Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

the noblest of the Greeks, Protesilatis, fell by the hand of Hector. This Protesilatis had left at home his wife Laodamia (a niece of Alcestis), — who was most tenderly attached to him. The story runs that when the news of his death reached her, she implored the gods for leave to converse with him if but for three hours. The request was granted. Mercury led Protesilails back to the upper world; and when the hero died a second time Laodamia died with him. It is said that the nymphs planted elm trees round his grave, which flourished till they were high enough to command a view of Troy, then withered away, giving place to fresh branches that sprang from the roots.

Wordsworth has taken the story of Protesilatis and Laodamia for a poem invested with the atmosphere of the classics. The oracle, according to the tradition, had declared that victory should be the lot of that party from which should fall the first victim in the war. The poet represents the Protesilaiis, on his brief return to earth, relating to Laodamia the story of his fate : —

"The wished-for wind was given; I then revolved

The oracle upon the silent sea;
And if no worthier led the way, resolved

That of a thousand vessels mine should be
The foremost prow in pressing to the strand, —
Mine the first blood that tinged the Trojan sand.

"Yet bitter, oft-times bitter was the pang

When of thy loss I thought, beloved Wife!

On thee too fondly did my memory hang,
And on the joys we shared in mortal life, —

The paths which we had trod — these fountains, flowers;

My new-planned cities and unfinished towers.

"But should suspense permit the foe to cry,

'Behold they tremble ! — haughty their array,
Yet of their number no one dares to die?'
In soul I swept the indignity away:

. . . Upon the side

Of Hellespont (such faith was entertained)
A knot of spiry trees for ages grew

From out the tomb of him for whom she died;

And ever when such stature they had gained
That Ilium's walls were subject to their view,
The trees' tall summits withered at the sight:
A constant interchange of growth and blight!

§ 168. Homer's Iliad.1—The war continued without decisive result for nine years. Then an event occurred which seemed likely to prove fatal to the cause of the Greeks, — a quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon. It is at this point that the great poem of Homer, the Iliad, begins.

The Wrath of Achilles. — The Greeks, though unsuccessful against Troy, had taken the neighboring and allied cities; and in the division of the spoil a female captive, by name Chryseis, daughter of Chryses, priest of Apollo, had fallen to the share of Agamemnon. Chryses came bearing the sacred emblems of his office, and begged the release of his daughter. Agamemnon refused. Thereupon Chryses implored Apollo to afflict the Greeks till they should be forced to yield their prey.2 Apollo granted the prayer of his priest, and sent such pestilence upon the Grecian camp, that a council was called to deliberate how to allay the wrath of the gods and avert the plague. Achilles boldly charged the misfortunes upon Agamemnon as caused by his withholding Chrysei's. Agamemnon, in anger, consented, thereupon, to relinquish his captive, but demanded that Achilles should yield to him in her stead Brisei's, a maiden who had fallen to that hero's share in the division of the spoil. Achilles submitted, but declared that he would take no further part in the war, — withdrew his forces from the general camp, and avowed his intention of returning to Greece.

The Enlistment of the Gods. —The gods and goddesses interested themselves as much in this famous siege as did the parties

1 r-or translations, sec Commentary, § 11. On Chapman's Homer, read the sonnet by Keats. 2 § 76.

themselves. It was well known in heaven that fate had decreed the fall of Troy, if her enemies only persevered. Yet there was room for chance sufficient to excite by turns the hopes and fears of the powers above who took part with either side. Juno and Minerva, in consequence of the slight put upon their charms by

[graphic]

Paris, were hostile to the Trojans; Venus for the opposite cause favored them; she enlisted, also, her admirer Mars on the same side. Neptune favored the Greeks. Apollo was neutral, sometimes taking one side, sometimes the other. Jove himself, though he loved Priam, exercised a degree of impartiality, — not, however, without exceptions.

Resenting the injury done by Agamemnon to her son, Thetis repaired to Jove's palace and besought him to grant success to the Trojan arms and so make the Greeks repent of their injustice to Achilles. Jupiter consented; and in the battle which ensued the Trojans were completely successful. ( The Greeks were driven from the field and took refuge in their ships.

I Then Agamemnon, king of men, called a council of his wisest and bravest chiefs. In the debate that ensued, Nestor advised that an embassy should be sent to Achilles persuading him to return to the field; and that Agamemnon should yield the maiden, the cause of dispute, with ample gifts to atone for the wrong he had done. Agamemnon assented; and Ulysses, Ajax, and Phcenix were sent to carry to Achilles the penitent message. They performed that duty, but Achilles was deaf to their entreaties. He positively refused to return to the attack, and persisted in his determination to embark for Greece without delay.

Meanwhile the Greeks having constructed a rampart around

their ships, were now, instead of

/^^^\ besieging Troy, in a manner

ardor of the warriors to such a pitch that they forced the Trojans to give way. Here Ajax, son of Telamon, performed prodigies of valor. Bearing his massy shield, and " shaking his far shadowing

[graphic]
[graphic]

themselves besieged, within their rampart. The next day after the unsuccessful embassy to Achilles, another battle was fought, after which the Trojans, favored by Jove, succeeded in forcing a passage through the Grecian rampart, and were about to set fire to the ships. But Neptune, seeing the Greeks hard pressed, came to their rescue. Appearing in the form of Calchas the prophet, he raised the spear," he encountered Hector.1 The Greek shouted defiance, to which Hector replied, and hurled his lance at the huge warrior. It was well aimed and struck Ajax where the belts that bore his sword and shield crossed each other on the breast, but the double guard prevented its penetrating, and it fell harmless. Then Ajax seizing a huge stone, one of those that served to prop the ships, hurled it at Hector. It struck him near the neck and stretched him on the plain. His followers instantly seized him and bore him off stunned and wounded.

, While Neptune was thus aiding the Greeks and driving back the Trojans, Jupiter saw nothing of what was going on, for his attention had been drawn from the field by the wiles of Juno. That goddess had arrayed herself in all her charms, and to crown all had borrowed of Venus her girdle, the Cestus, which enhanced the wearer's charms to such a degree that they were irresistible. So prepared, Juno had joined her husband, who sat on Olympus watching the battle. When he beheld her, the fondness of his early love revived, and forgetting the contending armies and all other affairs of state, he gave himself up to her and let the battle go as it would.

But this oblivion did not continue long. When, upon turning his eyes downward, the cloud-compeller beheld Hector stretched, almost lifeless, on the plain, he angrily dismissed Juno, commanding her to send Iris and Apollo to him. The former bore a peremptory message to Neptune, ordering him to quit the contest. Apollo was despatched to heal Hector's bruises and to inspirit his heart. These orders were obeyed with such speed that while the battle was still raging, Hector returned to the field, and Neptune betook himself to his own dominions.

Achilles and Patroclus. — An arrow from the bow of Paris wounded Machaon, son of ^Esculapius, a brave warrior, who, having inherited his father's art, was of great value to the Greeks

1 The passage which precedes the first conflict between these heroes, describing the farewell of Hector to Andromache his wife and Astyanax his son, is the most delicate and pathetic in the Iliad (6: 370-500).

« НазадПродовжити »