XVIII HELEN WEEPS

                                   XVIII

 

Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, heard so much of the story of Achilles from the lips of King Menelaus as he sat with his comrade Peisistratus in the King’s feasting hall. Menelaus would have told them more then if Helen, his wife, had not begun weeping. ‘Why do you weep, Helen?’ said Menelaus. ‘Ah, surely I know. It is because it is sad for you to hear about Hector’s death .’

Helen said, ‘ Prince Hector never spoke a hard or harsh word to me in all the years I was in his father’s house. If anyone scolded me he would come and speak gently to me. I was terribly sad at the death of noble Hector! After his wife and his mother I wept the most for him. And when anyone speaks of his death I cannot help but weep.’

Menelaus said, ‘Relieve your heart of its sorrow, Helen, by praising Hector to this youth and by telling your memories of him.’

‘Tomorrow I shall do so,’ said Helen. She left the hall with her maids and the servants took Telemachus and Peisistratus to their sleeping places.

The next day they sat in the banqueting hall; King Menelaus and Telemachus and Peisistratus, and the lady Helen came too. Her maids brought into the hall her silver work-basket and worked on the violet coloured wool that was in her basket. As she worked she told Telemachus about Troy and about its guardian, Hector.

Helen said, ‘The old men were at the gate of the City talking over many things, and King Priam was amongst them. It was in the days when Achilles first quarrelled with King Agamemnon. “Come here, my daughter,” said King Priam to me, “and sit by me and tell me who the warriors are who now come out on the plain. You have seen them all before, and I want you to tell me who such and such a one is. Who is that hero who seems so mighty? I have seen men who were taller than him by a head, but I have never seen a man who looked more royal.”‘

‘I said to King Priam. “The hero you are looking at is the leader of the army of the Greeks. He is the renowned King Agamemnon.”‘

‘”He indeed looks like a King,” said Priam. “Tell me now who the other warrior is who is shorter by a head than King Agamemnon, but who has a broader chest and shoulders.”‘

‘”He is Odysseus,” I said, “who was brought up in rugged Ithaka, but who is wiser than all the Kings.”‘

‘An old man, Antenor, said, “That is indeed Odysseus. I remember that he and Menelaus came to an assembly of the Trojans. When they both stood up, Menelaus seemed the greater man, but when they sat down Odysseus seemed by far the most stately. When they spoke in the assembly, Menelaus was eloquent. Odysseus ,when he spoke, held his staff stiffly in his hands and fixed his eyes on the ground. We thought by the look of him then that he was an ignorant man. But when he began to speak we saw that no one could match Odysseus—his words came like snow-flakes in winter and his voice was very deep.”‘

‘Then Priam said, “Who is that huge warrior? I think he is taller and broader than any of the others.”‘

‘”He is great Aias,” I said, “who is like a wall for the Greeks. Beside him stands Idomeneus, who has come from the Island of Crete. Around him stand the Cretan captains.” As I spoke, my heart was searching for a sight of my own two brothers. I did not see them in any of the companies. Had they come with the army, I wondered, and were they ashamed to be seen with the warriors because of my wrong doing? I wondered as I looked for them. I did not know that even then my two dear brothers were dead, and that they were buried in their own land far from Troy.’

‘Hector came to the gate and the wives and daughters of the Trojans came running to him, asking for news of their husbands or sons or brothers, whether they were killed or whether they were coming back from the battle. He spoke to them all and then went to his own house. But Andromache, his wife, was not there, and the servant told him that she had gone to the great tower by the wall of the City to watch the battle and that the nurse had gone with her, taking their infant child.

‘So Hector went down the street and came to the gate where we were, and Andromache his wife came to meet him. With her was the nurse who carried the little child that the people of the city named Astyanax, calling him, ‘King of the City’ because his father was their city’s protector. Hector stretched out his arms to the little boy whom the nurse carried. But the child shrank away from him, because he was frightened of the great helmet on his father’s head with its horse-hair crest. Then Hector laughed and Andromache laughed with him, and Hector took off his great helmet and laid it on the ground. Then he picked up his little son and held him in his arms, and prayed, “Oh Zeus, greatest of the gods, grant that this son of mine may become courageous, and that, like me, he may be protector of the City and then a great King, so that men may say of him as he returns from battle, ‘Far greater is he than was Hector his father.'” Saying this he left the child back in his nurse’s arms. He said to Andromache, his wife, who that day was very afraid, “Dear one, do not worry. You urge me every day not to go into the battle, but some days to stay behind the walls. But my own spirit forbids me to stay away from battle, for I have taught myself to be courageous and to fight at the front.”‘

‘After saying this he put on his helmet again and went to check his men. His wife went towards the house, looking back at him often and letting her tears fall. You know from Menelaus’ story what triumphs Hector had afterwards, how he drove the Greeks back to their ships and frightened them with his thousand watch-fires upon the plain, how he drove back the army that Agamemnon led when Diomedes and Odysseus and Machaon the healer were wounded, how he broke through the wall that the Greeks had buildt and set fire to their ships, and how he killed Patroklos in the armour of Achilles.’