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 Wounding of the Chiefs

A S soon as it was light Agamemnon called the Greeks, and Hector called the Trojans to battle, nor were either unwilling to obey. For a time the fighting was equal, but at noon, at the time when a man who is cutting down trees upon the hills grows weary of his work and longs for food, then the Greeks began to prevail. And the first man to break through the line of the Trojans was King Agamemnon. Never before had the King done such mighty deeds, for he drove the Trojans back to the very walls of the city. Hector himself did not dare to stand up before him, for Iris brought this message to him from Zeus: "So long as Agamemnon fights in the front, do you hold back, for this is the day on which it is his lot to win great honour for himself; but when he shall be wounded, then do you go forward, and you shall have strength to drive the Greeks before you till they come to the ships, and the sun shall set." So Hector held back, and after a while the King was wounded. There were two sons of Antenor in one chariot, and they came against him. First the King threw his spear at the younger of the two, but missed his aim. Then the Trojan thrust at Agamemnon with his spear, driving it against his breastplate. With all his strength he drove it, but the silver which was in the breastplate turned the spear, so that it bent as if it had been of lead. Then the King caught the spear in his hand, and drove it through the neck of his adversary, so that he fell dead from the chariot. But when the elder brother saw this he also thrust at the King with his spear, nor did he thrust in vain, but he pierced his arm beneath the elbow. But him also did the King slay, wounding him first with his spear and afterwards cutting off his head with his sword. For a time, while the wound was warm, the King still fought, but when it grew cold and stiff, then the pain was greater than he could bear, and he said to his charioteer, "Now carry me back to the ships, for I cannot fight any more."

The next of the chiefs that was wounded was Diomed. Him Paris wounded with an arrow as he was stripping the arms from a Trojan which he had slain. For Paris hid himself behind the pillar which stood on the tomb of Ilu, and shot his arrows from thence. On the ankle of the right foot did Paris hit him, and when he saw that he had not shot the arrow in vain, he cried out aloud: "I wish that I had wounded you in the loin, bold Diomed, then you would have troubled the men of Troy no more!"

But Diomed answered: "If I could but meet you face to face, you coward, your bow and your arrows would not help you. As for this graze on my foot, I care no more for it than if a woman or a child had struck me. Come near, and I will show you what are the wounds which I make with my spear."

Then he beckoned to Ulysses that he should stand before him while he drew the arrow from his foot. And Ulysses did so. But when he had drawn out the arrow, the pain was so great that he could not stand up, for all the brave words that he had spoken. And he bade his charioteer drive him back to the ships.

So Ulysses was left alone. Not one of the chiefs stood by him, for now that King Agamemnon and Diomed had departed, there was great fear upon all the Greeks. And Ulysses said to himself: "Now what shall I do? It would be a shameful thing to fly from these Trojans, though there are many of them, and I am alone; but it would be still worse, if I were to be taken here and slain. Surely it is the doing of Zeus, that this trouble is come upon the Greeks, and who am I that I should fight against Zeus? Yet why do I talk in this way? It is only the coward who draws back; a brave man stands in his place, whether he lives or dies." But while he was thinking these things many Trojans came about him, as dogs come about a wild boar in a wood, and the boar stands at bay, and gnashes his big white teeth. So Ulysses stood thrusting here and there with his long spear. Five chiefs he slew; but one of the five, before he was slain, wounded him in the side, scraping the flesh from the ribs. Then Ulysses cried out for help; three times he cried, and the third time Menelaüs heard him, and called to Ajax.

"O Ajax, I hear the voice of Ulysses, and it sounds like the voice of one who is in great trouble. Maybe the Trojans have surrounded him. Come, let us help him for it would be a great loss to the Greeks if he were to come to harm."

Then he led the way to the place from which the voice seemed to come, and Ajax followed him. And when they came to Ulysses, they found it was as Menelaüs had said; for the Trojans had beset Ulysses, as the jackals beset a deer with long horns among the hills. The beast cannot fly because the hunter has wounded it with an arrow from his bow, and the wound has become stiff, and he stands at bay. Then a lion comes, and the jackals are scattered in a moment. So the Trojans were scattered when Ajax came. Then Menelaüs took Ulysses by the hand, and led him out of the throng, while Ajax drove the Trojans before him.

And now yet another chief was wounded, for Paris from his hiding-place behind the pillar on the tomb of Ilus shot an arrow at Machāon, and wounded him on the right shoulder. And one of the chiefs cried to old Nestor, who was fighting close by: "Quick, Nestor, take Machāon in your chariot, and drive him to the ships, for the life of a physician is worth the lives of many men."

So Nestor took Machāon in his chariot, and touched his horses with the whip, and they galloped to the ships.

Now Hector was fighting on the other side of the plain, and his charioteer said to him: "See how Ajax is driving our people before him. Let us go and stop him." So they went, lashing the horses that they might go the faster, and the chariot rolled over many bodies of men, and the axle and the sides of it were red with blood. Then Zeus put fear into the heart of the great Ajax himself. He would not fly, but he turned round, throwing his great shield over his shoulder, and moved towards the ships slowly, step by step. It was as when an ass breaks into a field and eats the standing corn, and the children of the village beat him with sticks. Their arms are weak, and the sticks are broken on the beast's back, for he is slow in going, nor do they drive him out till he has eaten his fill. So the Trojans thrust at Ajax their lances. And now he would turn and face them, and now he would take a step backwards towards the ships.

Now Achilles was standing on the stern of his ship, looking at the battle, and Patroclus stood by him. And when old Nestor passed by taking Machāon to the ships, Achilles said to his friend: "Soon, I think, will the Greeks come and pray me to help them, for they are in great trouble. But go now and see who was this whom Nestor is taking to the ships. His shoulders, I thought were the shoulders of Machāon, but his face I could not see, for the horses went by very fast."

Then Patroclus ran to do his errand. Meanwhile Nestor took Machāon to his tent. And there the girl that waited on the old man mixed for them a bowl of drink. First she set a table, and laid on it a bronze charger, and on it she put a flask of wine, and a leek, with which to flavour it, and yellow honey, and barley meal. And she fetched from another part of the tent a great bowl with four handles. On each side of the bowl there was a pair of handles, and on each handle there was a dove, wrought in bronze, and the doves seemed to be pecking at each other. A very big bowl it was, and, when it was full, so heavy that a man could scarcely lift it from the table; but Nestor, though he was old, could lift it easily. Then the girl poured the wine from the flask into the bowl, and put honey into it, and shredded cheese made from goat's milk, and the leek to flavour it. And when the mess was ready, she bade them drink. So they drank, and talked together.

But while they talked, Patroclus stood in the door of the tent. And Nestor went to him, and took him by the hand, and said: "Come now and sit down with us, and drink from the bowl." But Patroclus would not. "Stay me not," he said; "I came to see who it was whom you have brought wounded out of the battle. And now I see that it is Machāon. Therefore I will go back without delay, for you know what kind of man is Achilles, how he quickly grows angry and is ready to blame."

Then said Nestor: "What does Achilles care about the Greeks? Why does he ask who are wounded? O Patroclus, do you remember the day when Ulysses and I came to the house of Peleus? Your father was there, and we feasted in the hall; and when the feast was finished, then we told Peleus why we had come, how we were gathering the chiefs of Greece to go and fight against Troy. And you and Achilles were eager to go. And old men gave you much advice. Old Peleus said to Achilles: 'You must always be the very first in battle.' But to you your father said: 'Achilles is of nobler birth than you, and he is stronger by far. But you are older, and years give wisdom. Therefore it will be your part to give him good counsel when there is need.' Why then do you not advise him to help us? And if he is still resolved not to go forth to the battle, then let him send you forth, and let him lend you his armour to wear. Then the Trojans will think that Achilles himself has come back to the battle, and they will be afraid, and we shall have a breathing space."

Then Patroclus turned and ran back to the tent of Achilles.

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