The Iliad

  Athena would never let me flinch. Those two?

  Their horses will never sweep them clear of us,

  not both men, though one or the other may escape.

  One more thing--take it to heart, I tell you--

  if part of Athena's plan gives me the honor

  to kill them both, you check our racers here,

  you lash them fast to our rails

  then dash for Aeneas' horses--don't forget--

  drive them out of the Trojan lines and into ours.

  They are the very strain farseeing Zeus gave Tros,

  payment in full for stealing Ganymede, Tros's son:

  the purest, strongest breed of all the stallions

  under the dawn and light of day. Lord Anchises

  stole from that fine stock--behind Laomedon's back,

  Tros's grandson and heir to Tros's teams--

  he put some mares to the lusty stallions once

  and they foaled him a run of six in his royal house.

  Four he kept for himself, to rear in his own stalls,

  but the two you see in action he gave Aeneas,

  both of them driving terrors. Would to god

  we'd take them both--we'd win ourselves great fame."

  Wavering back and forth as their two attackers

  closed in a rush, whipping that purebred team along

  and Pandarus shouted first, "What mad bravado--

  lofty Tydeus' boy will brave it out! So,

  my arrow failed to bring you down, my tearing shot?

  Now for a spear--we'll see if this can kill you!"

  Shaft poised, he hurled and its long shadow flew

  and it struck Tydides' shield, the brazen spearhead

  winging, drilling right on through to his breastplate,

  Pandarus yelling over him wildly now, "You're hit--

  clean through the side! You won't last long, I'd say--

  now the glory's mine!"

  But never shaken,

  staunch Diomedes shot back, "No hit--you missed!

  But the two of you will never quit this fight, I'd say,

  till one of you drops and dies and gluts with blood

  Ares who hacks at men behind his rawhide shield!"

  With that he hurled and Athena drove the shaft

  and it split the archer's nose between the eyes--

  it cracked his glistening teeth, the tough bronze

  cut off his tongue at the roots, smashed his jaw

  and the point came ripping out beneath his chin.

  He pitched from his car, armor clanged against him,

  a glimmering blaze of metal dazzling round his back--

  the purebreds reared aside, hoofs pawing the air

  and his life and power slipped away on the wind.

  Aeneas sprang down with his shield and heavy spear,

  fearing the Argives might just drag away the corpse,

  somehow, somewhere. Aeneas straddled the body--

  proud in his fighting power like some lion--

  shielded the corpse with spear and round buckler,

  burning to kill off any man who met him face-to-face

  and he loosed a bloodcurdling cry. Just as Diomedes

  hefted a boulder in his hands, a tremendous feat--

  no two men could hoist it, weak as men are now,

  but all on his own he raised it high with ease,

  flung it and struck Aeneas' thigh where the hipbone

  turns inside the pelvis, the joint they call the cup--

  it smashed the socket, snapped both tendons too

  and the jagged rock tore back the skin in shreds.

  The great fighter sank to his knees, bracing himself

  with one strong forearm planted against the earth,

  and the world went black as night before his eyes.

  And now the prince, the captain of men Aeneas

  would have died on the spot if Zeus's daughter

  had not marked him quickly, his mother Aphrodite

  who bore him to King Anchises tending cattle once.

  Round her beloved son her glistening arms went streaming,

  flinging her shining robe before him, only a fold

  but it blocked the weapons hurtling toward his body.

  She feared some Argive fast with chariot-team

  might hurl bronze in his chest and rip his life out.

  She began to bear her dear son from the fighting ...

  but Capaneus' son did not forget the commands

  the lord of the war cry put him under. Sthenelus

  checked his own racers clear of the crash of battle,

  lashed them tight to his chariot-rails with reins

  then dashed for Aeneas' glossy full-maned team

  and drove them out of the Trojan lines and into his.

  He passed them on to Deipylus, a friend-in-arms

  he prized beyond all comrades his own age--

  their minds worked as one--to drive to the ships

  as Sthenelus mounted behind his own chariot now,

  seized the glittering reins and whipped his team,

  his strong-hoofed horses ahead at breakneck speed,

  rearing, plunging to overtake his captain Diomedes

  but he with his ruthless bronze was hunting Aphrodite--

  Diomedes, knowing her for the coward goddess she is,

  none of the mighty gods who marshal men to battle,

  neither Athena nor Enyo raider of cities, not at all,

  But once he caught her, stalking her through the onslaught,

  gallant Tydeus' offspring rushed her, lunging out,

  thrusting his sharp spear at her soft, limp wrist

  and the brazen point went slashing through her flesh,

  tearing straight through the fresh immortal robes

  the Graces themselves had made her with their labor.

  He gouged her just where the wristbone joins the palm

  and immortal blood came flowing quickly from the goddess,

  the ichor that courses through their veins, the blessed gods--

  they eat no bread, they drink no shining wine, and so

  the gods are bloodless, so we call them deathless.

  A piercing shriek--she reeled and dropped her son.

  But Phoebus Apollo plucked him up in his hands

  and swathed him round in a swirling dark mist

  for fear some Argive fast with chariot-team

  might hurl bronze in his chest and rip his life out.

  But Diomedes shouted after her, shattering war cries:

  "Daughter of Zeus, give up the war, your lust for carnage!

  So, it's not enough that you lure defenseless women

  to their ruin? Haunting the fighting, are you?

  Now I think you'll cringe at the hint of war

  if you get wind of battle far away."

  So he mocked

  and the goddess fled the front, beside herself with pain.

  But Iris quick as the wind took up her hand

  and led her from the fighting ...

  racked with agony, her glowing flesh blood-dark.

  And off to the left of battle she discovered Ares,

  violent Ares sitting there at ease, his long spear

  braced on a cloudbank, flanked by racing stallions.

  Aphrodite fell to her knees, over and over begged

  her dear brother to lend his golden-bridled team:

  "Oh dear brother, help me! Give me your horses--

  so I can reach Olympus, the gods' steep stronghold.

  I'm wounded, the pain's too much, a mortal's speared me--

  that daredevil Diomedes, he'd fight Father Zeus!"

  Her brother Ares gave her the golden-bridled team.

  Heart writhing in pain, she climbed aboard the car

  and Iris climbed beside her, seized the reins,

  whipped the team to a run and on the horses flew,

  holding nothing back. In a moment
they had reached

  the immortals' stronghold, steep Olympus. Wind-quick Iris

  curbed the team and loosing them from the chariot

  threw ambrosial fodder down before their hoofs.

  The deathless Aphrodite sank in Dione's lap

  and her mother, folding her daughter in her arms,

  stroked her gently, whispered her name and asked,

  "Who has abused you now, dear child, tell me,

  who of the sons of heaven so unfeeling, cruel?

  Why, it's as if they had caught you in public,

  doing something wrong . . . "

  And Aphrodite who loves eternal laughter

  sobbed in answer, "The son of Tydeus stabbed me,

  Diomedes, that overweening, insolent--all because

  I was bearing off my son from the fighting. Aeneas--

  dearest to me of all the men alive. Look down!

  It's no longer ghastly war for Troy and Achaea--

  now, I tell you, the Argives fight the gods!"

  Dione the light and loveliest of immortals

  tried to calm her: "Patience, oh my child.

  Bear up now, despite your heartsick grief.

  How many gods who hold the halls of Olympus

  have had to endure such wounds from mortal men,

  whenever we try to cause each other pain . . .

  Ares had to endure it, when giant Ephialtes and Otus,

  sons of Aloeus, bound him in chains he could not burst,

  trussed him up in a brazen cauldron, thirteen months.

  And despite the god's undying lust for battle

  Ares might have wasted away there on the spot

  if the monsters' stepmother, beautiful Eriboea

  had not sent for Hermes, and out of the cauldron

  Hermes stole him away--the War-god breathing his last,

  all but broken down by the ruthless iron chains.

  And Hera endured it too, that time Amphitryon's son,

  mighty Heracles hit her deep in the right breast

  with a three-barbed shaft, and pain seized her,

  nothing calmed the pain.

  Even tremendous Hades

  had to endure that flying shaft like all the rest,

  when the same man, the son of thunder-shielded Zeus,

  shot him in Pylos--there with the troops of battle dead--

  and surrendered Death to pain. But Hades made his way

  to craggy Olympus, climbed to the house of Zeus,

  stabbed with agony, grief-struck to the heart,

  the shaft driven into his massive shoulder

  grinding down his spirit ...

  But the Healer applied his pain-killing drugs

  and sealed Hades' wound--he was not born to die.

  Think of that breakneck Heracles, his violent work,

  not a care in the world for all the wrongs he'd done--

  he and his arrows raking the gods who hold Olympus!

  But the man who attacked you? The great goddess

  fiery-eyed Athena set him on, that fool--

  Doesn't the son of Tydeus know, down deep,

  the man who fights the gods does not live long?

  Nor do his children ride his knees with cries of 'Father'--

  home at last from the wars and heat of battle.

  So now

  let Diomedes, powerful as he is, be on his guard

  for fear a better soldier than you engage him--

  for fear his wife, Aegialia, Adrastus' daughter,

  for all her self-control, will wail through the nights

  and wake her beloved servants out of sleep ...

  the gallant wife in tears, longing for him,

  her wedded husband, the best of the Achaeans--

  Diomedes breaker of horses."

  Soothing words,

  and with both her hands Dione gently wiped the ichor

  from Aphrodite's arm and her wrist healed at once,

  her stark pain ebbed away.

  But Hera and great Athena were looking on

  and with mocking words began to provoke the Father,

  Athena leading off with taunts, her eyes bright:

  "Father Zeus, I wonder if you would fume at me

  if I ventured a bold guess? Our goddess of love--

  I'd swear she's just been rousing another Argive,

  another beauty to pant and lust for Trojans,

  those men the goddess loves to such despair.

  Stroking one of the Argive women's rippling gowns

  she's pricked her limp wrist on a golden pinpoint!"

  So she mocked, and the father of gods and mortals

  smiled broadly, calling the golden Aphrodite over:

  "Fighting is not for you, my child, the works of war.

  See to the works of marriage, the slow fires of longing.

  Athena and blazing Ares will deal with all the bloodshed."

  And now as the high gods bantered back and forth

  Diomedes, loosing his war cry, charged Aeneas--

  though what he saw was lord Apollo himself,

  guarding, spreading his arms above the fighter,

  but even before the mighty god he would not flinch.

  Tydides reared and hurled himself again and again,

  trying to kill Aeneas, strip his famous armor.

  Three times he charged, frenzied to bring him down,

  three times Apollo battered his gleaming shield back--

  then at Tydides' fourth assault like something superhuman,

  the Archer who strikes from worlds away shrieked out--

  a voice of terror--"Think, Diomedes, shrink back now!

  Enough of this madness--striving with the gods.

  We are not of the same breed, we never will be,

  the deathless gods and men who walk the earth."

  Menacing so

  that Tydeus' son pulled back, just a little, edging

  clear of the distant deadly Archer's rage.

  And Apollo swept Aeneas up from the onslaught

  and set him down on the sacred heights of Pergamus,

  the crest where the god's own temple had been built.

  There in the depths of the dark forbidden chamber

  Leto and Artemis who showers flights of arrows

  healed the man and brought him back to glory.

  But the lord of the silver bow devised a phantom--

  like Aeneas to the life, wearing his very armor--

  and round that phantom Trojans and brave Achaeans

  went at each other, hacking the oxhides round their chests,

  the bucklers full and round, skin-shields, tassels flying.

  But Phoebus Apollo called to blazing Ares, "Ares, Ares,

  destroyer of men, reeking blood, stormer of ramparts,

  can't you go and drag that man from the fighting?

  That daredevil Diomedes, he'd fight Father Zeus!

  He's just assaulted Love, he stabbed her wrist--

  like something superhuman he even charged at me!"

  With that, Apollo settled onto Pergamus heights

  while murderous Ares. wading into the fighting,

  spurred the Trojan columns on to mass attack.

  Shaped like the runner Acamas, prince of Thrace,

  Ares challenged the sons of Priam with a vengeance:

  "You royal sons of Priam, monarch dear to the gods,

  how long will you let Achaeans massacre your army?

  Until they're battling round your well-built gates?

  A man is down we prized on a par with noble Hector--

  Aeneas, proud Anchises' son. Up with you now,

  rescue him from the crash of battle! Save our comrade!"

  As Ares whipped the fighting spirit in each man

  Sarpedon taunted Hector: "Hector, where has it gone--

  that high courage you always carried in your heart?

  No doubt you bragged that you could hold your city

sp; without an army and Trojan allies--all on your own,

  just with your sister's husbands and your brothers.

  But where are they now? I look, I can't find one.

  They cringe and cower like hounds circling a lion.

  We--your allies here--we do your fighting for you.

  And I myself, Hector, your ally-to-the-death,

  a good long way I came from distant Lycia,

  far from the Xanthus' rapids where I left

  my loving wife, my baby son, great riches too,

  the lasting envy of every needy neighbor.

  And still I lead our Lycians into battle.

  Myself? I chafe to face my man, full force,

  though there's not a scrap of mine for looting here,

  no cattle or gold the foe could carry off. But you,

  you just stand there--don't even command the rest

  to brace and defend their wives.

  Beware the toils of war ...

  the mesh of the huge dragnet sweeping up the world,

  before you're trapped, your enemies' prey and plunder--

  soon they'll raze your sturdy citadel to the roots!

  All this should obsess you, Hector, night and day.

  You should be begging the men who lead your allies'

  famous ranks to stand and fight for all they're worth--

  you'll ward off all the blame they hurl against you."

  And Sarpedon's charge cut Hector to the core.

  Down he leapt from his chariot fully armed, hit the ground

  and brandishing two sharp spears went striding down his lines,

  ranging flank to flank, driving his fighters into battle,

  rousing grisly war--and round the Trojans whirled,

  bracing to meet the Argives face-to-face:

  but the Argives closed ranks, did not cave in.

  Remember the wind that scatters the dry chaff,

  sweeping it over the sacred threshing floor,

  the men winnowing hard and blond Demeter culling

  grain from dry husk in the rough and gusting wind

  and under it all the heaps of chaff are piling white ...

  so white the Achaeans turned beneath the dust storm now,

  pelting across their faces, kicked up by horses' hoofs

  to the clear bronze sky--the battle joined again.

  Charioteers swung chariots round,

  thrust the powerful fist of fury straight ahead

  and murderous Ares keen to help the Trojans

  shrouded the carnage over in dense dark night--

  lunging at all points, carrying out the commands

  of Phoebus Apollo, lord of the golden sword,

  who ordered Ares to whip the Trojans' war-lust

  once he spotted Athena veering off the lines,

  great Pallas who'd rushed to back the Argives.

  Out of his rich guarded chamber the god himself

  launched Aeneas now, driving courage into his heart

  and the captain took his place amidst his men.

  And how they thrilled to see him still alive,

  safe, unharmed and marching back to their lines,

  his soul ablaze for war, but his men asked him nothing.

  The labor of battle would not let them, more labor urged

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