Stories from the Iliad Told to the Children - Jeanie Lang

The Council

That night both gods and men slept long; only Zeus, king of the gods, lay wakeful, pondering in his heart how best he might do honour to Achilles. "I shall send a Dream to beguile Agamemnon," at length he resolved.

Then did he call to a Dream, for by Dreams the gods sent their messages to mortal men.

"Go now, thou evil Dream," said Zeus, "go to where Agamemnon sleeps in his tent near to his fleet ships, and tell him every word as I shall tell it thee. Bid him call to arms with speed his warriors, for now he shall take the strong city of Troy."

To the tent of Agamemnon sped the Dream. Taking the form of the old warrior who had striven to make peace between Agamemnon and Achilles, the Dream stooped over the sleeping warrior, and thus to him it spoke:

"Sleepest thou, Agamemnon? Ill fits it for the overlord of so mighty a host to sleep all through the night. From Zeus I come, and to thee he sends this message: Call to arms with speed thy warriors, Agamemnon, for now shalt thou take the strong city of Troy."

Off then sped the Dream, winging its way like a strip of grey mist aloft to Mount Olympus.

Then Agamemnon awoke from sleep, and the voice of the Dream still rang in his ears.

Speedily he arose from his bed, donned his fair tunic, cast around him his great cloak, and bound his sandals on his feet. Then over his shoulder he cast his silver-studded sword, and with the sceptre of his house, token of his overlordship, in his hand, he went down to where the Greek ships lay, and called a council together.

To his lords he told what had befallen him as they slept.

"Call to arms!" had been the message from Zeus. "Call to arms! for victory shall be thine."

Then said the old warrior in whose likeness the Dream had come:

"My friends, had any other told us this dream we might deem it false; but to our overlord the Dream hath come. Let us then call our men to arms."

So did all the lords follow his counsel, and quickly did the Greeks obey their summons. Like bees that pour from out their nests in some hollow rock, and fly to where the spring flowers grow most sweet, even so did the warriors pour forth from their ships and their huts by the sea. Loudly they shouted as they came, till all the earth echoed. Nine heralds sought to quiet them, but it was long before they would cease their noise, and sit silent to listen to the voice of Agamemnon their lord.

Then did Agamemnon prove his people. "Ill hath Zeus dealt with us, my friends," he said. "To us he promised ere we sailed hither that victory should be ours. But nine years have passed away, and our ships' timbers have rotted, and the rigging is worn. In our halls our wives and children still sit awaiting us, yet are we no nearer victory than we were on the day that we came hither. Come then, let us flee with our ships to our dear native land, for never shall Troy be ours."

So spake Agamemnon, and stirred the hearts of all that had not heard his secret council.

As the high sea-waves are swayed by the winds that rush upon them from the east and from the south, even so the Greek host was swayed. And even as the west wind sweeps over a cornfield and all the ears bow down before the blast, so were the warriors stirred.

Shouting, they hastened down to their ships. And the dust rose up in clouds from under their hurrying feet.

Quickly did they prepare their ships, and gladly did they make them ready to sail homeward across the bright salt sea.

Then would the Greeks have returned, even though fate willed it not. But Hera spoke to Athene.

"Shall we indeed allow the Greeks thus to flee homeward?" she cried. "Shame it will be to us if Helen is left in Troy, and Paris goes unpunished. Haste, then, and with thy gentle words hold back the men from setting forth in their ships for their own homeland."

Down from the peaks of Olympus darted the bright-eyed Athene, down to where the dark ships were being dragged to the launching ways.

By his ship stood Odysseus of the many devices, and heavy of heart was he.

As one who speaks aloud the thoughts of another, so then to Odysseus spake the fair goddess who was ever his guide.

"Will ye indeed fling yourselves upon your ships and flee homeward to your own land?" she said. "Will brave Odysseus leave Helen, for whose sake so many Greeks have died, to be the boast of the men of Troy? Hasten, then, and suffer not the Greeks to drag their ships down to the sea."

At the sound of the voice of Athene, Odysseus cast away his mantle and ran to meet Agamemnon. From him he received the sceptre of overlordship, and bearing it he went among the ships.

Whenever he saw a chief, he would say to him with gentle words

"Good sir, it fits thee ill to be a coward. Stay, now, for thou knowest not what is the will of Agamemnon. He is only making trial of thee. Hold back then thy people, and anger him not."

But when Odysseus met a common man hasting to the ships, with his sceptre he smote him, saying:

"Sit still, sir, and listen to the words of thy betters. No warrior art thou, but a weak- ling. One king only hath Zeus given to us. Hearken then to the will of Agamemnon!"

Thus did Odysseus rule the people, driving them back from the ships to where sat Agamemnon.

And the noise they made in returning was as the noise of mighty waves of the sea, when they crash upon the beach and drive their roaring echoes far abroad.

Silence came upon them as they sate themselves down before Agamemnon and their lords. Upon all but one did silence fall. Thersites, bandy-legged, round-shouldered, lame of one foot, with ugly head covered with scanty stubble, most ill-favoured of all men in the host, would not hold his peace.

Shrilly he poured his upbraidings upon Agamemnon.

"What lackest thou now?" he cried. "Surely thy huts are full of the spoils we have brought to thee each time we have taken a town. What more dost thou want? Soft fools, women, not men, are ye Greeks, else would ye return home now with the ships, and leave this fellow here in Troyland gorging himself on the spoils for which he himself hath never fought. To brave Achilles hath he done dishonour, a far better man than he!"

Straight to the side of Thersites came the goodly Odysseus.

"Hold thy peace," he sternly said. "Plainly I tell thee that if ever again I find thee raving as thou hast raved now, I myself will strip off thy mantle and tunic, with shameful blows beat thee out of the assembly, and send thee back weeping to the ships."

So spake Odysseus, and with his sceptre smote Thersites on his back and shoulders. And Thersites bowed down, and big tears fell from his eyes, and a bloody weal from the golden sceptre stood up from his back. Amazed he sat down, and in pain and amazement he wiped away a tear. The others, though they were sorry, laughed at his bewilderment.

"Many are the good deeds of Odysseus," said they, "but never did he do a better deed than when he stopped the tongue of this prating railer."

Then spake Odysseus, sceptre in hand. "Surely it is the wish of the Greeks to make thee the most despised of all kings, great Agamemnon," he said, "for like young children or mourning women do they wail that they must go home. Nine years have we stayed in this land, and small wonder is it that we long for our homes again. Yet shameful would it be to wait so long and to return with empty hands. Be of good heart, my friends, and wait a little, for surely Troy shall be ours. Do ye forget, on the day that we set sail for Troyland, the mighty portent that we saw? As we offered sacrifices to the gods beneath a fair plane-tree whence flowed clear water, a snake, blood-red on the back and dreadful to look upon, glided from beneath the altar and darted to the tree. On the tree's topmost bough was a sparrow's nest, and in it eight tender nestlings, over which the mother-bird spread her wings. Pitifully did the little ones cheep as the snake swallowed them all, and pitifully cried the mother as she fluttered over her nestlings. But of her, too, did the snake lay hold, coiling himself round her and crushing her life out. Then did the god who sent this sign show us that a sign from the gods in truth it was, for he turned the snake into stone. And Chalcas, our soothsayer, told us then the meaning of the sign. "Nine years," said he—for nine birds did the snake slay—"shall ye fight in Troyland, but in the tenth year the city shall fall before you." So then, let us abide here, until we have taken the great city!"

When Odysseus had ceased to speak, the Greeks shouted aloud, until the ships echoed the praises of the goodly Odysseus.

Then said Agamemnon:

"Go now, all of you, and eat, that ye may be ready for battle. Let each man sharpen well his spear and see to his shield, and see to it that the horses are well fed and the chariots prepared. And whomsoever I see minded to stay far away from the fight, beside the ships here by the sea, for him shall there be no hope hereafter, but he shall be food for dogs and for birds of prey."

And when Agamemnon had spoken, the shouts of the Greeks were as the thunder of mighty breakers on a reef when the winds blow high.

Quickly then they scattered, and kindled fires, and made their evening meal, and offered sacrifices to the gods, praying for escape from death in the coming battle.

To Zeus did Agamemnon offer his sacrifice, and to the mighty god he prayed:

"Great Zeus, god of the storm-cloud, let not the sun set nor the darkness fall until I have laid low the palaces of Troy and burned down its walls with fire."

So he prayed, but as yet Zeus heeded not his prayer. Then did the Greeks gather themselves together to battle, and amongst them went the bright-eyed Athene, urging on each one, and rousing in each man's heart the joy of strength and of battle.

As the red and golden blaze of a fire that devours a mighty forest is seen from afar, so was seen from afar the dazzling gleam of their bronze armour as they marched.

Like wild geese and cranes and swans that in long-drawn strings fly tirelessly onward, so poured they forth, while the earth echoed terribly under the tread of men and horses.

As flies that swarm in the spring when the herdsmen's milk-pails are full, so did the Greeks throng to battle, unnumbered as the leaves and the flowers upon which they trod in the flowery plain by the banks of the river Scamander.