« AnteriorContinuar »
If thou resist!' The Fiend looked up, and knew
—Par. Lost, eud. ot B. VJ.
In accordance with this decision the Thunderer, sends his lightnings down upon the host of the Greeks, and throws them into terror and confusion. Nestor, still in the thickest of the fray, has one of his chariothorses killed by a shaft from the how of Paris; and while he is thus all but helpless, Diomed sees the terrible Hector bearing down on the old chief in full career. He bids Nestor mount with him, and together they encounter the Trojan prince, against whom Diomed hurls his spear: he misses Hector, but kills his charioteer. As Diomed presses on, a thunderbolt from Jupiter ploughs the ground right in front of his startled horses. Nestor sees in this omen the wrath of heaven; and at his entreaty Diomed reluctantly allows him to turn the horses, and retires, pursued by the loud taunts of Hector, who bids the Greek "wench" go hide herself. Thrice he half turns to meet his jesting enemy, and thrice the roll of the angry thunder warns him not to dare the wrath of the god. Hector in triumph shouts to his comrades to drive the Greeks back to their new trenches, and burn their fleet. He calls to his horses by name (he drove a bright bay and a chestnut, and called them Whitefoot and Firefly), and bids them do him good suit and service now, if ever, in return for all the care they have had from Andromache, who has fed them day by day with her own hands, even before she would offer the wine-cup to their thirsty master. The Greeks are driven back into their trenches, where they are rallied bv the royal
brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus in person. They have too on their side a bowman as good as Pandarus or Paris, who now does them gallant service. It is Teucer, the younger brother of the huge Ajax. The description of his manner of fight would suit almost exactly the light archer and his pavoise-bearer of the medieval battle :—
"Ajax the shield extended : Teucer then
Eight times he draws his bow, and every arrow reaches its mark in a Trojan. Twice he shoots at Hector, but each time the shaft is turned aside, and finds some less renowned victim. Of these the last is Hector's charioteer—the second who in this day's battle has paid the forfeit of that perilous honour. Hector leaps down to avenge his death, and Teucer, felled to the ground by a huge fragment of rock, is carried off the field with a broken shoulder, still covered by the shield of Ajax. The Greeks remain penned within their stockade, and nothing but the approach of night saves their fleet from destruction. The victorious Trojans bivouac on the field, their watch-fires lighting up the night; for Hector's only fear now is lest his enemies should embark and set sail under cover of the darkness, and so escape the fate which he is confident awaits them on the morrow. Mr Tennyson has chosen for translation the fine passage describing the scene, which closes the Eighth Book:—
"As when in heaven the stars about the moon
Break open to their highest, and all the stars
THE EMBASSY TO ACHILLES.
The opening of the Ninth Book shows us the Greeks utterly disheartened inside their intrenchments. The threat of the dishonoured Achilles is fast being accomplished: they cannot stand before Hector. Agamemnon calls a hasty council, and proposes—in sad earnest, this time—that all should re-embark and sail home to Greece. The proposal is received in silence by all except Diomed. He boldly taunts the king with cowardice: the other Greeks may go home if they will, but he and his good comrade Sthenelus will stay and fight it out, even if they fight alone. Then Nestor takes the privilege of his age to remind Agamemnon that his insult to Achilles is the real cause of their present distress. Let an embassy be sent to him where he lies beside his ships, in moody idleness, to offer him apology and compensation for the wrong. The king consents; and Ajax, Ulysses, and Phoenix are chosen to accompany the royal heralds on this mission of reconciliation. Ajax—the chief who in all warlike points stands second only to Achilles himself in the estimation of the army—is a delegate to whom even the great captain of the Myrmidons must surely listen with respect. Phoenix has been a sort of foster-father to Achilles from his boyhood, intrusted with the care of him by his father Peleus, and has now accompanied him to the war by the old man's special request, to aid him with advice and counsel. If any one in the camp has any influence over the headstrong prince, it will be the man who, as he says, has dandled him in his arms in his helpless infancy. And no diplomatic enterprise could be complete without the addition of Ulysses, the man of many devices and of persuasive tongue. The chiefs set forth, and take their way along the shore to the camp of the Myrmidons. They find Achilles sitting in his tent, solacing his perturbed spirit with playing on the lyre, to the music of which he sings the deeds of heroes done in the days of old—the exact prototype of those knightly troubadours of later times, who combined the accomplishments of the minstrel with the prowess of the soldier. His faithful henchman Patroclus sits and listens to the sung. With graceful and lofty courtesy the chief of the Myrmidons rises from his seat, and lays his lyre aside, and welcomes his visitors. He will hear no message until they have shared his hospitality. He brings them in, and sets them down on couches spread with purple tapestry. Then, with the grand patriarchal simplicity of the days of Abraham, when no office done for a guest was held to be servile, he bids Patroclus fill a larger bowl, and mix the wine strong, and make good preparation of the flesh of sheep, and goats, and well-fed swine. Tho great hero himself divides the carcases, while his charioteer Automedon holds them. The joints are cooked above the heaped embers on ample spits under tho superintendence of Patroclus; and when all is ready, they fall to with that wholesome appetite which has