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

The Ransoming of Hector

T HE GREEKS made a great mourning for Patroclus, and paid due honours to him, the body of Hector was shamefully treated, for Achilles caused it to be dragged daily about the tomb of his friend. Then Zeus sent for Thetis and said to her: "Go to the camp, and bid your son give up the body of Hector for ransom; it angers me to see him do dishonour to the dead."


Hector's Body Dragged at the Chariot of Achilles

So Thetis went to the tent of Achilles and found him weeping softly for his friend, for the strength of his sorrow was now spent. And she said to him: "It is the will of Zeus that you give up the body of Hector for ransom." And he said: "Let it be so, if the gods will have it."

Then, again, Zeus sent Iris his messenger to King Priam, where he sat in his palace with his face wrapped in his mantle, and his sons weeping round him, and his daughter and his daughters-in-law wailing in their chambers of the palace. Iris said to him: "Be of good cheer; I come from Zeus. He bids you take precious gifts wherewith to buy back the body of Hector from Achilles. Nor will Achilles refuse to give it up."

So Priam rose from his place with gladness in his heart. Nor would he listen to the Queen when she would have kept him back.

"I have heard the voice of the messenger of Zeus, and I will go. And if I die, what do I care? Let Achilles slay me, so that I hold the body of my son once more in my arms."

Then he caused precious things to be put into a wagon, mantles which had never been washed, and rugs, and cloaks, twelve of each, and ten talents of gold, and cauldrons and basins, and a great cup of gold which the Thracians had given him. Nothing of his treasures did he spare if only he might buy back his son. Then he bade his sons yoke the mules to the wagon. With many bitter words did he speak to them; they were cowards, he said, an evil brood, speakers of lying words, and mighty only to drink wine. But they did not answer him. Then Priam himself yoked the horses to the chariot, the herald helping. But before he went he poured out wine to Zeus, and prayed, saying: "Hear me, O Father, and cause Achilles to pity me; give me also a lucky sign that I may go on this business with a good heart."

So Zeus sent an eagle, a mighty bird, and it flew with wings outstretched over the city, on the right hand of the King.

Then the King passed out of the gates. Before him the mules drew the wagon; these the herald drove. But Priam himself drove his horses. Then said Zeus to Hermes: "Go, guide the King, so that none of the Greeks may see him before he comes to the tent of Achilles." So Hermes fastened on his feet the winged sandals with which he flies, and he flew till he came to the plain of Troy. And when the wagon and the chariot were close to the tomb of Ilus, the herald spied a man (for Hermes had taken the shape of a man), and said to the King: "What shall we do? I see a man. Shall we flee, or shall we beg him to have mercy on us?" And the King was greatly troubled. But Hermes came near and said: "Whither do you go in the darkness with these horses and mules? Have you no fear of the Greeks? If any one should spy all this wealth, what then? You are old, and could scarcely defend yourselves. But be of good cheer; I will protect you, for you are like to my own dear father."

Priam answered: "Happy is he to have such a son. Surely the gods are with me, that I have met such a one as you."

Then said Hermes: "Tell me true; are you sending away these treasures for safe keeping, fearing that the city will be taken now that Hector is dead?"

Priam answered: "Who are you that you speak of Hector?"

Hermes said: "I am a Myrmidon, one of the people of Achilles, and often have I seen your son in the front of the battle."

Then the King asked him: "Is the body of Hector yet whole, or have the dogs and the vultures devoured it?"

Hermes answered: "It is whole, and without blemish, as fresh as when he died. Surely the gods love him, even though he be dead."

Then King Priam would have had the young man take a gift; but Hermes said: "I will take no gift unknown to my master. So to do would be wrong to him. But I will guide you to his tent, if you would go thither."

So he leapt into the chariot and took the reins. And when they came to the trench, where the sentinels were at their meal, Hermes caused a deep sleep to fall on them, and he opened the gate, and brought in the King with his treasures. And when they were at the tent of Achilles, the young man said: "I am Hermes, whom Father Zeus sent to be your guide. Go in and clasp him about the knees, and entreat him to have pity upon you." And he vanished out of his sight.

Then Priam went to the tent, where Achilles, who had just ended his meal, sat at the table, and caught his knees and kissed his hands, yea, the very hands which had slain so many of his sons. He said: "Have pity on me, O Achilles, thinking of your own father. He is old as I am, yet it goes well with him, so long as he knows that you are alive, for he hopes to see you coming back from the land of Troy. But as for me, I am altogether miserable. Many sons have I lost, and now the best of them all is dead, and lo! I kiss the hands which slew him."

Then the heart of Achilles was moved with pity and he wept, thinking now of his own father and now of the dead Patroclus. At last he stood up from his seat and said: "How did you dare to come to my tent, old man? Surely you must have a heart of iron. But come, sit and eat and drink; for this a man must do, for all the sorrows that come upon him."

But the King said: "Ask me not to eat and drink while my son lies unburied and without honour. Rather take the gifts which I have brought, with which to ransom him."

But Achilles frowned and said: "Vex me not; I am minded to give back the body of Hector, but let me go my own way." Then Priam held his peace, for he feared to rouse the anger of Achilles. Then Achilles went forth from the tent, and two companions with him. First they took the gifts from the wagon; only they left two cloaks and a tunic wherewith to cover the dead. And Achilles bade the women wash and anoint the body, only that they should do this apart from the tent, lest Priam should see his son, and lament aloud when the body was washed and anointed, Achilles himself lifted it in his arms, and put it on a litter, and his comrades put the litter in the wagon.

When all was finished, Achilles groaned and cried to his dead friend, saying: "Be not angry, O Patroclus, that I have given the body of Hector to his father. He has given a noble ransom, and of this you shall have your share as is meet."

Then he went back to his tent and said: "Your son, old man, is ransomed, and to-morrow shall you see him and take him back to Troy. But now let us eat and drink." And this they did. But when this had ended, they sat and looked at each other, and Achilles wondered at King Priam, so noble was he to behold, and Priam wondered to see how strong and how fair was Achilles.

Then Priam said: "Let me sleep, Achilles, for I have not slept since my son was slain." So they made up for him a bed, but not in the tent, lest, perhaps, one of the chiefs should come in and see him. But before he slept the King said: "Let there be a truce for nine days between the Greeks and the Trojans, that we may bury Hector." And Achilles said: "It shall be so; I will stay the war for so long."

But when the King slept, Hermes came again to him and said: "Do you sleep among your enemies, O Priam? Awake and depart, for although Achilles has taken ransom for Hector, what would not your sons have to pay for you if the Greeks should find you in the camp?"

Then the old man rose up. And the wise herald yoked the mules to the wagon and the horses to the chariot. And they passed through the camp of the Greeks, no man knowing, and came safe to the city of Troy.

On the ninth day the King and his people made a great burying for Hector, such as had never been seen in the land of Troy.

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