The Spirit of Achilles
So we stood, exchanging words of sadness, grieving and shedding tears. And now the spirit of Achilles son of Peleus appeared, and the spirits of Patroclus and peerless Antilochus, and Ajax who for beauty and stature was supreme among the Danaans, save only for Peleus’ flawless son. And the ghost of swift-footed Achilles, grandson of Aeacus, knew me, and spoke through the tears: “Odysseus of many resources, scion of Zeus, son of Laertes, what could your resolute mind devise that exceeds this: to dare to descend to Hades, where live the heedless dead, the disembodied ghosts of men?”
So he spoke, and I replied: “Achilles, son of Peleus, greatest of Achaean warriors, I came to find Teiresias, to see if he would show me the way to reach rocky Ithaca. I have not yet touched Achaea, not set foot in my own land, but have suffered endless troubles, yet no man has been more blessed than you, Achilles, nor will be in time to come, since we Argives considered you a god while you lived, and now you rule, a power, among the un-living. Do not grieve, then, Achilles, at your death.”
These words he answered, swiftly: “Glorious Odysseus: don’t try to reconcile me to my dying. I’d rather serve as another man’s labourer, as a poor peasant without land, and be alive on Earth, than be lord of all the lifeless dead. Give me news of my son, instead. Did he follow me to war, and become a leader? Tell me, too, what you know of noble Peleus. Is he honoured still among the Myrmidons, or because old age ties him hand and foot do Hellas and Phthia fail to honour him? I am no longer up there in the sunlight to help him with that strength I had on Troy’s wide plain, where I killed the flower of their host to defend the Argives. If I could only return strong to my father’s house, for a single hour, I would give those who abuse him and his honour cause to regret the power of my invincible hands.”
To this I answered: “Truly, I have heard nothing of faultless Peleus, but I can tell you all about Neoptolemus, your resolute son, since you command me. I myself brought him from Scyros, in my well-made hollow ship, to join the bronze-greaved ranks of the Acheans. When we debated our plans before Troy he was always first to speak and his words were eloquent: only godlike Nestor and I were more so. And when we fought with our bronze spears on the plains of Troy, he never lagged behind in the crowded ranks but always advanced far in the lead, yielding to no one in skill. Many were the men he killed in mortal combat. I could not count or name them, all those victims of his, killed as he fought for the Argives, but what a warrior that hero Eurypylus, son of Telephus was, who fell to his sword, and Eurypylus’ Mysian comrades slain around him, all because of a woman’s desire for gain. Next to noble Memnon, he was the handsomest man I ever saw. Then again, when we Argive leaders climbed into the Horse that Epeius made, and it fell to me to open the hatch of our well-made hiding place, or keep it closed, the other Danaan generals and counsellors kept on wiping the tears from their eyes and their limbs trembled, but he begged me endlessly to let him leap from the Horse, toying with his sword hilt and his heavy bronze spear, eager to wreak havoc on the Trojans. And when we had sacked Priam’s high city, he took ship with his share of the spoils and a noble prize, and never a wound, untouched by the sharp spears, unmarked by close combat, something rare in battle, since Ares, the God of War, is indiscriminate in his fury.”
When I had spoken, the spirit of Achilles, Aeacus’ grandson, went away with great strides through the field of asphodel, rejoicing at my news of his son’s greatness.
Next: The Ghost of Ajax