XVI HEPHAISTOS MAKES ARMOUR FOR ACHILLES

                             XVI

 

Thetis, the mother of Achilles, went to Olympus where the gods lived and to the house of Hephaistos, the smith of the gods. That house shone brighter than all the houses on Olympus because Hephaistos himself had made it of shining bronze. Inside the house there were wonders; servants that were not living but that were made out of gold and made with such marvelous skill that they waited on Hephaistos and served and helped him as though they were alive.’

‘Hephaistos was lame and limped when he walked. He and Thetis were old friends, because when his mother abandoned him because of his crooked foot, Thetis and her sister brought him up in one of the Ocean’s caves and it was while he was with them that he began to work in metals. So the lame god was pleased to see Thetis in his home and he welcomed her and took her hand and asked her what he could do for her.’

‘Then Thetis, weeping, told him about her son Achilles, how he had lost his dear friend and how he wanted to go into the battle to fight with Hector, and how he was without armour to protect his life, seeing that the armour that the gods had once given his father was now in the hands of his enemy. Thetis begged Hephaistos to make new armour for her son that he could go into the battle.’

‘No sooner had she finished speaking than Hephaistos went to his work bench and set his bellows working. The twenty bellows blew into the crucibles and made bright and hot fires. Then Hephaistos threw into the fires bronze and tin and silver and gold. He set on the anvil-stand a great anvil, and took in one hand his hammer and in the other hand his tongs.’

‘For the armour of Achilles he made first a shield and then chest armor that gleamed like fire. Next he made a strong helmet to go on the head and shining armor to wear on the ankles. The shield was made with five folds, one fold of metal upon the other, so that it was so strong and thick that no spear or arrow could pierce it and upon this shield he hammered out images that were a wonder to men.’

‘The first were images of the sun and the moon and of the stars that the shepherds and the seamen watch—the Pleiades and Hyads and Orion and the Bear. Below he hammered out the images of two cities: in one there were people going to feasts and playing music and dancing and giving judgments in the market-place: the other was a city besieged: there were warriors on the walls and there was an army marching out of the gate to give battle to those that besieged them. Below the images of the cities he made a picture of a ploughed field, with ploughmen driving their oxen through the field, and with men bringing them cups of wine. He made a picture of another field where men were reaping and boys were gathering the corn, where there was a servant beneath an oak tree preparing a feast, and women preparing barley for a supper for the men who were reaping, and a King standing to one side watching all, holding a staff in his hands and rejoicing at all he saw.’

‘He made another image of a vineyard, with black grapes and with the vines hanging from silver poles. He showed maidens and youths in the vineyard, gathering the grapes into baskets, and amongst them, a boy, who played on the violin. Beside the image of the vineyard he made images of cattle, with herdsmen, and with nine dogs guarding them. But he showed two lions that had come up and had seized the bull of the herd, and the dogs and men struggled to drive them away but were frightened. Beside the image of the oxen he made the image of a field, with sheep in it and roofed huts.’

‘He made yet another picture—a dance hall with youths and maidens dancing, their hands on each others’ hands. The maidens had on beautiful dresses and wreaths of flowers, and the youths had daggers of gold hanging from their silver belts. A great company stood around those who were dancing, and amongst them there was a minstrel who played on the lyre.’

‘Then all around the rim of the shield Hephaistos, the lame god, set an image of Ocean, whose stream goes round the world. He didn’t need long to make the shield and the other wonderful pieces of armour. As soon as the armour was ready Thetis took it, and flying down from Olympus like a hawk, brought it to Achilles, her son.’

‘ When Achilles saw the splendid armour that Hephaistos the lame god had made for him, he took the wonderfully made piece in his hands. He began to put the armour upon him, and none of the Myrmidons who were there could bear to look at it, because it shone with such brightness and because it had all the marks of being the work of a god.’