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37 THE RANSOMING OF HECTOR'S BODY Hand
ECTOR has killed the Greek warrior Patroclus,
and in his turn he too has fallen, his slayer being Patroclus's friend, renowned Achilles. King Priam, his father, now comes with gifts to ransom his dead body. Led by the god Mercury, the King and his companion, the sage Idæus, have entered the Grecian camp unseen and have come near to the tent of Achilles.
Achilles, sometimes called Pelides, after Peleus, his father, has been told by Thetis, his goddess mother, of Jupiter's desire that he should deal kindly with Priam and accept the proffered ransom.
In the opening words of the passage the god Mercury (here sometimes called Hermes), hitherto disguised, reveals himself to Priam.
"O aged monarch, I am Mercury,
An ever-living god; my father, Jove,
Bade me attend thy journey. I shall now
Return, nor must Achilles look on me;
It is not meet that an immortal god
Should openly befriend a mortal man.
Enter, approach Pelides, clasp his knees;
Entreat him by his father, and his son,
And fair-haired mother; so shall he be moved.”
Thus having spoken, Hermes took his way
Back to the Olympian summit. Priam then
Sprang from the chariot to the ground. He left
Idæus there to guard the steeds and mules,
And, hastening to the tent where, dear to Jove,
Achilles lodged, he found the chief within,
While his companions sat apart, save two,—
Automedon the brave, and Alcimus,
Who claimed descent from Mars. These stood
And ministered to Peleus' son, who then
Was closing a repast, and had just left
The food and wine, and still the table stood.
Unmarked the royal Priam entered in,
And, coming to Achilles, clasped his knees,
And kissed those fearful slaughter-dealing hands,
By which so many of his sons had died.
And as, when some blood-guilty man, whose hand
In his own land has slain a fellow-man,
Flees to another country, and the abode
Of some great chieftain, all men look on him
Astonished,-so, when godlike Priam first
Was seen, Achilles was amazed, and all
Looked on each other, wondering at the sight.
And thus King Priam supplicating spakc:-
“Think of thy father, an old man like me, Godlike Achilles !
On the dreary verge
Of closing life he stands, and even now
Haply is fiercely pressed by those who dwell
Around him, and has none to shield his age
From war and its disasters. Yet his heart
Rejoices when he hears thou yet dost live,
And every day he hopes that his dear son
Will come again from Troy. My lot is hard,
For I was father of the bravest sons
In all wide Troy, and none are left me now.
Fifty were with me when the men of Greece
Arrived upon our coast; nineteen of these
Owned the same mother, and the rest were born
Within my palaces. Remorseless Mars
Already had laid lifeless most of these,
And Hector, whom I cherished most, whose arm
Defended both our city and ourselves,
Him didst thou lately slay while combating
For his dear country. For his sake I come
To the Greek fleet, and to redeem his corse
I bring uncounted ransom. O, revere
The gods, Achilles, and be merciful,
Calling to mind thy father! happier he
Than I; for I have borne what no man else
That dwells on earth could bear,-have laid my lips
Upon the hand of him who slew my son.”
He spake: Achilles sorrowfully thought
Of his own father. By the hand he took
The suppliant, and with gentle force removed
The old man from him. Both in memory
Of those they loved were weeping. The old king,
With many tears, and rolling in the dust
Before Achilles, mourned his gallant son.
Achilles sorrowed for his father's sake,
And then bewailed Patroclus, and the sound
Of lamentation filled the tent. At last
Achilles, when he felt his heart relieved
By tears, and that strong grief had spent its force,
Sprang from his seat; then lifting by the hand
The aged man, and pitying his white head
And his white chin, he spake these winged words:-
“Great have thy sufferings been, unhappy king!
How couldst thou venture to approach alone
The Grecian fleet, and show thyself to him
Who slew so many of thy valiant sons?
An iron heart is thine. But seat thyself,
And let us, though afflicted grievously,
Allow our woes to sleep awhile, for grief
Indulged can bring no good. The gods ordain
The lot of man to suffer, while themselves Are free from care. Beside Jove's threshold stand Two casks of gifts for man. One cask contains The evil, one the good, and he to whom The Thunderer gives them mingled sometimes falls Into misfortune, and is sometimes crowned With blessings. But the man to whom he gives The evil only stands a mark exposed To wrong, and, chased by grim calamity, Wanders the teeming earth, alike unloved By gods and men. So did the gods bestow Munificent gifts on Peleus from his birth, For eminent was he among mankind . For wealth and plenty; o'er the Myrmidons He ruled, and, though a mortal, he was given A goddess for a wife. Yet did the gods Add evil to the good, for not to him Was born a family of kingly sons Within his house, successors to his reign. One short-lived son is his, nor am I there To cherish him in his old age; but here Do I remain, far from my native land, In Troy, and causing grief to thee and thine. Of thee too, aged king, they speak, as one Whose wealth was large in former days, when all That Lesbos, seat of Macar, owns was thine, And all in Phrygia and the shores that bound The Hellespont; men said thou didst excel All others in thy riches and thy sons. But since the gods have brought this strife on thee War and perpetual slaughter of brave men Are round thy city. Yet be firm of heart, Nor grieve forever. Sorrow for thy son Will profit nought; it cannot bring the dead
To life again, and while thou dost afflict
Thyself for him fresh woes may fall on thee.”
And thus the godlike Priam, aged king,
Made answer: “Bid me not be seated here,
Nursling of Jove, while Hector lies among
Thy tents unburied. Let me ransom him
At once, that I may look on him once more
With my own eyes.
Receive the many gifts
We bring thee, and mayst thou possess them long,
And reach thy native shore, since by thy grace
I live and yet behold the light of day.”
Achilles heard, and, frowning, thus rejoined:
“Anger me not, old man; 'twas in my thought
To let thee ransom Hector. To my tent
The mother came who bore me, sent from Jove,
The daughter of the Ancient of the Sea,
And I perceive, nor can it be concealed,
O Priam, that some god hath guided thee
To our swift galleys; for no mortal man,
Though in his prime of youthful strength, would dare
To come into the camp; he could not pass
The guard, nor move the beams that bar our gates.
So then remind me of my griefs no more,
Lest, suppliant as thou art, I leave thee not
Unharmed, and thus transgress the laws of Jove."
He spake: the aged man in fear obeyed.
And then Pelides like a lion leaped
Forth from the door, yet not alone he went;
For of his comrades two-Automedon,
The hero, and his comrade Alcimus,
He whom Achilles held in most esteem
After the slain Patroclus—followed him.
The mules and horses they unyoked, and led
The aged monarch's clear-voiced herald in,