Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Alfred J. Church

The Battle on the Plain

W HEN it was morning Zeus called all the gods and goddesses to an assembly on the top of Mount Olympus, and said to them: "Now listen to me, and obey. No one of you shall help either the Greeks or the Trojans; and mark this: if any god or goddess dares to do so I will throw him down from here into the outer darkness, and there he shall learn that I am lord in heaven. Does any one of you think that I am not stronger than you, yes than all of you put together? Well, let it be put to the trial. Let down a golden chain from heaven to earth, and take hold of it all of you, and see whether you can drag me from the throne. You cannot do it, not though you pull with all your might. But if I should choose to put out all my strength, I could lift you up, and the earth and the sea with you, and fasten the chain round one of the peaks of this mountain Olympus here, and leave you hanging in the air."

So did Zeus speak, and all the gods sat saying nothing, for they were terribly afraid. But at last Athené said: "Father, we know right well that none of us can stand up against you. And yet we cannot help pitying the Greeks, for we fear that they will be altogether destroyed. We will not help them, for this you forbid. But, if you will permit, we will give them advice."

And Zeus smiled, for Athené was his daughter, and he loved her better than any other among the gods and goddesses, and he gave his consent. Then he had his horses yoked to his chariot and touched them with his whip, and they flew midway between heaven and earth till they came to a certain mountain which was called Ida, and was near to Troy. There he sat down and watched the battle, for the time was come when he would keep the promise which he had made to Thetis.

The Greeks ate their food in haste and freshened themselves for battle; and the Trojans also armed themselves inside the city, and when they were ready the gates were opened and they went out. So the two armies came together, and shield was dashed against shield, and spear against spear, and there was a great clash of arms and shouting of men. So long as the sun was rising higher in the sky, neither of the two prevailed over the other; but at noon Zeus held out in the sky his golden scales, and in one scale he laid a weight for the Trojans and in the other a weight for the Greeks. Now the weights were weights of death, and the army whose weight was the heavier would suffer most. And lo! the scale of the Greeks sank lower. Then Zeus sent a thunderbolt from the top of Mount Ida into the army of the Greeks, and there was great fear among both men and horses.

After this no man could hold his ground. Only old Nestor remained where he was, and he remained against his will, for Paris had killed one of his horses with an arrow, and the chariot could not be moved. So the old man began to cut the traces, that he might free the horse that was yet alive from the horse that was dead. While he was doing this Hector came through the crowd of fighting men. Then had the old man perished, but Diomed saw it and went to help him. But first he called to Ulysses, whom he saw close by, running towards the ships. "Ulysses," he cried, as loudly as he could, "where are you going? Are you not ashamed to turn your back in this way like a coward? Take care that no man thrust you in the back with a spear and disgrace you for ever. Stop now, and help me to save old Nestor from this fierce Hector."

So he spoke, but Ulysses gave no heed to his words, but still fled to the ships, for he was really afraid. When Diomed saw this he made haste, though he was alone, to go to the help of Nestor. When he got to the place where the old man was, he stopped his chariot and said: "Old friend, the young warriors are too much for you. Leave your own chariot for others to look after and climb into mine, and see what these horses of King Tros can do, for these are they which I took away from Ænēas. There are none faster, or better, or easier to turn this way or that. Take these reins in your hand, and I will go against this Hector, and see whether the spear of Diomed is as strong as it was of old."

So old Nestor climbed up into his chariot, and took the reins in his hand and touched the horses with the whip, driving straight at Hector. And when they were near him, Diomed threw his spear at him. Him he missed, but he struck down his charioteer, and the man fell dead to the ground. Hector was greatly grieved, but he let him lie where he fell, for he must needs find another man to drive the horses. And when he went back from the front to look for the man, then the Trojans went back also, for it was Hector to whom they looked and whom they followed. But when Diomed would have pursued them, Zeus threw another thunderbolt from Ida. It fell right in front of the chariot, and the horses crouched on the ground for fear, and Nestor let the reins drop from his hand, for he was greatly afraid, and cried: "O Diomed, let us fly; see you not that Zeus is against us? He gives glory to Hector to-day; to-morrow, maybe, he will give it to you. But what he wills that will he do, and no man may hinder him."

Diomed answered: "Old sir, you speak wisely. Yet it goes to my heart to turn back. For Hector will say, 'Diomed fled before me, seeking to hide himself in the ships.' I had sooner that the earth should open her mouth and swallow me up, than that I should hear such things."

But Nestor answered: "O Diomed, be content: though Hector may call you coward, the sons of Troy will not believe him, no, nor the daughters of Troy, whose brothers and husbands you have tumbled in the dust."

So then he turned the horses to fly. And Hector cried when he saw the great Diomed fly before him: "Are you the man to whom the Greeks give the chief place in their feasts and great cups of wine? They will not so honour you after to-day. Run, girl! run, coward! Are you the man that was to climb our walls and carry away our people captive?"

Diomed was very angry to hear these words, and doubted whether he should flee or turn again to the battle. But as he doubted, Zeus made a great thundering in the sky, and he was afraid. Then Hector called to his horses; by their names he called them, saying, "Come, Whitefoot and Bayard and Brilliant and Flame of Fire; remember how the fair Andromaché has cared for you, putting you even before me, who am her husband. Carry me now as fast as you can, that I may take from old Nestor his shield, which men say is made all of gold, and from Diomed his breastplate, which was wrought for him in the forge of heaven."

So the Greeks fled as fast as they could within the wall which they had built for a defence for their ships, for Hector drove them before him, nor was there one who dared to stand up against him. And the space between the wall and the ships was crowded with chariots, and no spirit was left in any man. Then Hera put into the heart of King Agamemnon that he should encourage his people to turn again to battle. So the King stood by the ship of Ulysses, which was in the middle of the ships, for they were drawn up in a long line upon the shore, and cried aloud: "Shame on you, Greeks! Where are your boats which you boasted before you came to this land, how that one of you would be more than a match for a hundred, yea, for two hundred Trojans? It was easy to say such words when you ate the flesh of bullocks and drank full cups of wine. But now, when you are put to the trial, a single Trojan is worth more than you all. Was there ever a king who had such cowards for his people?"

Then the Greeks took courage and turned again, and set upon the Trojans. And the first of all to turn and slay a Trojan was Diomed. He drove his spear through the man's back, for now the Trojans were flying in their turn, and tumbled him from his chariot. And after Diomed came King Agamemnon, and Ajax and other chiefs. Among them was Teucer, the brother of Ajax, a skilful archer. He stood under the shield of his brother, and Ajax would lift the shield a little, and then Teucer would peer out and take aim and send an arrow at some Trojan, and kill him or wound him. Then he would go back, as a child runs to his mother, and Ajax covered him with his shield. Eight warriors did he hit in this way. And when King Agamemnon saw him, he said: "Shoot on, Teucer, and be a joy to your people and to your father. Surely when we have taken the city of Troy, and shall divide the spoil you shall have the best gift of all after mine."

And Teucer said: "I need no gifts, O King, to make me eager. I have not ceased to shoot my arrows at these Trojans; eight arrows have I shot, and every one has found its way through some warrior's armour into his flesh. But this Hector I cannot hit."

And as he spoke he let fly another arrow at Hector from the sling. Him he did not touch, but slew a son of Priam. And then he shot yet a tenth, and this time he laid low the charioteer who stood by Hector's side. Then Hector's heart was filled with rage and grief. He leant down from his chariot, and caught up a great stone in his hand, and ran at Teucer, that he might crush him to the earth. And Teucer, when he saw him coming, made haste, and took an arrow from his quiver and fitted it to the sling. But even as he drew back the string to his shoulder, the great stone struck him where the collar-bone stands out against the neck and the arm. It broke the bow-string, and made his arm and wrist all weak and numb, so that he could not hold the bow. And he fell upon his knees, dropping the bow upon the ground. But Ajax stood over him, and covered him with his shield, and two of his comrades took him up in their arms and carried him, groaning deeply, to the ships.

When the Trojans saw the great archer carried away from the battle, they took fresh courage, and drove back the Greeks to the ditch, for there was a ditch in front of the wall. And Hector was always in the very front. As a dog follows a wild beast and catches him by the hip or the thigh as he flies, so did Hector follow the Greeks and slay the hindmost of them.

Then Hera, as she sat on the top of Olympus, said to Athené: "Shall we not have pity on the Greeks and help them? Let us do it this once if we never do it again. I fear much that they will perish altogether by the hand of Hector. See what harm he has done to them already."

Athené answered: "This is also my Father's doing. He listened to Thetis when she asked him to do honour to her son Achilles. But, perhaps, he may now listen to me, and will let me help the Greeks. Make your chariot ready, therefore, and I will put on my armour. So we will go together to the battle; maybe that Hector will not be glad when he sees us coming against him."

So Hera made her chariot ready, and Athené put on her armour, and took her great spear, and prepared as for battle. Then the two mounted the chariot, and the Hours opened the gates of heaven for them, and they went towards Troy.


Hera and Athene going to assist the Greeks

But Zeus saw them from where he sat on the top of Mount Ida. And he called to Iris, who is the messenger of the gods, and said to her: "Go now, Iris, and tell these two that they had better not set themselves against me. If they do, then I will lame their horses, and throw them down from their chariot, and break the chariot in pieces. If I do but strike them with my thunderbolt, they will not recover from their hurts for ten years and more."

So Iris made all the haste she could, and met the two goddesses on their way, and gave them the message of Zeus. When Hera heard it, she said to Athené: "It is not wise for us two to fight with Zeus for the sake of men. Let them live or die, as he may think best, but we will not set ourselves against him."

So Hera turned the chariot, and they went back to Olympus, and sat down in their chairs of gold among the other gods. Very sad and angry were they.

When Zeus saw that they had gone back, he left Mount Ida and went to Olympus, and came into the hall where the gods were assembled. When he saw Hera and Athené sitting by themselves with gloomy faces, he mocked them, saying: "Why do you look so sad? Surely it cannot be that you have tired yourselves by joining in the battle, and slaying these Trojans whom you hate so much? But if it is because the thing that I will does not please you, then know that what I choose to happen, that shall happen. Yes; if all the other gods should join together against me, still I shall prevail over them."

And when Zeus had so spoken, then Athené, for all that her heart was bursting with anger, said nothing: but Hera would not keep silence. "Well do we know, O Zeus, that you are stronger than all the gods. Nevertheless we cannot but pity the Greeks when we see them perishing in this way."

Zeus spake again: "Is it so? Do you pity the Greeks for what they have suffered to-day? To-morrow you shall see worse things than these, O Queen. For Hector will not cease driving the Greeks before him and slaying them till the great Achilles himself shall be moved, and shall rise from his place where he sits by his ships."

And now the sun sank into the sea, and the night fell. The Trojans were angry that the darkness had come and that they could not see any longer; but the Greeks were glad of the night, for it was as a shelter to them, and gave them time to breathe.

Then Hector called the Trojans to an assembly at a place that was near the river, where the ground was clear of dead bodies. He stood in the middle of the people, holding in his hand a spear, sixteen feet or more in length, with a shining head of bronze, and a band of gold by which the head was fastened to the shaft. What he said to the people was this: "Hearken, men of Troy, and ye, our allies who have come to help us. I thought that to-day we should destroy the army of the Greeks and burn their ships, and so go back to Troy and live in peace. But night has come, and hindered us from finishing our work. Let us sit down, therefore, and rest, and take a meal. Loose your horses from your chariots and give them their food. Go, some of you, to the city, and fetch thence cattle, and sheep, and wine, and bread that we may have plenty to eat and drink: also fetch fuel, that we may burn fires all the night, that we may sit by them, and also that we see whether the Greeks will try to escape in the night. Truly they shall not go in peace. Many will we kill, and the rest shall, at the least, carry away with him a wound for him to heal at home, that so no man may come again and trouble this city of Troy. The heralds also shall go to the city and make a proclamation that the old men and boys shall guard the wall, and that every woman shall light a hearth fire, and that all shall keep watch, lest the enemy should enter the city, while the people are fighting at the ships. And now I will say no more; but to-morrow I shall have other words to speak to you. But know this, that to-morrow we will arm ourselves, and drive these Greeks to their ships; and, if it may be, burn these ships with fire. Then shall we know whether the bold Diomed shall drive me back from the wall or whether he shall be himself slain with the spear. To-morrow shall surely bring ruin on the Greeks. I would that I were as sure of living for ever and ever, and of being honoured as the gods are honoured."

So Hector spoke, and all the Trojans shouted with joy to hear such words. Then they unharnessed the horses, and fetched provender for them from the city, and also gathered a great store of fuel. They sat all night in hope of what the next day would bring. As on a calm night the stars shine bright, so shone the watch-fires of the Trojans. A thousand fires were burning, and by each fire sat fifty men. And the horses stood by the chariots champing oats and barley. So they all waited for the morning.