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Alfred J. Church

The Battle at the Wall

N OW by this time the Trojans were close upon the trench; but there they stood, for the horses were afraid, the trench being deep, and having great stakes set in. Then Polydămas, who was one of the wisest of the Trojans, said to Hector: "This is but a mad thing, O Hector, to try to cross the trench in our chariots, for it is wide, and has many stakes set in it. Look too at this: how will it be when we have crossed it? If, indeed, it is the pleasure of Zeus that the Greeks should perish utterly—well; but if, as has come to pass before, not once only, the Greeks take heart and turn upon us and drive us back, what shall we do? Nay; let us leave our chariots here, and if need be, we can come back and find them waiting for us. But we will go on foot against the wall."


Polydamas advising Hector to retire from the Trench

So they jumped down from their chariots and went against the walls on foot. In five companies they went. The first, which was the largest and had the bravest of the Trojans, Hector himself led. And the next was commanded by Paris. The third was led by Helĕnus the prophet, and with him was Deïphobus, who also was a son of King Priam; and Asius, one of the allies, who was King of Arisbé. Of the fourth Ænēas was the leader, and of the fifth Sarpēdon of Lycia with Glaucus and others among the allies. They stood closely to each other, holding shield by shield, and so they went against the Greeks. All of them, also, left their chariots on this side of the trench, all except King Asius only. But he drove his chariot to a place where there was a road over the trench, and on the other side a gate. And this gate chanced to be open, for the keepers had set it open, so that any of the Greeks who were flying from the Trojans might find refuge inside it. When the keepers, who were two mighty men of valour, saw Asius and his company coming, they went forward and stood in front of the gate, for they had not time to shut it. There they stood, just as two wild boars might stand at bay against a crowd of men and dogs. And all the while the men who stood on the wall never ceased to throw down heavy stones on the Trojans. The stones fell as fast as the flakes of snow fall on a winter's day, and the helmets and shields of the Trojans rang out as the stones crashed upon them. Many fell to the ground, and King Asius, for all his fury, could not make his way through the gate.

At another of the gates, where Hector was leading his company, there was seen a very strange thing in the skies. An eagle had caught a great snake, and was carrying it in his claws to give to its young ones for food. But the snake fought fiercely for its life, and writhed itself about till it bit the bird upon the breast. And when the eagle felt that it had been bitten, it dropped the snake into the middle of the two armies, and flew away with a loud cry. Then Polydămas, who was a wise man, and knew the meaning of all such signs, said to Hector: "O Hector, it will be well for us not to follow the Greeks to their ships. For this strange thing which we have just seen in the sky is a sign to us. The eagle signifies the Trojans, and the snake signifies the Greeks. Now, as the eagle caught the snake but could not hold it, so have we prevailed over the Greeks, but shall not be able to conquer them altogether. And as the snake turned upon the bird and bit it, so the Greeks turn upon us and do us great damage, so that we shall be driven back from the ships, and leave many of our comrades dead behind us."

But Hector was angry to hear such words, and said: "This is bad advice that you give me. Surely the gods have changed your wisdom into foolishness. Would you have me forget the commandment of Zeus, when he bade me to follow the Greeks even to their ships, and to take heed to birds, and do one thing or another because they fly this way or that? Little do I care whether they fly east or west or are seen on the right hand or on the left. Surely there is but one sign for a brave man, that he be fighting for his fatherland. Take heed, therefore, to yourself. Truly if you hold back from the war, or cause any other man to hold back, I will smite you with my spear."

Then he sprang forward, and the Trojans followed him with a great shout. And Zeus sent down from Mount Ida a great wind, and the wind carried the dust of the plain straight into the faces of the Greeks, troubling them not a little. But when the Trojans sought to drag down the battlements which were on the wall and to pull up the stakes which had been set to strengthen it, they could not, for the building was strong, and the Greeks stood firm in their place, with shield joining to shield, and fought for the wall.

After a while Sarpēdon the Lycian came to the front, for Zeus put it into his heart so to do, that he might win great glory for himself. He came holding his shield before him and with a long spear in either hand. Just as a lion, when he is mad with hunger, goes against a stable in which oxen are kept, or against a sheepfold, and does not care though it is guarded by many men and dogs, so did Sarpēdon go against the wall. And he spoke to Glaucus, his kinsman, saying: "Tell me, Glaucus, why is it that our people at home honour us with the chief places at feasts, and with fat portions of flesh, and with wine of the best, and that they have set apart for us a great domain of orchard and of ploughland by the banks of the Xanthus. Surely it is that we may fight in the front rank, and show to others how they should behave in the battle. For so some one who may see us will say, 'Of a truth these are honourable men, these princes of Lycia, and not without good do they eat the fat and drink the sweet, for they are always to be seen fighting in the front.' Maybe, if we could hope to live for ever and to escape from old age and death, I would not either fight myself in the front or bid you do so; but now, seeing that there are ten thousand chances of death about us, let us see whether we may not win glory from another, or haply another may win it from us."

When he had so spoken he leapt forward, and Glaucus went with him, and all the host of the Lycians followed close behind. Then the keeper of the gate—he was a man of Athens—was struck with great fear and looked about for help. All along the wall he looked, and he saw Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Less, and Teucer, for the hurt which Hector had given him was now healed. He would have shouted to them, but the din of arms, and the ringing of shields and helmets and the battering at the gates, would have drowned his voice. So he called a herald, and said: "Run now, and call Ajax hither—both the Greater and the Less, if it may be—for the danger is very great, and the chiefs of the Lycians press us hard. And if there is trouble there also, then let Ajax the Greater come at the least and Teucer with him, bringing his bow." So the herald ran with the message, and when Ajax the Greater heard it, he said to the other Ajax: "Stand here and keep off the enemy; and I will go yonder, and come again when I have done my work."

So Ajax, and Teucer his brother, ran as quickly as they could to the gate, and just as they got to it the Lycians came against it with a great rush, as if it had been a storm of wind and rain. But still the Greeks stood firm, and Ajax slew one of the Lycian chiefs and Teucer wounded Glaucus on the shoulder. Quietly he jumped down from the wall, for he did not wish that any one should see that he was wounded. But Sarpēdon saw it and was sorry, because he was his kinsman and also a great help in the battle. Nevertheless he pressed on as bravely as before. First he slew one of the Greeks upon the wall, and then he laid hold of one of the battlements with his two hands and pulled it down, and a part of the wall with it. Thus there was a way made by which men might enter the camp. But Ajax and his brother stopped the Lycians for a time, aiming at Sarpēdon, both of them together. Teucer struck at him with his spear, for the bow he could not use when the enemy was so near, and smote the strap of his shield, but did him no harm; Ajax drove his spear through the shield and pushed him back so that he was forced to leap from the wall to the ground. But his courage was not one whit abated. He cried out: "Help me now, ye men of Lycia. It is hard for me, however great my strength, to do this work alone, pulling down the wall and making a way for you to the ships." And all his people, when they heard his voice, came rushing up in a great crowd. But the Greeks, on the other hand, strengthened their line, others coming to the place where they saw the need to be the greatest, for indeed it was a matter of life and death. For a long time they fought with equal strength, for the Lycians could not break down the wall and make a way to the ships, and the Greeks could not drive the Lycians back.

But at the last Zeus gave the glory to Hector. Once again he sprang to the front, crying: "Now follow me, men of Troy, and we will burn the ships." In front of the gate there lay a great stone, broad at the bottom and sharp at the top. Scarcely could two men, the strongest that there are in these days, lift it on to a wagon; but Hector took it up as easily as a shepherd carries in one hand the fleece of a sheep. Now there were two folding doors in the middle of the gate, by which a man might enter without opening the gate. These doors were fastened by a bolt and a key. Then Hector lifted the great stone above his head, holding it with both his hands, and he put his feet apart, that his aim might be the surer and stronger, and threw with all his might at the doors. With a great crash did it come against them, and the bolts could not hold against it, and the hinges were broken, and the doors flew back. Then Hector leapt into the open space, holding a spear in either hand, and his eyes flashed with fire. And the Trojans followed him, some entering by the gate and some climbing over the wall.