XIV PATROKLOS ENTERS THE BATTLE

                                XIV

 

Achilles, standing by the stern of his great ship, saw the battle as it went this way and that way, but his heart was not at all moved with pity for the destruction brought upon the Greeks. He saw the chariot of Nestor go dashing by, dragged by sweating horses, and he knew that a wounded man was in the chariot. When it had passed he spoke to his dear friend Patroklos.

‘”Go now, Patroklos,” he said, “and ask Nestor who it is that he has carried away from the battle.”‘

‘”I shall go, Achilles,” Patroklos said, and even as he spoke he started to run along the line of the ships to the hut of Nestor.’

‘He stood in front of the door, and when old Nestor saw him he told to him enter. “Achilles sent me to you, Nestor,” said Patroklos, “to ask who it was you carried out of the battle wounded. But I don’t need to ask, for I see that it is none other than Machaon, the best of our healers.”‘

‘”Why should Achilles concern himself with those who are wounded in the fight with Hector?” said old Nestor. “He does not care at all what evils happen to the Greeks. But you, Patroklos, will be sad to know that Diomedes and Odysseus have been wounded, as well as Machaon who you see here. Ah, but Achilles will have cause to be sorry when the army is defeated beside our burning ships and when Hector triumphs over all the Greeks.”‘

‘Then the old man stood up and taking Patroklos by the hand led him into the hut, and brought him to a bench beside which Machaon, the wounded man lay.’

‘”Patroklos,” said Nestor, “speak to Achilles. Your father told you to give advice to Achilles. Didn’t he tell you to persuade Achilles from harsh courses by gentle words’? Remember the words of your father, Patroklos, and if ever you were ever going to speak to Achilles with gentle wisdom speak to him now. Who knows, but your words might stir up his spirit to take part in the battle we have to fight with Hector?”‘

‘”No, no, old man,” said Patroklos, “I cannot ask Achilles for such a thing.”‘

Then,” said Nestor, “you yourself enter the war and bring Achilles’ Myrmidons with you. Then we ,who are wearied with fighting, can take a breath. Beg Achilles to give you his armor so that you can wear it in the battle. If you appeared wearing Achilles’ bronze armor the Trojans would think that he had entered the war again and they would flee.”‘

‘What old Nestor said seemed like a good idea to Patroklos and he left the hut and went back along the ships. On his way he met Eurypylos, a wounded man, dragging himself from the battle, and Patroklos helped him back to his hut and chatted with him and put healing herbs on his wounds.’

‘Even as he left old Nestor’s hut, Hector was at the wall the Greeks had built to guard their ships. The Trojans attacked that wall, holding their shields of in front of them. From the towers that were along the wall the Greeks hurled great stones on the attackers.’

‘An eagle flew over the army, holding in its talons a blood-red serpent. The serpent struggled with the eagle and the eagle with the serpent, and both had wounded each other. But as they flew over the host of Greeks and Trojans the serpent struck at the eagle with his fangs, and the eagle, wounded in the chest, dropped the serpent. Then the Trojans were terrified, seeing the blood-red serpent across their path, for they thought it was an omen from Zeus. They would have turned back from the wall in fear of this omen if Hector had not pressed them on. “One omen is best, I know,” he cried, “to fight a good fight for our country. Forward then and bring the battle to those ships that came to our coast against the will of the gods.”‘

‘Then he lifted up a stone so heavy that two of the strongest of men could not raise it from the ground—and he hurled this stone at the strong gate. It broke the hinges and the bars, and the great gate fell under the weight of the tremendous stone. Then Hector leaped across it with two spears in his hands. No warrior could withstand him now. And as the Trojans scaled the walls and poured across the broken gate, the Greeks fled to their ships in terror and dismay.’

‘Patroklos saw the gate go down and the Trojans pour towards the ships in a mass that was like a great rock rolling down a cliff. Idomeneus and Aias led the Greeks who fought to hold them back. Hector cast a spear at Aias and struck him where the belt of his shield and the belt of his sword crossed. Aias was not wounded. Then Aias threw at Hector a great stone. He struck him on the chest, just over the rim of his shield. Under the weight of that blow great Hector spun round like a top. The spear fell from his hands and the bronze of his shield and helmet rang as he fell on the ground.’

‘Then the Greeks dashed up to where Hector lay, hoping to capture him but his comrades placed their shields around him and drove back the warriors that were pressing round. They lifted Hector into his chariot, and his charioteer drove him from the place of battle groaning heavily from the hurt of that terrible blow.’

‘Now the Greeks rallied and came on with a shout, driving the Trojans back before them. The swift horses under Hector’s chariot brought him out on the plain. They who were with him lifted him out, and Hector lay gasping for breath and with black blood gushing from him. Then as he lay there injured he heard the voice of Apollo saying, “Hector, son of Priam, why do you lie fainting, away from the army? Don’t you know that the battle is desperate? Tell your charioteer to drive you towards the ships of the Greeks.”‘

‘Then Hector rose and went amongst the ranks of his men and raised their spirits and led them back to the wall. When the Greeks saw Hector fighting again, going up and down the ranks of his men, they were afraid.’

‘He mounted his chariot and he shouted to the others, and the Trojan charioteers lashed their horses and they came on like a great wave. They crossed the broken wall again and came near the ships. Then many of the Greeks got into their ships and struck at those who came near with long pikes.’

‘ All around the ships companies of Greek warriors stood like rocks that the sea breaks against in vain. Nestor cried out to the Greeks, telling them fight like heroes, or else lose in the burning ships all hope of return to their native land. Aias, a long pike in his hand, drove many Trojans back, while, in a loud voice, he put courage into the Greeks. Hector fought his way forward crying to the Trojans to burn the ships that had come to their coast against the will of the gods,’

‘He came to the first of the ships and placed his hand on its stern. Many fought against him there. Swords and spears and armour fell on the ground, some from the hands, some off the shoulders of warring men, and the black earth was red with blood. But Hector was not driven away from the ship. He shouted “Bring fire so that we may burn the ships that have brought the enemy to our land. The troubles we have suffered were because of the cowardice of the elders of the City. They would not let me bring my warriors here and bring battle down to the ships when they first came to our beach. Do not let us return to the City until we have burned the ships.”‘

‘But whoever brought fire near the ship was killed by strong Aias who stood there with a long pike in his hands. Now all this time Patroklos sat in the hut of Eurypylos, the wounded man he had looked after by laying healing herbs on his wounds. But when he saw fire being brought to the ships he stood up and said, “Eurypylos, although you need me, I cannot stay here. I must get help for our warriors.” Straightway he ran from the hut and went to where Achilles was.’

‘”If your heart, Achilles,” he said, “is still hard against the Greeks, and if you will not come to their aid, let me go into the fight and let me take with me your company of Myrmidons. Achilles, grant me another thing. Let me wear your armour and helmet so that the Trojans will believe for a while that Achilles has come back into the battle. Then they will flee before me and our warriors would be given a rest.”‘

‘ Achilles said, “I have declared that I shall not stop being angry until the Trojans come to my own ships. But you, Patroklos, dear friend, may go into the battle. All you have asked shall be given to you—my Myrmidons to lead and my armour to wear, and even my chariot and my immortal horses. Drive the Trojans from the ships. But when you have driven them from the ships, return to this hut. Do not go near the City. Return, I tell you, Patroklos, when the Trojans are no longer around the ships, and leave it to others to battle on the plain.”‘

‘Then Patroklos put on the armour that Zeus had given to Achilles’ father, Peleus. Round his shoulders he hung the sword of bronze and upon his head he put the helmet with its high horse hair crest—the terrible helmet of Achilles. Then Achilles told the charioteer to yoke the horses to the chariot—the horses, Xanthos and Balios, that were also gifts from the gods. While all this was being done Achilles went amongst the Myrmidons, making them ready for the battle and telling them to remember all the threats they had uttered against the Trojans in the time when they had been kept from the fight.’

‘Then he went back to his hut and opening the chest that his mother, Thetis, had given him he took from it a cup that no one drank out of but Achilles himself. Then pouring wine into this cup and holding it towards Heaven, Achilles prayed to Zeus, the greatest of the gods,” I send my comrade to the war, Oh far-seeing Zeus. May his heart be strengthened, Oh Zeus, and that victory be his.But when he has driven the spear of our enemies from the ships, may he  return to me  out of the turmoil of battle.”

‘So Achilles prayed, and the Myrmidons beside their ships shouted in their eagerness to join in the battle.’