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The Iliad for Boys and Girls by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

THE EMBASSY TO ACHILLES

[141] SO they went along the shore of the sea, and as they went they prayed to the god who shakes the earth, that is to say, the god of the sea, that he would shake the heart of Achilles. And when they came to the camp of the Myrmidons, for these were the people of Achilles, they saw the King with a harp in his hand, the harp he had taken from the city of Thebé (which was also the city of Andromaché). He was playing on the harp, and as he played he sang a song about the valiant deeds which the heroes of old time had wrought. And Patroclus sat over against him in silence, waiting till he should have ended his singing. So the three chiefs came forward, Ulysses leading the way, and stood before Achilles. And he, when he saw them, jumped up from his seat, not a little astonished, holding his harp in his hand. And Patroclus also rose up from his seat, to [142] do them honour. And Achilles said: "You are welcome, my friends: though I am angry with the King, you are not the less my friends."

And when he had said this he bade them sit down upon chairs that were there, covered with coverlets of purple. And to Patroclus he said: "Bring out the biggest bowl, and mix the wine and make it as strong and sweet as you can; and give each of these my friends a cup that they may drink, for there are none whom I love more in the whole army of the Greeks."

And this Patroclus did. And when he had mixed the wine, strong and sweet, and had given each man his cup, then he made ready a feast. Nor were they unwilling, though they had but just feasted in the tent of King Agamemnon, for the men of those days were as mighty in eating and drinking as in fighting. And the way that he made ready the feast was this. First he put a great block of wood as close as might be to the fire. And on this he put the back, that is to say the saddle of a sheep, and the same portion of a fatted goat, and also the same of a well-fed [143] pig. The charioteer of Achilles held the flesh in its place with a spit, and Achilles carved it. And when he had carved the portions, he put each on a skewer. Then Patroclus made the fire burn high, and when the flames had died down, then he smoothed the red-hot embers, and put racks upon the top of them, again, the spits with the flesh. But first he sprinkled them with salt. And when the flesh was cooked, he took it from the skewers, and put portions of it on the platters. Also he took bread and put it in baskets, to each man a basket. Then they all took their places for the meal, and Achilles gave the place of honour to Ulysses. But before they began, he signed to Patroclus that he should sacrifice to the gods, and this he did by casting into the fire something of the flesh and of the bread. After this they put forth their hands, and took the food that was ready for them. When they had had enough, Ajax nodded to Phœnix, meaning that he should speak and tell Achilles why they had come. But Ulysses perceived it, and began to speak, before ever Phœnix was ready to begin. First he filled a cup and drank to the [144] health of Achilles, and then he said: "Hail, Achilles! Truly we have had no lack of feasting, first in the tent of King Agamemnon, and now in yours. But this is not a day to think of feasting, for destruction is close at hand, and we are greatly afraid. This very day the Trojans and their allies came very near to burning our ships; and we are greatly in doubt whether we shall save them, for it is plainly to be seen that Zeus is on their side. What, therefore, we are come to ask of you is that you will not stand aside any longer from the battle, but will come and help us as of old. And truly our need is great. For this Hector rages furiously, saying that Zeus is with him, and not caring for god or man. And even now he is praying that morning may appear, for he vows that he will burn the ships with fire and destroy us all while we are choked with the smoke of the burning. And I am greatly afraid that the gods will give him strength to make good his threats and to kill us all here, far from the land in which we were born. Now, therefore, stir yourself if now, before it is too late, you have a mind to save the Greeks. Make no delay, [145] lest it be too late, and you repent only when that which is done shall be past all recalling. Did not the old man Peleus, your father, on the day when he sent you from Phthia, your country, to follow King Agamemnon, lay this charge upon you, saying: 'My son, the gods will give you strength and will make you mighty in battle, if it be their will; but there is something which you must do yourself: keep down the pride of your heart, for gentleness is better than pride; also keep from strife, so shall the Greeks, both young and old, love you and honour you'? This charge your father laid upon you, but you have not kept it. Nevertheless there is yet a place of repentance for you. For the King has sent us to offer you gifts great and many to make up for the wrong he did to you. So great and so many are they that no one can say that these are not worthy." And then Ulysses set forth in order all the things which Agamemnon had promised to give, kettles and caldrons and gold, and women slaves, and his daughter in marriage, and seven cities to be her dowry. And when he had finished the list of these things he said: "Be content: [146] take these gifts, which, indeed, no man can say are not sufficient. And if you have no thought for Agamemnon, yet you should have thought for the people who perish because you stand aside from the battle. Take the gifts, therefore, for by so doing you will have wealth and love and honour from the Greeks, and great glory also, for you will slay Hector, who is now ready to meet you in battle, so proud is he, thinking that there is not a man of all the Greeks who can stand against him."


[Illustration]

THE EMBASSY TO ACHILLES

Achilles answered: "I will speak plainly, O Ulysses, and will set out clearly what I think is in my heart, and what I intend to do. It does not please me that you should sit there and coax me, one man saying one thing and another man saying another. Yes, I will speak both plainly and truly, for, as for the man who thinks one thing in his heart and says another with his tongue, he is hateful to me as death itself. Tell me now, what does it profit a man to be always fighting day after day? It is but thankless work, for the man that stays home has an equal share with the man who never leaves the [147] battle, and men honour the coward even as they honour the brave, and death comes alike to the man that works and to the man who sits idle at home. Look now at me! What profit have I had of all that I have endured, putting my life in peril day after day? Even as a bird carries food to its nestlings till they are fledged, and never ceases to work for them, and herself is but ill fed, so it has been with me. Many nights have I been without sleep, and I have laboured many days. I took twelve cities to which I travelled in ships, and eleven to which I went by land, and from all I carried away much spoil. All this spoil I brought to King Agamemnon, and he, who all the time stayed safe in his tent, gave a few things to me and to others, but kept the greater part for himself. And then what did he do? He left to the other chiefs that which he had given to them, but what he had given to me that he took from me. Yes; he took Briseïs. Let him keep her, if he will. But let him not ask me any more to fight against the Trojans. There are other chiefs whom he has not wronged and shamed in this way; let him go to them and take counsel with [148] them, how he may keep away the devouring fire from the ships. Many things he has done already; he has built a wall, and dug a ditch about it; can he not keep Hector from the ships with them? And yet in time past when I used to fight, this Hector dared not set his army in array far from the walls of Troy; nay, he scarce ventured to come outside the gates. Once indeed did he gather his courage together and stand up against me, to fight man with man, and then he barely escaped from my spear. But neither with him nor with any other of the sons of Troy will I fight again. To-morrow I will do sacrifice to Zeus and to the other gods, and I will store my ships with food and water, and launch them on the sea. Yes, early in the morning to-morrow, if you care to look, you will see my ships upon the sea, and my men rowing with all their might. And, if the god of the sea gives me good passage, on the third day I shall come to my own dear country, even to Phthia. There are the riches which I left behind me when I came to this land of Troy, and thither shall I carry such things, gold and silver and slaves, as [149] King Agamemnon has not taken from me. But with him I will never take counsel again, nor will I stand by his side in battle. As for his gifts, I scorn them; aye, and were they twenty times as great, I would scorn them still. Not with all the wealth of Thebes which is in the land of Egypt would he persuade me, and than Thebes there is no wealthier city in all the world. A hundred gates it has, and through each gate two hundred warriors ride forth to battle with chariots and horses. And as for his daughter whom he would give me to be my wife, I would not marry her, no, not though she were as beautiful as Aphrodité herself, and as skilled in all the works of the needle as Athené. Let him choose for his son-in-law some chief of the Greeks who is better than I am. As for me, if the gods suffer me to reach my home, my father Peleus shall choose me a wife. Many maidens, daughters of kings, are there in Phthia and in Hellas, and not one among them who would scorn me if I came a-wooing. Often in time past I have thought to do this thing, to marry a wife, and to settle down in peace, and to enjoy the riches [150] of the old man my father, and such things as I have gathered for myself. For long since my mother, Thetis of the sea, said to me, 'My son, there are two lots of life before you, and you may choose which you will. If you stay in this land and fight against Troy, then you must never go back to your own land, but will die in your youth. Only your name will live for ever; but if you will leave this land and go back to your home, then shall you live long, even to old age, but your name will be forgotten.' Once I thought fame was a better thing than life; but now my mind is changed, for indeed my fame is taken from me, seeing that King Agamemnon puts me to shame before all the people. And now I go away to my own land, and I counsel you to go also, for Troy you will never take. The city is dear to Zeus, and he puts courage into the hearts of the people. And take this answer back to the man who sent you: 'Find some other way of keeping Hector and the Trojans from the ships, for my help he shall not have.' But let Phœnix stay with me this night that he may go with me in my ship when I depart [151] to-morrow. Nevertheless if he choose rather to stay, let him stay, for I would not take him by force."

And when Achilles had ended his speech all the chiefs sat silent, so vehement was he.


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