XVII ACHILLES CHALLENGES HECTOR

                            XVII

 

When Achilles put his shining armour on it fitted him as though it were wings. He held the wonderful shield in front of him and he took in his hands the great spear that Cheiron the Centaur had given to Peleus his father—that spear that no one else but Achilles could handle. He told his charioteer to harness the immortal horses Xanthos and Balios. Then as he mounted his chariot Achilles spoke to the horses. “Xanthos and Balios,” he said, “this time bring the hero that goes with you back safely to the ships, and do not leave him dead on the plain as you left the hero Patroklos.”‘

‘Then Xanthos the immortal horse spoke, answering for himself and his companion. “Achilles,” he said, with his head bowed and his mane touching the ground, “Achilles, this time we will bring you safely back from the battle. But a day will come when we shall not bring you back, when you too will lie with the dead before the walls of Troy.”‘

‘ Achilles was troubled by this and he said, “Xanthos, my horse, why do you remind me by your prophecies what I know already—that my death too is fated, and that I am to die here, far from my father and my mother and my own land.”‘

‘Then he drove his immortal horses into the battle. The Trojans were frightened when they saw Achilles himself in the fight, blazing in the armour that Hephaistos had made for him. They went backward before his attack. Achilles shouted to the captains of the Greeks, “Do not run from the men of Troy, but go with me into the battle and let each man throw his whole soul into the fight.”‘

‘On the Trojan side Hector cried to his captains and said, “Do not let Achilles make you flee. Even though his hands are like fire and his fierceness as terrible as flashing steel, I shall go against him and face him with my spear.”‘

‘But Achilles went on, and captain after captain of the Trojans went down before him. Now amongst the warriors whom he caught sight of in the fight was Polydoros, the brother of Hector and the youngest of all King Priam’s sons. Priam forbade him ever to go into the battle because he loved him as he would love a little child. But Polydoros had gone in this day, trusting his speed to escape with his life. Achilles saw him and pursued him and killed him with the spear. Hector saw the death of his brother. Then he could no longer endure standing aside to order his army. He came straight up to where Achilles was brandishing his great spear. When Achilles saw Hector in front of him he cried out, “Here is the man who most deeply wounded my soul, who killed my dear friend Patroklos. Now we two shall fight each other and Patroklos will be avenged by me.” Then he shouted to Hector, “Now Hector, your triumph and your life are at an end.”‘

‘But Hector answered him without fear, “You cannot frighten me with words, Achilles. I know that you are a mighty man and stronger than me but the fight between us depends upon the will of the gods. I shall do my best against you.”‘

‘He lifted up his spear and threw it at Achilles. Then the breath of a god turned Hector’s spear aside, for it was not fated that either he or Achilles should be killed then. Achilles charged at Hector to kill him with his spear. But a god hid Hector from Achilles in a thick mist.’

‘Then in a rage Achilles drove his chariot into the ranks of the war and he killed many great captains. He came to Skamandros, the river that flows across the plain in front of the city of Troy. He killed so many men in it that the river rose in anger against him for choking its waters with the bodies of men.’

‘Then he went on towards the City, like a fire raging through a forest. On a tower of the walls of Troy, Priam the old King stood, and he saw the Trojans coming towards the City, and he saw Achilles in his armour blazing like a star—like that star that is  called Orion’s Dog; the star that is the brightest of all stars, but  is a sign of evil. The old man Priam was terribly sad as he stood on the tower and watched Achilles, because he knew in his heart who this man would slay—Hector, his son, the protector of his city.’