Book VII

The Combat of Hector and Ajax

Prowess of Hector⁠—Meeting of Minerva and Apollo near the Scaean Gates⁠—They incite Hector to challenge the Greeks to a single combat⁠—Ajax selected by lot to meet Hector⁠—The combat ended by the night⁠—Proposal of Antenor to deliver Helen to the Greeks⁠—Refusal of Paris, who offers to restore her wealth⁠—Rejection of this offer by Agamemnon⁠—A truce for burying the dead⁠—The Greek camp fortified.

The illustrious Hector spake, and rapidly
Passed through the gate, and with him issued forth
His brother Alexander⁠—eager, both,
For war and combat. As when God bestows,
To glad the long-expecting mariners,
A favorable wind while wearily
They beat the ocean with their polished oars,
Their arms all nerveless with their length of toil,
Such to the expecting Trojans was the sight
Of the two chiefs. First Alexander slew
Menesthius, who in Arnè had his home,
A son of Areïthoüs the king.
Large-eyed Philomedusa brought him forth
To the mace-bearer Areïthoüs.
And Hector smote Eïoneus, the spear
Piercing his neck beneath the brazen casque,
And straightway he dropped lifeless. Glaucus then
Son of Hippolochus, and chief among
The Lycians⁠—in that fiery onset slew
Iphinous, son of Dexius, with his spear.
It pierced the warrior’s shoulder as he sprang
To mount his rapid car, and from the place
He fell to earth, his limbs relaxed in death
Now when Minerva of the azure eyes
Beheld them in the furious combat thus
Wasting the Grecian host, she left the peaks
Of high Olympus, and came down in haste
To sacred Ilium. Straight Apollo flew
To meet her, for he marked from Pergamus
Her coming, and he greatly longed to give
The victory to the Trojans. As they met
Beside the beechen tree, the son of Jove,
The king Apollo, spake to Pallas thus:⁠—

“Why hast thou, daughter of imperial Jove,
Thus left Olympus in thine eager haste?
Seek’st thou to turn in favor of the Greeks
War’s wavering chances?⁠—for I know too well
Thou hast no pity when the men of Troy
Are perishing. But, if thou wilt give ear
To me, I shall propose a better way.
Cause we the conflict for this day to cease,
And be it afterward renewed until
An end be made of Troy, since it hath pleased
You, goddesses, to lay the city waste.”

And blue-eyed Pallas answered: “Be it so,
O mighty Archer. With a like intent
I left Olympus for this battle-field
Of Greeks and Trojans. But by what device
Think’st thou to bring the combat to a pause?”

Then spake the king Apollo, son of Jove,
In turn to Pallas: “Let us seek to rouse
The fiery spirit of the Trojan knight
Hector, that he may challenge in the field
Some Greek to meet him, singly and alone,
In mortal combat. Then the well-armed Greeks,
Stung by the bold defiance, will send forth
A champion against Priam’s noble son.”

He spake. The blue-eyed goddess gave assent
And straightway Helenus, beloved son
Of Priam, in his secret mind perceived
The purpose of the gods consulting thus,
And came and stood by Hector’s side and said:⁠—

“O Hector, son of Priam, and like Jove
In council, wilt thou hearken to my words
Who am thy brother? Cause the Trojans all
And all the Greeks to sit, while thou shall stand
Proclaiming challenge to the bravest man
Among the Achaians to contend with thee
In mortal combat. It is not thy fate
To fall and perish yet, for thus have said
The ever-living gods, whose voice I heard.”

He spake; and Hector, hearing him, rejoiced,
And went between the hosts. He bore his spear,
Holding it in the middle, and pressed back
The ranks of Trojans, and they all sat down.
And Agamemnon caused the well-armed Greeks
To sit down also. Meantime Pallas sat,
With Phoebus of the silver bow, in shape
Like vultures, on the boughs of the tall beech⁠—
The tree of Father Jupiter who bears
The aegis⁠—and they looked with great delight
Upon the array of warriors in thick rows,
Horrid with shields and helm and bristling spears.
As when the west wind, rising fresh, breathes o’er
The deep, and darkens all its face with waves,
So seemed the Greeks and Trojans as they sat
In ranks upon the field, while Hector stood
Between the armies and bespake them thus:⁠—

“Ye Trojans, and ye well-armed Greeks, give ear
To what my spirit bids me speak. The son
Of Saturn, throned on high, hath not vouchsafed
To ratify the treaty we have made,
But meditates new miseries for us both,
Till ye possess the towery city of Troy,
Or, vanquished, yield yourselves beside the barques
That brought you o’er the sea. With you are found
The bravest sons of Greece. If one of these
Is moved to encounter me, let him stand forth
And fight with noble Hector. I propose,
And call on Jove to witness, that if he
Shall slay me with the long blade of his spear,
My arms are his to spoil and to bestow
Among the hollow ships; but he must send
My body home, that there the sons of Troy
And Trojan dames may burn it on the pyre.
But if I take his life, and Phoebus crown
My combat with that glory, I will strip
His armor off and carry it away
To hallowed Ilium, there to hang it high
Within the temple of the archer-god
Apollo; but his body I will send
Back to the well-oared ships, that on the beach
The long-haired Greeks may hold his funeral rites,
And rear his tomb by the wide Hellespont.
And then, in time to come, shall someone say,
Sailing in his good ship the dark-blue deep,
‘This is the sepulchre of one who died
Long since, and whom, though fighting gallantly,
Illustrious Hector slew.’ So shall he say
Hereafter, and my fame shall never die.”

He spake; but utter silence held them all⁠—
Ashamed to shun the encounter, yet afraid
To meet it⁠—till at length, with heavy heart,
Rose Menelaus from his seat, and thus
Bespake the army with reproachful words:⁠—

“O boastful ones, no longer to be called
Greek warriors, but Greek women! A disgrace
Grievous beyond all others will be ours,
If none be found in all the Achaian host
To meet this Hector. May you, every one,
There where ye now are sitting, turn to earth
And water, craven as ye are, and lost
To sense of glory! I will arm myself
For this encounter. With the immortal gods
Alone it rests to give the victory.”

He spake, and put his glorious armor on.
Then, Menelaus, had the Trojan’s hand
Ended thy life, for he was mightier far
Than thou, had not the Achaian kings at once
Uprisen to hold thee back, while Atreus’ son,
Wide-ruling Agamemnon, took thy hand
In his, and made thee listen while he spake:⁠—

“Sure, noble Menelaus, thou art mad.
Such frenzied daring suits not with the time.
Restrain thyself, though thou hast cause for wrath;
Nor in thy pride of courage meet in arms
One so much mightier⁠—Hector, Priam’s son,
Whom every other chief regards with fear,
Whom even Achilles, braver far than thou,
Dreads to encounter in the glorious fight.
Withdraw, then, to thy comrades, and sit down.
The Greeks will send some other champion forth
Against him; and though fearless, and athirst
For combat, he, I deem, will gladly bend
His weary knees to rest should he escape
From that fierce conflict in the lists alive.”

With words like these the Grecian hero changed
The purpose of his brother, who obeyed
The prudent counsel; and with great delight
The attendants stripped the armor from his breast.
Then Nestor rose amid the Greeks and said:⁠—

“Ye gods! A great calamity hath fallen
Upon Achaia. How the aged chief
Peleus, the illustrious counsellor and sage,
Who rules the Myrmidons, will now lament!⁠—
He who once gladly in his palace-home
Inquired of me the race and pedigree
Of the Greek warriors. Were he but to know
That all of them are basely cowering now
In Hector’s presence, how would he uplift
His hands and pray the gods that from his limbs
The parted soul might pass to the abode
Of Pluto! Would to Father Jupiter
And Pallas and Apollo that again
I were as young as when the Pylian host
And the Arcadians, mighty with the spear,
Fought on the banks of rapid Celadon
And near to Phaea and Iardan’s streams.
There godlike Ereuthalion stood among
Our foremost foes, and on his shoulders bore
The armor of King Areïthoüs⁠—
The noble Areïthoüs, whom men
And graceful women called the Mace-bearer;
For not with bow he fought, nor ponderous lance,
But broke the phalanxes with iron mace.
Lycurgus slew him, but by stratagem,
And not by strength; he from a narrow way,
Where was no room to wield the iron mace,
Through Areïthoüs thrust the spear: he fell
Backward; the victor took his arms, which Mars
The war-god gave, and which in after-time
Lycurgus wore on many a battle-field.
And when within his palace he grew old,
He gave them to be worn by one he loved⁠—
To Ereuthalion, who attended him
In battle, and who, wearing them, defied
The bravest of our host. All trembled; all
Held back in fear, nor dared encounter him.
But me a daring trust in my own strength
Impelled to meet him. I was youngest then
Of all the chiefs; I fought, and Pallas gave
The victory over him, and thus I slew
The hugest and most strong of men; he lay
Extended in vast bulk upon the ground.
Would I were young as then, my frame unworn
By years! And Hector of the beamy helm
Should meet an adversary soon; but now
No one of all the chieftains here, renowned
To be the bravest of the Achaian race,
Hastens to meet in arms the Trojan chief.”

Thus with upbraiding words the old man spake;
And straight arose nine warriors from their seats.
The first was Agamemnon, king of men;
The second, brave Tydides Diomed;
And then the chieftains Ajax, bold and strong;
And then Idomeneus, with whom arose
Meriones, his armor-bearer, great
As Mars himself in battle. After them,
Eurypylus, Evaemon’s valiant son,
And Thoas, offspring of Androemon, rose,
And the divine Ulysses⁠—claiming all
To encounter noble Hector in the lists.
But then spake Nestor the Gerenian knight:⁠—

“Now let us cast the lot for all, and see
To whom it falls; for greatly will he aid
The nobly-armed Achaians, and as great
Will be his share of honor should he come
Alive from the hard trial of the fight.”

Then each one marked his lot, and all were cast
Into the helm of Agamemnon, son
Of Atreus. All the people lifted up
Their hands in prayer to the ever-living gods,
And turned their eyes to the broad heaven, and said:

“Grant, Father Jove, that Ajax, or the son
Of Tydeus, or the monarch who bears rule
In rich Mycenae may obtain the lot.”

Such was their prayer, while the Gerenian knight,
Old Nestor, shook the lots; and from the helm
Leaped forth the lot of Ajax, as they wished.
A herald took it, and from right to left
Bore it through all the assembly, showing it
To all the leaders of the Greeks. No one
Knew it, and all disclaimed it. When at last,
Carried through all the multitude, it came
To Ajax the renowned, who had inscribed
And laid it in the helmet, he stretched forth
His hand, while at his side the herald stood,
And took and looked upon it, knew his sign,
And gloried as he looked, and cast it down
Upon the ground before his feet, and said:⁠—

“O friends! The lot is mine, and I rejoice
Heartily, for I think to overcome
The noble Hector. Now, while I put on
My armor for the fight, pray ye to Jove,
The mighty son of Saturn, silently,
Unheard by them of Troy, or else aloud,
Since we fear no one. None by strength of arm
Shall vanquish me, or find me inexpert
In battle, nor was I to that degree
Ill-trained in Salamis, where I was born.”

He spake; and they to Saturn’s monarch-son
Prayed, looking up to the broad heaven, and said:⁠—

“O Father Jove! Most mighty, most august!
Who rulest from the Idaean mount, vouchsafe
That Ajax bear away the victory
And everlasting honor; but if thou
Dost cherish Hector and protect his life,
Give equal strength to both, and equal fame.”

Such were their words, while Ajax armed himself
In glittering brass; and, when about his limbs
The mail was buckled, forward rushed the chief.
As moves the mighty Mars to war among
The heroes whom the son of Saturn sends
To struggle on the field in murderous strife,
So the great Ajax, bulwark of the Greeks,
With a grim smile came forward, and with strides
Firm-set and long, and shook his ponderous spear.
The Greeks exulted at the sight; dismay
Seized every Trojan: even Hector’s heart
Quailed in his bosom; yet he might not now
Withdraw through fear, nor seek to hide among
The throng of people, since himself had given
The challenge. Ajax, drawing near, upheld
A buckler like a rampart, bright with brass,
And strong with ox-hides seven. The cunning hand
Of Tychius, skilled beyond all other men
In leather-work, had wrought it at his home
In Hyla. He for Ajax framed the shield
With hides of pampered bullocks in seven folds,
And an eighth fold of brass⁠—the outside fold.
This Telamonian Ajax held before
His breast, as he approached, and threatening said:⁠—

“Now shalt thou, Hector, singly matched with me,
Learn by what chiefs the Achaian host is led
Besides Achilles, mighty though he be to
To break through squadrons, and of lion-heart
Still in the beaked ships in which he crossed
The sea he cherishes his wrath against
The shepherd of the people⁠—Atreus’ son.
But we have those that dare defy thee yet,
And they are many. Let the fight begin.”

Then answered Hector of the plumèd helm:⁠—
“O high-born Ajax, son of Telamon,
And prince among thy people, think thou not
To treat me like a stripling weak of arm,
Or woman all untrained to tasks of war.
I know what battles are and bloody frays,
And how to shift to right and left the shield.
Of seasoned hide, and, unfatigued, maintain
The combat; how on foot to charge the foe
With steps that move to martial airs, and how
To leap into the chariot and pursue
The war with rushing steeds. Yet not by stealth
Seek I to smite thee, valiant as thou art,
But in fair open battle, if I may.”

He spake, and, brandishing his ponderous lance,
Hurled it; and on the outer plate of brass,
Which covered the seven bullock-hides, it struck
The shield of Ajax. Through the brass and through
Six folds of hides the irresistible spear
Cut its swift way, and at the seventh was stopped.
Then high-born Ajax cast his massive spear
In turn, and drove it through the fair, round shield
Of Priam’s son. Through that bright buckler went
The rapid weapon, pierced the well-wrought mail,
And tore the linen tunic at the flank.
But Hector stooped and thus avoided death.
They took their spears again, and, coming close,
Like lions in their hunger, or wild boars
Of fearful strength, joined battle. Priam’s son
Sent his spear forward, striking in the midst
The shield of Ajax, but it broke not through
The brass; the metal turned the weapon’s point.
While Ajax, springing onward, smote the shield
Of Hector, drave his weapon through, and checked
His enemy’s swift advance, and wounded him
Upon the shoulder, and the black blood flowed.
Yet not for this did plumèd Hector cease
From combat, but went back, and, lifting up
A huge, black, craggy stone that near him lay,
Flung it with force against the middle boss
Of the broad sevenfold shield that Ajax bore.
The brass rang with the blow. Then Ajax raised
A heavier stone, and whirled it, putting forth
His arm’s immeasurable strength; it brake
Through Hector’s shield as if a millstone’s weight
Had fallen. His knees gave way; he fell to earth
Headlong; yet still he kept his shield. At once
Apollo raised him up; and now with swords,
Encountering hand to hand, they both had flown
To wound each other, if the heralds sent
As messengers from Jupiter and men
Had not approached⁠—Idaeus from the side
Of Troy, Talthybius from the Grecian host⁠—
Wise ancients both. Betwixt the twain they held
Their sceptres, and the sage Idaeus spake:⁠—

“Cease to contend, dear sons, in deadly fray;
Ye both are loved by cloud-compelling Jove,
And both are great in war, as all men know.
The night is come; be then the night obeyed.”

And Telamonian Ajax answered thus:⁠—
“Idaeus, first let Hector speak of this,
For he it was who challenged to the field
The bravest of the Grecian host, and I
Shall willingly obey if he obeys.”

To him in turn the plumèd Hector said:⁠—
“Ajax, although God gave thee bulk and strength
And prudence, and in mastery of the spear
Thou dost excel the other Greeks, yet now
Pause we from battle and the rivalry
Of prowess for this day. Another time
We haply may renew the fight till fate
Shall part us and bestow the victory
On one of us. But now the night is here,
And it is good to obey the night, that thou
Mayst gladden at the fleet the Greeks and all
Thy friends and comrades, and that I in turn
May give the Trojan men and long-robed dames,
In the great city where King Priam reigns,
Cause to rejoice⁠—the dames who pray for me,
Thronging the hallowed temple. Let us now
Each with the other leave some noble gift,
That all men, Greek or Trojan, thus may say:
‘They fought indeed in bitterness of heart,
But they were reconciled, and parted friends.’ ”

He spake, and gave a silver-studded sword
And scabbard with its fair embroidered belt;
And Ajax gave a girdle brightly dyed
With purple. Then they both departed⁠—one
To join the Grecian host, and one to meet
The Trojan people, who rejoiced to see
Hector alive, unwounded, and now safe
From the great might and irresistible arm
Of Ajax. Straightway to the town they led
Him for whose life they scarce had dared to hope.
And Ajax also by the well-armed Greeks,
Exulting in his feats of arms, was brought
To noble Agamemnon. When the chiefs
Were in his tents, the monarch sacrificed
A bullock of five summers to the son
Of Saturn, sovereign Jupiter. They flayed
The carcass, dressed it, carved away the limbs,
Divided into smaller parts the flesh,
Fixed them on spits, and roasted them with care,
And drew them from the fire. And when the task
Was finished, and the banquet all prepared,
They feasted, and there was no guest who lacked
His equal part in that repast. The son
Of Atreus, Agamemnon, brave, and lord
Of wide dominions, gave the chine entire
To Ajax as his due. Now when the calls
Of thirst and hunger ceased, the aged chief
Nestor, whose words had ever seemed most wise,
Opened the council with this prudent speech:⁠—

“Atrides, and ye other chiefs of Greece!
Full many a long-haired warrior of our host
Hath perished. Cruel Mars hath spilt their blood
Beside Scamander’s gentle stream; their souls
Have gone to Hades. Give thou, then, command,
That all the Greeks tomorrow pause from war,
And come together at the early dawn,
And bring the dead in chariots drawn by mules
And oxen, and consume them near our fleet
With fire, that we, when we return from war,
May carry to our native land the bones,
And give them to the children of the slain.
And then will we go forth and heap from earth,
Upon the plain, a common tomb for all
Around the funeral pile, and build high towers
With speed beside it, which shall be alike
A bulwark for our navy and our host.
And let the entrance be a massive gate,
Through which shall pass an ample chariot-way.
And in a circle on its outer edge
Sink we a trench so deep that neither steeds
Nor men may pass, if these proud Trojans yet
Should, in the coming battles, press us sore.”

He spake; the princes all approved his words.
Meanwhile, beside the lofty citadel
Of Ilium and at Priam’s palace-gates
In turbulence and fear the Trojans held
A council, and the wise Antenor spake:⁠—

“Hearken, ye Trojans, Dardans, and allies,
To what my sober judgment bids me speak.
Send we the Argive Helen back with all
Her treasures; let the sons of Atreus lead
The dame away; for now we wage the war
After our faith is broken, and I deem
We cannot prosper till we make amends.”

He spake, and sat him down. The noble chief
Paris, the fair-haired Helen’s husband, rose
To answer him, and spake this wingèd speech:⁠—

“Thy words, Antenor, please me not. Thy skill
Could offer better counsels. If those words
Were gravely meant, the gods have made thee mad.
But let me here, amid these knights of Troy,
Speak openly my mind. Give up my wife
I never will; but all the wealth I brought
With her from Argos I most willingly
Restore, with added treasures of my own.”

He said, and took his seat, and in the midst
Dardanian Priam rose, a counsellor
Of godlike wisdom, and thus sagely spake:⁠—

“Hear me, ye Trojans, Dardans, and allies!
I speak the thought that rises in my breast.
Take now, as ye are wont, your evening meal
And set a watch and keep upon your guard;
But let Idaeus to the hollow ships
Repair at morning, and to Atreus’ sons⁠—
To Agamemnon and his brother king⁠—
Make known what Paris, author of this strife,
Proposes, and with fairly ordered speech
Ask further if they will consent to pause
From cruel battle till we burn the dead:
Then be the war renewed till fate shall part
The hosts and give to one the victory.”

He spake. The assembly listened and obeyed;
All through the camp in groups they took their meal.
But with the morn Idaeus visited
The hollow ships, and found the Achaian chiefs,
Followers of Mars, in council near the prow
Of Agamemnon’s barque; and, standing there,
The loud-voiced herald spake his message thus:⁠—

“Ye sons of Atreus, and ye other chiefs
Of all the tribes of Greece, I come to you
From Priam and the eminent men of Troy,
To say, if it be pleasing to your ears,
What Alexander, author of the war,
Proposes. All the wealth which in his ships
He brought to Troy⁠—would he had perished first!⁠—
He will, with added treasures of his own,
Freely restore; but her who was the wife
Of gallant Menelaus he denies
To render back, though all who dwell in Troy
Join to demand it. I am furthermore
Bidden to ask if you consent to pause
From cruel battle till we burn our dead:
Then be the war renewed till fate shall part
The hosts and give to one the victory.”

He spake; and all were silent for a space.
Then spake at length the valiant Diomed:⁠—

“Let none consent to take the Trojan’s goods,
Nor even Helen; for a child may see
The utter ruin hanging over Troy.”

He spake. The admiring Greeks confirmed with shouts
The words of Diomed the knight, and thus
King Agamemnon to Idaeus said:⁠—

“Idaeus, thou thyself hast heard the Greeks
Pronounce their answer. What to them seems good
Pleases me also. For the slain, I give
Consent to burn them; to the dead we bear
No hatred; when they fall the rite of fire
Should soon be paid. Let Juno’s husband, Jove
The Thunderer, bear witness to our truce.”

The monarch spake, and raised to all the gods
His sceptre, while Idaeus took his way
To hallowed Ilium. There in council sat
Trojans and Dardans, waiting his return.
He came, and standing in the midst declared
His message. Then they all went forth in haste,
Some to collect the slain and some to fell
Trees in the forest. From their well-benched ships
The Achaians also issued, some to bring
The dead together, some to gather wood.

Now from the smooth deep ocean-stream the sun
Began to climb the heavens, and with new rays
Smote the surrounding fields. The Trojans met,
But found it hard to know their dead again.
They washed away the clotted blood, and laid⁠—
Shedding hot tears⁠—the bodies on the cars.
And since the mighty Priam’s word forbade
All wailing, silently they bore away
Their slaughtered friends, and heaped them on the pyre
With aching hearts, and, when they had consumed
The dead with fire, returned to hallowed Troy.
The nobly-armed Achaians also heaped
Their slaughtered warriors on the funeral pile
With aching hearts; and when they had consumed
Their dead with fire they sought their hollow ships.

And ere the morning came, while earth was gray
With twilight, by the funeral pile arose
A chosen band of Greeks, who, going forth,
Heaped round it from the earth a common tomb
For all, and built a wall and lofty towers
Near it⁠—a bulwark for the fleet and host.
And in the wall they fitted massive gates,
Through which there passed an ample chariot-way;
And on its outer edge they sank a trench⁠—
Broad, deep⁠—and planted it with pointed stakes.
So labored through the night the long-haired Greeks.

The gods who sat beside the Thunderer Jove
Admired the mighty labor of the Greeks;
But Neptune, he who shakes the earth, began:⁠—

“O Father Jove, henceforth will any one
Of mortal men consult the immortal gods?
Seest thou not how the long-haired Greeks have reared
A wall before their navy, and have drawn
A trench around it, yet have brought the gods
No liberal hecatombs? Now will the fame
Of this their work go forth wherever shines
The light of day, and men will quite forget
The wall which once we built with toiling hands⁠—
Phoebus Apollo and myself⁠—around
The city of renowned Laomedon.”

And cloud-compelling Jove in wrath replied:⁠—
“Earth-shaking power! What words are these? Some god
Of meaner rank and feebler arm than thou
Might haply dread the work the Greeks have planned.
But as for thee, thy glory shall be known
Wherever shines the day; and when at last
The crested Greeks, departing in their ships,
Shall seek their native coasts, do thou o’erthrow
The wall they built, and sink it in the deep,
And cover the great shore again with sand.
Thus shall their bulwark vanish from the plain.”

So talked they with each other while the sun
Was setting. But the Achaians now had brought
Their labors to an end; they slew their steers
Beside the tents and shared the evening meal,
While many ships had come to land with store
Of wine from Lemnos, which Euneüs sent⁠—
Euneüs whom Hypsipyle brought forth
To Jason, shepherd of the people. These
Brought wine, a thousand measures, as a gift
To Agamemnon and his brother king,
The sons of Atreus. But the long-haired Greeks
Bought for themselves their wines; some gave their brass,
And others shining steel; some bought with hides,
And some with steers, and some with slaves, and thus
Prepared an ample banquet. Through the night
Feasted the long-haired Greeks. The Trojan host
And their auxiliar warriors banqueted
Within the city-walls. Through all that night
The Great Disposer, Jove, portended woe
To both with fearful thunderings. All were pale
With terror; from their beakers all poured wine
Upon the ground, and no man dared to drink
Who had not paid to Saturn’s mighty son
The due libation. Then they laid them down
To rest, and so received the balm of sleep.