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Alfred J. Church

The Making of the Arms

M EANWHILE there was a great mourning for Patroclus in the camp of the Greeks. And Achilles stood up in the midst of the people and said: "Truly the gods do not fulfil the thoughts of men. Did I not say to the father of Patroclus that I would return with him, bringing back our portion of the spoils of Troy? And now he is dead; nor shall I return to the house of Peleus my father, for I too must die in this land. But I care not, if only I may have vengeance upon Hector. Truly I will not bury Patroclus till I can bring the head and the arms of Hector with which to honour him." So they washed the body of Patroclus, and put ointment into the wounds, and laid it on a bed, and covered with a linen cloth from the head to the feet, putting over the linen cloth a white robe. And all night the Myrmidons made lamentations for him.

Thetis went to the house of Hephæstus, who was the god of all who worked in gold and silver and iron. She found him busy at his work, for he was making cauldrons for the palace of the gods. They had golden wheels underneath them with which they could run of themselves into the chambers of the palace, and come back of themselves as might be wanted. The Lady Grace who was wife to Hephæstus saw Thetis, and caught her by the hand, and said: "O Goddess, whom we love and honour, what business brings you here? Gladly will we serve you." And she led her into the house, and set her on a chair that was adorned with silver studs, and put a stool under her feet. Then she called to her husband, saying: "Thetis is here, and wants something from you. Come quickly." He answered: "Truly there could be no guest more welcome than Thetis. When my mother cast me out from her house because I was lame, then Thetis and her sister received me in their house under the sea. Nine years I dwelt with them, yes, and hammered many a trinket for them in a hollow cave that was close by. Truly I would give the price of my life to serve Thetis." Then he put away his tools, and washed himself, and took a staff in his hands and came into the house, and sat down upon a chair, and said: "Tell me all that is in your mind, for I will do all that you desire if only it can be done." Then Thetis told him of how her son Achilles had been put to shame by King Agamemnon, and of his anger, and of all that came to pass afterwards, and of how Patroclus had been slain in battle, and how the arms were lost. And having told this story, she said: "Make for my son Achilles, I pray you, a shield, and a helmet, and greaves for his legs, and a breastplate."

"That will I do," answered Hephaestus, "I will make for him such arms as men will wonder at when they see them. Would that I could keep from him as easily the doom of death!"

So he went to his forge and turned the bellows to the fire, and bade them work, for they did not need a hand to work them. And he put copper and tin and gold and silver into the fire to make them soft, and set the anvil, and took the hammer in one hand and the tongs in the other.

First he made a shield, great and strong, with a silver belt by which a man might hold it. On it he made an image of the earth and the sky and the sea, with the sun and the moon and all the stars. Also he made images of two cities; in one city there was peace, and in the other city there was war. In the city of peace they led a bride to the house of her husband with music and dancing, and the women stood in the door to see the show. And in another part of the same city the judges sat, to judge the case of a man who had been slain. One man said that he had paid the price of blood, for if one man slays another he must pay a price for him, and the other man said the price was not paid. Round about the city of war there was an army of besiegers and on the wall stood men defending it. Also the men of this same city had set an ambush by a river, at a place where the cattle came down to drink. And when the cattle came down the men that lay in ambush rose up quickly, and took them, and slew the herdsmen. And the army of the besiegers heard the cry, and rode on horses, and came quickly to the river and fought with the men who had taken the cattle. Also he made the image of one field in which men were ploughing, and of another in which reapers reaped the corn, and behind the reapers came boys who gathered the corn in their arms and bound it in sheaves; at the top of the field stood the master, glad at heart because the harvest was good. Also he made a vineyard, and through the vineyard there was a path, and along the path went young men and maids bearing baskets of grapes, and in the midst stood a boy holding a harp of gold, who sang a pleasant song. Also he made a herd of oxen going from the stalls to the pasture; and close by two lions had laid hold of a great bull and were devouring it, and the dogs stood far off and barked. A sheep-fold also he made, and a dance of men and maids; the men wore daggers of gold hanging from silver belts, and the maids had gold crowns round their heads. And round about the shield he made ocean like to a great river. Also he made a breastplate, and a great helmet with a ridge of gold, in which the plumes should be set, and greaves of tin for the legs. When he had finished all his work, he gave the shield and the other things to Thetis. And she flew, swift as a hawk, to where her son abode by the ships. She found him lying on the ground, holding in his arms the body of Patroclus, weeping aloud, while his men lamented.

The goddess stood in the midst, and caught her son by the hand and said: "Come now, let us leave the dead man; it was the will of the gods that he should die. But you must think about other things. Come now and take this gift from Hephæstus, armour beautiful exceedingly, such as man has never yet worn."


Thetis Bringing the Armour to Achilles

And as she spoke, she cast the armour down at the feet of Achilles. It rattled loud as it fell, and shone so brightly that the eyes of the Myrmidons were dazzled by it. But Achilles took up the arms from the ground, glad at heart to see them, and said: "Mother, these indeed are such arms as can be made in heaven only. Gladly will I put them on for the battle. Yet one thing troubles me. I fear lest decay should come on the body of Patroclus, before I can do it such honour as I desire."

But Thetis answered: "Let this not trouble you. I will keep the body from decay. But do you make peace with the king and prepare yourself for the battle." And she put precious things such as are known only in heaven into the nostrils of the dead man to keep him from decay.