Table of Contents

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Carl Friedrich Becker

The Legend of Achilles

Translated by George P. Upton
e-artnow, 2021
EAN 4064066499242

Chapter III

Meeting of the Armies—Menelaus and Paris— Agamemnon Leads the Greeks into Battle

Table of Contents

The Trojan nobles were holding a council of war before the palace when Iris, a messenger from Jupiter, appearing in the shape of Priam’s son Polites, joined them. He came from one of the watch towers and brought the news that an incalculable number of Achaians was approaching. Hastily the council broke up, each chief going to assemble his people, that they might be ready to meet the Greeks before they should reach the city wall. In their midst were many heroes, but distinguished amongst them all for invincible strength and heroic courage were Hector, son of Priam, several of his brothers, and also Æneas, a connection of the royal house.

Masses of men now poured out of the open city gates and ranged themselves in long lines of battle. The Achaians advanced ever nearer, but could not be distinguished for the tremendous dust which arose before them, enveloping them like a cloud. When they came to a standstill the leaders at last recognized one another. In front of the Trojans marched the godlike Paris, wearing a leopard skin, his bow slung over his shoulder, his sword on his thigh, and swinging two javelins in his right hand. With mocking words he challenged the bravest Achaians to combat. His arch-enemy, Menelaus, was the first to hear him and his heart swelled with anger, while he burned to meet the robber of his honor. He guided his chariot toward him, sprang hastily down, and ran to meet him, eager as a lion to spring upon its prey. The handsome youth was frightened at his appearance and fled, vanishing among the throng of Trojans.

His brother Hector saw his flight and was indignant at the sight. “Coward,” he cried, “would that thou hadst never been born or else hadst died ere ever thou didst learn to seduce women! Now thou hast made a laughing-stock of thyself before both armies. I can only wonder how thou hadst ever the courage to go to a foreign land and there to steal away a beautiful woman. The deed has been the undoing of us all and brought eternal shame upon thyself. Menelaus appears quite different to thee to-day, I suppose, from what he did then? Had he caught thee, thy lute and curled hair, thy slender shape, and the favor of Aphrodite had availed thee little. Were the Trojans not a cowardly rabble thou wouldst long ago have paid the penalty for all thou hast brought upon them.”

Paris answered: “Thou art right, brother. But forgive me. Wouldst thou see me fight, bid the others cease and let me challenge Menelaus to single combat before the people. Then let whichever is the victor take Helen, with all the other treasures, that the Trojans and Achaians may part in peace.’’

These words pleased Hector and he advanced, holding out his lance before the Greeks and calling upon them to cease fighting. The arrows of the enemy fell about him like rain until Agamemnon spied him and cried loudly: “Stop, men! Do not shoot, for he wishes to speak to us.”

Hector called out: “Hear me now, Achaians and Trojans! Paris, my brother, the cause of all this trouble, would also make an end of it and challenges Menelaus to single combat. Whichever wins shall take both Helen and the treasure and the death of the vanquished shall end the war. Ye shall all return to your homes and we will swear a bond of friendship.”

Menelaus listened, well pleased, and stepped forth to accept the challenge, only stipulating that a solemn pledge should be taken with all the customary sacrifices and observances and that King Priam should himself be present at the combat. All this was willingly granted.

In the meanwhile Agamemnon and Hector sent for the lambs and goats for the sacrifice. Priam was seated upon the city wall near the Scæan gate with the elders who were no longer able to go into battle, and there the message was brought him by a herald. Helen also received the message, which she heard with pleasure, hoping in her heart that Menelaus might be the victor; for she had begun to long for her former husband, her native city, and old friends. She hastily wrapped herself in a silvery veil of linen and hurried away to the Scæan gate, accompanied by two female attendants. The aged men at the tower were entranced with her beauty and compared her to one of the immortal goddesses. Priam welcomed her kindly, saying: “Approach, my daughter. Sit here beside me, that thou mayest see all thy dear relatives and thy former husband. Do not weep. It is not thy fault. It is the immortal gods who have sent us this unhappy war. But tell me, who is that stately man who stands out amongst all the others, so noble and commanding in appearance?”

“How kind thou art, gracious father, and how unhappy am I!” answered Helen. “Would I had died ere I followed thy son hither. That stately hero of whom thou speakest is Agamemnon, the powerful king of Mycenae. He was my brother-in-law. Alas! would that he were now.”

“So that is Agamemnon!” replied Priam slowly, observing him with admiration. “But tell me more. I see one who is not so tall, but with broad chest and mighty shoulders. He has laid his weapons upon the ground and goes among the soldiers, from one company to another, even as a ram musters the flock.” ,

“That is Ulysses, Laërtes’ son,” said Helen; “a good soldier and the wisest of them all in council.”

“That is true, and now I recognize him myself,” said Antenor. “He came with Menelaus into the city, as ambassador from the Achaians, to make terms for thee.”

“But look!” cried Priam. “There go two others, who appear to be powerful kings.”

“Truly they are valiant heroes,” answered Helen. “The first is Ajax of Salamis and the other Idomeneus, king of Crete. He often visited us and Menelaus entertained him gladly, for he is an excellent man.”

While this conversation was going on, there came a herald to the aged king to announce that the chariot was waiting to take him to the battlefield. On. their arrival in the midst of the two armies, Agamemnon advanced to meet the king, surrounded by the other princes. Heralds went among the company, sprinkling the hands of each with water; for none might perform a sacred rite with unclean hands. Then Agamemnon drew a great knife from his belt and sheared the wool from the lambs’ heads and the heralds gave a piece of it to each prince. Then Agamemnon lifted up his hands and prayed: “Father Jupiter, glorious ruler, and thou, Helios, all-seeing sungod; ye Streams and Earth and ye Shades who punish those who swear falsely, be ye witnesses of our vows and of this solemn treaty. If Paris vanquish King Menelaus, he shall keep Helen and her treasures and we will return to our country. But if he fall in the fight, the Trojans shall give up the woman, together with all the treasure, and pay us besides a fair tribute in this and future years. And should they ever refuse to fulfil this vow, I shall renew the war and never stop until I have received full satisfaction.” All took the oath and the king cut the throats of the lambs and laid them down upon the ground. Then each took wine and poured the first drops upon the earth in honor of the gods, saying: “May Jupiter thus spill the blood of him who shall first break the sacred oath.”

“Worthy men,” said old Priam, with tears in his eyes, “grant me leave to return home that I may not look upon the combat. Let Jupiter decide. He knoweth best the right.” With these words he was lifted into his chariot and Antenor drove him swiftly to the palace.

Hector and Ulysses, the arbiters of the combat, now measured off the ground and put the lots in a helmet, one for Menelaus and one for Paris, in order to decide who should first cast his spear. Hector shook the helmet until one of the lots flew out. It was that of Paris. The bystanders at once retired to a distance and seated themselves in a circle. Paris, in shining armor and carrying a heavy javelin, advanced from one side and Menelaus from the other into the middle of the arena. They shook their weapons fiercely and Paris was the first to cast his javelin. But he struck -only the edge of Menelaus’ shield; the point was bent and the spear fell harmless to the ground.

Menelaus cast his spear with such force that it pierced the shield and would have penetrated his heart had Paris not quickly sprung aside. But while he was gazing in dismay at the wreck of his shield, Menelaus sprang upon him with drawn sword and had cloven his head in twain had not the thick helmet shivered the brittle blade. For the third time he sprang at Paris and seized him by the helmet to throw him to the ground, but at the same moment the chin strap broke and Menelaus’ arm flew up and he found himself holding the empty helmet in his hand. Paris took the opportunity to rush away and take refuge among the Trojans, and when Menelaus turned to cast his spear a second time at him, he had already disappeared. It was the friendly goddess Aphrodite who had saved him.

While the Greeks were loudly acclaiming the victor, Jupiter put it into the heart of a Trojan to shoot an arrow at Menelaus. Pandarus was the man’s name and Athena herself had put the arrow into his hands just as Menelaus passed under the city wall. But the wound was not dangerous and was quickly dressed by Machaon with a salve which he always carried about him. The victorious cries of the Achaians now changed to cries of rage. All condemned the treacherous act and called down the vengeance of Jupiter upon the Trojan people.

Agamemnon assembled his cohorts once more and hastened among the ranks encouraging, threatening. Brave Idomeneus he found ready armed amongst his Cretans. Next he mustered the tribes under command of the two Ajaxes, which were ready to go into battle. The next company that he met were the Pylians, under the command of young princes whom old Nestor directed. The old man was even now going about among the men, restraining the horsemen and placing the weaker in the middle, with the more courageous and experienced at the front and on the sides, and giving much valuable advice to the young leaders. Well pleased, Agamemnon hurried on to the Athenians and Cephallenians, led by Menestheus and Ulysses. He found the two chieftains conversing unconcernedly together and called to them: “Is this the interest ye take in the war? All the rest are armed and ready and would ye be left behind? Ye are always foremost at the banquet and now ye look on while ten companies of Achaians enter the battlefield before ye.”


Ulysses answered, darkly frowning: “What words are these, oh ruler? When hast thou ever found us tardy in battle? When the fight begins we shall not be far away, and thou shalt see the father of Telemachus at the front amongst the Trojan horsemen. Those were empty words thou spakest!” Smiling at his anger Agamemnon answered: “Noble son of Laërtes, thou needest no advice nor blame from me, for we are of one mind. Let it be forgotten if I have spoken harshly.”

He hastened to the next company, where he found Diomedes and Sthenelus standing together in their chariot, the former with sad and disheartened mien. “What, son of Tydeus!” he said to him, “thou seemest disturbed and art trembling. Thy noble father knew no fear. What deeds that man accomplished! His son is less heroic in battle, though more ready of tongue.”

“Speak not falsely, Atride,” answered Sthenelus, as Diomedes bowed respectfully under the king’s reproaches. “We boast ourselves braver than our fathers, for they led many foot-soldiers and horsemen to Thebes and failed to take the city, while we stormed it with but few followers. Do not praise our fathers at our expense.”

“Silence, friend,” interrupted Diomedes. “I do not blame Agamemnon for inciting the Achaians to battle. The fame and gain will be his if the war is ended gloriously, and his the disgrace and ruin should the Achaians be put to flight.”

With these words he sprang from the chariot, so that his bronze harness rattled, and began to arm himself for the fight. Agamemnon passed on. While he was mustering the right wing, the left advanced to the attack. They moved slowly and silently foward, enveloped in a cloud of dust. At last Achaians and Trojans met; shield rang against shield, lance broke lance. Now loud shouts arose, and mingled with the battle cries were heard the groans of the wounded and dying being dragged away by their friends, that they might not be trampled upon or subjected to the cruelties of the enemy. Above the din of battle rose the commands of the chieftains and the cries of the soldiers. Swords hissed through the air, spears whistled, shields rang against one another.

Hector, seeing his companions give way, called to them: “Forward, Trojan horsemen! Come, do not leave the field to the Argives. They are made neither of iron nor stone that our spears should rebound from them, and Achilles, the great hero, no longer fights in their ranks.”

The Trojans took courage at this and renewed the battle. Diores, the Greek, was stretched senseless upon the ground by a heavy stone, and just as his conqueror, the Trojan Peirus, had given him the deathblow with his spear and was about to strip his victim, Thoas the Ætolian rushed upon him with his sword and he fell across the body of Diores. But Thoas was obliged to flee in turn, for the Trojans ran up to carry off Peirus, and he had to seek other booty. It had been a hot day and horse and rider were panting.

Chapter VI

Hector and Ajax in Single Combat— A Truce — Another Battle at the Ships

Table of Contents

To the weary Trojans the appearance of the two heroes was as welcome as a long-desired breeze after a calm at sea to a sailor, and they soon made their presence felt. Pierced by Paris’ arrow, the excellent Menestheus fell and Hector, slew the valiant Eïoneus. Many another who had believed Hector far away met death at his hands.

Then came his brother Helenus, the seer, and bade him summon a warrior from among the Achaians to come forth and light with him in single combat. The gods had revealed to him that the day of Hector’s doom was not yet come. Immediately the hero ran to the front, and requesting a truce cried out: “Hear me, ye Trojans and Achaians! Jupiter hath brought to naught our agreement, and our quarrel has not been settled as we hoped. Let us now arrange a second combat. Send your most valiant warrior forth to light with me. If he slay me, let him take my costly armor, but my body he shall send to Ilium, that my bones may be burned and the ashes preserved. Should the gods grant that I slay him, then I will hang his armor in the temple of Phœbus Apollo. But ye may raise a fitting monument on the shore, so that when his grandchild sails the Hellespont and passes the high promontory he may say: ‘That is the mighty monument to the brave hero whom Hector slew in the final combat.’”

For a while all was quiet in the Greek camp. Each was waiting for the other to offer himself, for it was a hazardous undertaking. At last Menelaus arose, overcome by a rising feeling of shame, and cried angrily to the other princes: “Ha! ye who can boast so well at home and on the battlefield are women, where is your courage now? It would indeed be our everlasting shame if none of the Achaians dared match himself with Hector. Sit still, ye cowards! I will gird myself for the fight. The victory lies in the hands of the immortal gods.”

He began to put on his armor, but the other kings, and even his brother, restrained him. “Stay, my brother,” said Agamemnon; “do not be in a hurry to take up the challenge. Some other valiant Achaian will doubtless come forward.” Menelaus reluctantly obeyed, and now old Nestor began to reproach the faint-hearted warriors. “Your hearts have no courage and your bones no marrow,” he said. “If I were like myself of old, when I slew the hero Ereuthalion, Hector should soon find his man.”

Abashed at Nestor’s well-merited rebuke, nine men arose and came forward. Agamemnon himself was among them and the two Ajaxes; the others were Diomedes, Ulysses, Idomeneus, and his charioteer Meriones, Eurypylus, and Thoas. It was proposed that they draw lots, and it fell to the elder Ajax, who was proud of the honor that had come to him. “I trust that Jupiter will give me the victory, for I am not unskilful and fear not the foeman; but pray for me that Jupiter may give me success,” he said.

Ajax now rushed forward to meet the waiting Hector. Truly he was no mean adversary, being a man of powerful build. His armor was impenetrable and it was this fact alone which now saved him from certain death. His shield was composed of seven layers of cowhide with an iron covering; helmet and breastplate were equally strong. According to the custom of the time, the combat did not begin at once and in silence, but the warriors first paused to taunt and revile each other.

Ajax cried out: “Now thou canst see, Hector, that there are still men among the Achaians who are not afraid to accept thy challenge, even though Achilles is not with us. I am but one of many. Come, let us to work!”

“Thinkest thou to anger me by thy defiance, son of Telamon?” answered Hector. “Do not deceive thyself. I know how to hurl the spear and turn the shield so that no bolt can touch me. My deeds bear witness to my words. Beware, valiant hero, I shall not attack thee with craft, but openly.”

At the same moment he hurled the great spear with all his might, and it pierced six of the leathern layers of Ajax’s shield before its power was spent. Ajax quickly aimed his own at Hector’s breast. Hector’s shield was not strong enough to withstand the blow; however, by a quick turn of his body, he prevented the point from entering his flesh. Both men now withdrew their spears from the shields and threw themselves upon each other. But Hector’s well-aimed blow only blunted the point of his lance and Ajax’s spear slipped on the smooth surface of Hector’s shield, wounding him slightly in the neck. Then Hector turned hastily to pick up a stone, which he hurled with all his might at Ajax’s head, but the hero warded it off with his shield. Ajax then picked up a much larger stone, which he threw, breaking Hector’s shield and wounding his knee. No doubt Hector would have attacked him once more had the Greeks themselves not interfered, sending forward a herald who separated the heroes, saying: “Warriors, it is enough. Ye are good fighters and beloved of Jupiter; that we have all seen. But night is falling and the darkness bids us cease our strife.”

“Very well, friend,” said Ajax. “Bid Hector lay down his arms, for he began the fight. When he is ready to stop, I also am willing.”