HECTOR RETURNS TO TROY



THE TRUCE WAS BROKEN. IT WAS THE GODDESS ATHENA WHO BROKE IT. AND SO THE FIGHTING BEGAN ANEW. HECTOR LED THE ATTACK.

On the Trojan’s came, columns armed for assault, and again the Argives donned their gear, and roused their lust for war. As a heavy surf assaults some roaring coast, so wave on wave they came, Achaean battalions, ceaseless, surging on to war. Each captain ordered his men and the ranks moved on in silence. At last, the armies clashed at one strategic point. They slammed their shields together. Pike scraped pike with the grappling strength of fighters armed in bronze. And their round shields pounded, boss on welded boss. And the sound of struggle roared and rocked the earth. Screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath. Fighters killing, fighters killed. And the ground streamed blood.

And now no man who waded into that work could scorn it any longer, Anyone still not speared or stabbed by tearing bronze, who whirled into the heart of all that slaughter - that day, ranks of Trojans, ranks of Achaean fighters, sprawled there side by side, face down in the dust.

Then Pallas Athena granted Tideus’ son, Diomedes, strength and daring, so the fighter would shine forth and tower over the Argives, and win himself great glory. Inspired by the goddess, Diomedes led the Achaeans in a Trojan rout. Down the plain he stormed like a stream in flood, a routing winter torrent sweeping away the dykes. The tight, piled dykes can’t hold it back any longer. Banks shoring the blooming vineyards can’t curb its course. A flash-flood bursts as the rains from Zeus pour down their power, acre on acre, the well dug work of farmers crumbling under it.

So under Tideus’ force, the Trojans columns panicked now. No standing their ground, massed and packed as they were. And the next moment, crowds of Trojans would have clambered back inside their city walls, terror-struck by the Argives primed for battle.

But Helenus, son of Priam, best of the seers who scan the flight of birds, came striding up to Hector calling out:

“Hector, you go back to the city. Tell our mother to gather all of the older noble women together in grey-eyed Athena’s shrine. Then offer her gifts, if only she’ll hold Diomedes back from the holy city - that wild spearman, that invincible, headlong terror.”

So he urged. And Hector obeyed his brother.

And now, when Hector reached the Scaean Gates and the great oak, the wives and daughters of Troy came rushing up around him, asking about their sons, brothers, friends and husbands.

But Hector told them only: “Pray to the gods.”

And so they left - all the Trojan women, one after another. Hard sorrows were hanging over many.

And soon he came to Priam’s palace, that magnificent structure, built wide with porches and colonnades of polished stone. And there at the palace, Hector’s mother met her son. His mother clutched his hand and urged him, called his name:

“My child, why have you left the bitter fighting? Why have you come home? Look how they wear you out! The sons of Achaea - curse them - battling round our walls! And that’s why your spirit brought you back to Troy - to climb the heights and stretch your arms to Zeus. But wait, I’ll bring you some honeyed, mellow wine. First, pour out cups to Father Zeus and the other gods. Then, refresh yourself if you’d like to quench your thirst. When a man’s exhausted, wine will build his strength, battle-weary as you are, fighting for your people.”

But Hector shook his head, his helmet flashing:

“Don’t offer me mellow wine, mother, not now. You’d sap my limbs. I’d lose my nerve for war. And I’d be ashamed to pour a glistening cup to Zeus with unwashed hands. I’m splattered with blood and filth. How could I pray to the Lord of Storm and Lighting? No, mother, you are the one to pray. Go to Athena’s shrine, the queen of plunder. Go with offerings. Gather the older noble women and take a robe, the largest, loveliest robe that you can find throughout the royal halls - a gift that far and away you prize most yourself - and spread it out across the sleek-haired goddess’ knees. Then promise to sacrifice twelve heifers in her shrine - yearlings never broken, if only she’ll pity Troy, the Trojan wives, and all our helpless children. If only she’ll hold Diomedes back from the holy city - that wild spearman, that invincible headlong terror! "Now, mother, go to the queen of plunder’s shrine, and I’ll go hunt for Paris, summon him to fight - if the man will hear what I have to say. That man… If I could see him bound for the House of Death, I could say my heart had forgot its wrenching grief!”

But his mother simply turned away to the palace. She gave her servants orders and out they strode to gather the older noble women through the city. Then she made her way with a file of noble women rushing in her train and prayed to the daughter of mighty father Zeus:

“Queen Athena, shield of our city, glory of goddesses. Now shatter the spear of Diomedes. That wild man! Hurl him headlong down before the Scaean Gates. At once, we’ll sacrifice twelve heifers in your shrine, yearlings never broken, if only you’ll pity Troy, the Trojan wives, and all our helpless children.”

But Athena refused to hear their aching prayers.

And while they prayed to the daughter of mighty Zeus, Hector approached the halls of Paris - sumptuous halls he built himself with the finest masons of the day, masters builders famed in the fertile land of Troy. Now Hector, dear to Zeus, strode through the gates, clutching a thrusting-lance eleven forearms long. The bronze tip of the weapon shone before him, ringed with a golden hoop to grip the shaft. And there in the bedroom Hector came on Paris polishing, fondling his splendid battle-gear, his shield and breastplate, turning over and over his long curved bow. And there was Helen of Argos, sitting with all the women of the house, directing the rich embroidered work they had in hand.

Seeing Paris, Hector raked his brother with insults, stinging taunts:

“What on earth are you doing? Oh how wrong it is, this anger you keep smoldering in your heart! Look! Your people dying around the city, the steep walls; dying in arms - and all for you. The battle cries and the fighting flaring up around the citadel! You’d be the first to lash out at another, anywhere, you saw hanging back from this, this hateful war. Up with you! Before all Troy is torched to a cinder here and now!”

And Paris, magnificent as a god, replied:

“Ah Hector, you criticize me fairly. Yes, nothing unfair, beyond what I deserve. And so I will try to tell you something. Please bear with me. Hear me out. It’s not so much from anger or outrage at our people that I keep to my rooms so long. I only wanted to plunge myself in grief. But just now my wife was bringing me round, her winning words urging me back to battle. And it strikes me, even me, as the better way. Victory shifts you know - now one man, now another. So come, wait while I get this war-gear on. Or you go on ahead and I will follow. I think I can overtake you.”

Hector, helmet flashing, answered nothing.

And Helen spoke to him now, her soft voice welling up:

“My dear brother, dear to me, bitch that I am, vicious, scheming ... horror to freeze the heart! Oh how I wish that first day my mother brought me into the light, some black whirlwind had rushed me out to the mountains or into the surf where the roaring breakers crash and drag, and the waves had swept me off before all this had happened! But since the gods ordained it all, these desperate years, I wish I had been the wife of a better man, someone alive to outrage, the withering scorn of men. This one has no steadiness in his spirit. Not now. He never will . . . and he’s going to reap the fruits of it, I swear. But come in, rest on this seat with me, dear brother. You are the one hit hardest by the fighting, Hector, you more than all ... and all for me, slut that I am. And this blind, mad Paris. Oh the two of us! Zeus planted a killing doom within us both, so even for generations still unborn we will live in song.”

Turning to go, his helmet flashing, tall Hector answered:

“Don’t ask me to sit beside you here, Helen. Love me as you do, you can’t persuade me now. No time for rest. My heart races to help our Trojans. They long for me sorely whenever I am gone. But rouse this fellow, won’t you? And let him hurry himself along as well, so he can overtake me before I leave the city. For I must go home to see my people first, to visit my own dear wife and my baby son.”

At that, Hector spun and rushed from his house, back by the same way down the wide, well-paved streets throughout the city until he reached the Scaean Gates, the last point he would pass to gain the field of battle. There, his warm, generous wife came running up to meet him. She joined him now, and following in her steps, a servant holding the boy against her breast in the first flush of life - only a baby - Hector’s son, the darling of his eyes, and radiant as a star. Hector would always call the boy Scamandrius. Townsmen called him Astyanax, Lord of the City, since Hector was the lone defense of Troy. The great man of war breaking into a broad smile, his gaze fixed on his son, in silence.

Andromache, pressing close beside him and weeping freely now, clung to his hand, urged him, called him:

“Reckless one, my Hector. Your own fiery courage will destroy you! Have you no pity for him, our helpless son? Or me, and the destiny that weighs me down? Your widow, now, so soon. Yes, soon they will kill you off, all the Achaean forces massed for assault. And then, bereft of you, better for me to sink beneath the earth. What other warmth, what comfort’s left for me, once you have met your doom? Nothing but torment!

“Pity me! Please! Take your stand on the rampart here, before you orphan your son and make your wife a widow. Draw up your armies where the wild fig tree stands. There, where the city lies most open to assault. The wall’s lower - easily overrun.”

And tall Hector nodded, his helmet flashing:

“All this weighs on my mind too, dear woman. But I would die of shame to face the men of Troy and the Trojan women trailing their long robes if I would shrink from battle now - a coward. Nor does the spirit urge me on that way. I’ve learned it all too well: to stand up bravely; always to fight in the front ranks of Trojan soldiers; winning my father great glory - glory for myself. For in my heart and soul I also know this well: the day will come when sacred Troy must die. Priam must die - and all his people with him - Priam who hurls the strong ash spear.

“Even so, it is less the pain of the Trojans still to come the weighs me down. That is nothing, nothing beside the your agony when some brazen Argive hauls you off in tears, wrenching away your day of light and freedom. Then far off in the land of Argos you must live, laboring at a loom at another woman’s beck and call, fetching water at some spring, the rough yoke of necessity at your neck. And a man may say, who sees you streaming tears, ‘There is the wife of Hector, the bravest fighter they could field - those stallion breaking Trojans long ago when the men fought for Troy.’ So he will say. And the fresh grief will swell your heart once more - widowed - robbed of the one man strong enough to fight off your day of slavery. No. No. Let the earth come piling over my dead body before I hear your cries ... I hear you dragged away!”

In the same breath, shining Hector reached down for his son. But the boy recoiled, cringing against his nurse’s full breast, screaming out at the sight of his own father, terrified by the flashing bronze, the horsehair crest, the great ridge of the helmet, nodding and bristling terror. So it struck his eyes. And his loving father laughed; his mother laughed as well.

And glorious Hector, quickly lifting the helmet from his head, set it down on the ground, fiery in the sunlight. And raising his son, he kissed him. Tossed him in his arms lifting a prayer to Zeus and the other deathless gods:

“Zeus, all you immortals, grant this boy, my son, may be like me: first in glory among the Trojans; strong and brave like me, and rule all Troy in power. And one day let them say, ‘ He is a better man than his father.’” So Hector prayed, and placed his son in the arms of his loving wife.

Andromache pressed the child to her scented breast, smiling through her tears. Her husband noticed, and filled with pity now, Hector stroked her gently, trying to reassure her, repeating her name:

“Andromache dear one, why so desperate? Why so much grief for me? No man will hurl me down to death against my fate. And Fate? No one alive has ever escaped it - neither brave man nor coward, I tell you. It’s born with us the day that we are born. So please go home and tend to your own tasks - the distaff and the loom. And keep the women working hard as well. As for the fighting, the men will see to tend to that - all who were born in Troy, but I most of all.”

Hector, aflash in arms, took up his horsehair crested helmet once again. And his loving wife went home - turning, glancing back again and weeping warm live tears.

Nor did Paris linger long in his vaulted halls. Soon as he buckled on his elegant gleaming bronze, he rushed through Troy, sure in his racing stride. Quickly he overtook his brother, noble Hector, still lingering, slow to turn from the spot where he had just confided in his wife.

Magnificent Paris spoke first:

“Dear brother, look at me, holding you back in all your speed. Dragging my feet, coming to you so late. And you told me to be quick."

A flash of his helmet as Hector shot back:

“Impossible man! How could anyone fair and just underate your work in battle? You’re a good soldier. But you hang back of your own accord, refuse to fight. And that ... that’s why the heart inside me aches when I hear our Trojans heap contempt on you, the men who bear such struggles, all for you. Come, now for attack! We’ll set all this to rights. Someday ... if Zeus will ever let us raise the winebowl of freedom high in our halls. High to the gods of cloud and sky who live forever - once we drive these Argives geared for battle out of Troy!”

Vaunting, aflash in arms, Hector swept through the gates with his brother Paris keeping pace beside him. Both men bent on combat. On they fought like wind when a god sends down some welcome blast to sailors desperate for it, worked to death at the polished oars, beating the heavy seas, their arms slack with the labor - so welcome that brace of men appeared to the Trojans, desperate for their captains.

Rampaging Trojans! On they fought till night came on at last. Now both sides yielded to night, and all withdrew from the fighting - the Trojans back within the walls of their city, the Achaeans back to their beaked ships. The next day, the Trojans and Achaeans agreed to a daylong truce and buried their dead. Then, taking the sound advice of Nestor, the Achaeans quickly built a looming rampart - a landward wall to protect the ships and troops, with gateways to open a path for driving chariots through. And just outside the wall, the men dug an enormous trench, broad and deep; and drove sharp stakes to guard it.

When dawn came the next morning, Zeus was determined to fulfill his promise to Thetis to hand the Trojans victory while Achilles raged apart. As the two armies clashed at one strategic point, the thunder of struggle roared and rocked the earth - screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath. Fighters killing, fighters killed. And the ground streamed blood. Then, father Zeus held out his sacred golden scales. In them he placed two fates of death that lays men low, one for the Trojan horsemen, one for the Argives armed in bronze. And gripping the beam mid-haft, the father raised it high, and down went Achaea’s day of doom - Achaea’s fate - as the Trojan’s fate went lifting towards the sky.

Now Hector led the Trojans in an Argive rout. All day long, they drove the Achaeans back across the Scamander plain, forcing them to take refuge behind the wall that protected all the ships.

Now down in the ocean sank the fiery light of day, drawing the dark night across the grain-giving earth. For the men of Troy, the day went down against their will. But not the Argives. What a blessing! How they prayed for nightfall coming on across their lines.

And Hector, confident of victory the next day, ordered the Trojans to make their camp across the Scamander plain, in full view of the Achaeans. The Trojans quickly brought out rations from the city, heaped the firewood high, and up from the plain the wind swept smoke, the sweetness and the savors swirling up the skies.

And so their spirits soared as they took positions down the passage ways of battle all night long. And the watch-fires blazed among them. A thousand fires were burning there on the plain, and beside each fire sat fifty fighting men, poised in the leaping blaze.

So the Trojans held their watch that night. But not the Achaeans. God-sent panic seized them, comrade of bloodcurling rout. All their best were struck by grief too much to bear. As crosswinds chop the sea where the fish swarm, so the Achaean’s hearts were torn inside their chests. Pouring cups to the gods, each warlord sought his shelter. There they spent the night and took the gift of sleep.