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Book XII


SO THE son of Menoetius was attending to the hurt of Eurypylus

within the tent, but the Argives and Trojans still fought

desperately, nor were the trench and the high wall above it, to

keep the Trojans in check longer. They had built it to protect

their ships, and had dug the trench all round it that it might

safeguard both the ships and the rich spoils which they had

taken, but they had not offered hecatombs to the gods. It had

been built without the consent of the immortals, and therefore it

did not last. So long as Hector lived and Achilles nursed his

anger, and so long as the city of Priam remained untaken, the

great wall of the Achaeans stood firm; but when the bravest of

the Trojans were no more, and many also of the Argives, though

some were yet left alive--when, moreover, the city was sacked in

the tenth year, and the Argives had gone back with their ships to

their own country--then Neptune and Apollo took counsel to

destroy the wall, and they turned on to it the streams of all the

rivers from Mount Ida into the sea, Rhesus, Heptaporus, Caresus,

Rhodius, Grenicus, Aesopus, and goodly Scamander, with Simois,

where many a shield and helm had fallen, and many a hero of the

race of demigods had bitten the dust. Phoebus Apollo turned the

mouths of all these rivers together and made them flow for nine

days against the wall, while Jove rained the whole time that he

might wash it sooner into the sea. Neptune himself, trident in

hand, surveyed the work and threw into the sea all the

foundations of beams and stones which the Achaeans had laid with

so much toil; he made all level by the mighty stream of the

Hellespont, and then when he had swept the wall away he spread a

great beach of sand over the place where it had been. This done

he turned the rivers back into their old courses.

This was what Neptune and Apollo were to do in after time; but as

yet battle and turmoil were still raging round the wall till its

timbers rang under the blows that rained upon them. The Argives,

cowed by the scourge of Jove, were hemmed in at their ships in

fear of Hector the mighty minister of Rout, who as heretofore

fought with the force and fury of a whirlwind. As a lion or wild

boar turns fiercely on the dogs and men that attack him, while

these form solid wall and shower their javelins as they face

him--his courage is all undaunted, but his high spirit will be

the death of him; many a time does he charge at his pursuers to

scatter them, and they fall back as often as he does so--even so

did Hector go about among the host exhorting his men, and

cheering them on to cross the trench.

But the horses dared not do so, and stood neighing upon its

brink, for the width frightened them. They could neither jump it

nor cross it, for it had overhanging banks all round upon either

side, above which there were the sharp stakes that the sons of

the Achaeans had planted so close and strong as a defence against

all who would assail it; a horse, therefore, could not get into

it and draw his chariot after him, but those who were on foot

kept trying their very utmost. Then Polydamas went up to Hector

and said, "Hector, and you other captains of the Trojans and

allies, it is madness for us to try and drive our horses across

the trench; it will be very hard to cross, for it is full of

sharp stakes, and beyond these there is the wall. Our horses

therefore cannot get down into it, and would be of no use if they

did; moreover it is a narrow place and we should come to harm.

If, indeed, great Jove is minded to help the Trojans, and in his

anger will utterly destroy the Achaeans, I would myself gladly

see them perish now and here far from Argos; but if they should

rally and we are driven back from the ships pell-mell into the

trench there will be not so much as a man get back to the city to

tell the tale. Now, therefore, let us all do as I say; let our

squires hold our horses by the trench, but let us follow Hector

in a body on foot, clad in full armour, and if the day of their

doom is at hand the Achaeans will not be able to withstand us."

Thus spoke Polydamas and his saying pleased Hector, who sprang in

full armour to the ground, and all the other Trojans, when they

saw him do so, also left their chariots. Each man then gave his

horses over to his charioteer in charge to hold them ready for

him at the trench. Then they formed themselves into companies,

made themselves ready, and in five bodies followed their leaders.

Those that went with Hector and Polydamas were the bravest and

most in number, and the most determined to break through the wall

and fight at the ships. Cebriones was also joined with them as

third in command, for Hector had left his chariot in charge of a

less valiant soldier. The next company was led by Paris,

Alcathous, and Agenor; the third by Helenus and Deiphobus, two

sons of Priam, and with them was the hero Asius--Asius, the son

of Hyrtacus, whose great black horses of the breed that comes

from the river Selleis had brought him from Arisbe. Aeneas, the

valiant son of Anchises, led the fourth; he and the two sons of

Antenor, Archelochus and Acamas, men well versed in all the arts

of war. Sarpedon was captain over the allies, and took with him

Glaucus and Asteropaeus whom he deemed most valiant after

himself--for he was far the best man of them all. These helped to

array one another in their ox-hide shields, and then charged

straight at the Danaans, for they felt sure that they would not

hold out longer and that they should themselves now fall upon the


The rest of the Trojans and their allies now followed the counsel

of Polydamas but Asius, son of Hyrtacus, would not leave his

horses and his esquire behind him; in his foolhardiness he took

them on with him towards the ships, nor did he fail to come by

his end in consequence. Nevermore was he to return to wind-beaten

Ilius, exulting in his chariot and his horses; ere he could do

so, death of ill-omened name had overshadowed him and he had

fallen by the spear of Idomeneus the noble son of Deucalion. He

had driven towards the left wing of the ships, by which way the

Achaeans used to return with their chariots and horses from the

plain. Hither he drove and found the gates with their doors

opened wide, and the great bar down--for the gatemen kept them

open so as to let those of their comrades enter who might be

flying towards the ships. Hither of set purpose did he direct his

horses, and his men followed him with a loud cry, for they felt

sure that the Achaeans would not hold out longer, and that they

should now fall upon the ships. Little did they know that at the

gates they should find two of the bravest chieftains, proud sons

of the fighting Lapithae--the one, Polypoetes, mighty son of

Pirithous, and the other Leonteus, peer of murderous Mars. These

stood before the gates like two high oak trees upon the

mountains, that tower from their wide-spreading roots, and year

after year battle with wind and rain--even so did these two men

await the onset of great Asius confidently and without flinching.

The Trojans led by him and by Iamenus, Orestes, Adamas the son of

Asius, Thoon and Oenomaus, raised a loud cry of battle and made

straight for the wall, holding their shields of dry ox-hide above

their heads; for a while the two defenders remained inside and

cheered the Achaeans on to stand firm in the defence of their

ships; when, however, they saw that the Trojans were attacking

the wall, while the Danaans were crying out for help and being

routed, they rushed outside and fought in front of the gates like

two wild boars upon the mountains that abide the attack of men

and dogs, and charging on either side break down the wood all

round them tearing it up by the roots, and one can hear the

clattering of their tusks, till some one hits them and makes an

end of them--even so did the gleaming bronze rattle about their

breasts, as the weapons fell upon them; for they fought with

great fury, trusting to their own prowess and to those who were

on the wall above them. These threw great stones at their

assailants in defence of themselves their tents and their ships.

The stones fell thick as the flakes of snow which some fierce

blast drives from the dark clouds and showers down in sheets upon

the earth--even so fell the weapons from the hands alike of

Trojans and Achaeans. Helmet and shield rang out as the great

stones rained upon them, and Asius, the son of Hyrtacus, in his

dismay cried aloud and smote his two thighs. "Father Jove," he

cried, "of a truth you too are altogether given to lying. I made

sure the Argive heroes could not withstand us, whereas like

slim-waisted wasps, or bees that have their nests in the rocks by

the wayside--they leave not the holes wherein they have built

undefended, but fight for their little ones against all who would

take them--even so these men, though they be but two, will not be

driven from the gates, but stand firm either to slay or be


He spoke, but moved not the mind of Jove, whose counsel it then

was to give glory to Hector. Meanwhile the rest of the Trojans

were fighting about the other gates; I, however, am no god to be

able to tell about all these things, for the battle raged

everywhere about the stone wall as it were a fiery furnace. The

Argives, discomfited though they were, were forced to defend

their ships, and all the gods who were defending the Achaeans

were vexed in spirit; but the Lapithae kept on fighting with

might and main.

Thereon Polypoetes, mighty son of Pirithous, hit Damasus with a

spear upon his cheek-pierced helmet. The helmet did not protect

him, for the point of the spear went through it, and broke the

bone, so that the brain inside was scattered about, and he died

fighting. He then slew Pylon and Ormenus. Leonteus, of the race

of Mars, killed Hippomachus the son of Antimachus by striking him

with his spear upon the girdle. He then drew his sword and sprang

first upon Antiphates whom he killed in combat, and who fell face

upwards on the earth. After him he killed Menon, Iamenus, and

Orestes, and laid them low one after the other.

While they were busy stripping the armour from these heroes, the

youths who were led on by Polydamas and Hector (and these were

the greater part and the most valiant of those that were trying

to break through the wall and fire the ships) were still standing

by the trench, uncertain what they should do; for they had seen a

sign from heaven when they had essayed to cross it--a soaring

eagle that flew skirting the left wing of their host, with a

monstrous blood-red snake in its talons still alive and

struggling to escape. The snake was still bent on revenge,

wriggling and twisting itself backwards till it struck the bird

that held it, on the neck and breast; whereon the bird being in

pain, let it fall, dropping it into the middle of the host, and

then flew down the wind with a sharp cry. The Trojans were struck

with terror when they saw the snake, portent of aegis-bearing

Jove, writhing in the midst of them, and Polydamas went up to

Hector and said, "Hector, at our councils of war you are ever

given to rebuke me, even when I speak wisely, as though it were

not well, forsooth, that one of the people should cross your will

either in the field or at the council board; you would have them

support you always: nevertheless I will say what I think will be

best; let us not now go on to fight the Danaans at their ships,

for I know what will happen if this soaring eagle which skirted

the left wing of our host with a monstrous blood-red snake in its

talons (the snake being still alive) was really sent as an omen

to the Trojans on their essaying to cross the trench. The eagle

let go her hold; she did not succeed in taking it home to her

little ones, and so will it be--with ourselves; even though by a

mighty effort we break through the gates and wall of the

Achaeans, and they give way before us, still we shall not return

in good order by the way we came, but shall leave many a man

behind us whom the Achaeans will do to death in defence of their

ships. Thus would any seer who was expert in these matters, and

was trusted by the people, read the portent."

Hector looked fiercely at him and said, "Polydamas, I like not of

your reading. You can find a better saying than this if you will.

If, however, you have spoken in good earnest, then indeed has

heaven robbed you of your reason. You would have me pay no heed

to the counsels of Jove, nor to the promises he made me--and he

bowed his head in confirmation; you bid me be ruled rather by the

flight of wild-fowl. What care I whether they fly towards dawn or

dark, and whether they be on my right hand or on my left? Let us

put our trust rather in the counsel of great Jove, king of

mortals and immortals. There is one omen, and one only--that a

man should fight for his country. Why are you so fearful? Though

we be all of us slain at the ships of the Argives you are not

likely to be killed yourself, for you are not steadfast nor

courageous. If you will not fight, or would talk others over from

doing so, you shall fall forthwith before my spear."

With these words he led the way, and the others followed after

with a cry that rent the air. Then Jove the lord of thunder sent

the blast of a mighty wind from the mountains of Ida, that bore

the dust down towards the ships; he thus lulled the Achaeans into

security, and gave victory to Hector and to the Trojans, who,

trusting to their own might and to the signs he had shown them,

essayed to break through the great wall of the Achaeans. They

tore down the breastworks from the walls, and overthrew the

battlements; they upheaved the buttresses, which the Achaeans had

set in front of the wall in order to support it; when they had

pulled these down they made sure of breaking through the wall,

but the Danaans still showed no sign of giving ground; they still

fenced the battlements with their shields of ox-hide, and hurled

their missiles down upon the foe as soon as any came below the


The two Ajaxes went about everywhere on the walls cheering on the

Achaeans, giving fair words to some while they spoke sharply to

any one whom they saw to be remiss. "My friends," they cried,

"Argives one and all--good bad and indifferent, for there was

never fight yet, in which all were of equal prowess--there is now

work enough, as you very well know, for all of you. See that you

none of you turn in flight towards the ships, daunted by the

shouting of the foe, but press forward and keep one another in

heart, if it may so be that Olympian Jove the lord of lightning

will vouchsafe us to repel our foes, and drive them back towards

the city."

Thus did the two go about shouting and cheering the Achaeans on.

As the flakes that fall thick upon a winter's day, when Jove is

minded to snow and to display these his arrows to mankind--he

lulls the wind to rest, and snows hour after hour till he has

buried the tops of the high mountains, the headlands that jut

into the sea, the grassy plains, and the tilled fields of men;

the snow lies deep upon the forelands, and havens of the grey

sea, but the waves as they come rolling in stay it that it can

come no further, though all else is wrapped as with a mantle, so

heavy are the heavens with snow--even thus thickly did the stones

fall on one side and on the other, some thrown at the Trojans,

and some by the Trojans at the Achaeans; and the whole wall was

in an uproar.

Still the Trojans and brave Hector would not yet have broken down

the gates and the great bar, had not Jove turned his son Sarpedon

against the Argives as a lion against a herd of horned cattle.

Before him he held his shield of hammered bronze, that the smith

had beaten so fair and round, and had lined with ox hides which

he had made fast with rivets of gold all round the shield; this

he held in front of him, and brandishing his two spears came on

like some lion of the wilderness, who has been long famished for

want of meat and will dare break even into a well-fenced

homestead to try and get at the sheep. He may find the shepherds

keeping watch over their flocks with dogs and spears, but he is

in no mind to be driven from the fold till he has had a try for

it; he will either spring on a sheep and carry it off, or be hit

by a spear from some strong hand--even so was Sarpedon fain to

attack the wall and break down its battlements. Then he said to

Glaucus son of Hippolochus, "Glaucus, why in Lycia do we receive

especial honour as regards our place at table? Why are the

choicest portions served us and our cups kept brimming, and why

do men look up to us as though we were gods? Moreover we hold a

large estate by the banks of the river Xanthus, fair with orchard

lawns and wheat-growing land; it becomes us, therefore, to take

our stand at the head of all the Lycians and bear the brunt of

the fight, that one may say to another, 'Our princes in Lycia eat

the fat of the land and drink best of wine, but they are fine

fellows; they fight well and are ever at the front in battle.' My

good friend, if, when we were once out of this fight, we could

escape old age and death thenceforward and forever, I should

neither press forward myself nor bid you do so, but death in ten

thousand shapes hangs ever over our heads, and no man can elude

him; therefore let us go forward and either win glory for

ourselves, or yield it to another."

Glaucus heeded his saying, and the pair forthwith led on the host

of Lycians. Menestheus son of Peteos was dismayed when he saw

them, for it was against his part of the wall that they came--

bringing destruction with them; he looked along the wall for some

chieftain to support his comrades and saw the two Ajaxes, men

ever eager for the fray, and Teucer, who had just come from his

tent, standing near them; but he could not make his voice heard

by shouting to them, so great an uproar was there from crashing

shields and helmets and the battering of gates with a din which

reached the skies. For all the gates had been closed, and the

Trojans were hammering at them to try and break their way through

them. Menestheus, therefore, sent Thootes with a message to Ajax.

"Run, good Thootes," he said, "and call Ajax, or better still bid

both come, for it will be all over with us here directly; the

leaders of the Lycians are upon us, men who have ever fought

desperately heretofore. But if they have too much on their hands

to let them come, at any rate let Ajax son of Telamon do so, and

let Teucer, the famous bowman, come with him."

The messenger did as he was told, and set off running along the

wall of the Achaeans. When he reached the Ajaxes he said to them,

"Sirs, princes of the Argives, the son of noble Peteos bids you

come to him for a while and help him. You had better both come if

you can, or it will be all over with him directly; the leaders of

the Lycians are upon him, men who have ever fought desperately

heretofore; if you have too much on your hands to let both come,

at any rate let Ajax, son of Telamon, do so, and let Teucer, the

famous bowman, come with him."

Great Ajax son of Telamon heeded the message, and at once spoke

to the son of Oileus. "Ajax," said he, "do you two, yourself and

brave Lycomedes, stay here and keep the Danaans in heart to fight

their hardest. I will go over yonder, and bear my part in the

fray, but I will come back here at once as soon as I have given

them the help they need."

With this, Ajax son of Telamon set off, and Teucer, his brother

by the same father, went also, with Pandion to carry Teucer's

bow. They went along inside the wall, and when they came to the

tower where Menestheus was (and hard pressed indeed did they find

him) the brave captains and leaders of the Lycians were storming

the battlements as it were a thick dark cloud, fighting in close

quarters, and raising the battle-cry aloud.

First, Ajax son of Telamon killed brave Epicles, a comrade of

Sarpedon, hitting him with a jagged stone that lay by the

battlements at the very top of the wall. As men now are, even one

who is in the bloom of youth could hardly lift it with his two

hands, but Ajax raised it high aloft and flung it down, smashing

Epicles' four-crested helmet so that the bones of his head were

crushed to pieces, and he fell from the high wall as though he

were diving, with no more life left in him. Then Teucer wounded

Glaucus the brave son of Hippolochus as he was coming on to

attack the wall. He saw his shoulder bare and aimed an arrow at

it, which made Glaucus leave off fighting. Thereon he sprang

covertly down for fear some of the Achaeans might see that he was

wounded and taunt him. Sarpedon was stung with grief when he saw

Glaucus leave him, still he did not leave off fighting, but aimed

his spear at Alcmaon the son of Thestor and hit him. He drew his

spear back again and Alcmaon came down headlong after it with his

bronzed armour rattling round him. Then Sarpedon seized the

battlement in his strong hands, and tugged at it till it all gave

way together, and a breach was made through which many might


Ajax and Teucer then both of them attacked him. Teucer hit him

with an arrow on the band that bore the shield which covered his

body, but Jove saved his son from destruction that he might not

fall by the ships' sterns. Meanwhile Ajax sprang on him and

pierced his shield, but the spear did not go clean through,

though it hustled him back that he could come on no further. He

therefore retired a little space from the battlement, yet without

losing all his ground, for he still thought to cover himself with

glory. Then he turned round and shouted to the brave Lycians

saying, "Lycians, why do you thus fail me? For all my prowess I

cannot break through the wall and open a way to the ships

single-handed. Come close on behind me, for the more there are of

us the better."

The Lycians, shamed by his rebuke, pressed closer round him who

was their counsellor and their king. The Argives on their part

got their men in fighting order within the wall, and there was a

deadly struggle between them. The Lycians could not break through

the wall and force their way to the ships, nor could the Danaans

drive the Lycians from the wall now that they had once reached

it. As two men, measuring-rods in hand, quarrel about their

boundaries in a field that they own in common, and stickle for

their rights though they be but in a mere strip, even so did the

battlements now serve as a bone of contention, and they beat one

another's round shields for their possession. Many a man's body

was wounded with the pitiless bronze, as he turned round and

bared his back to the foe, and many were struck clean through

their shields; the wall and battlements were everywhere deluged

with the blood alike of Trojans and of Achaeans. But even so the

Trojans could not rout the Achaeans, who still held on; and as

some honest hard-working woman weighs wool in her balance and

sees that the scales be true, for she would gain some pitiful

earnings for her little ones, even so was the fight balanced

evenly between them till the time came when Jove gave the greater

glory to Hector son of Priam, who was first to spring towards the

wall of the Achaeans. When he had done so, he cried aloud to the

Trojans, "Up, Trojans, break the wall of the Argives, and fling

fire upon their ships."

Thus did he hound them on, and in one body they rushed straight

at the wall as he had bidden them, and scaled the battlements

with sharp spears in their hands. Hector laid hold of a stone

that lay just outside the gates and was thick at one end but

pointed at the other; two of the best men in a town, as men now

are, could hardly raise it from the ground and put it on to a

waggon, but Hector lifted it quite easily by himself, for the son

of scheming Saturn made it light for him. As a shepherd picks up

a ram's fleece with one hand and finds it no burden, so easily

did Hector lift the great stone and drive it right at the doors

that closed the gates so strong and so firmly set. These doors

were double and high, and were kept closed by two cross-bars to

which there was but one key. When he had got close up to them,

Hector strode towards them that his blow might gain in force and

struck them in the middle, leaning his whole weight against them.

He broke both hinges, and the stone fell inside by reason of its

great weight. The portals re-echoed with the sound, the bars held

no longer, and the doors flew open, one one way, and the other

the other, through the force of the blow. Then brave Hector

leaped inside with a face as dark as that of flying night. The

gleaming bronze flashed fiercely about his body and he had two

spears in his hand. None but a god could have withstood him as he

flung himself into the gateway, and his eyes glared like fire.

Then he turned round towards the Trojans and called on them to

scale the wall, and they did as he bade them--some of them at

once climbing over the wall, while others passed through the

gates. The Danaans then fled panic-stricken towards their ships,

and all was uproar and confusion.


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