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Jeanie Lang

The Message To Achilles

While the Trojans sat by their watch-fires, sorely troubled were the hearts of the Greeks and of Agamemnon their overlord.

Hurriedly did Agamemnon send his heralds to call an assembly, bidding each man separately and with no loud shouting.

Sorrowfully did they sit them down; and when Agamemnon rose up to speak, the bitter tears ran down his face as flows the wan water of a mountain stream down the dark gulleys where the sunbeams never play.

'My friends,' he said, 'leaders and captains of the Greeks, hard of heart is Zeus, and ill hath he dealt with me. Victory did he promise, but shame hath he brought. Nothing now is left for us but to flee with our ships to our own land, for never shall Troy be ours.'

So spake he, and long did the Greek warriors sit in silent grief.

Then spoke Diomedes:

'A coward hast thou called me, Agamemnon; whether I am a coward the Greeks, young and old, know well. To thee hath Zeus given power above all other men, but courage, which is the highest power of all, hath he kept from thee. Thinkest thou that we Greeks are cowards and weaklings such as thou? If it is thy will to flee, flee then! Thy ships wait for thee by the sea. But as for us, here will we stay till Troy lies in ruins before us. And if it even be the will of every Greek here to flee with thee, here still will I and my friend Sthenelus abide and fight until Troy is ours. The gods sent us hither! To us will the gods give the victory!'

Then spoke old Nestor:

'Mighty in battle art thou, Diomedes, and well hast thou spoken. But thou art yet young—full well mightest thou be my youngest son. So let all who hear, yea, even Agamemnon, hearken to my words and not gainsay me, who am so old a man. For without clan, without laws, without a home must be he who loveth strife. Hasten then, and let us all take food, and see that the sentinels be watchful along the deep trench without the wall. For to us this night cometh victory or death.'

Then did Agamemnon speedily have a feast prepared, and when the feast was ended, Nestor again uprose and spoke.

'King over all nations hath Zeus made thee, great Agamemnon,' he said. 'Therefore is it thy part to listen to all the counsel that is given to thee that may aid thee to govern thy folk. Right heartily did I try to prevent thee from taking fair Briseis from the tent of Achilles on that day when thou didst anger the bravest of all warriors. Let us now try if we may not persuade him by gifts of friendship and with kindly words to come back and fight for Greece once again.

Then answered Agamemnon:

'Yea, truly, a fool was I in that I gave way to my wrath. But gladly will I now make amends to Achilles, the beloved of Zeus. Rich and goodly gifts will I send to him; priceless gifts of gold, horses of wondrous speed, and seven fair slaves skilled in needle-work. Fair Briseis, also, shall again be his, and if he will come to our aid and Troy is ours, the richest of all the spoils shall be the spoils of Achilles. One of my daughters shall he have for his wife, and lands and cities and a people to rule as king shall be my gift to him.'

Speedily then did they choose messengers to go with the gifts to Achilles.

And the messengers were Phoenix, a warrior dear to Zeus, and giant Ajax, and Odysseus of the many Devices. Two heralds went with them that they might tell Achilles of the noble Greeks who came to seek for his aid.

Along the shore of the sounding sea they went, making prayer to Zeus that he would grant them success in what they sought.

When they came to the ships and huts of Achilles they found him sitting with a lyre in his hand. Of beautiful workmanship it was, with a silver cross-bar upon it, and as the hands of Achilles drew from it wondrous melody, he sang of the glorious deeds of the heroes of old.

Beside him sat Patroclus, listening silently to the song of the friend that he loved.

Then did Odysseus step forward, and Achilles, amazed, sprang to his feet, his lyre in his hand, and Patroclus also arose.

'Welcome ye are,' said Achilles; 'truly ye are friends that are come. Even in my anger are ye the dearest of all the Greeks to me.'

Then he led them forward and made them sit on seats covered with lordly purple.

To Patroclus he said:

'Bring forth the biggest bowl and the finest of my wines, for I have no dearer friends than those who are here with me now.'

So did Achilles have a rich feast of precious wines and of dainties of all sorts made ready for those who brought him the message of Agamemnon the king.

And when the feast was ended, Odysseus did tell him of the dire woes of the Greeks and of the royal gifts of Agamemnon, and of the pleadings of the Greeks and of their overlord, that their hero, Achilles, would come and fight for them once again.

Then did Achilles make answer:

'Hateful to me as are the gates of death, O great Odysseus, is the man who hideth in his heart one thing and sayeth another. So will I speak to thee as seemeth me best. Hard have I laboured, fiercely have I fought for Agamemnon, yet what is my gain after it all? Hateful tome are the gifts of Agamem non. Wealth and power can be mine without aid from him, yet know I well, for my mother, Thetis the silver-footed, hath told me, that death swiftly draweth nigh. Let the Greeks seek help elsewhere, for fierce is my anger, and no help shall ye gain from me.'

Then said Ajax:

Let us go hence, Odysseus. Our embassy is vain. Yet evil though the news we carry with speed must we bear it back to the Greek host. Merciless art thou, Achilles! Anger hath made thee set at naught thy comrades' love and the love of thine own dear land.'

And to Ajax did Achilles make answer:

'Take ye, then, my message, brave Ajax! Tell Agamemnon that until the day that the men of Troy come even to my ships and my huts and smirch them with fire, no finger will I raise for Greece. But on that day, then, surely, will the power of the Trojans be stayed.'

Then did Odysseus and Ajax and the others return in sorrow to the host of the Greeks, and gave to them the message of Achilles.

In silence did the warriors listen.

Then said Diomedes

'Achilles, then, must bide his time. When his heart is aroused again within him, he will fight. But let us now take meat and drink and sleep, and when rosy-fingered Dawn doth come, strength shall be ours for the battle, and with courage shall we fight for the cause of Agamemnon our king!'