Gateway to the Classics: The Iliad for Boys and Girls by Alfred J. Church
The Iliad for Boys and Girls by  Alfred J. Church

How Hector and Ajax Fought

A THENE was very sorry to see how her dear Greeks were being killed by Hector and his companions. So she flew down from the heights of Olympus to see whether she could help them. When she had come to the plains of Troy she met Apollo. Now Apollo loved the Trojans, and said to her: "Are you come, Athené, to help the Greeks whom you love? Now I, as you know, love the Trojans. Let us therefore join together and stop them from fighting for to-day. Hereafter they shall fight till that which the Fates have settled for Troy shall come to pass."

Athené answered: "How shall we stop them from fighting?" Apollo said: "We will set on Hector to challenge the bravest of the Greeks to fight with him, man to man."

So these two put the thought into the mind of the prophet Helĕnus. So Helĕnus went up to Hector and said: "Hector, listen to me; I am your brother, and also the gods have made me a prophet, so that you should take heed to the things which I say. Now my advice is this: cause the men of Troy and the Greeks to sit down in peace, and do you challenge the bravest of the enemy to fight with you, man to man. And be sure that in this fight you will not be killed, for so much the gods have told me; but whether you will kill the other, that I do not know, for the gods have not told me."

This pleased Hector greatly, and he went to the front of the army, holding his spear by the middle, and keeping the Trojans back. And King Agamemnon did the same with his own people. Then Hector said:

"Hear me, sons of Troy, and ye men of Greece. The covenant which we made together was broken. Truly this was not my doing; the gods would have it so, for it is their will that we should fight together, till either you take our city or we drive you back to your ships, and compel you to go back to your own land. And yet listen to what I shall now say, for it may be that the gods will repent and suffer peace to be made between us. Do you Greeks choose out from those who are strongest and bravest among you some one to fight with me, man to man. And let this be agreed between us: if this man shall conquer me, then he shall take my arms for himself, but he shall give back my body to my people that they may burn it with fire. And in like manner, if I shall conquer him, then I will take his arms for myself, but I will give his body to his people that they may bury it and raise a great mound over it. And so in days to come men who shall see it, as they sail by, will say: 'This is the tomb of the bravest of the Greeks, whom Hector of Troy killed in battle, fighting him man to man.' So my name will be remembered for ever."

When the Greeks heard these words, they all stood still, saying nothing. They feared to meet the great Hector in battle, for he seemed to be stronger than he had ever been before, but they were ashamed to hold back. Then Menelaüs jumped up in his place and cried: "Surely now ye are women and not men. What a shame it is to Greece that no one can be found to fight with this Hector! I will fight with him my own self, for the gods give the victory to one man or to another as they will."

So spoke Menelaüs, for he was very angry, and did not care whether he lived or died. And, indeed, it would have been his death to fight with Hector, who was by much the stronger of the two. But King Agamemnon would not suffer him to be so rash. "Nay, my brother," he said, "this is but folly. Seek not to fight with one who is much stronger than you. Even Achilles was not willing to meet him. Sit still, therefore, for the Greeks will find some champion to meet him."

And Menelaüs hearkened to his brother's words and sat down. But when no one stood up to offer himself to fight with Hector, old Nestor rose in his place and said: "Now this is a sad day for Greece! How sorry old Peleus would be to hear of this thing. I remember how glad he was when I told him about the chiefs who were going to fight against Troy, who they were and whence they came. And now he would hear that they are all afraid when Hector challenges them to fight with him man to man. He would pray that he might die. Oh, that I were such as I was in the old days, when the men of Pylos fought with the men of Arcadia. The men of Arcadia had a great champion, who was the strongest and biggest of all the men of that day, and carried the most famous arms in Greece, and a club of iron such as no one else could wield. And when this man challenged the men of Pylos to fight with him, the others, indeed, were afraid, for the man was like a giant; but I stood up, though I was the youngest of them all, and Athené stood by me and gave me great glory, for I slew him, and took from him his arms and his great iron club. Oh! that I were now such as I was that day! Hector would soon find some one to fight with him."

When old Nestor sat down, nine chiefs stood up. First among them was King Agamemnon, and after him Diomed and Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Less and Ulysses, and four others. Then said Nestor: "Let us cast lots to see who of these nine shall fight with Hector."

So the nine chiefs threw their lots, each man a lot, into the helmet of King Agamemnon. And the people standing round prayed silently to the gods: "Grant that the lot of Ajax the Greater may leap first out of the helmet, or the lot of Diomed, or the lot of King Agamemnon." Then Nestor shook the helmet, and it came to pass that the lot which first leapt forth was that very one which they most desired. For when the herald carried it round to the chiefs no one took it for his own, till the man came to Ajax the Greater. But Ajax had marked it with his own mark; he put out his hand, therefore and claimed it. He was very glad in his heart, and he threw down the lot at his feet and cried: "The lot is mine, my friends, and I am glad above measure, for I think that I shall conquer this mighty Hector. And now I will put on my arms. And do you pray Father Zeus, silently, if you will, that the Trojans may not hear; or if you had rather pray aloud, then do so, for I fear no man. None shall conquer me either by force or by craft, for the men of Salamis"—it was from the island of Salamis he came—"are not to be conquered."

So Ajax put on his armour. And when he finished, he went forward, as dreadful to look at as the god of war himself, and there was a smile on his face, but it was not the smile that other men like to see. Taking great strides he went, and he shook his great spear. And when the Trojans saw him their knees trembled beneath them, and even the great Hector felt his heart beat more quickly than before. But he showed no fear, and stood firmly in his place, for he himself challenged his adversary.

So Ajax came near, holding his great shield before him, as it might be a wall. There was no such shield in all the army of the Greeks. It had seven folds of bull's-hide, and one fold, the eighth, of bronze. Then Ajax spoke in a loud voice: "Come near, Hector, that you may see what men we have among us, we Greeks, though the great Achilles is not here, but sits idle in his tent."

Hector answered: "Do not speak to me, Ajax, as though I were a woman or a child, and knew nothing of war. I know all the arts of battle, to turn my shield this way and that to meet the spear of the enemy, and to drive my chariot through the crowds of men and horses, and to fight hand to hand. But come, let us fight openly, face to face, as honest men should do."

And as he spoke he threw his great spear at Ajax. Through six folds of bull's-hide it passed, but the seventh stopped it, for all that it was so strongly thrown. It was no easy thing to pierce the great shield with its seven folds. But when Ajax, in his turn, threw his spear at Hector, it passed through his shield, and through the armour that covered his body, and through the garment that was under the armour. It went near to killing him, but Hector bent his body away, and so saved himself. Then each took a fresh spear, and ran together as fiercely as lions or wild boars. Again did Hector drive his spear against the great shield, and again did he drive it in vain, for the spear point was bent back. But Ajax, making a great leap from the ground, pierced Hector's shield with his spear, and pushed him back from the place where he stood, and the spear point grazed his neck, so that the blood spirted out. Then Hector caught up a great stone that lay upon the ground and threw it. And yet once more the great shield stayed him, nor could he break it through, and the stone which Ajax threw was heavier by far, and it broke Hector's shield and bore him to the ground, so that he lay on his back upon the ground, with the broken shield over him. Truly it had fared ill with him but that Apollo raised him up and set him on his feet. Then the two warriors drew their swords, but before they could get close together, the two heralds came up and thrust their staves between them. And the Trojan herald said: "It is enough, my sons; fight no more; you are great warriors both of you, and Zeus loves you both. But now the night is at hand, and bids you cease, and you will do well to obey."


Hector and Ajax Separated by the Heralds

Then said Ajax: "Yes, herald; but it is for Hector to speak, for he began this matter, challenging the bravest of the Greeks to fight with him. And what he wills, that I will also."

Hector said: "The herald speaks well. Verily the gods have given you, O Ajax, stature and strength and skill. There is no better warrior among the Greeks. Let us cease then from fighting; haply we may meet again another day, and the gods may give victory to you or to me. But now let us give gifts to each other, so that the Trojans and Greeks may say, 'Hector and Ajax met in battle, but parted in friendship.' "

So Hector gave to Ajax a silver-studded sword, with a scabbard and a belt, and Ajax gave to Hector a buckler splendid with purple. So they parted. And the Trojans were right glad to see Hector coming back safe from the battle; on the other hand, the Greeks rejoiced yet more, for indeed their champion had prevailed. And King Agamemnon called all the chiefs to a feast, and to Ajax he gave the chine. The Trojans also feasted in their city. But Zeus sent thunder all that night to be a sign of trouble to come.

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