« AnteriorContinuar »
Achilles, by teaching the Greeks their utter helplessness without him.
The Goddess of the Eainbow is sent to warn Neptune, on pain of the Thunderer's displeasure, to quit the fight. The sea-king demurs. "Was not a fair partition made, in the primeval days, between the three brother-gods, of the realms of Air, and Sea, and Darkness? and is not Earth common ground to all? Why is not Jupiter content with his own lawful domains, and by what right does he assume to dictate to a brother—and a brother-king t" Iris, however, calms him; he is perfectly right in theory, she admits; but in practice he will find his elder brother too strong for him. So the sea-god, in sulky acquiescence, leaves the scene of battle, and plunges down into the depths of his own dominion. Phoebus Apollo, on the other hand, receives Jupiter's permission to aid the Trojans. He sweeps down from Olympus to the spot where Hector lies, now slowly reviving. The hero recognises his celestial visitor, and feels at once his strength restored, and his ardour for the battle reawakened. To the consternation of the Greeks, he reappears in the field, fierce and vigorous as before. But he no longer comes alone; in his front moves Phoebus Apollo,—
"His shoulders veiled in cloud; his arm sustained
When the sun-god flashes this in the faces of the Greeks, heart and spirit fail them. Stalking in the van of the Trojans, he leads them up once more against the embankment, and, planting his mighty foot upon it, levels a wide space for the passage of the chariots,—
"Easy, as when a child upon the beach,
The habits and pursuits of grown-up men change with the passing generation; but the children of Homer's day might play with our own, and understand each other's ways perfectly.
Chariots and footmen press through the breach pellmell, and again the battle rages round the Greek galleys. Standing on their high decks, the Greeks maintain the struggle gallantly with the long boardingpikes, as we should call them, kept on board for use in such emergencies. Ajax' galley is attacked by Hector in person; but the Greek chief stands desperately at bay, wielding a huge pike thirty-three feet long, and his brother Teucer plies his arrows with fatal effect upon the crowded assailants: until Jupiter, alarmed lest Hector should be struck, snaps his bowstring in sunder. Hector calls loudly for fire to burn the vessels, and one warrior after another, torch in hand, makes the attempt at the cost of his life, until twelve lie biting the sand, slain by the huge weapon of Ajax. CHAPTER VIIL
THE DEATH OF PATROCLUS.
Patroclus, sitting in the tent of the wounded Eurypylus, sees the imminent peril of his countrymen. He cannot bear the sight, and taking hasty leave of his friend, hurries back to the quarters of Achilles, and stands before him in an agony of silent tears. At first the hero affects to chide his follower for such girlish sorrow—what cares he for the Greeks? It is plain, however, that he does care; and when Patroclus, in very outspoken terms, upbraids him for his obduracy, and asks that, even if the dark doom that hangs over him makes his chief unwilling to take the field in person, he will at least send him with the Myrmidons to the rescue, Achilles at once consents. Patroclus shall go, clad in his armour, that so perchance the Trojans may be deceived, and think that they see the well-known crest of Achilles himself once more leading the fight. Only he warns him not to advance too far; to be content with rescuing the galleys, and not attempt to press his victory home to the walls of Troy; in that case he will find the gods of the enemy turn their wrath against him. In spite of his assumed indifference, Achilles is intently watching the combat
ants in the distance, and sees the flames rising in the air from the galley of Ajax. He can no longer restrain his feelings, but hurries his comrade forth. Patroclus puts on the harness of his chief, and takes his sword and shield: only the mighty spear he forbears to touch;—
"None save Achilles' self that spear could poise,
He mounts the hero's chariot, driven by the noble Automedon, and drawn by the three horses, Xanthus, Balius, and Pedasus — or as ve should call them, Chestnut, Dapple, and Swift-foot. The battalions of the Myrmidons eagerly gather round their leaders,— even old Phoenix taking command of one detachment. Achilles himself gives them a few fiery words of exhortation. "They have long chafed at their enforced idleness, and clamoured for the battle; lo! there lies the opportunity they have longed for." Then, standing in the midst, he pours from his most costly goblet the solemn libation to Jove, and prays of him for Patroclus victory and a safe return. The poet tells us, with that licence of prognostication which has been considerably abused by some modern writers of fiction, that half the prayer was heard, and half denied.
"Like a pack of ravening wolves, hungering for their prey," the Myrmidons launch themselves against the enemy. The Trojans recognise, as they believe, in the armed charioteer who heads them, the terrible Achilles, and consternation spreads through their ranks. Even Hector, though still fighting gallantly, is borne back over the stockade, and the ditch is filled with broken chariots and struggling horses. Back towards the Trojan lines rolls the tide of battle. Sarpedon, the great Lycian chief, own son to Jupiter, falls by the spear of Patroclus. The rulerof Olympus has hesitatedfor awhile whether he shall interpose to save him; but his fated term of life is come, and there is a mysterious Destiny in this Homeric mythology, against which even Jupiter seems powerless. All that he can do for his offspring is to insure for his body the rites of burial; and by his order the twin brothers, Sleep and Death, carry off the corpse to his native shore of Lycia.
But Patroclus has forgotten the parting caution of Achilles. Flushed with his triumph, he follows up the pursuit even to the walls of Troy. But there Apollo keeps guard. Thrice the Greek champion in defiance smites upon the battlements, and thrice the god shakes the terrible iEgis in his face. A fourth time the Greek lifts his spear, when an awful voice warns him that neither for him, nor yet for his mightier master Achilles, is it written in the fates to take Troy. Awe-struck, he draws back from the wall, but only to continue his career of slaughter among the Trojans. Apollo meets him in the field, strips from him his helmet and his armour, and shivers his spear in his hand. The Trojan Euphorbus, seeing him at this disadvantage, stabs him from behind, and Hector, following him as he retreats, drives his spear through his body. As the Trojan prince stands over his victim, exulting after the fashion of all Homeric heroes m what seems to our taste a barbarous and boastful spirit, Patroclus with his dying breath foretells that his slayer shall speedily meet his own fate by the avenging hand of Achilles. Hector spurns the prophecy, and rushes