Verse > Alexander Pope > Complete Poetical Works
Alexander Pope (1688–1744).  Complete Poetical Works.  1903.
Translations from Homer
The Iliad
Book IV. The Breach of the Truce, and the First Battle
The Argument
  The Gods deliberate in council concerning the Trojan war: they agree upon the continuation of it, and Jupiter sends down Minerva to break the truce. She persuades Pandarus to aim an arrow at Menelaus, who is wounded, but cured by Machaon. In the mean time some of the Trojan troops attack the Greeks. Agamemnon is distinguished in all the parts of a good general; he reviews the troops, and exhorts the leaders, some by praises, and others by reproofs. Nestor is particularly celebrated for his military discipline. The battle joins, and great numbers are slain on both sides.
  The same day continues through this, as through the last book; as it does also through the two following, and almost to the end of the seventh book. The scene is wholly in the field before Troy.

  AND now Olympus’ shining gates unfold;
The Gods, with Jove, assume their thrones of gold:
Immortal Hebè, fresh with bloom divine,
The golden goblet crowns with purple wine:
While the full bowls flow round, the Powers employ        5
Their careful eyes on long-contended Troy.
  When Jove, disposed to tempt Saturnia’s spleen,
Thus waked the fury of his partial Queen:
‘Two Powers divine the son of Atreus aid,
Imperial Juno, and the Martial Maid:        10
But high in Heav’n they sit, and gaze from far,
The tame spectators of his deeds of war.
Not thus fair Venus helps her favour’d knight,
The Queen of Pleasures shares the toils of fight,
Each danger wards, and, constant in her care,        15
Saves in the moment of the last despair.
Her act has rescued Paris’ forfeit life,
Tho’ great Atrides gain’d the glorious strife.
Then say, ye Powers! what signal issue waits
To crown this deed, and finish all the Fates?        20
Shall Heav’n by peace the bleeding kingdoms spare,
Or rouse the Furies, and awake the war?
Yet, would the Gods for human good provide,
Atrides soon might gain his beauteous bride,
Still Priam’s walls in peaceful honours grow,        25
And thro’ his gates the crowding nations flow.’
  Thus while he spoke, the Queen of Heav’n, enraged,
And Queen of War, in close consult engaged:
Apart they sit, their deep designs employ,
And meditate the future woes of Troy.        30
Tho’ secret anger swell’d Minerva’s breast,
The prudent Goddess yet her wrath suppress’d;
But Juno, impotent of passion, broke
Her sullen silence, and with fury spoke:
  ‘Shall then, O Tyrant of th’ ethereal reign!        35
My schemes, my labours, and my hopes, be vain?
Have I, for this, shook Ilion with alarms,
Assembled nations, set two worlds in arms?
To spread the war, I flew from shore to shore;
Th’ immortal coursers scarce the labour bore.        40
At length ripe vengeance o’er their heads impends,
But Jove himself the faithless race defends;
Loth as thou art to punish lawless lust,
Not all the Gods are partial and unjust.’
  The Sire whose thunder shakes the cloudy skies,        45
Sighs from his inmost soul, and thus replies:
‘Oh lasting rancour! oh insatiate hate
To Phrygia’s monarch and the Phrygian state!
What high offence has fired the wife of Jove?
Can wretched mortals harm the Powers above?        50
That Troy and Troy’s whole race thou wouldst confound,
And yon fair structures level with the ground?
Haste, leave the skies, fulfil thy stern desire,
Burst all her gates, and wrap her walls in fire!
Let Priam bleed! if yet thou thirst for more,        55
Bleed all his sons, and Ilion float with gore,
To boundless vengeance the wide realm be giv’n
Till vast destruction glut the Queen of Heav’n!
So let it be, and Jove his peace enjoy,
When Heav’n no longer hears the name of Troy.        60
But should this arm prepare to wreak our hate
On thy lov’d realms, whose guilt demands their fate,
Presume not thou the lifted bolt to stay,
Remember Troy, and give the vengeance way,
For know, of all the numerous towns that rise        65
Beneath the rolling sun, and starry skies,
Which Gods have rais’d, or earth-born men enjoy;
None stands so dear to Jove as sacred Troy.
No mortals merit more distinguish’d grace
Than godlike Priam, or than Priam’s race:        70
Still to our name their hecatombs expire,
And altars blaze with unextinguish’d fire.’
  At this the Goddess roll’d her radiant eyes,
Then on the Thund’rer fix’d them, and replies:
‘Three towns are Juno’s on the Grecian plains,        75
More dear than all th’ extended earth contains,
Mycenæ, Argos, and the Spartan wall;
These thou may’st raze, nor I forbid their fall:
’T is not in me the vengeance to remove;
The crime ’s sufficient that they share my love.        80
Of power superior, why should I complain?
Resent I may, but must resent in vain.
Yet some distinction Juno might require,
Sprung with thyself from one celestial sire,
A Goddess born to share the realms above,        85
And styled the consort of the thund’ring Jove:
Nor thou a wife and sister’s right deny;
Let both consent, and both by turns comply;
So shall the Gods our joint decrees obey,
And Heav’n shall act as we direct the way.        90
See ready Pallas waits thy high commands,
To raise in arms the Greek and Phrygian bands;
Their sudden friendship by her arts may cease,
And the proud Trojans first infringe the peace.’
  The Sire of men, and Monarch of the sky,        95
Th’ advice approv’d, and bade Minerva fly,
Dissolve the league, and all her arts employ
To make the breach the faithless act of Troy.
  Fired with the charge, she headlong urged her flight
And shot like lightning from Olympus’ height.        100
As the red comet, from Saturnius sent
To fright the nations with a dire portent
(A fatal sign to armies on the plain,
Or trembling sailors on the wintry main),
With sweeping glories glides along in air,        105
And shakes the sparkles from its blazing hair;
Between both armies thus, in open sight,
Shot the bright Goddess in a trail of light.
With eyes erect, the gazing hosts admire
The Power descending, and the Heav’ns on fire!        110
‘The Gods’ (they cried), ‘the Gods this signal sent,
And Fate now labours with some vast event:
Jove seals the league, or bloodier scenes prepares;
Jove, the great arbiter of peace and wars!’
  They said, while Pallas thro’ the Trojan throng        115
(In shape a mortal) pass’d disguised along.
Like bold Laödocus, her course she bent,
Who from Antenor traced his high descent.
Amidst the ranks Lycaön’s son she found,
The warlike Pandarus, for strength renown’d;        120
Whose squadrons, led from black Æsepus’ flood,
With flaming shields in martial circle stood.
  To him the Goddess: ‘Phrygian! canst thou hear
A well-timed counsel with a willing ear?
What praise were thine, could’st thou direct thy dart,        125
Amidst his triumph, to the Spartan’s heart?
What gifts from Troy, from Paris, wouldst thou gain,
Thy country’s foe, the Grecian glory, slain?
Then seize th’ occasion, dare the mighty deed,
Aim at his breast, and may that aim succeed!        130
But first, to speed the shaft, address thy vow
To Lycian Phœbus with the silver bow,
And swear the firstlings of thy flock to pay
On Zelia’s altars, to the God of Day.’
  He heard, and madly at the motion pleas’d,        135
His polish’d bow with hasty rashness seiz’d.
’T was form’d of horn, and smooth’d with artful toil;
A mountain goat resign’d the shining spoil,
Who pierc’d long since beneath his arrows bled;
The stately quarry on the cliffs lay dead,        140
And sixteen palms his brow’s large honours spread:
The workman join’d, and shaped the bended horns,
And beaten gold each taper point adorns.
This, by the Greeks unseen, the warrior bends,
Screen’d by the shields of his surrounding friends.        145
There meditates the mark, and, crouching low,
Fits the sharp arrow to the well-strung bow.
One, from a hundred feather’d deaths he chose,
Fated to wound, and cause of future woes.
Then offers vows with hecatombs to crown        150
Apollo’s altars in his native town.
  Now with full force the yielding horn he bends,
Drawn to an arch, and joins the doubling ends;
Close to his breast he strains the nerve below,
Till the barb’d point approach the circling bow;        155
Th’ impatient weapon whizzes on the wing;
Sounds the tough horn, and twangs the quiv’ring string.
  But thee, Atrides! in that dangerous hour
The Gods forget not, nor thy guardian Power.
Pallas assists, and (weaken’d in its force)        160
Diverts the weapon from its destin’d course:
So from her babe, when slumber seals his eye,
The watchful mother wafts th’ envenom’d fly.
Just where his belt with golden buckles join’d,
Where linen folds the double corslet lin’d,        165
She turn’d the shaft, which, hissing from above,
Pass’d the broad belt, and thro’ the corslet drove;
The folds it pierc’d, the plaited linen tore,
And razed the skin, and drew the purple gore.
As when some stately trappings are decreed        170
To grace a monarch on his bounding steed,
A nymph, in Caria or Mæönia bred,
Stains the pure iv’ry with a lively red;
With equal lustre various colours vie,
The shining whiteness, and the Tyrian dye:        175
So, great Atrides! shew’d thy sacred blood,
As down thy snowy thigh distill’d the streaming flood.
With horror seiz’d, the King of men descried
The shaft infix’d, and saw the gushing tide:
Nor less the Spartan fear’d, before he found        180
The shining barb appear above the wound.
Then, with a sigh that heav’d his manly breast,
The royal brother thus his grief express’d,
And grasp’d his hand; while all the Greeks around
With answering sighs return’d the plaintive sound:        185
  ‘Oh dear as life! did I for this agree
The solemn truce, a fatal truce to thee!
Wert thou exposed to all the hostile train,
To fight for Greece, and conquer to be slain?
The race of Trojans in thy ruin join,        190
And faith is scorn’d by all the perjured line.
Not thus our vows, confirm’d with wine and gore,
Those hands we plighted, and those oaths we swore,
Shall all be vain: when Heav’n’s revenge is slow,
Jove but prepares to strike the fiercer blow.        195
The day shall come, the great avenging day,
Which Troy’s proud glories in the dust shall lay,
When Priam’s powers and Priam’s self shall fall,
And one prodigious ruin swallow all.
I see the God, already, from the pole,        200
Bare his red arm, and bid the thunder roll;
I see th’ Eternal all his fury shed,
And shake his ægis o’er their guilty head.
Such mighty woes on perjured Princes wait;
But thou, alas! deserv’st a happier fate.        205
Still must I mourn the period of thy days,
And only mourn, without my share of praise?
Deprived of thee, the heartless Greeks no more
Shall dream of conquests on the hostile shore;
Troy seized of Helen, and our glory lost,        210
Thy bones shall moulder on a foreign coast:
While some proud Trojan thus insulting cries
(And spurns the dust where Menelaus lies):
“Such are the trophies Greece from Ilion brings,
And such the conquest of her King of Kings!        215
Lo his proud vessels scatter’d o’er the main,
And unrevenged his mighty brother slain.”
Oh, ere that dire disgrace shall blast my fame,
O’erwhelm me, earth! and hide a monarch’s shame.’
  He said: a leader’s and a brother’s fears        220
Possess his soul, which thus the Spartan cheers:
‘Let not thy words the warmth of Greece abate;
The feeble dart is guiltless of my fate:
Stiff with the rich embroider’d work around,
My varied belt repell’d the flying wound.’        225
  To whom the King: ‘My brother and my friend,
Thus, always thus, may Heav’n thy life defend!
Now seek some skilful hand, whose powerful art
May stanch th’ effusion, and extract the dart.
Herald, be swift, and bid Machaon bring        230
His speedy succour to the Spartan King;
Pierced with a winged shaft (the deed of Troy),
The Grecian’s sorrow and the Dardan’s joy.’
  With hasty zeal the swift Talthybius flies;
Thro’ the thick files he darts his searching eyes,        235
And finds Machaon, where sublime he stands
In arms encircled with his native bands.
Then thus: ‘Machaon, to the King repair,
His wounded brother claims thy timely care;
Pierced by some Lycian or Dardanian bow,        240
A grief to us, a triumph to the foe.’
  The heavy tidings grieved the godlike man;
Swift to his succour through the ranks he ran:
The dauntless King yet standing firm he found,
And all the Chiefs in deep concern around.        245
Where to the steely point the reed was join’d,
The shaft he drew, but left the head behind.
Straight the broad belt, with gay embroid’ry graced,
He loosed: the corslet from his breast unbraced;
Then suck’d the blood, and sov’reign balm infused,        250
Which Chiron gave, and Æsculapius used.
  While round the Prince the Greeks employ their care,
The Trojans rush tumultuous to the war;
Once more they glitter in refulgent arms,
Once more the fields are fill’d with dire alarms.        255
Nor had you seen the King of Men appear
Confused, inactive, or surprised with fear;
But fond of glory, with severe delight,
His beating bosom claim’d the rising fight.
No longer with his warlike steeds he stay’d,        260
Or press’d the car with polish’d brass inlaid,
But left Eurymedon the reins to guide;
The fiery coursers snorted at his side.
On foot thro’ all the martial ranks he moves,
And these encourages, and those reproves.        265
‘Brave men!’ he cries (to such who boldly dare
Urge their swift steeds to face the coming war),
‘Your ancient valour on the foes approve;
Jove is with Greece, and let us trust in Jove.
’T is not for us, but guilty Troy, to dread,        270
Whose crimes sit heavy on her perjured head:
Her sons and matrons Greece shall lead in chains,
And her dread warriors strew the mournful plains.’
  Thus with new ardour he the brave inspires;
Or thus the fearful with reproaches fires:        275
‘Shame to your country, scandal of your kind!
Born to the fate ye well deserve to find;
Why stand ye gazing round the dreadful plain,
Prepared for flight, but doom’d to fly in vain?
Confused and panting, thus the hunted deer        280
Falls as he flies, a victim to his fear.
Still must ye wait the foes, and still retire,
Till yon tall vessels blaze with Trojan fire?
Or trust ye, Jove a valiant foe shall chase,
To save a trembling, heartless, dastard race?’        285
  This said, he stalk’d with ample strides along,
To Crete’s brave monarch and his martial throng;
High at their head he saw the Chief appear,
And bold Meriones excite the rear.
At this the King his gen’rous joy express’d,        290
And clasp’d the warrior to his armèd breast:
‘Divine Idomeneus! what thanks we owe
To worth like thine? what praise shall we bestow?
To thee the foremost honours are decreed,
First in the fight, and ev’ry graceful deed.        295
For this, in banquets, when the gen’rous bowls
Restore our blood, and raise the warriors’ souls,
Tho’ all the rest with stated rules we bound,
Unmix’d, unmeasured are thy goblets crown’d.
Be still thyself; in arms a mighty name;        300
Maintain thy honours, and enlarge thy fame.’
  To whom the Cretan thus his speech address’d:
‘Secure of me, O King! exhort the rest:
Fix’d to thy side, in ev’ry toil I share,
Thy firm associate in the day of war.        305
But let the signal be this moment giv’n;
To mix in fight is all I ask of Heav’n.
The field shall prove how perjuries succeed,
And chains or death avenge their impious deed.’
  Charm’d with this heat, the King his course pursues,        310
And next the troops of either Ajax views:
In one firm orb the bands were ranged around,
A cloud of heroes blacken’d all the ground.
Thus from the lofty promontory’s brow
A swain surveys the gath’ring storm below;        315
Slow from the main the heavy vapours rise,
Spread in dim streams, and sail along the skies,
Till black as night the swelling tempest shews,
The cloud condensing as the west-wind blows:
He dreads th’ impending storm, and drives his flock        320
To the close covert of an arching rock.
  Such, and so thick, th’ embattled squadrons stood,
With spears erect, a moving iron wood;
A shady light was shot from glimm’ring shields,
And their brown arms obscured the dusky fields.        325
  ‘O Heroes! worthy such a dauntless train,
Whose godlike virtue we but urge in vain’
(Exclaim’d the King), ‘who raise your eager bands
With great examples, more than loud commands.
Ah would the Gods but breathe in all the rest        330
Such souls as burn in your exalted breast!
Soon should our arms with just success be crown’d,
And Troy’s proud walls lie smoking on the ground.’
  Then to the next the gen’ral bends his course
(His heart exults, and glories in his force);        335
There rev’rend Nestor ranks his Pylian bands,
And with inspiring eloquence commands;
With strictest order sets his train in arms,
The Chiefs advises, and the soldiers warms.
Alastor, Chromius, Hæmon, round him wait,        340
Bias the good, and Pelagon the great.
The horse and chariots to the front assign’d,
The foot (the strength of war) he ranged behind:
The middle space suspected troops supply,
Enclosed by both, nor left the power to fly:        345
He gives command to curb the fiery steed,
Nor cause confusion, nor the ranks exceed:
‘Before the rest let none too rashly ride;
No strength nor skill, but just in time, be tried:
The charge once made, no warrior turn the rein,        350
But fight, or fall; a firm, embodied train.
He whom the fortune of the field shall cast
From forth his chariot, mount the next in haste;
Nor seek unpractis’d to direct the car,
Content with jav’lins to provoke the war.        355
Our great forefathers held this prudent course,
Thus ruled their ardour, thus preserv’d their force,
By laws like these immortal conquests made,
And earth’s proud tyrants low in ashes laid.’
  So spoke the master of the martial art,        360
And touch’d with transport great Atrides’ heart.
‘Oh! hadst thou strength to match thy brave desires,
And nerves to second what thy soul inspires!
But wasting years that wither human race,
Exhaust thy spirits, and thy arms unbrace.        365
What once thou wert, oh ever might’st thou be!
And age the lot of any Chief but thee.’
  Thus to th’ experienc’d Prince Atrides cried;
He shook his hoary locks, and thus replied:
‘Well might I wish, could mortal wish renew        370
That strength which once in boiling youth I knew;
Such as I was, when Ereuthalion slain
Beneath this arm fell prostrate on the plain.
But Heav’n its gifts not all at once bestows,
These years with wisdom crowns, with action those:        375
The field of combat fits the young and bold,
The solemn council best becomes the old:
To you the glorious conflict I resign,
Let sage advice, the palm of age, be mine.’
  He said. With joy the Monarch march’d before        380
And found Menestheus on the dusty shore,
With whom the firm Athenian phalanx stands;
And next Ulysses, with his subject bands.
Remote their forces lay, nor knew so far
The peace infringed, nor heard the sounds of war;        385
The tumult late begun, they stood intent
To watch the motion, dubious of th’ event.
The King, who saw their squadrons yet unmov’d,
With hasty ardour thus the Chiefs reprov’d:
  ‘Can Peteus’ son forget a warrior’s part,        390
And fears Ulysses, skill’d in every art?
Why stand you distant, and the rest expect
To mix in combat which yourselves neglect?
From you ’t was hoped among the first to dare
The shock of armies, and commence the war.        395
For this your names are call’d before the rest,
To share the pleasures of the genial feast:
And can you, Chiefs! without a blush survey
Whole troops before you lab’ring in the fray?
Say, is it thus those honours you requite?        400
The first in banquets, but the last in fight.’
  Ulysses heard: the hero’s warmth o’erspread
His cheek with blushes; and, severe, he said:
‘Take back th’ unjust reproach! Behold we stand
Sheathed in bright arms, and but expect command.        405
If glorious deeds afford thy soul delight,
Behold me plunging in the thickest fight.
Then give thy warrior-chief a warrior’s due,
Who dares to act whate’er thou darest to view.’
  Struck with his gen’rous wrath, the King replies:        410
‘Oh great in action, and in council wise!
With ours, thy care and ardour are the same,
Nor need I to command, nor ought to blame.
Sage as thou art, and learn’d in human kind,
Forgive the transport of a martial mind.        415
Haste to the fight, secure of just amends;
The Gods that make shall keep the worthy friends.’
  He said, and pass’d where great Tydides lay,
His steeds and chariots wedg’d in firm array
(The warlike Sthenelus attends his side);        420
To whom with stern reproach the Monarch cried:
‘Oh son of Tydeus’ (he whose strength could tame
The bounding steed, in arms a mighty name),
‘Canst thou, remote, the mingling hosts decry,
With hands inactive, and a careless eye?        425
Not thus thy sire the fierce encounter fear’d;
Still first in front the matchless Prince appear’d:
What glorious toils, what wonders they recite,
Who view’d him lab’ring thro’ the ranks of fight!
I saw him once, when, gath’ring martial powers,        430
A peaceful guest he sought Mycenæ’s towers;
Armies he ask’d, and armies had been giv’n,
Not we denied, but Jove forbade from Heav’n;
While dreadful comets glaring from afar
Forewarn’d the horrors of the Theban war.        435
Next, sent by Greece from where Asopus flows,
A fearless envoy, he approach’d the foes;
Thebes’ hostile walls, unguarded and alone,
Dauntless he enters and demands the throne.
The tyrant, feasting with his Chiefs he found,        440
And dared to combat all those Chiefs around;
Dared and subdued, before their haughty lord;
For Pallas strung his arm, and edg’d his sword.
Stung with the shame, within the winding way,
To bar his passage fifty warriors lay;        445
Two heroes led the secret squadron on,
Mæon the fierce, and hardy Lycophon;
Those fifty slaughter’d in the gloomy vale,
He spared but one to bear the dreadful tale.
Such Tydeus was, and such his martial fire;        450
Gods! how the son degen’rates from the sire!’
  No words the godlike Diomed return’d,
But heard respectful, and in secret burn’d:
Not so fierce Capaneus’ undaunted son;
Stern as his sire, the boaster thus begun:        455
  ‘What needs, O Monarch, this invidious praise,
Ourselves to lessen, while our sires you raise?
Dare to be just, Atrides! and confess
Our valour equal, tho’ our fury less.
With fewer troops we storm’d the Theban wall,        460
And, happier, saw the sev’nfold city fall.
In impious acts the guilty fathers died;
The sons subdued, for Heav’n was on their side.
Far more than heirs of all our parents’ fame,
Our glories darken their diminish’d name.’        465
  To him Tydides thus: ‘My friend, forbear,
Suppress thy passion, and the King revere:
His high concern may well excuse this rage,
Whose cause we follow, and whose war we wage;
His the first praise, were Ilion’s towers o’erthrown,        470
And, if we fail, the chief disgrace his own.
Let him the Greeks to hardy toils excite,
’T is ours to labour in the glorious fight.’
  He spoke, and ardent on the trembling ground
Sprung from his car; his ringing arms resound.        475
Dire was the clang, and dreadful from afar,
Of arm’d Tydides rushing to the war.
As when the winds, ascending by degrees,
First move the whitening surface of the seas,
The billows float in order to the shore,        480
The wave behind rolls on the wave before;
Till, with the growing storm, the deeps arise,
Foam o’er the rocks, and thunder to the skies:
So to the fight the thick battalions throng,
Shields urged on shields, and men drove men along.        485
Sedate and silent move the numerous bands;
No sound, no whisper, but their Chief’s commands.
Those only heard; with awe the rest obey,
As if some God had snatch’d their voice away.
Not so the Trojans; from their host ascends        490
A gen’ral shout that all the region rends.
As when the fleecy flocks unnumber’d stand
In wealthy folds, and wait the milker’s hand,
The hollow vales incessant bleating fills,
The lambs reply from all the neighb’ring hills:        495
Such clamours rose from various nations round,
Mix’d was the murmur, and confused the sound.
Each host now joins, and each a God inspires,
These Mars incites, and those Minerva fires.
Pale Flight around, and dreadful Terror reign;        500
And Discord raging bathes the purple plain:
Discord! dire sister of the slaught’ring Power,
Small at her birth, but rising ev’ry hour;
While scarce the skies her horrid head can bound,
She stalks on earth, and shakes the world around;        505
The nations bleed, where’er her steps she turns;
The groan still deepens, and the combat burns.
  Now shield with shield, with helmet helmet closed,
To armour armour, lance to lance opposed,
Host against host with shadowy squadrons drew,        510
The sounding darts in iron tempests flew.
Victors and vanquish’d join promiscuous cries,
And shrilling shouts and dying groans arise;
With streaming blood the slipp’ry fields are dyed,
And slaughter’d heroes swell the dreadful tide.        515
  As torrents roll, increas’d by numerous rills,
With rage impetuous down their echoing hills;
Rush to the vales, and, pour’d along the plain,
Roar thro’ a thousand channels to the main;
The distant shepherd trembling hears the sound:        520
So mix both hosts, and so their cries rebound.
  The bold Antilochus the slaughter led,
The first who struck a valiant Trojan dead:
At great Echepolus the lance arrives,
Razed his high crest and thro’ his helmet drives;        525
Warm’d in the brain the brazen weapon lies,
And shades eternal settle o’er his eyes.
So sinks a tower that long assaults had stood
Of force and fire, its walls besmear’d with blood.
Him, the bold leader of th’ Abantian throng        530
Seized to despoil, and dragg’d the corpse along:
But, while he strove to tug th’ inserted dart,
Agenor’s jav’lin reach’d the hero’s heart.
His flank, unguarded by his ample shield,
Admits the lance: he falls, and spurns the field;        535
The nerves unbraced support his limbs no more:
The soul comes floating in a tide of gore.
Trojans and Greeks now gather round the slain;
The war renews, the warriors bleed again;
As o’er their prey rapacious wolves engage,        540
Man dies on man, and all is blood and rage.
  In blooming youth fair Simoïsius fell,
Sent by great Ajax to the shades of Hell:
Fair Simoïsius, whom his mother bore
Amid the flocks, on silver Simoïs’ shore:        545
The nymph, descending from the hills of Ide,
To seek her parents on his flowery side,
Brought forth the babe, their common care and joy,
And thence from Simoïs named the lovely boy.
Short was his date! by dreadful Ajax slain        550
He falls, and renders all their cares in vain!
So falls a poplar, that in wat’ry ground
Rais’d high the head, with stately branches crown’d
(Fell’d by some artist with his shining steel,
To shape the circle of the bending wheel);        555
Cut down it lies, tall, smooth, and largely spread,
With all its beauteous honours on its head;
There, left a subject to the wind and rain,
And scorch’d by suns, it withers on the plain.
Thus, pierc’d by Ajax, Simoïsius lies        560
Stretch’d on the shore, and thus neglected dies.
  At Ajax, Antiphus his jav’lin threw:
The pointed lance with erring fury flew,
And Leucus, loved by wise Ulysses, slew.
He drops the corpse of Simoïsius slain,        565
And sinks a breathless carcass on the plain.
This saw Ulysses, and, with grief enraged,
Strode where the foremost of the foes engaged;
Arm’d with his spear, he meditates the wound,
In act to throw; but, cautious, look’d around.        570
Struck at his sight the Trojans backward drew,
And trembling heard the jav’lin as it flew.
A Chief stood nigh, who from Abydos came,
Old Priam’s son, Democoön was his name;
The weapon enter’d close above his ear,        575
Cold thro’ his temples glides the whizzing spear;
With piercing shrieks the youth resigns his breath,
His eye-balls darken with the shades of death;
Pond’rous he falls; his clanging arms resound;
And his broad buckler rings against the ground.        580
  Seiz’d with affright the boldest foes appear;
Ev’n godlike Hector seems himself to fear;
Slow he gave way, the rest tumultuous fled;
The Greeks with shouts press on, and spoil the dead.
But Phœbus now from Ilion’s tow’ring height        585
Shines forth reveal’d, and animates the fight.
‘Trojans, be bold, and force with force oppose;
Your foaming steeds urge headlong on the foes!
Nor are their bodies rocks, nor ribb’d with steel;
Your weapons enter, and your strokes they feel.        590
Have you forgot what seem’d your dread before?
The great, the fierce Achilles fights no more.’
  Apollo thus from Ilion’s lofty towers,
Array’d in terrors, rous’d the Trojan powers:
While war’s fierce Goddess fires the Grecian foe,        595
And shouts and thunders in the fields below.
  Then great Diores fell, by doom divine;
In vain his valour and illustrious line.
A broken rock the force of Pirus threw
(Who from cold Ænus led the Thracian crew);        600
Full on his ankle dropp’d the pond’rous stone,
Burst the strong nerves, and crash’d the solid bone:
Supine he tumbles on the crimson sands,
Before his helpless friends, and native bands,
And spreads for aid his unavailing hands.        605
The foe rush’d furious as he pants for breath,
And thro’ his navel drove the pointed death:
His gushing entrails smoked upon the ground,
And the warm life came issuing from the wound.
  His lance bold Thoas at the conqu’ror sent,        610
Deep in his breast above the pap it went,
Amid the lungs was fix’d the winged wood,
And quiv’ring in his heaving bosom stood:
Till from the dying Chief, approaching near,
Th’ Ætolian warrior tugg’d his weighty spear:        615
Then sudden waved his flaming falchion round,
And gash’d his belly with a ghastly wound.
The corpse now breathless on the bloody plain,
To spoil his arms the victor strove in vain;
The Thracian bands against the victor press’d;        620
A grove of lances glitter’d at his breast.
Stern Thoas, glaring with revengeful eyes,
In sullen fury slowly quits the prize.
  Thus fell two heroes, one the pride of Thrace,
And one the leader of th’ Epeian race;        625
Death’s sable shade at once o’ercast their eyes,
In dust the vanquish’d and the victor lies.
With copious slaughter all the fields are red,
And heap’d with growing mountains of the dead.
  Had some brave Chief this martial scene beheld,        630
By Pallas guarded thro’ the dreadful field,
Might darts be bid to turn their points away,
And swords around him innocently play,
The war’s whole art with wonder had he seen,
And counted heroes where he counted men.        635
  So fought each host, with thirst of glory fired,
And crowds on crowds triumphantly expired.

Observations on Homer’s Battles

  It may be necessary, at the opening of Homer’s battles, to give some explanatory observations upon them. When we reflect that no less than the compass of twelve books is taken up in these, we shall have reason to wonder by what method the author could prevent descriptions of such a length from being tedious. It is not enough to say, that though the subject itself be the same, the actions are always different; that we have now distinct combats, now promiscuous fights, now single duels, now general engagements; we that the scenes are perpetually varied; we are now in the fields, now at the fortification of the Greeks, now at the ships, now at the gates of Troy, now at the river Scamander: but we must look farther into the art of the poet to find the reasons of this astonishing variety.
  We first observe that diversity in the deaths of his warriors, which he has supplied by the vastest fertility of invention. These he distinguishes several ways: sometimes by the Characters of the men, their age, office, profession, nation, family, etc. One is a blooming Youth, whose father dissuaded him from the war; one is a Priest, whose piety could not save him: one is a Sportsman, whom Diana taught in vain; one is the native of a far distant country, who is never to return; one is descended from a Noble Line, which ends in his death; one is made remarkable by his Boasting; another by his Beseeching; and another, who is distinguished no way else, is marked by his Habit, and the singularity of his armour.
  Sometimes he varies these by the several Postures in which his heroes are represented either fighting or falling. Some of these are so exceedingly exact, that one may guess, from the very position of the combatant, where-abouts the would will light: others so very peculiar and uncommon, that they could only be the effect of an imagination which had searched through all the ideas of nature. Such is that picture of Mydon in the fifth book, whose arm being numbed by a blow on the elbow, drops the reins, that trail on the ground; and then being suddenly struck on the temples, falls headlong from the charriot, in a soft and deep place, where he sinks up to the shoulders in the sands, and continues a while fixed by the weight of his armour, with his legs quivering in the air, till he is trampled down by his horses.
  Another cause of this variety is the difference of the Wounds that are given in the Iliad: they are by no means like the wounds described by most other poets, which are commonly made in the self-same obvious places; the heart and head serve for all those in general who understand no anatomy, and sometimes, for variety, they kill men by wounds that are nowhere mortal but in their poems. As the whole human body is the subject of these, so nothing is more necessary to him who would describe them well, than a thorough knowledge of its structure, even though the poet is not professedly to write of them as an anatomist; in the same manner as an exact skill in anatomy is necessary to those painters that would excel in drawing the naked body, though they are not to make every muscle as visible as in a book of chirurgery. It appears from so many passages in Homer, that he was perfectly master of this science, that it would be needless to cite any in particular.
  It may be necessary to take notice of some customs of antiquity relating to the Arms and Art Military of those times, which are proper to be known, in order to form a right notion of our author’s descriptions of war.
  That Homer copied the manners and customs of the age he wrote of, rather than of that he lived in, has been observed in some instances. As that he nowhere represents Cavalry or Trumpets to have been used in the Trojan wars, though they apparently were in his own time. It is not therefore impossible but there may be found in his works some deficiencies in the art of war, which are not to be imputed to his ignorance, but to his judgment.
  Horses had not been brought into Greece long before the siege of Troy. They were originally eastern animals, and if we find at that very period so great a number of them reckoned up in the wars of the Israelites, it is the less a wonder, considering they came from Asia. The practice of riding them was so little known in Greece a few years before, that they looked upon the Centaurs who first used it, as monsters compounded of men and horses. Nestor, in the first Iliad, says he had seen these Centaurs in his youth, and Polypœtes in the second is said to have been born on the day that his father expelled them from Pelion to the deserts of Æthica. They had no other use of horses than to draw their chariots in battle, so that whenever Homer speaks of fighting from a horse, taming a horse, or the like, it is constantly to be understood of fighting from a chariot, or taming horses to that service. This was a piece of decorum in the poet; for in his own time they were arrived to such a perfection in horsemanship, that in the fifteenth Iliad, ver. 822, we have a simile taken from an extraordinary feat of activity, where one man manages four horses at once, and leaps from the back of one to another at full speed.
  If we consider in what high esteem among warriors these noble animals must have been at their first coming into Greece, we shall the less wonder at the frequent occasions Homer has taken to describe and celebrate them. It is not so strange to find them set almost upon a level with men, at the time when a horse in the prizes was of equal value with a captive.
  The Chariots were in all probability very low. For we frequently find in the Iliad, that a person who stands erect on a chariot is killed (and sometimes by a stroke on the head), by a foot soldier with a sword. This may farther appear from the ease and readiness with which they alight or mount on every occasion, to facilitate which, the chariots were made open behind. That the wheels were but small, may be guessed from a custom they had of taking them off and setting them on, as they were laid by, or made use of. Hebe in the fifth book puts on the wheels of Juno’s chariot when she calls for it in haste: and it seems to be with allusion to the same practice that it is said in Exodus, ch. xiv., The Lord took off their chariot-wheels, so that they drove them heavily. The sides were also low; for whoever is killed in his chariot throughout the poem, constantly falls to the ground, as having nothing to support him. That the whole machine was very small and light, is evident from a passage in the tenth Iliad, where Diomed debates whether he shall draw the chariot of Rhesus out of the way, or carry it on his shoulders to a place of safety. All the particulars agree with the representations of the chariots on the most ancient Greek coins; where the tops of them reached not so high as the backs of the horses; the wheels are yet lower, and the heroes who stand in them are seen from the knee upwards.
  There were generally two persons in each chariot, one of whom was wholly employed in guiding the horses. They used, indifferently, two, three, or four horses: from whence it happens, that sometimes when a horse is killed, the hero continues the fight with the two or more that remain; and at other times a warrior retreats upon the loss of one; not that he had less courage than the other, but that he has fewer horses.
  Their Swords were all broad cutting swords, for we find they never stab but with their spears. The Spears were used two ways, either to push with, or to cast from them, like the missive javelins. It seems surprising, that a man should throw a dart or spear with such force, as to pierce through both sides of the armour and the body (as is often described in Homer): for if the strength of the men was gigantic, the armour must have been strong in proportion. Some solution might be given for this, if we imagined the armour was generally brass, and the weapons pointed with iron; and if we could fancy that Homer called the spears and swords brazen, in the same manner that he calls the reins of a bridle ivory, only from the ornaments about them. But there are passages where the point of the spear is expressly said to be of brass, as in the description of that of Hector in Iliad vi. Pausanias (Laconicis) takes it for granted, that the arms, as well offensive as defensive, were brass. He says the spear of Achilles was kept in his time in the temple of Minerva, the top and point of which were of brass; and the sword of Meriones, in that of Æsculapius among the Nicomedians, was entirely of the same metal. But be it as it will, there are examples even at this day of such a prodigious force in casting darts, as almost exceeds credibility. The Turks and Arabs will pierce through thick planks with darts of hardened wood; which can only be attributed to their being bred (as the ancients were) to that exercise, and to the strength and agility acquired by a constant practice of it.
  We may ascribe to the same cause their power of casting stones of a vast weight, which appears a common practice in these battles. It is an error to imagine this to be only a fictitious embellishment of the poet, which was one of the exercises of war among the ancient Greeks and Orientals. St. Jerome tells us, it was an old custom in Palestine, and in use in his own time, to have round stones of a great weight kept in the castles and villages, for the youth to try their strength with.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.