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Alfred J. Church

The Battle at the River

W HEN the two armies were set in order against each other, Apollo said to Ænēas: "Ænēas, where are now your boastings that you would stand up against Achilles and fight with him?"

Ænēas answered: "That, indeed, I said long ago in days that are past. Once I stood up against him; it was when he took the town of Lyrnessus. But he overcame me, and I fled before him, and but for my nimble feet I had been slain that day. Surely a god is with him, and makes his spear to fly so strongly and so straight."

But Apollo answered: "But if he is the son of a goddess, so also are you; and, indeed, your mother is greater than his, for she is the child of Zeus, and Thetis is but a daughter of the Sea. Drive straight at him with your spear, and do not fear his fierce words and looks."

So Ænēas came forth out of the press to meet Achilles. And Achilles said to him: "What mean you, Ænēas? do you think to slay me? Have the Trojans promised that they will have you for their king, or that they will give you a choice portion of land, ploughland and orchard, if only you can prevail over me? You will not find it an easy thing. Have you forgotten the day when you fled before me at Lyrnessus?"

Ænēas said: "Son of Peleus, you will not frighten me with words, for I also am the son of a goddess. Come, let us try who is the better of us two."

So he cast his spear, and it struck full on the shield of Achilles, and made so dreadful a sound that the hero himself was frightened. But the shield that a god had made was not to be broken by the spear of a mortal man. It pierced, indeed the first fold and the second, which were of bronze, but it was stopped by the third, which was of gold, and there were two more folds, and these of tin. Now Achilles threw his spear. Easily it pierced the shield of the Trojan, and though it did not wound him it came so near that he was deadly frightened. Yet he did not fly, for when Achilles drew his sword and rushed at him, he took up a great stone from the ground to throw at him. Nevertheless he would have been most certainly slain but for the help of the gods. For it was decreed that he and his children after him should reign in the time to come over the men of Troy. Therefore Poseidon himself, though for the most part he had no love for the Trojans, caught him up and carried him out of the battle; but first he took Achilles' spear out of the shield and laid it at the hero's feet. Much did he marvel to see it. "Here is a great wonder," he cried, "that I see with my eyes. My spear that I threw I see lying at my feet, but the man at whom I threw it I see not. Truly this Ænēas is dear to the gods."

Then he rushed into the battle, slaying as he went. Hector would have met him, but Apollo said: "Fight not with Achilles, for he is stronger than you and will slay you." So Hector stood aside. Yet when he saw the youngest of his brothers slain before his eyes, he could bear it no longer and rushed to meet Achilles. Right glad was Achilles to see him, saying to himself: "The time is come; this is the man who killed Patroclus." And to Hector he said: "Come and taste of death." But Hector answered: "You will not frighten me with words, son of Peleus, for though one man be stronger than another, yet it is Zeus who gives the victory."

Then he cast his spear, but Athené turned it aside with a breath. And when Achilles leapt upon him with a shout, then Apollo snatched him away. Three times did he leap at him, and three times he struck only the mist. The fourth time he cried with a terrible voice: "Dog, these four times you have escaped from death, but I shall meet you again when Apollo is not at hand to help you."

And now as the Trojans fled before Achilles, they came to the river Xanthus, and they leapt into it till it was full of horses and men. Achilles left his spear upon the bank and rushed into the water, having only his sword. And the Trojans were like to fishes in the sea when they fly from a dolphin—in rocks and shallows they hide themselves, but the great beast devours them apace. There was but one man of them all who dared to stand up against him. When Achilles saw him he said, "And who are you that dare to stand up against me?" And the man said, "I am the son of Axius, the river god, and I come from the land of Pæonia." And as he spoke he cast two spears, one with each hand, for he could use both hands alike. The one struck on the shield and pierced two folds, but was stayed in the third, as the spear of Ænēas had been; with the other he grazed the right hand of Achilles, so that the blood gushed forth. Then Achilles cast his spear but missed his aim, and the spear stood fast in the river bank. Then the other laid hold of it and tried to drag it forth. Three times he tried, but could not move it; the fourth time he tried to break it. But as he tried Achilles slew him. Yet he had this glory that he alone wounded the great Achilles.

But Achilles had to fight not only with mortal men, but with the god of the river also. For when the god of the river saw that Achilles was slaying many both of the Trojans and of the allies, he took upon himself the form of a man, and said to Achilles: "Without doubt, O Achilles, you are the greatest warrior among all the sons of men; for not only are you stronger than all others, but the gods themselves help you and protect you. It may be that they have given you to destroy all the sons of Troy; nevertheless I require of you that you depart from me, and do that which you have to do upon the plain, for my streams are choked with the multitude of those whom you have slain, and I cannot pass to the sea."

Achilles answered: "I would not do anything that displeases you. Nevertheless I will make no end of slaying the Trojans till they have made their way into the city, or till I have come face to face with Hector, and either slay him or be slain, as the gods may please."

Then Achilles turned again to the Trojans and slew still more of them. Then the river rose up against Achilles with all his might, and beat upon his shield, so that he could not stand upon his feet. He caught hold, therefore, of a lime tree that grew upon the bank; but the tree broke away from its place with all its roots, and lay across the river and stopped it from flowing, for it had many branches. Then Achilles was afraid, and climbed out of the water, and ran across the plain; but the River still followed him, for it wished to hinder him from destroying the men of Troy. For the Trojans were dear to the River because they honoured him with sacrifices. And though he was very swift of foot, yet it overtook him, for, indeed, the gods are mightier than men; and when he tried to stand up against it, it rushed upon him with a great wave upon his shoulders, and bowed his knees under him. Then Achilles lifted up his hands to heaven and cried: "Will no one of the gods have pity upon me and help me? Surely it would be better that Hector should slay me, for he is the bravest of men. This were better than that I should perish miserably as a boy whom a storm sweeps away when he is herding his cattle on the plain."

But the River raged yet more and more and he called to another river his brother, for there were two that flowed across the plains of Troy, saying: "Brother, let us two stay the fury of this man, or he will surely destroy the city of Priam, which is dear to us. Fill your stream to the highest, and bring against him a great wave, with trunks of trees and bodies of men whom he has slain. So we will sweep him away, and his people will have no need to heap up a mound of earth over his bones, for we will cover him with sand."


The Gods Descending to Battle

But when Hera saw this, she cried to the Fire-god, her son: "Come near and help us, and bring much fire with you, and burn the trees upon the bank of the river, yea, and the river itself."

So the Fire-god lit a great fire. First it burnt all the dead bodies on the plain; next it burnt all the trees that were on the banks of the river, the limes and the willows and the tamarisks; also it burnt the water-plants that were in the river; the very fishes and eels it scorched, so that they twisted hither and thither in their pain. Then the River cried to the Fire-god: "Cease now from burning me; Achilles may do what he will with the Trojans. What do I care for mortal men?" So the Fire-god ceased from burning him, and the river troubled Achilles no more.