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A Poem by Homer : The Iliad : Book Seven


The Iliad : Book 7

With these words Hector passed through the gates, and his brother
Alexandrus with him, both eager for the fray. As when heaven sends a
breeze to sailors who have long looked for one in vain, and have
laboured at their oars till they are faint with toil, even so
welcome was the sight of these two heroes to the Trojans.
Thereon Alexandrus killed Menesthius the son of Areithous; he
lived in Ame, and was son of Areithous the Mace-man, and of
Phylomedusa. Hector threw a spear at Eioneus and struck him dead
with a wound in the neck under the bronze rim of his helmet.
Glaucus, moreover, son of Hippolochus, captain of the Lycians, in hard
hand-to-hand fight smote Iphinous son of Dexius on the shoulder, as he
was springing on to his chariot behind his fleet mares; so he fell
to earth from the car, and there was no life left in him.
When, therefore, Minerva saw these men making havoc of the
Argives, she darted down to Ilius from the summits of Olympus, and
Apollo, who was looking on from Pergamus, went out to meet her; for he
wanted the Trojans to be victorious. The pair met by the oak tree, and
King Apollo son of Jove was first to speak. “What would you have
said he, “daughter of great Jove, that your proud spirit has sent
you hither from Olympus? Have you no pity upon the Trojans, and
would you incline the scales of victory in favour of the Danaans?
Let me persuade you- for it will be better thus- stay the combat for
to-day, but let them renew the fight hereafter till they compass the
doom of Ilius, since you goddesses have made up your minds to
destroy the city.”
And Minerva answered, “So be it, Far-Darter; it was in this mind
that I came down from Olympus to the Trojans and Achaeans. Tell me,
then, how do you propose to end this present fighting?”
Apollo, son of Jove, replied, “Let us incite great Hector to
challenge some one of the Danaans in single combat; on this the
Achaeans will be shamed into finding a man who will fight him.”
Minerva assented, and Helenus son of Priam divined the counsel of
the gods; he therefore went up to Hector and said, “Hector son of
Priam, peer of gods in counsel, I am your brother, let me then
persuade you. Bid the other Trojans and Achaeans all of them take
their seats, and challenge the best man among the Achaeans to meet you
in single combat. I have heard the voice of the ever-living gods,
and the hour of your doom is not yet come.”
Hector was glad when he heard this saying, and went in among the
Trojans, grasping his spear by the middle to hold them back, and
they all sat down. Agamemnon also bade the Achaeans be seated. But
Minerva and Apollo, in the likeness of vultures, perched on father
Jove’s high oak tree, proud of their men; and the ranks sat close
ranged together, bristling with shield and helmet and spear. As when
the rising west wind furs the face of the sea and the waters grow dark
beneath it, so sat the companies of Trojans and Achaeans upon the
plain. And Hector spoke thus:-
“Hear me, Trojans and Achaeans, that I may speak even as I am
minded; Jove on his high throne has brought our oaths and covenants to
nothing, and foreshadows ill for both of us, till you either take
the towers of Troy, or are yourselves vanquished at your ships. The
princes of the Achaeans are here present in the midst of you; let him,
then, that will fight me stand forward as your champion against
Hector. Thus I say, and may Jove be witness between us. If your
champion slay me, let him strip me of my armour and take it to your
ships, but let him send my body home that the Trojans and their
wives may give me my dues of fire when I am dead. In like manner, if
Apollo vouchsafe me glory and I slay your champion, I will strip him
of his armour and take it to the city of Ilius, where I will hang it
in the temple of Apollo, but I will give up his body, that the
Achaeans may bury him at their ships, and the build him a mound by the
wide waters of the Hellespont. Then will one say hereafter as he sails
his ship over the sea, ‘This is the monument of one who died long
since a champion who was slain by mighty Hector.’ Thus will one say,
and my fame shall not be lost.”
Thus did he speak, but they all held their peace, ashamed to decline
the challenge, yet fearing to accept it, till at last Menelaus rose
and rebuked them, for he was angry. “Alas,” he cried, “vain braggarts,
women forsooth not men, double-dyed indeed will be the stain upon us
if no man of the Danaans will now face Hector. May you be turned every
man of you into earth and water as you sit spiritless and inglorious
in your places. I will myself go out against this man, but the
upshot of the fight will be from on high in the hands of the
immortal gods.”
With these words he put on his armour; and then, O Menelaus, your
life would have come to an end at the hands of hands of Hector, for he
was far better the man, had not the princes of the Achaeans sprung
upon you and checked you. King Agamemnon caught him by the right
hand and said, “Menelaus, you are mad; a truce to this folly. Be
patient in spite of passion, do not think of fighting a man so much
stronger than yourself as Hector son of Priam, who is feared by many
another as well as you. Even Achilles, who is far more doughty than
you are, shrank from meeting him in battle. Sit down your own
people, and the Achaeans will send some other champion to fight
Hector; fearless and fond of battle though he be, I ween his knees
will bend gladly under him if he comes out alive from the
hurly-burly of this fight.”
With these words of reasonable counsel he persuaded his brother,
whereon his squires gladly stripped the armour from off his shoulders.
Then Nestor rose and spoke, “Of a truth,” said he, “the Achaean land
is fallen upon evil times. The old knight Peleus, counsellor and
orator among the Myrmidons, loved when I was in his house to
question me concerning the race and lineage of all the Argives. How
would it not grieve him could he hear of them as now quailing before
Hector? Many a time would he lift his hands in prayer that his soul
might leave his body and go down within the house of Hades. Would,
by father Jove, Minerva, and Apollo, that I were still young and
strong as when the Pylians and Arcadians were gathered in fight by the
rapid river Celadon under the walls of Pheia, and round about the
waters of the river Iardanus. The godlike hero Ereuthalion stood
forward as their champion, with the armour of King Areithous upon
his shoulders- Areithous whom men and women had surnamed ‘the
Mace-man,’ because he fought neither with bow nor spear, but broke the
battalions of the foe with his iron mace. Lycurgus killed him, not
in fair fight, but by entrapping him in a narrow way where his mace
served him in no stead; for Lycurgus was too quick for him and speared
him through the middle, so he fell to earth on his back. Lycurgus then
spoiled him of the armour which Mars had given him, and bore it in
battle thenceforward; but when he grew old and stayed at home, he gave
it to his faithful squire Ereuthalion, who in this same armour
challenged the foremost men among us. The others quaked and quailed,
but my high spirit bade me fight him though none other would
venture; I was the youngest man of them all; but when I fought him
Minerva vouchsafed me victory. He was the biggest and strongest man
that ever I killed, and covered much ground as he lay sprawling upon
the earth. Would that I were still young and strong as I then was, for
the son of Priam would then soon find one who would face him. But you,
foremost among the whole host though you be, have none of you any
stomach for fighting Hector.”
Thus did the old man rebuke them, and forthwith nine men started
to their feet. Foremost of all uprose King Agamemnon, and after him
brave Diomed the son of Tydeus. Next were the two Ajaxes, men
clothed in valour as with a garment, and then Idomeneus, and
Meriones his brother in arms. After these Eurypylus son of Euaemon,
Thoas the son of Andraemon, and Ulysses also rose. Then Nestor
knight of Gerene again spoke, saying: “Cast lots among you to see
who shall be chosen. If he come alive out of this fight he will have
done good service alike to his own soul and to the Achaeans.”
Thus he spoke, and when each of them had marked his lot, and had
thrown it into the helmet of Agamemnon son of Atreus, the people
lifted their hands in prayer, and thus would one of them say as he
looked into the vault of heaven, “Father Jove, grant that the lot fall
on Ajax, or on the son of Tydeus, or upon the king of rich Mycene
As they were speaking, Nestor knight of Gerene shook the helmet, and
from it there fell the very lot which they wanted- the lot of Ajax.
The herald bore it about and showed it to all the chieftains of the
Achaeans, going from left to right; but they none of of them owned it.
When, however, in due course he reached the man who had written upon
it and had put it into the helmet, brave Ajax held out his hand, and
the herald gave him the lot. When Ajax saw him mark he knew it and was
glad; he threw it to the ground and said, “My friends, the lot is
mine, and I rejoice, for I shall vanquish Hector. I will put on my
armour; meanwhile, pray to King Jove in silence among yourselves
that the Trojans may not hear you- or aloud if you will, for we fear
no man. None shall overcome me, neither by force nor cunning, for I
was born and bred in Salamis, and can hold my own in all things.”
With this they fell praying to King Jove the son of Saturn, and thus
would one of them say as he looked into the vault of heaven, “Father
Jove that rulest from Ida, most glorious in power, vouchsafe victory
to Ajax, and let him win great glory: but if you wish well to Hector
also and would protect him, grant to each of them equal fame and
Thus they prayed, and Ajax armed himself in his suit of gleaming
bronze. When he was in full array he sprang forward as monstrous
Mars when he takes part among men whom Jove has set fighting with
one another- even so did huge Ajax, bulwark of the Achaeans, spring
forward with a grim smile on his face as he brandished his long
spear and strode onward. The Argives were elated as they beheld him,
but the Trojans trembled in every limb, and the heart even of Hector
beat quickly, but he could not now retreat and withdraw into the ranks
behind him, for he had been the challenger. Ajax came up bearing his
shield in front of him like a wall- a shield of bronze with seven
folds of oxhide- the work of Tychius, who lived in Hyle and was by far
the best worker in leather. He had made it with the hides of seven
full-fed bulls, and over these he had set an eighth layer of bronze.
Holding this shield before him, Ajax son of Telamon came close up to
Hector, and menaced him saying, “Hector, you shall now learn, man to
man, what kind of champions the Danaans have among them even besides
lion-hearted Achilles cleaver of the ranks of men. He now abides at
the ships in anger with Agamemnon shepherd of his people, but there
are many of us who are well able to face you; therefore begin the
And Hector answered, “Noble Ajax, son of Telamon, captain of the
host, treat me not as though I were some puny boy or woman that cannot
fight. I have been long used to the blood and butcheries of battle.
I am quick to turn my leathern shield either to right or left, for
this I deem the main thing in battle. I can charge among the
chariots and horsemen, and in hand to hand fighting can delight the
heart of Mars; howbeit I would not take such a man as you are off
his guard- but I will smite you openly if I can.”
He poised his spear as he spoke, and hurled it from him. It struck
the sevenfold shield in its outermost layer- the eighth, which was
of bronze- and went through six of the layers but in the seventh
hide it stayed. Then Ajax threw in his turn, and struck the round
shield of the son of Priam. The terrible spear went through his
gleaming shield, and pressed onward through his cuirass of cunning
workmanship; it pierced the shirt against his side, but he swerved and
thus saved his life. They then each of them drew out the spear from
his shield, and fell on one another like savage lions or wild boars of
great strength and endurance: the son of Priam struck the middle of
Ajax’s shield, but the bronze did not break, and the point of his dart
was turned. Ajax then sprang forward and pierced the shield of Hector;
the spear went through it and staggered him as he was springing
forward to attack; it gashed his neck and the blood came pouring
from the wound, but even so Hector did not cease fighting; he gave
ground, and with his brawny hand seized a stone, rugged and huge, that
was lying upon the plain; with this he struck the shield of Ajax on
the boss that was in its middle, so that the bronze rang again. But
Ajax in turn caught up a far larger stone, swung it aloft, and
hurled it with prodigious force. This millstone of a rock broke
Hector’s shield inwards and threw him down on his back with the shield
crushing him under it, but Apollo raised him at once. Thereon they
would have hacked at one another in close combat with their swords,
had not heralds, messengers of gods and men, come forward, one from
the Trojans and the other from the Achaeans- Talthybius and Idaeus
both of them honourable men; these parted them with their staves,
and the good herald Idaeus said, “My sons, fight no longer, you are
both of you valiant, and both are dear to Jove; we know this; but
night is now falling, and the behests of night may not be well
Ajax son of Telamon answered, “Idaeus, bid Hector say so, for it was
he that challenged our princes. Let him speak first and I will
accept his saying.”
Then Hector said, “Ajax, heaven has vouchsafed you stature and
strength, and judgement; and in wielding the spear you excel all
others of the Achaeans. Let us for this day cease fighting;
hereafter we will fight anew till heaven decide between us, and give
victory to one or to the other; night is now falling, and the
behests of night may not be well gainsaid. Gladden, then, the hearts
of the Achaeans at your ships, and more especially those of your own
followers and clansmen, while I, in the great city of King Priam,
bring comfort to the Trojans and their women, who vie with one another
in their prayers on my behalf. Let us, moreover, exchange presents
that it may be said among the Achaeans and Trojans, ‘They fought
with might and main, but were reconciled and parted in friendship.’
On this he gave Ajax a silver-studded sword with its sheath and
leathern baldric, and in return Ajax gave him a girdle dyed with
purple. Thus they parted, the one going to the host of the Achaeans,
and the other to that of the Trojans, who rejoiced when they saw their
hero come to them safe and unharmed from the strong hands of mighty
Ajax. They led him, therefore, to the city as one that had been
saved beyond their hopes. On the other side the Achaeans brought
Ajax elated with victory to Agamemnon.
When they reached the quarters of the son of Atreus, Agamemnon
sacrificed for them a five-year-old bull in honour of Jove the son
of Saturn. They flayed the carcass, made it ready, and divided it into
joints; these they cut carefully up into smaller pieces, putting
them on the spits, roasting them sufficiently, and then drawing them
off. When they had done all this and had prepared the feast, they
ate it, and every man had his full and equal share, so that all were
satisfied, and King Agamemnon gave Ajax some slices cut lengthways
down the loin, as a mark of special honour. As soon as they had had
enough to cat and drink, old Nestor whose counsel was ever truest
began to speak; with all sincerity and goodwill, therefore, he
addressed them thus:-
“Son of Atreus, and other chieftains, inasmuch as many of the
Achaeans are now dead, whose blood Mars has shed by the banks of the
Scamander, and their souls have gone down to the house of Hades, it
will be well when morning comes that we should cease fighting; we will
then wheel our dead together with oxen and mules and burn them not far
from the ships, that when we sail hence we may take the bones of our
comrades home to their children. Hard by the funeral pyre we will
build a barrow that shall be raised from the plain for all in
common; near this let us set about building a high wall, to shelter
ourselves and our ships, and let it have well-made gates that there
may be a way through them for our chariots. Close outside we will
dig a deep trench all round it to keep off both horse and foot, that
the Trojan chieftains may not bear hard upon us.”
Thus he spoke, and the princess shouted in applause. Meanwhile the
Trojans held a council, angry and full of discord, on the acropolis by
the gates of King Priam’s palace; and wise Antenor spoke. “Hear me
he said, “Trojans, Dardanians, and allies, that I may speak even as
I am minded. Let us give up Argive Helen and her wealth to the sons of
Atreus, for we are now fighting in violation of our solemn
covenants, and shall not prosper till we have done as I say.”
He then sat down and Alexandrus husband of lovely Helen rose to
speak. “Antenor,” said he, “your words are not to my liking; you can
find a better saying than this if you will; if, however, you have
spoken in good earnest, then indeed has heaven robbed you of your
reason. I will speak plainly, and hereby notify to the Trojans that
I will not give up the woman; but the wealth that I brought home
with her from Argos I will restore, and will add yet further of my
On this, when Paris had spoken and taken his seat, Priam of the race
of Dardanus, peer of gods in council, rose and with all sincerity
and goodwill addressed them thus: “Hear me, Trojans, Dardanians, and
allies, that I may speak even as I am minded. Get your suppers now
as hitherto throughout the city, but keep your watches and be wakeful.
At daybreak let Idaeus go to the ships, and tell Agamemnon and
Menelaus sons of Atreus the saying of Alexandrus through whom this
quarrel has come about; and let him also be instant with them that
they now cease fighting till we burn our dead; hereafter we will fight
anew, till heaven decide between us and give victory to one or to
the other.”
Thus did he speak, and they did even as he had said. They took
supper in their companies and at daybreak Idaeus went his wa to the
ships. He found the Danaans, servants of Mars, in council at the stern
of Agamemnon’s ship, and took his place in the midst of them. “Son
of Atreus,” he said, “and princes of the Achaean host, Priam and the
other noble Trojans have sent me to tell you the saying of
Alexandrus through whom this quarrel has come about, if so be that you
may find it acceptable. All the treasure he took with him in his ships
to Troy- would that he had sooner perished- he will restore, and
will add yet further of his own, but he will not give up the wedded
wife of Menelaus, though the Trojans would have him do so. Priam
bade me inquire further if you will cease fighting till we burn our
dead; hereafter we will fight anew, till heaven decide between us
and give victory to one or to the other.”
They all held their peace, but presently Diomed of the loud
war-cry spoke, saying, “Let there be no taking, neither treasure,
nor yet Helen, for even a child may see that the doom of the Trojans
is at hand.”
The sons of the Achaeans shouted applause at the words that Diomed
had spoken, and thereon King Agamemnon said to Idaeus, “Idaeus, you
have heard the answer the Achaeans make you-and I with them. But as
concerning the dead, I give you leave to burn them, for when men are
once dead there should be no grudging them the rites of fire. Let Jove
the mighty husband of Juno be witness to this covenant.”
As he spoke he upheld his sceptre in the sight of all the gods,
and Idaeus went back to the strong city of Ilius. The Trojans and
Dardanians were gathered in council waiting his return; when he
came, he stood in their midst and delivered his message. As soon as
they heard it they set about their twofold labour, some to gather
the corpses, and others to bring in wood. The Argives on their part
also hastened from their ships, some to gather the corpses, and others
to bring in wood.
The sun was beginning to beat upon the fields, fresh risen into
the vault of heaven from the slow still currents of deep Oceanus, when
the two armies met. They could hardly recognise their dead, but they
washed the clotted gore from off them, shed tears over them, and
lifted them upon their waggons. Priam had forbidden the Trojans to
wail aloud, so they heaped their dead sadly and silently upon the
pyre, and having burned them went back to the city of Ilius. The
Achaeans in like manner heaped their dead sadly and silently on the
pyre, and having burned them went back to their ships.
Now in the twilight when it was not yet dawn, chosen bands of the
Achaeans were gathered round the pyre and built one barrow that was
raised in common for all, and hard by this they built a high wall to
shelter themselves and their ships; they gave it strong gates that
there might be a way through them for their chariots, and close
outside it they dug a trench deep and wide, and they planted it within
with stakes.
Thus did the Achaeans toil, and the gods, seated by the side of Jove
the lord of lightning, marvelled at their great work; but Neptune,
lord of the earthquake, spoke, saying, “Father Jove, what mortal in
the whole world will again take the gods into his counsel? See you not
how the Achaeans have built a wall about their ships and driven a
trench all round it, without offering hecatombs to the gods? The The
fame of this wall will reach as far as dawn itself, and men will no
longer think anything of the one which Phoebus Apollo and myself built
with so much labour for Laomedon.”
Jove was displeased and answered, “What, O shaker of the earth,
are you talking about? A god less powerful than yourself might be
alarmed at what they are doing, but your fame reaches as far as dawn
itself. Surely when the Achaeans have gone home with their ships,
you can shatter their wall and Ring it into the sea; you can cover the
beach with sand again, and the great wall of the Achaeans will then be
utterly effaced.”
Thus did they converse, and by sunset the work of the Achaeans was
completed; they then slaughtered oxen at their tents and got their
supper. Many ships had come with wine from Lemnos, sent by Euneus
the son of Jason, born to him by Hypsipyle. The son of Jason freighted
them with ten thousand measures of wine, which he sent specially to
the sons of Atreus, Agamemnon and Menelaus. From this supply the
Achaeans bought their wine, some with bronze, some with iron, some
with hides, some with whole heifers, and some again with captives.
They spread a goodly banquet and feasted the whole night through, as
also did the Trojans and their allies in the city. But all the time
Jove boded them ill and roared with his portentous thunder. Pale
fear got hold upon them, and they spilled the wine from their cups
on to the ground, nor did any dare drink till he had made offerings to
the most mighty son of Saturn. Then they laid themselves down to
rest and enjoyed the boon of sleep.

Translated by Samuel Butler



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