Iliad: The Rousing of Achilles

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

The Rousing of Achilles 

VERY fierce was the fight for the body of Patroclus, and many warriors fell both on this side and on that, and the first to be killed was the man who had wounded him in the back, for when he came near to strip the dead man of his arms, King Menelaüs thrust at him with his spear and slew him. He slew him, but he could not strip off his arms, because Hector came and stood over the body, and Menelaüs did not dare to stand up against him, knowing that he was not a match for him in fighting.

Then Hector spoiled the body of Patroclus of the arms which the great Achilles had given him to wear. But when he laid hold of the body, and began to drag it away to the ranks of the Trojans, the Greater Ajax came forward, and put his big shield before it. As a lioness stands before its cubs and will not suffer the hunter to take them, so did Ajax stand before the body of Patroclus and defend it from the Trojans. And Hector drew back when he saw him.

Then Glaucus the Lycian spoke to him in great anger: "Are you not ashamed, O Hector, that you dare not stand before Ajax? How will you and the other Trojans save your city? Truly your allies will not fight any more for you, for though they help you much, yet you help them little. Did not Sarpēdon fall fighting for you, and yet you left him to be a prey to the dogs? And now, had you only stood up against this Ajax, and dragged away the body of Patroclus, we might have made an exchange, giving him and his arms, and receiving Sarpēdon from the Greeks. But this may not be, because you are afraid of Ajax, and flee before him when he comes to meet you."

Hector answered: "I am not afraid of Ajax, nor of any man. But this I know, that Zeus gives victory now to one and now to another; this only do I fear, and this only, to go against the will of Zeus. But wait here, and see whether or no I am a coward."

Now Hector had sent the armour of Patroclus to the city, but when he heard Glaucus speak in this manner, he ran after the men who were carrying it and overtook them, and stripped off his own armour, and put on the armour of Achilles.

And when Zeus saw him do this thing he was angry, and said to himself, "These arms will cost Hector dear."

Nevertheless, when he came back to the battle, all men were astonished, for he seemed like to the great Achilles himself. Then the Trojans took heart again and charged all together, and the battle grew fiercer and fiercer.

For the Greeks said to themselves: "It were better that the earth should open her mouth and swallow us up alive than that we let the Trojans carry off the body of Patroclus."

And the Trojans said to themselves: "Now if we must all be slain fighting for the body of this man, be it so; but we will not yield."

Now while they fought the horses of Achilles stood apart from the battle, and the tears rushed down from their eyes, for they loved Patroclus, and they knew that he was dead. Still they stood in the same place; they would not enter into the battle, neither would they turn back to the ships. And the charioteer could not move them with the lash, or with threats, or with gentle words. As a pillar stands by the grave of some dead man, so they stood; their heads drooped to the ground, and the tears trickled down from their eyes, and their long manes were trailed in the dust.

When Zeus saw them he pitied them in his heart. And he said: "It was not well that I gave you, immortal as you are, to a mortal man, for of all things that live and move upon the earth, surely man is the most miserable. But Hector shall not have you. It is enough for him, yea, it is too much that he should have the arms of Achilles."

Then the horses moved from their place, and obeyed the driver as before; and Hector could not take them, though he greatly desired so to do.

All this time the battle raged yet more and more fiercely about the body of Patroclus. At the last, when the Greeks were growing weary, and the Trojans pressed them more and more, Ajax said to Menelaüs, for these two had borne themselves more bravely in the battle than all the others: "See now if you can find Antilŏchus, Nestor's son, and bid him run and carry the news to Achilles that Patroclus is dead, and that the Greeks and Trojans are fighting over his body."

So Menelaüs went, and found Antilŏchus on the left side of the battle. And he said to him: "I have bad news for you. You see that the Trojans prevail in the battle, to-day. And now Patroclus lies dead. Run, therefore, to Achilles and tell him; maybe he can yet save the body; as for the arms, Hector has them."

Antilŏchus was greatly troubled to hear the news; his eyes filled with tears, and he could not speak for grief. But he gave heed to the words of Menelaüs, and ran to tell Achilles what had happened.

(900 words)

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