« AnteriorContinuar »
make a final demand for reparation. Even now, if the Trojans will give back Helen and the treasures, the Greeks will be satisfied. But the terms were rejected, though the reception of the embassy at Troy seems to mark a high state of civilisation. So the expedition proceeds: but before they make good their landing on the Trojan coast, the fates demand another victim. The oracle had said that the first who set foot on Trojan soil must fall. There was a hesitation even among the bravest of the Greeks, #nd the Trojans and their allies were lining the shore. Protesilaus of Phylace, with a gallant disregard of omens, leapt to land, and fell, first of his countrymen, by a Dardanian spear—launched, as one legend has it, by the noble hand of Hector. Homer has a pathetic touch in his mention of him :—
"Unfinished his proud palaces remain,
On this slight foundation the Eoman poet, Ovid, has constructed one of the sweetest of his imaginary 'Epistles'-—that of the wife Laodamia to the husband of whom she complains as sending no message home, undreaming that he had long since found a grave on the soil of Troy. A later legend tells us that she wearied the gods with prayers and tears, by night and day, to obtain permission to see her husband once again on earth. The boon was granted: for the space of three hours the dead hero was allowed to revisit his home, and Laodamia died in his embrace. There is a poetic sequel to the tradition, preserved by Pliny,* and thus beautifully rendered in the concluding lines of Wordsworth's 'Laodamia :'—
*Nat. Hist.,xvi. U.
"Upon the side
The Trojans, too, had their allies, who came to their aid, when the invasion was imminent, from the neigh, bouring tribes of Mysia, Caria, Phrygia, and even the coast towns of Thrace. The most renowned of these auxiliary chiefs were Sarpedon, who led the Lycian troops, and iEneas, commander of the Dardanians. Both claimed an immortal descent: ^Eneas was the son of Venus by a human lover, Anchises, and sprung from a branch of the royal house of Troy: Sarpedon's father was no less than Jupiter himself. Next after Hector, the most warlike, but not the eldest of the sons of Priam, these are the most illustrious names on the side of the Trojans in Homer's story. But the force of the invaders was too strong to allow their adversaries to keep the open field. Soon they were driven inside the walls of the city, while the Greeks ravaged all the neighbouring coast almost unopposed, and maintained themselves at the enemy's cost. Then began the weary siege which wasted the hopes and resources of both armies for ten long years. To the long night-watches round the camp-fires of the Greeks we are indebted— so the legends say—for at least one invention which has enlivened many a waste hour since, and also, it perhaps may be said, has wasted some hours for its more enthusiastic admirers. Palamedes, to cheer the flagging spirits of his countrymen, invented for them, among other pastimes, the nobler game of chess; and kings and castles, knights and pawns, still move in illustration of the greater game which was then being played on the plains of Troy. The inventor met with but an ungrateful return, according to one gloomy legend—which, however, is not Homer's. Ulysses had never forgiven him the detection of the pretence of madness by which he had sought himself to escape the service; nor could he bear so close a rival in what he considered his own exclusive field of subtlety and stratagem. He took the occasion of a fishing expedition to plunge the unfortunate chief overboard.
So much of preface seems almost necessary to enable any reader to whom the Greek mythology is not already familiar ground, to take up Homer's tale with some such previous acquaintance with the subject as the bard himself would have given him credit for. The want of it has sometimes made the study of the Iliad less interesting and less intelligent than it should have been, even to those who have approached it with some knowledge of the original language.
The galleys of the Greeks, when they reached the Trojan coast, were all drawn up on shore, as was their invariable custom at the end of a voyage, and kept in an upright position by wooden shores. The crews, with the exception of some two or three "ship-keepers" for each galley, disembarked, and formed some kind of encampment near their respective vessels. Achilles' station was on one wing, and that of Ajax on the other; these points of danger being assigned to the leaders of highest repute for valour. The chiefs fought in war-chariots of very light construction, on two wheels and open at the back. These were drawn by two—or sometimes three—horses, and carried two persons, both standing; the fighter, armed with sword and shield, and one or two long spears which were usually hurled at the enemy, and his charioteer, usually a friend of nearly equal rank. The fighters in most cases dismounted from their chariots when they came to close quarters, their charioteers attending on their movements. The combatants of lower degree fought on foot. There is no mention of cavalry.
THE QUARREL OP AGAMEMNON AND ACHILLES.
Adopting for himself a method which has since become a rule of art, more or less acknowledged in the literature of fiction, the poet dashes off at? once into the full action of his story. He does not ask his readers or hearers to accompany the great armament over sea from the shores of Greece, or give them the history of the long and weary siege. He plunges at one leap into the tenth year of the war. He assumes from the outset, on the part of those to whom he speaks, a general knowledge of the main plot of his poem, and of the characters represented: just as the modern author of a novel or a poem on the Civil Wars of England would assume some general acquaintance with the history of Charles I., the character of Cromwell, and the breach between King and Commons. Nine whole years are supposed to have already passed in desultory warfare; but for the details of these campaigns the modern reader has to go to other sources, with which