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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

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THE HORSES OF ACHILLES

[44] HECTOR and Paris reached the battlefield at the same moment. The Trojans were encouraged to fight yet more fiercely when they say the two princes, and soon so many of the Greeks were slain that Agamemnon grew afraid.

"Zeus hath sent me a deceiving dream," he said to his counselors. "If the gods send not their help we must perish, unless indeed Achilles will forget his anger and come to our aid. Verily, Zeus loveth Achilles, seeing that he putteth the Greeks to flight that he may do him honour. But even as I wronged him in my folly, so will I make amends and five recompence beyond all telling."

Then, casting aside his pride, the king sent messengers to the tent of Achilles, to say that he would send back Briseis and give to him splendid gifts if he would but come to the help of the Greeks, for they were flying before the enemy.

But the heart of Achilles was too bitter to be touched by the fair promises of the king, for had he not taken from him Briseis, the lady of his love? So he bade the messengers go back to Agamemnon and say that he would not fight, but he would launch his ships on the morrow and sail away to his own land.

When the king heard that Achilles spurned his gifts, and refused to come to his aid, he was afraid. But his counsellors said, "Let us not heed Achilles, whether he sail or whether he linger by the loud-sounding sea. When the gods call to him, or when his own heart bids, he will fight. Let us go [45] once more against the Trojans, and do thou show thyself, O king, in the forefront of the battle."

Then Agamemnon rallied his men and led them against the foe, yet again he was driven back. Chief after chief was wounded, and at length the Hellenes fled to their ships to defend them from the Trojans. But Patroclus determined to plead with Achilles to save his countrymen from defeat. When he entered the tent of his friend he was weeping for pity of the dead and wounded.

"Wherefore weepest thou, Patroclus, like a fond little maid that runs by her mother's side?" asked Achilles as he looked up at the entrance of his friend and saw his tears.

"Never may such wrath take hold of me as that thou nursest, thrice brave, to the hurting of others," answered his comrade. "The Greeks are lying wounded and dead. If thou wilt not come to their help, let me lead thy men so that the enemy may be beaten back. . . ."

"And give

The armour from thy shoulders. I will wear

Thy mail, and then the Trojans, at the sight,

May think I am Achilles, and may pause

From fighting."

Even as Patroclus pleaded with his friend, a great light flared up against the sky. The Trojans had set fire to the Greek ships.

Then, at length, Achilles was roused. He would not go himself to the help of Agamemnon, but he bade Patroclus put on his armour, while he called together his brave warriors and commanded them to follow his friend to battle.

Quickly Patroclus donned the well-known armour of Achilles, then calling to Automedon, the chariot driver, he bade him harness Xanthus and Balius, the immortal horses of his friend, for their speed was swift as the wind.

As Patroclus vanished from sight in the chariot drawn by Xanthus and Balius, Achilles prayed to Zeus. "O Zeus," he cried, "I send my comrade to this battle. Strengthen his [46] heart within him, and when he has driven from the ships the war and din of battle, scathless then let him return to me and my people with him."

Down upon the Trojans swept the warriors led by Patroclus. They, seeing the armour of Achilles were afraid, and fled from the ships. But ere long they discovered that it was not Achilles but Patroclus who wore the well-known armour, and they returned to fight with new courage. And ever, where the battle raged most fiercely, did Patroclus bid Automedon drive his chariot.

Then the gods bade Hector find Patroclus and slay him. Little trouble had the prince in finding the warrior who wore the armour of Achilles. Bravely the two heroes fought, but Patroclus was not able to stand against the great strength of Hector. Moreover, the gods betrayed him, striking him from behind on the head and shoulders, so that the helmet of Achilles fell in the dust. Apollo also snatched his shield from his arm and broke his spear in two.

When Hector saw that his enemy was disarmed, he took his spear and struck him so fiercely that Patroclus fell

"With clashing mail, and all the Greeks beheld

His fall with grief."

The friend of Achilles was wounded to death.

In his triumph Hector was merciless. He mocked at his fallen foe saying, "Patroclus, surely thou saidst that thou wouldst sack my town, and from Trojan women take away the day of freedom, and bring them in ships to thine own dear country. Fool, . . . I ward from them the day of destiny, but thee shall vultures here destroy."

Faint though he was, Patroclus answered, "It was not thou, Hector, who didst slay me, but Apollo, who snatched from me my shield and brake my sword in twain." Then his strength failed and he breathed his last.

No pity yet showed Hector, for he stripped off the armour of Achilles from the body of Patroclus that he might wear it [47] himself. But Zeus, as he looked upon the haughty victor, was displeased.

"Ah, hapless man," said the god to himself, "no thought is in thy heart of death that yet draweth nigh unto thee; thou doest on thee the divine armour of a peerless man before whom the rest have terror. His comrade, gentle and brave, thou hast slain, and unmeetly hast stripped the armour from his head and shoulders."

The immortal horses of Achilles wept when they knew that Patroclus was slain. Automedon lashed them, he spoke kindly to them, yet would they not move. As a pillar on a tomb, so they stood yoked to the chariot. From their eyes big teardrops fell, their beautiful heads hung down with grief so that their long manes were trailed in the dust. Thus sorely did the immortal steeds grieve for the death of Patroclus.


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