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Translation by Ian Johnston

Book Eighteen
The Arms of Achilles

[Antilochus brings the news to Achilles of Patroclus' death; Achilles collapses in grief; Thetis hears his grief, talks to her sister Nereids, then visits Achilles, promises to bring him new armour from Hephaestus; Iris visits Achilles with a message from Hera; Achilles displays himself to the Trojans by the ditch and wall; Trojans debate what to do; Polydamas advises retreat; Hector opposes him; Achaeans take Patroclus' body back to the ships, begin their laments over Patroclus; Thetis visits Hephaestus, requests new armour for Achilles; Hephaestus makes new armour, especially a new shield; Thetis leaves with the armour] 


As the men fought on like a blazing fire raging,
swift-footed Antilochus came to Achilles
with his news.  He found Achilles by his beaked ship,
sensing in himself what had already happened,
speaking with a troubled mind to his own great heart:

"Why are long-haired Achaeans once again
retreating to their ships, being beaten back
across the plain in terror?  I hope the gods
have not done something that will break my heart.
My mother told me once they'd do that,                                         10  
when she said once that while I was alive
the best man of the Myrmidons would leave                                           [10]
the sun's light at the hands of Trojans.
So it must be the case that the fine son
of Menoetius is dead, that reckless man.
I told him to return back to the ships,
once he'd saved them from consuming fire,
and not to face up to Hector man to man."

As Achilles in his mind and heart was thinking this,
noble Nestor's son approached, shedding warm tears.                            20  
He told him the agonizing truth:

                                       "Son of warlike Peleus,
you must hear this dreadful newssomething
I wish weren't soPatroclus lies dead.                                                   [20]
Men are fighting now around the body.
He's stripped.  Hector with his gleaming helmet
has the armour."

                                           Antilochus finished speaking.
A black cloud of grief swallowed up Achilles.
With both hands he scooped up soot and dust and poured it
on his head, covering his handsome face with dirt,
covering his sweet-smelling tunic with black ash.                                   30
He lay sprawlinghis mighty warrior's massive body
fell down and stretched out in the dust.  With his own hands,
he tugged at his own hair, disfiguring himself.
The women slaves acquired as battle trophies
by Achilles and Patroclus, hearts overwhelmed 
with anguish, began to scream aloud.  They rushed outside
and beat their breasts around warlike Achilles.                                                 [30]
Then all the women's legs gave way, and they collapsed.
Across from them, Antilochus lamented,
eyes full of tears, as he held Achilles by the hand.                                  40 
Achilles' noble heart moaned aloud.  Antilochus
feared he might hurt himself or slit his throat
with his own sword.  Achilles gave a huge cry of grief.
His noble mother heard it from the ocean depths
where she was sitting by her ancient father.
She began to wail.  Then around her gathered
all the divine daughters of Nereus deep in the sea
Glauce, Thaleia, Cymodoce, Nesaea,
Speio, Thoe, ox-eyed Halië, Cymothoë,                                                            [40]
Actaia, Limnoreia, Melite, Iaera,                                                               50
Amphithoe, Agave, Doto, Proto,
Pherousa, Dynamene, Dexamene,
Amphinome, Callianeira, Doris, Panope,
lovely Galatea, Nemertes, Apseudes,
Callianassa.  Also there were Clymene,
Ianeira, Ianassa, Maera, Orithyia,
Amatheia with her lovely hair, and others,
Nereus' daughters living in the ocean depths.
They filled the glistening cave, beating their breasts.                                        [50]
Thetis led them all in their laments:  

                                 "Sister Nereids, listen,                                  60 
so all of you, hearing what I say,
will understand my heart's enormous sorrow.
Alas, for my unhappy misery,
that to my grief I bore the best of men.
For when I gave birth to a fine strong boy
to be an excellent heroic warrior,
when he'd grown as tall as some young sapling,
for I'd raised him like a lovely orchard tree,
I sent him out in the beaked ships to Ilion,
to war against the Trojans.  But now,                                           70
I'll never welcome him back home again,                                                [60]
returning to the house of Peleus.
While he's alive and sees the sunlight,
he lives in sorrow.  When I go to him,
I can provide no help.  But I shall go
to look on my dear child, to hear what grief
has overtaken him while he remains
detached from all the fighting."

                                                              With these words,
Thetis left the cave.  Her sisters went with her in tears.
Around them sea waves parted, until they came                                     80
to fertile Troy.  They emerged, climbing up on shore,
one after another, right where the Myrmidons
had dragged their ships up in close-packed formation
near swift Achilles.  Then his noble mother moved                                          [70]
beside him, as he was groaning bitterly.
With a sharp cry, she cradled her son's head, then spoke.
As she grieved, she addressed him with these winged words:

"My child, why are you crying?  What sorrow now
has come into your heart?  Speak out.  Hide nothing.
Zeus has given you what you begged him to                                 90
when you stretched your hands out to him
all Achaea's sons by their ships' sterns
are hemmed in there, desperate for your help
and suffering a terrible ordeal."

                                                       With a heavy groan,
swift-footed Achilles then answered Thetis:

                                                        "Yes, Mother,
Olympian Zeus has indeed accomplished
what I asked.  But what pleasure's there for me,                                    [80]
when Patroclus, my beloved companion,
has been destroyed, the man I honoured
as my equal, above all my comrades.                                            100
I've lost him and the armour, which Hector took,
once he'd killed him, that massive armour,
so wonderful to look at, which the gods
gave as a priceless gift to Peleus
on that day they placed you in the bed
of a mortal man.  If only you had stayed
among the eternal maidens of the sea,
and Peleus had married a mortal wife.
But now there'll be innumerable sorrows
waiting for your heart, once your child is killed.                           110
You won't be welcoming him back home again.                                     [90]
My own heart has no desire to live on,
to continue living among men,
unless Hector is hit by my spear first,
losing his life and paying me compensation
for killing Menoetius' son, Patroclus."

Through her tears, Thetis then answered Achilles:

"My son, from what you've just been saying,
you're fated to an early death, for your doom
comes quickly as soon as Hector dies."                                        120

Swift-footed Achilles answered her with passion:

"Then let me die, since I could not prevent
the death of my companion.  He's fallen
far from his homeland.  He needed me there                                          [100]
to protect him from destruction.  So now,
since I'm not returning to my own dear land,
and for Patroclus was no saving light
or for my many other comrades,
all those killed by godlike Hector while I sat
here by the ships, a useless burden                                               130
on the earthand I'm unmatched in warfare
by any other Achaean armed in bronze,
although in council other men are better
so let wars disappear from gods and men
and passionate anger, too, which incites
even the prudent man to that sweet rage,
sweeter than trickling honey in men's throats,
which builds up like smoke inside their chests,                                       [110]
as Agamemnon, king of men, just now, 
made me enraged.  But we'll let that pass.                                    140
For all the pain I feel, I'll suppress the heart
within my chest, as I must.  So now I'll go
to meet Hector, killer of the man I loved.
As for my own fate, let it come to me
when Zeus and the other deathless gods
determine.  For not even strong Hercules,
the man Lord Zeus, son of Cronos, loved the most,
escaped his death.  He was destroyed by Fate
and by  malicious Hera's anger, too.
And so for me.  If a like fate has been set,                                     150          [120]
then once I'm dead, I'll just lie there.  But for now,
let me seize great glorylet me make
so many Trojan and Dardan matrons weep,
and with both hands wipe tears from their soft cheeks,
and set them on to constant lamentation,
so that they'll know I've long refrained from war.
Don't keep me from battle.  Though you love me,
you'll not convince me."

                                      Silver-footed Thetis
then said to Achilles:

                     "My child, what you say is true
it's no bad thing to protect companions                                       160
when they're in trouble from complete disaster.
But now the Trojans have your lovely armour,                                       [130]
all your glittering bronze.  It's on the shoulders
of Hector with the shining helmet
he boasts about it.  But I don't think
his triumph will last long, since his death
is coming closer.  But you must not rejoin
Ares' conflict until with your own eyes 
you see me in the morning here again.  
I'll return at sunrise, and I'll bring you                                          170
beautiful armour made by lord Hephaestus."

Saying this, Thetis turned away from her own son 
to address her ocean sisters:

                           "Now you must plunge                                                [140]
into the broad lap of Ocean and go find
the old man of the sea in our father's house.
Tell him everything.  I'll go to high Olympus,
to that famous artisan Hephaestus,
to see if he is willing to give my son
some splendid glittering armour."

Thetis spoke.  Her sisters quickly plunged under the waves.                  180
Then the silver-footed goddess Thetis went away
to fetch that lovely armour from Olympus
for her beloved son.

                                               As Thetis' feet carried her
towards Olympus, Achaeans were running back,
with a huge noise, fleeing man-killing Hector,
until they reached their ships beside the Hellespont.                                        [150]
But those well-armed Achaeans couldn't extricate
Achilles' comrade, dead Patroclus, from the spears,
for they'd been overtaken by Trojan warriors
and chariots once again, with Hector, Priam's son,                                190
as furious as fire.  Three times glorious Hector,
from behind, seized the corpse's feet, keen to drag it off,
shouting furiously to his Trojans.  Three times,
the two Ajaxes, clothed in their full battle strength,
beat him from the corpse.  But Hector kept on coming
without a pause, confident of his fighting power.
Sometimes he charged right at them in the frenzied crowd.
Sometimes he just stood there and gave a mighty yell,
but he never yielded any ground.  Just as shepherds                                          [160]
are unable to drive off from their farmyard                                             200
a tawny ravenous lion by some carcass
so the two warrior Ajaxes could not push Hector,
Priam's son, back from that body.  And now Hector
would have seized that corpse, winning infinite glory,
if swift Iris with feet like wind had not come down,
speeding from Olympus to the son of Peleus,
with a message that he should arm himself for war.
Hera had sent her, unknown to Zeus and other gods.
Standing by Achilles, Iris spoke these winged words:

"Rouse yourself, son of Peleus, most feared of men.                    210         [170]
Defend Patroclus.  For on his behalf
a deadly conflict rages by the ships
men are butchering each other, some trying
to protect the dead man's corpse, while others,
the Trojans, charge in to carry it away
to windy Ilion.  The one most eager
to haul the body off is glorious Hector,
whose heart is set on hacking off the head
from its soft neck. He'll fix it on a stake
set in the wall.  So get up.  No more lying here.                           220
Your heart will be disgraced if Patroclus
becomes a plaything for the dogs of Troy
his mutilated corpse will be your shame."                                              [180]

Swift-footed godlike Achilles then asked her:

"Goddess Iris, which of the gods sent you
with this message to me?"

                                                                  Swift Iris,
with feet like wind, then said to Achilles:

"Hera sent me, Zeus' glorious wife.
Cronos' son, who sits on high, doesn't know,
nor do any other immortal gods                                                    230
dwelling on snow-capped Olympus."

Swift-footed Achilles then questioned Iris:

"But how am I to join that conflict?
Those men have my armour.  My dear mother
has told me not to arm myself for war,
not until my own eyes see that she's come back.                                    [190]
She promised to bring me splendid armour
from Hephaestus.  I don't know anyone
whose glorious equipment I could use,
with the exception of the shield of Ajax,                                      240
son of Telamon.  But I expect he's out there
with his spear among the front-line warriors
in that conflict over dead Patroclus."

Wind-swift Iris then answered Achilles:

"We know well enough your lovely armour
is in Trojan hands.  But you should go now,
just as you are, to the ditch.  Show yourself
to Trojans.  It may happen that the Trojans,
in their fear of you, will pull back from battle,
giving Achaea's exhausted warlike sons                                         250          [200]
a breathing space.  For rests in war are rare."

With these words, swift-footed Iris went away.
Then Achilles, loved by Zeus, moved into action.
Around his powerful shoulders Athena set
her tasselled aegis.  Then the lovely goddess
wrapped his head up in a golden cloud, so from him
a fiery light blazed out.  Just like those times when smoke
from a city stretches all the way to heaven,
rising in the distance from an island under siege
by an enemy, where men fight all day long                                             260
in Ares' hateful war, struggling for their city
then at sunset, they light fires one by one,                                                        [210]
beacons flaming upwards to attract attention
from those on near-by islands, so their ships will come
to save them from destructionthat's how the light
blazed then from Achilles' head right up to heaven.
He strode from the wall, then stood there by the ditch.
But recalling what his mother said to him,
he didn't mingle with Achaeans.  As he stood there,
he cried out.  From far away, Pallas Athena                                           270
added her voice, too, causing great consternation
among the Trojans.  As thrilling as a trumpet's note
when it rings clearly, when rapacious enemies                                                   [220]
besiege a citythat's how sharp and piercing
Achilles' voice was then.  When the Trojans heard it,
that brazen shout Achilles gave, all their hearts
were shaken.  Their horses with the lovely manes
turned back the chariots, anticipating trouble
in their hearts.  Charioteers were terrified, seeing
the fearful inextinguishable fire blazing                                                  280
from the head of the great-hearted son of Peleus.
For Athena, goddess with the glittering eyes,
kept it burning.  Three times godlike Achilles yelled
over that ditch.  Three times Trojans and their allies
were thrown into confusion.  At that moment, 
twelve of their best men were killed by their own chariots                               [230]
and their own spears.  Achaeans then, with stronger hearts,
pulled Patroclus out of spear range and laid him on a cot.
His dear companions gathered mourning round him,
Achilles with them, shedding hot tears when he saw                             290
his loyal companion lying on a death bed,
mutilated by sharp bronze.  He'd sent him out to war
with chariot and horses, but never welcomed him
at his return.

                                             Then ox-eyed queen Hera
made the unwearied sun, against his will, go down                                           [240]
into the stream of Ocean.  So the sun set.
Godlike Achaeans now could pause for some relief
from the destructive killing of impartial war.

For their part, once Trojans came back from that harsh fight,
they untied swift horses from their chariots and then,                            300
before they thought of food, called for a meeting.
There everyone stayed standing.  No one dared sit down,
all terrified because Achilles had appeared,
after his long absence from that savage conflict.
The first to speak was Polydamas, Panthous' son,
a prudent man, the only one who weighed with care                                        [250]
the past and future.  He was Hector's comrade,
both born on the same night.  As a public speaker,
he was the better of the two, but Hector
far surpassed him with a spear.  Bearing in mind                                   310
their common good, Polydamas addressed them:

"My friends, consider both sides of this issue.
For my part, I advise us to return
into the citywe should not stay here,
on the plain, waiting for dawn beside the ships.
Our walls are far away.  While Achilles
kept up his anger at lord Agamemnon,
Achaeans were easier to fight against.
Personally, I was glad to spend the night
by their swift ships, hoping then we'd capture                              320         [260]
those curved vessels.  But now I really have
a dreadful fear of Peleus' swift-footed son.
He has a reckless heart—he's not a man
to rest content in the middle of the plain,
where Trojans and Achaeans have a share
of Ares' battle fury.  No, he'll fight on
for our city and our women. So let's go back,
return into the city.  Trust me when I say
that's how things will go.  For now, sacred night
has stopped the swift-footed son of Peleus.                                 330  
But if tomorrow he moves into action
fully armed and encounters us still here,
we'll recognize him well enough.  Anyone
who gets away and makes it back to Ilion                                               [270]
will be a happy man.  For dogs and vultures
will eat many Trojans.  I don't want to hear
that such events have happened.  If we all
follow my advice, although reluctantly,
tonight we'll collect our forces in one group.
Walls, high gates, and doors with fitted planks,                           340 
polished and bolted shut, will guard the city.
But in the morning early, we'll arm ourselves,
then take up our positions on the walls.
If Achilles comes from the ships keen to fight
for our walls, then he'll be disappointed.
He'll go back to his ships, once he's worn out                                        [280]
his strong-necked horses with too much running,
scampering around below our city wall.
His heart won't let him force his way inside,
and he'll not lay waste our city, not before                                   350
our swift dogs make a meal of him."

With a scowl, Hector of the flashing helmet then replied:

"Polydamas, what you say displeases me
you tell us to run back into the city
and stay inside it.  Haven't you already
been cooped up long enough within those walls?
In earlier days, all mortal men would claim
that Priam's city was rich in gold and bronze.
But now those splendid treasures are all gone.                                        [290]
Many goods from our own homes we've sold.                              360   
They went to Phrygia or fair Maeonia,
once great Zeus, in anger, turned against us.
But now, when the son of crooked-minded Cronos
allows me to win glory by the ships,
hemming the Achaeans in beside the sea,
this is no time, you fool, to say such things
before the people.  Not a single Trojan
will take your advice.  I won't permit it.
But come, let's all follow now what I suggest.
You must take your dinner at your stations                                 370
all through the army, making sure you watch,
with every man awake.  Any Trojan
too concerned about his property                                                            [300]
should gather it up and give it to the men
for common use.  It's better that one of us
gets use from it than that Achaeans do.
Tomorrow morning early, right at dawn,
we'll fully arm ourselves with weapons,
then take keen battle to those hollow ships.
If indeed it's true that lord Achilles                                              380  
is returning to that battle by the ships,
if he wants that, so much the worse for him.
I won't run from him in painful battle,
but stand against him, fighting face to face,
whether great victory goes to him or me.
In war the odds are equal, and the man
who seeks to kill may well be killed himself."

Hector spoke.  The Trojans roared out in response.                                          [310]
The fools!  Pallas Athena had robbed them of their wits.
They all applauded Hector's disastrous tactics.                                     390
No one praised Polydamas, who'd advised them well.
Then throughout the army they ate their dinner.

Meanwhile, Achaeans mourned Patroclus all night long
with their elegies.  Among them, Peleus' son
began the urgent lamentations, placing
his murderous hands on the chest of his companion,
with frequent heavy groans, like a bearded lion,
when a deer hunter in dense forest steals its cubs
the lion comes back later, then sick at heart                                                      [320]
roams through the many clearings in the forest,                                     400 
tracking the man's footprints, in hopes of finding him,
as bitter anger overwhelms the beastjust like that
Achilles, amid his groans, addressed his Myrmidons:

"Alas, what a useless promise I made then,
the day I tried to cheer Menoetius up
at home, telling him when I'd sacked Ilion,
I'd bring his splendid son back there to him,
in Opoeis, and with his share of trophies.
But Zeus does not bring to fulfillment
all things which men propose.  Now both of us                           410
share a common fate, to redden the same earth
right here in Troy.  Old horseman Peleus                                                [330]
will not be welcoming me at my return
back to his home, nor will my mother Thetis.
For in this place the earth will cover me.
And now, Patroclus, since I'm journeying
under the earth after you, I'll postpone
your burial till I bring here Hector's head,
his armour, too, the man who slaughtered you,
you courageous man.  I'll cut the throats                                      420
of twelve fine Trojan children on your pyre,
in my anger at your killing.  Till that time,
you'll lie like this with me by my beaked ships,
and round you Trojan and Dardanian women
will keep lamenting night and day, shedding tears,                                 [340]
the very  women we two worked hard to win
with our strength and our long spears, by looting
prosperous cities of mortal men."

After these words, godlike Achilles told his comrades
to place a large tripod on the fire, so they could wash                           430
the blood clots from his comrade's corpse.  On the blazing fire,
they set a cauldron with three legs, poured water in it,
then brought split wood to burn below the water.
Fire licked the cauldron's belly and made the water hot.
Once it had boiled inside the shining bronze,
they washed him, rubbed oil thickly over him,                                                  [350]
and filled his wounds with ointment nine years old.
Then they placed Patroclus on a bed, covering him
with a fine woolen cloth from head to foot,
and a white cloak on the cloth.  Then all night long,                             440
the Myrmidons around swift-footed Achilles
mourned Patroclus with their lamentations.

Then Zeus spoke to Hera, his sister and his wife:

"You've got what you wanted, ox-eyed queen Hera.
Swift-footed Achilles you've spurred into action.
From your own womb you must have given birth
to these long-haired Achaeans."

                                                        Ox-eyed queen Hera
then replied to Zeus:                                                                                         [360]

                        "Most dread son of Cronos,
what are you saying?  Even a human man,
though mortal and ignorant of what I know,                                 450
can achieve what he intends for someone else.
And men say I'm the finest of all goddesses
in a double senseboth by my lineage
and my marriage to the ruler of the gods.
So why should I not bring an evil fortune
on these Trojans when they've made me angry?"

Thus these two conversed with one another then.

Meanwhile, silver-footed Thetis reached Hephaestus' home.
Made of eternal bronze and gleaming like a star,                                               [370]
it stood out among the homes of the immortals.                                    460
The crippled god had constructed it himself.
She found him working with his bellows, moving round,
sweating in his eager haste.  He was forging
twenty tripods in all, to stand along the walls
of his well-built house. Under the legs of each one
he was fitting golden wheels, so every tripod
might move all on its own into a gathering of the gods
at his command and then return to his own house.
They were wonderful to look at.  His work on them
had reached the stage where finely crafted handles                                470  
had still not been attached.  He was making these,
forging the rivets.  As he was working on them                                                [380]
with his great skill, silver-footed goddess Thetis
approached more closely.  Noticing her, Charis,
lovely goddess with the splendid veil, came forward
she was wife to the celebrated crippled god.
Taking Thetis by the hand, she called her name, and said:

"Long-robed Thetis, why visit our house now?
You're a welcome and respected guest, but up to now
you haven't come by very much.  Do step inside.                        480
Let me show you our hospitality."

With these words, the goddess led her inside the house.
She asked Thetis to sit in a silver-studded chair,
beautifully finished, with a footstool under it.                                                  [390]
Then she called the famous artisan Hephaestus:

"Come here, Hephaestus.  Thetis needs to see you."

The celebrated lame god then replied to Charis:

"Here's a fearful honoured goddess in my home,
the one who saved me when I was in pain,
after my great fall, thanks to my mother,                                      490
that shameless one, eager to conceal me,
because I was a cripple.  At that time,
I would have suffered heartfelt agonies,
if Thetis and Eurynome, daughter
of the Ocean stream, had not taken me
into their hearts.  With those two, for nine years,                                   [400]
I made many lovely thingsbroaches, 
spiral bracelets, earrings, necklaces
inside their hollow cave.  The Ocean stream
flowed round me, always with the roar of surf.                            500
No one else knew, neither god nor mortal man.
But Thetis and Eurynomethe ones
who rescued methey knew.  And now Thetis
has come into my home.  So I must give her
full recompensefair-haired Thetis saved my life.
But Charis, show her now our hospitality.
I'll put away my bellows and my tools."

Huge god Hephaestus got up from the anvil block                                           [410]
with laboured breathing.  He was lame, but his thin legs                      
510
moved quickly under him.  He placed his bellows
far from the fire and collected all his work tools,
then stored them in a silver chest.  With a sponge,
he wiped his face, both hands, thick neck, and hairy chest.
Then he pulled on a tunic and came limping out,
gripping a sturdy staff.  At once he was helped along
by female servants made of gold, who moved to him.
They look like living servant girls, possessing minds,
hearts with intelligence, vocal chords, and strength.
They learned to work from the immortal gods.                                      
520         [420]
These women served to give their master detailed help.
Hephaestus come limping up to Thetis and sat down
in a shining chair.  Then, clasping her hand, he spoke:

"Long-robed Thetis, why have you come here,
to our house, an honoured welcome guest?
To this point, you haven't come here often.
But say what's on your mind.  My heart tells me
I shall do it, if I can accomplish it,
if it's something that can be carried out."

Thetis answered him in tears:         

                                     "Oh, Hephaestus,                                    530
is there any goddess in Olympus
who's suffered so much painful sorrow                                                   
[430]
in her heart to equal the unhappiness
that Zeus, son of Cronos, loads on me
more than any other god?  Of all goddesses
living in the sea, he made me subject
to a mortal man, Peleus, son of Aeacus.
So I had to put up with a man in bed,
though much against my will.  Now he lies there,
in his home, worn out by harsh old age.                                      
540
And I have still more pain.  He gave me a son,
to bear and raise as an outstanding warrior.
The boy grew up as quickly as a sapling.
Then, when I had reared him like a tree
in an abundant garden, I sent him off
in the beaked ships to fight in Ilion
against the Trojans.  I'll never welcome him                                           
[440]
returning home to the house of Peleus.
And while he lives to glimpse the sunlight,
he lives in sorrow.  When I visit him,                                          
550
I cannot help him.  Achaea's sons chose for him
as his prize a girl, whom great Agamemnon
seized right out of his arms.  In grief for her,
his heart has pined away.  Then the Trojans
penned Achaeans in by their ships' sterns,
not letting them come out.  The senior men
among the Argives pleaded with my son.
They promised splendid gifts.  But he refused,                                       
[450]
declining to protect them from disaster.
But then he sent Patroclus to the war,                                   
       560
dressing him in his own armour, providing
a force of many men.  They fought all day
around the Scaean Gates, and that very day
would have utterly destroyed the city,
if Apollo had not killed Menoetius' son,
after he'd inflicted bloody carnage.
He killed him at the front, giving Hector
all the glory.  That's why I've come here now,
asking at your knees if you'd be willing
to give my son, who is fated to die soon,                                    
570
a shield, helmet, good leg armour fitted
with ankle clasps, and body armour, too.
His previous equipment was all taken                                                    
[460]
when Trojans killed his loyal companion.
Now my son lies in the dust, heart filled with pain."

The famous crippled god then answered Thetis:

"Cheer up.  Don't let these things afflict your heart.
I wish I could hide him from distressful death,
when his cruel fate arrives, as surely
as I know there'll be fine armour for him                                
580
such splendid armour that it will astound
all the many men who chance to see it."

With these words, Hephaestus left her there, going to start
his bellows.  He directed them right at the fire,
then told them to start working.  So the bellows,
twenty in all, started blowing on the crucibles,                                                
[470]
each one emitting just the right amount of air,
sometimes blowing hard to help when he was busy,
sometimes gently, whatever way Hephaestus wished,
so his work could proceed.  Then he threw on the fire                         
590
enduring bronze and tin, precious gold and silver.
Next, he placed the great anvil on its block, took up
a massive hammer in one hand and in the other his tongs.

The first thing he created was a huge and sturdy shield,
all wonderfully crafted.  Around its outer edge,
he fixed a triple rim, glittering in the light,                                                       
[480]
attaching to it a silver carrying strap.
The shield had five layers.  On the outer one,
with his great skill he fashioned many rich designs.
There he hammered out the earth, the heavens, the sea,                      
600
the untiring sun, the moon at the full, along with
every constellation which crowns the heavens
the Pleiades, the Hyades, mighty Orion,
and the Bear, which some people call the Wain,
always circling in the same position, watching Orion,
the only stars that never bathe in Ocean stream.

Then he created two splendid cities of mortal men.                                          [490]
In one, there were feasts and weddings.  By the light
of blazing torches, people were leading the brides
out from their homes and through the town to loud music                   
610
of the bridal song.  There were young lads dancing,
whirling to the constant tunes of flutes and lyres,
while all the women stood beside their doors, staring
in admiration.  

                                                     Then the people gathered
in the assembly, for a dispute had taken place.
Two men were arguing about blood-money owed
for a murdered man.  One claimed he'd paid in full,
setting out his case before the people, but the other                                        
[500]
was refusing any compensation.  Both were keen
to get the judgment from an arbitration.                                               
620
The crowd there cheered them on, some supporting one,
some the other, while heralds kept the throng controlled.
Meanwhile, elders were sitting there on polished stones
in the sacred circle, holding in their hands
the staffs they'd taken from the clear-voiced heralds.
With those they'd stand up there and render judgment,
each in his turn.  In the centre lay two golden talents,
to be awarded to the one among them all
who delivered the most righteous verdict.

The second city was surrounded by two armies,                                    630
soldiers with glittering weapons.  They were discussing                                   
[510]
two alternatives, each one pleasing some of them—
whether to attack that city and plunder it,
or to accept as payment half of all the goods
contained in that fair town.  But those under siege
who disagreed were arming for a secret ambush.
Their dear wives and children stood up on the walls
as a defence, along with those too old to fight.
The rest were leaving, led on by Pallas Athena
and Ares, both made of gold, dressed in golden clothes,                      
640
large, beautiful, and armed—as is suitable for gods.
They stood out above the smaller people with them.
When the soldiers reached a spot which seemed all right                          
for ambush, a place beside a river where the cattle                                          
[520]
came to drink, they stopped there, covered in shining bronze.
Two scouts were stationed some distance from that army,
waiting to catch sight of sheep and short-horned cattle.
These soon appeared, followed by two herdsmen
playing their flutes and not anticipating any danger.
But those lying in ambush saw them and rushed out,                           
650
quickly cutting off the herds of cattle and fine flocks
of white-fleeced sheep, killing the herdsmen with them.
When the besiegers sitting in their meeting place                                             
[530]
heard the great commotion coming from the cattle,
they quickly climbed up behind their prancing horses
and set out.  They soon caught up with those attackers.
Then they organized themselves for battle and fought
along the river banks, men hitting one another
with bronze-tipped spears.  Strife and Confusion joined the fight,
along with cruel Death, who seized one wounded man                        
660
while still alive and then another man without a wound,
while pulling the feet of one more corpse out from the fight.
The clothes Death wore around her shoulders were dyed red
with human blood.  They even joined the slaughter
as living mortals, fighting there and hauling off
the bodies of dead men which each of them had killed.                                   
[540]

On that shield Hephaestus next set a soft and fallow field,
fertile spacious farmland, which had been ploughed three times.
Many labourers were wheeling ploughs across it,
moving back and forth.  As they reached the field's edge,                    
670
they turned, and a man came up to offer them
a cup of wine as sweet as honey.  Then they'd turn back,
down the furrow, eager to move through that deep soil
and reach the field's edge once again.  The land behind them
was black, looking as though it had just been ploughed,
though it was made of gold—an amazing piece of work!

Then he pictured on the shield a king's landed estate,                                      [550]
where harvesters were reaping corn, using sharp sickles.
Armfuls of corn were falling on the ground in rows,
one after the other.  Binders were tying them up                                  
680
in sheaves with twisted straw.  Three binders stood there.
Behind the reapers, boys were gathering the crop,
bringing it to sheaf-binders, keeping them occupied.
Among them stood the king, a sceptre in his hand,
there by the stubble, saying nothing, but with pleasure
in his heart.  Some distance off, under an oak tree,
heralds were setting up a feast, dressing a huge ox
which they'd just killed.  Women were sprinkling white barley
on the meat in large amounts for the workers' meal.                                        
[560]

Next, Hephaestus placed on that shield a vineyard,                               690
full of grapes made of splendid gold.  The grapes were black,
the poles supporting vines throughout were silver.
Around it, he made a ditch of blue enamel,
around that, a fence of tin.  A single path led in,
where the grape pickers came and went at harvest time.
Young girls and carefree lads with wicker baskets
were carrying off a crop as sweet as honey.
In the middle of them all, a boy with a clear-toned lyre
played pleasant music, singing the Song of Linos,                                            
[570]
in his delicate fine voice.  His comrades kept time,                              
700
beating the ground behind him, singing and dancing.

Then he set on the shield a herd of straight-horned cattle,
with cows crafted out of gold and tin.  They were lowing
as they hurried out from farm to pasture land,
beside a rippling river lined with waving reeds.
The herdsmen walking by the cattle, four of them,
were also made of gold.  Nine swift-footed dogs
ran on behind.  But there, at the front of the herd,
two fearful lions had seized a bellowing bull.                                                   
[580]
They were dragging him off, as he roared aloud.                                   
710
The dogs and young men were chasing after them.
The lions, after ripping open the great ox's hide,
were gorging on its entrails, on its black blood,
as herdsmen kept trying in vain to chase them off,
setting their swift dogs on them.  But, fearing the lions,
the dogs kept turning back before they nipped them,
and stood there barking, close by but out of reach.

Then the famous crippled god created there a pasture
in a lovely valley bottom, an open ground
for white-fleeced sheep, sheep folds, roofed huts, and pens.                
720

Next on that shield, the celebrated lame god made                                           [590]
an elaborately crafted dancing floor, like the one
Daedalus created long ago in spacious Cnossus,
for Ariadne with the lovely hair.  On that floor,
young men and women whose bride price would require
many cattle were dancing, holding onto one another
by the wrists.  The girls wore fine linen dresses,
the men lightly rubbed with oil wore woven tunics.
On their heads the girls had lovely flower garlands.
The men were carrying golden daggers on silver straps.                        
730
They turned with such a graceful ease on skilful feet,
just as a potter sits with a wheel between his hands,                                        
[600]
testing it, to make sure that it runs smoothly.
Then they would line up and run towards each other.
A large crowd stood around, enjoying the dancing magic,
as in the middle two acrobats led on the dance,
springing, and whirling, and tumbling.

On that shield, Hephaestus then depicted Ocean,
the mighty river, flowing all around the outer edge.

When he'd created that great and sturdy shield,                                     740
he fashioned body armour brighter than blazing fire,                                        
[610]
a heavy helmet shaped to fit Achilles' temples,
beautiful and finely worked, with a gold crest on top.
Then he made him leg guards of finely hammered tin.

When the famous lame god had made all the armour,
he took it and set it there before Achilles' mother.
Then, like a hawk, she sped down from Olympus,
carrying the gleaming armour of Hephaestus.


Translation by Ian Johnston, Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC.  This document is in the public domain and may be used by anyone without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged. 

[Last modified March 7, 2004]

[Note that the line numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text]

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