Achilles Prepares for Battle


Patroclus has died at the hands of Hector. Hector wants to take as a trophy the armor of Achilles from the corpse. The Achaeans struggle to stop him. While the men fight to strip Achilles’ armor from the corpse, the enraged Achilles prepares for vengeful battle.

Now Hector, tearing the famous armor off of Patroclus, tugged hard at the corpse, mad to hack the head from the neck with bronze and drag the trunk away to feed the dogs of Troy. But in charged Ajax, shield like a tower before him. Hector donned the deathless arms of Achilles, and a fierce fight began, the Achaean heroes and Hector and his captains going hand to hand.

So all day long for the men of war, the fight raged grim and grueling, relentless, drenching labor non-stop over the great runner Achilles’ steadfast aid-in-arms — an enormous tug of war. As when some master tanner gives his crews the hide of a huge bull for stretching, the beast’s skin soaked in grease, and the men grab hold, bracing round in a broad circle, tugging, stretching hard till the skin’s oils go dripping out as the grease sinks in, so back and forth in a cramped space they tugged, both sides dragging the corpse in hopes rising — Trojans hoping to drag Patroclus back to Troy —Achaeans to drag him back to the hollow ships. And round him alwways the brutal struggle raging.

Now Nestor’s son Antilochus raced off to Achilles’ moorings to tell him of Patroclus’ death and urge him to bring the body safely back to his ship.

So the men fought on like a mass of whirling fire as swift Antilochus raced the message toward Achilles. Sheltered under his curving, beaked ships he found him, foreboding, deep down, all that had come to pass.

Agonizing now he probed his own great heart:

“Why, why? Our long-haired Achaeans routed again, driven in terror off the plain to crowd the ships. But why? Dear gods, don’t bring to pass the grief that haunts my heart — the prophecy that mother revealed to me one time. She said the best of the Myrmidons — while I lived — would fall at Trojan hands and leave the light of day. And now he’s dead, I know it. Mmenoetius’ gallant son, my headstrong friend! And I told Patroclus clearly: ‘Once you have beaten off the lethal fire, quick, come back to the ships — you must not battle Hector!’”

As such fears went churning through his mind the warlord Nestor’s son drew near him now, streaming warm tears, to give the dreaded message:

“Ah son of royal Peleus, what you must hear from me! What painful news — would to god it had never happened! Patroclus has fallen. They’re fighting over his corpse. He’s stripped naked by Hector with that flashing helmet. Hector has your arms!”

So the captain reported.

A black cloud of grief came shrouding over Achilles. Both hands clawing the ground for soot and filth, he poured it over his head, fouled his handsome face, and black ashes settled onto his flesh clean war-shirt. Overpowered in all his power, sprawled in the dust, Achilles lay there, fallen, tearing his hair, defiling it with his own hands. Achilles suddenly loosed a terrible, wrenching cry, and his noble mother heard him, seated near her father, the old man of the sea in the salt green depths.

And she cried out in turn:

“ Hear me, my sisters, daughters of Nereus, so you all will know it well. Listen to all my sorrows welling in my heart! I am agony — mother of grief and greatness. O my child! Yes, I gave birth to a flawless, mighty son — the splendor of heroes — and he shot up like a young branch, like a fine tree. I reared him — the orchard’s crowning glory — but only to send him off in the beaked ships to Troy to battle Trojans! Never again will I embrace him striding home through the doors of Peleus’ house. And long as I have him with me, still alive, looking into the sunlight, he is racked with anguish. And I — I go to his side-nothing I do can help him. Nothing. But go I shall, to see my darling boy, to hear what grief has come to break his heart while he holds back from battle.”

So Thetis cried as she left the cave. And her sisters swam up with her, all in a tide of tears, and billowing round them now, the ground swell heaved open. And once they reached the fertile land of Troy they all streamed ashore, row on row in a long cortege, the sea-nymphs filing up where the Myrmidon ships lay hauled, clustered closely round the great runner Achilles. As he groaned from the depths, his mother rose before him, and sobbing a sharp cry, cradled her son’s head in her hands.

And her words were all compassion, winging pity:

“My child, why in tears? What sorrow has touched your heart? Tell me, please. Don’t harbor it deep inside you. Zeus has accomplished everything you wanted, just as you raised your hands and prayed that day. All the sons of Achaea are pinned against the ships and all for want of you. They suffer shattering losses.”

And groaning deeply, the matchless runner answered:

“Oh dear mother, true! All those burning desires Olympian Zeus has brought to pass for me — but what joy to me now? My dear comrade’s dead! Patroclus — the man I loved beyond all other comrades, loved as my own life — I’ve lost him. Hector has killed him, stripped the gigantic armor off his back, a marvel to behold, my burnished gear! Radiant gifts the gods presented Peleus that day they drove you into a mortal’s marriage bed.

“I wish you’d lingered deep with the deathless sea-nymphs, lived at ease, and Peleus carried home a mortal bride. But now, as it is, sorrows — unending sorrows — must surge within your heart as well for your own son’s death. Never again will you embrace him striding home. My spirit rebels. I’ve lost the will to live, to take my stand in the world of men, unless, before all else, Hector is battered down by my spear and gasps away his life, the blood-price for Patroclus, Menoetius’ gallant son he’s killed and stripped! Don’t try to hold me back from the fighting, love me as you do. You can’t persuade me now.”

The goddess of the glistening feet replied:

“Yes, my son, you’re right. No coward’s work—to save your exhausted friends from headlong death. But your own handsome war-gear lies in Trojan hands, bronze and burnished, and Hector in that flashing helmet, Hector glories in your armor, strapped across his back. Not that he will glory in it long, I tell you: his own destruction hovers near him now, waiting. Don’t fling yourself in the grind of battle yet, not till you see me coming back with your own eyes. Tomorrow I will return to you with the rising sun, bearing splendid arms from Hephaestus, god of Fire!”

With that vow, she turned away from her son and faced and urged her sisters of the deep:

“Now down you go to the Ocean’s folding gulfs to visit father’s halls-the old man of the sea — and tell him all. I am on my way to Olympus heights, to the famous smith Hephaestus. I pray he’ll give my son some fabulous armor full of the god’s great fire!”

And under a foaming wave her sisters dove as glistening-footed Thetis soared toward Olympus to win her dear son an immortal set of arms.

With that, the brilliant Achilles ordered his friends to set a three-legged cauldron over the fire and wash the clotted blood from Patroclus' wounds with all good speed. Hoisting over the blaze a cauldron, filled to the brim with bathing water, they piled fresh log beneath and lit them quickly The fire lapped at the vessel's belly, the water warmed and soon as it reached the boil in the glowing bronze they bathed and anointed the body sleek with olive oil, closed each wound with a soothing, seasoned unguent, and then they laid Patroclus on his bier. . . covered him head to foot in a thin light sheet and over his body spread the white linen shroud. Then all night long, ringing the great runner Achilles, Myrmidon fighters mourned and raised Patroclus' dirge.

But up in the heavens Zeus turned to Hera, his wife and sister, saying:

"So, my ox-eyed Queen, you had your way at last"

But her eyes widening, noble Hera answered, saying:

"Dread majesty, son of Cronus, what are you saying?"

Now as the King and Queen provoked each other, glistening-footed Thetis reach Hephaestus' house, indestructuable, bright as stars, shining among the gods, built of bronze by the crippled Smith with his own hands. There she found him, sweating, wheeling round his bellows, pressing the work on twenty three-legged cauldrons, an array to ring the walls inside his mansion.

And the famous crippled Smith exclaimed warmly:

"Thetis-here? Ah then a wondrous, honored goddess comes to grace our house. Thetis of flowing robes! What brings you to our house? A beloved, honored friend - but it's been so long, your visits much to rare. Tell me what's on your mind. I am eager to do it- whatever I can do. . .whatever can be done."

But Thetis burst into tears, her voice welling:

"Oh Hephaestus-who of all the goddess on Olympus, who has borne such withering sorrows in her heart? Such pain as Zeus has given me, above all others! Me out of all the daughters of the sea he chose to yoke to a mortal man, Peleus, son of Aeacus, and I endured his bed, a mortal's bed, resisting with all my will. And now he lies in the halls, broken with grisly age.

“But now my griefs are worse. Remember? Zeus also gave me a son to bear and breed, the splendor of heroes, and he shot up like a young branch, like a fine tree I reared him — the orchard's crowning glory — but only to send him off in the beaked ships to Troy to battle Trojans! Never again will I embrace him striding home through the doors of Peleus' house. And long as I have him with me, still alive, looking into the sunlight, he is racked with anguish. I go to his side-nothing I do can help him. Nothing.

“That girl the sons of Achaea picked out for his prize — right from his grasp the mighty Agamemnon tore her, and grief for her has been gnawing at his heart. But then the Trojans pinned the Achaeans tight against their sterns, they gave them no way out, and the Argive warlords begged my son to help. They named in full the troves of glittering gifts they'd send his way. But at that point he refused to beat disaster off — refused himself, that is. But he buckled his own armor round Patroclus, sent him into battle with an army at his back; and all day long they fought at the Scaean Gates. That very day they would have stormed the city too, if Apollo had not killed Menoetius' gallant son as he laid the Trojans low. Apollo cut him down among the champions there and handed Hector glory.

So now I come, I throw myself at your knees. Please, please help me! Give my son — he won't live long — a shield and helmet and tooled greaves with ankle-straps and armor for his chest. All that he had lost, lost when the Trojans killed his steadfast friend. Now he lies on the ground — his heart is breaking."

And the famous crippled Smith replied:

"Courage! Anguish for all that armor-sweep it from your mind. If only I could hide him away from pain and death, that day his grim destiny comes to take Achilles, as surely as glorious armor shall be his, armor that any man in the world of men will marvel at through all the years to come — whoever sees its splendor."

With that he left her there and made for his bellows, turning them on the fire, commanding, "Work-to work!" And the bellows — all twenty — blew on the crucibles, breathing with all degrees of shooting fiery heat as the god hurried on — a blast for the heavy work, a quick breath for the light, all precisely gauged to the god of fire's wish and the pace of the work in hand.

Bronze he flung in the blaze, tough, durable bronze and tin and priceless gold and silver, and then, planting the huge anvil upon its block, he gripped his might hammer in one hand, the other gripped his tongs.

And first Hephaestus makes a great and massive shield, blazoning well-wrought emblems all across its surface, raising a rim around it, glittering, triple-ply with a silver shield-strap run from edge to edge and five layers of metal to build the shield itself, and across its vast expanse with all his craft and cunning the god creates a world of gorgeous, immortal work.

And once the god had made that great and massive shield he made Achilles a breastplate brighter than gleaming fire. He made him a sturdy helmet to fit the fighters temples, beautiful, burnished work, and raised its golden crest and made him greaves of flexing, pliant tin.

Now, when the famous crippled Smith had finished off that grand array of armor, lifting it in his arms he laid it all at the feet of Achilles' mother Thetis; and down she flashed like a hawk from snowy Mount Olympus bearing the brilliant gear, the god of fire's gift.

As Dawn rose up in her golden robe for Ocean's tides, bringing light to immortal gods and mortal men, Thetis sped Hephaestus' gifts to the ships. She found her beloved son lying facedown, embracing Patroclus' body, sobbing, wailing, and round him crowded troops of mourning comrades.

And the glistening goddess moved among them now, seized Achilles' hand and urged him, spoke his name:

"My child, leave your friend to lie there dead - we must, though it breaks our hearts. . . The will of the gods has crushed him once and for all. But here, Achilles, accept this glorious armor. Look! A gift from the god of fire —burnished bright, finer than any mortal has ever borne across his back!"




Home