Book XIX

The Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon

Thetis brings to Achilles the armor forged by Vulcan⁠—The body of Patroclus preserved by the gods from corruption⁠—An assembly of all the army, before whom Agamemnon and Achilles make speeches, and renounce their enmity⁠—Briseis restored to Achilles, and the presents of Agamemnon accepted by him⁠—Lament of Briseis over Patroclus⁠—Sorrow of Achilles⁠—He arms himself for the war⁠—His speech to the horses of Patroclus whom he upbraids for having suffered their master to be slain⁠—The answer of one of them named Xanthus, warning Achilles of his approaching death.

In saffron-colored mantle from the tides
Of Ocean rose the Morning to bring light
To gods and men, when Thetis reached the fleet,
Bringing the gift of Vulcan. There she found
Her son, who, bending o’er Patroclus, wept
Aloud, and all around a troop of friends
Lamented bitterly. Beside him stood
The glorious goddess, took his hand, and said:⁠—

“Leave we the dead, my son, since it hath pleased
The gods that he should fall; and now receive
This sumptuous armor, forged by Vulcan’s hand,
Beautiful, such as no man ever wore.”

The goddess spake, and laid the armor down
Before Achilles; as they touched the earth,
The well-wrought pieces clanked, and terror seized
The Myrmidons. No one among them all
Dared fix his gaze upon them; all shrank back.
Achilles only, as he saw them, felt
His spirit roused within him. In his eyes
A terrible brightness flashed, as if of fire.
He lifted up the god’s magnificent gift
Rejoicing, and, when long his eyes had dwelt
Delighted on the marvellous workmanship,
Thus to his mother said, in wingèd words:⁠—

“A god indeed, my mother, must have given
These arms, the work of heavenly hands: no man
Could forge them. Now I arm myself for war.
But for the valiant Menoetiades
I greatly fear that flies will gather round
The wounds inflicted by the spear, and worms
Be bred within them, to pollute the corpse
Now that the life is gone, and taint the whole.”

And silver-footed Thetis answered thus:
“Son, have no care for that. The task be mine
To drive away the importunate swarm that feed
On heroes slain in battle. Though it lie
The whole year long, the body shall remain
Even more than uncorrupted. Call thou now
To council all the Achaian chiefs; renounce
Thy feud with Agamemnon, king of men,
And arm for war, and put on all thy might.”

She spake, and called a fiery courage up
Within the hero’s breast. The goddess then
Infused ambrosia and the ruddy juice
Of nectar through the nostrils of the dead
Into the frame, to keep it from decay.

Along the beach the great Achilles went,
Calling with mighty shouts the Grecian chiefs.
Then even they who till that day remained
Beside the fleet⁠—the pilots and the men
Who held the helm, the stewards of the ships,
And the purveyors⁠—all made haste to swell
The assembly, for they knew that he who long
Had borne no part in the disastrous war
Had now come forth. Two ministers of Mars,
The brave Tydides and the nobly born
Ulysses, both supported by their spears,
Came halting, for their wounds were painful yet;
They came and sat among the foremost chiefs.
And last came Agamemnon, king of men,
Wounded, for he had felt in thick of fight
The edge of the sharp spear which Coön bore,
Antenor’s son. Now when the Greeks were all
Assembled, swift Achilles rose and said:⁠—

“Atrides, of a truth it would have been
Better for both of us had we done this
At first, though sorely angered, when we strove
For a girl’s sake so fiercely. Would that she
Had perished in my ships, by Dian’s shaft,
The day on which I laid Lyrnessus waste!
So many Greeks would then have not been forced,
Slain by the enemy’s hand, to bite the dust
Of the great earth, while I was brooding o’er
My wrath. All that was for the good of Troy
And Hector; but the Greeks, I think, will long
Remember our contention. Let us leave
These things among the things that were, and, though
They make us grieve, let us subdue our minds
To what the time requires. Here then my wrath
Shall end; it is not meet that it should burn
Forever. Hasten thou and rouse to war
The long-haired Greeks, that I may yet again
Go forth among the men of Troy, and learn
If they design to encamp another night
Before the fleet. There is among them all
No man, I ween, who will not joyfully
Sit down when he escapes my deadly spear.”

He ended, and the Achaians all rejoiced
To hear the brave Pelides thus renounce
His anger. Agamemnon, king of men,
Then rose. He came not forth into the midst,
But stood beside his seat, and thus he spake:⁠—

“O friends, Achaian heroes, ministers
Of Mars! Whoever rises up to speak
’Tis well to hear him through, and not break in
Upon his speech, else is the most expert
Confounded. Who amid a clamorous throng
Can listen or can speak? The orator
Of clearest voice must utter it in vain.
Now I address Pelides; for the rest,
Hearken ye all, and ponder what I say.
The Greeks speak often of this feud, and cast
The blame on me. Yet was I not the cause,
But Jupiter and Fate, and she who walks
In darkness, dread Erynnis. It was they
Who filled my mind with fury in the hour
When from Achilles I bore off his prize.
What could I do? A deity prevails
In all things, Atè, mighty to destroy,
Daughter of Jove, and held in awe by all.
Delicate are her feet; she never comes
Near to the ground, but glides above the heads
Of men, to do them harm, and in her net
Entangles one at least of two who strive.
Jove, deemed the mightiest among men and gods,
Once felt her power of mischief. Him his spouse,
Juno, entrapped by cunning, when within
The massive walls of Thebes Alcmena lay
In childbed, and the mighty Hercules
Was near his birth. For Jupiter had said
Boastfully to the immortals: ‘Hear, ye gods
And goddesses, what I am moved to speak:
This day shall Ilithyia, who presides
At births, bring into light a prince whose rule
The neighboring tribes shall own; he shall be one
Who bears the blood of my illustrious race.’

“Imperial Juno thus, with words of guile,
Made answer: ‘What thou sayest will prove false,
Nor wilt thou keep thy word. Now swear to me,
Olympius, with the irrevocable oath,
That whosoever of thy race shall fall
This day between a woman’s feet shall bear
The rule o’er all the neighboring tribes.’ She spake,
And Jove, perceiving not her craft, complied,
And took the mighty oath, but afterward
Found himself wronged. For Juno, darting forth,
Shot from the Olympian summit, and at once
Alighted at Achaian Argos. There
She found the noble wife of Sthenelus,
The son of Perseus, pregnant with a son,
In the seventh month. She caused him to be born,
The number of his months yet incomplete,
And kept Alcmena’s hour of childbirth back,
And stayed her pangs. The goddess then made haste
To bear the tidings to Saturnian Jove.

“ ‘O Father Jupiter, by whom are hurled
The ruddy lightnings, I have news for thee.
A man-child of a generous stock is born⁠—
Eurystheus, whom the Argives shall obey⁠—
Born at this hour to Sthenelus, the son
Of Perseus, who is thine. And well it is
That such a prince should rule the Argive race.’

“She ended: Jupiter was deeply grieved,
And, seizing Atè by her shining locks,
In his great wrath, he swore a mighty oath⁠—
That Atè, whose delight it is to bring
Mischief to all, should never tread again
Olympus and the starry floor of heaven.
Thus having sworn, he swung her, with raised arm,
On high, and hurled her from the starry heaven
Downward, where soon she reached the haunts of men;
Yet oft in after time because of her
He sighed, beholding his beloved son
Doomed by Eurystheus to unworthy tasks.
So I, while crested Hector in his might
Made havoc at our fleet among the Greeks
Even by their prows, remembered well my fault.
And now since I have borne the penalty,
And Jupiter it was who took away
My reason, I would gladly make amends
With liberal gifts. But rise and join the war;
Inflame the courage of the rest; the gifts
Will I supply⁠—all that were promised thee
When nobly born Ulysses yesterday
Went to thy tents. Or, if it please thee, wait,
Though armed for battle, and my train shall bring
The treasures from my ship, that thou mayst see
My presents are peace-offerings indeed.”

The swift of foot, Achilles, answered thus:
“Most glorious son of Atreus, king of men!
Whether, O Agamemnon, thou wilt give
Gifts, as is meet, or keep them, rests with thee.
Now let us think of war; it is not well
To waste the hour in talking, and put off
The mighty work that we have yet to do.
Let every Greek among you, as he sees
Achilles fighting in the foremost ranks,
And slaughtering the Trojan phalanxes,
Take heart and boldly combat with his man.”

And then Ulysses, wise in council, spake,
Answering Achilles: “Nay, thou shouldst not thus,
Brave as thou art, lead on the sons of Greece,
Yet fasting, to the conflict with the men
Of Troy beside their city. No brief space
The struggle will endure when once the foes
Rush on each other, and a god inspires
Both hosts with fury. Bid the Achaians take
In their swift galleys food and wine; in these
Are force and vigor. No man can endure
To combat all the day till set of sun,
Save with the aid of food, however great
The promptings of his valor; for his limbs
Grow heavy, thirst and hunger weaken him,
And his knees fail him as he walks. Not so
The warrior well supplied with food and wine:
He fights the foe all day; a resolute heart
Is in his bosom; nor does weariness
O’ertake him till all others leave the field.
Now let the people be dismissed awhile,
And a repast be ordered. Let the king,
Atrides, bring to the assembly here
His gifts, that all the Greeks may look on them,
And thou rejoice to see them. Let him rise
Among the Greeks, and take a solemn oath
That he has ne’er approached the maiden’s bed
To claim a husband’s right. Thus let thy heart
Be satisfied. Yet let the monarch spread
A sumptuous banquet in his tent for thee,
That thy redress may be complete. And thou,
Atrides, wilt hereafter be more just
To others. It dishonors not a king
To make amends to one whom he has wronged.”

And then King Agamemnon spake in turn:
“Son of Laertes, gladly have I heard
What thou hast said, and well hast thou discoursed
Of all things in their order. I will take
The oath of which thou speakest⁠—so my heart
Commands me. In the presence of a god
I take it, and commit no perjury.
Now let Achilles, though he longs for war,
Delay awhile; and all assembled here,
Remain ye on the ground till from my ship
The gifts are brought. This charge and this command
I give to thee, Ulysses. Take with thee
A band of youths, the noblest of the host,
And bring the presents promised yesterday
To Peleus’ son, and hither let them lead
The women. Meantime let Talthybius haste
To bring from our broad camp a boar, which I
Will offer up to Jove and to the Sun.”

The swift of foot, Achilles, thus replied:
“Most glorious son of Atreus, king of men,
These things are for the time when there shall come
A pause from battle, and this warlike heat
Within my breast shall cool. They whom the spear
Of Hector, son of Priam, has o’ercome
Lie mangled on the earth, since Jupiter
Awarded him the glory of the day:⁠—
And ye propose a banquet. I would call
The sons of Greece to rush into the war
Unfed and fasting, and when this disgrace
Shall be avenged, I would, at sunset, spread
A liberal feast. Be sure that I, till then,
Taste neither food nor drink, while my slain friend
Lies gashed with weapons in my tent, amidst
His sorrowing comrades. Little I regard
The things of which thou speakest, for my thoughts
Are all of bloodshed and of dying groans.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, thus rejoined:
“Achilles, son of Peleus, bravest far
Of all the Achaians, mightier with the spear
By no small odds than I, yet do I stand
In prudence much above thee; I have lived
More years, and more have learned. Let then thy mind
Accept what I shall say. Men soon become
Weary of warfare, even when the sword
Lays its most ample harvest on the earth.
But fewer sheaves are reaped when Jupiter,
The arbiter of battles, turns the scale.
It is not well that we of Greece should mourn
The dead with fasting, since from day to day
Our warriors fall in numbers. Where were then
Respite from daily fasts? Lay we our slain
In earth and mourn a day. We who outlive
The cruel combat should refresh ourselves
With food and wine, that we may steadily
Maintain in arms the conflict with the foe.
And then let no man idly wait to hear
A further call to war⁠—for it will come
Freighted with evil to the man who skulks
Among the ships⁠—but let us all go forth
To wage fierce battle with the knights of Troy.”

He spake, and summoned to his side the sons
Of glorious Nestor, and Meriones,
And Meges, son of Phyleus, and with them
Thoas, and Lycomedes, Creon’s son,
And Melanippus. Straight they took their way
To Agamemnon’s tent, and there their task
Was done as quickly as the word was given.
They brought seven tripods forth, the promised gifts,
And twenty burnished cauldrons, and twelve steeds,
And led away seven graceful women trained
In household arts⁠—the maid with rosy cheeks,
Briseis, was the eighth. Ulysses came,
Leading the way, and bearing, duly weighed,
Ten talents, all of gold. The Achaian youths
Followed, and placed the presents in the midst
Of that assembly. Agamemnon rose;
And then Talthybius, who was like a god
In power of voice, came near and took his place
Beside the monarch, holding in his hands
A boar. The son of Atreus drew a knife,
Which hung by the great scabbard of his sword,
And, cutting off the forelock of the boar,
Prayed with uplifted hands to Jupiter:
Meantime the Greeks in silence kept their seats,
And, as became them, listened to the king,
Who looked into the sky above, and said:⁠—

“Now first bear witness, Jove, of all the gods
Greatest and best, and also Earth and Sun,
And Furies dwelling under Earth, who take
Vengeance on men forsworn, that never I
Have laid, for purpose of unchaste desire,
Or other cause, my hand upon the maid
Briseis. She hath dwelt inviolate
Within my tents. If yet in aught I say
Lurk perjury, then may the blessed gods
Heap on my head the many miseries
With which they punish those who falsely swear!”

He spake, and drew the unrelenting blade
Across the animal’s throat. Talthybius took
And swung the carcass round, and cast it forth
Into the gray sea’s depths, to be the food
Of fishes. Then again Achilles rose
Among the warlike sons of Greece, and said:⁠—

“Great sorrows thou dost send, O Father Jove!
Upon mankind; for never would the son
Of Atreus have provoked the wrath that burned
Within my bosom, never would have thought
To bear away the maiden from my tent
In spite of me, had it not been the will
Of Jupiter that many a Greek should die.
But banquet now, and then prepare for war.”

So spake Achilles, and at once dissolved
The assembly, each repairing to his ship
Save the large-hearted Myrmidons, who still
Were busy with the gifts, and carried them
Toward their great general’s galley. These they laid
Carefully in the tents, and seated there
The women, while the attentive followers drave
The coursers to the stables. When the maid
Briseis, beautiful as Venus, saw
Patroclus lying gashed with wounds, she sprang
And threw herself upon the dead, and tore
Her bosom, her fair cheeks and delicate neck;
And thus the graceful maiden, weeping, said:⁠—

“Patroclus, dear to my unhappy heart!
I left thee in full life, when from this tent
They led me; I return and find thee dead,
O chieftain of the people! Thus it is
That sorrow upon sorrow is my lot.
Him to whose arms my father, in my youth,
And gracious mother gave me as a bride,
I saw before our city pierced and slain,
And the three brothers whom my mother bore
Slain also⁠—brothers whom I dearly loved.
Yet thou, when swift Achilles struck to earth
My hapless husband, and laid waste the town
Of godlike Mynes, wouldst not suffer me
To weep despairingly; for thou didst give
Thy word to make me yet the wedded wife
Of great Achilles, bear me in the fleet
To Phthia, and prepare the wedding feast
Among the Myrmidons. O ever kind!
I mourn thy death, and cannot be consoled.”

Weeping she spake; the women wept with her
Seemingly for the dead, but each, in truth,
For her own griefs. Meanwhile the elders came
Around Achilles, praying him to join
The banquet, but the chief, with sighs, refused.

“Dear comrades, if ye love me, do not thus
Press me to sit and feast. A mighty woe
Weighs down my spirit; it is my resolve
To wait and bear until the setting sun.”

So saying, he dismissed the other kings.
The sons of Atreus, and the high-born chief
Ulysses, Nestor, and Idomeneus,
And Phoenix, aged knight, alone remained,
And anxiously they sought to comfort him
In his great grief; but comfort would he none
Ere entering the red jaws of war. He drew
Deep sighs, and, thinking on Patroclus, spake:

“The time has been when thou too, hapless one,
Dearest of all my comrades, wouldst have spread
With diligent speed before me in my tent
A genial banquet, while the Greeks prepared
For desperate battle with the knights of Troy.
Thou liest now a mangled corse, and I,
Through grief for thee, refrain from food and drink,
Though they are near. No worse calamity
Could light on me, not even should I hear
News of my father’s death, who haply now
Tenderly mourns with tears his absent son
In Phthia, while upon a foreign coast
I wage for hated Helen’s sake the war
Against the Trojans; or were I to hear
Tidings that my beloved son had died,
The noble Neoptolemus, who now,
If living, is in Scyros, growing up
To manhood. Once the hope was in my heart
That I alone should perish here at Troy,
Far from the Argive pastures full of steeds,
And thou return to Phthia and bring home
My son from Scyros in thy ship, and show
The youth my wealth, my servants, and my halls,
High-roofed and spacious. For my mind misgives
That Peleus either lives not, or endures
A painful age, and hardly lives, yet waits
To hear the sorrowful news that I am slain.”

So spake he weeping, and the elders sighed
To see his tears, as each recalled to mind
Those whom he left at home, while Saturn’s son
Beheld their grief with pity, and bespake
His daughter Pallas thus with wingèd words:⁠—

“My child, wilt thou desert that valiant man?
And shall Achilles be no more thy care?
Lo, by his ships, before their lofty prows,
He sits, lamenting his beloved friend.
The rest are at the banquet; he remains
Apart from them, and fasting. Hasten thou;
With nectar and ambrosial sweets refresh
His frame, that hunger overtake him not.”

As thus he spake he sent the goddess forth
Eager to do her errand. Plunging down,
In form a shrill-voiced harpy with broad wings,
She cleft the air. The Greeks throughout the camp
Were putting on their armor. She infused
Into the hero’s frame ambrosial sweets
And nectar, that his limbs might not grow faint
With hunger. Then the goddess sought again
The stable mansion of Almighty Jove,
While all the Greeks came pouring from the fleet.

As when the flakes of snow fall thick from heaven,
Driven by the north wind sweeping on the clouds
Before it, so from out the galleys came
Helms crowding upon helms that glittered fair,
Strong hauberks, bossy shields, and ashen spears.
The gleam of armor brightened heaven and earth,
And mighty was the sound of trampling feet.
Amidst them all the great Achilles stood,
Putting his armor on; he gnashed his teeth;
His eyes shot fire; a grief too sharp to bear
Was in his heart, as, filled with rage against
The men of Troy, he cased his limbs in mail,
The gift of Vulcan, from whose diligent hand
It came. And first about his legs he clasped
The beautiful greaves, with silver fastenings,
Fitted the corselet to his bosom next,
And from his shoulders hung the brazen sword
With silver studs, and then he took the shield,
Massive and broad, whose brightness streamed as far
As the moon’s rays. And as at sea the light
Of beacon, blazing in some lonely spot
By night, upon a mountain summit, shines
To mariners whom the tempest’s force has driven
Far from their friends across the fishy deep,
So from that glorious buckler of the son
Of Peleus, nobly wrought, a radiance streamed
Into the sky. And then he raised and placed
Upon his head the impenetrable helm
With horse-hair plume. It glittered like a star,
And all the shining tufts of golden thread,
With which the maker’s hand had thickly set
Its cone, were shaken. Next the high-born chief
Tried his new arms, to know if they were well
Adjusted to his shape, and left his limbs
Free play. They seemed like wings, and lifted up
The shepherd of the people. Then he drew
From its ancestral sheath his father’s spear,
Heavy and huge and tough. No man of all
The Grecian host could wield that weapon save
Achilles only. ’Twas a Pelian ash,
Which Chiron for his father had cut down
On Pelion’s highest peak, to be the death
Of heroes. Meantime, busy with the steeds,
Automedon and Alcimus put on
Their trappings and their yoke, and round their necks
Bound the fair collars, thrust into their mouths
The bit, and backward drew the reins to meet
The well-wrought chariot. Then Automedon
Took in his hand the showy lash, and leaped
Into the seat. Behind him, all equipped
For war, Achilles mounted, in a blaze
Of arms that dazzled like the sun, and thus
Called to his father’s steeds with terrible voice:⁠—

“Xanthus and Balius, whom Podargè bore⁠—
A noble stock⁠—I charge you to bring back
Into the Grecian camp, the battle done,
Him whom ye now are bearing to the field,
Nor leave him, as ye left Patroclus, dead.”

Swift-footed Xanthus from beneath the yoke
Answered him with bowed head and drooping mane
That, flowing through the yoke-ring swept the ground⁠—
For Juno gave him then the power of speech:⁠—

“For this one day, at least, we bear thee safe,
O fiery chief, Achilles! But the hour
Of death draws nigh to thee, nor will the blame
Be ours; a mighty god and cruel fate
Ordain it. Not through our neglect or sloth
Did they of Troy strip off thy glorious arms
From slain Patroclus. That invincible god,
The son of golden-haired Latona, smote
The hero in the foremost ranks, and gave
Glory to Hector. Even though our speed
Were that of Zephyr, fleetest of the winds,
Yet certain is thy doom to be o’ercome
In battle by a god and by a man.”

Thus far he spake, and then the Furies checked
His further speech. Achilles, swift of foot,
Replied in anger: “Xanthus, why foretell
My death? It is not needed; well I know
My fate⁠—that here I perish, far away
From Peleus and my mother. I shall fight
Till I have made the Trojans sick of war.”

He spake, and, shouting to his firm-paced steeds,
Drave them, among the foremost, toward the war.