The Rousing of Achilles
Fierce had been the fight before Patroclus died. More fiercely yet it raged when he lay dead.
From his body did Hector take the arms of Achilles, and the dead Patroclus would the Trojans fain have dragged to their city, there to bring shame to him and to all the Greek host.
But for him fought the Greeks, until the earth was wet with blood and the very skies echoed the clang of battle.
To Achilles came Antilochos, a messenger fleet of foot.
'Fallen is Patroclus!' he cried, 'and around his naked body do they fight, for his armour is held by Hector.'
Then did Achilles moan aloud. On the ground he lay, and in his hair he poured black ashes. And the sound of his terrible lament was heard by his mother, Thetis, the goddess, as she sat in her palace down under the depths of the green sea.
Up from under the waves swiftly came she to Achilles, and tenderly did she listen while he poured forth to her the tale of the death of his dear comrade.
Then said Thetis:
'Not long, methinks, shall Hector glory in the armour that was thine, for Death presseth hard upon him. Go not forth to battle, my son, until I return, bearing with me new and fair armour for thee.'
But when Thetis had departed, to Achilles in his sorrow came Iris, fair messenger of the gods.
'Unto windy Ilios will the Trojans drag the body of Patroclus unless thou comest now. Thou needst not fight, Achilles, only show thyself to the men of Troy, for sore is the need of Patroclus thy friend.'
Then, all unarmed, did Achilles go forth, and stood beside the trench. With a mighty voice he shouted, and at the sound of his voice terror fell upon the Trojans. Backward in flight they went, and from among the dead did the Greeks draw the body of Patroclus, and hot were the tears that Achilles shed for the friend whom he had sent forth to battle.
All that night, in the house of the Immortals, resounded the clang of hammer on anvil as Hephaistus, the lame god, fashioned new arms for Achilles.
Bronze and silver and gold he threw in his fire, and golden handmaidens helped their master to wield the great bellows and to send on the crucibles blasts that made the ruddy flames dance.
No fairer shield was ever borne by man than that which Hephaistus made for Achilles. For him also he wrought a corslet brighter than a flame of fire, and a helmet with a golden crest.
And in the morning light did Thetis dart down from snowy Olympus, bearing in her arms the splendid gift of a god.
Glad was Achilles as he put on the armour, and terrible was his war-cry as he roused the Greek warriors. No man, however sore his wounds, held back when the voice of Achilles called him to the fight once again. Wounded was Agamemnon, overlord of the Greeks, but forth also came he. And there, while the sun rose on many a warrior who would fight no more, did Achilles and Agamemnon speak as friends once again, their long strife ended.
Hungry for war, with Achilles as their leader, did the Greeks then meet the Trojans on the plain. And as a fierce fire rages through the forest, its flames driven by the wind, so did Achilles in his wrath drive through the host of Troy.
Down to the Scamander he drove the fleeing Trojans, and the water reddened with blood, as he smote and spared not.
Merciless was Achilles; pitilessly did he exult as one brave man after another was sent by him to dye red the swift flood of the Scamander.
At length, at his lack of mercy, did even the river grow wrathful.
'Choked is my stream with dead men!' it cried, 'and still thou slayest!'
But when Achilles heeded not, in fierce flood the river uprose against him, sweeping the slain before it, and in furious spate seeking to destroy Achilles. But as its waves smote against his shield, Achilles grasped a tall elm, and uprooting it, cast it into the river to dam the torrent. For the moment only was the angry river stayed. In fear did Achilles flee across the plain, but with a mighty roar it pursued him, and caught him.
To the gods then cried Achilles, and to his aid came Athene, and close to the walls of Troy again did Achilles chase the Trojan men.
From the city walls old Priam saw the dreadful things Achilles wrought.
And when, his armour blazing like the brightest stars of the sky, he drew near, and Hector would have gone to meet him, in grief did Priam cry to his dearly-loved son:
'Hector, beloved son, I pray thee go not alone to meet this man; mightier far than thou is he.'
But all eager for the fight was Hector. Of all the men of Troy he alone still stood unafraid. Then did the mother of Hector beseech him to hold back from what must surely mean death. Yet Hector held not back, but on his shining shield leaned against a tower, awaiting the coming of the great destroyer.
And at last they met, face to face, spear to spear. As a shooting-star in the dark- ness so flashed the spear of Achilles as he hurled it home to pierce the neck of Hector. Gods and men had deserted Hector, and alone before the walls of Troy he fell and died.
Thus ended the fight.
For twelve days did the Greek host rejoice, and all through the days Hector's body lay unburied. For at the heels of swift horses had the Greeks dragged him to the ships, while from the battlements his mother and his wife Andromache watched, wailing in agony, with hearts that broke.
Then at length went old Priam to the camp of the Greeks. And before Achilles he fell, beseeching him to have mercy and to give him back the body of his son.
So was the heart of Achilles moved, and the body of Hector ransomed; and with wailing of women did the people of Troy welcome home their hero.
Over him lamented his old mother, for of all her sons was he to her most dear, and over him wept, with burning tears, his wife Andromache.
And to his bier came Helen, and with breaking heart did she sob forth her sorrow.
'Dearest of my brothers,' she said, 'from thee have I heard neither reproach nor evil word. With kind words and gentle heart hast thou ever stood by me. Lost, lost is my one true friend. No more in Troyland is any left to pity me.'
On lofty funeral pyre then laid they the dead Hector, and when the flames had consumed his body his comrades placed his white bones in a golden urn, and over it with great stones did they raise a mighty mound that all might see where he rested.
Yet still was the warfare between Greeks and Trojans not ended.
To Achilles death came in a shaft from the bow of Paris. By a poisoned arrow driven at venture and at dark midnight from the bow of an outcast leper was fair Paris slain. While winter snow lay white on Ida, in Helen's arms did his life ebb away.
Then came there a day when the Greeks burned their camp and sailed homeward across the grey water.
Behind them they left a mighty horse of wood, and the men of Troy came and drew it into the city as trophy and sign of victory over those who had made it. But inside the horse were hidden many of the bravest warriors of Greece, and at night, when the Trojans feasted, the Greeks came out of their hiding-place and threw open the gates.
And up from the sea came the Greek host, and in fire and in blood fell the city of Troy.
Yet did not Helen perish. Back to his own kingdom by the sea Menelaus took her, to reign, in peace, a queen, she who had brought grief and death to so many, and to the city of Troy unutterable woe.