The Slaying of Hector by Walter C. Perry

Meantime, Achilles went on slaughtering the Trojans; and the aged Priam stood on the sacred tower, and saw the son of Peleus driving the Trojans before him. And he shouted aloud to the brave warders of the gates, “Open the gates, that the fugitives may enter!” And the Far-Darter went to the front, to save the Trojans who were fleeing to the sheltering walls, with Achilles behind them in hot pursuit.

Then would the Achaians have stormed the lofty gates of Troy, had not Phœbus Apollo roused Agenor, a brave and noble prince, son of Antenor. Apollo stood by this man’s side, leaning on an oak, and shrouded in mist, and put courage into his heart, that he might ward off fate from the Trojans. And when Agenor saw Achilles, he stood irresolute, and said to his mighty heart, “If I too flee before Achilles, he will catch me and slay me as a coward. Or shall I fly by another way, and hide me in the spurs of Ida? How, then, if I go forth to meet him? for his flesh, too, may surely be pierced by the keen bronze, and he has but one life, like other mortals.”

And his heart grew strong within him, to stay and fight. And he cried out aloud to Achilles, “Surely, thou thinkest this very day to sack the proud city of Troy? Fool! many terrible things will happen before that; for there are many of us—many and brave—to protect our dear parents and wives and little children, and to guard holy Ilium. Thou, too, perhaps, mighty as thou art, mayest here meet death.”

He spake and hurled a spear at Achilles with his strong hand. And it smote him below the knee, and the tin-wrought greave rang loudly; but the stout spear bounded off, for it could not pierce the work of Vulcan.

Then Achilles rushed on godlike Agenor; but him Apollo caught in a mist, and carried him safely out of the fray. And the god took the form of Agenor, and ran a little way before Achilles, towards the deep-flowing Scamander. And while Apollo thus deceived the mighty son of Peleus, the routed Trojans ran, well pleased, to their stronghold, and the great city was filled with their multitude.

Then as he ran before Achilles, the mighty Far-Darter addressed him, and spake: “O son of Peleus! why dost thou, being a mortal man, pursue me with thy swift feet, who am a deathless god?” Then, in wrath, the son of Peleus answered him: “Thou hast blinded me, most mischievous of all the Gods! and lured me away from the walls; else would many a Trojan have fallen, or ever he had reached the city.” He then went towards the city, with a proud heart, like a war-horse victorious in a chariot race; and the aged Priam saw him, blazing like the star in autumn brightest of all, which men call “Orion’s Dog,” that bringeth fever upon wretched mortals.

And the old man cried aloud, in his agony, and beat his head with his fists, and called in a piercing voice to his dear son Hector. For the brave hero, when all the others had escaped into the city, remained alone at the Scæan Gate eager to fight with Achilles. And his wretched father stretched forth his withered hands, and pleaded piteously to his son:—

“Hector! dear Hector! do not meet this terrible man alone, for he is far mightier than thou, and knoweth no pity. Already hath he robbed me of many a brave son; and now I no longer see two of my children, Lycaon and the goodly Polydorus, whom Laothoë, princess among women, bare to me. But the death of others will cause us briefer grief, if thou, dear Hector, art not slain. Come, then, within the walls, and save the men and women of Troy! And have pity on me, too, to whom the son of Cronos hath allotted a terrible doom in my old age—to see my brave sons dragged away, and my fair daughters carried off, as captives, by the cruel hands of the Achaians. Last of all, I too shall be torn, on my own threshold, by ravenous dogs—even the dogs which I myself have reared with food from my table, to guard my house. They will tear my flesh and drink my blood! It may well become a young man to lie slain on the field, for he is highly honored in his death; but when dogs defile an old man’s head and beard, this is the most lamentable thing that befalleth wretched mortals.”

And the old man tore his hair in his sore agony; but even he prevailed not with the soul of Hector. And then his dear mother, Hecuba, took up the plaint and spake through her piteous tears.

“Hector! my child! have respect to the mother who bare thee and nursed thee on this bosom! Pity me! and fight the foe from this side of the wall! For if he slay thee, not on a funeral bed shall I, and thy dear wife, won by so many gifts, deplore thee; but the swift dogs shall devour thee, far away from us, by the black ships of the Argives.”

Thus wailed they over their glorious son, beseeching him; but they could not prevail, for honor held him fast. Meanwhile, Achilles drew nigh, in strength like a giant; but Hector awaited him undismayed, leaning his shield against the tower. And he communed thus with his brave soul: “Alas, if I go through the gates, Polydamas will justly blame me; for he gave me good advice—that I should lead the host into the city on that fatal night, when the noble Achilles returned to the war. And I would not hearken to him, although he counseled well. And now that I have brought this evil on the city by my folly, I am ashamed to appear before the men, and the proud dames with trailing robes, lest some one should taunt me and say, ‘Hector in his pride hath ruined us.’ Better then would it be for me to meet Achilles, and either slay him or fall with glory before the city. Or how would it be if I should lay aside all my arms, and go to meet the son of Peleus, and offer to restore Argive Helen and all her possessions to Menelaus and Agamemnon, and to divide the wealth of Troy with the Achaians? But no! I might come to him unarmed, but he is merciless, and would slay me on the spot, as if I were a woman. But why do I hesitate? This is no time to hold dalliance with him, from oak or rock, like youths and maidens. Better to fight at once, and see to whom Olympian Zeus will give the victory!”

While he thus pondered, Achilles, peer of Mars, came on, poising his terrible spear of Pelian ash; and his divine armor, the work of a god, blazed like fire or the rising sun. And when Hector saw him he was seized with panic, and he fled from the gates in terror.

But Achilles, swift of foot, rushed after him. As a falcon, swiftest of all birds, swoops upon the trembling dove, and takes no heed of her piteous screaming, so Achilles flew straight at Hector. And pursuer and pursued passed by the guard and the wild fig-tree, the sport of the winds, and came to the two springs of water, which feed the deep-whirling Scamander. Brave was he who fled, but mightier far was he who chased him on his swift feet; and they were racing not for some prize in the games, but for the life of the noble horse-taming Hector. And like horses in the race for a great prize—a tripod or a woman—so the twain ran thrice round the sacred city of King Priam; and all the Gods were looking on.

And Zeus, the great father of Gods and men, spake first: “Alas! I see a man whom I love above all others chased round the walls of Troy. Come now, let us take some counsel, whether to save him or leave him to be slain by the son of Peleus.”

And the fierce-eyed Athene answered him, “O thou great Lord of the Lightning, Cloud-girt King! what a word hast thou spoken! Wouldst thou indeed save a mortal long ago doomed by Fate? Do as thou pleasest; but we Gods shall not praise thee.”

And her great father, the Cloud-Gatherer, answered with gentle words, “O Trito-born, my dear child! be of good cheer. I spake not in earnest, and would fain please thee. Do as seemeth good to thee.” And Athene, full of joy, sped down from high Olympus.

Achilles, with all speed, was chasing the noble Hector, as the dogs hunt the fawn of a deer through dale and woodland; and though the fawn hideth behind a bush, they follow by the scent until they find it; so Hector could not escape from the swift-footed son of Peleus. Often did Hector rush along the strong walls, in hopes that the Trojans within might succor him from above with their arrows. But Achilles gained on him and turned him into the plain again.

And so, though Hector failed in his flight and Achilles in his pursuit, yet might Hector have escaped his doom, had not this been the last time that Apollo the Far-Darter came nigh to him, to nerve his heart and his swift knees. Achilles had made a sign to his comrades, and forbade them to launch their darts against the noble Hector, lest one of them should gain high honor, and he come only second. And when they had, for the fourth time, run round the walls and reached the springs, then Zeus, the Great Father, raised his golden scales, and placed in each the lot of gloomy death,—one for Hector, and the other for Achilles. And he held the scales by the middle, and poised them; and the noble Hector’s scale sank down to Hades; and Phœbus Apollo left him.

But the fierce-eyed goddess Athene came near to Achilles and spake winged words: “Now, at last, O godlike Achilles! shall we twain carry off great glory to the Achaian ships! He cannot now escape us, though the Far-Darter should grovel at the feet of Zeus with fruitless prayers. But do thou stay and recover thy breath; and I will go and persuade Hector to stand up against thee in fight.” And he gladly obeyed her voice, and stood leaning on his ashen spear.

And she, Athene, came to noble Hector in the likeness of his brother Deïphobus, and spake to him: “Dear Lord and elder Brother, surely the fleet-footed son of Peleus hath done great violence against thee, chasing thee round the walls! But let us twain make a stand against him!”

And the great Hector answered, “Deïphobus, thou wert ever the dearest of my brothers; now I honor thee still more, because thou hast dared to come out from behind the walls to aid me, while others skulk within.”

The fierce-eyed goddess, as Deïphobus, spake again: “It is true that my father, and my queenly mother, and all my comrades, besought me to stay with them, so greatly do they fear the mighty son of Peleus; but my heart was sore for thee, dear brother! But let us fight amain, and see whether he will carry our spoils to his ships, or fall beneath thy spear!” And so, with her cunning words, she led him on to death.

And when he and Achilles were come near to each other, the noble Hector spake: “O mighty Achilles, thrice did I flee before thee round the great city of Priam, and dared not await thy onslaught. But now I will stand up against thee, to slay or to be slain. But come, let us make a covenant with one another, and call the Gods, the best guardians of oaths, to witness. If Zeus grant me to take thy life, and despoil thee of thy divine armor, then will I give back thy body to the warlike Achaians; and do thou the same by me!”

And Achilles, with a malignant scowl, replied, “Speak not to me of covenants! There is no covenant between men and lions, or between wolves and sheep, but only eternal war. And there can be no pledge of faith between us twain, until one of us hath sated the murderous Mars with his blood. Therefore, show thyself a good spearman and a brave man of war! There is no escape for thee; for Pallas Athene hath delivered thee into my hands.”

He spake, and cast his long-shafted spear at Hector. But Hector stooped, and the strong bronze spear flew over his head; but Athene picked it up, unknown to Hector, and gave it back to Achilles. Then Hector, rejoicing, spake to the son of Peleus: “Thou hast missed! Nor dost thou surely know the day of my doom, as thou pretendest. Thou shalt not plant thy spear in my back, as I flee before thee; but in my breast, if the Gods allow it. But now, in thy turn, avoid my spear!” So spake he, and smote the middle of Achilles’ shield with his long-shafted spear, but it bounded back from the shield. Then Hector was dismayed, for he had no second spear to throw. And he called aloud to his brother, Deïphobus; but no answer came, for he was far away. Then Hector knew that he was betrayed, and that Athene had deceived him, in the likeness of his brother. “Now,” he cried, “is Death come near me, and there is no way of escape! This is the will of Zeus and of the Far-Darter, who once were wont to succor me. But I will not die ingloriously, but yet perform some notable deed of arms.”

He said, and, with his sharp sword, swooped down upon Achilles. But Achilles rushed at him, wild with fury, brandishing his spear, with evil intent against noble Hector, and eyed him over, to see where he might pierce his flesh most easily. The rest of Hector’s body was protected by the splendid armor which he had stripped from the body of Patroclus; but there was one chink, between the collar-bone and the throat, through which Achilles thrust his spear. Yet it cut not the windpipe; and Hector was able to speak faint words to his insulting foe, after he had fallen to the ground.

Achilles triumphed over him: “Ah, Hector! when thou wert stripping Patroclus of my goodly armor, thou caredst nothing for me, who was far away! I, his friend and avenger, was left among the black ships—even I, a mightier man than he! Thee shall the dogs and birds devour; but he shall have honorable burial.”

Then, with his last breath, the noble Hector of the bright helm addressed his pitiless foe: “Achilles! I pray thee, by thy soul, and by thy parents’ heads, let not Achaian dogs devour me by the ships! but accept great store of gold and bronze from my father and my queenly mother, and restore my body to them, that the Trojans may deck my funeral pyre with all due honor!”

And Achilles, with a grim scowl, replied, “Clasp not my knees, vile dog! nor speak to me of parents! Such evil hast thou done me, that I could devour thee raw! Not for thy weight in gold would I give thee to thy queenly mother, to mourn over thee; but dogs and birds shall batten on thy flesh!”

Then the dying Hector uttered his last words: “Thou iron-hearted man! now I know thee; nor did I think to prevail upon thee. But beware of the wrath of the Gods, when Paris and the Far-Darter slay thee, at the Scæan Gate, brave though thou art!”

He spake; and Death overshadowed him; and his soul went down to Hades, wailing to leave beauty, youth, and vigor.

And Achilles spake again to the dead Hector: “Lie thou there! And as for me, I will die when it seemeth good to the deathless Gods!”

And the Achaians ran up, and looked with wonder at the noble stature and beauty of the Trojan hero. And they all inflicted wounds upon him, as he lay, saying, “He is easier to deal with now than when he was burning our ships with flames of fire.”

And when the son of Peleus had stripped him of his armor, he stood up, and spake to the Achaians:—

“Great chiefs and counselors of the Argives! at last the Gods have granted us to slay this man, whose single arm hath wrought more evil to us than all the rest together. Let us now approach the city, and learn the purpose of the Trojans; whether they will now surrender the citadel or go on fighting, though great Hector is no more. But why do I thus ponder in my mind? Patroclus is lying unburied and unwept by the ships. Never can I forget him, while I live; and even in the House of Hades, I will remember my dearest friend. Come, then! let us raise the chant of victory, and bear our deadliest foe to the black ships!”

Then he foully outraged the dead body of glorious Hector; slitting the sinews of both feet, from heel to ankle, he passed ox-hide straps through them, and fastened them to his chariot, leaving the goodly head to trail upon the ground. Then he laid the armor on the chariot; and mounting it, lashed his willing horses to full speed. And in the dust lay the once beautiful head, with its flowing hair; for Zeus had now given Hector up to his enemies, to be foully used in his own native land.

And when his dear mother, Hecuba, saw her much-loved son dragged along, begrimed with dust, she tore her hair, and shrieked aloud, and tossed far away her glistening veil. And his father, King Priam, wailed and mourned; and with him all the men and women in the city, as if the beetling towers of Ilium were already smouldering in fire. Hardly could they keep the aged father from rushing through the gates; for he threw himself in the dust and supplicated each man by name: “O friend, forbear! and if you love me, let me go to the ships of the Achaians, and pray to this arrogant, this fearful man!” Thus wailed old Priam; and the men wailed with him. And Queen Hecuba led the loud lamentations of the women. “Why,” she cried, “should I yet live, when thou, my son, my boast, my glory, art dead? the pride and blessing of all, both men and women of the city, who honored thee as a god; for in thy life thou wert an honor to them all!” Thus mourned his unhappy mother.

But to his wife, the noble, beautiful, tender-hearted Andromache, no messenger had brought the fearful tidings that Hector had remained without the gates. All unconscious, she was sitting in the inner chamber of her lofty palace, weaving a purple web of double woof, and embroidering it with many flowers. And she was ordering her handmaids to prepare a warm bath for her dear husband, when he should return from the battle; poor child! little knowing that the fierce-eyed Athene had treacherously slain him, by the hand of Achilles! But when she heard shrieks and lamentations from the walls, she reeled, and the shuttle dropped from her hands. And she spake again to her fair-haired maidens: “Surely, that was the cry of Hector’s noble mother! Some terrible thing must have befallen my godlike husband! Come, then, follow me, that I may learn what has happened; I greatly fear that he has been cut off from the city by Achilles; for he would never retreat among the throng, or yield to any man, in his high courage.”

And she rushed, all frantic, through the house, followed by her maidens, and came to the walls, and saw Hector dragged through the dust, towards the black ships of the Achaians. Then darkness shrouded her fair eyes, and she fell backwards in a swoon. And when roused, she tore from her head the net, the fillet, and the nuptial veil which golden Venus had given her, when noble Hector of the shining helm led her forth, from King Eëtion’s palace, as his bride. And the sisters-in-law of her dear husband gathered round her, and raised her from the ground, all distracted as she was and nigh unto death. When she had recovered from her swoon, she sobbed and wailed, crying, “O Hector! to the same evil fate were we twain born, thou in Troy, and I in Thebes, where my great father, Eëtion, reared me as a little child. Would that I had never been born, since thou leavest me a hapless widow! And our son, thine and mine, ill-fated one! is but a little child; and thou canst no more profit him, nor he be a joy to thee, since thou art dead! A helpless orphan, he is cut off from his playmates; and if he pluck the robe of his father’s friends, one may, in pity, just hold the cup to his lips, but give him not to satisfy his hunger and his thirst; while other children, whose parents still live, will drive him from their feast, with taunts and blows, saying, ‘Away with thee! thou hast no father at our table!’ Then will he come back to me, his lonely mother; he, who so lately sat on his father’s knee, and fed on the choicest of food! and when sleep fell upon him, tired with his childish play, he nestled in a soft bed in his nurse’s arms. But now that his father is no more, he shall suffer untold griefs, even he whom the Trojans called ‘Astyanax,’ king of the city, because thou, O my beloved lord! wert the sole defense and glory of their lofty walls.” Thus wailed the fair Andromache; and the women moaned around her.