Achilles sends Patroclus to Battle by H. L. Havell

I

Patroclus had been long detained by Eurypylus, whose wound was severe, and demanded all his skill. But when the roar of battle drew nearer and nearer, and he heard the voice of Hector calling for a torch, he would delay no longer, but sprang up and ran in headlong haste to the quarters of the Myrmidons. There he found Achilles still sitting before his tent, and listening to the mingled cries of triumph and dismay which came from the distant scene of conflict. When Patroclus saw him, he came and stood by his side, and lifted up his voice, and wept.

"Why weepest thou, Patroclus," asked Achilles, "like a little maid, who runs by her mother's side, plucking her by the gown, and looking into her face with tearful eyes, begging to be carried? What means this melting mood? Hast thou ill news of thy father, or of mine, or are these tears for the Greeks, now perishing by their own transgression?"

"Ah! son of Peleus," answered Patroclus, with a pitiful sigh, "take not my words amiss, but I am sore afflicted for the sake of my countrymen. Their best and noblest are grievously wounded, and the leeches are busy about them; and those that remain can no longer make head against the foe. Can nothing move thee? What avails all thy splendid manhood, if thou wilt sit idle here, until thine arm is palsied with age? Oh! yet at last relent, if thou art indeed the son of gentle Thetis, and not some savage changeling, born of the rocks, and nourished by the sea! If thou wilt not go to the field thyself, at least let me put on thine armour, and lead the Myrmidons to aid our friends in their dreadful strait."

For some time Achilles answered nothing, and it was evident that a sore struggle was passing in his breast. At last he looked up, and said with an effort: "Thou hast prevailed, son of Menœtius, though I vowed that I would never cease from mine anger until the fire had reached my own ships. When I think of the foul outrage—— But enough! Down, down, rebellious pride!" He paused, frowning, and grinding his teeth; for the fierce fit had come on him again. Then, mastering himself, he continued: "Thou shalt have my armour, and lead the Myrmidons to battle. But take heed to what I shall say, and let not thine ardour carry thee too far, but when thou hast driven the enemy out of the camp lead thy men back, and be not tempted to fight in the open field, lest thou rob me of mine honour, and leave naught for me to do. Remember this, and have a care for thyself, for they have a mighty ally on their side, even Apollo."

While they were thus conversing, Ajax was still keeping up an unequal struggle against an overpowering force. The Trojans surrounded the ship on which he was fighting, and plied him with a shower of missiles, which rattled on his helmet, and threatened every moment to bring him down. His left shoulder ached with holding his shield, which was thrust back upon him by a dozen spears at once. Yet still he fought on, with his breath coming in heavy gasps, and the sweat pouring from every limb. Then Hector aimed a blow with his sword, and cut off the head of the pike which Ajax was wielding. Thus left without a weapon, Ajax was compelled at last to retreat, and the Trojans rushed forward, and set fire to the ship.

Achilles saw the smoke rising, and cried: "Arm thee, Patroclus. Make haste! I will go and call up the Myrmidons." Patroclus hurried to the tent, and put on the armour of Achilles—the greaves and starry corslet, the helmet and vast orbed shield—and girded on his great comrade's sword. Only the spear of Achilles he took not, for no arm in all the host, save only the arm of Achilles, could wield that ponderous beam of ash, toughened by many a storm on the windy slopes of Pelion, where it grew.

Meanwhile Automedon, Achilles' charioteer, was yoking to the car the two immortal steeds—Xanthus and Balius—offspring of the West Wind, and nourished on the meadows by the shores of Oceanus. And with them went as a trace horse the mortal courser, Pedasus, which Achilles had taken among the spoils when he sacked the city of Eëtion.

When the Myrmidons heard their leader's voice calling them to arms, they rushed forth from their tents, like thirsty wolves which have gorged themselves with the flesh of a tall stag, and now hasten, with bloodstained chaps and lolling tongues, to slake their thirst in a deep mountain pool. With like eagerness arose the hardy veterans, whose warlike spirit had been fed high by their long repose; and proud was the glance of Achilles, as he glanced down the armed files, marshalled under five famous captains, five times five hundred men. When all were standing silent at their posts he addressed them briefly, and said: "Now is the time to make good the threats which ye uttered against the Trojans, during all the long time of my wrath. Remember how ye murmured against me because I suffered you not to go unto battle. 'Hard-hearted son of Peleus,' ye would say, 'surely thy mother nourished thee with gall, and therefore art thou so ruthless to thy loving comrades, keeping them here in inglorious ease.' See that your deeds are as valiant as your words, and let the Trojans feel the weight of your arm this day."

Firm and close as blocks of stone, fitted together by a master-builder to be the wall of some great house, so stood the warriors in that invincible column, shield leaning on shield, and man on man; and in the van were seen the tall figures of Patroclus and Automedon, two leaders with one heart. Then Achilles went to his tent, and brought forth a golden goblet, a gift from his mother, and sacred to the service of Zeus. Having purified it with sulphur, and washed it with fresh water, he cleansed his own hands, and filling the bowl with wine returned to the open space before the tent. Then lifting up his eyes to heaven he poured the drink-offering, and prayed thus to the king and lord of Olympus: "O thou, whose ancient dwelling is in wintry Dodona, where thy chosen priests serve thee day and night with fasting and prayer, as thou hast lent thine ear to my former petition, and grievously afflicted the Greeks for my sake, so grant me once more my heart's desire. Let thine eyes rest with favour on my noble comrade, and give him honour in the battle. And when he hath driven the Trojans from the camp bring him back safe, with his armour, and all this company, to our tents."

So prayed he in his ignorance, having yet to learn that Zeus is a jealous god, dispensing his gifts with unequal hand, two evil for one good.


II

Like a swarm of wasps which have their nest by the roadside, and being ever provoked by wanton children wreak their vengeance on some harmless wayfarer; so flew the Myrmidons to join the fray, and soon the Trojans felt their sting. "For Achilles and for honour!" shouted Patroclus, as he hurled his spear, and struck down Pyræchmes, the savage leader of a wild mountain tribe from northern Greece. The rude clansmen fled when they saw their leader fall, and soon the panic spread to the whole Trojan army, and they too fled, leaving the burning ship, the flames of which were soon quenched by a score of eager hands. Like a cloud which lies heavy on a mountain top, and is then suddenly rent and dispersed, revealing all the long range of countless hills, peak beyond peak, far away to the distant sea, with green glades between, and above the boundless chasm of sky, up to the dazzling zenith: so was dispersed that cloud of Trojans which had hung about the ships, and the Greeks saw the fair face of Hope again.

But the end of that long and bloody day was still far off. Outside the barriers the Trojans rallied again, and a fearful slaughter ensued. There the sword of Patroclus bit deep, making dire havoc among the ranks of the Lycians, until Sarpedon, their leader, incensed by the slaughter of his men, sprang from his car, and threw himself in the way, to arrest that destroying hand.

Like two vultures, which tear each other with beak and claw, fighting with loud screams on a lofty crag, so leapt the two champions, the Lycian and the Greek, upon each other, uttering loud their battle-cry.

When Zeus saw his son Sarpedon about to engage in deadly combat with Patroclus he was filled with pity, for he knew that the Lycian chieftain was going to his doom. "How sayest thou, Hera," he began, "shall I save him, and waft him away in a cloud to his fair domain in Lycia, or shall I leave him to his fate?"

"That must not be," answered Hera. "His thread is spun, and his life is forfeit; shouldst thou annul that decree it will be an evil example to the other gods, who will forthwith all seek to avert the stroke of fate from their sons, of whom many are fighting in the fields of Troy. If thou wouldst do him honour, send Death and gentle Sleep to bear him softly, after he has fallen, from the battlefield, and bring him to his kinsfolk in Lycia, that they may pay him the rites which are due to the mighty dead."

"Thou hast persuaded me," answered Zeus, bowing his immortal head in sorrow. And he caused a rain of blood to fall upon the earth, in sad tribute to the heroic spirit which was about to pass away.

While this debate was proceeding, the struggle had already begun. In the first cast of their spears both warriors missed their aim. Patroclus slew the comrade of Sarpedon, while Sarpedon's lance struck Pedasus, the mortal steed, in the shoulder, and he fell dead. His immortal companions plunged wildly, striving to break away from the yoke when they saw their comrade slain. But Automedon cut the traces by which the slaughtered steed was attached to the car; and, being rid of their sad burden, Xanthus and Balius were once more obedient to the rein.

Again the heroes flung their spears, and the weapon of Sarpedon flew over his antagonist's left shoulder. But the spear of Patroclus sank deep into Sarpedon's breast, and he fell, writhing in his death agony, and sending forth loud groans, like a bull when he feels the lion's claws tearing his flanks. So raged Sarpedon in the pangs of death, and rolling his eyes he sought the familiar face of his beloved Glaucus. "Friend of my heart!" he cried, "valiant Glaucus, companion of all my toils, now must thou prove thy manly worth. Rally round thee the stoutest of the Lycians, and let not thy foot go back, or thy hand cease from slaying, until thou hast saved my body from the Greeks. To thee I shall be a reproach, and a hanging of the head, even unto thy life's end, if thou leave me, a rifled and dishonoured corpse, in the hands of the foe."

Even as he spoke, death stopped his breath and darkened his eyes. And Patroclus set his foot on the corpse, and drew forth his spear, while the Myrmidons took possession of the empty car with its affrighted steeds.

Glaucus was in dire distress when he heard his dying comrade's voice. But he was disabled by the wound which he had received in scaling the wall. Nursing his injured arm, he prayed aloud to Apollo: "Hear me, O King, whether thou art now in Lycia or in Troy; for thine ear is ever open to the cry of need, however far away. My hand is maimed, and my arm is burning with sharp pains, so that I cannot wield my spear, though Sarpedon is fallen, and his father hath forsaken him. So forsake thou not me, but heal my wound, and give me back my strength, that I may save his body from outrage."

Apollo heard, and granted his prayer, and straightway the flow of his blood was stopped, and he felt in his body that he was healed of his hurt. Then Glaucus was glad, and he made all haste to do his comrade's bidding. First he called to the men of Lycia to do battle for their slaughtered captain, and then he went to rouse the Trojan leaders to do their duty by their great ally. Finding Hector engaged in another part of the field, he reproached him for his neglect. "Hast thou forgotten," he asked indignantly, "what thou owest to us, who have come on a far journey to shed our blood for thee and thy country? Cold lies Sarpedon, chief pillar of thine allies; come, friends, and help us to save his corpse, or ye will be shamed for ever."

This was bitter news for the Trojans, who reverenced Sarpedon as the chief corner-stone of their defence; and they rushed with one accord to avenge his death. Patroclus on his side summoned the bravest of the Greeks to his aid, and the whole fury of the struggle was now centred in the place where the dead Sarpedon lay.

The first who fell in this new battle was a friend of Patroclus, who years ago had found a new home in the house of Peleus, having been banished from his own country for the murder of his cousin. He was now struck down by a stone from the hand of Hector; and Patroclus, in his anger at his comrade's death, made so furious an assault that the Trojans gave way before him about the length of a spear's cast. Then Glaucus advanced again, and slew Bathycles, a man of high note among the Myrmidons; and Meriones on the other side killed Laogonus, the priest of Idæan Zeus. Æneas, ever famed for his piety, hurled his spear at Meriones, hoping to avenge the fall of that sacred head; but Meriones stooped low, and the spear flew over his head, and sunk deep in the ground, with quivering shaft, just behind him. "The Cretan can dance, I see!" shouted Æneas; "he comes from a land of dancers." "Thou shall dance to my piping, before thou hast done," answered Meriones derisively. "Thinkest thou that we owe thee a life for every cast of thy spear?" "Peace!" said Patroclus, rebuking him. "We must fight with our swords, not with our tongues, if we would do aught worthy here."

Thick and fast rained the blows, on shield and helmet and mailed breast, as the two armies closed again, and the sound was as of an army of woodmen plying their axes together in a deep mountain glade. In the midst lay the lifeless Sarpedon, covered from head to foot with javelins, and blood, and dust, so that his dearest friend could not have recognised his face. Like flies buzzing round a milk pail, so thronged the Greeks and Trojans round the body.

Zeus sat watching the battle, pondering in his heart what measure of glory he should mete out to Patroclus before he laid him low by the arm of Hector. At last, having taken his resolve, he caused a coward spirit to enter into Hector's heart, and the Trojan captain wheeled his car, and fled towards the city. The panic spread to the other Trojans, and the Lycians, and they retreated, leaving the body of Sarpedon in the hands of the Greeks, who despoiled it of its armour, and were about to do it further dishonour when a higher power intervened. In the very act of violating the dead, they saw their lifeless victim snatched from them by an invisible hand; for Apollo had received the commands of Zeus, and bore away the soiled and blackened body to the riverside, where he washed it clean, anointed it with ambrosia, and gave it, robed in immortal raiment, into the charge of Sleep and Death, for safe and speedy conveyance to Lycia.


III

High dreams of triumph arose in the heart of Patroclus when he saw the enemy flying, and, forgetting the earnest injunction of Achilles, he bade Automedon lay on the lash, and followed in hot pursuit. Even to the very walls he drove; but then he found awaiting him one mightier than Hector, even Apollo himself, who shook the ægis in his face, and warned him back. Patroclus retired a little, and while he hesitated Apollo went to the gates of the city, where Hector was lingering, in doubt whether to continue the battle, or to withdraw behind the walls.

"What doest thou here, son of Priam?" said the god; "come with me, and I will show thee where the path of glory lies." When he heard Apollo's voice, Hector's courage returned, and he commanded Cebriones, his charioteer, to drive back to the battlefield. Avoiding the other Greeks, Hector made straight for the place where Patroclus had been left standing by Apollo. Patroclus came to meet him, holding his spear in his left hand, while in his right he grasped a jagged stone. And as the car approached, he flung the stone with all his force, and struck Cebriones on the forehead, shattering the bones. The reins dropped from his hands, and without a single cry he fell from the car, striking the ground with his head. "How bravely the man tumbles!" cried Patroclus. "He would make a rare diver, and earn a good wage by bringing up oysters from the sea. I perceive that the Trojans can dance, as well as the Cretans."

Thereupon he leapt upon the prostrate charioteer, and Hector sprang forward to defend his comrade's body. So there they met, like two hungry lions fighting for the carcass of a stag; and the Greeks and Trojans thronged on either side to their support, like two winds from opposite quarters, which shatter the boughs of beech and ash in a mountain forest. All the ground about the corpse was set thick with javelins and arrows, and heaped with the stones which crashed upon corslet and shield. And there lay the giant Trojan, while the battle raged above him, mighty and mightily fallen, and all his horsemanship forgot.

Never had the arm of Patroclus dealt such havoc among the foemen's ranks as then; for his doom was near, and Zeus gave him honour in this, his latest hour. Thrice he made an onset, fierce as the god of war himself, and thrice he slew nine men. But when for the fourth time he sprang to the encounter, Phœbus made after him, and smote him on the back with his open hand. Patroclus reeled and grew dizzy, like one who has received a sunstroke. Then Apollo struck the helmet from his head, and it rolled clattering among the horses' feet, that mighty brazen helm, whose plumes, now soiled with dust and gore, had once waved above the princely brow of Achilles. The spear was shivered to pieces in his hand, and his shield slipped from his shoulder to the ground. And as he stood thus, defenceless and amazed, a Trojan, whose name was Euphorbus, wounded him between the shoulders with his spear. The blow was not mortal, and Patroclus drew back, to mingle with the press; but Hector followed after him, and drove his spear deep into his side. And as a lion overpowers a wild boar, fighting with him in the lone mountains for the possession of a little spring, and slays him by his might, so slew Hector the valiant son of Menœtius, and stayed the ravage of the Trojan ranks.

"Ah! Patroclus," said he, gazing in triumph on the dying hero, "thou thoughtest this day to have taken our city by storm, and led captive the women of Troy. But they have in me a defender who is too strong for thee. Vain man! Achilles, I doubt not, bade thee bring back to him the bloody spoils of Hector, and now thou liest slain by Hector's hand."

"Boast not," answered Patroclus faintly. "It is small glory for thee to have slain the slain. I received my death blow from Apollo and Euphorbus, not from thee. And thine own fate shall overtake thee soon, when thou shalt die by the hands of Æacides."

Even as he spake the shadow of death fell upon him, and his soul took wing for the realm of Hades, bewailing her lot, leaving all that beauty and manly bloom.