How the Arms of Achilles were cause of madness and death unto Aias.
So when all other contests had an end,
Thetis the Goddess laid down in the midst
Great-souled Achilles' arms divinely wrought;
And all around flashed out the cunning work
Wherewith the Fire-god overchased the shield
Fashioned for Aeacus' son, the dauntless-souled.
Inwrought upon that labour of a God
Were first high heaven and cloudland, and beneath
Lay earth and sea: the winds, the clouds were there,
The moon and sun, each in its several place;
There too were all the stars that, fixed in heaven,
Are borne in its eternal circlings round.
Above and through all was the infinite air
Where to and fro flit birds of slender beak:
Thou hadst said they lived, and floated on the breeze.
Here Tethys' all-embracing arms were wrought,
And Ocean's fathomless flow. The outrushing flood
Of rivers crying to the echoing hills
All round, to right, to left, rolled o'er the land.
Round it rose league-long mountain-ridges, haunts
Of terrible lions and foul jackals: there
Fierce bears and panthers prowled; with these were seen
Wild boars that whetted deadly-clashing tusks
In grimly-frothing jaws. There hunters sped
After the hounds: beaters with stone and dart,
To the life portrayed, toiled in the woodland sport.
And there were man-devouring wars, and all
Horrors of fight: slain men were falling down
Mid horse-hoofs; and the likeness of a plain
Blood-drenched was on that shield invincible.
Panic was there, and Dread, and ghastly Enyo
With limbs all gore-bespattered hideously,
And deadly Strife, and the Avenging Spirits
Fierce-hearted -- she, still goading warriors on
To the onset they, outbreathing breath of fire.
Around them hovered the relentless Fates;
Beside them Battle incarnate onward pressed
Yelling, and from their limbs streamed blood and sweat.
There were the ruthless Gorgons: through their hair
Horribly serpents coiled with flickering tongues.
A measureless marvel was that cunning work
Of things that made men shudder to behold
Seeming as though they verily lived and moved.
And while here all war's marvels were portrayed,
Yonder were all the works of lovely peace.
The myriad tribes of much-enduring men
Dwelt in fair cities. Justice watched o'er all.
To diverse toils they set their hands; the fields
Were harvest-laden; earth her increase bore.
Most steeply rose on that god-laboured work
The rugged flanks of holy Honour's mount,
And there upon a palm-tree throned she sat
Exalted, and her hands reached up to heaven.
All round her, paths broken by many rocks
Thwarted the climbers' feet; by those steep tracks
Daunted ye saw returning many folk:
Few won by sweat of toil the sacred height.
And there were reapers moving down long swaths
Swinging the whetted sickles: 'neath their hands
The hot work sped to its close. Hard after these
Many sheaf-binders followed, and the work
Grew passing great. With yoke-bands on their necks
Oxen were there, whereof some drew the wains
Heaped high with full-eared sheaves, and further on
Were others ploughing, and the glebe showed black
Behind them. Youths with ever-busy goads
Followed: a world of toil was there portrayed.
And there a banquet was, with pipe and harp,
Dances of maids, and flashing feet of boys,
All in swift movement, like to living souls.
Hard by the dance and its sweet winsomeness
Out of the sea was rising lovely-crowned
Cypris, foam-blossoms still upon her hair;
And round her hovered smiling witchingly
Desire, and danced the Graces lovely-tressed.
And there were lordly Nereus' Daughters shown
Leading their sister up from the wide sea
To her espousals with the warrior-king.
And round her all the Immortals banqueted
On Pelion's ridge far-stretching. All about
Lush dewy watermeads there were, bestarred
With flowers innumerable, grassy groves,
And springs with clear transparent water bright.
There ships with sighing sheets swept o'er the sea,
Some beating up to windward, some that sped
Before a following wind, and round them heaved
The melancholy surge. Seared shipmen rushed
This way and that, adread for tempest-gusts,
Hauling the white sails in, to 'scape the death --
It all seemed real -- some tugging at the oars,
While the dark sea on either side the ship
Grew hoary 'neath the swiftly-plashing blades.
And there triumphant the Earth-shaker rode
Amid sea-monsters' stormy-footed steeds
Drew him, and seemed alive, as o'er the deep
They raced, oft smitten by the golden whip.
Around their path of flight the waves fell smooth,
And all before them was unrippled calm.
Dolphins on either hand about their king
Swarmed, in wild rapture of homage bowing backs,
And seemed like live things o'er the hazy sea
Swimming, albeit all of silver wrought.
Marvels of untold craft were imaged there
By cunning-souled Hephaestus' deathless hands
Upon the shield. And Ocean's fathomless flood
Clasped like a garland all the outer rim,
And compassed all the strong shield's curious work.
And therebeside the massy helmet lay.
Zeus in his wrath was set upon the crest
Throned on heaven's dome; the Immortals all around
Fierce-battling with the Titans fought for Zeus.
Already were their foes enwrapped with flame,
For thick and fast as snowflakes poured from heaven
The thunderbolts: the might of Zeus was roused,
And burning giants seemed to breathe out flames.
And therebeside the fair strong corslet lay,
Unpierceable, which clasped Peleides once:
There were the greaves close-lapping, light alone
To Achilles; massy of mould and huge they were.
And hard by flashed the sword whose edge and point
No mail could turn, with golden belt, and sheath
Of silver, and with haft of ivory:
Brightest amid those wondrous arms it shone.
Stretched on the earth thereby was that dread spear,
Long as the tall-tressed pines of Pelion,
Still breathing out the reek of Hector's blood.
Then mid the Argives Thetis sable-stoled
In her deep sorrow for Achilles spake;
"Now all the athlete-prizes have been won
Which I set forth in sorrow for my child.
Now let that mightiest of the Argives come
Who rescued from the foe my dead: to him
These glorious and immortal arms I give
Which even the blessed Deathless joyed to see."
Then rose in rivalry, each claiming them,
Laertes' seed and godlike Telamon's son,
Aias, the mightiest far of Danaan men:
He seemed the star that in the glittering sky
Outshines the host of heaven, Hesperus,
So splendid by Peleides' arms he stood;
"And let these judge," he cried, "Idomeneus,
Nestor, and kingly-counselled Agamemnon,"
For these, he weened, would sureliest know the truth
Of deeds wrought in that glorious battle-toil.
"To these I also trust most utterly,"
Odysseus said, "for prudent of their wit
Be these, and princeliest of all Danaan men."
But to Idomeneus and Atreus' son
Spake Nestor apart, and willingly they heard:
"Friends, a great woe and unendurable
This day the careless Gods have laid on us,
In that into this lamentable strife
Aias the mighty hath been thrust by them
Against Odysseus passing-wise. For he,
To whichsoe'er God gives the victor's glory --
O yea, he shall rejoice! But he that 1oseth --
All for the grief in all the Danaans' hearts
For him! And ours shall be the deepest grief
Of all; for that man will not in the war
Stand by us as of old. A sorrowful day
It shall be for us, whichsoe'er of these
Shall break into fierce anger, seeing they
Are of our heroes chiefest, this in war,
And that in counsel. Hearken then to me,
Seeing that I am older far than ye,
Not by a few years only: with mine age
Is prudence joined, for I have suffered and wrought
Much; and in counsel ever the old man,
Who knoweth much, excelleth younger men.
Therefore let us ordain to judge this cause
'Twixt godlike Aias and war-fain Odysseus,
Our Trojan captives. They shall say whom most
Our foes dread, and who saved Peleides' corse
From that most deadly fight. Lo, in our midst
Be many spear-won Trojans, thralls of Fate;
And these will pass true judgment on these twain,
To neither showing favour, since they hate
Alike all authors of their misery."
He spake: replied Agamemnon lord of spears:
"Ancient, there is none other in our midst
Wiser than thou, of Danaans young or old,
In that thou say'st that unforgiving wrath
Will burn in him to whom the Gods herein
Deny the victory; for these which strive
Are both our chiefest. Therefore mine heart too
Is set on this, that to the thralls of war
This judgment we commit: the loser then
Shall against Troy devise his deadly work
Of vengeance, and shall not be wroth with us."
He spake, and these three, being of one mind,
In hearing of all men refused to judge
Judgment so thankless: they would none of it.
Therefore they set the high-born sons of Troy
There in the midst, spear-thralls although they were,
To give just judgment in the warriors' strife.
Then in hot anger Aias rose, and spake:
"Odysseus, frantic soul, why hath a God
Deluded thee, to make thee hold thyself
My peer in might invincible? Dar'st thou say
That thou, when slain Achilles lay in dust,
When round him swarmed the Trojans, didst bear back
That furious throng, when I amidst them hurled
Death, and thou coweredst away? Thy dam
Bare thee a craven and a weakling wretch
Frail in comparison of me, as is
A cur beside a lion thunder-voiced!
No battle-biding heart is in thy breast,
But wiles and treachery be all thy care.
Hast thou forgotten how thou didst shrink back
From faring with Achaea's gathered host
To Ilium's holy burg, till Atreus' sons
Forced thee, the cowering craven, how loth soe'er,
To follow them -- would God thou hadst never come!
For by thy counsel left we in Lemnos' isle
Groaning in agony Poeas' son renowned.
And not for him alone was ruin devised
Of thee; for godlike Palamedes too
Didst thou contrive destruction -- ha, he was
Alike in battle and council better than thou!
And now thou dar'st to rise up against me,
Neither remembering my kindness, nor
Having respect unto the mightier man
Who rescued thee erewhile, when thou didst quaff
In fight before the onset of thy foes,
When thou, forsaken of all Greeks beside,
Midst tumult of the fray, wast fleeing too!
Oh that in that great fight Zeus' self had stayed
My dauntless might with thunder from his heaven!
Then with their two-edged swords the Trojan men
Had hewn thee limb from limb, and to their dogs
Had cast thy carrion! Then thou hadst not presumed
To meet me, trusting in thy trickeries!
Wretch, wherefore, if thou vauntest thee in might
Beyond all others, hast thou set thy ships
In the line's centre, screened from foes, nor dared
As I, on the far wing to draw them up?
Because thou wast afraid! Not thou it was
Who savedst from devouring fire the ships;
But I with heart unquailing there stood fast
Facing the fire and Hector ay, even he
Gave back before me everywhere in fight.
Thou -- thou didst fear him aye with deadly fear!
Oh, had this our contention been but set
Amidst that very battle, when the roar
Of conflict rose around Achilles slain!
Then had thine own eyes seen me bearing forth
Out from the battle's heart and fury of foes
That goodly armour and its hero lord
Unto the tents. But here thou canst but trust
In cunning speech, and covetest a place
Amongst the mighty! Thou -- thou hast not strength
To wear Achilles' arms invincible,
Nor sway his massy spear in thy weak hands!
But I they are verily moulded to my frame:
Yea, seemly it is I wear those glorious arms,
Who shall not shame a God's gifts passing fair.
But wherefore for Achilles' glorious arms
With words discourteous wrangling stand we here?
Come, let us try in strife with brazen spears
Who of us twain is best in murderous right!
For silver-footed Thetis set in the midst
This prize for prowess, not for pestilent words.
In folkmote may men have some use for words:
In pride of prowess I know me above thee far,
And great Achilles' lineage is mine own."
He spake: with scornful glance and bitter speech
Odysseus the resourceful chode with him:
"Aias, unbridled tongue, why these vain words
To me? Thou hast called me pestilent, niddering,
And weakling: yet I boast me better far
Than thou in wit and speech, which things increase
The strength of men. Lo, how the craggy rock,
Adamantine though it seem, the hewers of stone
Amid the hills by wisdom undermine
Full lightly, and by wisdom shipmen cross
The thunderous-plunging sea, when mountain-high
It surgeth, and by craft do hunters quell
Strong lions, panthers, boars, yea, all the brood
Of wild things. Furious-hearted bulls are tamed
To bear the yoke-bands by device of men.
Yea, all things are by wit accomplished. Still
It is the man who knoweth that excels
The witless man alike in toils and counsels.
For my keen wit did Oeneus' valiant son
Choose me of all men with him to draw nigh
To Hector's watchmen: yea, and mighty deeds
We twain accomplished. I it was who brought
To Atreus' sons Peleides far-renowned,
Their battle-helper. Whensoe'er the host
Needeth some other champion, not for the sake
Of thine hands will he come, nor by the rede
Of other Argives: of Achaeans I
Alone will draw him with soft suasive words
To where strong men are warring. Mighty power
The tongue hath over men, when courtesy
Inspires it. Valour is a deedless thing;
And bulk and big assemblage of a man
Cometh to naught, by wisdom unattended.
But unto me the Immortals gave both strength
And wisdom, and unto the Argive host
Made me a blessing. Nor, as thou hast said,
Hast thou in time past saved me when in flight
From foes. I never fled, but steadfastly
Withstood the charge of all the Trojan host.
Furious the enemy came on like a flood
But I by might of hands cut short the thread
Of many lives. Herein thou sayest not true
Me in the fray thou didst not shield nor save,
But for thine own life roughtest, lest a spear
Should pierce thy back if thou shouldst turn to flee
From war. My ships? I drew them up mid-line,
Not dreading the battle-fury of any foe,
But to bring healing unto Atreus' sons
Of war's calamities: and thou didst set
Far from their help thy ships. Nay more, I seamed
With cruel stripes my body, and entered so
The Trojans' burg, that I might learn of them
All their devisings for this troublous war.
Nor ever I dreaded Hector's spear; myself
Rose mid the foremost, eager for the fight,
When, prowess-confident, he defied us all.
Yea, in the fight around Achilles, I
Slew foes far more than thou; 'twas I who saved
The dead king with this armour. Not a whit
I dread thy spear now, but my grievous hurt
With pain still vexeth me, the wound I gat
In fighting for these arms and their slain lord.
In me as in Achilles is Zeus' blood."
He spake; strong Aias answered him again.
"Most cunning and most pestilent of men,
Nor I, nor any other Argive, saw
Thee toiling in that fray, when Trojans strove
Fiercely to hale away Achilles slain.
My might it was that with the spear unstrung
The knees of some in fight, and others thrilled
With panic as they pressed on ceaselessly.
Then fled they in dire straits, as geese or cranes
Flee from an eagle swooping as they feed
Along a grassy meadow; so, in dread
The Trojans shrinking backward from my spear
And lightening sword, fled into Ilium
To 'scape destruction. If thy might came there
Ever at all, not anywhere nigh me
With foes thou foughtest: somewhere far aloot
Mid other ranks thou toiledst, nowhere nigh
Achilles, where the one great battle raged."
He spake; replied Odysseus the shrewd heart:
"Aias, I hold myself no worse than thou
In wit or might, how goodly in outward show
Thou be soever. Nay, I am keener far
Of wit than thou in all the Argives' eyes.
In battle-prowess do I equal thee
Haply surpass; and this the Trojans know,
Who tremble when they see me from afar.
Aye, thou too know'st, and others know my strength
By that hard struggle in the wrestling-match,
When Peleus' son set glorious prizes forth
Beside the barrow of Patroclus slain."
So spake Laertes' son the world-renowned.
Then on that strife disastrous of the strong
The sons of Troy gave judgment. Victory
And those immortal arms awarded they
With one consent to Odysseus mighty in war.
Greatly his soul rejoiced; but one deep groan
Brake from the Greeks. Then Aias' noble might
Stood frozen stiff; and suddenly fell on him
Dark wilderment; all blood within his frame
Boiled, and his gall swelled, bursting forth in flood.
Against his liver heaved his bowels; his heart
With anguished pangs was thrilled; fierce stabbing throes
Shot through the filmy veil 'twixt bone and brain;
And darkness and confusion wrapped his mind.
With fixed eyes staring on the ground he stood
Still as a statue. Then his sorrowing friends
Closed round him, led him to the shapely ships,
Aye murmuring consolations. But his feet
Trod for the last time, with reluctant steps,
That path; and hard behind him followed Doom.
When to the ships beside the boundless sea
The Argives, faint for supper and for sleep,
Had passed, into the great deep Thetis plunged,
And all the Nereids with her. Round them swam
Sea-monsters many, children of the brine.
Against the wise Prometheus bitter-wroth
The Sea-maids were, remembering how that Zeus,
Moved by his prophecies, unto Peleus gave
Thetis to wife, a most unwilling bride.
Then cried in wrath to these Cymothoe:
"O that the pestilent prophet had endured
All pangs he merited, when, deep-burrowing,
The eagle tare his liver aye renewed!"
So to the dark-haired Sea-maids cried the Nymph.
Then sank the sun: the onrush of the night
Shadowed the fields, the heavens were star-bestrewn;
And by the long-prowed ships the Argives slept
By ambrosial sleep o'ermastered, and by wine
The which from proud Idomeneus' realm of Crete:
The shipmen bare o'er foaming leagues of sea.
But Aias, wroth against the Argive men,
Would none of meat or drink, nor clasped him round
The arms of sleep. In fury he donned his mail,
He clutched his sword, thinking unspeakable thoughts;
For now he thought to set the ships aflame,
And slaughter all the Argives, now, to hew
With sudden onslaught of his terrible sword
Guileful Odysseus limb from limb. Such things
He purposed -- nay, had soon accomplished all,
Had Pallas not with madness smitten him;
For over Odysseus, strong to endure, her heart
Yearned, as she called to mind the sacrifices
Offered to her of him continually.
Therefore she turned aside from Argive men
The might of Aias. As a terrible storm,
Whose wings are laden with dread hurricane-blasts,
Cometh with portents of heart-numbing fear
To shipmen, when the Pleiads, fleeing adread
From glorious Orion, plunge beneath
The stream of tireless Ocean, when the air
Is turmoil, and the sea is mad with storm;
So rushed he, whithersoe'er his feet might bear.
This way and that he ran, like some fierce beast
Which darteth down a rock-walled glen's ravines
With foaming jaws, and murderous intent
Against the hounds and huntsmen, who have torn
Out of the cave her cubs, and slain: she runs
This way and that, and roars, if mid the brakes
Haply she yet may see the dear ones lost;
Whom if a man meet in that maddened mood,
Straightway his darkest of all days hath dawned;
So ruthless-raving rushed he; blackly boiled
His heart, as caldron on the Fire-god's hearth
Maddens with ceaseless hissing o'er the flames
From blazing billets coiling round its sides,
At bidding of the toiler eager-souled
To singe the bristles of a huge-fed boar;
So was his great heart boiling in his breast.
Like a wild sea he raved, like tempest-blast,
Like the winged might of tireless flame amidst
The mountains maddened by a mighty wind,
When the wide-blazing forest crumbles down
In fervent heat. So Aias, his fierce heart
With agony stabbed, in maddened misery raved.
Foam frothed about his lips; a beast-like roar
Howled from his throat. About his shoulders clashed
His armour. They which saw him trembled, all
Cowed by the fearful shout of that one man.
From Ocean then uprose Dawn golden-reined:
Like a soft wind upfloated Sleep to heaven,
And there met Hera, even then returned
To Olympus back from Tethys, unto whom
But yester-morn she went. She clasped him round,
And kissed him, who had been her marriage-kin
Since at her prayer on Ida's erest he had lulled
To sleep Cronion, when his anger burned
Against the Argives. Straightway Hera passed
To Zeus's mansion, and Sleep swiftly flew
To Pasithea's couch. From slumber woke
All nations of the earth. But Aias, like
Orion the invincible, prowled on,
Still bearing murderous madness in his heart.
He rushed upon the sheep, like lion fierce
Whose savage heart is stung with hunger-pangs.
Here, there, he smote them, laid them dead in dust
Thick as the leaves which the strong North-wind's might
Strews, when the waning year to winter turns;
So on the sheep in fury Aias fell,
Deeming he dealt to Danaans evil doom.
Then to his brother Menelaus came,
And spake, but not in hearing of the rest:
"This day shall surely be a ruinous day
For all, since Aias thus is sense-distraught.
It may be he will set the ships aflame,
And slay us all amidst our tents, in wrath
For those lost arms. Would God that Thetis ne'er
Had set them for the prize of rivalry!
Would God Laertes' son had not presumed
In folly of soul to strive with a better man!
Fools were we all; and some malignant God
Beguiled us; for the one great war-defence
Left us, since Aeacus' son in battle fell,
Was Aias' mighty strength. And now the Gods
Will to our loss destroy him, bringing bane
On thee and me, that all we may fill up
The cup of doom, and pass to nothingness."
He spake; replied Agamemnon, lord of spears:
"Now nay, Menelaus, though thine heart he wrung,
Be thou not wroth with the resourceful king
Of Cephallenian folk, but with the Gods
Who plot our ruin. Blame not him, who oft
Hath been our blessing and our enemies' curse."
So heavy-hearted spake the Danaan kings.
But by the streams of Xanthus far away
'Neath tamarisks shepherds cowered to hide from death,
As when from a swift eagle cower hares
'Neath tangled copses, when with sharp fierce scream
This way and that with wings wide-shadowing
He wheeleth very nigh; so they here, there,
Quailed from the presence of that furious man.
At last above a slaughtered ram he stood,
And with a deadly laugh he cried to it:
"Lie there in dust; be meat for dogs and kites!
Achilles' glorious arms have saved not thee,
For which thy folly strove with a better man!
Lie there, thou cur! No wife shall fall on thee,
And clasp, and wail thee and her fatherless childs,
Nor shalt thou greet thy parents' longing eyes,
The staff of their old age! Far from thy land
Thy carrion dogs and vultures shall devour!"
So cried he, thinking that amidst the slain
Odysseus lay blood-boltered at his feet.
But in that moment from his mind and eyes
Athena tore away the nightmare-fiend
Of Madness havoc-breathing, and it passed
Thence swiftly to the rock-walled river Styx
Where dwell the winged Erinnyes, they which still
Visit with torments overweening men.
Then Aias saw those sheep upon the earth
Gasping in death; and sore amazed he stood,
For he divined that by the Blessed Ones
His senses had been cheated. All his limbs
Failed under him; his soul was anguished-thrilled:
He could not in his horror take one step
Forward nor backward. Like some towering rock
Fast-rooted mid the mountains, there he stood.
But when the wild rout of his thoughts had rallied,
He groaned in misery, and in anguish wailed:
"Ah me! why do the Gods abhor me so?
They have wrecked my mind, have with fell madness filled,
Making me slaughter all these innocent sheep!
Would God that on Odysseus' pestilent heart
Mine hands had so avenged me! Miscreant, he
Brought on me a fell curse! O may his soul
Suffer all torments that the Avenging Fiends
Devise for villains! On all other Greeks
May they bring murderous battle, woeful griefs,
And chiefly on Agamemnon, Atreus' son!
Not scatheless to the home may he return
So long desired! But why should I consort,
I, a brave man, with the abominable?
Perish the Argive host, perish my life,
Now unendurable! The brave no more
Hath his due guerdon, but the baser sort
Are honoured most and loved, as this Odysseus
Hath worship mid the Greeks: but utterly
Have they forgotten me and all my deeds,
All that I wrought and suffered in their cause."
So spake the brave son of strong Telamon,
Then thrust the sword of Hector through his throat.
Forth rushed the blood in torrent: in the dust
Outstretched he lay, like Typhon, when the bolts
Of Zeus had blasted him. Around him groaned
The dark earth as he fell upon her breast.
Then thronging came the Danaans, when they saw
Low laid in dust the hero; but ere then
None dared draw nigh him, but in deadly fear
They watched him from afar. Now hasted they
And flung themselves upon the dead, outstretched
Upon their faces: on their heads they cast
Dust, and their wailing went up to the sky.
As when men drive away the tender lambs
Out of the fleecy flock, to feast thereon,
And round the desolate pens the mothers leap
Ceaselessly bleating, so o'er Aias rang
That day a very great and bitter cry.
Wild echoes pealed from Ida forest-palled,
And from the plain, the ships, the boundless sea.
Then Teucer clasping him was minded too
To rush on bitter doom: howbeit the rest
Held from the sword his hand. Anguished he fell
Upon the dead, outpouring many a tear
More comfortlessly than the orphan babe
That wails beside the hearth, with ashes strewn
On head and shoulders, wails bereavement's day
That brings death to the mother who hath nursed
The fatherless child; so wailed he, ever wailed
His great death-stricken brother, creeping slow
Around the corpse, and uttering his lament:
"O Aias, mighty-souled, why was thine heart
Distraught, that thou shouldst deal unto thyself
Murder and bale? All, was it that the sons
Of Troy might win a breathing-space from woes,
Might come and slay the Greeks, now thou art not?
From these shall all the olden courage fail
When fast they fall in fight. Their shield from harm
s broken now! For me, I have no will
To see mine home again, now thou art dead.
Nay, but I long here also now to die,
That so the earth may shroud me -- me and thee
Not for my parents so much do I care,
If haply yet they live, if haply yet
Spared from the grave, in Salamis they dwell,
As for thee, O my glory and my crown!"
So cried he groaning sore; with answering moan
Queenly Tecmessa wailed, the princess-bride
Of noble Aias, captive of his spear,
Yet ta'en by him to wife, and household-queen
O'er all his substance, even all that wives
Won with a bride-price rule for wedded lords.
Clasped in his mighty arms, she bare to him
A son Eurysaces, in all things like
Unto his father, far as babe might be
Yet cradled in his tent. With bitter moan
Fell she on that dear corpse, all her fair form
Close-shrouded in her veil, and dust-defiled,
And from her anguished heart cried piteously:
"Alas for me, for me now thou art dead,
Not by the hands of foes in fight struck down,
But by thine own! On me is come a grief
Ever-abiding! Never had I looked
To see thy woeful death-day here by Troy.
Ah, visions shattered by rude hands of Fate!
Oh that the earth had yawned wide for my grave
Ere I beheld thy bitter doom! On me
No sharper, more heart-piercing pang hath come --
No, not when first from fatherland afar
And parents thou didst bear me, wailing sore
Mid other captives, when the day of bondage
Had come on me, a princess theretofore.
Not for that dear lost home so much I grieve,
Nor for my parents dead, as now for thee:
For all thine heart was kindness unto me
The hapless, and thou madest me thy wife,
One soul with thee; yea, and thou promisedst
To throne me queen of fair-towered Salamis,
When home we won from Troy. The Gods denied
Accomplishment thereof. And thou hast passed
Unto the Unseen Land: thou hast forgot
Me and thy child, who never shall make glad
His father's heart, shall never mount thy throne.
But him shall strangers make a wretched thrall:
For when the father is no more, the babe
Is ward of meaner men. A weary life
The orphan knows, and suffering cometh in
From every side upon him like a flood.
To me too thraldom's day shall doubtless come,
Now thou hast died, who wast my god on earth."
Then in all kindness Agamemnon spake:
"Princess, no man on earth shall make thee thrall,
While Teucer liveth yet, while yet I live.
Thou shalt have worship of us evermore
And honour as a Goddess, with thy son,
As though yet living were that godlike man,
Aias, who was the Achaeans' chiefest strength.
Ah that he had not laid this load of grief
On all, in dying by his own right hand!
For all the countless armies of his foes
Never availed to slay him in fair fight."
So spake he, grieved to the inmost heart. The folk
Woefully wafted all round. O'er Hellespont
Echoes of mourning rolled: the sighing air
Darkened around, a wide-spread sorrow-pall.
Yea, grief laid hold on wise Odysseus' self
For the great dead, and with remorseful soul
To anguish-stricken Argives thus he spake:
"O friends, there is no greater curse to men
Than wrath, which groweth till its bitter fruit
Is strife. Now wrath hath goaded Aias on
To this dire issue of the rage that filled
His soul against me. Would to God that ne'er
Yon Trojans in the strife for Achilles' arms
Had crowned me with that victory, for which
Strong Telamon's brave son, in agony
Of soul, thus perished by his own right hand!
Yet blame not me, I pray you, for his wrath:
Blame the dark dolorous Fate that struck him down.
For, had mine heart foreboded aught of this,
This desperation of a soul distraught,
Never for victory had I striven with him,
Nor had I suffered any Danaan else,
Though ne'er so eager, to contend with him.
Nay, I had taken up those arms divine
With mine own hands, and gladly given them
To him, ay, though himself desired it not.
But for such mighty grief and wrath in him
I had not looked, since not for a woman's sake
Nor for a city, nor possessions wide,
I then contended, but for Honour's meed,
Which alway is for all right-hearted men
The happy goal of all their rivalry.
But that great-hearted man was led astray
By Fate, the hateful fiend; for surely it is
Unworthy a man to be made passion's fool.
The wise man's part is, steadfast-souled to endure
All ills, and not to rage against his lot."
So spake Laertes' son, the far-renowned.
But when they all were weary of grief and groan,
Then to those sorrowing ones spake Neleus' son:
"O friends, the pitiless-hearted Fates have laid
Stroke after stroke of sorrow upon us,
Sorrow for Aias dead, for mighty Achilles,
For many an Argive, and for mine own son
Antilochus. Yet all unmeet it is
Day after day with passion of grief to wail
Men slain in battle: nay, we must forget
Laments, and turn us to the better task
Of rendering dues beseeming to the dead,
The dues of pyre, of tomb, of bones inurned.
No lamentations will awake the dead;
No note thereof he taketh, when the Fates,
The ruthless ones, have swallowed him in night."
So spake he words of cheer: the godlike kings
Gathered with heavy hearts around the dead,
And many hands upheaved the giant corpse,
And swiftly bare him to the ships, and there
Washed they away the blood that clotted lay
Dust-flecked on mighty limbs and armour: then
In linen swathed him round. From Ida's heights
Wood without measure did the young men bring,
And piled it round the corpse. Billets and logs
Yet more in a wide circle heaped they round;
And sheep they laid thereon, fair-woven vests,
And goodly kine, and speed-triumphant steeds,
And gleaming gold, and armour without stint,
From slain foes by that glorious hero stripped.
And lucent amber-drops they laid thereon,
Years, say they, which the Daughters of the Sun,
The Lord of Omens, shed for Phaethon slain,
When by Eridanus' flood they mourned for him.
These, for undying honour to his son,
The God made amber, precious in men's eyes.
Even this the Argives on that broad-based pyre
Cast freely, honouring the mighty dead.
And round him, groaning heavily, they laid
Silver most fair and precious ivory,
And jars of oil, and whatsoe'er beside
They have who heap up goodly and glorious wealth.
Then thrust they in the strength of ravening flame,
And from the sea there breathed a wind, sent forth
By Thetis, to consume the giant frame
Of Aias. All the night and all the morn
Burned 'neath the urgent stress of that great wind
Beside the ships that giant form, as when
Enceladus by Zeus' levin was consumed
Beneath Thrinacia, when from all the isle
Smoke of his burning rose -- or like as when
Hercules, trapped by Nessus' deadly guile,
Gave to devouring fire his living limbs,
What time he dared that awful deed, when groaned
All Oeta as he burned alive, and passed
His soul into the air, leaving the man
Far-famous, to be numbered with the Gods,
When earth closed o'er his toil-tried mortal part.
So huge amid the flames, all-armour clad,
Lay Aias, all the joy of fight forgot,
While a great multitude watching thronged the sands.
Glad were the Trojans, but the Achaeans grieved.
But when that goodly frame by ravening fire
Was all consumed, they quenched the pyre with wine;
They gathered up the bones, and reverently
Laid in a golden casket. Hard beside
Rhoeteium's headland heaped they up a mound
Measureless-high. Then scattered they amidst
The long ships, heavy-hearted for the man
Whom they had honoured even as Achilles.
Then black night, bearing unto all men sleep,
Upfloated: so they brake bread, and lay down
Waiting the Child of the Mist. Short was sleep,
Broken by fitful staring through the dark,
Haunted by dread lest in the night the foe
Should fall on them, now Telamon's son was dead.
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire