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Medieval and Classical Library

The Fall of Troy

How the Arms of Achilles were cause of madness and death unto Aias.

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #18b

     So when all other contests had an end,
     Thetis the Goddess laid down in the midst
     Great-souled Achilles' arms divinely wrought;
     And all around flashed out the cunning work
     Wherewith the Fire-god overchased the shield
     Fashioned for Aeacus' son, the dauntless-souled.

     Inwrought upon that labour of a God
     Were first high heaven and cloudland, and beneath
     Lay earth and sea: the winds, the clouds were there,
10   The moon and sun, each in its several place;
     There too were all the stars that, fixed in heaven,
     Are borne in its eternal circlings round.
     Above and through all was the infinite air
     Where to and fro flit birds of slender beak:
     Thou hadst said they lived, and floated on the breeze.
     Here Tethys' all-embracing arms were wrought,
     And Ocean's fathomless flow.  The outrushing flood
     Of rivers crying to the echoing hills
     All round, to right, to left, rolled o'er the land.

20   Round it rose league-long mountain-ridges, haunts
     Of terrible lions and foul jackals: there
     Fierce bears and panthers prowled; with these were seen
     Wild boars that whetted deadly-clashing tusks
     In grimly-frothing jaws.  There hunters sped
     After the hounds: beaters with stone and dart,
     To the life portrayed, toiled in the woodland sport.

     And there were man-devouring wars, and all
     Horrors of fight: slain men were falling down
     Mid horse-hoofs; and the likeness of a plain
30   Blood-drenched was on that shield invincible.
     Panic was there, and Dread, and ghastly Enyo
     With limbs all gore-bespattered hideously,
     And deadly Strife, and the Avenging Spirits
     Fierce-hearted -- she, still goading warriors on
     To the onset they, outbreathing breath of fire.
     Around them hovered the relentless Fates;
     Beside them Battle incarnate onward pressed
     Yelling, and from their limbs streamed blood and sweat.
     There were the ruthless Gorgons: through their hair
40   Horribly serpents coiled with flickering tongues.
     A measureless marvel was that cunning work
     Of things that made men shudder to behold
     Seeming as though they verily lived and moved.

     And while here all war's marvels were portrayed,
     Yonder were all the works of lovely peace.
     The myriad tribes of much-enduring men
     Dwelt in fair cities.  Justice watched o'er all.
     To diverse toils they set their hands; the fields
     Were harvest-laden; earth her increase bore.

50   Most steeply rose on that god-laboured work
     The rugged flanks of holy Honour's mount,
     And there upon a palm-tree throned she sat
     Exalted, and her hands reached up to heaven.
     All round her, paths broken by many rocks
     Thwarted the climbers' feet; by those steep tracks
     Daunted ye saw returning many folk:
     Few won by sweat of toil the sacred height.

     And there were reapers moving down long swaths
     Swinging the whetted sickles: 'neath their hands
60   The hot work sped to its close.  Hard after these
     Many sheaf-binders followed, and the work
     Grew passing great.  With yoke-bands on their necks
     Oxen were there, whereof some drew the wains
     Heaped high with full-eared sheaves, and further on
     Were others ploughing, and the glebe showed black
     Behind them.  Youths with ever-busy goads
     Followed: a world of toil was there portrayed.

     And there a banquet was, with pipe and harp,
     Dances of maids, and flashing feet of boys,
70   All in swift movement, like to living souls.

     Hard by the dance and its sweet winsomeness
     Out of the sea was rising lovely-crowned
     Cypris, foam-blossoms still upon her hair;
     And round her hovered smiling witchingly
     Desire, and danced the Graces lovely-tressed.

     And there were lordly Nereus' Daughters shown
     Leading their sister up from the wide sea
     To her espousals with the warrior-king.
     And round her all the Immortals banqueted
80   On Pelion's ridge far-stretching.  All about
     Lush dewy watermeads there were, bestarred
     With flowers innumerable, grassy groves,
     And springs with clear transparent water bright.

     There ships with sighing sheets swept o'er the sea,
     Some beating up to windward, some that sped
     Before a following wind, and round them heaved
     The melancholy surge.  Seared shipmen rushed
     This way and that, adread for tempest-gusts,
     Hauling the white sails in, to 'scape the death --
90   It all seemed real -- some tugging at the oars,
     While the dark sea on either side the ship
     Grew hoary 'neath the swiftly-plashing blades.

     And there triumphant the Earth-shaker rode
     Amid sea-monsters' stormy-footed steeds
     Drew him, and seemed alive, as o'er the deep
     They raced, oft smitten by the golden whip.
     Around their path of flight the waves fell smooth,
     And all before them was unrippled calm.
     Dolphins on either hand about their king
100  Swarmed, in wild rapture of homage bowing backs,
     And seemed like live things o'er the hazy sea
     Swimming, albeit all of silver wrought.

     Marvels of untold craft were imaged there
     By cunning-souled Hephaestus' deathless hands
     Upon the shield.  And Ocean's fathomless flood
     Clasped like a garland all the outer rim,
     And compassed all the strong shield's curious work.

     And therebeside the massy helmet lay.
     Zeus in his wrath was set upon the crest
110  Throned on heaven's dome; the Immortals all around
     Fierce-battling with the Titans fought for Zeus.
     Already were their foes enwrapped with flame,
     For thick and fast as snowflakes poured from heaven
     The thunderbolts: the might of Zeus was roused,
     And burning giants seemed to breathe out flames.

     And therebeside the fair strong corslet lay,
     Unpierceable, which clasped Peleides once:
     There were the greaves close-lapping, light alone
     To Achilles; massy of mould and huge they were.

120  And hard by flashed the sword whose edge and point
     No mail could turn, with golden belt, and sheath
     Of silver, and with haft of ivory:
     Brightest amid those wondrous arms it shone.
     Stretched on the earth thereby was that dread spear,
     Long as the tall-tressed pines of Pelion,
     Still breathing out the reek of Hector's blood.

     Then mid the Argives Thetis sable-stoled
     In her deep sorrow for Achilles spake;
     "Now all the athlete-prizes have been won
130  Which I set forth in sorrow for my child.
     Now let that mightiest of the Argives come
     Who rescued from the foe my dead: to him
     These glorious and immortal arms I give
     Which even the blessed Deathless joyed to see."

     Then rose in rivalry, each claiming them,
     Laertes' seed and godlike Telamon's son,
     Aias, the mightiest far of Danaan men:
     He seemed the star that in the glittering sky
     Outshines the host of heaven, Hesperus,
140  So splendid by Peleides' arms he stood;
     "And let these judge," he cried, "Idomeneus,
     Nestor, and kingly-counselled Agamemnon,"
     For these, he weened, would sureliest know the truth
     Of deeds wrought in that glorious battle-toil.
     "To these I also trust most utterly,"
     Odysseus said, "for prudent of their wit
     Be these, and princeliest of all Danaan men."

     But to Idomeneus and Atreus' son
     Spake Nestor apart, and willingly they heard:
150  "Friends, a great woe and unendurable
     This day the careless Gods have laid on us,
     In that into this lamentable strife
     Aias the mighty hath been thrust by them
     Against Odysseus passing-wise.  For he,
     To whichsoe'er God gives the victor's glory --
     O yea, he shall rejoice!  But he that 1oseth --
     All for the grief in all the Danaans' hearts
     For him!  And ours shall be the deepest grief
     Of all; for that man will not in the war
160  Stand by us as of old.  A sorrowful day
     It shall be for us, whichsoe'er of these
     Shall break into fierce anger, seeing they
     Are of our heroes chiefest, this in war,
     And that in counsel.  Hearken then to me,
     Seeing that I am older far than ye,
     Not by a few years only: with mine age
     Is prudence joined, for I have suffered and wrought
     Much; and in counsel ever the old man,
     Who knoweth much, excelleth younger men.
170  Therefore let us ordain to judge this cause
     'Twixt godlike Aias and war-fain Odysseus,
     Our Trojan captives.  They shall say whom most
     Our foes dread, and who saved Peleides' corse
     From that most deadly fight.  Lo, in our midst
     Be many spear-won Trojans, thralls of Fate;
     And these will pass true judgment on these twain,
     To neither showing favour, since they hate
     Alike all authors of their misery."

     He spake: replied Agamemnon lord of spears:
180  "Ancient, there is none other in our midst
     Wiser than thou, of Danaans young or old,
     In that thou say'st that unforgiving wrath
     Will burn in him to whom the Gods herein
     Deny the victory; for these which strive
     Are both our chiefest.  Therefore mine heart too
     Is set on this, that to the thralls of war
     This judgment we commit: the loser then
     Shall against Troy devise his deadly work
     Of vengeance, and shall not be wroth with us."

190  He spake, and these three, being of one mind,
     In hearing of all men refused to judge
     Judgment so thankless: they would none of it.
     Therefore they set the high-born sons of Troy
     There in the midst, spear-thralls although they were,
     To give just judgment in the warriors' strife.
     Then in hot anger Aias rose, and spake:
     "Odysseus, frantic soul, why hath a God
     Deluded thee, to make thee hold thyself
     My peer in might invincible?  Dar'st thou say
200  That thou, when slain Achilles lay in dust,
     When round him swarmed the Trojans, didst bear back
     That furious throng, when I amidst them hurled
     Death, and thou coweredst away?  Thy dam
     Bare thee a craven and a weakling wretch
     Frail in comparison of me, as is
     A cur beside a lion thunder-voiced!
     No battle-biding heart is in thy breast,
     But wiles and treachery be all thy care.
     Hast thou forgotten how thou didst shrink back
210  From faring with Achaea's gathered host
     To Ilium's holy burg, till Atreus' sons
     Forced thee, the cowering craven, how loth soe'er,
     To follow them -- would God thou hadst never come!
     For by thy counsel left we in Lemnos' isle
     Groaning in agony Poeas' son renowned.
     And not for him alone was ruin devised
     Of thee; for godlike Palamedes too
     Didst thou contrive destruction -- ha, he was
     Alike in battle and council better than thou!
230  And now thou dar'st to rise up against me,
     Neither remembering my kindness, nor
     Having respect unto the mightier man
     Who rescued thee erewhile, when thou didst quaff
     In fight before the onset of thy foes,
     When thou, forsaken of all Greeks beside,
     Midst tumult of the fray, wast fleeing too!
     Oh that in that great fight Zeus' self had stayed
     My dauntless might with thunder from his heaven!
     Then with their two-edged swords the Trojan men
240  Had hewn thee limb from limb, and to their dogs
     Had cast thy carrion!  Then thou hadst not presumed
     To meet me, trusting in thy trickeries!
     Wretch, wherefore, if thou vauntest thee in might
     Beyond all others, hast thou set thy ships
     In the line's centre, screened from foes, nor dared
     As I, on the far wing to draw them up?
     Because thou wast afraid!  Not thou it was
     Who savedst from devouring fire the ships;
     But I with heart unquailing there stood fast
250  Facing the fire and Hector ay, even he
     Gave back before me everywhere in fight.
     Thou -- thou didst fear him aye with deadly fear!
     Oh, had this our contention been but set
     Amidst that very battle, when the roar
     Of conflict rose around Achilles slain!
     Then had thine own eyes seen me bearing forth
     Out from the battle's heart and fury of foes
     That goodly armour and its hero lord
     Unto the tents.  But here thou canst but trust
260  In cunning speech, and covetest a place
     Amongst the mighty!  Thou -- thou hast not strength
     To wear Achilles' arms invincible,
     Nor sway his massy spear in thy weak hands!
     But I they are verily moulded to my frame:
     Yea, seemly it is I wear those glorious arms,
     Who shall not shame a God's gifts passing fair.
     But wherefore for Achilles' glorious arms
     With words discourteous wrangling stand we here?
     Come, let us try in strife with brazen spears
270  Who of us twain is best in murderous right!
     For silver-footed Thetis set in the midst
     This prize for prowess, not for pestilent words.
     In folkmote may men have some use for words:
     In pride of prowess I know me above thee far,
     And great Achilles' lineage is mine own."

     He spake: with scornful glance and bitter speech
     Odysseus the resourceful chode with him:
     "Aias, unbridled tongue, why these vain words
     To me?  Thou hast called me pestilent, niddering,
280  And weakling: yet I boast me better far
     Than thou in wit and speech, which things increase
     The strength of men.  Lo, how the craggy rock,
     Adamantine though it seem, the hewers of stone
     Amid the hills by wisdom undermine
     Full lightly, and by wisdom shipmen cross
     The thunderous-plunging sea, when mountain-high
     It surgeth, and by craft do hunters quell
     Strong lions, panthers, boars, yea, all the brood
     Of wild things.  Furious-hearted bulls are tamed
290  To bear the yoke-bands by device of men.
     Yea, all things are by wit accomplished.  Still
     It is the man who knoweth that excels
     The witless man alike in toils and counsels.
     For my keen wit did Oeneus' valiant son
     Choose me of all men with him to draw nigh
     To Hector's watchmen: yea, and mighty deeds
     We twain accomplished.  I it was who brought
     To Atreus' sons Peleides far-renowned,
     Their battle-helper.  Whensoe'er the host
300  Needeth some other champion, not for the sake
     Of thine hands will he come, nor by the rede
     Of other Argives: of Achaeans I
     Alone will draw him with soft suasive words
     To where strong men are warring.  Mighty power
     The tongue hath over men, when courtesy
     Inspires it.  Valour is a deedless thing;
     And bulk and big assemblage of a man
     Cometh to naught, by wisdom unattended.
     But unto me the Immortals gave both strength
310  And wisdom, and unto the Argive host
     Made me a blessing.  Nor, as thou hast said,
     Hast thou in time past saved me when in flight
     From foes.  I never fled, but steadfastly
     Withstood the charge of all the Trojan host.
     Furious the enemy came on like a flood
     But I by might of hands cut short the thread
     Of many lives.  Herein thou sayest not true
     Me in the fray thou didst not shield nor save,
     But for thine own life roughtest, lest a spear
320  Should pierce thy back if thou shouldst turn to flee
     From war.  My ships?  I drew them up mid-line,
     Not dreading the battle-fury of any foe,
     But to bring healing unto Atreus' sons
     Of war's calamities: and thou didst set
     Far from their help thy ships.  Nay more, I seamed
     With cruel stripes my body, and entered so
     The Trojans' burg, that I might learn of them
     All their devisings for this troublous war.
     Nor ever I dreaded Hector's spear; myself
330  Rose mid the foremost, eager for the fight,
     When, prowess-confident, he defied us all.
     Yea, in the fight around Achilles, I
     Slew foes far more than thou; 'twas I who saved
     The dead king with this armour.  Not a whit
     I dread thy spear now, but my grievous hurt
     With pain still vexeth me, the wound I gat
     In fighting for these arms and their slain lord.
     In me as in Achilles is Zeus' blood."

     He spake; strong Aias answered him again.
340  "Most cunning and most pestilent of men,
     Nor I, nor any other Argive, saw
     Thee toiling in that fray, when Trojans strove
     Fiercely to hale away Achilles slain.
     My might it was that with the spear unstrung
     The knees of some in fight, and others thrilled
     With panic as they pressed on ceaselessly.
     Then fled they in dire straits, as geese or cranes
     Flee from an eagle swooping as they feed
     Along a grassy meadow; so, in dread
350  The Trojans shrinking backward from my spear
     And lightening sword, fled into Ilium
     To 'scape destruction.  If thy might came there
     Ever at all, not anywhere nigh me
     With foes thou foughtest: somewhere far aloot
     Mid other ranks thou toiledst, nowhere nigh
     Achilles, where the one great battle raged."

     He spake; replied Odysseus the shrewd heart:
     "Aias, I hold myself no worse than thou
     In wit or might, how goodly in outward show
360  Thou be soever.  Nay, I am keener far
     Of wit than thou in all the Argives' eyes.
     In battle-prowess do I equal thee
     Haply surpass; and this the Trojans know,
     Who tremble when they see me from afar.
     Aye, thou too know'st, and others know my strength
     By that hard struggle in the wrestling-match,
     When Peleus' son set glorious prizes forth
     Beside the barrow of Patroclus slain."

     So spake Laertes' son the world-renowned.
370  Then on that strife disastrous of the strong
     The sons of Troy gave judgment.  Victory
     And those immortal arms awarded they
     With one consent to Odysseus mighty in war.
     Greatly his soul rejoiced; but one deep groan
     Brake from the Greeks.  Then Aias' noble might
     Stood frozen stiff; and suddenly fell on him
     Dark wilderment; all blood within his frame
     Boiled, and his gall swelled, bursting forth in flood.
     Against his liver heaved his bowels; his heart
380  With anguished pangs was thrilled; fierce stabbing throes
     Shot through the filmy veil 'twixt bone and brain;
     And darkness and confusion wrapped his mind.
     With fixed eyes staring on the ground he stood
     Still as a statue.  Then his sorrowing friends
     Closed round him, led him to the shapely ships,
     Aye murmuring consolations.  But his feet
     Trod for the last time, with reluctant steps,
     That path; and hard behind him followed Doom.

     When to the ships beside the boundless sea
390  The Argives, faint for supper and for sleep,
     Had passed, into the great deep Thetis plunged,
     And all the Nereids with her.  Round them swam
     Sea-monsters many, children of the brine.

     Against the wise Prometheus bitter-wroth
     The Sea-maids were, remembering how that Zeus,
     Moved by his prophecies, unto Peleus gave
     Thetis to wife, a most unwilling bride.
     Then cried in wrath to these Cymothoe:
     "O that the pestilent prophet had endured
400  All pangs he merited, when, deep-burrowing,
     The eagle tare his liver aye renewed!"

     So to the dark-haired Sea-maids cried the Nymph.
     Then sank the sun: the onrush of the night
     Shadowed the fields, the heavens were star-bestrewn;
     And by the long-prowed ships the Argives slept
     By ambrosial sleep o'ermastered, and by wine
     The which from proud Idomeneus' realm of Crete:
     The shipmen bare o'er foaming leagues of sea.

     But Aias, wroth against the Argive men,
410  Would none of meat or drink, nor clasped him round
     The arms of sleep. In fury he donned his mail,
     He clutched his sword, thinking unspeakable thoughts;
     For now he thought to set the ships aflame,
     And slaughter all the Argives, now, to hew
     With sudden onslaught of his terrible sword
     Guileful Odysseus limb from limb.  Such things
     He purposed -- nay, had soon accomplished all,
     Had Pallas not with madness smitten him;
     For over Odysseus, strong to endure, her heart
420  Yearned, as she called to mind the sacrifices
     Offered to her of him continually.
     Therefore she turned aside from Argive men
     The might of Aias.  As a terrible storm,
     Whose wings are laden with dread hurricane-blasts,
     Cometh with portents of heart-numbing fear
     To shipmen, when the Pleiads, fleeing adread
     From glorious Orion, plunge beneath
     The stream of tireless Ocean, when the air
     Is turmoil, and the sea is mad with storm;
430  So rushed he, whithersoe'er his feet might bear.
     This way and that he ran, like some fierce beast
     Which darteth down a rock-walled glen's ravines
     With foaming jaws, and murderous intent
     Against the hounds and huntsmen, who have torn
     Out of the cave her cubs, and slain: she runs
     This way and that, and roars, if mid the brakes
     Haply she yet may see the dear ones lost;
     Whom if a man meet in that maddened mood,
     Straightway his darkest of all days hath dawned;
440  So ruthless-raving rushed he; blackly boiled
     His heart, as caldron on the Fire-god's hearth
     Maddens with ceaseless hissing o'er the flames
     From blazing billets coiling round its sides,
     At bidding of the toiler eager-souled
     To singe the bristles of a huge-fed boar;
     So was his great heart boiling in his breast.
     Like a wild sea he raved, like tempest-blast,
     Like the winged might of tireless flame amidst
     The mountains maddened by a mighty wind,
450  When the wide-blazing forest crumbles down
     In fervent heat.  So Aias, his fierce heart
     With agony stabbed, in maddened misery raved.
     Foam frothed about his lips; a beast-like roar
     Howled from his throat.  About his shoulders clashed
     His armour.  They which saw him trembled, all
     Cowed by the fearful shout of that one man.

     From Ocean then uprose Dawn golden-reined:
     Like a soft wind upfloated Sleep to heaven,
     And there met Hera, even then returned
460  To Olympus back from Tethys, unto whom
     But yester-morn she went.  She clasped him round,
     And kissed him, who had been her marriage-kin
     Since at her prayer on Ida's erest he had lulled
     To sleep Cronion, when his anger burned
     Against the Argives.  Straightway Hera passed
     To Zeus's mansion, and Sleep swiftly flew
     To Pasithea's couch.  From slumber woke
     All nations of the earth.  But Aias, like
     Orion the invincible, prowled on,
470  Still bearing murderous madness in his heart.
     He rushed upon the sheep, like lion fierce
     Whose savage heart is stung with hunger-pangs.
     Here, there, he smote them, laid them dead in dust
     Thick as the leaves which the strong North-wind's might
     Strews, when the waning year to winter turns;
     So on the sheep in fury Aias fell,
     Deeming he dealt to Danaans evil doom.

     Then to his brother Menelaus came,
     And spake, but not in hearing of the rest:
480  "This day shall surely be a ruinous day
     For all, since Aias thus is sense-distraught.
     It may be he will set the ships aflame,
     And slay us all amidst our tents, in wrath
     For those lost arms.  Would God that Thetis ne'er
     Had set them for the prize of rivalry!
     Would God Laertes' son had not presumed
     In folly of soul to strive with a better man!
     Fools were we all; and some malignant God
     Beguiled us; for the one great war-defence
490  Left us, since Aeacus' son in battle fell,
     Was Aias' mighty strength.  And now the Gods
     Will to our loss destroy him, bringing bane
     On thee and me, that all we may fill up
     The cup of doom, and pass to nothingness."

     He spake; replied Agamemnon, lord of spears:
     "Now nay, Menelaus, though thine heart he wrung,
     Be thou not wroth with the resourceful king
     Of Cephallenian folk, but with the Gods
     Who plot our ruin.  Blame not him, who oft
500  Hath been our blessing and our enemies' curse."

     So heavy-hearted spake the Danaan kings.
     But by the streams of Xanthus far away
     'Neath tamarisks shepherds cowered to hide from death,
     As when from a swift eagle cower hares
     'Neath tangled copses, when with sharp fierce scream
     This way and that with wings wide-shadowing
     He wheeleth very nigh; so they here, there,
     Quailed from the presence of that furious man.
     At last above a slaughtered ram he stood,
510  And with a deadly laugh he cried to it:
     "Lie there in dust; be meat for dogs and kites!
     Achilles' glorious arms have saved not thee,
     For which thy folly strove with a better man!
     Lie there, thou cur!  No wife shall fall on thee,
     And clasp, and wail thee and her fatherless childs,
     Nor shalt thou greet thy parents' longing eyes,
     The staff of their old age!  Far from thy land
     Thy carrion dogs and vultures shall devour!"

     So cried he, thinking that amidst the slain
520  Odysseus lay blood-boltered at his feet.
     But in that moment from his mind and eyes
     Athena tore away the nightmare-fiend
     Of Madness havoc-breathing, and it passed
     Thence swiftly to the rock-walled river Styx
     Where dwell the winged Erinnyes, they which still
     Visit with torments overweening men.

     Then Aias saw those sheep upon the earth
     Gasping in death; and sore amazed he stood,
     For he divined that by the Blessed Ones
530  His senses had been cheated.  All his limbs
     Failed under him; his soul was anguished-thrilled:
     He could not in his horror take one step
     Forward nor backward.  Like some towering rock
     Fast-rooted mid the mountains, there he stood.
     But when the wild rout of his thoughts had rallied,
     He groaned in misery, and in anguish wailed:
     "Ah me! why do the Gods abhor me so?
     They have wrecked my mind, have with fell madness filled,
     Making me slaughter all these innocent sheep!
540  Would God that on Odysseus' pestilent heart
     Mine hands had so avenged me!  Miscreant, he
     Brought on me a fell curse!  O may his soul
     Suffer all torments that the Avenging Fiends
     Devise for villains!  On all other Greeks
     May they bring murderous battle, woeful griefs,
     And chiefly on Agamemnon, Atreus' son!
     Not scatheless to the home may he return
     So long desired!  But why should I consort,
     I, a brave man, with the abominable?
550  Perish the Argive host, perish my life,
     Now unendurable!  The brave no more
     Hath his due guerdon, but the baser sort
     Are honoured most and loved, as this Odysseus
     Hath worship mid the Greeks: but utterly
     Have they forgotten me and all my deeds,
     All that I wrought and suffered in their cause."

     So spake the brave son of strong Telamon,
     Then thrust the sword of Hector through his throat.
     Forth rushed the blood in torrent: in the dust
560  Outstretched he lay, like Typhon, when the bolts
     Of Zeus had blasted him.  Around him groaned
     The dark earth as he fell upon her breast.

     Then thronging came the Danaans, when they saw
     Low laid in dust the hero; but ere then
     None dared draw nigh him, but in deadly fear
     They watched him from afar.  Now hasted they
     And flung themselves upon the dead, outstretched
     Upon their faces: on their heads they cast
     Dust, and their wailing went up to the sky.
570  As when men drive away the tender lambs
     Out of the fleecy flock, to feast thereon,
     And round the desolate pens the mothers leap
     Ceaselessly bleating, so o'er Aias rang
     That day a very great and bitter cry.
     Wild echoes pealed from Ida forest-palled,
     And from the plain, the ships, the boundless sea.

     Then Teucer clasping him was minded too
     To rush on bitter doom: howbeit the rest
     Held from the sword his hand.  Anguished he fell
580  Upon the dead, outpouring many a tear
     More comfortlessly than the orphan babe
     That wails beside the hearth, with ashes strewn
     On head and shoulders, wails bereavement's day
     That brings death to the mother who hath nursed
     The fatherless child; so wailed he, ever wailed
     His great death-stricken brother, creeping slow
     Around the corpse, and uttering his lament:
     "O Aias, mighty-souled, why was thine heart
     Distraught, that thou shouldst deal unto thyself
590  Murder and bale?  All, was it that the sons
     Of Troy might win a breathing-space from woes,
     Might come and slay the Greeks, now thou art not?
     From these shall all the olden courage fail
     When fast they fall in fight.  Their shield from harm
     s broken now!  For me, I have no will
     To see mine home again, now thou art dead.
     Nay, but I long here also now to die,
     That so the earth may shroud me -- me and thee
     Not for my parents so much do I care,
600  If haply yet they live, if haply yet
     Spared from the grave, in Salamis they dwell,
     As for thee, O my glory and my crown!"

     So cried he groaning sore; with answering moan
     Queenly Tecmessa wailed, the princess-bride
     Of noble Aias, captive of his spear,
     Yet ta'en by him to wife, and household-queen
     O'er all his substance, even all that wives
     Won with a bride-price rule for wedded lords.
     Clasped in his mighty arms, she bare to him
610  A son Eurysaces, in all things like
     Unto his father, far as babe might be
     Yet cradled in his tent.  With bitter moan
     Fell she on that dear corpse, all her fair form
     Close-shrouded in her veil, and dust-defiled,
     And from her anguished heart cried piteously:
     "Alas for me, for me now thou art dead,
     Not by the hands of foes in fight struck down,
     But by thine own!  On me is come a grief
     Ever-abiding!  Never had I looked
620  To see thy woeful death-day here by Troy.
     Ah, visions shattered by rude hands of Fate!
     Oh that the earth had yawned wide for my grave
     Ere I beheld thy bitter doom!  On me
     No sharper, more heart-piercing pang hath come --
     No, not when first from fatherland afar
     And parents thou didst bear me, wailing sore
     Mid other captives, when the day of bondage
     Had come on me, a princess theretofore.
     Not for that dear lost home so much I grieve,
630  Nor for my parents dead, as now for thee:
     For all thine heart was kindness unto me
     The hapless, and thou madest me thy wife,
     One soul with thee; yea, and thou promisedst
     To throne me queen of fair-towered Salamis,
     When home we won from Troy.  The Gods denied
     Accomplishment thereof.  And thou hast passed
     Unto the Unseen Land: thou hast forgot
     Me and thy child, who never shall make glad
     His father's heart, shall never mount thy throne.
640  But him shall strangers make a wretched thrall:
     For when the father is no more, the babe
     Is ward of meaner men.  A weary life
     The orphan knows, and suffering cometh in
     From every side upon him like a flood.
     To me too thraldom's day shall doubtless come,
     Now thou hast died, who wast my god on earth."

     Then in all kindness Agamemnon spake:
     "Princess, no man on earth shall make thee thrall,
     While Teucer liveth yet, while yet I live.
650  Thou shalt have worship of us evermore
     And honour as a Goddess, with thy son,
     As though yet living were that godlike man,
     Aias, who was the Achaeans' chiefest strength.
     Ah that he had not laid this load of grief
     On all, in dying by his own right hand!
     For all the countless armies of his foes
     Never availed to slay him in fair fight."

     So spake he, grieved to the inmost heart.  The folk
     Woefully wafted all round.  O'er Hellespont
660  Echoes of mourning rolled: the sighing air
     Darkened around, a wide-spread sorrow-pall.
     Yea, grief laid hold on wise Odysseus' self
     For the great dead, and with remorseful soul
     To anguish-stricken Argives thus he spake:
     "O friends, there is no greater curse to men
     Than wrath, which groweth till its bitter fruit
     Is strife.  Now wrath hath goaded Aias on
     To this dire issue of the rage that filled
     His soul against me.  Would to God that ne'er
670  Yon Trojans in the strife for Achilles' arms
     Had crowned me with that victory, for which
     Strong Telamon's brave son, in agony
     Of soul, thus perished by his own right hand!
     Yet blame not me, I pray you, for his wrath:
     Blame the dark dolorous Fate that struck him down.
     For, had mine heart foreboded aught of this,
     This desperation of a soul distraught,
     Never for victory had I striven with him,
     Nor had I suffered any Danaan else,
680  Though ne'er so eager, to contend with him.
     Nay, I had taken up those arms divine
     With mine own hands, and gladly given them
     To him, ay, though himself desired it not.
     But for such mighty grief and wrath in him
     I had not looked, since not for a woman's sake
     Nor for a city, nor possessions wide,
     I then contended, but for Honour's meed,
     Which alway is for all right-hearted men
     The happy goal of all their rivalry.
690  But that great-hearted man was led astray
     By Fate, the hateful fiend; for surely it is
     Unworthy a man to be made passion's fool.
     The wise man's part is, steadfast-souled to endure
     All ills, and not to rage against his lot."

     So spake Laertes' son, the far-renowned.
     But when they all were weary of grief and groan,
     Then to those sorrowing ones spake Neleus' son:
     "O friends, the pitiless-hearted Fates have laid
     Stroke after stroke of sorrow upon us,
700  Sorrow for Aias dead, for mighty Achilles,
     For many an Argive, and for mine own son
     Antilochus.  Yet all unmeet it is
     Day after day with passion of grief to wail
     Men slain in battle: nay, we must forget
     Laments, and turn us to the better task
     Of rendering dues beseeming to the dead,
     The dues of pyre, of tomb, of bones inurned.
     No lamentations will awake the dead;
     No note thereof he taketh, when the Fates,
710  The ruthless ones, have swallowed him in night."

     So spake he words of cheer: the godlike kings
     Gathered with heavy hearts around the dead,
     And many hands upheaved the giant corpse,
     And swiftly bare him to the ships, and there
     Washed they away the blood that clotted lay
     Dust-flecked on mighty limbs and armour: then
     In linen swathed him round.  From Ida's heights
     Wood without measure did the young men bring,
     And piled it round the corpse.  Billets and logs
720  Yet more in a wide circle heaped they round;
     And sheep they laid thereon, fair-woven vests,
     And goodly kine, and speed-triumphant steeds,
     And gleaming gold, and armour without stint,
     From slain foes by that glorious hero stripped.
     And lucent amber-drops they laid thereon,
     Years, say they, which the Daughters of the Sun,
     The Lord of Omens, shed for Phaethon slain,
     When by Eridanus' flood they mourned for him.
     These, for undying honour to his son,
730  The God made amber, precious in men's eyes.
     Even this the Argives on that broad-based pyre
     Cast freely, honouring the mighty dead.
     And round him, groaning heavily, they laid
     Silver most fair and precious ivory,
     And jars of oil, and whatsoe'er beside
     They have who heap up goodly and glorious wealth.
     Then thrust they in the strength of ravening flame,
     And from the sea there breathed a wind, sent forth
     By Thetis, to consume the giant frame
740  Of Aias.  All the night and all the morn
     Burned 'neath the urgent stress of that great wind
     Beside the ships that giant form, as when
     Enceladus by Zeus' levin was consumed
     Beneath Thrinacia, when from all the isle
     Smoke of his burning rose -- or like as when
     Hercules, trapped by Nessus' deadly guile,
     Gave to devouring fire his living limbs,
     What time he dared that awful deed, when groaned
     All Oeta as he burned alive, and passed
750  His soul into the air, leaving the man
     Far-famous, to be numbered with the Gods,
     When earth closed o'er his toil-tried mortal part.
     So huge amid the flames, all-armour clad,
     Lay Aias, all the joy of fight forgot,
     While a great multitude watching thronged the sands.
     Glad were the Trojans, but the Achaeans grieved.

     But when that goodly frame by ravening fire
     Was all consumed, they quenched the pyre with wine;
     They gathered up the bones, and reverently
760  Laid in a golden casket.  Hard beside
     Rhoeteium's headland heaped they up a mound
     Measureless-high.  Then scattered they amidst
     The long ships, heavy-hearted for the man
     Whom they had honoured even as Achilles.
     Then black night, bearing unto all men sleep,
     Upfloated: so they brake bread, and lay down
     Waiting the Child of the Mist.  Short was sleep,
     Broken by fitful staring through the dark,
     Haunted by dread lest in the night the foe
770  Should fall on them, now Telamon's son was dead.

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