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Metamorphoses by Ovid

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Book 11

The death of Orpheus

While the poet of Thrace, with songs like these, drew to himself the trees, the souls of wild beasts, and the stones that followed him, see, how the frenzied Ciconian women, their breasts covered with animal skins, spy Orpheus from a hilltop, as he matches songs to the sounding strings. One of them, her hair scattered to the light breeze, called: "Behold, behold, this is the one who scorns us!" and hurled her spear at the face of Apollo's poet, as he was singing. Tipped with leaves, it marked him, without wounding. The next missile was a stone, that, thrown through the air, was itself overpowered by the harmony of voice and lyre, and fell at his feet, as though it were begging forgiveness for its mad audacity. But in fact the mindless attack mounted, without restraint, and mad fury ruled. All their missiles would have been frustrated by his song, but the huge clamour of the Berecyntian flutes of broken horn, the drums, and the breast-beating and howls of the Bacchantes, drowned the sound of the lyre. Then, finally, the stones grew red, with the blood of the poet, to whom they were deaf.

First, the innumerable birds, the snakes, and the procession of wild animals, still entranced by the voice of the singer, a mark of Orpheus's triumph, were torn apart by the Maenads. Then they set their bloody hands on Orpheus, and gathered, like birds that spy the owl, the bird of night, wandering in the daylight, or as in the amphitheatre, on the morning of the staged events, on either side, a doomed stag, in the arena, is prey to the hounds. They rushed at the poet, and hurled their green-leaved thyrsi, made for a different use. Some threw clods of earth, some branches torn from the trees, and others flints. And so that their madness did not lack true weapons, by chance, oxen were turning the soil under the ploughshare, and, not far away from them, brawny farm workers were digging the solid earth, sweating hard to prepare it for use, who fled when they saw the throng, leaving their work tools behind. Hoes, heavy mattocks, and long rakes lay scattered through the empty fields. After catching these up, and ripping apart the oxen, that threatened them with their horns, the fierce women rushed back to kill the poet. As he stretched out his hands, speaking ineffectually for the first time ever, not affecting them in any way with his voice, the impious ones murdered him: and the spirit, breathed out through that mouth to which stones listened, and which was understood by the senses of wild creatures - O, God! - vanished down the wind.

The birds, lamenting, cried for you, Orpheus; the crowd of wild creatures; the hard flints; the trees that often gathered to your song, shedding their leaves, mourned you with bared crowns. They say the rivers, also, were swollen with their own tears, and the naiads and dryads, with dishevelled hair, put on sombre clothes. The poet's limbs were strewn in different places: the head and the lyre you, Hebrus, received, and (a miracle!) floating in midstream, the lyre lamented mournfully; mournfully the lifeless tongue murmured; mournfully the banks echoed in reply. And now, carried onward to the sea, they left their native river-mouth and reached the shores of Lesbos, at Methymna. Here, as the head lay exposed on the alien sand, its moist hair dripping brine, a fierce snake attacked it. But at last Phoebus came, and prevented it, as it was about to bite, and turned the serpent's gaping jaws to stone, and froze the mouth, wide open, as it was.

The ghost of Orpheus sank under the earth, and recognised all those places it had seen before; and, searching the fields of the Blessed, he found his wife again and held her eagerly in his arms. There they walk together side by side; now she goes in front, and he follows her; now he leads, and looks back as he can do, in safety now, at his Eurydice."

The transformation of the Maenads

However, the god, Lyaeus, did not allow such wickedness by his followers to go unpunished. Grieved by the loss of the poet of his sacred rites, he immediately fastened down, with twisted roots, all the Thracian women who had seen the sin, since the path, that each one was on, at that moment, gripped their toes and forced the tips into the solid ground. As a bird, when it is caught in a snare, set by a cunning wild-fowler, and feels itself held, tightens the knot by its movement, beating and flapping; so each of the women, planted, stuck fast, terrified, tried uselessly to run. But the pliant roots held her, and checked her, struggling. When she looked for where her toenails, toes and feet were, she saw the wood spreading over the curve of her leg, and, trying to strike her thighs with grieving hands, she beat on oak: her breasts turned to oak: her shoulders were oak. You would have thought the jointed arms were real branches, and your thought would not have been wrong.

Midas and the golden touch

This did not satisfy Bacchus. He left the fields themselves, and with a worthier band of followers sought out the vineyards of his own Mount Tmolus, and the River Pactolus, though at that time it was not a golden stream, nor envied for its valuable sands. His familiar cohorts, the satyrs and bacchantes accompanied him, but Silenus was absent. The Phrygian countrymen had taken him captive, stumbling with age and wine, bound him with garlands, and led him to King Midas, to whom, with Athenian Eumolpus, Orpheus of Thrace had taught the Bacchic rites.

When the king recognised him as a friend and companion of his worship, he joyfully led a celebration of the guest's arrival, lasting ten days and nights on end. And now, on the eleventh day, Lucifer had seen off the train of distant stars, and the king with gladness came to the fields of Lydia, and restored Silenus to his young foster-child.

Then the god, happy at his foster-father's return, gave Midas control over the choice of a gift, which was pleasing, but futile, since he was doomed to make poor use of his reward. "Make it so that whatever I touch with my body, turns to yellow gold." he said. Bacchus accepted his choice, and gave him the harmful gift, sad that he had not asked for anything better. The Berecyntian king departed happily, rejoicing in his bane, and testing his faith in its powers by touching things, and scarcely believing it, when he broke off a green twig from the low foliage of the holm-oak: the twig was turned to gold. He picked up a stone from the ground: the stone also was pale gold. He touched a clod of earth, and by the power of touch, the clod became a nugget. He gathered the dry husks of corn: it was a golden harvest. He held an apple he had picked from a tree: you would think the Hesperides had given it to him. If he placed his fingers on the tall door-pillars, the pillars were seen to shine. When he washed his hands in clear water, the water flowing over his hands would have deceived Danaë.

His own mind could scarcely contain his expectations, dreaming of all things golden. As he was exulting, his servants set a table before him, heaped with cooked food, and loaves were not lacking. Then, indeed, if he touched the gift of Ceres with his hand, her gift hardened. If he tried, with eager bites, to tear the food, the food was covered with a yellow surface where his teeth touched. He mixed pure water with wine, the other gift of his benefactor, but molten gold could be seen trickling through his lips.

Dismayed by this strange misfortune, rich and unhappy, he tries to flee his riches, and hates what he wished for a moment ago. No abundance can relieve his famine: his throat is parched with burning thirst, and, justly, he is tortured by the hateful gold. Lifting his shining hands and arms to heaven, he cries out: "Father, Bacchus, forgive me! I have sinned. But have pity on me, I beg you, and save me from this costly evil!" The will of the gods is kindly. Bacchus, when he confessed his fault restored him, and took back what he had given in fulfilment of his promise. "So you do not remain coated with the gold you wished for so foolishly," he said, "go to the river by great Sardis, make your way up the bright ridge against the falling waters, till you come to the source of the stream, and plunge your head and body at the same moment into the foaming fountain, where it gushes out, and at the same time wash away your sin." The king went to the river as he was ordered: the golden virtue coloured the waters, and passed from his human body into the stream. Even now, gathering the grains of gold from the ancient vein, the fields harden, their soil soaked by the pale yellow waters.

Pan and Apollo compete before Tmolus

Hating wealth, Midas lived among woods and fields, and the mountain caves Pan always inhabits. But he remained dull-witted, and, as before, his foolish mind was destined once again to hurt its owner. Mount Tmolus, stands steep and high, commanding a wide view of the distant sea, its sloping sides extending to Sardis on the one side, and as far as tiny Hypaepae on the other. While Pan was there, playing light airs on his reeds glued together with wax, he boasted of his pipings, to the gentle nymphs, and dared to speak slightingly of Apollo's song compared with his own, and entered an unequal contest with Tmolus, the god of the mountain, as judge.

The aged judge was seated on his mountain-top and shook his ears free of the trees. Only an oak-wreath circled his dark hair, and acorns brushed against his hollow temples. Looking at the god of the flocks he said: "There is nothing to prevent my judging." Pan sounded the rustic reeds, and entranced Midas (who chanced to be near the playing) with wild pipings. Following this, sacred Tmolus turned his face towards that of Phoebus: his forests followed.

Phoebus's golden hair was wreathed with laurel from Parnassus, and his robes dyed with Tyrian purple, swept the earth. He held his lyre, inlaid with gems and Indian ivory, in his left hand, and the plectrum in the other. His attitude was that of a true artist. Then with skilled fingers, he plucked the strings, and Tmolus, captivated by their sweetness, ordered Pan to lower his pipes in submission to the lyre.

Midas and the ass's ears

The judgment of the sacred mountain-god satisfied all opinions, and yet Midas's voice alone challenged it and called it unjust. The god of Delos did not allow such undiscriminating ears to keep their human form, but drew them out and covered them with shaggy grey hair, and made them flexible at the base, and gave them powers of movement. Though the rest was human, he was punished in that sole aspect: he wore the ears of a slow-moving ass. He was anxious to conceal them, and tried to detract from the shameful ugliness of his head with a purple turban. But the servant who used to trim his long hair with a blade, found it out, who, since he dare not reveal the disgrace he had seen, but eager to broadcast it to the four winds, and unable to keep it to himself, went off quietly and dug a hole in the soil. In a tiny voice, he whispered to the hollow earth, and buried his spoken evidence under the infill, and stole away having closed up the hidden trench. But a thick bed of quivering reeds began to shoot up there, and as soon as they had grown, at the end of the year, they gave the burrower away: stirred gently, then, by the wind they repeated the buried words, and testified against his master.

Laomedon and the walls of Troy

Having punished him, Latona's son left Mount Tmolus and, flying through the clear air, he came to earth in the country of Laomedon, this side of the narrows of the Hellespont, named from Helle, daughter of Nephele. To the right of the deeps of Sigeum, and to the left of those of Rhoeteum, there was an ancient altar of Jupiter the Thunderer, "source of all oracles'. There, Apollo saw Laomedon building the foundations of the new city of Troy. The great undertaking prospering with difficulty, and demanding no little resources, he, and Neptune, trident-bearing father of the swelling sea, put on mortal form, and built the walls of the city for the Phrygian king for an agreed amount in gold. The edifice stood there.

But the king denied them payment, and as a crowning treachery, perjured himself by claiming they were lying. The ruler of the ocean said: "You will not go unpunished', and he turned all his waters against the shores of tight-fisted Troy. He flooded the land to form a strait, swept away the farmers' crops, and buried the fields beneath the waves. Even this was insufficient punishment: He demanded also that Hesione, the king's daughter, be given to a sea-monster, whom Hercules freed, as she was chained to the solid rock. Hercules demanded the payment promised, an agreed number of horses. But the reward for all his work being refused, he seized the twice-perjured walls of conquered Troy. Telamon, his companion, did not go without honour, and Hesione was given to him in marriage.

Peleus, Telamon's brother, was already distinguished by having a goddess as his wife, and was not more proud of being Jupiter's grandson (his father Aeacus being the son of Jove by Aegina) as his son-in-law (by marrying Thetis), since he was not the only brother to be Jove's grandson, but he was the only one to marry a goddess.

Peleus and Thetis

For aged Proteus had said to Thetis: "Goddess of the waves, conceive: you will be the mother of a warrior who will surpass his father's deeds when he reaches manhood, and will be more famous than him." So Jupiter, lest earth produce someone greater than himself, fled from union with ocean-dwelling Thetis, though he had felt the hot fire of passion in his heart, and ordered his grandson, Peleus, son of Aeacus, to fulfil his promise, on his behalf, and enter the arms of the sea-maiden.

There is a bay, shaped like a scythe, in Haemonia, its arms projecting in a curved arc, which would provide a harbour, if the waves were deeper: the waters cover the surface of the sand: the shore is solid earth, that takes no footprints, does not hinder a passage, and has no seaweed covering it. A myrtle grove grows nearby, dense with its red and black berries. There is a cave in the centre, whether fashioned by art or nature is uncertain, but probably by art. Often, Thetis you used to come there, naked, seated on a bridled dolphin. There Peleus found you, as you lay, overcome by sleep, and when, though influenced by his entreaties, you refused him, he prepared to use force, winding both arms round your neck.

He would have taken you then, if you had not, by your well-known arts, frequently changed your form. But when you became a bird, he still held you as a bird; now as a tree, Peleus clung fast to the tree. Your third guise was a striped tigress: in fear of that the son of Aeacus loosed his arms from your body. Then he entreated the gods of the sea, with wine poured over the waters, with sheep's entrails, and the smoke of incense, till Proteus, the Carpathian seer spoke from his deep gulfs: "Son of Aeacus, you will have the bride you desire, if you bind her, unawares, with nooses and tight cords, while she is lulled asleep in the rocky cave. Though she deceives you with a hundred counterfeit shapes, hold her to you, whatever she becomes, till she is again what she was before." So he spoke, and hid his face below the waves, letting the waters flow in upon his final words.

Now Titan was low in the sky, and, his chariot pointed downwards, was close to the western ocean, when the lovely Nereid left the waves, and came to her accustomed bed. Peleus had scarcely taken a good grip of her virgin body, when she took on new forms, till she realised her limbs were tightly bound, and her arms spread wide apart. Then at length she sighed, saying: "Not without some god's help have you won," and she showed herself as Thetis. When she acknowledged herself, the hero embraced her, achieved his wish, and conceived with her the mighty Achilles.

Ceyx tells the story of Daedalion

Peleus was happy in his wife and son, and was a man for whom all things were successful, if you exclude the crime of killing his brother Phocus. Guilty of shedding his brother's blood, exiled from his father's country, the soil of Trachin gave him sanctuary. Here Ceyx, son of Lucifer, the morning star, ruled, without force or shedding blood, his face filled with his father's radiance. At that time he was sad and unlike his normal self, mourning the loss of his brother, Daedalion. The son of Aeacus came to him, weary with cares and travel, and entered the city with a few companions. He left the flocks of sheep and cattle he had brought with him in a shady valley not far from the city walls. When he was first allowed to meet the king, he held out the draped olive branch of the suppliant, and told him whose son he was, concealed his crime, and lied about the cause of his flight. He begged to be allowed to support himself in the city or the fields. The king of Trachis replied with these kind words: "Peleus, the opportunities in our kingdom are open even to the lower ranks, and I do not rule an inhospitable realm. Add to this willingness, the powerful influence of a noble name, and your being the grandson of Jove. So waste no time in supplication! You will receive all that you wish. Take a share of everything you see, and call it yours! I wish what you see was better than it is!"

And he wept. Peleus and his companions asked what the cause was of so much grief, to which he replied: "Perhaps you think that bird, the hawk, that lives on prey, and terrifies other winged creatures, always had feathers. He was once a man (and - inner nature is so consistent - even then he was fierce, warlike and equipped for violence): his name, Daedalion. We were the sons of Lucifer, who summons the dawn, and is last to leave the sky. I care for peace; I care for preserving peace; and for my wife. Savage warfare pleased my brother. His power subdued kings and nations, that now, transformed, flutters the doves of Boeotia. He had a daughter, Chione, endowed with great beauty, who at fourteen, and ready for marriage, had a thousand suitors. It chanced that Phoebus-Apollo, and Mercury, son of Maia, one returning from his sacred Delphi, the other from the summit of Cyllene, saw her at the same instant, and, at the same instant, flushed with desire. Apollo deferred his hope of union with her till the night, but Mercury could not wait, and touched the virgin's face with his sleep-inducing wand. She lay beneath that potent touch, and suffered the assault of the god. Night scattered the heavens with stars: Phoebus, having gained access disguised as an old woman, enjoyed the delight that had been forestalled. When Chione came to full term she bore the wing-footed god a son, Autolycus, crafty, talented in all intrigue, who could make black seem white, and white black, not unworthy of his father; and to Phoebus (it was a twin birth) she bore Philammon, famous for tuneful song and the lyre.

But what is the benefit in having produced two sons, in having pleased two gods, in being the child of a powerful father, and grandchild of the shining one? Is glory not harmful also to many? It certainly harmed her! She set herself above Diana, and criticized the goddess's beauty. But, the goddess, moved by violent anger, said to her: "Then I must satisfy you with action." Without hesitating, she bent her bow, sent an arrow from the string, and pierced the tongue, that was at fault, with the shaft. The tongue was silent, neither sound nor attempts at words followed: and as she tried to speak, her life ended in blood.

I embraced her, in my misery, feeling a father's grief in my heart, and spoke words of comfort to my dear brother. Her father heard them no more than the cliffs hear the murmuring of the sea, mourning his lost one, bitterly. But when he saw the burning of her body, four times he made as if to throw himself into the blazing pyre; four times was thrust back; fled madly; and ran where there were no tracks, like a bullock whose neck is tender from the yoke, tormented by hornets' stings. Even then to me he seemed to run faster than humanly possible, and you would have thought he had winged feet.

He escaped us all, swift with desire for death, and gained the summit of Parnassus. When Daedalion hurled himself from the high cliffs, Apollo, pitying him, turned him into a bird, and lifted him, pendent on suddenly-formed wings, giving him a hooked beak, and curved talons, his former courage, and greater strength of body. Now, as a hawk, he rages against all birds, is merciful to none, and, suffering, is a cause of suffering."

Peleus and the wolf

While Lucifer's son was telling the strange story of his brother, Peleus's herdsman, Onetor the Phocian, came racing up, breathing hard with the pace, shouting: "Peleus! Peleus! I bring you news of grave trouble." Peleus ordered him to tell it, whatever it was, the Trachinian king himself waiting with anxious face. The herdsman said: "When the sun was at the zenith, seeing as much of the track left as he had already run, I had driven the tired oxen down to the bay. Some of the bullocks were kneeling on the yellow sand, lying there gazing out at the wide expanse of ocean; some were wandering slowly here and there; while others had waded out and stood up their necks in the water. There is a temple near the sea, not gleaming with gold and marble, but made of heavy timber, and shaded by an ancient grove. Nereus and the Nereids haunt it (a sailor, drying his nets on the shore, told me they were the gods of those waters). Close to it, there is a swamp, choked with dense willows, which the salt flood has turned into marshland. From it, a wolf, a huge beast, terrifies the places round about with its heavy crashing noises. It came out of the marsh reeds, its deadly jaws smeared with foam and clots of blood, and its eyes filled with red flame. It was savage with rage and hunger, more with rage; since though hungry it did not bother with the dead cattle, or with satisfying its deadly appetite, but wounded the whole herd, slaughtering them all in its hostility. Some of our men were wounded by its fatal jaws while protecting them, and given up as dead. The shore and the shallows were red with blood, and the marshes full of bellowing. But delay is fatal: the thing allows no hesitation. While there are some of us left, let us encounter it in armour, and, seizing our weapons, meet with it carrying spears!"

So the countryman spoke: the losses did not stir Peleus: conscious of his guilt he concluded that Psamathe, the bereaved Nereid, was sending a funeral offering to her murdered son Phocus, by means of those same losses. Oetean King Ceyx ordered his men to put on their armour, and take their deadly spears, while he was himself preparing to go with them. But Alcyone, his wife, disturbed by the shouting, scattering her hair that she had not yet quite arranged, flung herself on her husband's neck, begging him, with words and tears, to send help, but not to go himself, and protect both their lives, by protecting his own. Peleus, the son of Aeacus, said: "Queen Alcyone, forget these loving fears that so become you! I am grateful for your husband's offer of help, but I have no wish for arms to be used against the creature on my behalf. I must pray, instead, to the goddess of the ocean!"

There was a high tower; a beacon on top of the citadel; a welcome sight for labouring vessels. They climbed up, and looked out, with murmuring sighs, at the cattle lying on the shore, seeing their rampaging killer with bloody jaws, its shaggy pelt dripping gore. There, stretching his hands out towards the shores of the open sea, Peleus prayed to sea-born Psamathe to forget her anger, and to aid him. She was unmoved by the prayers of the son of Aeacus, but Thetis, as a suppliant for her husband, obtained her forgiveness.

The wolf persisted even when ordered away from the savage slaughter, maddened by the taste of blood, till the goddess changed it to marble, as it was clinging to the wounded neck of a heifer. The body remained completely the same, except for its colour: the colour of the stone showed it no longer wolf, no longer to be feared. But the fates did not allow the exiled Peleus to remain in that country. The wandering fugitive reached Magnesia, and there was absolved of the murder by Haemonian King Acastus.

The separation of Ceyx and Alcyone

Meanwhile Ceyx, troubled by heart's anxiety, concerning his brother, and what had followed his brother's strange fate, was preparing to go and consult the sacred oracle of Apollo, at Claros, that reveals human affairs. The infamous Phorbas, leader of the Phlegyans, had made Delphi inaccessible. Nevertheless, before he set out, he discussed it with you, faithful Alcyone.

She felt a chill, immediately, deep in her marrow, her face grew boxwood-pale, and her cheeks were drenched in flowing tears. Three times she tried to speak, three times her face was wet with weeping, and sobs interrupting her loving reproaches, she said: "What sin of mine has turned your mind to this, dear one? Where is that care for me that used to come first? Can you now leave Alcyone behind, without a thought? Does it please you now to travel far? Am I dearer to you, away from you? But I suppose your way is overland, and I shall only grieve, not fear, for you. My anxieties will be free from terror.

The waters scare me, and the sombre face of the deep: and lately I saw wrecked timbers on the shore, and I have often read the names on empty tombs. Do not allow your mind to acquire false confidence, because Aeolus, son of Hippotas, is your father-in-law, who keeps the strong winds imprisoned, and, when he wishes, calms the sea. When once the winds are released and hold sway over the waters, nothing can oppose them: every country, every ocean is exposed to them. They vex the clouds in the sky, and create the red lightning-flashes from their fierce collisions. The more I know of them (I do know them, often seeing them as a child in my father's house) the more I consider them to be feared. But if no prayers can alter your purpose, dear one, husband, if you are so fixed on going, take me with you, also! Then we shall be storm-tossed together, and at least I shall know what I fear, together we shall bear whatever comes, together we shall be borne over the waters."

The star-born husband was moved by the daughter of Aeolus's words and tears: there was no less love in himself. But he would not relinquish his planned sea-journey, nor did he want to put Alcyone in peril. His anxious heart tried to comfort her, with many words, yet, despite that, he could not win his case. He added this further solace, the only one that moved his lover: "Every delay will seem long to us indeed, but I swear to you by my father's light, to return to you as long as the fates allow it, before the moon has twice completed her circle."

When her hopes had been revived by these promises of return, he immediately ordered the ship to be dragged down the slipway, launched into the sea, and fitted out with her gear. Alcyone, seeing this, as if she foresaw what was to come, shuddered again, and she gave way to a flood of tears. She hugged him, and, in wretched misery, said a last "Farewell" and her whole body gave way beneath her. With Ceyx still seeking reasons for delay, the young crew, double-ranked, pulled on the oars, with deep-chested strokes, and cut the water with their rhythmic blows.

She raised her wet eyes, and leaning forward could see her husband standing on the curved afterdeck, waving his hand, and she returned the signal. When he was further from shore, and she could no longer recognise his features, she followed the fleeting ship with her gaze, while she could. When even that was too far off to be seen, she still could see the topsails unfurling from the masthead. When no sails could be seen, with heavy heart, she sought out the empty bedroom, and threw herself on the bed. The room and the bed provoked more tears and reminded her of her absent half.

The Tempest

They had left the harbour, and the breeze was stirring the rigging: the captain shipped the oars, ran the yard up to the top of the mast, and put on all sail to catch the freshening breeze. The ship was cutting through the waves, no more than mid-way across, maybe less, far from either shore, when, at nightfall, the sea began to whiten with swelling waves, and the east wind to blow with greater strength.

The captain shouts: "Lower the yards, now, and close reef all sails." He shouts the order but the adverse wind drowns it, and his voice cannot be heard above the breaking seas. Yet, some of the crew, on their own initiative, remove the oars, some protect the bulwarks, some deny the wind canvas-room. Here one bails water back into the water, another secures the spars. While these things are being done, randomly, the storm increases its severity, and the roaring winds attack from every quarter, stirring the angry waves. The captain himself is fearful, and admits he does not know how things stand, what to order, what to prevent: such is the weight of destruction, so much more powerful than his skill.

There is uproar: men shouting, the rigging straining, the sound of the breaking sea from a weight of sea, and the crash of thunder. The waves rise up and seem to form the sky, and their spray touches the lowering clouds. Now the water is tainted yellow, with sand churned from the depths, now blacker than the Styx, while the waves break white with hissing foam. The Trachinian ship is driven in the grip of fate, now lifted on high, as if looking down on the valleys from a mountain summit, into the depths of Acheron: now sinking, caught in the trough of the wave, staring at heaven from the infernal pool. Again and again the force of the flood strikes the sides with a huge crash, sounding no lighter a blow than when, sometime, an iron ram, or a ballista, strikes a damaged fortress. As fierce lions, on the attack, drive themselves onto the armoured chests and extended spears of the hunters, so the waves drove forward in the rising winds, reaching the height of the ship, and higher, above it.

And now the wooden wedges give way, and, stripped of their wax covering, cracks appear, offering the lethal waves a passage. Look how the heavy rain falls from the melting clouds, and you would think the whole heaven was emptying into the sea, and the sea was filling the heavenly zones. The sails are soaked with spray, and the seawater mingles with water from the heavens. The sky is starless, and the murky night is full of its own and the storm's gloom. Flashes of lightning cleave it, and give light: the rain is illuminated by the lightning flares.

Now the sea pours into the ship's hollow hull, as well. As a soldier, more outstanding than the rest, who has often tried to scale the battlement of a besieged city, succeeds at last, and fired with a love of glory, takes the wall, one man in a thousand; so when the waves have battered nine times against the steep sides, the tenth wave surging with greater impetus rushes on, and does not cease its assault on the beleaguered craft, till it breaches the conquered vessel's defences. So one part of the sea is still trying to take the ship, and part is already inside.

All is confusion, as a city is confused when some are undermining the walls from outside, while others hold them from within. Skill fails, and courage ebbs, and as may separate deaths as advancing waves seem to rush upon them and burst over them. One cannot hold his tears, another is stupefied, and one cries out that they are fortunate whom proper burial rites await. One worships the gods in prayer, and, lifting his arms in vain to the sky, he cannot see, begs for help. Some think of fathers and brothers, some of home and children, or whatever they have left behind. But Alcyone is what moves Ceyx: nothing but Alcyone is on Ceyx's lips, and though he only longs for her, he rejoices that she is not there.

How he would like to see his native shores again, and turn his last gaze towards his home, but he knows not where it is: the sea swirls in such vortices, and the covering shadows of pitch-black clouds so hide the sky, that it mirrors the aspect of night. The mast is shattered by the onset of a storm-driven whirlwind, and the rudder is shattered. One ultimate wave, like a conqueror delighting in his spoils, rears up gazing down at the other waves, and, as if one tore Pindus, and Athos, from their base, and threw them utterly into the open sea, it fell headlong, and the weight and the impulse together, drove the ship to the bottom. The majority of the crew met their fate with the ship, driven down by the mass of water, never to return to the light. The rest clung to broken pieces of the vessel.

Ceyx himself, held on to a fragment of the wreck, with a hand more used to holding a sceptre, and called on his father, Lucifer, and his father-in-law, Aeolus, but alas, in vain. Mostly it is his wife's, Alcyone's, name on his lips.

He thinks of her, and speaks to her, and prays that the waves might carry his body to her sight, and that, lifeless, he might be entombed by her dear hands. While he can swim, and as often as the waves allow him to open his mouth, he speaks the name of Alcyone, far off, till the waves themselves murmur it, See, a black arc of water breaks over the heart of the sea, and the bursting wave buries his drowning head. Lucifer was indistinct, and not to be known, that dawn, and since he was not allowed to leave the sky, he covered his face in dense cloud.

The House of Sleep

Meanwhile, Alcyone, Aeolus's daughter, counts the nights, unaware of this great misfortune, quickly weaving clothes for him to wear, and for herself, for when he returns, and she promises herself the homecoming that will not be. She piously offers incense to all the gods, but worships mostly at Juno's temple, coming to the altars for a man who is no more, hoping her husband is safe, and returning to her, preferring her above any other woman. Of all her prayers, only this could be granted.

The goddess could no longer bear these appeals for one who was dead, and, to free her altar from those inauspicious hands, she said: "Iris, most faithful carrier of my words, go quickly to the heavy halls of Sleep, and order him to send Alcyone a dream-figure in the shape of her dead Ceyx, to tell her his true fate." As she spoke, Iris donned her thousand-coloured robe, and, tracing her watery bow on the sky, she searched out, as ordered, the palace of that king, hid under cloud.

There is a deeply cut cave, a hollow mountain, near the Cimmerian country, the house and sanctuary of drowsy Sleep. Phoebus can never reach it with his dawn, mid-day or sunset rays. Clouds mixed with fog, and shadows of the half-light, are exhaled from the ground. No waking cockerel summons Aurora with his crowing: no dog disturbs the silence with its anxious barking, or goose, cackling, more alert than a dog. No beasts, or cattle, or branches in the breeze, no clamour of human tongues. There still silence dwells. But out of the stony depths flows Lethe's stream, whose waves, sliding over the loose pebbles, with their murmur, induce drowsiness. In front of the cave mouth a wealth of poppies flourish, and innumerable herbs, from whose juices dew-wet Night gathers sleep, and scatters it over the darkened earth. There are no doors in the palace, lest a turning hinge lets out a creak, and no guard at the threshold. But in the cave's centre there is a tall bed made of ebony, downy, black-hued, spread with a dark-grey sheet, where the god himself lies, his limbs relaxed in slumber. Around him, here and there, lie uncertain dreams, taking different forms, as many as the ears of corn at harvest, as the trees bear leaves, or grains of sand are thrown onshore.

When the nymph entered and, with her hands, brushed aside the dreams in her way, the sacred place shone with the light of her robes. The god, hardly able to lift his eyes heavy with sleep, again and again, falling back, striking his nodding chin on his chest, at last shook himself free of his own influence, and resting on an elbow asked her (for he knew her) why she had come, and she replied:

"Sleep, all things' rest: Sleep, gentlest of the gods, the spirit's peace, care flies from: who soothes the body wearied with toil, and readies it for fresh labours: Sleep, order a likeness, that mirrors his true form, and let it go, the image of King Ceyx, to Alcyone, in Trachin of Hercules, and depict a phantasm of the wreck. This, Juno commands."

After she had completed her commission, Iris departed no longer able to withstand the power of sleep, and, feeling the drowsiness steal over her body, she fled, and recrossed the arch by which she had lately come.

From a throng of a thousand sons, his father roused Morpheus, a master craftsman and simulator of human forms. No one else is as clever at expressing the movement, the features, and the sound of speech. He depicts the clothes and the usual accents. He alone imitates human beings. A second son becomes beast, or bird, or long snake's body. The gods call him Icelos, the mortal crowd Phobetor. The third, of diverse artistry, is Phantasos: he takes illusory shapes of all inanimate things, earth, stones, rivers, trees. These are the ones that show themselves by night to kings and generals, the rest wander among citizens and commoners. Old Somnus passed them by, choosing one of all these brothers, Morpheus, to carry out the command of Iris, daughter of Thaumas, and relaxing again into sweet drowsiness, his head drooped, and he settled into his deep bed.

Morpheus goes to Alcyone in the form of Ceyx

Flying through the shadows on noiseless wings, Morpheus, after a short delay, comes to the Haemonian city. Shedding his wings, he takes the shape of Ceyx, pallid like the dead, and naked, and stands before his unfortunate wife's bed. He appears with sodden beard, and seawater dripping from his matted hair. Then he bends over her pillow, with tears streaming down his face, and says: "My poor wife, do you know your Ceyx, or has my face altered in death? Look at me: you will recognise me, and find for a husband, a husband's shade! Your prayers have brought me no help, Alcyone! I am dead! Do not hold out false hopes of my return! Storm-laden Auster, the south wind, caught the ship in Aegean waters, and tossed in tempestuous blasts, wrecked her there. My lips, calling helplessly on your name, drank the waves. No dubious author announces this news to you, nor do you hear it as a vague report: I myself, drowned, as you see me before you, tell my fate. Get up, act, shed tears, wear mourning: do not let me go down unwept to Tartarus's void."

Morpheus spoke these words in a voice she would believe to be her husband's (the tears that he wept also seemed real tears) and his hands revealed Ceyx's gestures. Alcyone groaned, tearfully, stirring her arms in sleep, and seeking his body, grasped only air, and cried out: "Wait for me! Where do you vanish? We will go together." Roused by her own voice, and her husband's image, she started up out of sleep. First she gazed round to see if he was still there, the one she had just seen. At the sound of her cry the servants had brought a lamp. Not finding him anywhere, she struck her face with her hands, tore her clothes from her breasts, and beat at the breasts themselves. She did not wait to loosen her hair, but tore at it, and shouted at her nurse, who asked the cause of her grief: "Alcyone is nothing, is nothing: she has died together with her Ceyx. Be done with soothing words! He is wrecked: I saw him, I knew him, I stretched out my hands towards him as he vanished, eager to hold him back. It was a shadow, yet it was my husband's true shadow, made manifest. True, he did not have his accustomed features, if you ask me, nor did his face shine as before. But pallid and naked, with dripping hair, I, the unfortunate one, saw him. Look, my poor husband stood on that very spot," and she tried to find a trace of his footprints. "This is what I feared, with my divining mind, this: and I begged you not to leave me, chasing the winds. But, for certain, I should have desired you to take me with you, since you were going to your death. How good it would have been to have gone with you: then no part of my life would have lacked your presence, nor would we be separated by death. Now I have died absent from myself, and am thrown through the waves, absently, and the sea takes me, without me.

My mind would treat me more cruelly than the sea, if I should try to live on, and fight to overcome my sorrow! But I shall not fight, nor leave you, my poor husband, and at least now I shall come as your companion. If not the sepulchral urn the lettered stone will join us: if I shall not touch you, bone to my bone, still I will touch you, name to name." Grief choked further words, and lamentation took their place wholly, and sighs drawn from a stricken heart.

They are turned into birds

Morning had broken. She went out of the house towards the shore, sadly seeking the place where she had watched him depart. And while she stayed there, and while she was saying: "Here he loosed the rope, on this strand he kissed me as he left," and while she recalled the significant actions by their locations, and looked seawards, she saw in the flowing waves what looked like a body, unsure at first what it was: after the tide had brought it a little nearer, though it was some way off, it was clearly a body. She did not know whose it was, but was moved by the omen of this shipwrecked man, and as if she wept for the unknown dead, she cried out: "Alas for you, poor soul, whoever you may be, and your wife, if you have one!" The body had been washed nearer by the sea, and the more she gazed at it, the smaller and smaller shrank her courage: woe! Now it was close to land, now she could see who it was: it was her husband! She cried out: "It's him!" and together tearing at cheeks, and hair, and clothes she stretched out her trembling hands to Ceyx, saying: "O, is it like this, dear husband, is it like this, wretched one, you return to me?

A breakwater built by the waves, broke the initial force of the sea, and weakened the onrush of the tide. Though it was amazing that she could do so, she leapt onto it: she flew, and, beating the soft air on new-found wings, a sorrowing bird, she skimmed the surface of the waves. As she flew, her plaintive voice came from a slender beak, like someone grieving and full of sorrows. When she reached the mute and bloodless corpse, she clasped the dear limbs with her new wings and kissed the cold lips in vain with her hard beak.

People doubted whether Ceyx felt this, or merely seemed to raise his face by a movement of the waves, but he did feel it: and at last through the gods' pity, both were changed to birds, the halcyons. Though they suffered the same fate, their love remained as well: and their bonds were not weakened, by their feathered form. They mate and rear their young, and Alcyone broods on her nest, for seven calm days in the wintertime, floating on the water's surface. Then the waves are stilled: Aeolus imprisons the winds and forbids their roaming, and controls his grandsons' waves.

The transformation of Aesacus

Seeing these birds flying together over the wide sea, some old man praised those affections maintained till the end. Someone near by, or the same man (pointing to a long-necked diving bird) said: "That bird also, skimming over the ocean, trailing his slender legs, is a descendant of kings. If you want to trace his ancestry in unbroken line to himself, its source was Ilus the younger, the son of Tros, and his brothers Assaracus, and Ganymede, whom Jove snatched, Ilus's son, old Laomedon, and his son Priam, whom fate assigned to Troy's last days. That bird was Hector's brother, Aesacus, who, if he had not met his strange fate in youth, would perhaps have had no less a name than Hector, though Hecuba, daughter of Dymas, bore Priam the first, the other Aesacus, is said to have been born to Alexirrhoë, daughter of two-horned Granicus, the river-god, in secret, under the shadow of Mount Ida.

He hated cities, and lived in the remote mountains, and insignificant country places, far away from the glittering court, and rarely visited crowded Ilium. Yet he did not have an uncultured heart, or one averse to love, and he often pursued Hesperie, the River Cebren's daughter, through all the woodland glades, whom he had caught sight of, drying her flowing hair, in the sun, on her father's shore. The nymph fled on sight, as a frightened hind flees the tawny wolf, or a wild duck, caught far from the pool she left, the hawk. But the Trojan hero, driven by swift love, followed her, driven by swift fear. Behold, a serpent, hidden in the grass, bit her foot with his curving fang, as she fled by, and left his poison in her body. Her flight ended with her life. The lover clasped her unbreathing body and cried: "I regret, I regret I followed you! But I did not expect this, and it was not worth this to attempt to win you. We two have destroyed you, poor girl: the wound given by a snake, the cause of it all myself! Let me be the more accursed, if I do not send you solace by my death."

He spoke, and threw himself from a cliff, eroded below by the rough waves, into the sea. Tethys, pitying him, caught him gently as he fell, clothed him with feathers as he floated on the water, and denied him the opportunity to choose his death. The lover was angered, that he was forced to live, against his will, and that his spirit was thwarted, wishing to leave its unhappy residence. When he had gained the new wings on his shoulders, he flew up and threw his body again into the sea. His feathers broke his fall. In a rage, Aesacus dived headlong into the deep and tried endlessly to find a path to death. His love made him lean: his legs are long between the joints: his neck remained long: his head is far from his body. He loves seawater, and from diving there he takes his name, mergus, the diver.

TO TOP


Book 12

Iphigenia at Aulis

The father, Priam, mourned for the son, Aesacus, not knowing that he was still alive in winged form. Hector with his brothers had also, inappropriately, offered sacrifices at a tomb inscribed with his name. Paris was not present at this sad ritual, he, who presently brought extended war on his country because of the wife he had stolen. The whole Pelasgian race, joined together to pursue him, in a thousand ships, and vengeance would not have been long in coming had not fierce winds made the seas un-navigable, and the land of Boeotia detained the waiting ships in the fishing-grounds of Aulis. After they had prepared a sacrifice to Jupiter there, after the customs of their country, and when the ancient altar was alive with the kindled flames, The Greeks saw a dark-green snake sliding into a plane tree that stood near to where they had begun the sacrifice. There was a nest with eight young birds in the crown of the tree, and these the serpent seized and swallowed in its eager jaws, together with the mother bird, who circled her doomed fledglings.

They looked at it wonderingly, but Calchas, the seer, son of Thestor, interpreted the truth, saying: "We will conquer, Greeks, rejoice! Troy will fall, though our efforts will be of long duration," and he divined nine years of war from the nine birds. The snake, was turned to stone, exactly as it was, twined around the green branches, and stamped in the stone its serpent shape.

Boreas, the north-wind, continued to stir the waves violently, and would not grant the warships a crossing, and some thought Neptune was sparing Troy, because he had built its walls. But not Calchas. He knew and did not withhold from them, that a virgin's blood would appease the wrath of Diana, the virgin goddess. When consideration of the common cause had conquered affection, and the king had suppressed the father, and as Iphigenia stood, among her weeping attendants, before the altar, to surrender her innocent blood, the goddess was vanquished, and veiled their eyes in mist, and, in the midst of the rites and confusion of the sacrifice, and the cries of the suppliants, they say she substituted a hind for the Mycenean girl. When, therefore, Diana had been appeased, by the required victim, and the sea's anger had subsided simultaneously with that of Phoebe, the thousand ships, driven by a tail wind, reached the shores of Phrygia, after many adventures.

The House of Rumour

There is a place at the centre of the World, between the zones of earth, sea, and sky, at the boundary of the three worlds. From here, whatever exists is seen, however far away, and every voice reaches listening ears. Rumour lives there, choosing a house for herself on a high mountain summit, adding innumerable entrances, a thousand openings, and no doors to bar the threshold. It is open night and day: and is all of sounding bronze. All rustles with noise, echoes voices, and repeats what is heard. There is no peace within: no silence anywhere. Yet there is no clamour, only the subdued murmur of voices, like the waves of the sea, if you hear them far off, or like the sound of distant thunder when Jupiter makes the dark clouds rumble.

Crowds fill the hallways: a fickle populace comes and goes, and, mingling truth randomly with fiction, a thousand rumours wander, and confused words circulate. Of these, some fill idle ears with chatter, others carry tales, and the author adds something new to what is heard. Here is Credulity, here is rash Error, empty Delight, and alarming Fear, sudden Sedition, and Murmurings of doubtful origin. Rumour herself sees everything that happens in the heavens, throughout the ocean, and on land, and inquires about everything on earth.

The death and transformation of Cycnus

She had spread the news that the Greek fleet was nearing, filled with brave warriors, and so the arrival of the armed host was no surprise. The Trojans opposed the landing, and defended their coast. You, Protesilaüs, were the first to fall beneath Hector's deadly spear, and joining in battle cost the Greeks dearly, and they knew mighty Hector's spirit by the slaughter. The Phrygians learnt at no small expense of blood, the power of an Achaian hand. Now the Sigean shores ran red: now Cycnus, a son of Neptune, had consigned a thousand men to death: now Achilles pursued in his chariot, and laid whole columns of men low with a blow of his spear from Pelion. Searching the battlelines for Cycnus or for Hector, he came upon Cycnus (His meeting with Hector postponed till the tenth year of the war).

Then Achilles, urging on his horses, their snowy necks straining against the harness, he drove his chariot straight at the enemy, striking out, with the quivering spear, with all his strength, saying: "O youth, whoever you may be, take death's comfort in being killed by Achilles of Haemonia!" So Aeacides spoke: His heavy spear followed the words, but although there was certainly no error in the flight of the spear, still the sharp point of the flying blade had no effect, and only bruised Cycnus's chest, like a blunted weapon. "O son of the goddess," Cycnus said, "fame has made you known to me, why are you amazed I have no wound? (He was indeed amazed) Neither this helmet you see, with its yellow horsehair crest, nor the hollow shield weighing down my left arm, is to protect me: they only look to serve as ornament. Mars too wears his armour for this reason! Take away the use of this protective covering: I will still escape unharmed. It is worth something to be the son, not of Nereus's daughter, but of him who rules Nereus and his daughters, and the whole ocean as well."

He spoke, and hurled his spear at Achilles, but it stuck fast in his round bronze shield. It tore through the bronze and nine layers of bull's hide, but was stopped by a tenth. Shaking it off, the Greek hero once more threw a quivering spear from his mighty hand. Again his enemy's body was whole and unharmed. A third spear could not even graze Cycnus though he laid himself open to it. Achilles flared up, like a bull in the arena, when it charges with its deadly horns at the Carthaginian cloak, and finds it escapes damage. He examined the spear to see if the iron point had been loosened: it was fixed to the shaft. "Is my hand enfeebled," he said, "so that the power it had is lacking against this man?" Certainly it was strong enough when I led the overthrow of Lyrnessus's walls, or when I drenched the island of Tenedos, and Mysian Thebes, Eetion's city, in their own blood, when the River Caïcus ran red with the slaughter of those around it, and Telephus twice felt the touch of my spear. Here also, my right hand has prevailed, and will prevail, striking so many, the heaps of corpses I made and see on the shore."

He spoke, and as if not believing the results of his previous actions, he threw the spear straight at Menoetes, one of the Lycian men, simultaneously piercing his breastplate and the breast beneath. As the dying man beat his head against the solid earth, Achilles pulled the spear from the hot wound, and cried: "This is the hand, and this is the spear with which I have just been victorious: I shall use it on this enemy, and I pray his end may be the same." Thus he pursued the death of Cycnus again, and the ashen shaft did not err, thudding unavoidably into the left shoulder, from which it recoiled as if from a wall or a solid rock. Achilles saw that Cycnus was stained with blood where it struck, and exulted, but in vain: there was no wound: it was Menoetes's blood! Then truly maddened, he leapt headlong from his high chariot, and seeking out his charmed enemy, at close quarters, with glittering sword, saw shield and helmet carved through, but still the iron blunted on the impenetrable body. He could stand it no longer, and he beat at the face and hollow temples of his enemy three or four times with his raised shield and sword-hilt.

One presses as the other gives way: he rushes and harries him, allowing no respite from the shock. Fear grips Cycnus, shadows swim in front of his eyes, and, as he steps backwards, his retreating step is blocked, by a boulder, on the open ground. As he is trapped with his body bent against it, Achilles turns him over with great force, and dashes him to the ground. Then pressing his hard knees and shield into Cycnus's chest, he pulls on the helmet straps, which, tightening under the chin, squeeze the throat and windpipe, and stop the passage of breath. He prepares to strip his defeated enemy: he sees empty armour: the god of the sea has changed the body into that of a white bird, whose name is the one he bore, but a moment ago.

Nestor tells the story of Caeneus-Caenis

This battle brought about that truce, of many days duration, when both sides grounded their weapons and rested. While alert sentries patrolled the Trojan walls and alert sentries patrolled the Greek trenches, a feast day arrived, on which Achilles, the victor over Cycnus, was propitiating Pallas with the blood of a sacrificial cow. When its entrails had been placed on the blazing altars, and the perfume the gods love had climbed to the heavens, part was put aside for their holy rites, and the rest set out on the tables. The leaders reclined on couches, and ate their fill of the roasted meat, while they quenched their thirst, and drowned their cares, with wine. The zither, the sound of singing, the long boxwood flute pierced with many holes, was not their entertainment, rather they lengthened the night with talk, and courage was their theme. They talked of their enemies' battles, and of their own, and delighted in recounting, in turn, the dangers they had encountered and survived. What else should Achilles speak of, and what else should be spoken of in great Achilles's presence?

The foremost talk was of his latest victory, the overthrow of Cycnus. It seemed wondrous to all of them that a warrior should have a body no spear could penetrate, impervious to wounds, and that blunted iron swords. Achilles himself and the Greeks were marvelling at it, when Nestor said: "Cycnus has been the only one among your generation who ignored swords, and whom no blow could pierce. But, long ago, I myself saw one Caeneus of Thessaly, who could take a thousand strokes with unwounded body: Thessalian Caeneus, I say, who, famous for his exploits, lived on Mount Othrys, and what made it more remarkable in him, he had been born a woman." All who there were interested by this strange wonder, and asked him to tell the story.

Achilles, among the rest, said: "Say on, old one! O ancient eloquence, wisdom of our age, all of us equally desire to hear, who Caeneus was, why he was changed to his opposite, what campaign you met him in, fighting against whom, by whom he was overcome, if anyone overcame him." Then the old warrior said: "Though the slowness of age hampers me, and many things I once saw have slipped from me, I can still remember many. Nothing sticks more firmly in my mind than this, amongst all those acts, in battle and at home, and if length of years alone enabled a man to report many deeds, I have lived two hundred years: now I live in my third century.

Elatus's daughter, Caenis, loveliest of the virgins of Thessaly, was famous for her beauty, a girl longed for in vain, the object of many suitors throughout the neighbouring cities and your own (since she was one of your people, Achilles). Perhaps Peleus also would have tried to wed her, but he had already taken your mother in marriage, or she was promised to your father. Caenis would not agree to any marriage, but (so rumour has it) she was walking along a lonely beach, and the god took her by force. When Neptune had enjoyed his new love he said: "Make your wish, without fear of refusal. Ask for what you most want!" (The same rumour mentioned this.) "This injury evokes the great desire never to be able to suffer any such again. Grant I might not be a woman: you will have given me everything," Caenis said. She spoke the last words in a deeper tone, that might have been the sound of a man's voice. So it was: the god of the deep ocean had already accepted her wish, and had granted, over and above it, that as a man Caeneus would be protected from all wounds, and never fall to the sword. Caeneus, the Atracides, left, happy with his gifts, and spent his time in manly pastimes, roaming the Thessalian fields."

Nestor tells of the battle of Lapiths and Centaurs

"Pirithoüs, the daring son of Ixion, married Hippodame, and invited the cloud-born centaurs to take their place at tables, set in lines, in a tree-shaded cave. Caeneus, and the other Thessalian princes were there, and I was there myself. The festive palace echoed with the noisy crowd. See, they were singing the marriage song, and the great hall smoked with fires, and in came the virgin surrounded by a throng of young wives and mothers, conspicuous, in her beauty. We declared Pirithoüs to be blessed in his bride, which almost betrayed his good fortune. For your heart was heated by the sight of the girl as much as by wine, Eurytus, most savage of the savage Centaurs: and drunkenness twinned with lust ruled it.

At once the tables were overturned and the banquet in turmoil, and the new bride was grabbed by the hair and dragged off by force. Eurytus seized Hippodame: the others whosoever they wished to, or could, and it looked like the rape of a city. The palace sounded with women's cries. We all leaped up quickly, and Theseus, first, shouted out: "What foolishness drives you to this, Eurytus, that you challenge Pirithoüs in my presence, and unknowingly attack two in one? Lest his words were in vain, the brave hero pushed aside those threatening him, and rescued the girl from the madmen. The other made no reply (since he could not defend his actions with words) but attacked her champion, with violent hands, striking at his face and noble chest.

There chanced to be an ancient mixing-bowl nearby, embossed with raised designs, and Theseus raised the huge thing, he himself being huger, and threw it straight at Eurytus's face. He fell backwards, drumming his feet on the blood-soaked earth, gouts of blood spurting from mouth and wound equally, along with brain-matter and wine. His twin-natured brothers, taking fire at his death, emulated each other, in shouting: "To arms! To arms!" with a single voice. Wine gave them courage, and, in the first battle, cups, fragile jars, and round basins were sent flying, things intended for feasting, now used for fighting and killing."

The deaths of Amycus, Gryneus, Cometes

"First, Amycus, son of Ophion, did not fear to despoil the inner shrine of its offerings, and snatched, first, from the sanctuary, a chandelier, thickly hung with gleaming lamps, and raising it on high, as one wields a sacrificial axe to break the bull's snowy neck, he dashed it against the forehead of Celadon, the Lapith, leaving him with the bones of his face crushed past recognition. His eyes leapt from their sockets, and his nose, pushed in, as the bones of his face shattered, was driven into his palate. At this, Pelates of Pella, wrenching a leg from a maple-wood table, knocked Amycus to the ground, his chin driven into his chest: and his enemy sent him to the shadows of Tartarus with a second wound, as he spat out teeth, mixed with dark blood.

Then Gryneus, standing near the smoking altar, gazing at it with wild eyes, shouted: "Why not put this to use?" and lifting the huge altar with its flames, he threw it into the midst of the crowd of Lapiths, crushing two of them, Broteas and Orios: Orios's mother was Mycale, who was often known to draw down the horned moon by her incantations despite its struggles. "You will not escape with impunity, if I can find a weapon." said Exadius, who found the equivalent of a spear in a stag's antlers that hung on a tall pine tree, as a votive offering. Gryneus was pierced in the eyes by the twin branches, and his eyeballs gouged out, one of which stuck to the horn, and the other slipped down onto his beard, and hung there in a clot of blood.

Then Rhoetus snatched up a burning brand from the altar, wood from a plum tree, and swinging it down from the right hand side, broke Charaxus's temples protected by yellow hair. The hair flared like a dry cornfield, set alight by the quick flames, and the blood seared in the wound gave out a terrible sizzling noise, as a bar of iron is prone to do, when the smith takes it, red-hot, from the fire, with curved tongs, and plunges it into a bath of water: it whistles and hisses immersed in the bubbling liquid.

The wounded man shook the rapacious flames from his shaggy hair, and tearing a stone sill from the ground lifted it on his shoulders, a load for oxen, its very weight preventing him from hurling it as far as his enemy: but the mass of stone crushed his friend Cometes, who was standing nearer. Rhoetus could not contain his delight, saying: "May the rest of the crowd on your side be as formidable as that!" and he renewed his attack with the half-burned branch, and with three or four heavy blows broke through the joints of his skull till the bones sank into the fluid brain."

The deaths of Corythus, Aphidas and others

"The victor turned his attention to Euagrus, Corythus and Dryas. When Corythus, one of these, fell, whose first downy hair covered his cheeks, Euagrus cried: "What glory is there on your part in shedding the blood of a boy?" Rhoetus stopped him from speaking, thrusting the fiery flames into the man's open mouth, and down his throat. He pursued you, also, savage Dryas, whirling the branch round his head, but with a different result. As Rhoetus came on exulting in the succession of killings, you ran him through with a charred stake, where neck and shoulder meet. Rhoetus groaned and with an effort wrenched the stake out of the solid bone: then he ran, drenched in his own blood.

Orneus and Lycabas, also ran; Medon, wounded in the right shoulder; Thaumas and Pisenor; and Mermeros who had recently overcome everyone by his fleetness of foot, and now ran more slowly from the wound he had suffered. Pholus, Melaneus, and Abas the boar-hunter also fled, and Asbolus, the augur, who had vainly tried to dissuade them from fighting. To Nessus, who also ran with him, fearful of being wounded, he said: "Do not flee! You are fated to be preserved for Hercules's bow." But Eurynomus, and Lycidas, Areos and Imbreus did not escape death: all these Dryas's hand killed as they fronted him. You also received a wound in front, Crenaeus, though you had turned your back in flight: as you looked back the heavy blade took you between the eyes, where nose and forehead meet.

Aphidas lay amongst the intense noise, without waking, all his strength sunk in endless sleep, still holding a cup of mixed wine, in his limp hand, stretched out on the shaggy skin of a bear from Mount Ossa. Phorbas caught sight of him at a distance, uselessly idle in the fight, and fitting his fingers into the strap of his javelin said: "Go drink your wine mixed with the waters of Styx." Without hesitating he hurled his spear at the youth, and the ash shaft tipped with iron was driven through his neck, as he chanced to be lying with his head thrown back. He did not feel death, and the black blood flowed from his welling throat, onto the couch and into the wine-cup itself."

Pirithoüs, Theseus and Peleus join the fight

I saw Petraeus trying to tear an oak-tree full of acorns from the ground. While he had his arms round it, bending it this way and that, and shaking the loosened trunk, Pirithoüs sent a lance through his ribs, and pinned his writhing body to the hard wood. They say that Lycus fell by Pirithoüs's might, and Chromis by Pirithoüs's might, but Dictys and Helops gave the victor a greater title to fame. Helops was transfixed by a javelin that passed through both temples; hurled from the right and piercing the left ear. Dictys, fleeing in desperate panic, pressed hard by Ixion's son, stumbled on a mountain height, and fell headlong, breaking a huge flowering ash with the weight of his body, and entangling his entrails in the shattered tree.

Aphareus was there, his avenger, who tried to hurl a rock torn from the mountainside: but as he tried Theseus, the son of Aegeus, caught him with his oaken club and broke the massive bones of his elbow. Having neither time nor desire to inflict further injury on his worthless body, he leaped onto tall Bienor's back, unused to carrying anything but its owner, and, pressing his knees into the centaur's flanks, and clutching the mane with his left hand, he shattered the face, the mouth uttering threats, and the solid temples, with his knotted club. With the club he overthrew Nedymnus, and Lycopes the javelin-thrower; Hippasos, his chest protected by a flowing beard, and Ripheus, who towered above the treetops; Thereus, also, who used to take bears on the mountain slopes of Thessaly, and carry them home angry and alive.

Demoleon could no longer stand the success Theseus was enjoying: he had been trying, with great effort, to tear up the solid trunk of an ancient pine. Unable to do it, he broke it off and hurled it at the enemy. But Theseus drew well away from the oncoming missile, warned by Pallas, or so he would have us believe. The tree trunk did not fall without effect, since it severed tall Crantor's chest and left shoulder from the neck. He was your father's armour bearer, Achilles, whom Amyntor king of the Dolopians, having been defeated in battle, gave to Peleus, the Aeacides, as a true pledge of peace. When Peleus, some distance away, saw him torn apart by the frightful wound he shouted: "Accept this tribute to the dead, at least, Crantor, dearest of youths, " and with his powerful arm, he hurled his ash spear, at full strength, at Demoleon. It ruptured the ribcage, and stuck quivering in the bone. The centaur pulled out the shaft minus its head (he tried with difficulty to reach that also) but the head was caught in his lung. The pain itself strengthened his will: wounded, he reared up at his enemy and beat the hero down with his hooves. Peleus received the resounding blows on helmet and shield, and defending his upper arms, and controlling the weapon he held out, with one blow through the arm he pierced the bi-formed breast.

Peleus had already, before this, killed Phlegraeos and Hyles, from a distance, and Iphinoüs and Clanis in close conflict. He added Dorylas to these, who wore a wolfskin cap on his head, and instead of a deadly spear, carried a magnificent pair of crooked bull's horns, dyed red with copious blood.

I shouted to him (my courage giving me strength) "See how your horns give way before my spear" and I threw my javelin. Since he could not evade it, he blocked a wound to his forehead with his right hand, and his hand was pinned to his forehead. He screamed, but Peleus (as he stood near him) struck him with his sword in mid-stomach, as he came to a halt there, overcome by the harsh wound. Dorylas leapt forward fiercely, dragging his guts on the ground, and as he dragged he trampled them, and as he trampled he tore them, entangled his legs in them, and fell, with emptied belly."

Cyllarus and Hylonome

"Nor did your beauty, Cyllarus, if indeed we attribute beauty to your centaur race, save you in the fighting.

His beard was beginning to show; a beard the colour of gold; and a golden mane fell from his shoulders half way down his flanks. He had a liveliness of expression that was pleasing; his neck and shoulders, chest and hands, and all his human parts, you would praise as almost sculpted by an artist. Nor was the equine part below marred, or inferior to the human: give him a horse's head and neck and he would be worthy of a Castor, the back so fit for a rider, the deep chest so muscular. He was blacker than pitch all over, except for a white tail, and legs also snow-white.

Many females of his race courted him, but one, Hylonome, won him, none lovelier, among the female centaurs, in the deep forests. She alone held Cyllarus's affections, by endearments, by loving and admitting love; and by her appearance, as far as those limbs allow its cultivation: now she would smooth her mane with a comb, now entwine it with rosemary, now violets or roses: or else she wore bright lilies. She bathed her face twice a day in the spring that fell from the woods, on the heights near Pagasae, twice dipped her body in the stream. She would wear only selected skins of wild beasts that became her, over her shoulder or across her left flank. Their love was equally shared. They wandered the mountainsides together, rested at the same time in caves: and now they had both come to the palace of the Lapiths, and both fought fiercely.

A javelin (who threw it is unknown) came from the left and took you, Cyllarus, below the place where the chest swells to the neck. When the weapon was withdrawn the heart, though only slightly pierced, grew cold with the whole body. Immediately Hylonome clasped the dying limbs, sealed the wound with her hand, placed her mouth on his, and tried to prevent the passage of his spirit. Seeing he was dead, with words that the noise prevented from reaching my ears, she threw herself onto the spear that had pierced him, embracing her husband in dying."

The transformation of Caeneus

"Still Phaeocomes stands before my eyes, he, who had tied six lion skins together with knotted cords, as a covering, protecting both man and horse. Hurling a log, that two teams of oxen could hardly move, he crushed the skull-bone of Tectaphos, son of Olenus. The broad dome of his head was shattered, and the soft brain matter oozed out through the hollow nostrils, eyes and ears, like curdled milk through the oak lattice, or as liquid trickles through a coarse sieve, under the weight, and squeezes thickly through the close mesh. But even as Phaecomes prepared to strip the arms from the fallen man (your father knows this), I thrust my sword deep into the despoiler's thigh. Chthonius and Teleboas also fell to my sword: the first carried a forked branch, the other a spear: he gave me a wound with the spear - see, the scar! - the mark of the old wound is still visible. In those days I would have been sent to capture Troy's citadel; then, I could have entertained Hector greatly with my weapons, if not overcome him. But Hector at that time was a child or not yet born, now my age has weakened me.

What need to tell you how Periphas conquered dual-shaped Pyraethus? Why tell of Ampyx who drove his cornel-wood spear that had lost its tip into the opposing face of four-footed Echeclus? Macareus threw a crowbar at the chest of Pelethronian Erigdupus, killing him: and I remember how a hunting spear, from the hand of Nessus, buried itself in Cymelus's groin. Nor would you have thought Mopsus, Ampycus's son, only prophesied the future: bi-formed Hodites fell to Mopsus's throw, trying in vain to speak, his tongue fixed to the floor of his mouth, the floor of his mouth to his throat.

Caeneus had killed five: Styphelos, Bromus, Antimachus, Elymus; and Pyracmos, who was armed with a battle-axe. I do not recall their wounds, but I noted their number, and their names. Then Latreus rushed forward, massive in body and limbs, armed with the spoils of Emathian Halesus whom he had killed. He was between youth and age, but had the strength of youth, his hair greying on his temples. Prancing in a circle, turning to face each of the battle-lines in turn, and conspicuous for his Macedonian lance, helmet and shield, he clashed his weapons, pouring out many proud words, into the empty air. "Do I have to put up with you, Caenis? For you will always be a woman, Caenis, to me. Does your natal origin not remind you; does not the act you were rewarded for come to mind, at what cost you gained this false aspect of a man? Consider what you were born as, or what you experienced, go, pick up your distaff and basket of wool and twist the spun thread with your thumb: leave war to men."

At this Caeneus threw his spear, ploughing a furrow in the centaur's side, where man and horse joined, as he was stretched out in the act of galloping. Maddened with pain, Latreus struck the Phylleian youth in his unprotected face, with the lance: but it bounced off like a hailstone from a rooftop, or a small pebble from a hollow drum. Then he closed up on him, and tried to thrust his sword into his impenetrable side: the sword found no way in. The centaur shouted: "You will still not escape! I will kill you with the sword's edge if the point is blunt." Turning his blade sideways he reached out for his enemy's loins with his long right arm. The blow resounded, as if it struck a body of marble, and the weapon fractured in pieces as it hit the firm flesh.

When he had exposed his unwounded limbs for long enough to his wondering enemy, Caeneus said: "Now let me try your body with my blade!" and he drove his fatal weapon into the other's side, turning and twisting his hand, buried in the guts, causing wound on wound. See, the centaurs maddened, rushed on him with a great shout, and all aimed and threw their spears at the one man. The spears fell, blunted: and Caeneus, son of Elatus, remained unpierced and unbloodied by all their efforts. This marvel astonished them. "Oh, what overwhelming shame!" Monychus exclaimed. "A people defeated by one who is scarcely a man: yet he is the man, and we, with our half-hearted attempts are what he once was. What use are our huge limbs? What use our twin powers, and that double nature uniting the strongest living things in us? We are not sons of a divine mother: nor of Ixion who was such as aspired to captivate great Juno: we are overcome by an enemy, who is half a man! Roll down rocks and tree trunks on him, and whole mountainsides, and crush that stubborn spirit with the forests we hurl! Let their mass constrict his throat, and let weight work instead of wounds."

He spoke, and finding a chance tree-trunk toppled by a furious southerly wind, he threw it at his powerful enemy. He served as the example, and in a little while Mount Othrys was bare of trees, and Pelion had lost its shade. Buried under the huge pile, Caeneus strained against the weight of trees, and propped up the mass of oak on his strong shoulders, but as it mounted above his mouth and face, he had no breath of the air that he breathed, and lacking it, often, he tried in vain to raise himself into the air, and throw off the forest piled on him, and often heaved, as if steep Mount Ida, that we see there, look, was shaken by an earthquake.

His fate is doubtful: some said his body was thrust down to empty Tartarus, by the mass of forest: but Mopsus, the son of Ampycus denied this. He saw a bird with tawny wings fly into the clear air from the midst of the pile, which I saw also, then, for the first and last time ever. As Mopsus watched him smoothly circling his camp in flight, making a great noise, he pursued him with mind and vision, saying "Hail to you, Caeneus, glory of the race of Lapiths, once a great hero, but now a bird alone!" The thing was believed because of its author: grief was added to anger, and we could barely accept one man being conquered by so many enemies. Nor did we cease to work off our pain with the sword till half were dead, and half, fleeing, were swallowed by the night."

Nestor tells of the death of Periclymenus

As the hero from Pylos told of this battle between the Lapiths and the half-human Centaurs, Tlepolemus, son of Hercules, leader of the Rhodians, could not keep his mouth silent in his indignation at Hercules, the descendant of Alceus, being overlooked. He said "Old man, it is amazing that your recital forgot to praise Hercules: certainly my father often used to tell me of the cloud-born centaurs he defeated." Nestor answered him, sternly. "Why do you force me to remember wrongs, to re-open wounds healed by the years, and to reveal hatred for your father and the injuries he did me? He has done deeds beyond belief, the gods know, and filled the earth with his praises: that, I wish I could deny. But we do not praise Deïphobus, or Polydamas, or Hector: who praises an enemy indeed?

That father of yours razed Messene's walls; destroyed the innocent cities of Elis and Pylos, and overthrew my household gods with fire and sword. I say nothing of the others he killed: there were twelve of us, sons of Neleus, outstanding young men, all except myself fell to Hercules's strength. We must accept that the others could be defeated: the death of Periclymenus was strange, whom Neptune, founder of Neleus's bloodline, had granted the power to assume any form he wished and reverse that which he had assumed. Now, after he had changed to every form in turn, he reverted to the shape of a bird, the eagle that carries the lightning bolts in its curved talons, beloved by the king of the gods. He tore at the hero's face with all the power of his wings, his hooked beak, and crooked claws. Then, as he soared among the clouds, and hung poised there, the Tirynthian fired his unerring bow at him, and pierced him where the wing meets the side.

The wound was not fatal, but the sinews, severed by the wound, failed, devoid of movement or power of flight. He fell to earth, his weakened pinions not mastering the air, and the arrow, clinging lightly to the wing, was driven upwards with the body's weight, and forced through the top of the breast into the left side of the throat.

Now, O most glorious leader of the Rhodian fleet, do you think I should cry out your Hercules's praises? Yet I look for no other revenge for my brothers than to be silent about his mighty deeds: there is unbroken friendship between you and me."

When Nestor had told his tale in a pleasant voice, passing from the old man's story to the gifts of Bacchus again, they rose from the couches: the rest of the night was given to sleep.

The death of Achilles

But the god of the trident, who rules the ocean waters, grieved, with a father's feelings, for the son changed into a swan, the bird of Phaethon, and, hating fierce Achilles, he nursed an excessive anger in his memory.

And now, when the war against Troy had lasted for almost ten years, he called to Sminthean Apollo, the unshorn, in these words: "O, by far the best loved of my brother's sons, who built the walls of Troy with me, to no purpose, do you sigh at all to see these battlements at the moment of their destruction? Do you grieve at all that so many thousands died defending her walls? Not to name all of them, does not the shade come before you of Hector, dragged round his own citadel, Pergama? But savage Achilles, more cruel than war itself, is still alive, ravager of our creation. Let him be given up to me. I would let him feel what I can do with my three-pronged spear: but since I am not allowed to meet face to face with the enemy, destroy him unexpectedly with a hidden arrow!"

The Delian god nodded, and satisfying his own and his uncle's desire, he came to the Trojan lines, wrapped in a cloud, and there, among human massacre, he saw Paris firing infrequent shafts at unknown Greeks. Showing himself as a god, he said: "Why waste your arrows on the blood of the rank and file? If you care for your own, aim at Achilles, grandson of Aeacus, and avenge your dead brothers!" He spoke, and, pointing to Pelides, who, with his weapon, was strewing the ground with Trojan bodies, he turned Paris's bow towards him, and guided the unerring shaft with deadly hand. This was the one thing that could delight old Priam since Hector's death.

So, Achilles, conqueror of so much greatness, you are conquered, by the cowardly thief of the wife of a Greek! If your death had to be by a woman's hand, in war, you would rather have fallen to an Amazon's two-edged axe.

Now Achilles, grandson of Aeacus, the terror of the Phrygians, the glory and defence of the Pelasgian name, the invincible captain in battle, was burned: one god, Vulcan, armed him, and that same god consumed him. Now he is ash, and little if anything remains of Achilles, once so mighty, hardly enough to fill an urn. But his fame lives, enough to fill a world. That equals the measure of the man, and, in that, the son of Peleus is truly himself, and does not know the void of Tartarus.

So that you might know whose it was, even his shield makes war: and arms, for his arms, are raised. Diomede, son of Tydeus, and the lesser Ajax, Oileus's son, dare not claim them, nor the younger son of Atreus, Menelaüs, nor the elder, Agamemnon, greater in warfare, nor the rest. Only Ajax, the son of Telamon, and Ulysses, Laërtes's son, were confident enough for such glory. Agamemnon, the descendant of Tantalus, in order to escape the invidious burden of choosing between them, ordered the leaders of the Greeks to meet in the middle of the camp, and he transferred judgment of the dispute to them

TO TOP


Book 13

The debate over the arms: Ajax speaks

When the captains were seated, and the rank and file were standing, in a circle, around them, Ajax, master of the seven-layered shield, leapt up, and, fired with indignation, he looked back fiercely at the Sigean shore, and the ships beached on the shore, and, pointing to them, he said: "It is in front of these vessels I plead my cause, and Ulysses opposes me, by Jupiter! Yet he did not hesitate to give way before Hector's blazing torches, which I resisted, which I drove away from the boats. But then, it is less risky to battle using lying words, than to fight with fists, and I am not prompt to speak, as he is not to act. I am as powerful in the fierce conflicts of the battle, as that man is in talk. I do not think however that I need to mention my deeds to you, Pelasgians, since you have seen them: let Ulysses tell you of his that are conducted without witness, in which night is the only sharer! I confess the prize I seek is great: but my rival detracts from the honour of it. There is nothing magnificent for Ajax in it, however great the thing is, if Ulysses has aspired to it. He has already won the prize in this contest, since when he is defeated he can say he fought it out with me.

As for me, if my courage were in doubt, my noble birth is a powerful argument, a son of Telamon, he who, under brave Hercules, captured the walls of Troy, and sailed in the ship from Pagasae, with the Argonauts, to Colchis. Telamon's father was Aeacus, who judges there, among the silent dead, where Sisyphus, son of Aeolus rolls his heavy stone. Lofty Jupiter acknowledges Aeacus and confesses him to be his son: so Ajax is third in descent from Jove. Yet even this ancestry would not further my cause, if I did not share it with great Achilles. Our fathers, Peleus and Aeacus, were brothers: Achilles was my cousin, I ask for my cousin's weapons! Why are you, Ulysses, the son of Sisyphus, and similar to him in your capability for fraud and trickery, involving an alien race in the affairs of the Aeacidae?

Are the arms denied me because I took up arms first, and without being rooted out, and shall he seem the better man who seized his weapons last, and shirked the fight with a pretence of madness, till Palamades, son of Nauplius, the shrewder man, uncovered this cowardly spirit's deceit, and dragged him to the weapons he shunned? Shall he own all, who wanted none: shall I, who was the first to put myself at risk, be denied honour, and my cousin's gifts? if only his madness had been real, or been believed, and this exhorter to crime had never been our companion against the Phrygian fortresses! Then Lemnos would not hold you, to our shame, Philoctetes, son of Poeas, of whom they say that, hidden in the woodland caves, you move the stones, now, with your laments, calling down on Laërtes's son, the curses that he deserves, and, if there are gods, do not curse in vain! Now, alas, he who was sworn to the same conflict as ourselves, one of our captains, heir to Hercules's arrows, weakened by sickness and hunger, clothed and fed by the birds, employs the arrows, that fate intended for Troy, in firing at birds! Still, he is alive, because he did not accompany Ulysses further: luckless Palamades would have preferred to be left behind also: he would have been alive, or at least have died an irreproachable death: that man there, remembering all too well the exposure of his own supposed madness, accused him of betraying the Greek cause, and uncovered gold, he had previously hidden, as evidence of the fabricated charge. So, by abandonment or death, he has drawn the strength of Achaea: that is how Ulysses fights, that is why he is to be feared!

Though he be greater than Nestor, the true, in eloquence, I will never believe that his desertion of Nestor in battle was anything but a crime. When Nestor implored Ulysses's help, weary as he was with old age, and slowed by a wound to his horse, he was abandoned by his companion. Diomede, son of Tydeus, is well aware that I am not inventing the charge: he called Ulysses repeatedly, by name, and reproached his cowardly friend for running away.

The gods look down, with the eyes of the just, at human dealings! Look, he who gave no help needs it: and as he had abandoned Nestor, so he would have been abandoned: he himself had established his own precedent. He shouted to his companions. I approached, and saw him, trembling and pale, and shaking with fear of impending death. I thrust out the mass of my shield, and covered him as he lay there, and (small cause for praise in that) I saved his cowardly life. If you go through with this contest, let us revisit that spot: revisit the enemy, your wound, and your usual cowardice, hide behind my shield, and contend with me under it! Yet, after I had snatched him up, he who was granted no strength to stand, because of his wounds, ran for it, not slowed by his wounds at all.

Hector approaches, and, with him, leads the gods to battle, and brave men as well as you are terrified, Ulysses, when he rushes onwards, such is the fear he brings. I felled him to the ground with a huge rock hurled from a distance, as he was exulting in the success of his bloodthirsty slaughter. When he challenged one warrior to meet him, I withstood him. You wished the lot would fall to me, Achaeans, and your prayers were answered. If you ask what the outcome of that conflict was I was not beaten by Hector. See, the Trojans bring fire and sword, and Jupiter himself, against the Greek ships: where now is the eloquent Ulysses? Surely I, with my own breast, shielded the thousand ships, your hope of return: grant me the arms for all that fleet.

Yet, if I may speak the truth, the arms search for greater honour than I do, to be linked to my glory, and the arms seek out Ajax, not Ajax the arms. Let the Ithacan compare with these things his killing of Rhesus, and of cowardly Dolon, his taking captive Helenus, Priam's son, and his theft of Pallas's image, the Palladium: nothing performed in daylight, nothing without Diomede present. If ever you grant the armour for such worthless service, divide it, and let Diomede have the greater share of it. Nevertheless why give them to the Ithacan, who carries things out secretly, and always unarmed, deceiving the unsuspecting enemy with his tricks? The gleam of the helmet, radiant with shining gold, will reveal his scheming, and show where he hides. The Dulichian's head beneath Achilles's helmet, will not bear so great a weight, and the spear-shaft, from Pelion, cannot be anything but heavy and burdensome for his arm, unsuited to war, and the shield, with its engraved design of the vast world, will not be fit for that cowardly left hand born for stealing. Perverse man, why do you go after a prize that will cripple you, one that, if it is given you in error by the Achaean people, will be a reason for being despoiled by the enemy, not feared by them? And running away, in which you surpass everyone, you master-coward, will turn out to be a slow game for you, if you are carrying such a weight. Add to that your shield that is rarely used in battle, and uninjured, and mine split in a thousand places from fending off spear-thrusts, that needs a new successor.

Finally (what is the use of words?) let us be seen together in action! Send out the brave hero's arms into the middle of the enemy ranks: order them to be recovered from there, and let the retriever be equipped with what he retrieves."

The debate over the arms: Ulysses speaks

The son of Telamon finished, and the crowd's applause followed his closing words. Till the hero, son of Laërtes, stood. He gazed at the ground for a while and then raised his eyes to look at the captains, and opened his lips for the speech they anticipated: his eloquent words did not lack grace in their delivery.

"If my wishes and yours, Pelasgians, had been worth anything, there would be no question as to who should inherit the arms in this great contest: you, Achilles, would have your armour, and we would have you. But since unequal fate has denied his presence to me and to you, (and he made as if to wipe a tear from his eye), who better to take Achilles's place than the man through whom mighty Achilles took his place among the Greeks? Only do not let it help him that he is slow-witted, as he seems to be, nor harm my case that my ability has always profited you Greeks. And let this eloquence of mine, if it exists, that often spoke for you, and now speaks for its master, escape envy: no man should refuse to employ his talents.

Now, as to race, and ancestry, and whatever we have not personally achieved; I hardly call those things ours. But since Ajax has recalled that he is Jove's great grandson, Jupiter is the founder of my bloodline also, and I am the same distance from him. Laërtes is my father, Arcesius was Laërtes's father, and he was the son of Jupiter: and there are no exiled criminals, like Peleus and Telamon, amongst them. Also there is the addition to my nobility of Cyllenian Mercury through my mother, Anticleia. The gods are in both my parents. But I do not claim the arms lying there, because I am nobler on my mother's side, nor because my father is innocent of a brother's blood. Judge the case on its merits. Provided that it is not regarded as Ajax's merit that Telamon and Peleus were brothers, and that what is considered in this award is respect for ability not the claims of blood! Or, if you are asking who is the next of kin, and the lawful heir, well Peleus is Achilles's father, and Pyrrhus is Achilles's son: where is Ajax's claim? Take the arms to Peleus's Phthia, or Pyrrhus's Scyros! Teucer is no less Achilles's cousin than Ajax, yet does he ask for the arms, and if he did, would he gain them? So, since it is a contest about naked achievements, I have done more than I can recount in glib words, but I will take things in their proper order.

Thetis, Achilles's Nereid mother, foreseeing her son's death, disguised his appearance, and wearing women's clothes he deceived everyone, including Ajax. But, among the things women buy, I placed arms to stir a man's spirit. Before the hero had abandoned the clothes of a girl, while he held the shield and spear, I said: "Pergama the citadel doomed to be destroyed, waits for you, son of the goddess! Why do you hesitate to overthrow mighty Troy?" And I took him in hand, and sent the brave out to do brave things. So his deeds are mine: I overcame warring Telephus with my spear, and healed him with it, when he was defeated and begging for help. It is down to me that Mysian Thebes fell: credit the capture of Lesbos to me, Tenedos to me, Chryse and Cilla the cities of Apollo, and Phrygian Scyros as well. Imagine that my right hand razed Lyrnesus's walls to the ground. I gave you the man who could destroy fierce Hector, not to speak of those other Trojans: through me glorious Hector lies low! I seek these arms for the arms that revealed Achilles: I gave to the living, I claim from the dead.

When one man's sorrow fell on all the Greeks, and a thousand ships gathered at Euboean Aulis, though they waited for a long time, there were adverse winds or no wind. Then a cruel oracle ordered Agamemnon to sacrifice his innocent daughter, Iphigenia, to pitiless Diana. The father said no, angered with the gods themselves: and there is still a father even in a king. I with my skill in words turned him away from a parent's fondness and towards the common good. I had a difficult case indeed to plead, before (I confess, and may Atrides pardon the confession) a prejudiced judge, but given the needs of his brother and the expedition, and the high command vested in him, he balanced glory against blood. Then I was sent to the mother, Clytaemnestra, who was not to be persuaded, but deceived by cunning. If Telamon's son had gone, our sails would still be waiting for the winds.

Also, as an ambassador, I was sent to Troy's citadel, and saw and entered the senate house of lofty Ilium, still full of heroes. As I was charged to do by Greece, for the common good, undaunted, I accused Paris, demanded the return of Helen and what Paris had plundered, and stirred Priam, and Antenor, at one with Priam. But Paris, and his brothers, and those who plundered with him, could scarcely keep their sinful hands off me (you know it, Menelaüs) and that first day of danger to me was shared with you.

It would take a long time to tell what I have achieved that has been useful, by stratagem and deed, in the long space of this conflict. After the first onslaught the enemy kept inside the city walls for a long time, and there was no chance for open warfare. Finally in the tenth year we fought it out. What were you doing meanwhile, Ajax, you who only know about battles? What use were you then? If you ask what I was doing, I laid ambushes for the enemy; surrounded the defences with a ditch; encouraged our allies so that they might bear the weariness of a long campaign with patience of mind; advised on how we should be fed and armed; was sent wherever benefit required it.

See, deceived by a dream in sleep, Agamemnon, the king, commanded by Jupiter, orders us to give up all concern with the war we have begun. He can justify his words by this dream's authority. Let Ajax prevent it, and demand that the citadel, Pergama, be destroyed, let him do what he can do, fight! Why does he not restrain those who are for returning home? Why does he not take up arms, and give a lead for the fickle mob to follow?

That was not too much to ask of one who never speaks without boasting: but what of the fact that he fled as well?

I saw you, Ajax, and was ashamed to see it, when, turning your back, you readied your dishonourable sails. Instantly I shouted: "What are you doing? What madness is urging you to abandon captured Troy? What are you taking home with you, except disgrace? With these words, and others, in which my anguish made me eloquent, I turned men from their flight, and led them back. Atrides assembled the allies who were quaking with fear: even then the son of Telamon did not dare utter a thing, but even Thersites dared to attack the kings with insolent words, though not without punishment from me! I rose to my feet and urged on my frightened countrymen against the enemy, and by my voice restored their lost courage. From that time on, whatever bravery this man can be seen to have shown, is mine, who dragged him back when he was given to flight.

Next, which of the Greeks praises you or seeks you out, Ajax? Yet Diomede shares what he does with me, supports me, and always trusts Ulysses as his companion. That is something, to be singled out by Diomede from so many thousand Greeks! No drawing of lots forced me to go: yet, disregarding the dangers of night and the enemy, I killed Dolon, the Phrygian, out on the same errand as we were, but not before I had forced him to tell what he knew, and had learned what perfidious Troy was planning. I had discovered everything, and had no need to spy further, and could now return with the glory I sought: yet not content with that, I searched out Rhesus's tents, and I killed him and his comrades in their camp. And so, a victor, with what I prayed for achieved, as if it were a triumph, I rode his captured chariot. Deny me the arms of Achilles, whose horses my enemy, Dolon, asked of Hector, for his night's work, and let Ajax be more generous than you.

Why should I have to mention the ranks of Sarpedon of Lycia cut to pieces by my sword? With bloody slaughter I killed Coeranos, Iphitus's son; Alastor and Chromius; Alcander, Halius, Noëmon and Prytanis; and I dealt destruction to Thoön, Chersidamas, Charopes, and Ennomos driven by inexorable fate; and others less well known fell to my hand under the walls of the city. I have wounds, friends, honourable ones, as their position shows: do not believe empty words, look!" and he pulled his tunic open with his hand, "here is my breast that has always been employed in your actions! But the son of Telamon has shed no blood for his companions, in all these years, and his flesh is unwounded!

What relevance is it that he declares he took up arms against the Trojans and against Jove? I agree, he did (since I do not maliciously disparage beneficial actions) but do not let him seize the honour that is shared, and let him grant you some respect also. It was Patroclus, son of Actor, protected by being disguised in Achilles's armour, who pushed back the Trojans from the ships that would have gone up in flames, with Ajax, their defender. He thinks that he is the only one who dared to face Hector's spear, forgetting the captains and the king, and myself: he was the ninth to volunteer, and selected by the luck of the draw. But what was the result of your struggle, strongest of men? Hector retreated without receiving a single wound.

Alas, with what sadness I am forced to recall that time when Achilles, the defence of Achaia, fell! Yet tears, grief, fear did not prevent my lifting his body from the earth: I carried the body of Achilles over these shoulders, these very shoulders, along with the weapons, that now also I am anxious to carry. I have strength enough for such a burden, and a mind that can surely appreciate the honour. Was it for this that his mother, the sea-goddess, was so ambitious for her son, that the gifts of heaven, the works of such artistry, should adorn an ignorant and thoughtless soldier? He understands nothing of the shield's engraving, Ocean, or earth, or high starry sky; the Pleiades and the Hyades, the Bear that is always clear of the waters, and opposite, beyond the Milky Way, Orion, with his glittering sword. He demands to bear armour that he does not comprehend!

What of the fact that he accuses me of shirking the harsh duties of war, and of coming late to a labour already begun? Does he not see that he is speaking ill of great Achilles? If you call it a crime to dissimulate, we both dissimulated: if delay is a fault, I was the earlier to arrive. A loving wife detained me, a loving mother Achilles. Our priority was given to them, the rest to you. I hardly fear an accusation, even if I cannot defend myself against it, shared with such a man: he was revealed by Ulysses's cunning, but not Ulysses by Ajax's.

Let us not be astonished that he pours out against me the invective from his foolish tongue, since he reproaches you shamefully. Was it a disgrace for me to accuse Palamades on an erroneous charge, but proper for you to condemn him? But then the son of Nauplias could not defend himself against so great a crime, and one so clearly proven: nor did you merely hear of the crime: you saw it, revealed by the gold I exposed.

Nor do I merit being called a criminal because Lemnos, Vulcan's isle, holds the son of Poeas, Philoctetes, (defend your own actions, since you agreed to it!) but I will not deny that I persuaded him to withdraw from the hardships of war and the journey, and to try and relieve his terrible agonies in rest. He agreed - and he still lives! Not only was my opinion offered in good faith, though it is enough that it was in good faith, but it turned out well. Now since our seers demand his presence for the destruction of Troy, do not commission me! Telamon's son, with his eloquence, had better go and soothe that man, maddened by pain and fury, or bring him by some cunning trick! If my mind were idle on your behalf, the River Simoïs would flow backwards, and Mount Ida stand there leafless, and Achaia help Pergama, before the skill, of foolish Ajax, would benefit the Greeks.

I would go to you, harsh Philoctetes, and try to bring you back with me, though you are aggressive towards king and countrymen, and myself; though you execrate me, and pour curses endlessly on my head; and, in your pain, long for me to be given into your power, to drink my blood, and to have your chance at me, as I did at you. And I would gain possession of your arrows (by Fortune's favour), as I took possession of the Dardanian seer, Helenus, whom I captured; as I revealed the gods' oracles and the fate of Troy; as I stole the image of Phrygian Minerva from the inner sanctuary, from the midst of the enemy. Does Ajax compare himself to me? The fates surely denied our capturing Troy without it.

Where is brave Ajax now? Where are the great hero's mighty words? What do you fear then? Why does Ulysses dare to go through the sentries and commit himself to night; to enter not only the walls of Troy but also the heights of the citadel, past the sharp swords; and to snatch the goddess from her temple, and carry her captive through the enemy ranks? If I had not done it, the son of Telamon would have carried the seven-layered bull's-hide shield on his left arm in vain. That night the victory over Troy was established: I defeated Pergama then, when I secured the possibility of her defeat.

You can stop pointing out with your murmurs and looks, Ajax, that Diomede was my partner: he has his share of praise in this! Nor were you alone, when you held your shield in defence of the allied ships: you had a crowd of companions: I had only one. If he did not know that a fighter is worth less than a thinker, and that the prize is not owed merely because of an indomitable right hand, he would also claim it; so would the lesser Ajax, fierce Eurypylus, and Thoas, the son of famous Andraemon, and no less surely would Idomeneus, and Meriones born of the same nation, and Menelaüs, the brother of Agamemnon.

In fact, they accept my counsel, these strong right hands, not second to me in battle. Your right hand, useful in war, needs the guidance of my intellect. You have power without mind, mine is the care for the future. You can fight, but Atrides, with me, chooses the time to fight. You only display the flesh, I the spirit. By as much as he who steers the ship is superior to him who rows, by as much as the general exceeds the soldier, by that much I surpass you. No less is the head more powerful than the hand, in our body: the energy of the whole is within it.

O princes, grant the prize to your sentry, for the many years I have spent in anxious care, grant me the judgement, this honour for my services. Now my labour is done: I have removed fate's obstacles, and by making it possible to take high Pergama, have taken her. Now, by our common expectation; by Troy's doomed walls; by the gods I recently took from the enemy; by whatever else remains that needs to be done wisely; I pray, that if there is still some bold and dangerous thing to attempt, if you think that anything is yet in store involving Troy's fate, remember me! And if you do not give me the arms, give them to her!" and he pointed towards Minerva's fatal statue.

The death of Ajax

The council of princes was swayed, and it shows what eloquence can do: the gifted speaker carried away the arms of the brave hero. But Ajax, who had so often stood alone against Hector, against sword and flame, against Jove himself, could not stand against mere passion, and indignation conquered the unconquerable hero. Drawing his sword he shouted: "This is mine, at least! Or does Ulysses demand it for himself? This I will use myself, on myself, and the iron so often drenched in Phrygian blood, will now be drenched in its master's, so that none can defeat Ajax but himself." He spoke, and drove the lethal weapon to its full extent into his chest, that, till then, had never felt a wound. No hand was strong enough to draw out the implanted weapon: it was the blood itself expelled it, and the bloodstained ground bore a purple flower from the green turf, that had first sprung from the wound of the Spartan, Hyacinthus. In the centre of the petals letters are inscribed, shared by the hero and the boy, one reading of them being a name, and the other one a cry of woe.

The fall of Troy

Ulysses, the winner, set sail for Lemnos, the island of Queen Hypsipyle and her father the famous Thoas, a country notorious in ancient times for the murder by its women of their men, to bring back the arrows of Tyrinthian Hercules. When he had brought them back to the Greeks, with Philoctetes their master, the last hand was dealt in the long drawn-out war. Troy fell, and Priam also. Hecuba, Priam's unhappy wife, when all else was lost, lost her human form, and filled the air of an alien country, where the long Hellespont narrows to a strait, with strange barking.

Ilium burned; the flames had not yet died down; Jove's altar was soaking up old Priam's meagre stream of blood; and Cassandra, the head priestess of Apollo, dragged along by her hair, stretched out her arms uselessly to the heavens. The Dardanian women, embracing the statues of their nation's gods while they still could, and thronging the burning temples, were snatched away by the victorious Greeks as enviable prizes. Astyanax, was thrown down from that tower, from which he used to see his father, Hector, whom Andromache his mother pointed out to him, as Hector fought for him, and protected the ancestral kingdom. Now Boreas, the north wind, urged the Greeks on their way, and the sails flapped in a favourable breeze.

The sailers are ordered to take advantage of the wind. The Trojan women wail, kissing their native earth, abandoning the burning houses: "Troy, farewell! We are taken against our will."

The last to embark - pitiable sight! - was Hecuba, found among the tombs of her sons. There as she clung to their graves, trying to kiss their relics, the hands of Dulichian Ulysses dragged her away. Yet she emptied one sepulchre, and carried away with her, at her breast, Hector's ashes from the emptied urn. And on Hector's grave she left a scant offering to the dead, shreds of her grey hair, hair and tears.

The deaths of Polydorus and Polyxena

There is a country opposite Phrygia, where Troy stood, that the Bistones inhabit: Polymestor's wealthy court was there, to whom Priam your father secretly sent you, Polydorus, to be reared away from the Phrygian war: a wise plan if he had not sent great riches with you, a reward for the criminal, a temptation to the greedy spirit. When Phrygia's fortunes waned, the impious king of Thrace took his sword and stabbed his young foster child in the throat, and threw the body from a cliff into the sea, as if murder could be eliminated with the corpse.

Agamemnon had moored his fleet on a Thracian beach till the sea calmed, and the winds were kinder. Here, suddenly the ghost of Achilles appeared from a broad fissure in the earth, as large as he used to be in life. He appeared as on the day when, with threatening face, and sword in hand, he fiercely challenged Agamemnon's injustice. "You depart, then, Achaeans, forgetting me, and gratitude for my courage is buried with me!" he cried, "Do not let it be so! Let Polyxena be sacrificed, so that my tomb is not without its honours. Appease Achilles's shade!"

He spoke, and, his countrymen obeyed the pitiless ghost. Now, she was torn from her mother's arms, and the girl, almost Hecuba's only comfort, ill-fated, but with more than a woman's courage, was led to the burial mound and became a victim of the dread grave. She remembered who she was, set before the brutal altar, knowing the savage rite was readied for her, and when she saw Neoptolemus standing, gripping his sword, his eyes gazing at her face, she said: "Now, shed noble blood, nothing prevents you: but sheathe your sword in my throat or in my breast," and she uncovered both her throat and her breast, "Polyxena, for certain, has no desire to be slave to any man! No god will be appeased by such a rite as this! I only wish my death could be unknown to my mother: my mother weakens and lessens my joy in death, though it is not my dying but her living that is terrible. Now, move away, you, so that if my request is lawful, I may not be hindered in going to the Stygian shades: and take the hands of man from virgin flesh! My free blood will be more acceptable to him, whoever he is, whom you are trying to appease with my murder. If my last words still move any of you (The daughter of Priam asks it, not a prisoner) return my body to my mother without ransom: let her pay for the sad privilege of burying me, not with gold, but with tears! When she could, then she paid in gold as well"

She spoke, and the crowd could not restrain its tears, that she restrained. Then the priest, also weeping, and against his will, driving his sword home, pierced the breast she offered up. Her knees gave way, and she sank to the ground, keeping her look of fearless courage to the end. Even then, as she fell, she was careful to hide the parts that should be hidden, and to protect the honour of her chaste modesty.

Hecuba's lament and transformation

The Trojan women lift her body, counting over the lamented children of Priam, and recounting how much blood one house has surrendered. They weep for you, girl, and for you, Hecuba, who were lately called the royal wife, the royal parent, the image of bright Asia, now in evil circumstances, even for a prisoner, whom victorious Ulysses would not have wanted, except for the fact that you had given birth to Hector: a partner for his mother that Hector would scarcely have imagined!

Embracing the body of Polyxena, now empty of that brave spirit, she sheds the tears for her that she has shed so often for her husband, sons and country. She pours her tears over her daughter's wound, covers her lips with kisses, and beats at her own bruised breast.

Then, tearing at her white hair caked with blood, and plucking at her breast, she said this amongst other things: "Child - since, what else is left me? - your mother's last grief, Child, you lie there, and I see your wound, that is my wound. Look, you also have your wound, so that I might lose none of my children without bloodshed. Because you were a woman, I thought you safe from the sword: yet, a woman, you have died by the sword: and that same Achilles who has ruined Troy and made me childless, who has destroyed so many of your brothers, has killed you in the same way.

Yet when he fell to the arrow of Paris, and Phoebus, I said: "Now surely, Achilles is no longer to be feared." Yet even then I still needed to fear him. His very ashes in the tomb are hostile to our race: even in the grave we feel his enmity: I gave birth for the Aeacidae! Mighty Ilium is in the dust, and, in a grievous outcome, our ruined State is ended. But still, it ended: in me, only, Pergama remains. My grief still takes it course. A moment ago I was endowed with the greatest things, so many sons and daughters, sons-in-law, and daughters-in-law, and my husband. Now, exiled, destitute, torn from the tombs of my loved ones, I am dragged off as a prize, to serve Penelope. She will point me out to the women of Ithaca, as I spin the wool she gives me, and say: "This is the famous mother of Hector, this is Priam's queen." Now you, Polyxena, after so many have been lost, you, who were the only one left to comfort your mother's grief, have been sacrificed on an enemy tomb! I have borne offerings for the enemy dead!

Why do I remain, unyielding? Why do I linger here? Why do you preserve me, wrinkled old age? Why prolong an old woman's life, cruel gods, unless it is for me to view more funerals? Who would have thought Priam could be happy when Pergama has fallen? Yet he is happy, in death! He did not see you killed, daughter, but left his kingdom and his life together. Do I imagine you will be endowed with funereal splendour, and your body laid to rest in the ancestral tomb? That is not our house's fate! Your mother's tears will be your funeral gift, and the wastes of foreign sand. I have lost everything: now an only child is left, once the youngest son of my family, his mother's dearest, a reason to endure life for a brief space of time, Polydorus, sent to these shores, to the Ismarian king. But why do I delay, meanwhile, the cleansing of your cruel wound with water, your face spattered with drops of blood?"

She spoke, and went to the shore, with the stumbling steps of an old woman, tearing at her white hair. "Give me an urn, women of Troy!" said the unhappy mother, wanting to draw water from the sea. There, she saw Polydorus's body, thrown on the beach, covered with open wounds made by Thracian spears. The Trojan women cried out, but she was dumb with grief. The grief itself obliterated both her powers of speech and the tears welling inside, and she stood unmoving like solid rock, at one moment with her gaze fixed on the ground, the next lifting her face grimly towards the sky. Now she looked at her dead son's face, now at his wounds, mostly at his wounds, awakening a growing anger in herself. Then it blazed out, and she, as if she were still a queen, determined on vengeance, her whole mind filled with thoughts of punishment.

Hecuba, her grief mixed with anger, forgetting her age, but not forgetting her rage, like a lioness maddened by the theft of her unweaned cub, that, though she cannot see her enemy, follows the traces she finds of his footsteps, found her way to the author of the dreadful crime, Polymestor. She made out that she wanted to show him a secret hoard of gold, to be given to her son. The Thracian believed her, and with his usual desire for gain, came with her secretly. Then with smooth and cunning words, he said: "Do not delay, Hecuba: give me your gift to your son! It will all be for him, both what you give and what was given before, I swear by the gods."

She gazed at him, grimly, as he spoke and swore his lying oath, till, her seething anger boiling over, she called on her train of captive women to attack the man, and drove her nails into his deceitful eyes, and (made strong by anger) tore the eyeballs from their sockets, and dipped her hand, and drank, stained with his sinful blood, not from his eyes (nothing of them remained) but from the holes that were his eyes.

The Thracians, enraged by the murder of their king, attacked the Trojan woman, hurling stones and missiles, but she chased the stones they threw, snapping at them with a harsh growling, and, readying her jaws for words, barked when she tried to speak. The place is still there, and takes its name, Cynossema, the Monument of the Bitch, from this, and she still howls mournfully amongst the Sithonian fields, remembering endlessly her ancient suffering.

Her fate moved the Trojans and her enemies the Greeks, and it moved all the gods as well, yes, all, so that even Juno, Jove's sister-wife, said that Hecuba did not merit such misfortune.

Aurora and the Memnonides

But Aurora had no time for being moved by the fall and ruin of Hecuba and Troy, though she had aided its defence. A closer sorrow, and a private grief tormented her, the loss of her son Memnon, whom she, his bright mother, had seen wasted by Achilles's spear on the Phrygian plain. She saw it, and that colour, that reddens the dawn, paled, and the sky was covered with cloud. His mother could not bear to look at his body laid on the summit of the funeral pyre, but with dishevelled hair, just as she was, she did not scorn to fall at the feet of mighty Jove, adding tears to these words: "I am the least of all, whom the golden heavens hold (since temples to me are the rarest in all the world), yet I come as a goddess: though not that you might give me sanctuaries, or sacred days, or altars to flame with sacrificial fires. Yet if you considered what I, as a woman, do for you, when each new dawn I keep the borders of night, you would think to give me some reward. But that is not my care, nor Aurora's errand, to ask for well-merited honours.

I come bereft of my Memnon, who bore arms bravely, but in vain, for his uncle Priam, and in his youth has fallen to mighty Achilles (so you willed). I beg you to grant him some honour, as a solace for his death, great king of the gods, and lessen a mother's wound!" Jupiter nodded, while Memnon's steep pyre collapsed in leaping flames, and the daylight was stained with columns of black smoke, like the river-fog the naiad breathes out, that does not admit the light beneath it. Dark ashes flew upwards, and gathering into a ball and solidifying, they formed a shape, and it drew life and heat from the fire (its own lightness giving it wings). At first resembling a bird, then a true bird, it clapped its wings, and innumerable sisters, sprung from the same natal source, sounded too. Three times they circled the pyre, and three times their clamour rose in the air in consonance, on the fourth flight the flock divided. Then in two separate fierce bands they made war, wielding beaks and hooked talons in rage, wearying wing and breast in the struggle.

Remembering they were sprung from a brave hero, they fell as offerings to the buried ashes of their kinsman's body. The source of these suddenly created birds gave them his name: from him they were called the Memnonides: and when the sun has transited his twelve signs, they war and die again in ritual festival.

And so, while others wept to witness Hecuba's baying, Aurora was intent on her own grief, and even now she sheds tears, and wets the whole world with dew.

Aeneas begins his wanderings

Yet the fates did not allow Troy's destiny, also, to be overthrown with her walls. Aeneas, Cytherean Venus's heroic son, carried away on his shoulders her sacred icons, and bore his father, another sacred and venerable burden. He dutifully chose that prize from all his riches, and his son Ascanius, and carried over the sea in his exiled fleet, he left Antandros's harbour, and the sinful thresholds of Thrace, and the soil drenched in Polydorus's blood, and riding the favourable winds and tides, he came with his company of friends, to the city of Apollo on Delos.

Anius, who ruled the people, and worshipped Phoebus, with the proper ritual, as high priest, received him in palace and temple. He showed him the city, the famous sanctuary, and the two trees to which Latona clung when she gave birth. They gave incense to the flames, poured wine onto the incense, and, in accord with custom, burned the entrails of slaughtered oxen, and then sought out the royal palace, where reclining on high couches, they ate the gifts of Ceres, and drank the wine of Bacchus.

The transformation of Anius's daughters

Then virtuous Anchises said: "O chosen priest of Phoebus, am I wrong, or do I not remember that you had a son and four daughters, when I first saw your city?" Shaking his head, bound with its white sacrificial fillets, Anius replied sadly: "Mightiest of heroes, you are not wrong: you saw me the father of five children, whom now you see almost bereft. What is the use of my absent son, who holds the island of Andros, that takes its name from him, and rules it in his father's place? Delian Apollo gave him the power of prophecy. Bacchus Liber gave my female offspring other gifts, greater than those they hoped or prayed for. All that my daughter's touched turned into corn or wine or the grey-green olives of Minerva, and employing them was profitable.

When Agamemnon, son of Atreus, ravager of Troy, learned of this (so that you do not think we escaped all knowledge of your destructive storm) he used armed force to snatch my unwilling daughters from a father's arms, and ordered them to feed the Greek fleet, using their gift from heaven. Each escaped where they could. Two made for Euboea, and two for their brother's island of Andros. The army landed and threatened war unless they were given up. Fear overcame brotherly affection, and he surrendered his blood-kin. It is possible to forgive the cowardly brother, since Aeneas and Hector, thanks to whom you held out till the tenth year, were not here to defend Andros.

Now they were readying the chains for the prisoners' arms. They, while their arms were free, stretched them out to the sky, saying: "Bacchus, father, bring your aid!" and he, who granted their gifts, helped them - if you call it help for them to lose in some strange way their human form, for I could not discover by what process they lost it, nor can I describe it. The end of this misfortune I did observe: they took wing, and became snow-white doves, the birds of your goddess-wife Anchises, Venus."

The cup of Alcon

After they had filled the time with these and other matters, they left the table and retired to sleep, and rising with the dawn, they went to the oracle of Phoebus, who ordered them to seek their ancient mother, and their ancestral shores.

The king gave them parting gifts and escorted them on their way: a sceptre for Anchises, a cloak and quiver for his grandson, Ascanius, and a drinking-bowl for Aeneas, that Therses of Thebes, a friend, had sent, from the Aonian coast, to the king: Therses had given it, but it was made by Alcon of Hyle, who had engraved it with a complete story.

There was a city, and you could see its seven gates: these served to name it, and tell you that it was Thebes. In front of the city funeral rites, sepulchres, funeral pyres, and fires, and women with naked breasts and streaming hair, depicted mourning. Nymphs, also, appeared weeping, and lamenting their dried-up fountains: the trees stood bare and leafless: goats nibbled the dry gravel.

See here, in the midst of Thebes he portrays Orion's daughters, the one, more than a woman, slashing her unprotected throat, the other stabbing a weapon into her valiant breast, falling on behalf of their people, then carried in glorious funeral procession through the city, and burned among crowds of mourners. Then two youths, famous as the Coroni, spring from the virgin ashes, so that the race will not die, and lead the cortège containing their mother's remains.

Such was the ancient bronze with its gleaming designs: round the rim gilded acanthus leaves were embossed. The Trojans gave gifts in return, worth no less: an incense-box for the priest, a libation-saucer, and a crown shining with gold and jewels.

Aeneas's journey to Sicily

From there, remembering that they, the Teucrians, came originally from the blood of Teucer, they made for his Crete. But, unable to endure Jove's plague, they left Crete with its hundred cities, hoping to reach the harbours of Ausonian Italy. Tempests raged, and tossed the heroes on stormy seas, and taking refuge in the treacherous harbour of the Strophades, they were terrified by the harpy, Aëllo.

Now they were carried past Dulichium's anchorage; past Same, and the houses of Neritos; and Ithaca, cunning Ulysses's kingdom. They saw Ambracia, famous now for its Apollo of Actium, once contended over by quarreling gods; and saw the image of the judge who was turned to stone; Dodona's land with its oracular oaks; and Chaonia's bay, where the sons of Munichus, the Molossian king, escaped the impious flames on new-found wings.

Next they headed for the country of the Phaeacians, set with rich orchards, and touched at Buthrotus in Epirus, a miniature Troy, ruled by Helenus, the Trojan seer. From there, certain of their future, all of which Helenus, Priam's son predicted, with reliable warnings, they entered Sicilian waters. Three tongues of this land run down into the sea. Of these Pachynos faces the rainy south, Lilybaeon fronts the soft western breeze, and Peloros looks to the northern Bears that never touch the waves. Here the Teucrians came, and rowing, with a favourable tide, their fleet reached the sandy beach of Zancle, as night fell.

Scylla attacks from the right-hand coast, restless Charybdis from the left. The latter sucks down and spits out ships she has caught: the former has a girdle of savage dogs round her dark belly. She has a girl's face, and if the tales of poets are not all false, she was once a girl also. Many suitors wooed her, whom she rejected, and she would go and tell the ocean nymphs, being well loved by the ocean nymphs, of the thwarted desires of young men.

Acis and Galatea

Once while Galatea let Scylla comb her hair, she addressed these words to her, sighing often: "At least, O virgin Scylla, you are not wooed by a relentless breed of men: and you can reject them without fear, as you do. But I, whose father is Nereus, and whose mother is sea-green Doris, I, though protected by a crowd of sisters, was not allowed to flee the love of Polyphemus, the Cyclops, except through sorrow', and tears stopped the sound of her voice. When the girl had wiped away the tears with her white fingers, and the goddess was comforted, she said: "Tell me, O dearest one: do not hide the cause of your sadness (I can be so trusted)" The Nereid answered Crateis's daughter in these words: "Acis was the son of Faunus and the nymph Symaethis, a great delight to his father and mother, but more so even to me, since he and I alone were united. He was handsome, and having marked his sixteenth birthday, a faint down covered his tender cheeks. I sought him, the Cyclops sought me, endlessly. If you asked, I could not say which was stronger in me, hatred of Cyclops, or love of Acis, both of them were equally strong.

Oh! Gentle Venus, how powerful your rule is over us! How that ruthless creature, terrifying even to the woods themselves, whom no stranger has ever seen with impunity, who scorns mighty Olympus and its gods, how he feels what love is, and, on fire, captured by powerful desire, forgets his flocks and caves. Now Polyphemus, you care for your appearance, and are anxious to please, now you comb your bristling hair with a rake, and are pleased to cut your shaggy beard with a reaping hook, and to gaze at your savage face in the water and compose its expression. Your love of killing, your fierceness, and your huge thirst for blood, end, and the ships come and go in safety. Meanwhile, Telemus the augur, Telemus, the son of Eurymus, whom no flight of birds could deceive, came to Sicilian Mount Aetna, addressed grim Polyphemus, and said: "Ulysses will take from you, that single eye in the middle of your forehead." He laughed, and answered: "O most foolish of seers, you are wrong, another, a girl, has already taken it." So he scorned the true warning, given in vain, and weighed the coast down, walking with giant tread, or returned weary to his dark cave.

A wedge-shaped hillside, ending in a long spur, projects into the sea (the waves of the ocean wash round it on both sides). The fierce Cyclops climbed to it, and sat at its apex, and his woolly flocks, shepherd-less, followed. Then laying at his feet the pine trunk he used as a staff, fit to carry a ship's rigging, he lifted his panpipes made of a hundred reeds. The whole mountain felt the pastoral notes, and the waves felt them too. Hidden by a rock, I was lying in my Acis's arms, and my ears caught these words, and, having heard them, I remembered:"

The song of Polyphemus

'Galatea, whiter than the snowy privet petals,
taller than slim alder, more flowery than the meadows,
friskier than a tender kid, more radiant than crystal,
smoother than shells, polished, by the endless tides;
more welcome than the summer shade, or the sun in winter,
showier than the tall plane-tree, fleeter than the hind;
more than ice sparkling, sweeter than grapes ripening,
softer than the swan's-down, or the milk when curdled,
lovelier, if you did not flee, than a watered garden.

Galatea, likewise, wilder than an untamed heifer,
harder than an ancient oak, trickier than the sea;
tougher than the willow-twigs, or the white vine branches,
firmer than these cliffs, more turbulent than a river,
vainer than the vaunted peacock, fiercer than the fire;
more truculent than a pregnant bear, pricklier than thistles,
deafer than the waters, crueller than a trodden snake;
and, what I wish I could alter in you, most of all, is this:
that you are swifter than the deer, driven by loud barking,
swifter even than the winds, and the passing breeze.

But if you knew me well, you would regret your flight, and you would condemn your own efforts yourself, and hold to me: half of the mountain is mine, and the deep caves in the natural rock, where winter is not felt nor the midsummer sun. There are apples that weigh down the branches, golden and purple grapes on the trailing vines. Those, and these, I keep for you. You will pick ripe strawberries born in the woodland shadows, in autumn cherries and plums, not just the juicy blue-purples, but also the large yellow ones, the colour of fresh bees'-wax. There will be no lack of fruit from the wild strawberry trees, nor from the tall chestnuts: every tree will be there to serve you.

This whole flock is mine, and many are wandering the valleys as well, many hidden by the woods, many penned in the caves. If you asked me I could not tell you how many there are: a poor man counts his flocks. You can see, you need not merely believe me, how they can hardly move their legs with their full udders. There are newborn lambs in the warn sheepfolds, and kids too, of the same age, in other pens, and I always have snow-white milk: some of it kept for drinking, and some with rennet added to curdle it.

You will not have vulgar gifts or easily found pleasures, such as leverets, or does, or kids, or paired doves, or a nest from the treetops. I came upon twin cubs of a shaggy bear that you can play with: so alike you can hardly separate them. I came upon them and I said: "I shall keep these for my mistress."

Now Galatea, only lift your shining head from the dark blue sea: come, do not scorn my gifts. Lately, I examined myself, it's true, and looked at my reflection in the clear water, and, seeing my self, it pleased me. Look how large I am: Jupiter, in the sky, since you are accustomed to saying some Jove or other rules there, has no bigger a body. Luxuriant hair hangs over my face, and shades my shoulders like a grove. And do not consider it ugly for my whole body to be bristling with thick prickly hair. A tree is ugly without its leaves: a horse is ugly unless a golden mane covers its neck: feathers hide the birds: their wool becomes the sheep: a beard and shaggy hair befits a man's body. I only have one eye in the middle of my forehead, but it is as big as a large shield. Well? Does great Sol not see all this from the sky? Yet Sol's orb is unique.

Added to that my father, Neptune, rules over your waters: I give you him as a father-in-law. Only have pity, and listen to my humble prayers! I, who scorn Jove and his heaven and his piercing lightning bolt, submit to you alone: I fear you, Nereid: your anger is fiercer than lightning. And I could bear this contempt of yours more patiently, if you fled from everyone. But why, rejecting Cyclops, love Acis, and prefer Acis's embrace to mine? Though he is pleased with himself, and, what I dislike, pleases you too, Galatea, let me just have a chance at him. Then he will know I am as strong as I am big! I'll tear out his entrails while he lives, rend his limbs and scatter them over the fields, and over your ocean, (so he can join you!) For I am on fire, and, wounded, I burn with a fiercer flame, and I seem to bear Aetna with all his violent powers sunk in my breast, yet you, Galatea, are unmoved."

Acis is turned into a river-god

"With such useless complaints he rose (for I saw it all) and as a bull that cannot stay still, furious when the cow is taken from it, he wanders through the woods and glades. Not anticipating such a thing, without my knowing, he saw me, and saw Acis. "I see you," he cried, "and I'll make this the last celebration of your love." His voice was as loud as an angry Cyclops's voice must be: Aetna shook with the noise. And I, terrified, plunged into the nearby waters. My hero, son of Symaethis, had turned his back, and ran, crying: "Help me, I beg you, Galatea! Forefathers, help me, admit me to your kingdom or I die!"

Cyclops followed him and hurled a rock wrenched from the mountain, and though only the farthest corner of the stone reached him, it still completely buried Acis. Then I, doing the only thing that fate allowed me, caused Acis to assume his ancestral powers. From the rock, crimson blood seeped out, and in a little while its redness began to fade, became the colour of a river at first swollen by rain, gradually clearing. Then the rock, that Polyphemus had hurled, cracked open, and a tall green reed sprang from the fissure, and the mouth of a chamber in the rock echoed with leaping waters, and (a marvel) suddenly a youth stood, waist-deep in the water, his fresh horns wreathed with rushes. It was Acis, except that he was larger, and his face dark blue: yet it was still Acis, changed to a river-god, and his waters still retain his former name.

Glaucus tells Scylla of his transformation

Galatea finished speaking and the group of Nereids went away, swimming through the placid waves. Scylla returned to the beach, not daring to trust herself to mid-ocean, and either wandered naked along the parched sand, or, when she was tired, found a remote, sheltered pool, and cooled her limbs in its enclosed waters.

See, Glaucus comes, skimming the water, a new inhabitant of the sea, his form recently altered, at Anthedon opposite Euboea. Seeing the girl, he stood still, desiring her, and said whatever he thought might stop her running away. Nevertheless she ran, and, with the swiftness of fear, came to the top of a mountain standing near the shore. It faced the wide sea, rising to a single peak, its wooded summit leaning far out over the water. Here she stopped, and from a place of safety, marvelled at his colour; the hair that hid his shoulders and covered his back; and his groin below that merged into a winding fish's tail; she not knowing whether he was god or monster.

He saw her, and, leaning on a rock that stood nearby, he said: "Girl, I am no freak or wild creature, but a god of the sea. Proteus, Triton, or Palaemon son of Athamas, have no greater power in the ocean. Mortal once, but no doubt destined for the deep, even then I worked the waves: now drawing in the drag nets full of fish, now sitting on a rock, casting, with rod and line.

There is a beach, bounded by a green field, one side bordered by sea, the other by grass, that horned cattle have not damaged by grazing, that placid sheep or shaggy goats have not cropped. No bees intent on gathering pollen plundered the flowers there; no garlands came from there for the heads of revellers; no one had ever mown it, scythe in hand. I was the first to sit there on the turf, drying my sea-soaked lines, and laying out in order the fish I had caught, to count them, that either chance or innocence had brought to my curved hook. This will sound like a tale, but what would I get from lying? Touching the grass, my catch began to stir, and shift about, and swim over land as if they were in the sea. While I hesitated and wondered, the complete shoal fled into their native waters, leaving behind their new master, their new land.

I stood dumbfounded, for a while not believing it, searching for the cause. Had some god done it, or the juice of some herb? "Yet what herb has such power?" I asked, and gathering some herbage in my hand, I bit what I had gathered with my teeth. My throat had scarcely swallowed the strange juice, when suddenly I felt my heart trembling inside me, my breast seized with yearning for that other element. Unable to hold out for long, crying out: "Land, I will never return to, goodbye!" I immersed my body in the sea.

The gods of the sea received me, thinking me worth the honour of their company, and asked Oceanus and Tethys to purge what was mortal in me. I was purified by them, and, cleansed of sin by an incantation nine times repeated, they ordered me to bathe my body in a hundred rivers. Immediately streams from every side poured their waters over my head. So much I can tell of you of those marvellous things, so much of them I remember: then my mind knew no more. When later I came to, my whole body was altered from what I was before, and my mind was not the same.

Then I saw, for the first time, this dark green beard, my hair that sweeps the wide sea, these giant shoulders and dusky arms, these legs that curve below into a fish's fins. Yet what use is this shape, or that I was pleasing to the ocean gods? What use is it to be a god, if these things do not move you?"

As the god spoke these words, looking to say more, Scylla abandoned him. Then Glaucus, maddened, and angered by her rejection, sought the wondrous halls of Circe, daughter of the Sun.

Metamorphoses by Ovid 
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