There is nothing alive more agonized than man
of all that breathe and crawl across the earth.
There is nothing alive more agonized than man
of all that breathe and crawl across the earth.
And the lord of the battle cry could not refuse
but dragged his heels like a lion leaving sheepfolds,
bone-weary from harrying hounds and field hands.
They’ll never let him tear the rich fat from the oxen,
all night long they stand their guard but the lion craves meat,
he lunges in and in but his charges gain him nothing,
thick-and-fast from their hardy hands the javelins
rain down in his face, and waves of roaring torches –
these the big cat fears, balking for all his rage,
and at dawn he slinks away, his spirits dashed.
And so the lord of the war cry left Patroclus,
resisting all the way.
My child –
why in tears? What sorrow has touched your heart?
Tell me, please. Don’t harbor it deep inside you.
Zeus has accomplished everything you wanted,
just as you raised your hands and prayed that day.
All the sons of Achaea are pinned against the ships
and all for want of you – they suffer shattering losses.
But now, since I shall not return to my fatherland…
nor did I bring one ray of hope to my Patroclus,
nor to the rest of all my steadfast comrades,
countless ranks struck down by mighty Hector –
No, no, here I sit by the ships…
a useless, dead weight on the good green earth.
If only strife could die from the lives of gods and men
and anger that drives the sanest man to flare in outrage –
bitter gall, sweeter than dripping streams of honey,
that swarms in people’s chests and blinds like smoke.
Yes, my son, you’re right. No coward’s work,
to save your exhausted friends from headlong death.
But your own handsome war-gear lies in Trojan hands,
bronze and burnished – and Hector in that flashing helmet,
Hector glorifies in your armor, strapped across his back.
Not that he will glory in it long, I tell you:
his own destruction hovers near him now. Wait –
don’t fling yourself in the grind of battle yet,
not till you see me coming back with your own eyes.
Tomorrow I will return to you with the rising sun,
bearing splendid arms from Hephaestus, god of fire!
As smoke goes towering up the sky from out a town
cut off on a distant island under siege…
enemies battling round it, defenders all day long
trading desperate blows from their own city walls
but soon as the sun goes down the signal fires flash,
rows of beacons blazing into the air to alert their neighbors –
if only they’ll come in ships to save them from disaster –
so now from Achilles’ head the blaze shot up the sky.
So there he rose and loosed an enormous cry
and off in the distance Pallas shrieked out too
and drove unearthly panic through the Trojans.
Piercing loud as the trumpet’s battle cry that blasts
from murderous raiding armies ringed around some city –
so piercing now the cry that broke from Aeacides.
The god of war is impartial:
he hands out death to the man who hands out death.
And Achilles led them now in a throbbing chant of sorrow,
laying his man-killing hands on his great friend’s chest,
convulsed with bursts of grief. Like a bearded lion
whose pride of cubs a deer-hunter has snatched away,
out of some thick woods, and back he comes, too late.
and his heart breaks but he courses after the hunter.
hot on his tracks down glen on twisting glen –
where can he find him? – gripped by piercing rage.
Look at us. Both doomed to stain red with our blood
the same plot of earth, a world away in Troy!
For not even I will voyage home again. Never.
No embrace in his halls from the old horseman Peleus
nor from mother, Thetis – this alien earth I stride
will hold me down at last.
If it really was Achilles who reared beside the ships,
all the worse for him – if he wants his fill of war.
I for one, I’ll never run from his grim assault,
I’ll stand up to the man – see if he bears off glory
or I bear it off myself!
And once the god had made that great and massive shield
he made Achilles a breastplate brighter than gleaming fire.
he made him a sturdy helmet to fit the fighter’s temples.
beautiful, burnished work, and raised its golden crest
and made him greaves of flexing, pliant tin.
My child, leave your friend to lie there dead –
we must, though it breaks our hearts…
The will of the gods has crushed him once for all.
But here, Achilles, accept this glorious armor, look,
a gift from the god of fire – burnished bright, finer
than any mortal has ever borne across his back!
Enough. Let bygones be bygones. Done is done.
Despite my anguish I will beat it down,
the fury mounting inside me, down by force.
Now, by god, I call a halt to all my anger –
it’s wrong to keep on raging, heart inflamed forever.
Often the armies brought this matter up against me –
they would revile me in public. But I am not to blame!
Zeus and Fate and the Fury stalking through the night,
they are the ones who drove that savage madness in my heart,
that day in assembly when I seized Achilles’ prize –
on my own authority, true, but what could I do?
A god impels all things to their fulfil1ment.
Ruin, eldest daughter of Zeus, she blinds us all.
that fatal madness – she with those delicate feet of hers,
never touching the earth, gliding over the heads of men
to trap us all. She entangles one man, now another.
Why, she and her frenzy blinded Zeus one time,
highest, greatest of men and gods, they say.
when the sun goes down,
lay on a handsome feast – once we’ve avenged our shame.
Before then, for me at least, neither food nor drink
will travel down my throat, not with my friend dead,
there in my shelter, torn to shreds by the sharp bronze…
His feet turned to the door; stretched out for burial,
round him comrades mourning.
Now fighting men will sicken of battle quickly:
the more dead husks the bronze strews on the ground
the sparser the harvest then, when Zeus almighty
tips his scales and the tide of battle turns –
the great steward on high who rules our mortal wars.
You want the men to grieve for the dead by starving?
Impossible. Too many falling, day after day – battalions!
When could we find a breathing space from fasting?
No. We must steel our hearts. Bury our dead,
with tears for the day they die, not one day more.
And all those left alive, after the hateful carnage,
remember food and drink – so all the more fiercely
we can fight our enemies, nonstop, no mercy,
durable as the bronze that wraps our bodies.
Seven tripods hauled from the tents, as promised,
twenty burnished cauldrons, a dozen massive stallions.
They quickly brought out women, flawless, skilled in crafts,
seven, and Briseis in all her beauty made the eighth.
Then Odysseus weighed out ten full bars of gold.
dearest joy of my heart, my harrowed, broken heart!
I left you alive that day I left these shelters,
now I come back to find you fallen, captain of armies!
So grief gives way to grief, my life one endless sorrow!
The husband to whom my father and noble mother gave me,
I saw him torn by the sharp bronze before our city,
and my three brothers – a single mother bore us:
my brothers, how I loved you! –
you all went down to death on the same day…
But you, Patroclus, you would not let me weep,
not when the swift Achilles cut my husband down,
not when he plundered the lordly Mynes’ city –
not even weep! No, again and again you vowed
you’d make me godlike Achilles’ lawful, wedded wife,
you would sail me west in your warships, home to Phthia
and there with the Myrmidons hold my marriage feast.
So now I mourn your death – I will never stop –
you were always kind.
Ah god, time and again, my doomed, my dearest friend,
you would set before us a seasoned meal yourself,
here in our tents, in your quick and expert way,
when Argive forces rushed to fight the Trojans,
stampeding those breakers of horses into rout.
But now you lie before me, hacked to pieces here
while the heart within me fasts from food and drink
though stores inside are full –
I’m sick with longing for you!
There is no more shattering blow that I could suffer.
Not even if I should learn of my own father’s death,
…or the death of my dear son, reared for me in Seyros,
if Prince Neoptolernus is still among the living.
Down the sky she swooped through the clear bright air
like a shrieking, sharp-winged hawk.
The glory of armor lit the skies and the whole earth laughed,
rippling under the glitter of bronze, thunder resounding
under trampling feet of armies. And in their midst
the brilliant Achilles began to arm for battle.
then hoisted the massive shield flashing far and wide
like a full round moon – and gleaming bright as the light
that reaches sailors out at sea, the flare of a watchfire
burning strong in a lonely sheepfold up some mountain slope
when the gale-winds hurl the crew that fights against them
far over the fish-swarming sea, far from loved ones –
so the gleam from Achilles’ well-wrought blazoned shield
shot up and hit the skies.
mighty Achilles! But the day of death
already hovers near, and we are not to blame
but a great god is and the strong force of fate.
Not through our want of speed or any lack of care
did the Trojans strip the armor off Patroclus’ back.
It was all that matchless god, sleek-haired Leto’s son –
he killed him among the champions and handed Hector glory.
Our team could race with the rush of the West Wind,
the strongest, swiftest blast on earth, men say –
still you are doomed to die by force, Achilles,
cut down by a deathless god and mortal man.
If Achilles fights the Trojans – unopposed by us –
not for a moment will they hold his breakneck force.
Even before now they’d shake to see him coming.
Now, with his rage inflamed for his friend’s death,
I fear he’ll raze the walls against the will of fate.