Stories from the Iliad Told to the Children - Jeanie Lang

The Fighting on the Plain

The night passed, and grey dawn saw a mighty fight begin.

Fiercely did the battle wax and wane, and valiant deeds were done that day.

Mightily fought Agamemnon, but against him fought the gods, and when the sun blazed forth at noon, he and many another Greek warrior, grievously wounded, were forced to leave the field.

An arrow, from the bow of Paris, smote Machaon, skilled physician of the Greeks, and fear seized them lest he who healed their wounds might himself perish.

Into his chariot did old Nestor take Machaon, and right willingly his horses galloped back to their stables by the share.

By the stern of his ship stood Achilles, watching the battle from afar, and his dear friend and comrade, Patroclus, he sent speeding to the tent of Nestor for tidings of the battle and to ask the name of the wounded warrior.

Scornfully spake Nestor:

"What matters it to Achilles which of the sons of Greece lie wounded? Many chiefs of the Greeks have shed their blood this day, yet Achilles heedeth not. Hast thou forgotten, Patroclus, that day when thy father didst speak to thee of thyself and of Achilles? "Of nobler birth than thou is Achilles," he said, "and in might much greater. Yet he is younger than thou, so see that thou counsel him gently and wisely when there is need, and he will obey thee." Even now, Patroclus, thou mightest persuade Achilles to go forth to battle. But if he will not go, then let him lend thee his armour so that the men of Troy may flee before thee, thinking that Achilles goeth forth to war once more."

So did Nestor rouse the heart of Patroclus, and swiftly Patroclus returned to the ship of Achilles.

Fiercer and ever more fierce grew the battle as the hours went by. Up to the walls that the Greeks had built did the Trojans press their furious way. Up the battlements, spear in hand, they swarmed, nor heeded the storm of stones that crashed down upon them from above.

In front of the gates lay a stone so huge that two strong men could not together have lifted it and placed it on a wagon. With one hand did mighty Hector, legs wide apart, hurl it against the great double gates. Before it, hinges burst, bars smashed, and the gates crashed backwards. Then in leapt Hector, his eyes flashing fire. None but the gods could have withstood him, and on his heels came the men of Troy. Before them they swept the Greek host to their ships.

But down by the sea fought Ajax, and round him the Greeks took their stand. Mighty was the wall of living men that sought to die for their honour and for their own dear land.

Yet, like a great rock that the fierce floods of winter tear from a mountain-side, and that crashes through the forests and thunders down the valleys, destroying as it goes, so did Hector press onward. Be- hind him in heaps lay the slain, the moans of the dying mingled with the din of battle, and the dark night of death blinded the eyes of many a mighty chief.

"Thinkest thou to spoil our ships!" called Ajax to Hector. "To the gods, and not to the men of Troy do we owe our evil plight. Yet ere long will Troy fall before us, and thou thyself wilt pray to Zeus to make thy steeds fleet as falcons as they bear thee in shameful plight back to thy city, across the plain."

To Ajax did Hector make answer:

"Blundering boaster art thou I Woe cometh this day to the Greeks! And thou, Ajax, if thou hast courage to meet my spear, shalt be food for the birds and the dogs."

In his tent the heart of Agamemnon sank within him, and those beside him did he counsel that they should drag their ships down to the sea and swiftly sail away.

"There is no shame in fleeing from ruin," said he.

But Odysseus and Diomedes replied with angry scorn to the coward words of their overlord.

"Let us go down to the battle, wounded though we be," said Diomedes.

So they set forth, and with them went Agamemnon, and through the long day did that mortal fight go on. Now would the Trojans triumph, and again to the men of Greece would come the victory.

At last, before a huge stone, hurled by Ajax, did Hector fall. Like a mighty oak smitten by lightning he fell, and the Trojans bore him away, the black blood gushing from his mouth.

Then pressed the men of Greece the more. Back from the ships they drove the men of Troy.

But to Hector where he lay a-dying came Apollo, and into his fainting body and heart he breathed fresh strength and courage.

With strength as the strength of ten Hector once again faced the foe, and before him the Greeks fell back in dismay.

Patroclus in his tent, tending the wounds of a friend, marked how the Greeks fell back, and he groaned aloud.

"To Achilles must I hasten," he said. "Who knows but that the time has come when I may arouse him to join in the battle."