The Death of Patroclus and the Battle of the River by Walter C. Perry

Patroclus came and stood by the side of Achilles weeping. Then said Achilles, “What ails thee, Patroclus, that thou weepest like a girl-child that runs along by her mother’s side, and would be taken up, holding her gown, and looking at her with tearful eyes till she lift her in her arms? Hast thou heard evil news from Phthia? Menoetius yet lives, they say, and Peleus. Or art thou weeping for the Greeks, because they perish for their folly?”

Then said Patroclus, “Be not wroth with me, great Achilles, for indeed the Greeks are in grievous straits, and all their bravest are wounded, and still thou cherishest thy wrath. Surely Peleus was not thy father, nor Thetis thy mother; but the rocks begat thee, and the sea brought thee forth. Or if thou goest not to battle, fearing some warning from the Gods, yet let me go, and thy Myrmidons with me. And let me put thy armor on me; so shall the Greeks have breathing-space from the war.”

So he spake, entreating, nor knew that for his own doom he entreated. And Achilles made reply,—

“It is no warning that I heed, that I keep back from the war. But these men took from me my prize, which I won with my own hands. But let the past be past. I said I would not rise up till the battle should come nigh to my own ships. But thou mayest put my armor upon thee, and lead my Myrmidons to the fight. For in truth the men of Troy are gathered as a dark cloud about the ships, and the Greeks have scarce standing-ground between them and the sea. For they see not the gleam of my helmet. And Diomed is not there with his spear; nor do I hear the voice of Agamemnon, but only the voice of Hector as he calls the men of Troy to the battle. Go, therefore, Patroclus, and drive the fire from the ships. And then come thou back, nor fight any more with the Trojans, lest thou take my glory from me. And go not near, in the delight of the battle, to the walls of Troy, lest one of the Gods meet thee to thy hurt; and, of a truth, the keen Archer Apollo loves the Trojans well.”

But as they talked the one to the other, Ajax could hold out no longer. For swords and javelins came thick upon him, and clattered on his helmet, and his shoulder was weary with the great shield which he held; and he breathed heavily and hard, and the great drops of sweat fell upon the ground. Then at the last Hector came near and smote his spear with a great sword, so that the head fell off. Then was Ajax sore afraid, and gave way, and the men of Troy set torches to the ship’s stem, and a great flame shot up to the sky. And Achilles saw it, and smote his thigh and spake:—

“Haste thee, Patroclus, for I see the fire rising up from the ships. Put thou on the armor, and I will call my people to the war.” So Patroclus put on the armor—corselet, and shield, and helmet—and bound upon his shoulder the silver-studded sword, and took a mighty spear in his hand. But the great Pelian spear he took not, for that no man but Achilles might wield. Then Automedon yoked the horses to the chariot, Bayard and Piebald, and with them in the side harness, Pedasus; and they two were deathless steeds, but he was mortal.

Meanwhile Achilles had called the Myrmidons to battle. Fifty ships had he brought to Troy, and in each there were fifty men. Five leaders they had, and the bravest of the five was Pisander.

Then Achilles said, “Forget not, ye Myrmidons, the bold words that ye spake against the men of Troy during the days of my wrath, making complaint that I kept you from the battle against your will. Now, therefore, ye have that which you desired.”

So the Myrmidons went to the battle in close array, helmet to helmet, and shield to shield, close as the stones with which a builder builds a wall. And in front went Patroclus, and Automedon in the chariot beside him. Then Achilles went to his tent and took a great cup from the chest, which Thetis his mother had given him. Now no man drank of that cup but he only, nor did he pour out of it libations to any of the Gods, but only to Zeus. This first he cleansed with sulphur, and then with water from the spring. And after this he washed his hands, and stood in the midst of the space before his tent, and poured out of it to Zeus, saying, “O Zeus, I send my comrade to this battle; make him strong and bold, and give him glory, and bring him home safe to the ships, and my people with him.”

So he prayed, and Father Zeus heard him, and part he granted and part denied.

But now Patroclus with the Myrmidons had come to where the battle was raging about the ship of Protesilaus, and when the men of Troy beheld him they thought that Achilles had forgotten his wrath and was come forth to the war. And first Patroclus slew Pyræchmes, who was the chief of the Pæonians who live on the banks of the broad Axius. Then the men of Troy turned to flee, and many chiefs of fame fell by the spears of the Greeks. So the battle rolled back to the trench, and in the trench many chariots of the Trojans were broken, but the horses of Achilles went across it at a stride, so nimble were they and strong. And the heart of Patroclus was set to slay Hector; but he could not overtake him, so swift were his horses. Then did Patroclus turn his chariot, and keep back those that fled, that they should not go to the city, and rushed hither and thither, still slaying as he went.

But Sarpedon, when he saw the Lycians dismayed and scattered, called to them that they should be of good courage, saying that he would himself make trial of this great warrior. So he leapt down from his chariot, and Patroclus also leapt down, and they rushed at each other as two eagles rush together. Then first Patroclus struck down Thrasymelus, who was the comrade of Sarpedon; and Sarpedon, who had a spear in either hand, with the one struck the horse Pedasus, which was of mortal breed, on the right shoulder, and with the other missed his aim, sending it over the left shoulder of Patroclus. But Patroclus missed not his aim, driving his spear into Sarpedon’s heart. Then fell the great Lycian chief, as an oak, or a poplar, or a pine falls upon the hills before the axe. But he called to Glaucus, his companion, saying, “Now must thou show thyself a good warrior, Glaucus. First call the men of Lycia to fight for me, and do thou fight thyself, for it would be foul shame to thee, all thy days, if the Greeks should spoil me of my arms.”

Then he died. But Glaucus was sore troubled, for he could not help him, so grievous was the wound where Teucer had wounded him. Therefore he prayed to Apollo, and Apollo helped him and made him whole. Then he went first to the Lycians, bidding them fight for their king, and then to the chiefs of the Trojans, that they should save the body of Sarpedon. And to Hector he said, “Little carest thou for thy allies. Lo! Sarpedon is dead, slain by Patroclus. Suffer not the Myrmidons to carry him off and do dishonor to his body.”

But Hector was troubled to hear such news, and so were all the sons of Troy, for Sarpedon was the bravest of the allies, and led most people to the battle. So with a great shout they charged, and drove the Greeks back a space from the body; and then again the Greeks did the like. And so the battle raged, till no one would have known the great Sarpedon, so covered was he with spears and blood and dust. But at the last the Greeks drave back the men of Troy from the body, and stripped the arms, but the body itself they harmed not. For Apollo came down at the bidding of Zeus, and carried it out of the midst of the battle, and washed it with water, and anointed it with ambrosia, and wrapped it in garments of the Gods. And then he gave it to Sleep and Death, and these two carried it to Lycia, his fatherland.

Then did Patroclus forget the word which Achilles had spoken to him, that he should not go near to Troy, for he pursued the men of the city even to the wall. Thrice he mounted on the angle of the wall, and thrice Apollo himself drove him back, pushing his shining shield. But the fourth time the god said, “Go thou back, Patroclus. It is not for thee to take the city of Troy; no, nor for Achilles, who is far better than thou art.”

So Patroclus went back, fearing the wrath of the archer god. Then Apollo stirred up the spirit of Hector, that he should go against Patroclus. Therefore he went, with his brother Cebriones for driver of his chariot. But when they came near, Patroclus cast a great stone which he had in his hand, and smote Cebriones on the forehead, crushing it in, so that he fell headlong from the chariot. And Patroclus mocked him, saying,—

“How nimble is this man! how lightly he dives! What spoil he would take of oysters, diving from a ship, even in a stormy sea! Who would have thought that there were such skillful divers in Troy!”

Then again the battle waxed hot about the body of Cebriones, and this too, at the last, the Greeks drew unto themselves, and spoiled it of the arms. And this being accomplished, Patroclus rushed against the men of Troy. Thrice he rushed, and each time he slew nine chiefs of fame. But the fourth time Apollo stood behind him and struck him on the head and shoulders, so that his eyes were darkened. And the helmet fell from off his head, so that the horse-hair plumes were soiled with dust. Never before had it touched the ground, for it was the helmet of Achilles. And also the god brake the spear in his hand, and struck the shield from his arms, and loosed his corselet. All amazed he stood, and then Euphorbus, son of Panthous, smote him on the back with his spear, but slew him not. Then Patroclus sought to flee to the ranks of his comrades. But Hector saw him, and thrust at him with his spear, smiting him in the groin, so that he fell. And when the Greeks saw him fall, they sent up a terrible cry. Then Hector stood over him and cried,—

“Didst thou think to spoil our city, Patroclus, and to carry away our wives and daughters in the ships? But lo! I have slain thee, and the fowls of the air shall eat thy flesh; nor shall the great Achilles help thee at all,—Achilles, who bade thee, I trow, strip the tunic from my breast, and thou thoughtest in thy folly to do it.”

But Patroclus answered, “Thou boasteth much, Hector. Yet thou didst not slay me, but Apollo, who took from me my arms, for had twenty such as thou met me, I had slain them all. And mark thou this: death and fate are close to thee by the hand of the great Achilles.”

And Hector answered, but Patroclus was dead already, “Why dost thou prophesy death to me? Maybe the great Achilles himself shall fall by my hand.” Then he drew his spear from the wound, and went after Automedon, to slay him, but the swift horse of Achilles carried him away.

Fierce was the fight about the body of Patroclus, and many heroes fell, both on this side and on that.

Meanwhile Antilochus, son of Nestor, ran to Achilles and said, “I bring ill news; Patroclus lies low. The Greeks fight for his body, but Hector hath his arms.”

Then Achilles took of the dust of the plain in his hand, and poured it on his head, and lay at his length upon the ground, and tare his hair. And all the women wailed. And Antilochus sat weeping; but ever he held the hands of Achilles, lest he should slay himself in his great grief.

Then came his mother, hearing his cry, from where she sat in the depths of the sea, and laid her hand on him and said,—

“Why weepest thou, my son? Hide not the matter from me, but tell me.”

And Achilles answered, “All that Zeus promised thee for me he hath fulfilled. But what profit have I, for my friend Patroclus is dead, and Hector has the arms which I gave him to wear. And as for me, I care not to live, except I can avenge me upon him.”

Then said Thetis, “Nay, my son, speak not thus. For when Hector dieth, thy doom also is near.”

And Achilles spake in great wrath: “Would that I might die this hour, seeing that I could not help my friend, but am a burden on the earth,—I, who am better in battle than all the Greeks besides. Cursed be the wrath that sets men to strive the one with the other, even as it set me to strive with King Agamemnon! But let the past be past. And as for my fate—let it come when it may, so that I first avenge myself on Hector. Wherefore, seek not to keep me back from the battle.”

Then Thetis said, “Be it so; only thou canst not go without thy arms which Hector hath. But to-morrow will I go to Vulcan, that he may furnish thee anew.”

But while they talked the men of Troy pressed the Greeks more and more, and the two heroes, Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Less, could no longer keep Hector back, but that he should lay hold of the body of Patroclus. And indeed he would have taken it, but that Zeus sent Iris to Achilles, who said,—

“Rouse thee, son of Peleus, or Patroclus will be a prey for the dogs of Troy.”

But Achilles said, “How shall I go?—for arms have I none, nor know I whose I might wear. Haply I could shift with the shield of Ajax, son of Telamon, but he, I know, is carrying it in the front of the battle.”

Then answered Iris, “Go only to the trench and show thyself; so shall the men of Troy tremble and cease from the battle, and the Greeks shall have breathing-space.”

So he went, and Athene put her ægis about his mighty shoulders, and a golden halo about his head, making it shine as a flame of fire, even as the watch-fires shine at night from some city that is beseiged. Then went he to the trench; with the battle he mingled not, heeding his mother’s commands, but he shouted aloud, and his voice was as the sound of a trumpet. And when the men of Troy heard, they were stricken with fear, and the horses backed with the chariots, and the drivers were astonished when they saw the flaming fire above his head which Athene had kindled. Thrice across the trench the great Achilles shouted, and thrice the men of Troy fell back. And that hour there perished twelve chiefs of fame, wounded by their own spears or trampled by their own steeds, so great was the terror among the men of Troy.

Right gladly did the Greeks take Patroclus out of the press. Then they laid him on a bier, and carried him to the tent, Achilles walking with many tears by his side.

But on the other side the men of Troy held an assembly. Standing they held it, for none dared to sit, lest Achilles should be upon them.

Then spake Polydamas: “Let us not wait here for the morning. It was well for us to fight at the ships while Achilles yet kept his wrath against Agamemnon. But now it is not so, for to-morrow he will come against us in his anger, and many will fall before him. Wherefore, let us go back to the city, for high are the walls and strong the gates, and he will perish before he pass them.”

Then said Hector, “This is ill counsel, Polydamas. Shall we shut ourselves up in the city, where all our goods are wasted already, buying meat for the people? Nay, let us watch to-night, and to-morrow will we fight with the Greeks. And if Achilles be indeed come forth from his tent, be it so. I will not shun to meet him, for Mars gives the victory now to one man and now to another.”

So he spake, and all the people applauded, not knowing what the morrow should bring forth.

Thus did it come to pass that Achilles went again into the battle, eager above all things to meet with Hector and to slay him.

But Apollo stood by Æneas, and spake to him: “Æneas, where are now thy boastings that thou wouldst meet Achilles face to face?”

Then Æneas answered, “Nay, I have stood up against him in the day when he took the town of Lyrnessus. But I fled before him, and only my nimble feet saved me from falling by his spear. Surely a god is ever with him, making his spear to fly aright.”

Him Apollo answered again, “Thou, too, art the son of a goddess, and thy mother is greater than his, for she is but a daughter of the sea. Drive straight at him with thy spear, and let not his threats dismay thee.”

Then Æneas stood out from the press to meet Achilles and Achilles said, “Fightest thou with me because thou hopest to reign over the men of Troy, or have they given thee a choice portion of ground, ploughland and orchard, to be thine when thou hast slain me? Thou wilt not find it easy. Dost thou not remember how thou fleddest before me in the day that I took Lyrnessus?”

Then Æneas answered, “Think not to terrify me with words, son of Peleus, for I, too, am the son of a goddess. Let us make a trial one of the other.”

Then he cast his spear, and it struck the shield of Achilles with so dreadful a sound that the hero feared lest it should pierce it through, knowing not that the gifts of the Gods are not easy for mortal man to vanquish. Two folds, indeed, it pierced, that were of bronze, but in the gold it was stayed, and there were yet two of tin within. Then Achilles cast his spear. Through the shield of Æneas it passed, and though it wounded him not, yet was he sore dismayed, so near it came. Then Achilles drew his sword, and rushed on Æneas, and Æneas caught up a great stone to cast at him. But it was not the will of the Gods that Æneas should perish, seeing that he and his sons after him should rule over the men of Troy in the ages to come. Therefore Neptune lifted him up, and bore him over the ranks of men to the left of the battle, but first he drew the spear out of the shield, and laid it at the feet of Achilles. Much the hero marveled to see it, crying, “This is a great wonder that I behold with mine eyes. For I see my spear before me, but the man whom I sought to slay, I see not. Of a truth Æneas spake truth, saying that he was dear to the immortal Gods.”

Then he rushed into the battle, slaying as he went. And Hector would have met him, but Apollo stood by him and said, “Fight not with Achilles, lest he slay thee.” Therefore he went back among the men of Troy. Many did Achilles slay, and among them Polydorus, son of Priam, who, because he was the youngest and very dear, his father suffered not to go to the battle. Yet he went, in his folly, and being very swift of foot, he trusted in his speed, running through the foremost of the fighters. But as he ran Achilles smote him and wounded him to the death. When Hector saw it, he could not bear any more to stand apart. Therefore he rushed at Achilles, and Achilles rejoiced to see him, saying, “This is the man who slew my comrade;” and to Hector he cried, “Come hither, and taste of death.”

And Hector made answer, “Son of Peleus, seek not to make me afraid with words. For though I be weaker than thou, yet victory lieth on the knees of the Gods, and I, too, bear a spear.”

Then he cast his spear, but Athene turned it aside with her breath, and laid it again at his feet. And when Achilles leapt upon Hector with a shout, Apollo snatched him away. Three times did Achilles leap upon him, and three times he struck only the mist. But the fourth time he cried with a terrible voice, “Dog, thou hast escaped from death, Apollo helping thee; but I shall meet thee again, and make an end of thee.”

Then Achilles turned to the others, and slew multitudes of them, so that they fled, some across the plain, and some to the river, the eddying Xanthus. And these leapt into the water as locusts leap into a river when a fire which men light drives them from the fields. And all the river was full of horses and men. Then Achilles leapt into the stream, leaving his spear on the bank, resting on the tamarisk trees. Only his sword had he, and with this he slew many; and they were as fishes which fly from some great dolphin in the sea. In all the bays of a harbor they hide themselves, for the great beast devours them apace. So did the Trojans hide themselves under the banks of the river. And when Achilles was weary of slaying, he took twelve alive, whom he would slay on the tomb of Patroclus.

Yet there was one man who dared to stand up against him, while the others fled. This was Asteropæus, who was the grandson of the river-god Axius, and led the men of Pæonia. And Achilles wondered to see him, and said, “Who art thou that standest against me?”

And he said, “I am the grandson of the river-god Axius, fairest of all the streams on the earth, and I lead the men of Pæonia.”

And as he spake he cast two spears, one with each hand, for he could use either alike; and the one struck the shield, nor pierced it through, for the gold staved it, and the other grazed the right hand of Achilles so that the blood spurted forth. Then did Achilles cast his spear, but missed his aim, and the great spear stood fast in the bank. And thrice Asteropæus strove to draw it forth. Thrice he strove in vain, and the fourth time he strove to break the spear. But as he strove Achilles smote him that he died. Yet had he some glory, for that he wounded the great Achilles.

When the River saw that Asteropæus was dead, and that Achilles was slaying many of the Pæonians—for these were troubled, their chief being dead—he took upon him the shape of a man, and spake to Achilles, saying, “Truly, Achilles, thou excellest all other men in might and deeds of blood, for the Gods themselves protect thee. It may be that Zeus hath given thee to slay all the sons of Troy; nevertheless, depart from me and work thy will upon the plain; for my stream is choked with the multitude of corpses, nor can I pass to the sea. Do thou, therefore, cease from troubling me.”

To him Achilles made answer, “This shall be as thou wilt, O Scamander. But the Trojans I will not cease from slaying till I have driven them into their city and have made trial of Hector, whether I shall vanquish him or he shall vanquish me.”

And as he spake he sped on, pursuing the Trojans. Then the River cried to Apollo, “Little thou doest the will of thy father, thou of the Silver Bow, who bade thee stand by the men of Troy and help them till darkness should cover the land.” And he rushed on with a great wave, stirring together all his streams. The dead bodies he threw upon the shore, roaring as a bull roareth; and them that lived he hid in the depths of his eddies. And all about Achilles rose up the flood, beating full upon his shield, so that he could not stand fast upon his feet. Then Achilles laid hold of a lime-tree, fair and tall, that grew upon the bank; but the tree brake therefrom with all its roots, and tare down the bank, and lay across the River, staying its flood, for it had many branches. Thereupon Achilles leapt out of the water and sped across the plain, being sore afraid. But the River ceased not from pursuing him, that he might stay him from slaughter and save the sons of Troy. So far as a man may throw a spear, so far did Achilles leap; strong as an eagle was he, the hunting-bird that is the strongest and swiftest of all birds. And still as he fled the River pursued after him with a great roar. Even as it is with a man that would water his garden, bringing a stream from a fountain; he has a pick-axe in his hand to break down all that would stay the water; and the stream runs on, rolling the pebbles along with it, and overtakes him that guides it. Even so did the River overtake Achilles, for all that he was swift of foot, for indeed the Gods are mightier than men. And when Achilles would have stood against the River, seeking to know whether indeed all the Gods were against him, then the great wave smote upon his shoulders; and when he leapt into the air, it bowed his knees beneath him and devoured the ground from under his feet. Then Achilles looked up to heaven and groaned, crying out, “O Zeus, will none of the Gods pity me, and save me from the River? I care not what else may befall me. Truly my mother hath deceived me, saying that I should perish under the walls of Troy by the arrows of Apollo. Surely it had been better that Hector should slay me, for he is the bravest of the men of Troy, but now I shall perish miserably in the River, as some herd-boy perisheth whom a torrent sweeps away in a storm.”

So he spake; but Poseidon and Athene stood by him, having taken upon them the shape of men, and took him by the hand and strengthened him with comforting words, for Poseidon spake, saying, “Son of Peleus, tremble not, neither be afraid. It is not thy fate to be mastered by the River. He shall soon cease from troubling thee. And do thou heed what we say. Stay not thy hands from the battle, till thou shalt have driven all the sons of Troy that escape thee within the walls of the city. And when thou shalt have slain Hector, go back to the ships; for this day is the day of thy glory.”

Then the two departed from him. Now all the plain was covered with water, wherein floated much fair armor and many dead bodies. But Achilles went on even against the stream, nor could the River hold him back; for Athene put great might into his heart. Yet did not Scamander cease from his wrath, but lifted his waves yet higher, and cried aloud to Simois, “Dear brother, let us two stay the fury of this man, or else of a surety he will destroy the city of Priam. Come now, fill all thy streams and rouse thy torrents against him, and lift up against him a mighty wave with a great concourse of tree-trunks and stones, that we may stay this wild man from his fighting. Very high thoughts hath he, even as a god; yet shall neither his might nor his beauty nor his fair form profit him; for they shall be covered with much mud; and over himself will I heap abundance of sand beyond all counting. Neither shall the Greeks be able to gather his bones together, with such a heap will I hide them. Surely a great tomb will I build for him; nor will his people have need to make a mound over him when they would bury him.”

Then he rushed again upon Achilles, swelling high with foam and blood and dead bodies of men. Very dark was the wave as it rose, and was like to have overwhelmed the man, so that Juno greatly feared for him, lest the River should sweep him away. And she cried to Vulcan, her son, saying, “Rouse thee, Haltfoot, my son! I thought that thou wouldst have been a match for Scamander in battle. But come, help us, and bring much fire with thee; and I will call the west wind and the south wind from the sea, with such a storm as shall consume the sons of Troy, both them and their arms. And do thou burn the trees that are by the banks of Xanthus, yea, and the River himself. And let him not turn thee from thy purpose by fury or by craft; but burn till I shall bid thee cease.”

Then Vulcan lit a great fire. First he burned the dead bodies that lay upon the plain, and it dried all the plain, as the north wind in the autumn time dries a field, to the joy of him that tills it. After this it laid hold of the River. The lime-trees and the willows and the tamarisks it burned; also the plants that grew in the streams. And the eels and the fishes were sore distressed, twisting hither and thither in the water, being troubled by the breath of Vulcan. So the might of the River was subdued, and he cried aloud, “O Vulcan, no one of the Gods can match himself with thee. Cease now from consuming me; and Achilles may drive the men of Troy from their city if he will. What have I to do with the strife and sorrow of men?”

So he spake, for all his streams were boiling—as a cauldron boils with a great fire beneath it, when a man would melt the fat of a great hog; nor could he flow any longer to the sea, so sorely did the breath of the Fire-god trouble him. Then he cried aloud to Juno, entreating her: “O Juno, why doth thy son torment me only among all? Why should I be blamed more than others that help the men of Troy? Verily, I will cease from helping them, if he also will cease. Nay, I will swear a great oath that I will keep no more the day of doom from the sons of Troy; no, not when all the city shall be consumed with fire.”

And Queen Juno heard him, and called to Vulcan, saying, “Cease, my son; it doth not beseem thee to work such damage to a god for the sake of a mortal man.”

So Vulcan quenched his fire, and the River flowed as he flowed before.