XX PRIAM VISITS ACHILLES

                                         XX

 

Now that Hector was dead, King Priam, his father, had only one thought in his mind, and that was to get his body from Achilles and bring it into the City so that it might be treated with the honour befitting the man who had been the guardian of Troy. While he sat in his grief, thinking of his noble son lying so far from those who would have wept over him, there appeared before him Iris, the messenger of Zeus, the greatest of the Gods. Iris said to him, “King, you can ransom from Achilles the body of Hector, your noble son. Go to the hut of Achilles and take with you great gifts to offer him. Take with you a wagon so that you can bring the body back in it, and let only one old man go with you to drive the mules.”‘

‘When Priam heard this, he arose and went into his treasure chamber and took out of his chests twelve beautiful robes; twelve brightly coloured cloaks; twelve soft quilts and ten pounds of gold. He also took a wonderful goblet that the men of Thrace had given him when they had come on a visit to his city. Then he called his sons and told them to prepare the wagon and load it with the treasures he had brought out of his treasure-chamber.’

‘When the wagon was loaded and when Priam and his man had mounted, Hekabe, the queen, Priam’s wife and the mother of Hector, came with wine and with a golden cup so that they could pour out an offering to the gods before they went on their journey so they could know whether the gods favoured their quest, or whether Priam himself was  going into danger. King Priam took the cup from his wife and he poured out wine from it, and looking towards heaven he prayed, “Oh Father Zeus, grant that I may find welcome under Achilles’ roof, and send, if you will, a bird of omen, so that seeing it with my own eyes I may go on my way trusting that no harm will come to me.”‘

‘He prayed, and straightaway a great eagle was seen with wide wings spread out above the City, and when they saw the eagle, the hearts of the people were glad for they knew that their King would come back safely and with the body of Prince Hector who had guarded Troy.’

‘Then Priam and his man drove across the plain of Troy and came to the river that flowed across and there they let their mules drink. They were greatly troubled, for night was coming and they did not know the way to the hut of Achilles. They were in fear too that some company of armed men would find them and kill them for the sake of the treasures they had in the wagon.’

‘The  old man saw a young man coming towards them. When he reached them he spoke to them kindly and offered to guide them through the camp and to the hut of Achilles. He mounted the wagon and took the reins in his hands and drove the mules. He brought them to the hut of Achilles and helped Priam from the wagon and carried the gifts they had brought into the hut. “Understand, King Priam,” he said, “that I am not a mortal, but someone sent by Zeus to help you on the way. Go inside the hut and speak to Achilles and ask him, for his father’s sake, to return the body of Hector, your son, to you.”‘

‘Then he departed and King Priam went into the hut. Great Achilles was sitting there and King Priam went to him and knelt before him and took the hands of the man who had killed his son. Achilles was puzzled when he saw him there, for he did not know how anyone could have come to his hut and entered it without being seen. He knew then that it was one of the gods who had guided this man. Priam spoke to him and said, “Think Achilles about your own father. He is now as old as me, and perhaps even now, in your far away country, there are those who make him suffer pain and misery. But however great the pain and misery he may suffer he is happy compared to me, for he knows that you, his son, are still alive. But I no longer have him who was the best of my sons. Now for your father’s sake have I come to you, Achilles, to ask for the body of Hector, my son. I am more pitiful than your father or than any man, for I have come through dangers to take in my hands the hands that killed my son.”‘

‘Achilles remembered his father and felt sorry for the old man who knelt before him. He took King Priam by the hand and raised him up and seated him on the bench beside him. He wept, remembering old Peleus, his father.’

‘He called his maids and told them take the body of Hector and wash and wrap it in two of the robes that Priam had brought. When they had done all this he picked up the body of Hector and laid it on the wagon himself.’

‘Then he came and said to King Priam, “At the break of day you can take him back to the city. But now eat and rest here for this night.”‘

‘King Priam ate, and he looked at Achilles and he saw how great he was and Achilles looked at Priam and he saw how noble and majestic he looked. This was the first time that Achilles and Priam the King of Troy really saw each other.’

‘When they gazed at each other King Priam said, “When you go to lie down, lord Achilles, permit me to lie down also. Not once have my eyelids closed in sleep since my son Hector lost his life. Now I have tasted bread and meat and wine for the first time since, and I could sleep.”‘

‘Achilles ordered that a bed be made in the porch for King Priam and his man, but before they went Achilles said, “Tell me, King, and tell me truly, for how many days do you want to make a funeral for Hector? I will keep back the battle from the City for that many days so that you can make the funeral in peace.” “We will mourn beside Hector’s body for nine days and on the tenth day we will have the funeral .On the eleventh day we will bury him, and on the twelfth day we will fight,” King Priam said. ” I will hold the battle back from the City for twelve days,” Achilles said.’

‘Then Priam and his man went to rest but in the middle of the night the young man who had guided him to the hut of Achilles—the god Hermes he was—appeared before his bed and told  him to arise and go to the wagon and drive back to the City with the body of Hector. Priam aroused his man and they went out and mounted the wagon, and with Hermes to guide them they drove back to the City.’

‘ Achilles on his bed thought of his own fate—how he too would die in battle, and how for him there would be no father to mourn. But he would be laid where he had asked his friends to lay him—beside Patroklos—and over them both the Greeks would raise a tombstone that would be marveled at for ages to come.’

‘Afterwards the arrow fired by Paris struck him as he fought in front of the gate of the city, and he was killed at the same place where he killed Hector. But the Greeks carried off his body and his armour and brought them back to the ships. Achilles was mourned over, though not by old Peleus, his father. From the depths of the sea came Thetis, his goddess-mother, and with her came the Maidens of the Sea. They covered the body of Achilles with wonderful garments and they mourned over it for seventeen days and seventeen nights. On the eighteenth day he was placed in the grave beside Patroklos, his dear friend, and over them both the Greeks raised a tomb that was marveled at for ages to come.’