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Sing, O goddess, about the anger of Achilles, son of Peleus--the anger that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield as prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Zeus fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus--a king of men--and the great Achilles first quarreled.
And of the gods, which was it that set them against each other? It was Apollo, the son of Zeus and Leto, for he was angry with the king and sent a pestilence upon the host to plague the people, because the son of Atreus had dishonored Chryses, his priest. Now Chryses had come to the ships of the Achaeans to free his precious daughter, named Chrysies, and had brought with him a great ransom. Moreover, he bore in his hand the scepter of Apollo wreathed with a suppliant's wreath, and he besought the Achaeans, but most of all, the two sons of Atreus, who were their chiefs.
"Sons of Atreus," he cried, "and all other Achaeans, may the gods who dwell in Olympus grant you to sack the city of Priam and to reach your homes in safety. But free my daughter and accept a ransom for her, in reverence to Apollo, son of Zeus."
Hearing this, the rest of the Achaeans were for respecting the priest and taking the ransom that he offered.
But not so Agamemnon, who spoke fiercely to him and sent him roughly away. "Old man," said he, "let me not find you loitering about our ships, nor coming around hereafter. Your scepter of the god and your wreath shall profit you nothing. I will not free her. She shall grow old in my house at Argos far from her own home, busying herself with her loom and visiting my couch. So go, and do not provoke me or it shall be much the worse for you."
The old man feared him and obeyed. He spoke not a word, but walked along the shore of the sounding sea and prayed to King Apollo, whom the lovely Leto had borne. "Hear me," he cried, "O god of the silver bow, hear me! If I have ever decked your temple with garlands, or burned your thighbones in the fat of bulls or goats, grant my prayer and let your arrows avenge these tears upon the Danaans."
Apollo heard the prayer of Chryses. He came down furiously from the summits of Olympus, with his bow and his quiver upon his shoulder, and the arrows rattled on his back with the rage that trembled within him. He sat himself down away from the ships with a face as dark as night, and his silver bow dealt death as he shot his arrows in the midst of the Greeks. First he smote their mules and their hounds, but then he aimed his shafts at the men themselves. All day long the pyres of the dead burned.
For nine whole days Apollo shot his arrows among the Greek soldiers, but upon the tenth day Achilles called them together in assembly. He was moved to do this by Hera, who saw the Achaeans in their death throes and had compassion for them. Then, when the Achaeans were all together, the great Achilles rose and spoke among them.
"Son of Atreus," he said, "I think that we should now return home if we would escape destruction, for we are being cut down by war and pestilence at once. Let us ask some priest or prophet, or some reader of dreams who can tell us why Phoebus Apollo is so angry. A seer will tell us whether it is for some vow that we have broken, or hecatomb that we have not offered, and whether the god will accept the savor of lambs and goats without blemish, so as to take away the plague from us."
With these words he sat down, then Calchas, son of Thestor, wisest of seers, who knew things past, present, and to come, rose to speak. It was he who had guided the Achaeans with their fleet to Ilium, through the prophesyings with which Phoebus Apollo had inspired him. With all sincerity and good will he addressed them: "Achilles, beloved of heaven, you bid me tell you about the anger of King Apollo. I will do so, but consider first and swear that you will stand by me heartily in word and deed, for I know that I shall offend one who rule us with might, and to whom all the Achaeans are subject. A simple man cannot stand against the anger of a king who, if he swallow his displeasure now, will yet nurse revenge till he has achieved it. Consider, therefore, whether or not you will protect me."
Achilles answered, "Fear not, Calchas, but speak as it is revealed to you from heaven, for by Apollo to whom you pray, and whose oracle you reveal to us, not a Danaan at our ships shall lay his hand upon you while I yet live to look upon the face of the earth--no, not though you name Agamemnon himself, who is by far the foremost of the Achaeans."
The seer spoke boldly. "The god," he said, "is angry neither about vow nor hecatomb, but for his priest's sake, whom nor take a ransom for her. Therefore has he sent these evils upon us and will yet send others. He will not deliver the Danaans from this pestilence till Agamemnon has restored the girl without fee or ransom to her father and has sent a holy hecatomb to Chryse. Thus we may perhaps appease him."
Agamemnon rose in anger. His heart was black with rage, and his eyes flashed fire as he scowled on Calchas and said, "Seer of evil, you never yet prophesied smooth things concerning me, but have ever loved to foretell that which was evil. You have brought me neither comfort nor results. And now you come among the Danaans and say that Apollo has plagued us because I would not take a ransom for this girl, the daughter of Chryses. I have set my heart on keeping her in my own house, for I love her better even than my own wife, Clytemnestra, whose peer she is alike in form and feature, in understanding and accomplishments. Still I will give her up if I must, for I would have the people live, not die. But you must find me a prize instead, or I alone among the Argives shall be without one.
Achilles answered, "Most noble son of Atreus, covetous beyond all other men, how shall the Greeks find you another prize? We have no common store from which to take one. Those we took from the cities have been awarded. We cannot disallow the awards that have been made already. Give this girl, therefore, to the god, and if ever Zeus grants us to sack the city of Troy we will repay you three and fourfold."
Agamemnon then replied, "Achilles, warrior though you be, you shall not outwit me. You shall not overreach your place and you shall not persuade me. Are you to keep your own prize, while I sit tamely with my loss and give up the girl because you say so? Let the Achaeans find me a prize in fair exchange to my liking, or I will come and take your own, or that of Ajax or of Odysseus and he to whom I may come shall rue my coming. But of this we will take thought hereafter; for the present, let us draw a ship into the sea, and find a crew for her expressly; let us put a hecatomb on board, and let us send Chryseis also. Further, let some chief man among us be in command, either Ajax, or Idomeneus, or yourself, son of Peleus, mighty warrior that you are, that we may offer sacrifice and appease the anger of the god."
Achilles scowled at him. "You are steeped in insolence and greed," he said to the king. "With what heart can any of the Achaeans do your bidding, either on foray or in open fighting? I came not warring here for any ill the Trojans had done me. I have no quarrel with them. They have not raided my cattle or my horses, or cut down my harvests on the rich plains of Phthia--for between me and them there is a wide space, both mountain and sounding sea. We have followed you as a favor to gain satisfaction from the Trojans for your shameless self and for Menelaus. You forget this, and threaten to rob me of the prize for which I have toiled, and which the sons of Achaeans have given me. Never when the Greeks sack any rich city of the Trojans do I receive so good a prize as you do, though it is my hands that do the better part of the fighting. When the sharing comes, your share is far the largest, and I must go back to my ships, taking what I can get and be thankful, when my labor of fighting is done. Now, therefore, I shall go back to Phthia and it will be much better for me to return home with my ships, for I will not stay here dishonored to gather gold and substance for you."
Agamemnon spat, "Fly if you will, I shall make you no prayers to stay you and I have others here who will do me honor, and above all Zeus, the lord of counsel. There is no king here so hateful to me as you are, for you are ever quarrelsome. Go home, then, with your ships and comrades to lord it over the Myrmidons. I care neither for you nor for your anger, and thus will I do: Since Phoebus Apollo is taking Chryseis from me, I shall send her with my ship and my followers, but I shall come to your tent and take your own prize Briseis, that you may learn how much stronger I am than you are, and so that others shall fear to set themselves up as equal or comparable with me."
The son of Peleus was furious, and his heart within his shaggy breast was divided whether to draw his sword, push the other aside, and kill the son of Atreus, or to restrain himself and check his anger. While he was thus of two minds, and was drawing his mighty sword from its scabbard, Athena came down from heaven (for Hera had sent her in the love she bore to them both), and seized the son of Peleus by his yellow hair, visible to him alone. Achilles turned in amaze, and by the fire that flashed from her eyes at once knew that she was Athena. "Why are you here," he asked, "daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus? To see the pride of Agamemnon, son of Atreus? Let me tell you--and it shall surely be--he shall pay for this insolence with his life."
And Athena said: "I come from heaven, if you will hear me, to bid you stay your anger. Hera has sent me, who cares for both of you alike. Cease, then, this brawling, and do not draw your sword. Rail at him if you will, and your railing will not be vain, for I tell you and it shall surely be--that you shall hereafter receive gifts three times as splendid by reason of this present insult. Hold, therefore, and obey."
"Goddess," answered Achilles, "however angry a man may be, he must do as you two command him. This will be best, for the gods ever hear the prayers of him who has obeyed them."
He stayed his hand on the silver hilt of his sword, and thrust it back into the scabbard as Athena bade him. Then she went back to Olympus among the other gods, and to the house of aegis-bearing Zeus.
But the son of Peleus again railed at the son of Atreus, for he was still in a rage. "Wine-bibber," he cried, "with the face of a dog and the heart of a hind, you never dare to go out with the host in fight, nor yet with our chosen men on a raid. You shun this as you do death itself. You had rather go around and rob his prizes from any man who contradicts you. You devour your people, for you are king over a feeble folk; otherwise, son of Atreus, henceforward you would insult no man. Therefore I say, and swear it with a great oath by this my scepter, which shall sprout neither leaf nor shoot, nor bud anew from the day on which it left its parent stem upon the mountains--for the ax stripped it of leaf and bark, and now the sons of the Achaeans bear it as judges and guardians of the decrees of heaven--so surely and solemnly do I swear that hereafter they shall look fondly for Achilles and shall not find him. In the day of your distress, when your men fall dying by the murderous hand of Hector, you shall not know how to help them and shall rend your heart with rage for the hour when you offered insult to the bravest of the Achaeans."
With this the son of Peleus dashed his gold-studded scepter on the ground and took his seat, while the son of Atreus stirred from his place upon the other side. Then smooth-tongued Nestor rose, the facile speaker of the Pylians, and the words fell from his lips sweeter than honey. Two generations of men born and bred in Pylos had passed away under his rule, and he was now reigning over the third.
"Of a truth," he said sincerely, "a great sorrow has befallen the Achaean land. Surely Priam with his sons would rejoice, and the Trojans be glad at heart if they could hear this quarrel between you two, who are so excellent in fight and counsel. I am older than either of you; therefore be guided by me. More over, I have been the familiar friend of men even greater than you are, and they did not disregard my counsels. Never again can I behold such men as Pirithous and Dryas, shepherd of his people, or as Caeneus, Exadius, godlike Polyphemus, and Theseus, son of Aegeus, peer of the immortals. These were the mightiest men ever born upon this earth, and when they fought the fiercest tribes of mountain savages they utterly overthrew them. I came from distant Pylos and went about among them, for they would have me come, and I fought as it was in me to do. Not a man now living could withstand them, but they heard my words, and were persuaded by them. So be it also with yourselves, for this is the best way. Therefore, Agamemnon, though you be strong, do not take this girl away, for the sons of the Achaeans have already give her Achilles. And you, Achilles, strive no more against the king, for no man who by the grace of Zeus wields a scepter has like honor with Agamemnon. You are strong and have a goddess for your mother, but Agamemnon is stronger than you, for he has more people under him. Son of Atreus, check your anger, I implore you. End this quarrel with Achilles, who in the day of battle is a tower of strength to the Greeks."
And Agamemnon answered: "Sir, all that you have said is true, but this fellow wants to become our lord and master: he must be lord of all, king of all, and captain of all, and this cannot be. Granted that the gods have made him a great warrior, but have they also given him the right to speak against me like that?"
Achilles interrupted him. "I should be a mean coward," he cried, "were I to give in to you in all things. Order other people about, not me, for I shall obey no longer. Furthermore I say I shall fight neither you nor any man about this girl. But of all else that is at my ship you shall carry away nothing by force. Try, so that others may see. If you do, my spear shall become red with your blood."
When they had quarreled thus angrily, they rose, and broke up the assembly at the Greek ships. The son of Peleus went back to his tents and ships with the son of Menoetius and his company, while Agamemnon drew a vessel into the water and chose a crew of twenty oarsmen. He escorted the girl Chryseis on board and sent moreover a hecatomb for the god. And Odysseus went as captain.
These, then, went on board and sailed their ways over the sea. But the son of Atreus bade the people purify themselves; so they purified themselves and cast their filth into the sea. Then they offered hecatombs of bulls and goats without blemish on the seashore, and the smoke with the savor of their sacrifice rose curling up towards heaven.
Thus did they busy themselves throughout the host. But Agamemnon did not forget the threat that he had made Achilles and called his trusty messengers and squires, Talthybius and Eurybates. "Go," he said, "to the tent of Achilles, son of Peleus. Take Briseis by the hand and bring her hither; if he will not give her I shall come with others and take her."
He dismissed them, and they went their way sorrowfully by the seaside, till they came to the tents and ships of the Myrmidons. They found Achilles sitting by his tents and his ships, and he was angry when he beheld them. They stood fearfully and reverently before him, and never a word did they speak, but he knew them and said: "Welcome, heralds, messengers of gods and men. Draw near, my quarrel is not with you but with Agamemnon who has sent you for the girl Briseis. Therefore, Patroclus, bring her and give her to them, but let them be witnesses by the blessed gods, by mortal men, and by the fierceness of Agamemnon's anger, that if ever again there be need of me to save the people from ruin, they shall seek and they shall not find. Agamemnon is mad with rage and knows not how to look before and after that the Achaeans may fight by their ships in safety."
Patrolus did as his dear comrade had bidden him. He brought Briseis from the tent and gave her over to the heralds, who took her with them to the ships of Achaeans--and the woman was reluctant to go. Then Achilles walked all alone by the side of the sea, weeping and looking out upon the boundless waste of waters. He raised his hands in prayer to his immortal mother. "Mother," he cried, "you bore me doomed to live but for a little season. Surely Zeus, who thunders from Olympus, might have made that glorious. It is not so. Agamemnon, son of Atreus, has done me dishonor, and has robbed me of my prize by force."
As he spoke he wept aloud, and his mother heard him where she was sitting in the depths of the sea by the old man, her father. Forthwith she rose as it were a gray mist out of the waves, sat down before him as he stood weeping, caressed him with her hand, and said, "My son, why are you weeping? What is it that grieves you? Keep it not from me, but tell me, that we may know it together."
Achilles sighed deeply and said, "You know it. Why tell you what you know well already? We went to Thebes, the strong city of Eetion, sacked it, and brought hither the spoil. The sons of the Achaeans shared it duly among themselves, and chose lovely Chryseis the ships of the Achaeans to free his daughter, and brought with him a great ransom. Moreover, he bore in his hand the scepter of Apollo, wreathed with a suppliant's wreath, and he besought the Achaeans, but most of all the two sons of Atreus who were their chiefs.
"On hearing this the rest of the Achaeans were in favor of respecting the priest and taking the ransom that he offered; but not so Agamemnon. So he went back in anger, and Apollo, who loved him dearly, heard his prayer. Then the god sent a deadly dart upon the Argives, and many of them died. At last a seer in the fullness of his knowledge declared to us the oracles of Apollo, and I was myself first to say that we should appease him. Whereon the son of Atreus rose in anger, and threatened that which he has since done. The Achaeans are now taking the girl in a ship to Chryse, and sending gifts of sacrifice to the god; but the heralds have just taken from my tent the daughter of Briseus, whom the Achaeans had awarded to myself.
"Help your brave son, therefore, if you are able. Go to Olympus, and if you have ever done him service in word or deed, implore the aid of Zeus. Ofttime in my father's house have I heard you glory in that you alone of the immortals saved the son of Cronus from ruin, when the others, with Hera, Poseidon, and Pallas Athena would have put him in bonds. It was you, goddess, who delivered him by calling to Olympus the hundred-handed monster whom gods call Briareus, but men Aegaeon, for he is stronger even than his father. When, therefore, he took his seat all-glorious beside the son of Cronus, the other gods were afraid, and did not bind him. Go, then, to him, remind him of all this, clasp his knees, and bid him give succor to the Trojans. Let the Achaeans be hemmed in at the sterns of their ships, and perish on the seashore, that they may reap what joy they may of their kings, and that Agamemnon may rue his blindness in offering insult to the foremost of the Achaeans."
Thetis wept and answered, "My son, woe is me that I should have borne or suckled you. Would indeed that you had lived your span free from all sorrow at your ships, for it all too brief; alas, that you should be at once short of life and long of sorrow above your peers. Woe, therefore, was the hour in which I bore you. Nevertheless I will go to the snowy heights of Olympus, and tell this tale to Zeus, if he will hear our prayer. Meanwhile stay where you are with your ships, nurse your anger against the Achaeans, and hold aloof from fight. For Zeus went yesterday to Oceanus to a feast among the Ethopians, and the other gods went with him. He will return to Olympus twelve days hence. I will then go to his mansion paved with bronze and will beseech him, nor do I doubt that I shall be able to persuade him."
At this she left him, still furious at the loss of her that had been taken from him. Meanwhile Odysseus reached Chryses with the hecatomb. When they had come inside the harbor they furled the sails and laid them in the ship's hold. They slackened the forestays, lowered the mast into its place, and rowed the ship to the place where they would have her lie. They cast out their mooring stones and made fast the hawsers. They then got out upon the seashore and landed the hecatomb for Apollo. Chryseis also left the ship, and Odysseus led her to the altar to deliver her into the hands of her father. "Chryses," said he, "King Agamemnon has sent me to bring you back your child, and to offer sacrifice to Apollo on behalf of the Danaans, that we propitiate the god, who has now brought much sorrow upon the Argives."
So saying he gave the girl over to her father, who received her gladly, and they ranged the holy hecatomb all orderly round the altar of the god. They washed their hands and took up the barley meal to sprinkle over the victims, while Chryses lifted up his hands and prayed aloud on their behalf. "Hear me," he cried, "O god of the silver bow, that protects Chryse and holy Cilia, and rules Tenedos with thy might! Even as thou didst hear me aforetime when I prayed and didst press hardly upon the Achaeans, so hear me yet again, and stay this fearful pestilence from the Danaans."
Thus did he pray, and Apollo heard his prayer. When they had done praying and sprinkling the barley meal, they drew back the heads of the victims and killed and flayed them. They cut out the thighbones, wrapped them round in two layers of fat, set some pieces of raw meat on the top of them, and then Chryses laid them on the wood fire and poured wine over them, while young men stood near him with five-pronged spits in their hands. When the thighbones were burned and they had tasted the inward meats, they cut the rest up small, put the pieces upon the spits, roasted them till they were done, and drew them off. Then, when they had finished their work and the feast was ready, they ate it, and every man had his full share, so that all were satisfied. As soon as the men had had enough to eat and drink, pages filled the mixing bowl with wine and water and handed it around, after giving every man his drink offering.
Thus all day long the young men worshiped the god with song, chanting the joyous hymn, and the god took pleasure in their voices. But when the sun went down and it came on dark, they laid themselves down to sleep by the stern cables of the ship, and when the child of morning, rosy-fingered dawn, appeared, they again set sail for the host of the Achaeans. Apollo sent them a fair wind, so they raised their mast and hoisted their white sails aloft. As the sail bellied with the wind the ship flew through the deep blue water, and the foam hissed against her bows as she sped onward. When they reached the wide-stretching host of the Achaeans, they drew the vessel ashore, high and dry upon the sands, set here strong props beneath her, and went their ways to their own tents and ships.
But Achilles abode at his hips and nursed his anger. He went not to the honorable assembly, and sallied not forth to fight, but gnawed at his own heart, pining for battle and the war cry.
Now after twelve days the immortal gods came back in a body to Olympus, and Zeus led the way. Thetis was not unmindful of the charge her son had laid upon her, so she rose from under the sea and went through great heaven with early morning to Olympus, where she found the might, son of Cronus sitting all alone upon its topmost ridges. She sat herself down before him, and with her left hand seized his knees, while with her right she caught him under the chin, and besought him, saying: "Father Zeus, if I ever did you service in word or deed among the immortals, hear my prayer, and do honor to my son, whose life is to be cut short so early. King Agamemnon has dishonored him-by taking his prize and keeping her. Honor him then yourself, Olympian lord of counsel, and grant victory to the Trojans, till the Achaeans give my son his due and load him with riches in requital."
Zeus sat for a while silent, and without a word, but Thetis still kept firm hold of his knees, and besought him a second time. "Incline your head," she said, "and promise me surely or else deny me--for you have nothing to fear--that I may learn how greatly you disdain me."
At this Zeus was much troubled and said, "I shall have trouble if you set me quarreling with Hera, for she will provoke me with her taunting speeches; even now she is always railing at me before the other gods and accusing me of giving aid to the Trojans. Go back now, lest she should find out. I will consider the matter and will bring it about as you wish. See, I incline my head that you may believe me. This is the most solemn token that I can give to any god. I never recall my word, or deceive, or fail to do what I say, when I have nodded my head."
As he spoke, the son of Cronus bowed his dark brows, and the ambrosial locks swayed on his immortal head, till vast Olympus reeled.
When the pair had thus laid their plans, they parted--Zeus to his own house, while the goddess quitted the splendor of Olympus and plunged into the depths of the sea. The gods rose from their seats, before the coming of their sire. Not one of them dared to remain sitting, but all stood up as he came among them. There, then, he took his seat. But Hera, when she saw him, knew that he and the old merman's daughter, silver-footed Thetis, had been hatching mischief, so she at once began to upbraid him. "Trickster," she cried, "which of the gods have you been taking into your counsels now? You are always settling matters in secret behind my back, and have never yet told me, if you could help it, one word of your intentions."
"Hera," replied the father of gods and men, "you must not expect to be informed of all my counsels. You are my wife, but you would find it hard to understand them. When it is proper for you to hear, there is no one, god or man, who will be told sooner, but when I mean to keep a matter to myself, you must not pry nor ask questions."
"Dread son of Cronus," answered Hera, "what are you talking about? I pry and ask questions? Never. I let you have your own way in everything. Still, I have strong misgivings that the old merman's daughter Thetis has been talking you over, for she was with you and had hold of your knees this very morning. I believe, therefore, that you have been promising her to give glory to Achilles, and to kill many people at the ships of the Achaeans."
"Wife," said Zeus, "I can do nothing but you suspect me and find it out. You will take nothing by it, for I shall only dislike you the more, and it will go harder with you. Granted that it is as you say: I mean to have it so. Sit down and hold your tongue as I bid you, for if I begin to lay my hands about you, though all heaven were on your side it would profit you nothing."
At this Hera was frightened, so she curbed her stubborn will and sat down in silence. But the heavenly beings were disquieted throughout the house of Zeus, till the cunning workman Hephaestus began to pacify his mother Hera. "It will be intolerable," said he, "if you two fall to wrangling and setting heaven in an uproar about a pack of mortals. If such ill counsels are to prevail, we shall have no pleasure at our banquet. Let me then advise my mother--and she must herself know that it will be better--to make friends with my dear father Zeus, lest he again scold her and disturb our feast. If the Olympian Thunderer wants to hurl us all from our seats, he can do so, for he is far the strongest, so give him fair words, and he will then soon be in a good humor with us."
As he spoke, he took a double cup of nectar and placed it in his mother's hand. "Cheer up, my dear mother," said he, "and make the best of it. I love you dearly, and should be very sorry to see you get a thrashing. However grieved I might be, I could not help you, for there is no standing against Zeus. Once before when I was trying to help you, he caught me by the foot and flung me from the heavenly threshold. All day long from morning until evening, I fell, until at sunset I came to ground in the island of Lemnos, and there I lay, with very little life left in me, till the Sintians came and tended me."
Hera smiled at this, and as she smiled she took the cup from her son's hands. Then Hephaestus drew sweet nectar from the mixing bowl, and served it among the gods, going from left to right; and the gods laughed out a loud applause as they saw him bustling about the heavenly mansion.
Thus through the livelong day to the setting of the sun they feasted, and everyone had his full share, so that all were satisfied. Apollo struck his lyre, and the Muses lifted up their sweet voices, calling and answering to one another. But when the sun's glorious light had faded, they went home to bed, each in his own abode, which lame Hephaestus with his consummate skill had fashioned for them. So Zeus, the Olympian lord of thunder, went to the bed in which he always slept. And he fell asleep, with Hera of the golden throne by his side.
Copyright © 2004 by Tom Doherty Associates.
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