him until he reach the son
of Peleus."

Thus he spoke and Mercury, guide and guardian, slayer of Argus,
did as he was told. Forthwith he bound on his glittering golden
sandals with which he could fly like the wind over land and sea;
he took the wand with which he seals men's eyes in sleep, or
wakes them just as he pleases, and flew holding it in his hand
till he came to Troy and to the Hellespont. To look at, he was
like a young man of noble birth in the hey-day of his youth and
beauty with the down just coming upon his face.

Now when Priam and Idaeus had driven past the great tomb of
Ilius, they stayed their mules and horses that they might drink
in the river, for the shades of night were falling, when,
therefore, Idaeus saw Mercury standing near them he said to
Priam, "Take heed, descendant of Dardanus; here is matter which
demands consideration. I see a man who I think will presently
fall upon us; let us fly with our horses, or at least embrace his
knees and implore him to take compassion upon us?"

When he heard this the old man's heart failed him, and he was in
great fear; he stayed where he was as one dazed, and the hair
stood on end over his whole body; but the bringer of good luck
came up to him and took him by the hand, saying, "Whither,
father, are you thus driving your mules and horses in the dead of
night when other men are asleep? Are you not afraid of the fierce
Achaeans who are hard by you, so cruel and relentless? Should
some one of them see you bearing so much treasure through the
darkness of the flying night, what would not your state then be?
You are no longer young, and he who is with you is too old to
protect you from those who would attack you. For myself, I will
do you no harm, and I will defend you from any one else, for you
remind me of my own father."

And Priam answered, "It is indeed as you say, my dear son;
nevertheless some god has held his hand over me, in that he has
sent such a wayfarer as yourself to meet me so opportunely; you
are so comely in mien and figure, and your judgement is so
excellent that you must come of blessed parents."

Then said the slayer of Argus, guide and guardian, "Sir, all that
you have said is right; but tell me and tell me true, are you
taking this rich treasure to send it to a foreign people where it
may be safe, or are you all leaving strong Ilius in dismay now
that your son has fallen who was the bravest man among you and
was never lacking in battle with the Achaeans?"

And Priam said, "Who are you, my friend, and who are your
parents, that you speak so truly about the fate of my unhappy

The slayer of Argus, guide and guardian, answered him, "Sir, you
would prove me, that you question me about noble Hector. Many a
time have I set eyes upon him in battle when he was driving the
Argives to their ships and putting them to the sword. We stood
still and marvelled, for Achilles in his anger with the son of
Atreus suffered us not to fight. I am his squire, and came with
him in the same ship. I am a Myrmidon, and my father's name is
Polyctor: he is a rich man and about as old as you are; he has
six sons besides myself, and I am the seventh. We cast lots, and
it fell upon me to sail hither with Achilles. I am now come from
the ships on to the plain, for with daybreak the Achaeans will
set battle in array about the city. They chafe at doing nothing,
and are so eager that their princes cannot hold them back."

Then answered Priam, "If you are indeed the squire of Achilles
son of Peleus, tell me now the whole truth. Is my son still at
the ships, or has Achilles hewn him limb from limb, and given him
to his hounds?"

"Sir," replied the slayer of Argus, guide and guardian, "neither
hounds nor vultures have yet devoured him; he is still just lying
at the tents by the ship of Achilles, and though it is now twelve
days that he has lain there, his flesh is not wasted nor have the
worms eaten him although they feed on warriors. At daybreak
Achilles drags him cruelly round the sepulchre of his dear
comrade, but it does him no hurt. You should come yourself and
see how he lies fresh as dew, with the blood all washed away, and
his wounds every one of them closed though many pierced him with
their spears. Such care have the blessed gods taken of your brave
son, for he was dear to them beyond all measure."

The old man was comforted as he heard him and said, "My son, see
what a good thing it is to have made due offerings to the
immortals; for as sure as that he was born my son never forgot
the gods that hold Olympus, and now they requite it to him even
in death. Accept therefore at my hands this goodly chalice; guard
me and with heaven's help guide me till I come to the tent of the
son of Peleus."

Then answered the slayer of Argus, guide and guardian, "Sir, you
are tempting me and playing upon my youth, but you shall not move
me, for you are offering me presents without the knowledge of
Achilles whom I fear and hold it great guilt to defraud, lest
some evil presently befall me; but as your guide I would go with
you even to Argos itself, and would guard you so carefully
whether by sea or land, that no one should attack you through
making light of him who was with you."

The bringer of good luck then sprang on to the chariot, and
seizing the whip and reins he breathed fresh spirit into the
mules and horses. When they reached the trench and the wall that
was before the ships, those who were on guard had just been
getting their suppers, and the slayer of Argus threw them all
into a deep sleep. Then he drew back the bolts to open the gates,
and took Priam inside with the treasure he had upon his waggon.
Ere long they came to the lofty dwelling of the son of Peleus for
which the Myrmidons had cut pine and which they had built for
their king; when they had built it they thatched it with coarse
tussock-grass which they had mown out on the plain, and all round
it they made a large courtyard, which was fenced with stakes set
close together. The gate was barred with a single bolt of pine
which it took three men to force into its place, and three to
draw back so as to open the gate, but Achilles could draw it by
himself. Mercury opened the gate for the old man, and brought in
the treasure that he was taking with him for the son of Peleus.
Then he sprang from the chariot on to the ground and said, "Sir,
it is I, immortal Mercury, that am come with you, for my father
sent me to escort you. I will now leave you, and will not enter
into the presence of Achilles, for it might anger him that a god
should befriend mortal men thus openly. Go you within, and
embrace the knees of the son of Peleus: beseech him by his
father, his lovely mother, and his son; thus you may move him."

With these words Mercury went back to high Olympus. Priam sprang
from his chariot to the ground, leaving Idaeus where he was, in
charge of the mules and horses. The old man went straight into
the house where Achilles, loved of the gods, was sitting. There
he found him with his men seated at a distance from him: only
two, the hero Automedon, and Alcimus of the race of Mars, were
busy in attendance about his person, for he had but just done
eating and drinking, and the table was still there. King Priam
entered without their seeing him, and going right up to Achilles
he clasped his knees and kissed the dread murderous hands that
had slain so many of his sons.

As when some cruel spite has befallen a man that he should have
killed some one in his own country, and must fly to a great man's
protection in a land of strangers, and all marvel who see him,
even so did Achilles marvel as he beheld Priam. The others looked
one to another and marvelled also, but Priam besought Achilles
saying, "Think of your father, O Achilles like unto the gods, who
is such even as I am, on the sad threshold of old age. It may be
that those who dwell near him harass him, and there is none to
keep war and ruin from him. Yet when he hears of you being still
alive, he is glad, and his days are full of hope that he shall
see his dear son come home to him from Troy; but I, wretched man
that I am, had the bravest in all Troy for my sons, and there is
not one of them left. I had fifty sons when the Achaeans came
here; nineteen of them were from a single womb, and the others
were borne to me by the women of my household. The greater part
of them has fierce Mars laid low, and Hector, him who was alone
left, him who was the guardian of the city and ourselves, him
have you lately slain; therefore I am now come to the ships of
the Achaeans to ransom his body from you with a great ransom.
Fear, O Achilles, the wrath of heaven; think on your own father
and have compassion upon me, who am the more pitiable, for I have
steeled myself as no man yet has ever steeled himself before me,
and have raised to my lips the hand of him who slew my son."

Thus spoke Priam, and the heart of Achilles yearned as he
bethought him of his father. He took the old man's hand and moved
him gently away. The two wept bitterly--Priam, as he lay at
Achilles' feet, weeping for Hector, and Achilles now for his
father and now for Patroclous, till the house was filled with
their lamentation. But when Achilles was now sated with grief and
had unburthened the bitterness of his sorrow, he left his seat
and raised the old man by the hand, in pity for his white hair
and beard; then he said, "Unhappy man, you have indeed been
greatly daring; how could you venture to come alone to the ships
of the Achaeans, and enter the presence of him who has slain so
many of your brave sons? You must have iron courage: sit now upon
this seat, and for all our grief we will hide our sorrows in our
hearts, for weeping will not avail us. The immortals know no
care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow; on the
floor of Jove's palace there stand two urns, the one filled with
evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Jove the
lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good
and now with evil fortune; but he to whom Jove sends none but
evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of
famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go
up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor
men. Even so did it befall Peleus; the gods endowed him with all
good things from his birth upwards, for he reigned over the
Myrmidons excelling all men in prosperity and wealth, and mortal
though he was they gave him a goddess for his bride. But even on
him too did heaven send misfortune, for there is no race of royal
children born to him in his house, save one son who is doomed to
die all untimely; nor may I take care of him now that he is
growing old, for I must stay here at Troy to be the bane of you
and your children. And you too, O Priam, I have heard that you
were aforetime happy. They say that in wealth and plenitude of
offspring you surpassed all that is in Lesbos, the realm of Makar
to the northward, Phrygia that is more inland, and those that
dwell upon the great Hellespont; but from the day when the
dwellers in heaven sent this evil upon you, war and slaughter
have been about your city continually. Bear up against it, and
let there be some intervals in your sorrow. Mourn as you may for
your brave son, you will take nothing by it. You cannot raise him
from the dead, ere you do so yet another sorrow shall befall

And Priam answered, "O king, bid me not be seated, while Hector
is still lying uncared for in your tents, but accept the great
ransom which I have brought you, and give him to me at once that
I may look upon him. May you prosper with the ransom and reach
your own land in safety, seeing that you have suffered me to live
and to look upon the light of the sun."

Achilles looked at him sternly and said, "Vex me, sir, no longer;
I am of myself minded to give up the body of Hector. My mother,
daughter of the old man of the sea, came to me from Jove to bid
me deliver it to you. Moreover I know well, O Priam, and you
cannot hide it, that some god has brought you to the ships of the
Achaeans, for else, no man however strong and in his prime would
dare to come to our host; he could neither pass our guard unseen,
nor draw the bolt of my gates thus easily; therefore, provoke me
no further, lest I sin against the word of Jove, and suffer you
not, suppliant though you are, within my tents."

The old man feared him and obeyed. Then the son of Peleus sprang
like a lion through the door of his house, not alone, but with
him went his two squires Automedon and Alcimus who were closer to
him than any others of his comrades now that Patroclus was no
more. These unyoked the horses and mules, and bade Priam's herald
and attendant be seated within the house. They lifted the ransom
for Hector's body from the waggon, but they left two mantles and
a goodly shirt, that Achilles might wrap the body in them when he
gave it to be taken home. Then he called to his servants and
ordered them to wash the body and anoint it, but he first took it
to a place where Priam should not see it, lest if he did so, he
should break out in the bitterness of his grief, and enrage
Achilles, who might then kill him and sin against the word of
Jove. When the servants had washed the body and anointed it, and
had wrapped it in a fair shirt and mantle, Achilles himself
lifted it on to a bier, and he and his men then laid it on the
waggon. He cried aloud as he did so and called on the name of his
dear comrade, "Be not angry with me, Patroclus," he said, "if you
hear even in the house of Hades that I have given Hector to his
father for a ransom. It has been no unworthy one, and I will
share it equitably with you."

Achilles then went back into the tent and took his place on the
richly inlaid seat from which he had risen, by the wall that was
at right angles to the one against which Priam was sitting.
"Sir," he said, "your son is now laid upon his bier and is
ransomed according to desire; you shall look upon him when you
him away at daybreak; for the present let us prepare our supper.
Even lovely Niobe had to think about eating, though her twelve
children--six daughters and six lusty sons--had been all slain in
her house. Apollo killed the sons with arrows from his silver
bow, to punish Niobe, and Diana slew the daughters, because Niobe
had vaunted herself against Leto; she said Leto had borne two
children only, whereas she had herself borne many--whereon the
two killed the many. Nine days did they lie weltering, and there
was none to bury them, for the son of Saturn turned the people
into stone; but on the tenth day the gods in heaven themselves
buried them, and Niobe then took food, being worn out with
weeping. They say that somewhere among the rocks on the mountain
pastures of Sipylus, where the nymphs live that haunt the river
Achelous, there, they say, she lives in stone and still nurses
the sorrows sent upon her by the hand of heaven. Therefore, noble
sir, let us two now take food; you can weep for your dear son
hereafter as you are bearing him back to Ilius--and many a tear
will he cost you."

With this Achilles sprang from his seat and killed a sheep of
silvery whiteness, which his followers skinned and made ready all
in due order. They cut the meat carefully up into smaller pieces,
spitted them, and drew them off again when they were well
roasted. Automedon brought bread in fair baskets and served it
round the table, while Achilles dealt out the meat, and they laid
their hands on the good things that were before them. As soon as
they had had enough to eat and drink, Priam, descendant of
Dardanus, marvelled at the strength and beauty of Achilles for he
was as a god to see, and Achilles marvelled at Priam as he
listened to him and looked upon his noble presence. When they had
gazed their fill Priam spoke first. "And now, O king," he said,
"take me to my couch that we may lie down and enjoy the blessed
boon of sleep. Never once have my eyes been closed from the day
your hands took the life of my son; I have grovelled without
ceasing in the mire of my stable-yard, making moan and brooding
over my countless sorrows. Now, moreover, I have eaten bread and
drunk wine; hitherto I have tasted nothing."

As he spoke Achilles told his men and the women-servants to set
beds in the room that was in the gatehouse, and make them with
good red rugs, and spread coverlets on the top of them with
woollen cloaks for Priam and Idaeus to wear. So the maids went
out carrying a torch and got the two beds ready in all haste.
Then Achilles said laughingly to Priam, "Dear sir, you shall lie
outside, lest some counsellor of those who in due course keep
coming to advise with me should see you here in the darkness of
the flying night, and tell it to Agamemnon. This might cause
delay in the delivery of the body. And now tell me and tell me
true, for how many days would you celebrate the funeral rites of
noble Hector? Tell me, that I may hold aloof from war and
restrain the host."

And Priam answered, "Since, then, you suffer me to bury my noble
son with all due rites, do thus, Achilles, and I shall be
grateful. You know how we are pent up within our city; it is far
for us to fetch wood from the mountain, and the people live in
fear. Nine days, therefore, will we mourn Hector in my house; on
the tenth day we will bury him and there shall be a public feast
in his honour; on the eleventh we will build a mound over his
ashes, and on the twelfth, if there be need, we will fight."

And Achilles answered, "All, King Priam, shall be as you have
said. I will stay our fighting for as long a time as you have

As he spoke he laid his hand on the old man's right wrist, in
token that he should have no fear; thus then did Priam and his
attendant sleep there in the forecourt, full of thought, while
Achilles lay in an inner room of the house, with fair Briseis by
his side.

And now both gods and mortals were fast asleep through the
livelong night, but upon Mercury alone, the bringer of good luck,
sleep could take no hold for he was thinking all the time how to
get King Priam away from the ships without his being seen by the
strong force of sentinels. He hovered therefore over Priam's head
and said, "Sir, now that Achilles has spared your life, you seem
to have no fear about sleeping in the thick of your foes. You
have paid a great ransom, and have received the body of your son;
were you still alive and a prisoner the sons whom you have left
at home would have to give three times as much to free you; and
so it would be if Agamemnon and the other Achaeans were to know
of your being here."

When he heard this the old man was afraid and roused his servant.
Mercury then yoked their horses and mules, and drove them quickly
through the host so that no man perceived them. When they came to
the ford of eddying Xanthus, begotten of immortal Jove, Mercury
went back to high Olympus, and dawn in robe of saffron began to
break over all the land. Priam and Idaeus then drove on toward
the city lamenting and making moan, and the mules drew the body
of Hector. No one neither man nor woman saw them, till Cassandra,
fair as golden Venus standing on Pergamus, caught sight of her
dear father in his chariot, and his servant that was the city's
herald with him. Then she saw him that was lying upon the bier,
drawn by the mules, and with a loud cry she went about the city
saying, "Come hither Trojans, men and women, and look on Hector;
if ever you rejoiced to see him coming from battle when he was
alive, look now on him that was the glory of our city and all our

At this there was not man nor woman left in the city, so great a
sorrow had possessed them. Hard by the gates they met Priam as he
was bringing in the body. Hector's wife and his mother were the
first to mourn him: they flew towards the waggon and laid their
hands upon his head, while the crowd stood weeping round them.
They would have stayed before the gates, weeping and lamenting
the livelong day to the going down of the sun, had not Priam
spoken to them from the chariot and said, "Make way for the mules
to pass you. Afterwards when I have taken the body home you shall
have your fill of weeping."

On this the people stood asunder, and made a way for the waggon.
When they had borne the body within the house they laid it upon a
bed and seated minstrels round it to lead the dirge, whereon the
women joined in the sad music of their lament. Foremost among
them all Andromache led their wailing as she clasped the head of
mighty Hector in her embrace. "Husband," she cried, "you have
died young, and leave me in your house a widow; he of whom we are
the ill-starred parents is still a mere child, and I fear he may
not reach manhood. Ere he can do so our city will be razed and
overthrown, for you who watched over it are no more--you who were
its saviour, the guardian of our wives and children. Our women
will be carried away captives to the ships, and I among them;
while you, my child, who will be with me will be put to some
unseemly tasks, working for a cruel master. Or, may be, some
Achaean will hurl you (O miserable death) from our walls, to
avenge some brother, son, or father whom Hector slew; many of
them have indeed bitten the dust at his hands, for your father's
hand in battle was no light one. Therefore do the people mourn
him. You have left, O Hector, sorrow unutterable to your parents,
and my own grief is greatest of all, for you did not stretch
forth your arms and embrace me as you lay dying, nor say to me
any words that might have lived with me in my tears night and day
for evermore."

Bitterly did she weep the while, and the women joined in her
lament. Hecuba in her turn took up the strains of woe. "Hector,"
she cried, "dearest to me of all my children. So long as you were
alive the gods loved you well, and even in death they have not
been utterly unmindful of you; for when Achilles took any other
of my sons, he would sell him beyond the seas, to Samos Imbrus or
rugged Lemnos; and when he had slain you too with his sword, many
a time did he drag you round the sepulchre of his comrade--though
this could not give him life--yet here you lie all fresh as dew,
and comely as one whom Apollo has slain with his painless

Thus did she too speak through her tears with bitter moan, and
then Helen for a third time took up the strain of lamentation.
"Hector," said she, "dearest of all my brothers-in-law--for I am
wife to Alexandrus who brought me hither to Troy--would that I
had died ere he did so--twenty years are come and gone since I
left my home and came from over the sea, but I have never heard
one word of insult or unkindness from you. When another would
chide with me, as it might be one of your brothers or sisters or
of your brothers' wives, or my mother-in-law--for Priam was as
kind to me as though he were my own father--you would rebuke and
check them with words of gentleness and goodwill. Therefore my
tears flow both for you and for my unhappy self, for there is no
one else in Troy who is kind to me, but all shrink and shudder as
they go by me."

She wept as she spoke and the vast crowd that was gathered round
her joined in her lament. Then King Priam spoke to them saying,
"Bring wood, O Trojans, to the city, and fear no cunning ambush
of the Argives, for Achilles when he dismissed me from the ships
gave me his word that they should not attack us until the morning
of the twelfth day."

Forthwith they yoked their oxen and mules and gathered together
before the city. Nine days long did they bring in great heaps of
wood, and on the morning of the tenth day with many tears they
took brave Hector forth, laid his dead body upon the summit of
the pile, and set the fire thereto. Then when the child of
morning, rosy-fingered dawn, appeared on the eleventh day, the
people again assembled, round the pyre of mighty Hector. When
they were got together, they first quenched the fire with wine
wherever it was burning, and then his brothers and comrades with
many a bitter tear gathered his white bones, wrapped them in soft
robes of purple, and laid them in a golden urn, which they placed
in a grave and covered over with large stones set close together.
Then they built a barrow hurriedly over it keeping guard on every
side lest the Achaeans should attack them before they had
finished. When they had heaped up the barrow they went back again
into the city, and being well assembled they held high feast in
the house of Priam their king.

Thus, then, did they celebrate the funeral of Hector tamer of

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