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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

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THE DEATH OF HECTOR

[48] FIERCE and long raged the battle around the body of Patroclus. And while the armies fought, a messenger hastened to the tent of Achilles to tell him that his comrade was slain and that the Trojans fought for his body as it lay naked on the ground, stripped of its armour. "Thy armour," said the messenger, "Hector has taken for himself."

When Achilles heard the bitter tidings he took dust and poured it with both hands upon his head. "As he thought thereon, he shed big tears, now lying on his side, now on his back, now on his face, and then anon he would rise upon his feet, and roam wildly beside the beach of the salt sea." As he cried aloud in his grief his mother, Thetis, heard in her home beneath the sea. Swiftly she sped to her son that she might learn why he wept.

Achilles told her all that had befallen Patroclus, and how he himself cared no longer to live, save only that he might slay Hector who had killed his friend.

Thetis bade her son wait but till the morrow before he went to battle and she would bring him armour made by the great Fire-god.

Then she left him and prayed the god Hephaestus, keeper of the forge, to give her armour for her dear son.

Hephaestus was pleased to work for so goodly a warrior as Achilles. Quickly he set his twenty bellows to work, and when the fire blazed in the forge, he threw into it bronze and silver and gold. Then taking a great hammer in his hand he fashioned a marvellous shield, more marvellous than words [49] can tell. Before morning a complete suit of armour was ready for Achilles.

Meanwhile Hector had all but captured the body of Patroclus. But the gods spoke to Achilles, bidding him now succour the body of his friend. Without armour Achilles could not enter the fray, yet he hastened to the trenches that the Trojans might see him.

Around his head gleamed a golden light, placed there by Athene. When the Trojans saw the flame and heard the mighty cry of Achilles, they drew back afraid.

Three times the warrior shouted, and three times the Trojans drew back in fear. While they hesitated the Greeks rushed forward and carried away the body of Patroclus, nor did they lay it down until they laid it in the tent of Achilles.

On the morrow Thetis came back to her son, bringing with her the armour made by Hephaestus. She found him weeping over the body of his friend.

"My child," she said, "him who lieth here we must let be, for all our pain. Arm thyself now and go thy way into the fray."

Then Achilles put on the armour of the god in haste, for he feared lest another than he should slay Hector.

With Achilles once again at their head, the Greek warriors attacked the Trojans with redoubled fury. But it was Hector alone whom Achilles longed to meet, and soon he saw his enemy near one of the gates of Troy. Now he would avenge the death of Patroclus. But when Hector saw the great hate in the eyes of his enemy, lo, he turned and fled.

"As a hawk, fastest of all the birds of the air, pursues a dove upon the mountains," so did Achilles pursue the prince until he was forced to stand to take breath. Then Hector, encouraged by the gods, drew near to him and spoke, "Thrice, great Achilles, hast thou pursued me round the walls of Troy, and I dared not stand up against thee; but now I fear thee [50] no more. Only do thou promise, if Zeus give thee the victory, to do no dishonour to my body, as I also will promise to do none to thine should I slay thee."

But Achilles, remembering Patroclus, cried out in anger that never would he make a covenant with him who had slain his friend.

Then with fierce blows each fell upon the other, until at length Achilles drove his spear through the armour that Hector wore, and the Trojan prince fell, stricken to the ground.

Achilles, his anger still burning fiercely, stripped the dead man of his armour, while many Greek warriors standing near thrust at him with their spears, saying to one another, "Go to, for easier to handle is Hector now, than when he burnt the ships with blazing fire."

Then Achilles tied the dead man to his chariot with thongs of ox-hide and drove nine times round the city walls, dragging the fair head of Hector in the dust.

From the tower Priam and Hecuba saw the body of their son dragged in the dust, and bitter was their pain.

But Andromache knew not yet what had befallen her lord, for she sat in an inner chamber wearing a purple cloth. Soon she bade her maids prepare a bath for Hector, for she thought that he would return ere long from the battle. She knew not yet that Hector would never return, but as the noise of the wailing of the people reached the room in which she sat, her heart misgave her. In haste she ran to the wall of the city, only to see the chariot of Achilles as it dragged Hector down to the loud-sounding sea.

Then fainting with grief, Andromache fell to the ground, and the diadem which Aphrodite had given to her on her wedding morn dropped from her head, to be worn by her no more.

Down by the seashore Achilles burned the body of Patroclus with great honour, and when the funeral rites were [51] ended, he dragged the dead body of Hector round the tomb, weeping for the loss of his dear comrade.

But Zeus was angry with Achilles for treating the Trojan prince so cruelly, and he sent Thetis to bid her son give back Hector's body to Priam, who would come to offer for it a ransom. "If Zeus decrees it, whoever brings a ransom shall return with the dead," answered Achilles.

Then Zeus sent a messenger to the house of Priam, where the mother and the wife of Hector wept, saying, "Be of good cheer in thy heart, O Priam. . . . I am the messenger of Zeus to thee, who though he be afar off, hath great care and pity for thee. The Olympian biddeth thee ransom noble Hector's body, and carry gifts to Achilles that may gladden his heart."

So Priam set out alone, save for the driver of the wagon which was to bring Hector again to Troy, for so had the messenger commanded. But Hecuba feared to let the old man go alone to the tent of the enemy. When he reached the camp of the Greeks, Priam hastened to the tent of Achilles, and entering it before his enemy was aware, the old king fell at the feet of his enemy and begged for the body of his dear son.

Achilles could not look upon the grief of the old man unmoved, but when Priam offered him gifts he frowned and haughtily he answered, "Of myself am I minded to give Hector back to thee, for so has Zeus commanded."

Then a truce for nine days was made between the Greeks and the Trojans, so that King Priam and his people might mourn for Hector and bury him undisturbed by fear of the enemy.

Priam tarried with Achilles until night fell. Then while he and his warriors slept, the king arose and bade the driver yoke the horses and mules. When this was done they laid the body of Hector upon the wagon, and in the silence of the night set out on their homeward journey.

At the gates of Troy stood Andromache and Hecuba [52] watching until Priam returned. And when the wagon reached the city the Trojans carried Hector into his own house. Then Andromache took the head of her dear husband in her arms and said, "Husband, thou art gone young from life and leavest me a widow in thy halls. And the child is yet but a little one . . . nor methinks shall he grow up to manhood, for ere then shall this city be utterly destroyed. For thou art verily perished who didst watch over it and guard it, and keptest safe its noble wives and infant little ones."

The following morning Priam bade his people go gather wood for the burial, and after nine days the body of Hector was laid on the pile and burned. Then his white bones, wrapped in purple cloth, were placed in a golden chest. Above the chest a great mound was raised, and thus, Hector, the brave prince of Troy, was buried.

Soon after the burial of Hector Achilles was killed by a poisoned arrow which Paris aimed at his heel, the one spot of his body that Thetis had failed to bathe in the magic waters of the river Styx. Paris himself perished soon after the death of Achilles.

Troy still remained untaken. Then goodly Odysseus told the Greeks that although they could not take the city by storm, they might take her by a stratagem or trick.

So the Greeks, as he bade them, built a huge wooden horse, which was hollow within. Here they hid a number of their bravest warriors, and then the main body of the army marched away, as though they were tired of trying to take the city. The wooden horse they left as an offering to Poseidon. Only a slave named Sinon was left behind to persuade the Trojans to drag the horse into the city. But the Trojans needed little persuasion. They came out of the city, gazed at the strange horse, half feared a trick, and then, like children amused with a new toy, they pulled it within the walls of Troy.

So glad were the Trojans that the enemy had gone away, [53] that they made a great feast. While they ate and drank, careless of danger, Sinon helped the Greek warriors out of the hollow wooden horse. They waited until it was late and all was quiet, then they slipped down to the gates and flung them open, while their comrades, who had not marched far away, rushed in to plunder and burn the city. Thus after many long years Troy was taken by the counsel of Odysseus.

One of the first to sail away from the city was Menelaus, with his beautiful queen safe at his side. After many adventures he reached Sparta and lived with Helen "in peace, comfort, and wealth, and his palace shone in its splendour like the sun or the moon."


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