Poseidon aids the Greeks by H. L. Havell

I

The promise which Zeus had made to Thetis seemed now on the point of being fulfilled, and accordingly Zeus, by whose direct interference alone the Trojans had been able to work such havoc among the Greeks, relaxed his attention, and left the rival armies to fight out the issue between them, never dreaming that any of the gods would venture to act against his express command.

But Poseidon, his brother, and second only to Zeus himself in power, was a staunch ally of the Greeks, and was bitterly indignant that they should suffer defeat at the hands of the hated and despised Trojans. As long as the eye of Zeus was on the battlefield he dared not interfere; but as soon as he saw his great brother engaged elsewhere he left his seat on the island of Samothrace, where he had been overlooking the battle, and sped on his way to Ægæ, his sacred city on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth. The mountains bowed their heads, and the trees vailed[1] their high tops, beneath the immortal feet of Poseidon, the King. In three steps he reached his goal, and entered his shining, golden palace, built in the cool depths of that glassy bay. There he bade harness his brazen-footed steeds, and mounting the car drove it across the waters. The charmed billows parted to make him a path, and round him played the dolphins, and other huge children of the deep, as his wheels passed unwetted over that heaving, liquid floor. So on they bounded, until they reached the shores of Troy.


[1] "Vailing [stooping] her high top lower than her ribs."—Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice.


The Greeks were still flying before the victorious Trojans, who pressed them hard, with furious uproar, when suddenly there appeared among them one like unto Calchas, the prophet, in form and in voice. "Take heart, comrades!" said he, addressing himself to Ajax, who, with his namesake, was still heading the defence; "we shall beat them yet, if only we can quench the fury of that madman, Hector, who bears himself like a son of Zeus. Have at them, and thrust them back from the ships!"

His words were common, but they were uttered by a god, and breathed a mysterious influence, which was aided by a light touch from the staff which he bore. Instantly a strange lightness and vigour entered into their limbs, and when the pretended Calchas vanished as abruptly as he came, they knew that the words which they had heard were spoken by no mortal lips.

Without pausing for a moment, Poseidon continued the work which he had begun. From rank to rank, from leader to leader, he flew, inspiring, encouraging, entreating; and wherever he passed a new fire was kindled in every breast, so that they who but a moment before had given up all for lost now thought with shame of their faintheartedness, and rallied to the call of their leaders, resolved to conquer or die.

Where Ajax and his namesake fought were mustered the choicest troops in the Greek army. Shoulder to shoulder, and knee to knee, they stood, making a firm fence with shield overlapping shield, and bristling with a forest of spears. "Stand fast!" shouted Ajax, as Hector came on with headlong rush, like some huge rock, which hangs threatening on a steep mountain-side, until it is undermined by a winter torrent, and thunders down the slope until it has spent its force and lies motionless on the plain. So Hector hurled himself with fury against the solid phalanx of the Greeks, but spent his fury in vain on that hedge of iron, and could not break through it, for all his rage.


II

Idomeneus, the leader of the Cretans, had been absent some time from the battle, attending to a wounded comrade, and when he left him he went to his tent, to replace part of his armour, which had been damaged in the fight. On reaching his quarters he was met by Meriones, his second in command, who had gone to fetch a fresh spear, having broken his own on a Trojan shield. "What doest thou here, Meriones?" he asked. "Art thou wounded, or bringest thou some message to me?"

"I came to fetch a spear," answered Meriones; "my own was broken in the fight." "Spears there are in plenty in my tent," said Idomeneus, "and helmets, and shields, and burnished corslets—the spoils of many a vanquished Trojan." "And in mine too there is no lack of such," replied Meriones. "But thy tent was nearer. Thou knowest best whether I do my devoir on the field of honour or not."

"I have seen thee prove thy manly worth," said Idomeneus. "Thou needst not remind me. I have noted thy bearing in the long cold hours of the night, when thou wast one of a picked company lying in ambush, and waiting for the dawn. This is the sternest, sharpest test of valour and endurance. Mark then the coward, how he flushes, and then pales, shifting uneasily from one foot to another, as he cowers in his place, with chattering teeth and wildly beating heart, and mark the hero, crouched, like a good hound, motionless and silent, ready to spring at his enemy's throat. None ever passed through that sharp ordeal with more honour than thou. And in open battle thy face is ever to the foe, and thy scars are all in front. But enough of this: here stand we bragging of our prowess, while our comrades are encompassed by the flames of war. Let us away, and show our manhood by deeds, not words."

Like murderous Ares when he arms him for battle in the savage land of Thrace, and by his side goes Terror, his son, whose fierce eyes appal the stoutest heart, so rushed Idomeneus back to the field, with Meriones, his trusty friend. "Let us make for the left of the fighting line," cried Idomeneus. "On the right the Trojans are weaker, and in the centre fights Telamonian Ajax, a pillar of strength, the equal of Achilles in all save speed of foot. On the left the need is sorest, with most room for a leader of note."

As on a wild and gusty day, when two clouds of dust are whirled together by conflicting winds, so met the Greek and Trojan columns, with clash of shield and glitter of spear, when Idomeneus and his comrade returned to the field. Not in vain had Idomeneus boasted of his deeds of war. Many a Trojan went down that day before his spear; and the first of them was Othryoneus, who was lately come to Troy, and was a suitor for the hand of Cassandra, the fairest of Priam's daughters. Great was the price which he had promised to pay for his bride. "Give me thy daughter," he said, "and I will drive these Greeks out of the land." But the lance of Idomeneus cut short his wooing, and down he fell with a sounding crash. "Is it thou, gallant bridegroom?" shouted Idomeneus, as his helmet fell off, exposing his face. "How wilt thou keep thy bargain with Priam now? That wager is lost, but come with me, and we will find thee a fair partner yet. Thou shalt have the fairest of Agamemnon's daughters, if thou wilt aid us to sack the stately city of Troy. How likest thou the terms?"

Thus insulting his fallen foe, Idomeneus began to drag him away by the foot, intending to spoil him of his armour. While thus employed, he was confronted by Asius, who came on foot against him, his squire following close with the chariot, so that he felt the hot breath of the horses on his shoulders. But Idomeneus was too quick for him, and pierced him, as he stood with weapon poised, in the throat, driving the point clean through his neck. Like an oak, or poplar, or tall pine, hewn down on a mountainside to make a ship's timber, so fell that proud champion, and lay in his blood at his horse's feet, moaning and clutching at the dust. The charioteer was dumfoundered by his master's fall, and dropped the reins in his terror; and while he stood thus, with staring eyes and gaping mouth, Antilochus thrust him through with his spear, and leaping into the car drove off with his prize.

Idomeneus was now fiercely assailed by a formidable antagonist, in the person of Deiphobus, a brother of Hector, and one of the bravest of the Trojans. Idomeneus crouched low as he saw him coming with brandished spear; and the weapon passed over him, just grazing the rim of his shield, but found a victim in another Greek, who was advancing to his support, and received the point in his breast. Down he went, and Deiphobus cried exultingly: "Not unavenged falls Asius, but I have given him a companion on his journey to the shades."

Thus saved from his peril, the stout old Cretan glared about him, looking for another mark for his spear; and he found one in the young Alcathous, who was married to a daughter of Anchises, and was thus closely related to Æneas. The youthful prince, being new to the work of war, was bewildered by the roar and tumult of the struggle which was raging around him, and stood, overpowered by sudden panic, within close range of the Cretan captain's lance. "Sleepest thou, pretty lad!" shouted the grim veteran, "I will wake thee from thy slumber." And he clove him through the breast with his spear, which stilled the last beatings of his heart.

"Three Trojans for one Greek!" shouted Idomeneus. "Art thou content, Deiphobus? Come hither, and I will add a fourth. It will be glory enough for thee to die by the hand of Idomeneus, whose grandsire was Minos, the very son of Zeus."

Deiphobus deemed it prudent to decline the challenge, and he went in search of Æneas, to inform him of his kinsman's fall. Æneas was loitering in the rear, for he had a grudge against Priam, which chilled his ardour for the battle. But when he heard that Alcathous was slain his heart burned to avenge him, and he hurried to the front, where he was joined by Paris and a strong band of Trojans. Idomeneus, on his part, was reinforced by the arrival of Meriones, Antilochus, and Ascalaphus, a son of Ares, with their followers; and so the fight raged on, and many a stout warrior went down to swell the muster-roll of death.

There fought Helenus, the prophetic son of Priam, armed with bow and arrows, and wielding a mighty falchion, tempered in a Thracian forge. With one blow of that trenchant blade he shattered the helmet of a Greek warrior, a friend of Menelaus, and laid him at his feet, stunned and bleeding. Menelaus sprang to his friend's relief, and flung his spear at Helenus; and at the same moment Helenus shot an arrow, which struck the prince on the breastplate, but rebounded as beans or pulse rebound from the winnower's shovel, while the spear of Menelaus pierced him through the left hand, pinning it to the bow. Helenus retired, trailing the spear after him, until a comrade drew it out, and bound up the wounded hand with a woollen sling, which he took from his squire.

Menelaus was now attacked by another Trojan chieftain, who, after making an abortive thrust with his spear, took in his hand an axe, which hung inside his shield, and, swinging the weapon over his head by its long shaft of olive-wood, leapt upon him with a fierce cry. But before the blow could descend he received a fearful wound in the forehead, from the sword of the Spartan king, and fell backwards in the dust. "So may all the Trojans perish!" cried Menelaus, setting his foot on the breast of his prostrate foe. "Ye have robbed me of my wife; ye have plundered my treasure, after receiving generous welcome under my roof. And now ye come hither to burn our fleet, and butcher us in our camp. Great sire of heaven, men praise thy righteousness, and call thee wise above all gods and men: how then canst thou lend thy countenance to these bloodthirsty robbers, whose pastime is murder, whose joy is to betray?"

Carried away by his eloquence, Menelaus failed to observe that he was threatened by a new assailant. This was Harpalion, son of the King of Paphlagonia, who charged at him, lance in hand. Menelaus was just in time to receive the blow on his shield, and before Harpalion could recover his weapon he was transfixed by the spear of Meriones, and lay writhing like a worm on the ground, until he was borne, groaning, from the field by his attendants, followed by his weeping father.

Paris was wroth at the fall of the Paphlagonian prince, who was his friend and guest, and he drew his bow at a venture, and slew Euchenor, the son of a famous seer, who dwelt in Corinth. Often his father had prophesied to him that he was destined to die either by a wasting disease, or on the battlefield at Troy. He chose a warrior's death, and found it on that day, by the hand of Paris.


III

In the other part of the camp, near the main gate, where Hector had first effected an entrance, the Greeks were still fighting with indomitable spirit under Telamonian Ajax, and his namesake, the son of Oileus. These two held together, and battled side by side, like two stout oxen yoked to the same plough, and toiling from dawn till sunset, while the sweat streams without ceasing from the roots of their horns: so stood they side by side, and bore the brunt, all through that long and bitter fray. And behind them were arrayed the bowmen and slingers of Locris, whose captain was the lesser Ajax, and kept up such a shower of arrows and leaden bullets that the Trojans at length began to waver, and broke their ranks.

When Polydamas, the wisest head among the Trojans, saw that the great assault, which had begun so boldly, was beginning to flag, he called Hector aside, and said to him: "Hector, thou art strong of hand, but weak of head. Seest thou not that we are wasting our valour, by fighting thus in scattered parties, with no settled plan of attack? Now, hearken to me, and do as I shall say, if thou wouldst not have us driven back in shameful rout upon the town. Gather all our parties into one strong phalanx, and charge with them all at once on one point in the Grecian line. Thus, and thus only, may we hope to prevail, outnumbered as we are by two to one."

Hector saw that the advice was good, and, leaving Polydamas to hold the Greeks in check, he went in search of Asius, Deiphobus, and the rest, who were fighting on the left. Sore were the gaps which now appeared in that gallant company, and many a hero, whom he called by name, was lying cold in death. Gathering such as remained, he formed them into one body with those whom he had left in the charge of Deiphobus, and with the powerful column thus formed made repeated charges, which were sustained with undaunted firmness by Ajax and his men.