Book XII

The Battle at the Grecian Wall

Division of the Trojan army, by advice of Polydamas, into five bodies, to storm the Greek entrenchments⁠—A breach in the wall made by Sarpedon⁠—One of the gates beaten open by Hector with a stone⁠—His entrance at the head of his troops.

Thus in the camp Menoetius’ valiant son
Tended Eurypylus, and dressed his wounds;
While yet in mingled throngs the warriors fought⁠—
Trojans and Greeks. Nor longer was the trench
A barrier for the Greeks, nor the broad wall
Which they had built above it to defend
Their fleet; for all around it they had drawn
The trench, yet not with chosen hecatombs
Paid to the gods, that so it might protect
The galleys and the heaps of spoil they held.
Without the favor of the gods it rose,
And therefore was not long to stand entire.
As long as Hector lived, and Peleus’ son
Was angered, and King Priam’s city yet
Was not o’erthrown, so long the massive wall
Built by the Greeks stood firm. But when at length
The bravest of the Trojans had been slain,
And many of the Greeks were dead⁠—though still
Others survived⁠—and when in the tenth year
The city of Priam fell, and in their ships
The Greeks went back to their beloved land,
Then did Apollo and the god of sea
Consult together to destroy the wall
By turning on it the resistless might
Of rivers, all that from the Idaean heights
Flow to the ocean⁠—Rhesus, Granicus,
Heptaporus, Caresus, Rhodius,
Aesepus, and Scamander’s hallowed stream,
And Simoïs, in whose bed lay many shields
And helms and bodies of slain demigods.
Phoebus Apollo turned the mouths of these
All toward one spot; nine days against the wall
He bade their currents rush, while Jupiter
Poured constant rain, that floods might overwhelm
The rampart; and the god who shakes the earth,
Wielding his trident, led the rivers on.
He flung among the billows the huge beams
And stones which, with hard toil, the Greeks had laid
For the foundations. Thus he levelled all
Beside the hurrying Hellespont, destroyed
The bulwarks utterly, and overspread
The long broad shore with sand; and then he brought
Again the rivers to the ancient beds
In which their gently flowing waters ran.

This yet was to be done in time to come
By Neptune and Apollo. Meanwhile raged
Battle and tumult round that strong-built wall.
The towers in all their timbers rang with blows;
And, driven as by the scourge of Jove, the Greeks,
Hemmed closely in beside their roomy ships,
Trembled at Hector, the great scatterer
Of squadrons, fighting, as he did before,
With all a whirlwind’s might. As when a boar
Or lion mid the hounds and huntsmen stands,
Fearfully strong, and fierce of eye, and they
In square array assault him, and their hands
Fling many a javelin;⁠—yet his noble heart
Fears not, nor does he fly, although at last
His courage cause his death; and oft he turns,
And tries their ranks; and where he makes a rush
The ranks give way;⁠—so Hector moved and turned
Among the crowd, and bade his followers cross
The trench. The swift-paced horses ventured not
The leap, but stood upon the edge and neighed
Aloud, for the wide space affrighted them;
And hard it was to spring across, or pass
From side to side, for on each side the brink
Was steep, and bristled with sharp stakes, close set
And strong, which there the warrior sons of Greece
Had planted, a defence against the foe.
No steed that whirled the rapid car along
Could enter, but the soldiery on foot
Eagerly sought to pass, and in these words
Polydamas to daring Hector spake:⁠—

“Hector, and ye who lead the troops of Troy
And our auxiliars! Rashly do we seek
To urge our rapid steeds across the trench
So hard to pass, beset with pointed stakes⁠—
And the Greek wall so near. The troops of horse
Cannot descend nor combat there: the space
Is narrow: they would all be slain. If Jove,
The Thunderer of the skies, design to crush
The Greeks and succor Troy, I should rejoice
Were the design at once fulfilled, and all
The sons of Greece ingloriously cut off,
Far from their Argos. But if they should turn
Upon us, and repulse us from their fleet,
And we become entangled in the trench,
I deem no messenger would e’er go back
To Troy from fighting with the rallied Greeks.
Heed, then, my words, and let the charioteers
Stay with the coursers at the trench, while we,
Armed, and on foot, and all in close array,
Follow our Hector. For the Greeks in vain
Will strive to stem our onset if, in truth,
The hour of their destruction be at hand.”

So spake Polydamas; and Hector, pleased
To hear the prudent counsel, leaped to earth
With all his arms, and left his car. The rest
Rode with their steeds no more, but, hastily
Dismounting, as they saw their noble chief,
Each bade his charioteer hold back his steeds,
Reined at the trench, in ranks. And then, apart,
They mustered in five columns, following close
Their leaders. First, the largest, bravest band,
Those who, with resolute daring, longed to break
The rampart and to storm the fleet, were led
By Hector and the good Polydamas,
Joined with Cebriones⁠—for Hector left
His chariot to the care of one who held
An humbler station than Cebriones.
Paris, Alcathoüs, and Agenor led
A second squadron. Helenus, a son
Of Priam, and Deïphobus, a youth
Of godlike form, his brother, took command
Of yet a third⁠—with whom in rank was joined
The hero Asius, son of Hyrtacus,
Whose bright-haired coursers, of majestic size,
Had borne him from Arisba and the banks
Of Selleis. Aeneas led the fourth⁠—
The brave son of Anchises; and with him
Were joined Archilochus and Acamas,
Sons of Antenor, skilled in arts of war.
The band of Troy’s illustrious allies
Followed Sarpedon, who from all the rest
Had chosen, to partake in the command,
Glaucus and brave Asteropoeus. These
He deemed the bravest under him; yet he
Stood foremost of them all in warlike might.

Then all, with their stout bucklers of bull’s-hide
Adjusted to each other, bravely marched
Against the Greeks, who, as they deemed, must fly
Before them, and must fall by their black ships.
Then all the other Trojans, and the allies
From foreign shores, obeyed the counsel given
By good Polydamas; but Asius, son
Of Hyrtacus, and prince of men, chose not
To leave his chariot and his charioteer,
But drave with them against the roomy ships.
Vain youth!⁠—he was not destined to return,
Borne by his steeds and chariot, from the fleet,
And from the fate he braved, to wind-swept Troy.
His evil fate o’ertook him from the spear
Of great Idomeneus, Deucalion’s son;
For toward the galleys moored upon the left
He hastened by the way in which the Greeks,
With steeds and cars, retreated from the plain.
Thither he drave his coursers; there he found
The gates not closed, nor the long bar across,
But warriors held them open to receive
In safety their companions as they fled
From battle to the fleet. Exultingly
He turned his coursers thither, and his men
Followed him, shouting; for they thought the Greeks
Could not abide their onset, but must yield,
And perish by their ships. Deluded men!⁠—
They met two mighty warriors at the gate⁠—
The brave descendants of the Lapithae,
That warlike tribe: Pirithoüs’ gallant son
Was one, named Polypoetes; with him stood
Leonteus, strong as Mars the slayer of men.
By the tall gates they stood, as giant oaks
Stand on the mountains and abide the wind
And the tempestuous rains of all the year,
Firm-planted on their strong and spreading roots.
So they, confiding in their strength of arm,
Waited for mighty Asius hasting on,
And fled not. Onward came the hostile troop,
With their tough shields uplifted, and with shouts:
All rushing toward the massive wall they came,
Following King Asius, and Iamenus,
Orestes, Thoön, Acamas the son
Of Asius, and Oenomaüs. Meanwhile
Leonteus and his comrade had retired
Within, encouraging the well-armed Greeks
To combat for the fleet; but when they saw
The rout and panic of their flying host,
They darted forth and fought before the gates⁠—
Fought like wild boars that in the mountains meet
A clamorous troop of men and dogs, and dart
Sideway at their assailants, break the trees
Close to the root, and fiercely gnash their tusks,
Until some javelin strikes them, and they die.
So on the breasts of the two warriors rang
The shining brass, oft smitten; for they fought
Fearlessly, trusting in the aid of those
Who held the wall, and their own valiant arms.
And they who stood on the strong towers hurled down
Stones, to defend the Achaians and their tents
And their swift ships. As snow-flakes fall to earth
When strong winds, driving on the shadowy cloud,
Shower them upon the nourishing glebe, so thick
Were showered the weapons from the hands of Greeks
And Trojans; and the helms and bossy shields,
Beaten by stones, resounded. Asius then⁠—
The son of Hyrtacus⁠—in anger groaned,
And smote his thighs impatiently, and said:⁠—

“O Father Jove! Thou then art wholly false.
I did not look to see the men of Greece
Stand thus before our might and our strong arms;
Yet they, like pliant-bodied wasps or bees,
That build their cells beside the rocky way,
And quit not their abode, but, waiting there
The hunter, combat for their young⁠—so these,
Although but two, withdraw not from the gates,
Nor will, till they be slain or seized alive.”

He spake; but moved not thus the will of Jove,
Who planned to give the glory of the day
To Hector. Meanwhile, at the other gates
Fought other warriors⁠—but ’twere hard for me,
Were I a god, to tell of all their deeds;
For round the wall on every side there raged,
Fierce as consuming fire, a storm of stones.
The Greeks, in bitter anguish, yet constrained,
Fought for their fleet; and sorrowful were all
The gods who in the battle favored Greece.

Now the two Lapithae began the fight.
Pirithoüs’ son, brave Polypoetes, cast
His spear at Damasus; it broke its way
Through the helm’s brazen cheek⁠—nor that alone:
Right through the temple went the brazen blade,
And crushed the brain within. He left him slain,
And next struck Pylon down, and Ormenus.
Leonteus, of the stock of Mars, assailed
Hippomachus, who from Antimachus
Derived his birth; he pierced him at the belt,
And, drawing forth his trenchant sword, hewed down,
In combat hand-to-hand, Antiphates;
He dashed him backward to the ground, and next
Smote Menon and Iamenus; and last
He slew Orestes: at his feet they lay,
A pile of dead, upon their mother Earth.

Then, as the twain were stripping from the dead
Their glittering arms, the largest, bravest band
Of those who eagerly desired to break
The rampart and to burn the ships with fire,
Following Polydamas and Hector, stood
Consulting at the trench. An augury,
Just as they were in act to cross, appeared
Upon the left: an eagle high in air,
Between the armies, in his talons bore
A monstrous serpent, bleeding, yet alive
And palpitating⁠—nor disabled yet
For combat; for it turned, and on the breast
Wounded the eagle, near the neck. The bird
In pain let fall his prize amid the host,
And flew away, with screams, upon the wind.
The Trojans shuddered at the spotted snake
Lying among them, and Polydamas
Said thus to fearless Hector, standing near:⁠—

“Hector, thou almost ever chidest me
In council, even when I judge aright.
I know it ill becomes the citizen
To speak against the way that pleases thee,
In war or council⁠—he should rather seek
To strengthen thy authority; yet now
I will declare what seems to me the best:
Let us not combat with the Greeks, to take
Their fleet; for this, I think, will be the end,
If now the omen we have seen be meant
For us of Troy who seek to cross the trench;
This eagle, flying high upon the left,
Between the hosts, that in his talons bore
A monstrous serpent, bleeding, yet alive,
Hath dropped it mid our host before he came
To his dear nest, nor brought it to his brood;
So we, although by force we break the gates
And rampart, and although the Greeks fall back,
Shall not as happily retrace our way;
For many a Trojan shall we leave behind,
Slain by the weapons of the Greeks, who stand
And fight to save their fleet. Thus will the seer,
Skilled in the lore of prodigies, explain
The portent, and the people will obey.”

Sternly the crested Hector looked, and spake:⁠—
“Polydamas, the thing that thou hast said
Pleases me not, and easily couldst thou
Frame better counsels. If thy words convey
Thy earnest thought, the gods assuredly
Have made thee lose thy senses. Thou dost ask
That I no longer reverence the decree
Of Jove, the Thunderer of the sky, who gave
His promise, and confirmed it. Thou dost ask
That I be governed by the flight of birds,
Which I regard not, whether to the right
And toward the morning and the sun they fly,
Or toward the left and evening. We should heed
The will of mighty Jupiter, who bears
Rule over gods and men. One augury
There is, the surest and the best⁠—to fight
For our own land. Why dreadest thou the war
And conflict? Though we all should fall beside
The galleys of the Greeks, there is no fear
That thou wilt perish, for thou hast no heart
To stand against the foe;⁠—no warrior thou!
Yet, if thou dare to stand aloof, or seek
By words to turn another from the fight,
The spear I wield shall take thy life at once.”

He spake, and went before; and all his band
Followed with fearful clamor. Jupiter,
The God of thunders, sending a strong wind
From the Idaean summits, drave the dust
Full on the galleys, and made faint the hearts
Of the Greek warriors, and gave new renown
To Hector and the men of Troy. For these,
Trusting in portents sent from Jupiter,
And their own valor, labored to break through
The massive rampart of the Greeks: they tore
The galleries from the towers, and levelled down
The breastworks, heaved with levers from their place
The jutting buttresses which Argive hands
Had firmly planted to support the towers,
And brought them to the ground; and thus they hoped
To force a passage to the Grecian camp.
Not yet did they of Greece give way: they fenced
The rampart with their ox-hide shields, and smote
The enemy from behind them as he came
Under the wall. The chieftains Ajax flew
From tower to tower, and cheered the Achaians on,
And roused their valor⁠—some with gentle words,
And some with harsh rebuke⁠—whome’er they saw
Skulk from the toils and dangers of the fight.
“O friends!” they said, “ye great in war, and ye
Of less renown, and ye of little note!⁠—
For all are not alike in war⁠—the time
Demands the aid of all, as well ye know:
And now let no man turn him toward the fleet
Before the threats of Hector, but press on,
And each exhort his fellow: so may Jove,
Who flings the lightning from Olympus, grant
That, driving back their onset, we may chase
The enemy to the very walls of Troy.”

Thus in the van they shouted, and awoke
New courage in the Greeks. As when the flakes
Of snow fall thick upon a winter-day,
When Jove the Sovereign pours them down on men,
Like arrows, from above;⁠—he bids the wind
Breathe not; continually he pours them down,
And covers every mountain-top and peak,
And flowery mead, and field of fertile tilth,
And sheds them on the havens and the shores
Of the gray deep; but there the waters bound
The covering of snows⁠—all else is white
Beneath that fast-descending shower of Jove;⁠—
So thick the shower of stones from either side
Flew toward the other⁠—from the Greeks against
The Trojans, and from them against the Greeks;
And fearful was the din along the wall.

Yet would illustrious Hector and the men
Of Troy have failed to force the gates and burst
The bar within, had not all-seeing Jove
Impelled his son Sarpedon to attack
The Greeks as falls a lion on a herd
Of horned beeves. The warrior held his shield,
A brazen orb, before him⁠—beautiful,
And fenced with metal; for the armorer laid
Broad plates without, while under these he sewed
Bull’s-hides the toughest, edged with golden wires
Upon the rim. With this the warrior came,
Wielding two spears. As when a lion, bred
Among the mountains, fasting long from flesh,
Comes into the fenced pastures, without fear,
To prey upon the flock; and though he meet
The shepherds keeping watch with dogs and spears,
Yet will he not be driven thence until
He makes a spring into the fold and bears
A sheep away, or in the act is slain,
Struck by a javelin from some ready hand;⁠—
Sarpedon, godlike warrior, thus was moved
By his great heart to storm the wall and break
Through the strong barrier; and to Glaucus, son
Of Lycia’s king Hippolochus, he said:⁠—

“Why, Glaucus, are we honored, on the shores
Of Lycia, with the highest seat at feasts,
And with full cups? Why look men up to us
As to the gods? And why do we possess
Broad, beautiful enclosures, full of vines
And wheat, beside the Xanthus? Then it well
Becomes us, foremost in the Lycian ranks
To stand against the foe, where’er the fight
Is hottest; so our well-armed Lycian men
Shall say, and truly: ‘Not ingloriously
Our kings bear rule in Lycia, where they feast
On fatlings of the flock, and drink choice wine;
For they excel in valor, and they fight
Among our foremost.’ O my friend, if we,
Leaving this war, could flee from age and death,
I should not here be fighting in the van,
Nor would I send thee to the glorious war
But now, since many are the modes of death
Impending o’er us, which no man can hope
To shun, let us press on and give renown
To other men, or win it for ourselves!”

He spake; and Glaucus not unwillingly
Heard and obeyed. Right on the warriors pressed,
Leading the Lycian host. Menestheus, son
Of Peteus, saw, and trembled; for they came
With evil menace toward his tower. He looked
Along the Grecian lines in hope to see
Some chieftain there whose ready help might save
His comrades from their danger. He beheld
The rulers Ajax, never tired of war,
Standing with Teucer, who just then had left
His tent; and yet they could not hear his shout,
So fearful was the din that rose to heaven
From all the shields, and crested helms, and gates,
Smitten with missiles⁠—for at all the gates
The Lycians thundered, struggling hard to break
A passage through them. Then Menestheus called
A herald near, and bade Thoötes bear
A message to the leaders Ajax, thus:⁠—

“Go, nobly born Thoötes, and in haste
Call Ajax⁠—call them both, for that were best⁠—
Since terrible will be the slaughter here,
So fiercely are the Lycians pressing on,
Impetuous ever in assault. If there
The fight be also urgent, then at least
Let the brave Telamonian Ajax come,
And Teucer, the great archer, follow him.

He spake. The herald listened and obeyed,
And flew along the summit of the wall
Built by the Greeks. He reached, and stood beside,
The chieftains Ajax, and addressed them thus:⁠—

“Ajaces, leaders of the warlike Greeks,
The honored son of noble Peteus asks
That ye will come, though for a little space,
To aid him and to share his warlike toils;
For terrible will be the slaughter there,
So fiercely are the Lycians pressing on,
Impetuous ever in assault. If here
The fight be also urgent, then at least
Let the brave Telamonian Ajax come.
And Teucer, the great archer, follow him.”

He ended. Ajax, son of Telamon,
Hearkened, and to his fellow-warrior said:⁠—

“Here, where the gallant Lycomedes stands,
Ajax! remain, and, cheering on the Greeks,
Lead them to combat valiantly. I go
To stem the battle there, and when our friends
Are succored I will instantly return.”

So speaking, Ajax, son of Telamon,
Departed thence, and with him Teucer, sprung
From the same father. With them also went
Pandion, carrying Teucer’s crooked bow.
They came to brave Menestheus at his tower,
And went within the wall and met their friends,
Hard-pressed⁠—for gallantly the Lycian chiefs
And captains, like a gloomy tempest, rushed
Up the tall breastworks; while the Greeks withstood
Their onset, and a mighty clamor rose.

Then Telamonian Ajax smote to death
Epicles, great of soul, Sarpedon’s friend:
Against that chief he cast a huge, rough stone,
That lay high up beside a pinnacle
Within the wall. No man with both his hands⁠—
Such men as now are⁠—though in prime of youth,
Could lift its weight; and yet he wielded it
Aloft, and flung it. Through the four-coned helm
It crashed, and brake the skull within. Down plunged
The Lycian, like a diver, from his place
On the high tower, and life forsook his limbs.
Then Teucer also wounded with a shaft
Glaucus, the brave son of Hippolochus,
As he leaped forth to scale the lofty wall⁠—
Wounded him where the naked arm was seen,
And made him leave the combat. Back he sprang,
Hiding amid the crowd, that so the Greeks
Might not behold the wounded limb, and scoff.
With grief Sarpedon saw his friend withdraw,
Yet paused not from the conflict, but took aim
At Thestor’s son, Alcmaon, with his spear;
Pierced him; and drew the weapon out. The Greek,
Following the spear, fell headlong; and his arms,
Studded with brass, clashed round him as he fell.
Then did Sarpedon seize, with powerful hands,
The battlement; he wrenched it, and it came
To earth, and laid the rampart’s summit bare,
To make a passage for the assailing host.
Ajax and Teucer saw, and both took aim
Together at Sarpedon: Teucer’s shaft
Struck in the midst the buckler’s glittering belt,
Just at the bosom; but Jove warded off
The death-stroke from his son, lest he should fall
Beside the galleys. Ajax, springing, struck
The buckler with his spear, and pierced its folds,
And checked the eager warrior, who gave way
A little, yet retreated not, but turned,
Encouraging the godlike Lycians thus:⁠—

“Where, Lycians, is your fiery valor now?
Were I the bravest, it were hard, alone,
For me to force a passage to the fleet,
Though I have cleared the way. Come on with me!
Light is the task when many share the toil.”
He spake; and they who reverenced his words
Of exhortation drew more closely round
Their counsellor and sovereign, while the Greeks
Above them made their phalanxes more strong
Within the wall⁠—for urgent was the need;
Since neither could the gallant Syrians break
The barrier of the Greeks, and cut their way
Through to the fleet, nor could the warlike Greeks
Drive back the Lycians when they once had reached
The rampart. As two men upon a field,
With measuring-rods in hand, disputing stand
Over the common boundary, in small space,
Each one contending for the right he claims,
So, kept asunder by the breastwork, fought
The warriors over it, and fiercely struck
The orbèd bull’s-hide shields held up before
The breast, and the light targets. Many a one
Was smitten when he turned and showed the back
Unarmed, and many wounded through the shield.
The towers and battlements were steeped in blood
Of heroes⁠—Greeks and Trojans. Yet were not
The Greeks thus put to flight; but, as the scales
Are held by some just woman, who maintains,
By spinning wool, her household⁠—carefully
She poises both the wool and weights, to make
The balance even, that she may provide
A pittance for her babes⁠—thus equally
Were matched the warring hosts, till Jupiter
Conferred the eminent glory of the day
On Hector, son of Priam. He it was
Who first leaped down into the space within
The Grecian wall, and, with far-reaching voice,
Thus shouted, calling to the men of Troy:⁠—

“Rush on, ye knights of Troy! Rush boldly on,
And break your passage through the Grecian wall,
And hurl consuming flames against their fleet!”

So spake he, cheering on his men. They heard,
And rushed in mighty throngs against the wall,
And climbed the battlements, to charge the foe
With spears. Then Hector stooped, and seized a stone
Which lay before the gate, broad at the base
And sharp above, which two, the strongest men⁠—
As men are now⁠—could hardly heave from earth
Into a wain. With ease he lifted it,
Alone, and brandished it: such strength the son
Of Saturn gave him, that it seemed but light.
As when a shepherd carries home with ease
A wether’s fleece⁠—he bears it in one hand,
And little is he cumbered with its weight⁠—
So Hector bore the lifted stone, to break
The beams that strengthened the tall folding-gates.
Two bars within, laid crosswise, hold them firm⁠—
Both fastened with one bolt. He came and stood
Before them; with wide-parted feet he stood,
And put forth all his strength, that so his arm
Might drive the missile home; and in the midst
He smote the folding-gates. The blow tore off
The hinges; heavily the great stone fell
Within: the portals crashed; nor did the bars
Withstand the blow: the shattered beams gave way
Before it; and illustrious Hector sprang
Into the camp. His look was stern as night;
And terribly the brazen armor gleamed
That swathed him. With two spears in hand he came,
And none except the gods⁠—when once his foot
Was on the ground⁠—could stand before his might.
His eyes shot fire, and, turning to his men,
He bade them mount the wall; and they obeyed:
Some o’er the wall, some through the sculptured gate,
Poured in. The Achaians to their roomy ships
Fled, and a fearful uproar filled the air.