Stories from the Iliad Told to the Children - Jeanie Lang

The Fight Between Hector and Ajax

From Olympus did Athene mark with angry heart how Greek after Greek fell dead before the spears of Hector and of Paris.

Then did she plot with Apollo, her brother, how best she might discomfit these men of Troy.

And into the heart of Hector did they put the wish to make the Trojans and the Greeks cease from battle, while he challenged the bravest Greek of the host to meet him, man to man, in deadly combat.

Then did Hector and Agamemnon make the fighting cease, and with gladness did Hector call upon the Greeks to send forth their bravest champion that he might fight with him, hand to hand.

"If I be slain," said Hector, "then let the victor despoil me of my armour, but give back my body to my home. And if I slay him who fights with me, then shall his armour be mine. But his body the Greeks shall have, that they may build for him a tomb in their own land, near the sea, so that in the days to come men may look at it as they sail past in their ships and say, 'This is the tomb of a inan that died in days of old, a champion whom Hector slew.'"

Silent stood the Greeks before him. For they feared to meet him hand to hand, and were ashamed to show their fear.

Then up sprang Menelaus, and with scorn of the others he donned his armour.

"Shame on ye all!" he cried. "I myself will fight with Hector, and the gods will slay that man whom they will to die."

But Agamemnon would not have it that his brother should fight.

"This is madness, Menelaus," he said. "Draw back, though it pains thee, for even Achilles did dread to meet this man in battle, and how much more mighty is Achilles than thou."

Then rose up nine chiefs of the Greeks, all ready to fight with Hector, and lots were cast to see which of these, the most valiant of the host, should meet with the champion of the men of Troy.

To Ajax the giant-like did the lot fall, and glad was the heart of the hero that so it should be.

In his shining bronze armour did Ajax array him, and as he strode forward with a smile on his stern face and his long spear brandished in his hand, he looked as looks Mars the terrible when he goes forth to battle.

The Trojans trembled at the sight, and the heart of Hector beat faster, as the giant, with his great bronze shield, came towards him with mighty strides.

"Achilles, the lion-hearted, sitteth by his ships, yet shalt thou be shown, Hector, that the Greeks have other warriors in their ranks," cried Ajax. "But thou shalt begin the battle."

"Am I a woman or a feeble boy who knows naught of fighting, Ajax?" answered Hector. "Well do I know the rules of the great game of war. But I have no mind to smite thee by cunning. Openly shall I smite thee, if I smite at all."

Thereat he hurled at Ajax his bronze-shod spear. But on his mighty shield of seven-fold hide, bronze-covered, Ajax caught the blow, and only six folds of the shield were pierced.

Then did Ajax the giant hurl his spear, and it passed through Hector's bright shield and his corslet, and rent the doublet on his thigh. But Hector swerved aside and so escaped death. Then did each grip a fresh spear, and, like angry lions, did they rush each at the other. Again did Hector smite the shield of Ajax with his spear, but the spear point was bent back and unpierced was the shield. And Ajax, with a mighty drive, sent his spear through the shield of Hector, and the point pierced his neck, so that the dark blood gushed forth. But even then Hector ceased not to fight. From the ground he seized up a great jagged stone and hurled it against the shield of Ajax, until the bronze rang again. A stone, greater by far, did Ajax then hurl, and the shield of Hector was crushed inwards, and Hector was borne backwards, and fell, and had been slain, had not Apollo, with invisible hands, raised him up. Their swords they drew then, and would have fought on, had not heralds rushed between them and with their staves held them apart.

"Fight no more, dear sons," said the herald of Troy. "Well do we see that ye both are brave warriors, and well-beloved of Zeus. But night falleth, and bids you cease the combat."

Said Ajax:

"For Hector it is to speak, for he challenged the bravest of the Greeks to battle. As he wills, so shall I do."

"The gods have given thee stature and might and wisdom, Ajax," said Hector, "and surely there is no greater fighter among the Greeks than thou. Night falleth, so let us cease from battle, and hereafter will we fight again, and the gods shall grant one of us the victory. But now let us exchange gifts, that Greeks and Trojans may say, 'In fierce strife did Ajax and Hector meet, but in friendship they parted.'"

So spoke Hector, and gave to Ajax his silver-studded sword, with scabbard and sword-belt; and to him did Ajax give his belt bright with purple.

So parted the two heroes, and greatly did the men of Troy and of Greece rejoice at the safe return of their champions.