The Reconciliation by H. L. Havell
Dawn was beginning to redden the waters
of the Hellespont when Thetis reached the
tent of Achilles. She found him sitting, lost
in a gloomy reverie, by the side of the bed on which
the body of Patroclus lay. "Come," said Thetis,
touching him lightly on the shoulder, "let the
dead bury their dead, and behold the glorious
armour which Hephæstus has wrought for thee."
With that she set down the dazzling panoply,
fresh from the forge of the god; the ethereal metal
rang with a dreadful sound, and from the burnished
surface darted angry beams of light, blinding the
eyes of the Myrmidons who had drawn near to
gaze, so that they fled in terror from the sight.
But the eyes of Achilles flashed with an answering
fire, and his heart burned with fierce joy, as he
handled the work of the immortal armourer.
"Mother," he said, when he had scrutinised every
piece, "the work is worthy of the artist—I can say
no more. And now to battle! Yet one thing
I fear—lest the body of my friend be marred by
decay before my vow is accomplished and I am
free to bury him."
"Let not that care disquiet thee," answered
Thetis, "I will find a means to keep off the destroying
hordes of the air, that breathe corruption in the
limbs of fallen warriors. Though he lie unburied
for the space of a whole year, his flesh shall remain
pure and clean, as the flesh of a little child. Now
go thou and summon the Greeks to the place of
assembly, that when thou hast renounced thy feud
with Agamemnon, thou mayest gird thee with might
and go forth to battle." Then she brought nectar
and ambrosia, and embalmed therewith the body
of Patroclus, that his flesh might remain sound
But Achilles strode rapidly along the strand,
shouting as he went to call the people to the assembly.
And forthwith from every tent the multitude came
flocking, and not one remained behind, no, not
even those who pursued peaceful crafts, and were
not wont to take part in the councils of the armed
host. For not one was willing to be absent from
that memorable meeting.
As he passed on, he overtook Odysseus and
Diomede, who were limping painfully along, leaning
on their spears; for they were still sore with
their wounds. After a few words of greeting, he
left them to follow, and went forward to the place
where the chiefs were sitting round the throne
of Agamemnon, which was still vacant. It was a
level spot, in the centre of a natural hollow, whose
sides rose gently, until they were closed by a
background of waving woods. And now all the slopes
were black with a swarming multitude, armed and
unarmed, stout spearmen, and noisy rabble. At
last Agamemnon was seen approaching, moving
slowly and with pain. He took his seat on the
royal throne, and then a dead hush fell on all that
vast company, as Achilles rose in his place, and
began to speak.
"Great King," he said, "we are met to end the
lamentable feud which arose out of our quarrel for
the sake of the maid Briseis. Would that she had
never been born, or had been stricken with sudden
death by the gentle shafts of Artemis, before ever
she had put enmity between me and thee! So
would many a brave man have been alive and well
who now lies sleeping an iron sleep. Yes, for
many a year to come the Greeks will speak of the
wrath of Achilles, and of him who was the cause.
But here it ends: my wrath is now aimed at
another mark, and once more I am thy faithful
friend and ally. War, war without quarter or
mercy—that is all I ask for now. Let us see if the
Trojans will hold their camp at our gates when
they stand beneath the shadow of my destroying
Right glad were the Greeks to learn that the
tremendous passions of Achilles were now enlisted
on their side. But their joyful cries were changed
to murmurs of resentment when Agamemnon rose
to answer; for they saw in him the author of all
their disasters. Signs of remorse and confusion
appeared in his face; and the first words of his
speech were heard with difficulty amidst the tumult.
"Friends and comrades in arms," he began, "I
beseech you to hear me with patience, while I make
confession of my fault. I have sinned, I cannot
deny it, through the dread power of Ate, who
blinded my heart, and maimed my wits, on the day
when I took from Achilles his prize. Ah! she is a
fearful goddess, this Ate, a fiend to vex mankind.
Soft is her tread, and her path lies on the heads of
men: unseen, unheard, she approaches, and enters
into the soul of him whom she has marked for ruin.
Once she dwelt among the gods in Olympus, but
she dared to lay her foul spells on Zeus himself, so
that he fell into grievous error; and when he learnt
how he had been deceived, he swore a mighty oath
that never again should that abhorred witch set
foot in the celestial abode. So he caught her by
the hair, and flung her down to earth, to plague the
tribes of men. And she it was who made me her
victim, whereby all this mischief befell. But now
I am ready to make all good, and heal the wrong
which I have wrought. And all the gifts which I
promised yesterday by the mouth of Odysseus are
thine, Achilles, without abatement of one jot. Wait
awhile, before thou goest into battle, and my squires
shall bring them to thy tent."
"As for the gifts," replied Achilles, "they are
thine to give or to withhold as thou choosest. But
of that hereafter; for the present, I have work to
do which admits of no delay. No more of talk, but
let us away to the field at once."
But here the voice of prudence intervened,
checking the fiery impetuosity of Achilles. "Hear
me a moment, valiant prince," said Odysseus.
"We must not lead the people fasting to battle,
for an empty man hath little heart for the fight,
which methinks will be neither short nor easy to-day.
Let the people first eat their fill, for a man cannot
face the foe from dawn till eve without tasting meat.
However willing his spirit, his flesh is weak; his
limbs are soon overtaken with weariness, his mouth
is parched with thirst, and his knees totter as he
goes. Therefore, I say, let us eat, and after that
to battle. And thou, Achilles, shalt receive the
gifts of Agamemnon, and partake of a banquet of
honour with the other chieftains in his tent. The
King knows what is fitting, and he cannot do less."
Agamemnon willingly assented, and was proceeding
to give the order to bring the gifts when
Achilles started up again, in eager protest against
"Illustrious King," he said, "surely there will be
time enough to speak of these lesser matters when
we have humbled the pride of the Trojans, who
are waiting for us on the plain. My friend lies
slaughtered, pierced by Hector's spear, and ye talk
to me of meat and drink! By my will the whole
army should keep a solemn fast, until we have
washed out the stain on our honour in a sea of
blood, and then, after the great act of vengeance
is complete, we will feast and make merry. I at
least will suffer no morsel or drop to pass my lips
as long as my comrade lies in my tent with his feet
to the door, and the women mourning round. No;
far other thoughts fill my heart—blood and slaughter,
and the groans of dying men."
But these desperate counsels found no favour
with the veteran heads of the army, and a deep hum
of approval greeted the more sober eloquence of
Odysseus, who now rose again to reply. "Mighty
son of Peleus," he said, "thou art stronger far than
I, and thy spear writes deadlier record on the
foemen's ranks; but I have lived longer than thou, and
seen more: bear with me, then, while I speak what
reason and experience hath taught me. Soon weary
grows the hand which toils in war's barren harvest,
where the swathe is so thick, and the yield so
scanty when the day is done. We cannot keep
a fast for every Greek that falls—where would be
the end? The warrior's dirge is short, and he is
honoured enough if he is mourned for a day. And
those who are left must eat, that they may have
strength to fight on the morrow. To your tents,
then, every one! And when ye have eaten, come
quickly, armed for the fight, and await no second
For all his fierce impatience, Achilles was
compelled to yield. With great effort he controlled
himself while the gifts were brought, and the
ceremonies performed, with no circumstance of
solemnity omitted, to ratify the covenant of
forgiveness and reconciliation between him and
Agamemnon. And so the first act in the great
drama of his wrath is concluded.
Seven youths of princely rank, attended by a long
train of bearers, were despatched to the tent of
Achilles, loaded with the costly gifts of atonement
from the King. With them went Briseis, thus
returned to her former lord. When she saw
Patroclus on the bed where he lay, she beat her
breast, and, embracing the cold body, burst into a
passion of weeping. "Friend of my sorrow!" she
cried, "I left thee living, and I find thee dead.
Woe, and more woe, is all my portion. When I
came hither, an orphaned captive, bereaved of all,
thou didst comfort me in my great affliction,
promising, when the war was over, to make me
Achilles' lawful wife. Thy gentleness and thy
knightly courtesy shed balm upon my wounded
spirit, and now thou art gone, and my last comfort
is gone with thee."
So mourned Briseis, and all the captive ladies
wept afresh when they heard her, having cause
enough for tears, every one. The sound of their
lamentation reached the ears of Achilles where
he sat, but he remained unmoved by the tragedy
of these lesser spirits, being absorbed in the sense
of his own great loss. The tide of his passion had
ebbed again, leaving his heart cold and desolate.
His men brought him food and drink, but he
repulsed them sternly, and would touch nothing.
He thought of the happy past—when he and
Patroclus had partaken together of many a cheerful
meal—and then of the bitter present, when the
sight of bread and meat filled him with loathing.
He thought of his father Peleus, growing old in
his solitary home, waiting in sad expectation to
hear of his son's death, and of the young
Neoptolemus, his own child, growing up among strangers
in the island of Scyros. "Lost, lost, all lost!" he
murmured; "I shall never see them again."
But the gods had not forgotten their favourite.
Zeus beheld him as he sat thus stricken and forlorn,
and sent Athene to inspire him with new comfort
and strength. Unseen, she alighted at his side,
and fed him, though he knew it not, with heavenly
food, filling his heart with more than mortal vigour
and courage. Meanwhile the clash of arms rang
through the camp as the Greeks marched out,
column after column, to battle, thick as autumnal
leaves, or hovering snowflakes in winter. The
air seemed on fire with the flash of myriads of
spears, and the earth shook beneath the thunder
of their tread.
Roused by the sound, Achilles sprang to his
feet, and buckled on his corslet, and clasped the
greaves to his ankles. Then he flung the sword
over his shoulder, and thrust his arm through the
strap of his shield, which shone like the full-orbed
moon, or a beaconlight blazing afar over a stormy
sea. Last of all, he lifted his mighty helmet, with
its nodding, golden plume, and set it on his head.
And now, being arrayed in his harness from head
to foot, he raised himself to his towering height, and
stretched his fleet limbs, to prove the armour; and
it became unto him as wings, making him lighter
and nimbler than ever before.
Grasping in his right hand his spear—the mighty
Pelian ash, pointed with death—he went forth
before the tent, where Automedon stood waiting
with his car. "Now hear me, ye children of the
wind!" he cried, addressing his steeds, "see that
ye play me not false to-day, as when ye left Patroclus
dead on the field, and came back with an empty car."
Then there befell a wondrous thing; for the good
steed Xanthus, drooping low his head, answered
with a human voice, and spake thus unto his master:
"Yea, we will carry thee safe back, most dread
Achilles, when the fight is o'er. It was by no
sloth or tardiness of ours that thy brave comrade
met his death; that deed was wrought by the hand
of Apollo, using Hector as his instrument—even as
thou too shalt be cut off by a human weapon, but
by no human power."
So spake the immortal courser, for the first and
the last time; for fate suffered it not again. And
Achilles answered him, and said: "Waste not
thy prophecies on me, good steed! I know my
fate—death on the battlefield, far from my home:
but ere that hour comes I will send many a Trojan
to herald my coming among the dead."
Then, shouting his dread battle-cry, he sprang
into his car, and drove headlong to the front.