The Last Battle by the Ships by H. L. Havell
Hera was watching the action with such
eagerness that she had forgotten her
charge, and was startled by the angry
voice of Zeus, who had awakened suddenly, and
was looking down upon her with lowering brows.
"This is thy work," he said sternly, pointing to
the Trojan plain, where Hector lay senseless, and
his comrades were beginning to fly. "Wilt thou
never be schooled to obedience, or what harder
lesson lackest thou yet? Dost thou remember
the time when I hung thee in chains in the cold
vault of ether, with two anvils at thy feet, and all
the gods together were powerless to relieve thee?
This was thy reward for thy evil devices against
my son, Heracles; but that shall be mirth and
laughter compared with the rod which thou shall
feel if thou cease not from thy mutiny against my
Then Hera was sore afraid, and she answered
submissively: "I swear by earth and heaven, and
by the down-falling waters of Styx, the greatest
and most awful thing by which a god may swear—yea,
by thy sacred head I swear it, and by the holy
bond which unites us—it was not by my devices
that Poseidon first began to aid the Greeks, but he
was led thereto by the thoughts of his own heart.
And, by my advice, he will give way to thee."
Somewhat appeased by her humility, Zeus
replied: "If that be so, and thou art willing to
heal the mischief thou hast done, go and send
hither Iris and Apollo, that they may receive my
commands. And understand me once for all—I
will not cease from my rage and my fury against
the Greeks, nor suffer any of the gods to aid them,
until the vengeance of Pelides is accomplished, and
the oath fulfilled which I sware unto his mother,
Thetis, when she touched my knees and besought
me to honour her son."
Swift as is the glance of the mind when some
great traveller revolves all his wanderings in
thought, and murmurs to himself: "Would that I
were in this place or that!" naming some distant
scene which he hath visited, so swiftly flew Hera
with her lord's message. When she reached
Olympus she found all the gods seated together,
drinking their nectar from golden cups. Smiling
with her lips, but bending her dark brows in a
gloomy frown, she said, as she eyed that festal
gathering: "Ye are making good cheer, I see!
And ye will be cheered the more when I tell you
what Zeus intends. Ay, drink deep!" she
continued, turning to Ares, who was just draining a
full cup, "thou hast need of comfort, for thy son is
slain." And she named a Greek, Ascalaphus, son
of Ares, who had been slain by Deiphobus in the
When he heard that, the god of war groaned
with grief and anger, and crying: "I will avenge
him!" rushed to seize his arms. But Athene
hastened after him, and finding him already
equipped for battle she snatched the spear from
his hand, and took the helmet from his head,
saying: "Madman, wilt thou undo us all? Go
back to thy place, lest the wrath of Zeus descend
upon the whole company of the gods, and on thee
the first. Better men have fallen than this son of
thine, and we must look to our own safety, and
leave mortals to their fate."
While Athene was occupied in restraining the
frenzy of Ares, Hera despatched Iris and Apollo
to receive the commands of Zeus. So they went
forthwith to Ida, and found Zeus sitting in the
place where he had slept, with the golden cloud
still hanging above his head. Zeus was well
content that his wilful consort had been so prompt in
his business, and he commanded Iris to go down to
the fleet, and warn Poseidon to leave the battlefield.
"And thus and thus shalt thou say unto
him," added Zeus, instructing her in the very
words which she was to use.
Iris descended to earth, walking delicately along
her rainbow bridge, and, having found Poseidon
among the warring Greeks, she said to him: "Thus
saith Zeus, our sovereign lord and king: 'Let
Poseidon leave the battlefield, and depart to Olympus,
or to his own watery realm. And if he will not
obey me I will come myself, and fight against him,
face to face. Let him avoid my hands, for he
knoweth that I am far mightier than he, and
higher in station and in dignity.'"
"What!" answered Poseidon, swelling with
injured pride. "Am I my brother's slave, that he
sends me this haughty summons? I am no subject
of his, but his peer, holding a third part in our
divided empire. For three sons were born unto
Cronos—Zeus and Hades and myself. And when
Cronos ceased to reign we cast lots between us,
and Zeus obtained the throne of heaven, I of the
sea, and Hades of the underworld; but the earth,
and wide Olympus, were left common to us all.
Therefore I bid him keep to his own domain, and
not meddle with me, for I will not live under his
laws, nor bow to his rod, which he may keep for
his sons and daughters."
"Is this, then, the answer which I must carry
back to Zeus?" asked Iris gravely. "Oh, reflect
a little! Enter not into an unnatural feud with
thine elder brother."
"'Tis wisely said," replied Poseidon. "Thou art
a discreet messenger, and knowest how to season
thy words with courtesy. 'Twere ill, as thou
sayest, to stir up the demon of domestic strife
among us. Therefore I will depart, and leave him
to work his will. But, since he has used threats,
let him hear this from me: if he seeks to avert the
doom of Troy, he will find a cold welcome when
he joins the circle of the gods in Olympus."
It was not without relief that Zeus heard of
Poseidon's submission; for he had feared that he
would be obliged to engage in a fearful struggle,
which would have confounded earth and heaven.
This danger being removed, he sent Apollo, armed
with his own shield—the awful ęgis, clothed with
attributes of terror—commanding him to heal
Hector of his hurt, and bring him back to battle.
Like a falcon stooping on his quarry, Apollo shot
down from Ida's peak, and alighted at the ford
of Scamander, where Hector was still lying. By
this time the stricken man had recovered from
his swoon, and was gazing in bewilderment around him.
One touch from that potent hand, one word from
those immortal lips, sufficed to banish all the effects
of the fearful blow which had left Hector as weak
as a child. Bounding to his feet, he cried: "Lead
on, mighty god! I fear no perils with thee at my
side," and like a gallant war horse, that smelleth
the battle afar off, he ran at full speed to rejoin the
Trojans, who were now flying tumultuously from
the camp. And as when a troop of hunters with
their hounds have started a royal stag, and chased
him with wild halloo to the thick covert of a tangled
wood; then suddenly they shrink back with cries
of dismay, for they see a lion standing in the path:
so panic fell upon the Greeks in the midst of their
triumph, when they saw Hector returning to battle,
full of vigour and courage, though they had already
counted him among the dead.
On poured the Trojans, Hector and Apollo
leading the van, and the Greeks gave ground
before them, scared by the dread ęgis, which Apollo
shook in their faces, crying his terrible cry. At
first they yielded slowly, keeping their ranks, and
attempting some defence; but soon the retreat
became a rout, and the moat was filled with a
struggling multitude, seeking the shelter of the
wall and the ships. "Kill, kill!" cried Hector
fiercely. "Pause not to strip the dead, but slay the
men, and burn their ships. Let me but see
anyone skulking behind for plunder and he dies by my
With that he lashed his horses, and drove straight
across the moat, the Trojans following him in dense
column. In front strode Apollo, trampling down
the sides of the moat as he went, and making a
path broad as the farthest cast of a spear. Then
he hurled himself on the wall, and overthrew it,
as easily as a child destroys with his feet a castle of
sand which he has raised in sport on the margin
of the sea.
Like a towering billow, which topples down upon
a ship, crushing her bulwarks and flooding her
with brine, so rushed the Trojans in a torrent over
the wall, and fell upon the hindmost row of ships;
and the Greeks on their side mounted the decks,
and thrust at their assailants with long boarding-pikes,
which lay ready to hand.
Foremost among the defenders was seen the
giant form of Telamonian Ajax; and by his side
fought Teucer, whose bow had already done such
good service to the Greeks. But just as Teucer
was aiming an arrow at Hector his bowstring
snapped, and the arrow dropped harmless to the
ground. "Fate is against us to-day," he cried;
"it was a new string, the stoutest and the best
I had, which I fitted to my bow this very morning."
"Go quickly," answered Ajax. "And arm thyself
with shield and spear; there is no room here
for thine archery to-day." And Teucer went and
armed himself, and returned with all speed to his
mighty brother's side.
Hector was overjoyed when he saw Teucer's
mishap, which he hailed as the direct act of Zeus
himself. "On, Trojans!" he shouted; "on, ye men
of Lycia! Zeus is fighting on our side. Now is the
great day of vengeance, after all the weary years
when we were penned within our walls like sheep."
"Why flinch ye?" cried Ajax, in his turn, to the
Greeks. "Know ye not that we must conquer or
die to-day? Or will we reach home on foot, if ye
suffer your ships to be burned? Come, join the
wild dance to which Hector summons us. Fight,
and we will drive out this rabble yet; but if ye
falter we shall surely perish."
Again the Greeks rallied to the well-known voice
of Ajax, and drew up in close order before the ships,
barring Hector's way. But the finger of Apollo
had touched him, filling his breast with a divine
frenzy. Foaming and glaring with rage, he flung
himself on the solid phalanx, and cut down a tall
champion of Mycenę, making a gap in the line.
Before the Greeks could close their ranks the
Trojans were among them, hewing them down as
a woodman hews a path through the forest.
Forward and still forward they pressed, driving the
Greeks before them, and compelling them to retire
from the first line of ships.
Then nothing but the tremendous valour of Ajax
could have saved the Greek army from total rout
and ruin. Active as a panther, in spite of his huge
bulk, he sprang from deck to deck, wielding an
enormous boarding-pike and striking down the
Trojans, as they advanced with lighted torches to
set fire to the ships. Like a practised rider, who
yokes together four horses, and drives them at a
gallop along a level highroad, leaping from one
steed to another as he goes—so Ajax shifted his
ground from one ship to another, dashing down
Trojan after Trojan, and shouting to the Greeks
to come to his support.
It was a grim and desperate struggle. There
was no shooting of arrows, no casting of javelins
now, but foot to foot, and hand to hand, they fought,
with axe, and sword, and spear. At last Hector
forced his way to a beautiful galley, which had
brought Protesilaus to Troy, and laying his hand
on the high, fanlike ornament of the stern he
shouted: "Bring a torch, that I may be the first
to kindle the fire which shall burn these accursed
ships, which came here for our destruction, but shall
now serve as a pyre for their crews."