THE DEATH OF HECTOR

BY V. C. TURNBULL

Of all the Trojan warriors none could be compared with their leader, Hector, the son of Priam. Terrible was he in battle, as the Greeks had known to their cost; but within the walls of Troy none was more loved than he; for towards all he was gracious and kindly. To Priam and Hecuba a dutiful son; aye, even to Paris and Helen, the guilty cause of unnumbered woes, he showed a brother's spirit. But none knew the depth of his love and gentleness as did his wife, Andromache, and their little son, Astyanax. These, in the pauses of the strife around the walls of Troy, he would seek out, comforting his wife with tender words and dandling the young child in his strong hands. Such was Hector, greatest of the Trojans.

Of the Greeks, the greatest in strength and terrible might of battle was Achilles, son of Peleus and the divine Thetis. A mightier warrior was he even than Hector himself, and no man unaided of the gods might fight against him and live.

And when Troy had been besieged for nine long years, and countless brave warriors had fallen on either side, these two champions of the Greek and Trojan hosts met face to face. And this is how they came to fight and how they fared.

Achilles, in high dudgeon with King Agamemnon over what he deemed an unfair division of spoil, had suddenly withdrawn to his tent and left the rest to fight on without his aid. But his young comrade in arms and dearest friend, Patroclus, the son of Menœtius, he at length permitted to return to the fight, arming him with his own armor. But him Hector slew, stripping off from his body the armor of Achilles and donning it himself.

Now, when Achilles heard that Patroclus was dead, his grief was so terrible that he could scarce be held from laying hands on himself. But his wrath was stronger than his grief, and he swore to slay the slayer of his friend. Therefore, forgetting his old quarrel, he hastened to make peace with Agamemnon. And since his own armor had been taken by Hector, his mother, Thetis, prevailed upon Vulcan, the god-smith, to fashion him a corslet, a helmet, and a mighty shield wrought all round with strange devices. Armed in this panoply of the god and towering over the heads of all the Greeks, he strode shouting into the fray.

And indeed the Greeks needed all the help that he could bring; for Hector had driven them down to their very ships, and scarcely had they been able to rescue the body of Patroclus. And now Hector, seeing Achilles, would have rushed to meet him, had not Apollo forbade. But the youngest and dearest of Priam's fifty sons, dying to flesh his maiden sword (for the fond father had forbidden him to fight), sprang forward in his brother's place, and fell transfixed at the first encounter; no match, rash boy, for the divine Achilles. At this sight, not Apollo himself could restrain the wrath of Hector, who bounded over the plain and, bestriding his brother's corpse, hurled his spear. But though his aim was true, Minerva turned the spear aside, and when Achilles charged, Hector too was snatched away by his guardian Apollo.

But upon the other Trojans Achilles fell with terrible fury. Many he drove into the river Scamander that flowed by the walls of Troy, slaying them, as a great dolphin of the sea might devour the small fishes; and twelve Trojans he took alive that he might sacrifice them at the funeral of his friend Patroclus. None indeed could stand before him, and those who escaped his fury fled back to the city, where Priam had ordered the gate to be opened to receive the fugitives.

At last all were within the walls save only Hector, who stood by the Scan gate alone. Achilles, afar on the plain, was hotly pursuing one whom he believed to be the Trojan Agenor, whose shape, however, Apollo had taken to draw Achilles from the walls. Now, however, the son of Peleus discovered his mistake, and, turning, he came raging across the plain in his glittering armor towards the Scan gate. And Hector stood and waited for him there.

While he waited, King Priam, his old father, many of whose sons Achilles had already slain, came out and entreated him to enter the city. And his mother Hecuba implored him, in pity for her gray hairs not to give battle to Achilles, but to enter while there was yet time.

But Hector was deaf to all prayers. It was foolhardiness in not ordering an earlier retreat that had brought dire misery upon the Trojans, and should he enter the city to meet the reproaches of all? No; better stay there single-handed, either to slay Achilles or by him be honorably slain.

While he thus pondered Achilles was upon him, brandishing a great spear, his armor flashing like fire. And so terrible was the aspect of this warrior, larger than mortal and clad in the mail of Vulcan, that, for the first time, the heart of even Hector failed, and he turned and fled. Fast he fled, and, as a hawk chases a dove, Achilles pursued. Past the watch-tower they ran, along the wagon-road about the walls, and on to the twofold spring of Scamander. Thrice they ran round the city, and in Olympus the high gods looked down, and the heart of Jupiter himself was moved to pity, and he cried to the other gods: "Shall we save Hector, or let him fall by the hand of Achilles?"

Then Minerva answered: "Wilt thou, great sire, rescue a man whom Fate has appointed to die? This thing is not well pleasing in our eyes."

Jupiter answered: "Fain would I have it otherwise, but it shall be as thou wilt."

Then Minerva came down swiftly from Olympus to aid Achilles. Nevertheless, Apollo was already with the two putting strength and swiftness into the limbs of Hector, who sought always the shelter of the towers, hoping that those who stood upon them might defend him with their spears; but always Achilles would force him outward, driving him towards the plain.

Now, for the fourth time, Achilles the pursuer and Hector the pursued had reached the springs of Scamander, and Jupiter held out the scales of doom, weighing the fates of the two men. And the scale of Hector sank, and Apollo left him.

Then Minerva, cruelly deceiving, bethought her by evil guile to end the fray, and took on the shape of Hector's brother Deiphobus, saying, "Come, my brother, let us make a stand against Achilles and flee from him no more."

And Hector, suspecting no guile, answered gratefully: "O, ever dearest of all my brothers, dearer still art thou now to me, for thou alone hast ventured to stand by my side in this perilous hour."

Then, as Achilles came upon them, Hector cried with a strong voice: "Great Achilles, I fear thee now no more. Only let this be agreed between us: that whichever of us shall fall, his body shall not be dishonored, but shall be given back for burial rites."

But Achilles scowled and answered: "No covenant be there between thee and me. Fight! for the time is come to pay the penalty for all my comrades whom thou hast slain."

Thus speaking, he hurled his spear, but Hector bowed his head and the weapon passed, and touched him not. And Hector wot not that Minerva had caught it as it flew and restored it to Achilles' hand. Confident of victory, he hurled his spear, striking the very middle of Achilles' shield. But the handiwork of Vulcan was proof even against the spear of Hector. And Hector, perceiving this, turned to Deiphobus for another spear. But no Deiphobus was there. Then, indeed, Hector knew that Minerva had deceived him, and that he stood there godforsaken, a doomed man. He knew he must perish; but he resolved to perish gloriously.

Drawing, therefore, his great sword, he rushed upon Achilles. But ere he could strike a blow the spear of Achilles pierced him where the neck joins the shoulder, and Hector fell.

And Achilles, triumphing over him, cried aloud: "Slayer of Patroclus, despoiler of his arms, the dogs and vultures shall devour thy carcase!"

But the dying Hector answered: "Nay, great Achilles, let not this shame be. Take rather the ransom that my parents shall bring thee, and suffer me to be buried in Troy."

For he knew that while his body remained unburied his spirit would know no rest in the lower world.

But Achilles, savage as a wild beast, cried to him: "No ransom shall buy back thy body; no, nor shall thy weight in gold save thy flesh from the dogs."

Hector answered with his last breath: "Oh, heart of iron! But on thee, too, shall fall vengeance, in that day when Paris and Apollo shall slay thee by the Scan gate."

With this dying curse the spirit of Hector fled.

Then Achilles, stripping off the armor of Patroclus, pierced the ankle bones of the dead man, binding them with thongs to the chariot, and letting the head that was once so fair drag in the dust. Thus dragged he Hector to the ships. And Andromache, beholding this from the city wall, swooned as one dead.

And on each following day Achilles dragged the body of Hector round the bier of Patroclus. Yet was it not in any way defiled, for Venus and Apollo preserved it in all its beauty as when Hector was alive.

At last Priam rose up, and, taking with him a great ransom, drove unscathed to the Grecian camp (for Mercury was his guide), and, falling on his knees and kissing the murderous hands of Achilles, besought him to restore the body of Hector. And Achilles, touched with ruth by the old man's tears and prayers, consented, and himself lifted the body into the litter.

So Priam bore back his dead son to Troy. And they who so often had gone forth to hail Hector returning victorious from the field, now flocked round to greet him with tears. The first to wail over him was Andromache, his wife. Then came Hecuba, his mother. Last of all came Helen, who cried: "Never did I hear thee utter one bitter word. And if any spake harshly to me, thou would'st check them with thy kind and gentle words. Therefore I weep for thee, I, friendless now in all Troy."

On the tenth day after this the Trojans burned the body of Hector on a great pile, quenching the embers with wine. And the ashes they laid in a golden chest and wrapped it in purple robes and laid it in mother earth, and over it they raised a mighty cairn.

Thus did men bury Hector, captain of the hosts of Troy.