The Trojan War

25 The Iliad

Menelaus and Hector lunge at each other with spears. Both have plumed helms, armour, and round shields. They fight over the body of a fallen hero.
Menelaus and Hector fighting over the body of Euphorbos, white-ground plate, ca. 600 BCE (British Museum, London)

The Iliad is an Ancient Greek epic poem, probably composed by different authors over a long period of time, which was first written down in the 8th century BCE. Its authorship is attributed to “Homer,” though whether he was an actual historical figure is up for debate. The poem is composed in a particular meter called dactylic hexameter, which is what qualifies it as “epic.” It would have originally been performed orally by traveling bards who had memorized the poem and who would have added to and embellished it as they performed. The version of the Iliad that we have today comes from the 2nd century BCE.

The poem tells the story of a few weeks in the final year of the siege of Troy, a city in modern-day Turkey, by a coalition of Greek (Achaean) kingdoms. It opens on the beaches of Troy where the Greek (Achaean) forces have been camped out for ten years, making unsuccessful attempts to breech the walls of the city. As the poem begins, the Greek (Achaean) forces have been beset by a plague sent by the god Apollo, since they dishonoured one of the god’s priests by stealing his daughter, Chryseis, for sex slavery. In order to appease the priest and Apollo and end the plague, the young woman must be returned to her father. What happens next is the catalyst that will lead to the final battles between the Greek (Achaean) and Trojan heroes and, ultimately, the end of the war.


Homer, Iliad, Book 6. 369-493 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by T. Mulder)

Greek Epic, 8th century BCE

In this scene from the 6th book, Hector, the greatest of the Trojan warriors, son of Paris and brother-in-law of Helen, bids farewell to his wife, Andromache, and his infant son, Scamandrius (also called Astyanax). He is about to leave the gates of Troy to fight the Achaeans (the Greeks) on the beaches outside the city walls.


BK VI. 369-439: Hector speaks with Andromache

With this, Hector of the gleaming helm departed for his fine house, but failed to find white-armed Andromache at home. She had gone with her son and a fair companion, to the battlements, where she stood in tears and sorrow. Failing to find his peerless wife, Hector stood at the threshold and spoke to her servants: ‘Tell me, you maids, where is white-armed Andromache? Is she visiting one of my sisters, or my noble brothers’ fair wives, or has she gone to Athena’s shrine, where the rest of Troy’s noble women seek to influence the dread goddess?’

‘Hector,’ a busy housemaid replied, ‘if you wish to know the truth, she has done none of those things, but hearing our men were hard pressed, and the Greeks had won a great victory, she rushed to the battlements, in great distress, and the nurse followed carrying your son.’

At this, Hector sped from the house and retraced his path through the broad streets. When, after crossing the city, he reached the Scaean Gate by which he intended to leave, his wife came running to meet him. Richly-dowered, Andromache was the daughter of brave Eëtion, who lived in Thebe below wooded Placus, and ruled the Cilicians. Now she ran to her bronze-clad husband, and the nurse was with her, holding a little boy in her arms, a baby son, Hector’s bright star. Hector called him Scamandrius, but the rest Astyanax, since, to them, Hector alone protected Ilium. Hector smiled, and gazed at his son in silence, but Andromache crept weeping to his side, and clasped his hand, saying: ‘Husband, this courage of yours dooms you. You show no pity for your little son or your wretched wife, whom you’ll soon make a widow. The Achaeans must soon join arms against you, and destroy you. If I lose you I were better dead, for should you meet your fate, there will be no more joy for me only sorrow. I have no royal father or mother. Achilles killed my noble father when he sacked Cicilian Thebe, that many-peopled city with its high gates. But he shrank from despoiling Eëtion though he slew him, sending him to the pyre in his ornate armour, and heaping a mound above him, round which the mountain-nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, planted elm trees. And seven brothers of mine, swift-footed mighty Achilles sent to Hades, all on a day, killing them there among their shambling-gaited cattle and white fleecy sheep. My mother, queen below wooded Placus, he dragged here with the rest of his spoils, but freed her for a princely ransom, only for Artemis of the bow to slay her in her father’s house. Hector you are parent, brother, husband to me. Take pity on me now, and stay here on the battlements, don’t make your son an orphan your wife a widow. Station your men above the fig-tree there, where the wall’s most easily scaled, and the city lies then wide open. Three times their best men led by the two Aiantes, great Idomeneus, the Atreidae, and brave Diomedes, have tested the wall there. Someone skilled in divining has told them, or maybe their own experience urges them to try.’

Bk VI. 440-493: Hector takes leave of his wife and son

‘Lady,’ said Hector of the gleaming helm, ‘I too am concerned, but if I hid from the fighting like a coward, I would be shamed before all the Trojans and their wives in their trailing robes. Nor is it my instinct, since I have striven ever to excel always in the vanguard of the battle, seeking to win great glory for my father and myself. And deep in my heart I know the day is coming when sacred Ilium will fall, Priam, and his people of the ashen spear. But the thought of the sad fate to come, not even Hecabe’s or Priam’s, nor my many noble brothers’ who will bite the dust at the hands of their foes, not even that sorrow moves me as does the thought of your grief when some bronze-clad Greek drags you away weeping, robbing you of your freedom. Perhaps in Argos you’ll toil at the loom at some other woman’s whim, or bear water all unwillingly from some spring, Messeïs or Hypereia, bowed down by the yoke of necessity. Seeing your tears, they will say: ‘There goes the wife of Hector, foremost of all the horse-taming Trojans, when the battle raged at Troy.’ And you will sorrow afresh at those words, lacking a man like me to save you from bondage. May I be dead, and the earth piled above me, before I hear your cries as they drag you away.’

With this, glorious Hector held out his arms to take his son, but the child, alarmed at sight of his father, shrank back with a cry on his fair nurse’s breast, fearing the helmet’s bronze and the horsehair crest nodding darkly at him. His father and mother smiled, and glorious Hector removed the shining helmet at once and laid it on the ground. Then he kissed his beloved son, bounced him in his arms, and prayed aloud: ‘Zeus, and all you gods, grant that this boy like me may be foremost among the Trojans, as mighty in strength, and a powerful leader of Ilium. And some day may they say of him, as he returns from war, “He’s a better man than his father”, and may he bear home the blood-stained armour of those he has slain, so his mother’s heart may rejoice.’

With this he placed the child in his dear wife’s arms, and she took him to her fragrant breast, smiling through her tears. Her husband was touched with pity at this, and stroked her with his hand, saying: ‘Andromache, dear wife, don’t grieve for me too deeply yet. None will send me to Hades before my time: though no man, noble or humble, once born can escape his fate. Go home, and attend to your tasks, the loom and spindle, and see that the maids work hard. War is a man’s concern, the business of every man in Ilium, and mine above all.’


Homer, Iliad, Book 9. 162-429 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by T. Mulder)

Greek Epic, 8th century BCE

In this scene from the 9th book, an embassy of Achaean (Greek) soldiers made up of Phoenix, an elderly advisor, Odysseus, the most cunning of the Greek warriors, and Ajax, the strongest of the Greek warriors, goes to try to convince Achilles to rejoin the fight. Because Agamemnon insulted him, Achilles has spent the first 8 books of the epic sulking in his tent on the beaches, refusing to join in the battle against the Trojans. The embassy will be unsuccessful and Achilles will continue to abstain from the fighting until Book 19.


Bk IX. 162-221: The embassy to Achilles

Nestor, the Gerenian horseman, replied: ‘Agamemnon, king of men, most glorious son of Atreus: the gifts you offer prince Achilles are fine indeed. Let us send a swift deputation now to his hut. Let those I choose, be ready. Phoenix, beloved of Zeus, shall take the lead, followed by mighty Ajax and noble Odysseus: the heralds Odius and Eurybates shall go with them. But first bring water for our hands and call for holy silence, so we may pray to Zeus, the son of Cronos, and beseech his pity.’

All there were satisfied with his words. Heralds came to pour water over their hands, while squires, tipping the first few drops into each cup for libation, filled brimming bowls of wine for them all. When they had poured libations and sated their thirst, the envoys left Agamemnon’s hut, Gerenian Nestor gazing at each, though at Odysseus mainly, while issuing copious instructions on how to sway Peleus’ peerless son.

So Ajax and Odysseus walked beside the echoing sea, with many a heartfelt prayer to the god, who surrounds the land and shakes it, that softening the proud heart of Aeacus’ grandson might prove an easy task. And reaching the Myrmidons’ huts and ships, they found him delighting in the clear-toned lyre, playing a finely ornamented instrument bridged with silver, part of the spoils when he razed Eetion’s city. He was singing with joy of the deeds of mighty warriors, while Patroclus, seated opposite, heard his song through in silence. The two envoys arrived, Odysseus leading, and Achilles leapt to his feet in surprise, lyre in hand, while Patroclus too quitted his seat when he saw them. Achilles greeted them, saying: ‘Welcome, dear friends indeed – your coming here speaks of some great need – angry I may be, but you two Greeks I love more than most.’

With this, noble Achilles led them to his hut and seated them on chairs with purple coverings, then turned to Patroclus, saying: ‘Bring a larger bowl, son of Menoetius, mix a stronger drink, and give them both wine, these men I love dearly, who are here now under my roof.’

Patroclus hastened to obey his dear comrade. He set out a great wooden board in the firelight, laying out a sheep’s carcass and a goat’s, and the chine of a great hog, rich with fat. Automedon held them, while Achilles jointed them, then cut and spitted the joints. Meanwhile godlike Patroclus stoked the fire. When it burnt down, and the flames retreated, he raked the embers, and set the spits above them resting on andirons, after sprinkling the meat with sacred salt. When it was roasted, he heaped it on platters, Patroclus bringing bread set it out on the table in fine baskets, while Achilles served each portion. Then he took a seat by the wall, opposite godlike Odysseus, and asked Patroclus, his friend, to sacrifice to the gods. Then, when burnt offerings had been thrown into the fire, they helped themselves to the good things set before them.

Bk IX: 222-306 The offer to Achilles

When they were sated, Ajax let Phoenix know, and noble Odysseus seeing his nod, filled his cup with wine and drank to Achilles: ‘Your health, Achilles, there’s plenty of good food for us here to warm our hearts, as much as in Agamemnon’s hut. But feasting is not what occupies us, ward of Zeus, since we foresee sorrow and feel great fear. I doubt we can save the benched ships from destruction, unless you arm yourself with your great valour. The brave Trojans and their famed allies are camped close to the ships and wall, around their many fires, and say they are strong enough to swoop on our black ships. And Zeus, Son of Cronos, shows them good omens, with lightning on the right, while Hector exulting in his strength, and filled with frenzy, fears neither man nor god, but trusts in that same Zeus, and rages wildly. He prays for the swift coming of bright dawn, so he can hew the ships’ ensigns from their tall sterns, and consume their hulls with fire, smoking us out, and slaughtering all the Greeks beside them. My mind is full of fear, lest the gods fulfil his threat, and we are fated to die at Troy far from the horse-pastures of Argos.

But up, if you will, even now, and save the sons of Achaea, whose strength the Trojan war-noise saps. Or regret it ever after, since harm once done can never be retrieved. Before too late, think how to ward this evil from the Greeks. Good friend, did not Peleus, your father, warn you, on the day he sent you from Phthia to join Agamemnon: “Athena and Hera will empower you, my son, if they so wish. You, set a curb on your proud spirit, a gentle heart is best; avoid the quarrels that sow mischief, and the Greeks both young and old will honour you the more.” Did he not say those words that you forget? Even now it is not too late to quell this bitter anger. Should you relent Agamemnon offers you noble gifts. Listen and I will say what Agamemnon promises: seven tripods, unmarked by the flames; ten talents of gold; twenty gleaming cauldrons, and twelve strong horses, prize-winners for their speed. A man with the wealth they have won for him would not lack gold and riches. And he will give seven women, skilled in fine needle-craft, whom he chose as spoil for their surpassing beauty, on the day when Achilles took Lesbos. And one shall be her whom he took from you, that daughter of Briseus. He shall give you his solemn oath that he never took her to bed, never slept with her, as men are wont, great prince, to do with women. All these things shall straight away be yours; and if the gods grant we sack this great city of Priam, enter when we Greeks divide the spoils, and load your ship with gold and bronze, and pick the twenty loveliest women after Argive Helen. And if we return to Achaean Argos, finest of lands, you shall be a son to him, and he’ll honour you like his dear son Orestes, who is reared there among its riches. Three daughters he has too, in his noble palace, ChrysothemisLaodice, and Iphianassa. You shall lead whichever you wish to Peleus’ house, without bride-price, and he will add a dowry, greater than any man yet gave with a daughter. Seven well-populated cities you shall have; CardamyleEnope, and grassy Hire; holy Pherae and Antheia with its deep meadows; lovely Aepeia, and vine-rich Pedasus. They are all near the sea, on his far border with sandy Pylos, and the men there own great flocks and herds. They will honour you with gifts like a god, acknowledging your sceptre, and will ensure your plans prosper.

He will do all this for you, if you lay aside your anger. But if your hatred of him and his gifts is too great, yet take pity at least on the army of weary Greeks, who will honour you like a god, for the great glory you must surely win in their eyes. You could kill Hector now, as he came upon you in his wild rage: he claims there is none like him among we Danaans who sailed here.’

Bk IX. 307-429: Achilles’ answer

Then fleet-footed Achilles gave his answer: ‘Odysseus of the nimble wits, royal son of Laertes, I will tell you straight out how I feel, and how things must be, to save you sitting there beside me, dealing in endless talk. Hateful as Hades’ Gate, to me, is the man who thinks one thing and says another. So here is my decision. Neither Agamemnon nor any other Greek will change my mind, for it seems there is no gratitude for ceaseless battle with our enemies. He who fights his best and he who stays away earn the same reward, the coward and the brave man win like honour, death comes alike to the idler and to him who toils. No profit to me from my sufferings, endlessly risking my life in war. I am like the bird that brings every morsel she finds to her unfledged chicks, and goes hungry herself. I watched through many a sleepless night, and fought through many a blood-stained day, battling warriors for the sake of their women. Twelve island cities I captured by sea, and eleven throughout Troy’s fertile land, and took much fine treasure from each. All I gave to this Agamemnon, son of Atreus. He stayed behind by his swift ships, yet kept the lion’s share and gave out some tiny portion. What he gave as prizes to princes and generals they hold still, yet he takes mine from me alone of all the Greeks, he steals my woman, my heart’s darling. He can lie by her side and take his pleasure. Yet why do the Argives war with Troy? Why did Atreides gather an army and bring it here? Was it not because of fair-haired Helen? Are the sons of Atreus the only men on earth who love their women? Every sane and decent man loves his own and cherishes her, as I loved her with all my heart, though but a captive of my spear. Since he stole the prize from my hands, and cheats me, let him not try to win me now with his offers; he’ll not sway me, I know him too well.

Let him look to you, Odysseus, and the rest, if he wants to save the fleet from a fiery death. In my absence I see he has done much, built a wall and dug a fine broad stake-filled trench, yet still he can’t keep out man-killing Hector. As long as I fought with the Achaeans, Hector stayed close to the wall, not far from the Scaean Gate and the oak tree. He waited to fight me there in single combat, and barely escaped alive. But now, I do not wish to do battle with noble Hector. Tomorrow I sacrifice to Zeus and the other gods, then load and launch my ships. At break of dawn, if it interests you, you will see my fleet sail the teeming Hellespont, my crews straining at the oars. Then if the mighty Earth-shaker grants me a fair voyage, in three days I will reach Phthia’s deep soil. I left great wealth behind on this ill-starred voyage, I will take back even more, gold, and red bronze, grey iron and fair women, all that was mine by lot, all except my prize that Agamemnon, son of Atreus, stole in his arrogance.

Tell him openly all that I say, so the rest can take umbrage when he tries to cheat some other Greek, shameless as he is. Yet not shameless enough to look me in the face! I shall neither help by my advice or effort, so utterly has he cheated me and wronged me. He will not fool me with his words again, So much for him. Let him go swiftly to perdition, since Zeus the counsellor robs him of his wits.

As for his gifts they are hateful in my eyes, and not worth a hair. Even if he gave ten or twenty times what he has, and raised levies elsewhere, though it were all the wealth that flows to Orchomenus, or Egyptian Thebes, where the very houses are filled with treasure, and two hundred warriors with horse and chariot sally out from its hundred gates, not if he gave me as many gifts as the grains of sand or motes of dust, could he persuade me. First he must pay me fully in kind for this shame that stings my heart.

Homer, Iliad, Book 22. 188-404 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by T. Mulder)

Greek Epic, 8th century BCE

This scene from Book 22 opens in the middle of the climactic fight of the Iliad, between the Achaean (Greek) hero, Achilles, and the Trojan hero, Hector. Achilles has rejoined the fight following the death of his companion, Patroclus, at the hands of Hector.


Bk XXII. 188-246: Athena incites Hector to fight

Meanwhile Achilles chased Hector relentlessly, and he could no more escape than a fawn, that a hound starts from a mountain covert. Chased through glade and valley it may cower for a while in some thicket, but the dog tracks it down, running strongly till he gains his quarry. So Achilles chased Hector. Every time Hector made a break for the Dardanian Gate hoping to gain the shelter of the solid walls, where the defenders might protect him with their missiles, Achilles would head him off towards the plain, himself keeping the inner track by the walls. Yet, as in a dream where our pursuer cannot catch us nor we escape, Achilles could not overtake Hector, nor could Hector shake him off. Still, could Hector have eluded fate so long, had not Apollo, for the last and final time, come to strengthen him and speed him, and had not Achilles signalled to his men not to loose their deadly missiles at the man, lest he himself might be cheated of the glory? Yet when they reached The Springs for the fourth time, the Father raised his golden scales, and set the deaths of Achilles and horse-taming Hector in the balance, and lifted it on high. Down sank Hector’s lot towards Hades, and Phoebus Apollo left his side, while bright-eyed Athena came to Achilles and standing close, spoke winged words: ‘Glorious Achilles, beloved of Zeus, now you and I will kill Hector, and bring the Greeks great glory. Warlike he may be, but he’ll not escape us, even if Apollo, the Far-Striker, grovels before aegis-bearing Father Zeus. Stop now and catch your breath. I will go and incite him to fight you face to face.’

He, delighted, at once obeyed her words, halted and stood there leaning on his bronze-tipped ash spear, while she appeared to noble Hector in the form of Deiphobus, that tireless speaker: ‘Dear brother, swift Achilles pressed you hard there, chasing you round the city at a pace, but here let us make a stand together, and defend ourselves.’

Great Hector of the gleaming helm, replied: ‘Deiphobus, of all my brothers born to Hecabe and Priam, you are by far the dearest, and now I’ll honour you in my mind even more, since you, while the others stay within and watch, have come to find me outside the wall.’

‘Dear brother,’ said bright-eyed Athena, in disguise, ‘our parents and friends in turn begged me not to come here, so terrified are they of Achilles, but I was tormented by anxiety. Let’s attack him head on, not spare our spears, and find out if he’ll kill us and carry our blood-stained armour to the hollow ships, or be conquered by our blades.’

Bk XXII. 247-366: The death of Hector

Athena deceived Hector with her words and her disguise, and led him on till he and Achilles met. Hector of the gleaming helm spoke first: ‘I will not run from you, as before, son of Peleus. My heart failed me as I waited for your attack, and three times round Priam’s city we ran, but now my heart tells me to stand and face you, to kill or be killed. Come let us swear an oath before the gods, for they are the best witnesses of such things. If Zeus lets me kill you and survive, then when I’ve stripped you of your glorious armour I’ll not mistreat your corpse, I’ll return your body to your people, if you will do the same for me.’

Swift-footed Achilles glared at him in reply: ‘Curse you, Hector, and don’t talk of oaths to me. Lions and men make no compacts, nor are wolves and lambs in sympathy: they are opposed, to the end. You and I are beyond friendship: nor will there be peace between us till one or the other dies and sates Ares, lord of the ox-hide shield, with his blood. Summon up your reserves of courage, be a spearman now and a warrior brave. There is no escape from me, and soon Athena will bring you down with my spear. Now pay the price for all my grief, for all my friends you’ve slaughtered with your blade.’

So saying he raised his long-shadowed spear and hurled it. But glorious Hector kept an eye on it and, crouching, dodged so the shaft flew above him, and the point buried itself in the ground behind. Yet Pallas Athena snatched it up and returned it to Achilles, too swiftly for Prince Hector to see. And Hector spoke to Peleus’ peerless son: ‘It seems you missed, godlike Achilles, despite your certainty that Zeus has doomed me. It was mere glibness of speech, mere verbal cunning, trying to unnerve me with fright, to make me lose strength and courage. You’ll get no chance to pierce my back as I flee, so, if the gods allow you, drive it through my chest as I attack, dodge my bronze spear if you can. I pray it lodges deep in your flesh! If you were dead, our greatest bane, war would be easy for us Trojans.’

So saying, he raised and hurled his long-shadowed spear, striking Achilles’ shield square on, though the spear simply rebounded. Hector was angered by his vain attempt with the swift shaft, and stood there in dismay, lacking a second missile. He called aloud to Deiphobus of the White Shield, calling for his long spear, but he was nowhere to be found, and Hector realised the deceit: ‘Ah, so the gods have lured me to my death. I thought Deiphobus was by my side, but he is still in the city, Athena fooled me. An evil fate’s upon me, Death is no longer far away, and him there is no escaping. Zeus, and his son, the Far-Striker, decided all this long ago, they who were once eager to defend me, and destiny now overtakes me. But let me not die without a fight, without true glory, without some deed that men unborn may hear.’

With this, he drew the sharp blade at his side, a powerful long-sword, and gathering his limbs together swooped like a high-soaring eagle that falls to earth from the dark clouds to seize a sick lamb or a cowering hare. So Hector swooped, brandishing his keen blade. Achilles ran to meet him heart filled with savage power, covering his chest with his great, skilfully worked shield, while above his gleaming helm with its four ridges waved the golden plumes Hephaestus placed thickly at its crest. Bright as the Evening Star that floats among the midnight constellations, set there the loveliest jewel in the sky, gleamed the tip of Achilles sharp spear brandished in his right hand, as he sought to work evil on noble Hector, searching for the likeliest place to land a blow on his fair flesh.

Now, the fine bronze armour he stripped from mighty Patroclus when he killed him covered all Hector’s flesh except for one opening at the throat, where the collarbones knit neck and shoulders, and violent death may come most swiftly. There, as Hector charged at him, noble Achilles aimed his ash spear, and drove its heavy bronze blade clean through the tender neck, though without cutting the windpipe or robbing Hector of the power of speech. Hector fell in the dust and Achilles shouted out in triumph: ‘While you were despoiling Patroclus, no doubt, in your folly, you thought yourself quite safe, Hector, and forgot all about me in my absence. Far from him, by the hollow ships, was a mightier man, who should have been his helper but stayed behind, and that was I, who now have brought you low. The dogs and carrion birds will tear apart your flesh, but him the Achaeans will bury.’

Then Hector of the gleaming helm replied, in a feeble voice: ‘At your feet I beg, by your parents, by your own life, don’t let the dogs devour my flesh by the hollow ships. Accept the ransom my royal father and mother will offer, stores of gold and bronze, and let them carry my body home, so the Trojans and their wives may grant me in death my portion of fire.’

But fleet-footed Achilles glared at him in answer: ‘Don’t speak of my parents, dog. I wish the fury and the pain in me could drive me to carve and eat you raw for what you did, as surely as this is true: no living man will keep the dogs from gnawing at your skull, not if men weighed out twenty, thirty times your worth in ransom, and promised even more, not though Dardanian Priam bid them give your weight in gold, not even then will your royal mother lay you on a bier to grieve for you, the son she bore, rather shall dogs, and carrion birds, devour you utterly.’

Then Hector of the gleaming helm spoke at the point of death: ‘I know you truly now, and see your fate, nor was it mine to sway you. The heart in your breast is iron indeed. But think, lest the gods, remembering me, turn their wrath on you, that day by the Scaean Gate when, brave as you are, Paris kills you, with Apollo’s help.’

Death enfolded him, as he uttered these words, and, wailing its lot, his spirit fled from the body down to Hades, leaving youth and manhood behind. A corpse it was that noble Achilles addressed: ‘Lie there then in death, and I will face my own, whenever Zeus and the other deathless gods decide.’

Bk XXII. 367-404: Achilles drags Hector’s corpse in the dust

With this, Achilles drew his bronze-tipped spear from the corpse and laid it down, and as he began to strip the blood-stained armour from Hector’s shoulders he was joined by others of the Greeks, who ran to gaze at Hector’s size and wondrous form. Yet all who approached struck the body a blow, and turning to a comrade, one said: ‘See, Hector’s easier to deal with now than when he set the ships ablaze.’ With that, he wounded the corpse.

When noble Achilles, the great runner, had stripped away the armour, he rose and made a speech to the Achaeans: ‘Friends, leaders, princes of the Argives, now the gods have let us kill this man, who harmed us more than all the rest together, let us make an armed reconnaissance of the city, while we see what the Trojans have in mind, whether they’ll abandon the city now their champion has fallen, or whether they’ll fight on, though Hector is no more. But why think of that? There is another corpse, unwept, unburied lying by the ships, that of Patroclus, my dear friend, whom I shall not forget as long as I walk the earth among the living. And though in the House of Hades men may forget their dead, even there I shall remember him. So, you sons of Achaea, raise the song of triumph, and drag this corpse back to the ships. We have won great glory, and killed the noble Hector, whom the Trojans prayed to like a god, in Troy.’

So saying, he found a way to defile the fallen prince. He pierced the tendons of both feet behind from heel to ankle, and through them threaded ox-hide thongs, tying them to his chariot, leaving the corpse’s head to trail along the ground. Then lifting the glorious armour aboard, he mounted and touched the horses with his whip, and they eagerly leapt forward. Dragged behind, Hector’s corpse raised a cloud of dust, while his outspread hair flowed, black, on either side. That head, once so fine, trailed in the dirt, now Zeus allowed his enemies to mutilate his corpse on his own native soil.


The full poem can be read, translated into English prose, here.

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