Book IX

The Embassy to Achilles

Agamemnon’s Proposal to raise the siege opposed by Diomed and Nestor⁠—A council⁠—Ulysses, Ajax, and Phoenix sent to Achilles to request a reconciliation⁠—Their reception, their persuasions, and their ill success.

The Trojans thus kept watch; while through the night
The power of Flight, companion of cold Fear,
Wrought on the Greeks, and all their bravest men
Were bowed beneath a sorrow hard to bear.
As when two winds upturn the fishy deep⁠—
The north wind and the west, that suddenly
Blow from the Thracian coast; the black waves rise
At once, and fling the sea-weed to the shore⁠—
Thus were the Achaians troubled in their hearts.

Atrides, deeply grieving, walked the camp,
And bade the clear-voiced heralds call by name
To council all the chiefs, but not aloud.
The king himself among the foremost gave
The summons. Sadly that assembly took
Their seats; and Agamemnon in the midst
Rose, shedding tears⁠—as down a lofty rock,
Darkening its face, a fountain’s waters flow⁠—
And, deeply sighing, thus addressed the Greeks:⁠—

“O friends! the chiefs and princes of the Greeks!
Saturnian Jove hath in an evil snare
Most cruelly entangled me. He gave
His promise once that I should overthrow
This strong-walled Ilium, and return; but now
He meditates a fraud, and sends me back
To Argos without glory, and with loss
Of many warriors. Thus doth it seem good
Doubtless to Jove Almighty, who hath cast
The towers of many a city down to earth,
And will cast others down⁠—his might excels
All other might. But let us now obey,
As I shall counsel you, and in our ships
Haste to our own dear country; for I see
That Troy with its broad streets can ne’er be ours.”

He spake; and all were silent. Silent long
Remained the sorrow-stricken sons of Greece,
Till Diomed, the brave in battle, spake:⁠—

“First of the chiefs I speak, to disapprove,
Atrides, thy rash purpose: ’tis my right
In council; nor, O king, be thou displeased.
Thou first among the Greeks hast taunted me
With lack of valor, calling me unapt
For war and weak of arm. The young and old
Have heard the taunt. One of two gifts the son
Of wily Saturn hath bestowed on thee:
High rank and rule o’er all the rest he gave,
But gave thee not the nobler quality
Of fortitude. Dost thou then truly deem
The Greeks unapt for war and weak of arm,
As thou hast said? Thou longest to return:
Go, then; the way is open; by the sea
The barques that brought thee from Mycenae lie,
A numerous fleet. Yet others will remain⁠—
Long haired Achaians⁠—till we overthrow
The city. Should they also pine for home,
Then let them flee, with all their ships; while I
With Sthenelus fight on until we make
An end of Troy⁠—for with the gods we came.”

He spake. The Greeks applauded; all admired
The words of the horse-tamer Diomed.
Nestor the knight then rose, and thus he spake:⁠—

“O son of Tydeus, eminently brave
Art thou among thy comrades in the field,
And great in council. No one here condemns
The sentence thou hast given; among the Greeks
Is no one who denies what thou hast said;
Yet hast thou not said all. Thy years are few⁠—
So few, thou mightest be my youngest son;
And yet thou speakest wisely to the kings
Of Greece, and thy discourse is just and right.
Now I, who boast of far more years than thou,
Will speak of this that yet remains, and none⁠—
Not even Agamemnon⁠—will gainsay
What I advise. A wretch without a tie
Of kin, a lawless man without a home,
Is he who takes delight in civil strifes.
But let us now give way to the dark night,
And make our banquets ready. Let the guards
Lie down within the trenches which we digged
Without the wall: be this the young men’s charge.
And thou, Atrides, do thou now begin,
Who art supreme, and make a feast for all
The elder chiefs; it shall become thee well:
Thy tents are full of wine, which ships from Thrace
Bring every day across the mighty deep,
And thou hast all things ready, and a host
Of menials. Then, when many throng the board,
Thou shalt defer to him who counsels thee
Most wisely; for the Greeks have urgent need
Of prudent counsels, when the foe so close
Beside our galleys lights his multitude
Of watch-fires. Who that sees them can rejoice?
This night will rescue or destroy our host.”

He spake. They listened all, and willingly
Obeyed him. Forth in armor went the guards,
Led by the chieftain Thrasymedes, son
Of Nestor, by Ascalaphus, who claimed
His birth from Mars, and by Ialmenus
His brother, and Deipyrus, with whom
There followed Aphareus, Meriones,
And Lycomedes, Creon’s noble son.
Seven were the leaders of the guards; with each
A hundred youths in warlike order marched,
Bearing long spears; and when they reached the space
Between the trench and wall they sat them down,
And kindled fires and made their evening meal.

Atrides brought the assembled elder chiefs
To his pavilion, and before them set
A generous banquet. They put forth their hands
And shared the feast; and when the calls of thirst
And hunger ceased, the aged Nestor first
Began to counsel them; the chief, whose words
Had lately seemed of wisest import, now
Addressed the assembly with well-ordered speech:⁠—

“Atrides Agamemnon, glorious king!
What I shall say begins and ends with thee,
For thou dost rule o’er many nations. Jove
Hath given to thee the sceptre, and the power
To make their laws, that thou mayst seek their good.
Thou, therefore, of all men, shouldst speak and hear
In council, and shouldst follow willingly
Another’s judgment when it best promotes
The general weal; for all depends on thee.
Now let me say what seems to me most wise;
For better counsel none can give than this
Which now I meditate, and which to give
I purposed from the hour when thou, great king,
Didst bear the maid Briseis from the tent
Of the enraged Achilles, unapproved
By me, who strove to change thy rash design.
Then didst thou yield thee to thy haughty will,
And didst dishonor a most valiant man,
Whom the immortals honor. Thou didst take
And still dost keep the prize he fairly won.
Let it be now our study to appease
The hero with large gifts and soothing words.”

Then Agamemnon, king of men, replied:⁠—
“O ancient man, most truly hast thou named
My faults. I erred, and I deny it not.
That man indeed is equal to a host
Whom Jupiter doth love and honor thus,
Humbling the Achaian people for his sake.
And now, since, yielding to my wayward mood
I erred, let me appease him, if I may,
With gifts of priceless worth. Before you all
I number them⁠—seven tripods which the fire
Hath never touched, six talents of pure gold,
And twenty shining cauldrons, and twelve steeds
Of hardy frame, victorious in the race,
Whose feet have won me prizes in the games.
No beggar would he be, nor yet with store
Of gold unfurnished, in whose coffers lay
The prizes those swift steeds have brought to me.
Seven faultless women, skilled in household arts,
I give moreover⁠—Lesbians, whom I chose
When he o’erran the populous Lesbian isle⁠—
Damsels in beauty who excel their sex.
These I bestow, and with them I will send
Her whom I took away⁠—Briseis, pure⁠—
I swear it with a mighty oath⁠—as pure
As when she left his tent. All these I give
At once; and if by favor of the gods
We lay the mighty city of Priam waste,
He shall load down his galley with large store
Of gold and silver, entering first when we,
The Greeks, divide the spoil. Then may he choose
Twice ten young Trojan women, beautiful
Beyond their sex save Helen. If we come
Safe to Achaian Argos, richly stocked
With milky kine, he may become to me
A son-in-law, and cherished equally
With my sole son Orestes, who is reared
Most royally. Three daughters there, within
My stately palace-walls⁠—Chrysothemis,
Laodice, and Iphianassa⁠—dwell,
And he may choose among them, and may lead
Home to the house of Peleus her who best
Deserves his love. Nor need he to endow
The bride, for I will give an ampler dower
Than ever father to his daughter gave⁠—
Seven cities with thronged streets⁠—Cardamyle,
Enope, grassy Hira, Pherae famed
Afar, Antheia with rich pasture-fields,
Aepeia beautiful, and Pedasus
With all its vineyards; all are near the sea,
And stand the last before you reach the coast
Of sandy Pylos. Rich in flocks and herds
Their dwellers are, and they will honor him
As if he were a god, and, ruled by him,
Will pay large tribute. These will I bestow,
Let but his anger cool and his resolve
Give way. ’Tis Pluto who is deaf to prayer
And ne’er relents, and he, of all the gods,
Most hateful is to men. Now let the son
Of Peleus yield at length to me, who stand
Above him in authority and years.”

Then answered Nestor the Gerenian knight:⁠—
“Atrides Agamemnon! Glorious king!
Gifts not to be contemned thou offerest
To Prince Achilles. Let us now despatch
A chosen embassy, who shall proceed
At once to where Pelides holds his tent.
I name the men; and cheerfully will they
Perform the duty: Phoenix, dear to Jove,
Shall be their leader, mighty Ajax next,
And then high-born Ulysses; heralds twain
Shall follow⁠—Hodius and Eurybates.
And now be water brought to cleanse our hands,
And charge be given that no ill-omened word
Be uttered, while we pray that Jupiter,
The son of Saturn, will assist our need.”

He spake; and all approved the words he said.
Then poured the heralds water on the hands
Of those who sat. The young men crowned with wine
The goblets, and in seemly order passed
The brimming cups, distributing to each.
Part to the gods they poured, and next they drank
As each might choose, and then the embassy
Hastened from Agamemnon’s tent. To each
Gerenian Nestor spake in turn, and fixed
His eyes on each intently⁠—most of all
Upon Ulysses⁠—and with many a charge
To turn Pelides from his angry mood.
Along the edge of the resounding deep
They went, and as they walked they offered prayer
To earth-embracing Neptune, that their words
Might move the great soul of Aeacides.
And now they came where lay the Myrmidons
Among their tents and ships. Achilles there
Drew solace from the music of a harp
Sweet-toned and shapely, in a silver frame,
Part of the spoil he took when he o’erthrew
Eëtion’s town. To soothe his mood he sang
The deeds of heroes. By him sat alone
Patroclus, silent till the song should cease.
On moved the messengers⁠—before them walked
High-born Ulysses⁠—till they stood beside
Achilles. He beheld, and with the harp
Sprang from his seat, surprised. Patroclus saw
The heroes also, and arose. Their hands
The swift Achilles took in his, and said:⁠—

“Welcome! Ye come as friends. Some pressing cause
Must surely bring you hither, whom I prize,
Wronged as I am, beyond all other Greeks.”

Thus speaking, the great son of Peleus led
His guests still farther on, and seated them
On couches spread with purple coverings,
And thus addressed Patroclus, who was near:⁠—

“Son of Menoetius, bring a larger vase,
And mingle purer wine, and place a cup
For each, since these are most beloved friends⁠—
These warriors who now sit beneath my roof.”

He spake. Patroclus hearkened, and obeyed
His well-beloved friend, who meantime placed
A block beside the fire, and on it laid
Chines of a sheep and of a fatling goat,
And of a sow, the fattest of her kind.
Automedon stood by and held them fast;
Achilles took the knife and skilfully
Carved them in portions, and transfixed the parts
With spits. Patroclus, the divine in form,
Woke to a blaze the fire; and when the flame
Had ceased to rise he raked the glowing coals
Apart, and o’er them stretched the spits, and strewed,
Raising the flesh, the sacred salt o’er all.
And when he had made ready and had spread
The banquet on the board, Patroclus took
The bread and offered it to all the guests
In shapely canisters. Achilles served
The meats, and took his seat against the wall,
In front of great Ulysses. There he bade
His friend Patroclus offer sacrifice,
Casting the first rich morsels to the flames.
The guests put forth their hands and shared the feast;
And when the calls of hunger and of thirst
Were felt no longer, Ajax gave a nod
To Phoenix, which divine Ulysses saw,
And filled his cup and drank to Peleus’ son:⁠—

“Thy health, Achilles! Princely feasts like this
Attend us both in Agamemnon’s tent
And here⁠—for here is all that makes a feast
Complete; yet now is not the time to think
Of pleasant banquets, for our thoughts are turned⁠—
O Jove-born warrior!⁠—to a fearful time
Of slaughter, and the fate of our good ships⁠—
Whether we save them harmless, or the foe
Destroy them, if thou put not on thy might.
For now the haughty Trojans, and the troops
Who come from far to aid them, pitch their camp
Close to our fleet and wall, and all around
Kindle their many fires, and boast that we
No longer have the power to drive them back
From our black galleys. Jupiter, the son
Of Saturn, shows them favorable signs
With lightnings from above; and, terrible
In aspect and in valor, Hector makes
Sad havoc, trusting in the aid of Jove,
And neither reverences gods nor men⁠—
Such rage possesses him. He prays that soon
The morn may rise, that he may hew the prows
From all our ships and give them to the flames,
And slay the Greeks, bewildered with the smoke.
For me, I greatly fear the gods will grant
That he fulfil his threat, and that our doom
Will be to perish on the Trojan coast,
And far away from Argos, famed for steeds.
Rise, then, though late⁠—rise with a resolute mind,
And from the hard-pressed sons of Greece drive back
The assailing Trojans. Thou wilt else lament
Hereafter, when the evil shall be done
And shall admit no cure. Bethink thee well
How from the Greeks thou mayst avert the day
Of their destruction. O my friend, when first
He sent thee forth to Agamemnon’s help
From Phthia’s coast, thy father Peleus said:⁠—

“ ‘My child, from Juno and Minerva comes
The gift of valor, if they choose to give.
But curb thou the high spirit in thy breast,
For gentle ways are best, and keep aloof
From sharp contentions, that the old and young
Among the Greeks may honor thee the more.’

“Such was the old man’s charge, forgotten now.
Yield, then, and lay thy wrath aside. Large gifts
Doth Agamemnon offer, to appease
Thy wounded spirit. Hear me, if thou wilt,
Recount what gifts the monarch in his tent
Hath promised thee:⁠—Seven tripods which the fire
Hath never touched; six talents of pure gold;
And twenty shining cauldrons; and twelve steeds
Of hardy frame, victorious in the race,
Whose feet have won him prizes in the games.
No beggar would he be, nor yet with store
Of gold unfurnished, in whose coffers lay
The prizes those swift-footed steeds have won.
Seven faultless women, skilled in household arts,
He offers⁠—Lesbians, whom he chose when thou
Didst overrun the populous Lesbian isle⁠—
In beauty eminent among their sex.
These he bestows, and with them he will send
Her whom he took away⁠—Briseis, pure
He swears it with a mighty oath⁠—as pure
As when she left thy tent. All these he gives
At once; and if, by favor of the gods,
We lay the mighty city of Priam waste,
Thou shalt load down thy galley with large store
Of gold and silver, entering first when we,
The Greeks, divide the spoil. Then mayst thou choose
Twice ten young Trojan women, beautiful
Beyond their sex save Helen. If we come
Safe to Achaian Argos, richly stocked
With milky kine, thou mayst become to him
A son-in-law, and cherished equally
With his sole son Orestes, who is reared
Right royally. Three daughters there, within
The monarch’s stately halls⁠—Chrysothemis,
Laodice, and Iphianassa⁠—dwell,
And thou mayst choose among them, and mayst lead
Home to the house of Peleus her who best
Deserves thy love. Nor needest thou endow
The bride, for he will give an ampler dower
Than ever father to his daughter gave⁠—
Seven cities with thronged streets⁠—Cardamyle,
Enope, grassy Hira, Pherae famed
Afar, Antheia with rich pasture-grounds,
Aepeia beautiful, and Pedasus
With all its vineyards; all are near the sea,
And stand the last before you reach the coast
Of sandy Pylos. Rich in flocks and herds
Their dwellers are, and they will honor thee
As if thou wert a god, and, ruled by thee,
Will pay large tribute. These will he bestow,
Let but thine anger cease. But if the son
Of Atreus and his gifts still move thy hate,
At least have pity on the afflicted Greeks,
Pent in their camp, who now would honor thee
As if thou wert a god; and thou shalt gain
Great glory as their champion, and shalt slay
This Hector, who even now is close at hand,
And in a murderous frenzy makes his boast
That none of all the chieftains whom the fleet
Of Greece brought hither equals him in might.”

The swift Achilles answered him and said:⁠—
“Son of Laertes, nobly born, and versed
In wise devices, let me frankly speak
Just as I think, and just as I shall act,
And then ye will not importune me more.
Hateful to me, as are the gates of hell,
Is he who, hiding one thing in his heart,
Utters another. I shall speak as seems
To me the best; nor deem I that the son
Of Atreus or the other Greeks can move
My settled purpose, since no thanks are paid
To him who with the enemy maintains
A constant battle: equal is the meed
Of him who stands aloof and him who fights
Manfully; both the coward and the brave
Are held in equal honor, and they die
An equal death⁠—the idler and the man
Of mighty deeds. For me there is no store
Of wealth laid up from all that I have borne,
Exposing life in battle. As a bird
Brings to her unfledged young the food she finds,
Though she herself be fasting, so have I
Had many a night unvisited by sleep,
And passed in combat many a bloody day,
Fighting beside these warriors for their wives.
Twelve cities have I with my fleet laid waste,
And with my Myrmidons have I o’erthrown
Eleven upon this fertile Trojan coast.
Full many a precious spoil from these I bore,
And to Atrides Agamemnon gave.
He, loitering in his fleet, received them all;
Few he distributed, and many kept.
To chiefs and princes he indeed assigned
Prizes, which now they hold. From me alone
Of all the Greeks he takes my prize; he takes
My bride, whom well I loved;⁠—and let him keep
The damsel. But what need is there that Greeks
Wage war against the Trojans? For what cause
Did Agamemnon, gathering from our realms
An army, lead it hither? Was it not
Because of fair-haired Helen? Are the sons
Of Atreus, then, the only men on earth
Who love their wives? Nay, every good man loves
And cherishes his spouse; and mine I loved
Tenderly, though the captive of my spear:
And now, since he hath taken my reward
Away and treacherously dealt with me,
Let him not try again, for I am warned,
And he will not persuade me. Let him take
Counsel with thee, Ulysses, and the rest,
How to drive back the enemy and save
The fleet from flames. Already has he done
Much without me; a rampart he has raised,
And round it dug a deep, broad trench, and filled
The trench with palisades. Yet can he not
Resist the man-destroyer Hector thus.
This Hector, when I fought among the Greeks,
Never would fight at distance from the walls,
And ventured not beyond the Scaean gates
And beechen tree. There waited he for me
Upon a time, and scarce escaped with life
From my assault. Now, since I do not choose
To fight with noble Hector, I shall pay,
Tomorrow, sacrifice to Jupiter
And all the gods, and load my galleys well,
And draw them to the water. Then shalt thou
See⁠—if thou care for such a sight⁠—my ships
Sailing upon the fishy Hellespont
At early morning, with their crews on board
Eager to pull the oar; and if the god
Of ocean grant a prosperous voyage, then
On the third day we reach the fertile coast
Of Phthia. Large possessions left I there
When I came hither in an evil hour;
And thither I shall carry with me gold
And ruddy brass, and women of fair forms,
And burnished steel⁠—the spoils I won in war.
The prize he gave me, Agamemnon, son
Of Atreus, takes, with many insults, back.
Bear him this message⁠—give it openly,
That others of the Greeks may be like me
Indignant should he impudently dare
To wrong them also:⁠—Let him ne’er again,
Though shameless, dare to look me in the face.
I will not join in council or in act
With him: he has deceived and wronged me once,
And now he cannot wheedle me with words.
Let once suffice. I leave him to himself,
To perish. All-providing Jupiter
Hath made him mad. I hate his gifts; I hold
In utter scorn the giver. Were his gifts
Tenfold⁠—nay, twenty-fold⁠—the worth of all
That he possesses, and with added wealth
From others⁠—all the riches that flow in
Upon Orchomenus, or Thebes, the pride
Of Egypt, where large treasures are laid up,
And through whose hundred gates rush men and steeds,
Two hundred through each gate;⁠—nay, should he give
As many gifts as there are sands and dust
Of earth⁠—not even then shall Atreus’ son
Persuade me, till I reap a just revenge
For his foul contumelies. I will wed
No child of Agamemnon. Even though
She vied with golden Venus in her charms,
And with the blue-eyed Pallas in her skill,
I would not wed her. Let him choose among
The Greeks a fitter husband⁠—one whose rule
Is wider than my own. For if the gods
Preserve me, and I reach my home again,
My father, Peleus, will bestow on me
A consort. Many are the Achaian maids,
Daughters of chiefs who hold our citadels
In Hellas, and in Phthia, and of these,
Her who shall most delight me I will make
My well-beloved wife. My soul has longed
Earnestly, with a fitting spouse betrothed
Duly, to make my dwelling there, and there
Enjoy the wealth which aged Peleus won;
For not to be compared with life is all
The wealth which, as men say, was treasured up
In Ilium’s populous town in time of peace,
Ere the Greeks came, nor all the stores contained
Within the stony threshold of the god
Who bears the bow, Apollo, on the coast
Of rocky Pytho. We may gather spoil
Of oxen and of fatling sheep, and bring
Tripods from war, and yellow-manèd steeds:
The breath of man no force can seize or hold,
And when it leaves the enclosure of the teeth
It comes not back. My mother said to me⁠—
The goddess, silver-footed Thetis, said⁠—
A twofold fate conducts me to my death;⁠—
If I remain to fight beneath the walls
Of Ilium, my return will be cut off,
But deathless my renown; if I return
To the dear land in which my fathers dwell,
My glory will be nought, but long my life,
And late will come to me the stroke of death.
And now I counsel all to sail for home,
For never will ye see the overthrow
Of lofty Ilium. Jove the Thunderer
Stretches his great hand o’er her, and her sons
Take courage. Go ye now, and take with you
This message to the princes of the Greeks⁠—
As is the office of an embassy⁠—
And bid them meditate some wiser plan
To save their galleys and the host of Greeks
Within the hollow barques. The plan which brought
You hither cannot serve you while I keep
My anger unappeased. Let Phoenix stay
To pass the night with us, that he may sail
Tomorrow, if it please him, to the land
We love; I take him not against his will.”

He ceased; and silent were the ambassadors,
Astonished at his passionate words. At last
Phoenix, the aged knight, with many tears
And sighs, took up the word, in grief and fear
Lest Hector should destroy the Grecian fleet:⁠—

“Illustrious son of Peleus, if indeed
Thou wilt return, nor carest to repel
From our swift galleys the consuming fire,
Because thou art offended, how shall I,
Dear child, remain without thee? When at first
Peleus, the aged knight, from Phthia sent
Thee, yet a boy, to Agamemnon’s aid,
Unskilled as then thou wert in cruel war
And martial councils⁠—where men also gain
A great renown⁠—he sent me with thee, charged
To teach thee both, that so thou mightst become
In words an orator, in warlike deeds
An actor. Therefore, my beloved child,
Not willingly shall I remain behind;
Not even though a god should promise me
That, overcoming the decays of age,
I might become a beardless youth again,
As when from Hellas and its companies
Of lovely maids I came a fugitive,
And left Amyntor, son of Ormenus⁠—
My father⁠—angry with me for the sake
Of a fair-tressed wanton, whom he loved,
Treating my mother basely. To my knees
My mother came and prayed me ceaselessly,
First, to possess the woman, that she then
Might loathe the elder one; and I obeyed.
My father knew it, and with many a curse
Invoked the hateful furies to forbid
That any child who owed his birth to me
Should ever sit upon his knees. The gods⁠—
The Jove of Hades and dread Proserpine⁠—
Confirmed his curse. To slay him with the sword
Was my first thought. Some god subdued my wrath,
Reminding me of what the public voice
Would say, and infamy that would ensue⁠—
Lest I among the Achaians should be called
A parricide. I could not brook to dwell
Within my father’s palace while he thus
Was wroth with me. My kindred and my friends
Came round me, and besought me to remain,
And stayed beside me. Many a fatling ewe
And many a slow-paced ox with curving horns
They slew, and many a fattened swine they stretched
Over the flame of Vulcan. From the casks
Of the old chief his wine was freely drawn.
Nine nights they slept surrounding me, while each
Kept watch in turn: nor ever were the fires
Put out; one blazed beneath the portico
Of the fair hall, and near the chamber-door
Another glimmered in the vestibule.
But when upon me rose the tenth dark night,
I broke my aptly-jointed chamber-doors,
And issued forth, and easily o’erleaped
The wall around the palace, quite unseen
Of watching men and of the serving maids.
I fled through spacious Hellas to the fields
Of Phthia, nurse of flocks, and to her king,
Peleus, who kindly welcomed me, and loved
Me as a father loves his only son,
Born to large wealth in his declining years.
He made me rich, and gave me sovereign rule
Over much people. My abode was fixed
In farthest Phthia, where I was the prince
Of the Dolopians. As for thee, my care,
Godlike Achilles, made thee what thou art.
I loved thee from my soul: thou wouldst not go
With any other to the feast, nor take
Thy food at home until upon my knees
I placed thee, carved thy meats, and gave them thee,
And poured thy wine. The tunic on my breast
Was often wetted by thee when the wine
Gushed in thy petulant childhood from thy lips.
Thus many things did I endure for thee,
And many toils perform; and since the gods
Vouchsafed no son to me, it was my thought
To train thee as a son, that thou mightst be,
O godlike man! the bulwark of my age.
And now subdue that mighty spirit of thine:
Ill it becomes thee to be merciless:
The gods themselves are placable, though far
Above us all in honor and in power
And virtue. We propitiate them with vows,
Incense, libations, and burnt-offerings,
And prayers for those who have offended. Prayers
Are daughters of almighty Jupiter⁠—
Lame, wrinkled, and squint-eyed⁠—that painfully
Follow Misfortune’s steps; but strong of limb
And swift of foot Misfortune is, and, far
Outstripping all, comes first to every land,
And there wreaks evil on mankind, which prayers
Do afterwards redress. Whoe’er receives
Jove’s daughters reverently when they approach,
Him willingly they aid, and to his suit
They listen. Whosoever puts them by
With obstinate denial, they appeal
To Jove, the son of Saturn, and entreat
That he will cause Misfortune to attend
The offender’s way in life, that he in turn
May suffer evil and be punished thus.
Wherefore, Achilles! do thou also yield
The honor due Jove’s daughters, freely given
By other valiant men. If Atreus’ son
Brought thee no gifts, nor promised others still,
But kept his anger, I would never ask
That thou shouldst lay aside thy wrath and come
To help the Argives in their bitter need.
But he bestows large gifts, and adds a pledge
Of others yet in store, and he hath sent
The best men of the army, who to thee
Are dearest, to entreat thee. Spurn thou not
These, nor their embassy, although at first
Thine anger was not causeless. We have heard
The praise of heroes of the elder time,
Inflamed to vehement anger, yet appeased
By gifts, and yielding to persuasive words.
One instance I remember: long ago
It happened, and I will relate it here
Among my friends. Around the city-walls
Of Calydon did the Curetes strive
In battle with the Aetolians; they destroyed
Each other fearfully. The Aetolians fought
To save the pleasant town of Calydon,
And the Curetes warred to lay it waste.
Diana of the golden throne had caused
The war, displeased with Oeneus, who withheld
From her the first-fruits of his fertile field:
While hecatombs were burnt in sacrifice
To feast the other gods, to her alone⁠—
Daughter of Jove⁠—no offering was brought;
For either he forgot, or thought the rite
Of little moment; but he greatly erred.
And now the child of Jove, the archer-queen,
Incensed, sent forth against him from the wood
A white-tusked wild boar, which upon his lands
Entered, and ravaged them, and brought to earth
Many tall trees: tree after tree they fell,
With roots uptorn, and all the blossoms on,
That promised fruit. Him Meleager, son
Of Oeneus, slew, with many hunters called
From neighboring cities, bringing many hounds.
A few could not subdue him: he had made
Many already mount the funeral pile.
Diana kindled round the boar a strife
For the beast’s head and bristly hide⁠—a war
’Twixt the Curetes and the Aetolian band
Of braves. The war, while Meleager fought,
Went not with the Curetes, nor could they,
Though many, keep the field. But wrath at last
Seized Meleager⁠—wrath, which rages oft
Even in prudent minds. Incensed against
Althaea, his own mother, he remained
At home with Cleopatra, his young wife,
The beauteous, whom a delicate-footed dame
Marpessa, daughter of Evenus, bore
To Idas, bravest in his time among
The sons of men⁠—so brave that once he drew
A bow against Apollo for the sake
Of his neat-footed bride. The honored pair
Within the palace used to call their child
Alcyone; for when the archer-god,
Apollo, from her husband bore away
The mother, Cleopatra sadly wailed,
As wails the halcyon. So beside his spouse
Dwelt Meleager, brooding ever o’er
The violent anger which his mother’s curse
Had kindled. Grieving for a brother’s death,
She supplicated heaven, and often struck
Her hands against the teeming earth, and called⁠—
Kneeling, her bosom all bedewed with tears⁠—
On Pluto and the cruel Proserpine,
To put her son to death. From Erebus
The pitiless Erinnys, wandering
In darkness, heard the prayer. Then straightway rose
A sound of fearful tumult at the gates:
The towers were battered, and the elder chiefs
Of the Aetolians hastened to entreat
The aid of Meleager, and they sent
Priests of the gods, a chosen band, to pray
That he would come to their defence. Large gifts
They promised. Where the soil of Calydon
Was best, they bade him choose a fruitful field
Of fifty acres, half for vines, and half,
Cleared of the trees, for tillage. Earnestly
Did aged Oeneus, famed for horsemanship,
Beseech him; to the chamber of his son,
High-roofed, he climbed, and at the threshold shook
The massive doors with knocking as he sued.
His sisters and his reverend mother joined
Their supplications: he resisted still.
And much his friends, the dearest and most prized,
Besought him, but they vainly strove to swerve
His steadfast mind, till his own chamber felt
The assault, and the Curetes climbed the walls
To fire the populous city. Then the nymph,
His graceful wife, entreated him with tears,
And spake of all the horrors which o’ertake
A captured city⁠—all the men cut off
By massacre, the houses given to flames,
The children and deep-bosomed women dragged
Into captivity. Her sorrowful words
He heard; his spirit was disturbed; he went
To gird his glittering armor on, and thus
He saved the Aetolians from a fearful doom,
Obeying his own impulse. The reward
Of rare and costly gifts they gave him not,
Though thus he rescued them. Be not thy thought
Like his, my friend; let no invisible power
Persuade thee thus to act. Far worse it were
To wait, and when our fleet is all on fire
Offer thy aid. Accept the gifts at once:
Then will the Greeks, as if thou wert a god,
Hold thee in honor. If without the gifts
Thou enter later on the field of fight,
Thou wilt not have like honor with the host,
Although thou turn the assault of battle back.”

Then did Achilles, swift of foot, reply:⁠—
“O ancient Phoenix, father, loved of Jove,
Such honor need I not; for the decree
Of Jove, I deem, already honors me,
And will detain me by my beakèd ships
While breath is in my lungs, and I have power
To move these knees. Yet one thing I would say⁠—
And bear it thou in mind⁠—vex not my soul
With weeping and lamenting for the sake
Of Agamemnon; it becomes thee not⁠—
Thou who art loved by me⁠—to yield thy love
To him, unless thou wouldst incur my hate.
And thou shouldst be the enemy of him
Who wrongs me. Reign thou equally with me,
And share my honors. These will carry back
My answer. Thou remain, and, softly couched,
Sleep here: with early morn will we consult
Whether to leave this region or remain.”

He spake, and, nodding to Patroclus, gave
A signal to prepare an ample couch
For Phoenix, while the other chiefs prepared
To leave the tent. Then Ajax Telamon,
The godlike chief, addressed his comrades thus:⁠—

“Son of Laertes, nobly born, and skilled
In sage devices, let us now depart,
Since, as it seems, the end for which we came
Cannot be compassed thus, and we must bear
With speed the unwelcome answer to the Greeks,
Who sit expecting us; while in his breast
The implacable Achilles bears a fierce
And haughty heart, nor doth he heed the claim
Of that close friendship of his fellow-chiefs,
Which at the Grecian fleet exalted him
Above all others. Unrelenting one!
Even for a brother’s death a price is paid,
Or when a son is slain: the slayer dwells
At home among his people, having made
The appointed expiation. He to whom
The fine is offered takes it, and his thirst
Of vengeance is appeased. But in thy heart
The gods have kindled an unquenchable rage,
All for a single damsel⁠—and behold,
Seven more we offer, passing beautiful,
With many gifts beside. Let, then, thy mood
Be softened: have respect to thine own roof;
For we are guests beneath it, sent from all
The assembled host, and strong is our desire
To be thy dearest and most cherished friends
Of all the Achaians, many as they are.”

Achilles the swift-footed answered thus:⁠—
“Illustrious Ajax, son of Telamon,
Prince of the people! All that thou hast said,
I well perceive, is prompted by thy heart.
Mine swells with indignation when I think
How King Atrides mid the assembled Greeks
Heaped insults on me, as if I had been
A wretched vagabond. But go ye now
And bear my message. I shall never think
Of bloody war till noble Hector, son
Of Priam, slaughtering in his way the Greeks,
Shall reach the galleys of the Myrmidons,
To lay the fleet in flames. But when he comes
To my own tent and galley, he, I think,
Though eager for the combat, will desist.”

He spake. Each raised a double cup and poured
Libations to the gods; they then returned
Beside the fleet. Ulysses led the way.

Patroclus bade the attendant men and maids
Strew with all speed a soft and ample bed
For Phoenix. They obeyed, and spread the couch
With skins of sheep, dyed coverlets, and sheets
Of lawn; and there the old man lay to wait
The glorious morn. Meantime Achilles slept
Within the tent’s recess, and by him lay
Phorbas’s daughter, whom he carried off
From Lesbos⁠—Diomede, rosy-cheeked.
Upon the other side Patroclus lay,
With slender-waisted Iphis by his side,
Given by the great Achilles when he took
Scyros the tall, where Enyeus ruled.

Now when the ambassadors were come within
The tent of Agamemnon, all the chiefs
Rose, one by one, and, lifting up to them
Their golden goblets, asked the news they brought;
And first Atrides, king of men, inquired:⁠—

“Renowned Ulysses, glory of the Greeks!
Tell me, will he protect our fleet from flames,
Or does he, in his wrath and pride, refuse?”

Then spake the hardy chief Ulysses thus:⁠—
“Atrides Agamemnon, glorious king
Of men! He will not let his wrath abate,
But rages yet more fiercely, and contemns
Thee and thy gifts. He leaves thee to consult
With thine Achaians by what means to save
The fleet and army; for himself he means
Tomorrow, with the early dawn, to launch
His well-appointed galleys on the sea,
And will advise the other Greeks to spread
The sails for home, since they will never see
The overthrow of lofty Troy, for Jove
The Thunderer stretches his protecting hand
Above her, and her sons have taken heart.
Such are his words; and those who went with me
Are present⁠—Ajax and the heralds both,
Sage men⁠—the witnesses to what I say.
The aged Phoenix stays behind to sleep,
And on the morrow to attend his chief
To their beloved country⁠—if he will,
For else by no means will he take him hence.”

He spake; and all were silent, all amazed
At what they heard, for these were bitter words.
Long sat the sons of Greece in silent thought,
Till Diomed, the great in battle, spake:⁠—
“Atrides Agamemnon, glorious king
Of men! I would thou hadst not deigned to ask
The illustrious son of Peleus for his aid,
With offer of large gifts; for arrogant
He is at all times: thou hast made him now
More insolent. Now leave him to himself,
To go or to remain: he yet will fight
When his mood changes, or some god within
Shall move him. Let us do what I advise:⁠—
Betake we all ourselves to rest, but first
Refresh ourselves with food and wine; in them
Is strength and spirit. When the rosy morn
Shall shine, command thou that the foot and horse
Be speedily drawn up before the fleet,
And thou encourage them with cheerful words,
And fight among them in the foremost rank.”

He spake. The kings assented, and admired
The words of the horse-tamer Diomed;
And, pouring out libations, to their tents
They all departed, and lay down to rest,
And took into their souls the balm of sleep.