Iliad: What Thetis Did for Her Son

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

What Thetis Did for Her Son 


WHEN the twelve days of feasting were over, Thetis rose out of the sea and went her way to Olympus. There she found Zeus sitting alone on the highest peak of the mountain. She knelt down before him, and her left hand she laid upon his knees, and with her right hand she caught hold of his beard. Then she made this prayer to him: "O father Zeus, if I have ever helped thee at all, now give me what I ask, namely, that my son Achilles may have honour done to him. Agamemnon has shamed him, taking away the gift that the Greeks gave him. Do thou, therefore, make the Trojans prevail for a while in battle, so that the Greeks may find that they cannot do without him. So shall my son have honour."

For a long time Zeus sat saying nothing, for he knew that great trouble would come out of this thing. But Thetis still held him fast by the knees and by the beard; and she spoke again, saying: "Promise me this thing, and make your promise sure by nodding your head; or, else, say outright that you will not do it. Then I shall know that you despise me."




Zeus answered: "This is a hard thing that you ask. You will make a dreadful quarrel between me and the Lady Hera, my wife, and she will say many bitter words to me. Even now she tells me I favour the Trojans too much. Go, then, as quickly as you can, that she may not know that you have been here, and I will think how I may best do what you ask. And see, I will make my promise sure with a nod, for when I nod my head, then the thing may not be repented of or undone."

So he nodded his head, and all Olympus was shaken.

Then Thetis went away, and dived down into the sea. And Zeus went to his palace, and when he came in at the door, all the gods rose up in their places, and stood till he sat down on his throne. But Hera knew that Thetis had been with him, and she was very angry, and spoke bitter words: "Who has been with you, O lover of plots? When I am not here, then you take pleasure in hiding what you do, and in keeping things from me."

Zeus answered: "O Hera, do not think to know all of my thoughts; that is too hard for you, even though you are my wife. That which it is right for you to know, I will tell you before I tell it to any other god; but there are matters which I keep to myself. Do not seek to know these."

But Hera was even more angry than before. "What say you?" she cried. "I do not pry into your affairs. Settle them as you will. But this I know, that Thetis with the silver feet has been with you, and I greatly fear that she has had her way. At dawn of day I saw her kneeling before you; yes, and you nodded your head. I am sure that you have promised her that Achilles should have honour. Ah me! Many of the Greeks will die for this."

Then Zeus answered: "Truly there is nothing that you do not find out, witch that you are. But, if it be as you say, then know that such is my will. Do you sit still and obey. All the gods in Olympus cannot save you, if once I lay my hands upon you."

Hera sat still and said nothing, for she was very much afraid. Then her son, the god who made arms and armour and cups and other things out of silver and gold and copper, said to her: "It would be a great pity if you and the Father of the gods should quarrel on account of a man. Make peace with him, and do not make him angry again. It would be a great grief to me if I were to see you beaten before my eyes; for, indeed, I could not help you. Once before when I tried to come between him and you, he took me by the foot and threw me out the door of heaven. All day I fell and at evening I lighted in the island of Lemnos."

Then he thought how he might turn the thoughts of the company to something else. There was a very beautiful boy who used to carry the wine round. The god, who was a cripple, took his place, and mixed the cup, and hobbled round with it, puffing for breath as he went, and all the gods fell into great fits of laughter when they saw him. So the feast went on, and Apollo and the Muses sang, and no one thought any more about the quarrel.

But while all the other gods were sleeping, Zeus remained awake, thinking how he might do what Thetis had asked of him for her son. The best thing seemed to be to deceive Agamemnon, and make him think that he could take the city of Troy without the help of Achilles. So he called a Dream, and said to it: "Go, Dream, to the tent of Agamemnon, and tell him that if he will lead his army to battle, he will take the city of Troy."

So the Dream went, and it took the shape of Nestor, whom the King thought to be the wisest of the Greeks, and stood by his bedside and said: "Why do you waste your time in sleep? Arm the Greeks, and lead them out to battle, for you will take the city of Troy."

And the King believed that this false dream was true.




(1000 words)





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