Iliad: The Ransoming of Hector

This story is part of the Iliad unit. Story source: The Iliad retold by Alfred J. Church (1907).

The Ransoming of Hector 

THE GREEKS made a great mourning for Patroclus and paid due honours to him, but the body of Hector was shamefully treated, for Achilles caused it to be dragged daily about the tomb of his friend.

Then Zeus sent for Thetis and said to her: "Go to the camp, and bid your son give up the body of Hector for ransom; it angers me to see him do dishonour to the dead."

So Thetis went to the tent of Achilles and found him weeping softly for his friend, for the strength of his sorrow was now spent. And she said to him: "It is the will of Zeus that you give up the body of Hector for ransom." And he said: "Let it be so, if the gods will have it."

Then, again, Zeus sent Iris his messenger to King Priam, where he sat in his palace with his face wrapped in his mantle, and his sons weeping round him, and his daughter and his daughters-in-law wailing in their chambers of the palace. Iris said to him: "Be of good cheer; I come from Zeus. He bids you take precious gifts wherewith to buy back the body of Hector from Achilles. Nor will Achilles refuse to give it up."

So Priam rose from his place with gladness in his heart. Nor would he listen to the Queen when she would have kept him back.

"I have heard the voice of the messenger of Zeus, and I will go. And if I die, what do I care? Let Achilles slay me, so that I hold the body of my son once more in my arms."

Then he caused precious things to be put into a wagon, mantles which had never been washed, and rugs, and cloaks, twelve of each, and ten talents of gold, and cauldrons and basins, and a great cup of gold which the Thracians had given him. Nothing of his treasures did he spare if only he might buy back his son. Then he bade his sons yoke the mules to the wagon. With many bitter words did he speak to them; they were cowards, he said, an evil brood, speakers of lying words, and mighty only to drink wine. But they did not answer him.

Then Priam himself yoked the horses to the chariot, the herald helping. But before he went he poured out wine to Zeus, and prayed, saying: "Hear me, O Father, and cause Achilles to pity me; give me also a lucky sign that I may go on this business with a good heart." So Zeus sent an eagle, a mighty bird, and it flew with wings outstretched over the city, on the right hand of the King.

Then the King passed out of the gates. Before him the mules drew the wagon; these the herald drove. But Priam himself drove his horses.

Then said Zeus to Hermes: "Go, guide the King, so that none of the Greeks may see him before he comes to the tent of Achilles." So Hermes fastened on his feet the winged sandals with which he flies, and he flew till he came to the plain of Troy.

And when the wagon and the chariot were close to the tomb of Ilus, the herald spied a man (for Hermes had taken the shape of a man), and said to the King: "What shall we do? I see a man. Shall we flee, or shall we beg him to have mercy on us?" And the King was greatly troubled.

But Hermes came near and said: "Whither do you go in the darkness with these horses and mules? Have you no fear of the Greeks? If any one should spy all this wealth, what then? You are old, and could scarcely defend yourselves. But be of good cheer; I will protect you, for you are like to my own dear father."

Priam answered: "Happy is he to have such a son. Surely the gods are with me, that I have met such a one as you."

Then said Hermes: "Tell me true; are you sending away these treasures for safe keeping, fearing that the city will be taken now that Hector is dead?"

Priam answered: "Who are you that you speak of Hector?"

Hermes said: "I am a Myrmidon, one of the people of Achilles, and often have I seen your son in the front of the battle."

Then the King asked him: "Is the body of Hector yet whole, or have the dogs and the vultures devoured it?"

Hermes answered: "It is whole, and without blemish, as fresh as when he died. Surely the gods love him, even though he be dead."

Then King Priam would have had the young man take a gift; but Hermes said: "I will take no gift unknown to my master. So to do would be wrong to him. But I will guide you to his tent, if you would go thither."

(800 words)

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