THE WHITE HORSES OF RHESUS
 Sound was the sleep of the Greek chiefs that
night, but Agamemnon the king slept not.
From his enemies' camp came the sound of
pipe and flute and laughter of men, as the
Trojans feasted and made merry in the red
light of their camp-fires. As he looked
seawards at the ships of the sleeping Greeks,
his heart was heavy within him and he
On his feet he bound his sandals, over his
shoulders did he throw his great mantle of a
tawny lion's skin, and, grasping his spear, he
went forth into the night to take counsel of
Neither to Menelaus came there sleep, for
his heart was full of fear lest harm should
come to the Greeks who had crossed the
wide seas to fight for his sake in Troyland.
 On his head he placed his bronze helmet,
across his broad shoulders he threw a
leopard skin, and, spear in hand, went to
seek his brother.
Down by the ships he found him, putting
his armour on.
'Why dost thou arm thyself, dear brother?'
he asked. 'Wilt thou send forth one of our
comrades to spy on the Trojans? I fear me
no man of ours is of courage enough to go
alone in the night and do so brave a deed.'
Then did Agamemnon bid his brother go
and awake the lords of his host and call a
council together, while he himself went to
rouse Nestor, the oldest of all the warriors.
And as they passed through the host they
found the sentinels sitting wide awake with
their arms, like dogs that watch by a
lonely sheepfold amongst the hills and
listen to the cries of the savage wild beasts
that come towards them through the woods.
Gladly did old Nestor see them.
'Even so keep watch, dear children,' he
said, 'lest we allow our enemies to triumph
 Out in the open field, beyond the deep
trench which they had dug, the chiefs of the
Greeks sat themselves down in council.
To them, then, spake Nestor.
'O friends,' said he, 'is there among you
a man with heart so fearless that all alone
he will go into the camp of the Trojans this
night and there learn what are their plans
for battle? If such an one there be, and he
return to us scathless, great will be his
fame among all men, and great the rewards
that he wins.'
Then said Diomedes of the loud war-cry:
'With willing heart will go, Nestor: yet
if another man will come with me, more
comfort and courage will be ours.'
Many there were who asked with
eagerness to be that one who should go with
Diomedes. But Agamemnon spoke.
'Diomedes, joy of mine heart, verily shalt
thou choose thine own comrade,' he said.
And Diomedes made answer:
'If indeed I may choose, then shall I
choose Odysseus, for with him as comrade
 we might pass through raging flames and
yet return in safety.'
'Praise me not overmuch, Diomedes,' said
Odysseus, 'but let us be going. The night
wanes, the stars have gone onward, and the
dawn is near.'
Then did they don their armour, and set
forth, like two lions seeking their prey,
treading underfoot the men who lay still and
dead in their blood. And through the dark
night they heard the shrill cry of a heron,
and knew it for an omen sent by the gods, a
promise to them of victory.
In the Trojan camp was a council also held.
And brave Hector offered great rewards to
the man who would go in the darkness to
where the Greek ships lay and find out how
it fared with the men of Agamemnon, and
what plans were theirs.
And Dolon, the swift-runner and
ill-favoured man, but one who owned great
riches of gold and bronze, stood up and said:
'To the swift-sailing ships will I go as thy
spy. But for reward must I have the horses
and bronze chariots of Achilles.'
 'No other man of the Trojans shall mount
these horses,' swore Hector.
Then Dolon took his bow, on his
shoulders cast a great wolf-skin, on his head drew
his helmet of ferret-skin, and with his sharp
javelin in his hand, went forth towards the
In the darkness Odysseus heard his
'Lo, here is some man, Diomedes,' he
said; 'I know not whether he be a spy or a
plunderer of the dead. But let him pass,
and then will we rush on him and take him.'
Turning from the path, they lay down
amongst the dead bodies on the plain, still
and silent as those they lay beside.
But when Dolon had gone a little way,
they ran after him, and Dolon, when he
heard them, stopped, thinking they were
messengers from Hector, coming to bid him
return. Less than a spear's-throw from him
were they when he knew them for foemen
and fled before them.
But as two fierce hounds pursue a hare or
a doe, so did Odysseus and Diomedes hunt
 Dolon. They had wellnigh reached the
trench where the sentinels were placed
when Diomedes called aloud:
'Halt! or my spear shall pin thee dead to
Thereat he hurled his spear, but not with
the wish to smite Dolon. Over his right
shoulder it flew, burying its sharp point in
the ground in front of him. Green with fear,
and with chattering teeth, Dolon stopped,
and Odysseus and Diomedes panting, came
up to him, and laid hold of him.
'Take me alive!' said Dolon, weeping,
'and a mighty ransom of gold and bronze
and iron shall be yours if ye but spare my
'Fear not,' said Odysseus, 'but tell us
truly why thou comest thus at dead of night
into the camp of thine enemies.'
Then did Dolon, the coward, tremblingly
tell his tale, and reveal to Odysseus and
Diomedes all that Hector had bidden him
do. At their bidding, too, he told them how
all the Trojan forces lay, and how best they
could win into the camp.
 'At the farthest point from the men of
Troy are encamped the Thracians,' he said.
'Rhesus is their king, and fit for a god is
his golden armour and his chariot of gold
and silver. His, too, are the fairest horses
mine eyes have seen, of great strength and
height, whiter than snow, and swift as the
Eagerly did Odysseus and Diomedes listen.
But when he had ended and begged them to
take him a prisoner to the ships, or to let
him go free, grimly did Diomedes look at
'Good is thy news, Dolon,' he said, 'yet
nevermore shalt thou have a chance of
playing the spy, or of fighting against the men
With that he raised his mighty sword, and
ere Dolon could beg for mercy he smote him
on the neck. Cleanly was his head shorn
off, and it rolled in the dust at the feet of
Diomedes. His casque of ferret-skin, and
the grey wolf-skin, and javelin and bow did
Odysseus and Diomedes then take from him
and held them aloft, an offering to Athene.
 They placed them on a tamarisk bush,
raising on it a mark of long reeds and branches
of tamarisk, lest they might miss the place
as they returned again ere dawn.
Across the plain did they hasten then,
until they came to the camp of the Thracians.
Deep was the sleep of the warriors who
lay, each with his arms beside him, and his
two horses standing near at hand. And in
the midst of them lay Rhesus the king, his
great white horses tethered to his chariot of
silver and gold.
'Lo, here is the man, and here are the
horses of which Dolon gave us tidings,' said
And thereupon did the slaying begin.
Like a lion that rends a flock of sheep
without a shepherd, even so did Diomedes
slay the men of Thrace. On this side and
on that he slew, till the earth grew red with
blood, and terrible was the groaning of the
dying men. Twelve men did he slay, and
as he slew them, Odysseus dragged them
to the side that a way might be left clear
for the white horses of Rhesus. For he
 feared that panic might seize them were
they to step in the darkness upon the dead
The thirteenth man was King Rhesus
himself. An evil dream made him draw his
breath hard and quick, but ere he could
awake from sleep the sword of Diomedes
took his life away. Then did Odysseus drive
the horses out of the camp, smiting them
with his bow, for he had no whip, and driving
To Diomedes he whistled, for a sign that
he should cease from slaying and follow him
and their lordly spoil. Still did Diomedes
linger, pondering whether he should drag
the chariot with him, or slay yet more of
the Thracians. And as he pondered, Athene
came to him.
'Return to the ships, Diomedes,' she
said, 'lest another of the gods arouse the
Trojans, and in flight thou art driven before
Even then, indeed, was Apollo arousing
one of the kinsmen of Rhesus, who with
great lament saw the dead and dying men
 and knew that the horses of the king had
been stolen away.
But swiftly did Diomedes and Odysseus
spring on the backs of the white horses, and
swift as the snowy foam on the crests of
storm-driven waves did they dash through
the darkness back to the ships.
When they came to the tamarisk bush,
where they had left the bloody spoils of
Dolon, Diomedes leapt to the ground, seized
them and placed them in the hands of
Odysseus, and again mounted, and, lashing
the horses, dashed furiously onward.
The clang of the hoofs of the galloping
horses struck first upon the ears of old
Nestor, and quickly did he and other lords
of the Greeks go to meet Diomedes and
Then did the two heroes rein in their
horses and lightly spring to the ground, and
with hand-clasping and glad words were
they welcomed by their comrades.
And when he had told the tale of the
slaying of the men of Thrace and the taking
of the horses of Rhesus, Odysseus, laughing,
 drove the white steeds through the trench
and stabled them beside the other horses of
Then did he and Diomedes plunge into the
sea and wash the sweat and dust from off
their limbs in the cold waves. Glad were
their hearts when they sat down to sup and
poured forth an offering of honey-sweet wine
to Athene; but in the camp of the Trojans
were there shame and lamenting for the
deeds that had been wrought in the third
watch of the night.
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