Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology

Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
From the Iliad

Homer (fl. 850 B.C.)
.. WITH 1 these words Hermes sped away for lofty Olympus;
And Priam all fearlessly from off his chariot alighted,
Ordering Idæus to remain in the entry to keep watch
Over the beasts: th’ old king meanwhile strode doughtily onwards,
Where Achiles was then most wont to be, and sitting indoors        5
Found he him: all his men sat apart; for his only attendance
His squire Automedon and Alkimos, in battle upgrown,
Mov’d busilie to’ an’ fro serving, for late he had eaten
And the supper-table disfurnish’d yet stood anigh him.
And Priam entering unperceiv’d till he well was among them,        10
Clasp’t his knees and seiz’d his hands all humbly to kiss them,
Those dread murderous hands, which his sons so many had slain.
  As when a man whom spite of fate hath curs’d in his own land
For homicide, that he flee-eth abroad and seeketh asylum
With some lord; and they that see him are fill’d with amazement,        15
Ev’n so now Achiles was amazed as he saw Priam enter,
And the men all wer amazed, and look’d upon each other in turn.
  But Priam, as Hermes had bade, bow’d down to beseech him.
‘O God-like Achiles, thy father call to remembrance;
How he is halting as I, i’ the dark’ning doorway of old age,        20
And desolately liveth, while all they that dwell about him
Vex him, nor hath he one from their violence to defend him:
But yet an’ heareth he aught of thee, thy well-being in life,
Then he rejoiceth an’ all his days are glad with a good hope
Soon to behold thee again, his son safe home fro’ the warfare.        25
But most hapless am I, for I had sons numerous and brave
In wide Troy:—where be they now? scarce is one o’ them left.
They were fifty, the day ye arrived hither out of Achaia,
Nineteen royally born princes from one mother only,
While the others women of my house had borne me; of all these        30
Truly the greater part hath Arês in grim battle unstrung:
But hé, who was alone the city’s lov’d guardian and stay,
Few days since thou slew’st him, alas, his country defending,
Hector; for whose sake am I come to the ships of Achaia
His body dear to redeem, offering thee a ransom abundant.        35
O God-like Achiles, have fear o’ the gods, pity him too,
Thy sire also remember, having yet more pity on mé,
Who now stoop me beneath what dread deed mortal ever dared,
Raising the hand that slew his son, pitiably to kiss it.’
  Then did Achilles yearn for thought of his ancient father,        40
And from th’ old king’s seizure his own hand gently disengaged.
And each brooded apart; Priam o’er victorious Hector
Groan’d, low fal’n to the ground unnerved at feet of Achilles,
Who sat mourning awhile his sire, then turn’d to bewailing
Patroclus, while loudly the house with their sobbing outrang.        45
  But when Achilles now had soothed his soul in affection,
And all his bosom had disburden’d of passion extreme,
Swiftly from off his seat he arose, and old Priam upraised,
In pity and reverence for his age and silvery blanch’d head;
And making full answer address’d him in airy-wingèd words.        50
  ‘Unhappy man! what mighty sorrows must thy spirit endure!
Nay, how durst thou come thus alone to the ships of Achaia
Into the sight of him who thy sons so many and good
Spoil’d and sent to the grave? Verilie thy heart is of iron.
But come, sit-thee beside me upon my couch; let us alwise        55
Now put away our griefs, sore tho’ we be plagued with affliction.
Truly there is no gain in distressful lamentation,
Since the eternal gods hav assign’d to us unhappy mortals
Hardship enough, while théy enjoy bliss idly without end.
  Two jars, say they, await God’s hand at th’ entry of his courts,        60
Stored ready with free gifts, of good things one, one of evil.
If mingling from both heav’ns-thunderer equally dispense,
Then will a man’s fortune be chequer’d with both sorrow and joy;
But t’whom Zeus giveth only of ill, that man is an outcast;
Hunger houndeth him on disconsolate over the brave earth,        65
Unrespected alike whether of mortals or immortals.
So my sire Peleus was dower’d with favour abounding,
And from birth and cradle honour’d, all men living outshone
In wealth and happiness, king o’er his Myrmidon armies:
And tho’ he was but a man, Zeus made him a fair goddess espouse.        70
But yet an’ ev’n to him was an ill thrown in, that he hath not
Sons born into his house to retain its empery;—one son
Only he gat, one doom’d to a fate unkindly, nor ev’n he
Comforts the’ old man at home, since exiled far from him I bide
Here at Troy, thy sons’ destruction compassing, and thine.        75
  Thou, sir, too we hav heard enjoy’dst good fortune aforetime,
From Makar in rocky Lesbos away to the boundary eastward
Of Phrygia’s highlands, and north to the briny Hellespont,
Thou, sir, didst all men for wealth and progeny excel:
But when once th’ high gods let loose this mischief anigh thee,        80
Thy city was compass’d with nought but fierce battle and blood.
Bear up, allow thy temper awhile some respite of anguish:
Thou wilt not benefit thy dear son vainly bewailing,
Nor restore him alive till thou taste further affliction.’…
Note 1. Homer. Iliad xxiv. 468–551. Priam, assured in a dream of divine protection, visits Achilles by night, bringing with him a great ransom to redeem the body of Hector, which Achilles was dishonouring in revenge for the death of Patroclus. Hermes having escorted him safely to the pavilion of Achilles leaves him to the courtesy of his great enemy. Idaeus is Priam’s old servant, who is driving the mule-waggon that carries the ransom. This is one of the finest passages in Homer. The translation is line for line in the original metre. [Trans. R. Bridges.] [back]

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