Stories from the Iliad Told to the Children - Jeanie Lang

Hector and Andromache

From where the battle still raged went Hector, son of Priam. At the oak tree by the gates of Troy there came running to meet him wives and daughters of those who fought. For eagerly did they long for tidings of many a warrior who now lay dead on the field.

When he reached the beautiful, many-pillared palace of his father, his mother came to meet him.

His hand she took in hers, and gently spoke she to him.

"Art thou wearied that thou hast left the battle, Hector, my son?" she said. "Let me bring thee wine that thou may'st be refreshed and yet gain strength."

"Bring me no wine, dear mother," said Hector, "lest it take from me the strength and courage that I have. Rather go thou to the temple of Athene and offer her sacrifices, beseeching that she will have mercy on Troy and on the wives of the Trojans and their little children. So may she hold back Diomedes the destroyer. I go to Paris—would that he were dead!"

And the mother of Hector straightway, with other old women, the mothers of heroes, offered sacrifices and prayers to Athene. But Athene paid no heed.

To the palace of Paris, his mighty bronze spear in his hand, then strode Hector.

Paris, the golden-haired, sat in a room with Helen, idly handling his shining shield and breastplate and curved bow.

In bitter scorn spoke Hector to his brother.

"Our people die in battle for thy sake!" he cried, "while here thou sittest idle. Up then, ere the enemies that thou hast made for us burn our city to the ground!"

And Paris answered:

"Justly dost thou chide me, Hector. Even now hath Helen urged me to play the man and go back to battle. Only let me put on my armour, and soon will I overtake thee."

Never a word did Hector answer him.

But to Hector did Helen then speak.

"Brother Hector," she said, "unworthy am I to be sister of thine. Would that I had died on the day I was born, or would that the gods who have brought me this evil had given me for a husband one who was shamed by reproach and who feared dishonour. Rest thee here, my brother, who hast suffered so much for the sake of wretched me and for the sin of Paris. Well I know that for us cometh punishment of which men will sing in the far-off years that are yet to come."

"Of thy love, ask me not to stay, Helen," answered Hector. "For to help the men of Troy is my whole heart set, and they are now in want of me. But rouse this fellow, and make him hasten after me. I go now to see my dear wife and my babe, for I know not whether I shall return to them again."

In his own house Hector found not his fair wife Andromache, nor their little babe.

"Whither went thy mistress?" he asked in eagerness of the serving-women.

"Truly, my lord," answered one, "tidings came to us that the Trojans were sorely pressed and that with the Greeks was the victory. So then did Andromache, like one frenzied, hasten with her child and his nurse to the walls that she might see somewhat of what befell. There, on the tower, she stands now, weeping and wailing."

Back through the streets by which he had come then hastened Hector. And as he drew near the gates, Andromache, who had spied him from afar, ran to meet him.

As, hand clasped in hand, Andromache and Hector stood, Hector looked silently at the beautiful babe in his nurse's arms, and smiled.

Astyanax, "The City King," those of Troy called the child, because it was Hector his father who saved the city.

Then said Andromache:

"Dear lord, thy courage will bring thee death. Hast thou no pity for this babe nor for thy wife, who so soon shall be thy widow? Better would it be for me to die if to thee death should come. For if I lose thee, then sorrow must for evermore be mine. No father nor mother have I, and on one day were my seven brothers slain. Father and mother and brother art thou to me, Hector, and my dear loved husband as well. Have pity now, and stay with thy wife and thy little child."

"All these things know I well, my wife;" answered Hector, "but black shame would be mine were I to shrink like a coward from battle. Ever it hath been mine to be where the fight was fiercest, and to win glory for my father's name, and for my own. But soon will that glory be gone, for my heart doth tell me that Troy must fall. Yet for the sorrows of the Trojans, and of my own father and mother and brethren, and of the many heroes that must perish, grieve I less bitterly than for the anguish that must come upon thee on that day when thou no longer hast a husband to fight for thee and a Greek leads thee away a prisoner. May the earth be heaped up high above me ere I hear thy crying, Andromache!"

So spake Hector, and stretched out his arms to take his boy.

But from his father's bronze helmet with its fiercely nodding plume of horse-hair the babe shrank back in terror and hid his face in his nurse's breast. Then did the little City King's father and his sweet mother laugh aloud, and on the ground Hector laid his helmet, and taking his little son in his arms he kissed him and gently dandled him. And as he did so, thus Hector prayed to Zeus and all the gods

"O Zeus and all ye gods, grant that my son may be a brave warrior and a great king in Troyland. Let men say of him when he returns from battle, 'Far greater is he than his father,' and may he gladden his mother's heart."

Then did Hector lay his babe in Andromache's arms, and she held him to her bosom, smiling through her tears.

Full of love and pity and tenderness was the heart of Hector, and gently he caressed her and said

"Dear one, I pray thee be not of over-sorrowful heart. No man shall slay me ere the time appointed for my death hath come. Go home and busy thyself with loom and distaff and see to the work of thy maidens. But war is for us men, and of all those who dwell in Troyland, most of all for me."

So spake Hector, and on his head again he placed his crested helmet. And his wife went home, many times looking back to watch him she loved going forth to battle, with her eyes half blinded by her tears.

Not far behind Hector followed Paris, his armour glittering like the sun, and with a laugh on the face that was more full of beauty than that of any other man on earth. Like a noble charger that has broken its bonds and gallops exultingly across the plain, so did Paris stride onward.

"I fear I have delayed thee," he said to his brother when he overtook him.

"No man can speak lightly of thy courage," answered Hector, "only thou hast brought shame on thyself by holding back from battle. But now let us go forward, and may the gods give the Greeks into our hands."

So went Hector and Paris together into battle, and many a Greek fell before them on that day.