Trojan Victories

by Andrew Lang


An Extract From: Tales of Troy, Ulysses the Sacker of Cities


The war might now have ended, but an evil and foolish thought came to Pandarus, a prince of Ida, who fought for the Trojans.  He chose to shoot an arrow at Menelaus, contrary to the sworn vows of peace, and the arrow pierced the breastplate of Menelaus through the place where the clasped plates meet, and drew his blood.  Then Agamemnon, who loved his brother dearly, began to lament, saying that if he died, the army would all go home and Trojans would dance on the grave of Menelaus.  “Do not alarm all our army,” said Menelaus, “the arrow has done me little harm;” and so it proved, for the surgeon easily drew the arrow out of the wound.

Then Agamemnon hastened here and there, bidding the Greeks arm and attack the Trojans, who would certainly be defeated, for they had broken the oaths of peace.  But with his usual insolence he chose to accuse Ulysses and Diomede of cowardice, though Diomede was as brave as any man, and Ulysses had just prevented the whole army from launching their ships and going home.  Ulysses answered him with spirit, but Diomede said nothing at the moment; later he spoke his mind.  He leaped from his chariot, and all the chiefs leaped down and advanced in line, the chariots following them, while the spearmen and bowmen followed the chariots.  The Trojan army advanced, all shouting in their different languages, but the Greeks came on silently.  Then the two front lines clashed, shield against shield, and the noise was like the roaring of many flooded torrents among the hills.  When a man fell he who had slain him tried to strip off his armour, and his friends fought over his body to save the dead from this dishonour.

Ulysses fought above a wounded friend, and drove his spear through head and helmet of a Trojan prince, and everywhere men were falling beneath spears and arrows and heavy stones which the warriors threw.  Here Menelaus speared the man who built the ships with which Paris had sailed to Greece; and the dust rose like a cloud, and a mist went up from the fighting men, while Diomede stormed across the plain like a river in flood, leaving dead bodies behind him as the river leaves boughs of trees and grass to mark its course.  Pandarus wounded Diomede with an arrow, but Diomede slew him, and the Trojans were being driven in flight, when Sarpedon and Hector turned and hurled themselves on the Greeks; and even Diomede shuddered when Hector came on, and charged at Ulysses, who was slaying Trojans as he went, and the battle swayed this way and that, and the arrows fell like rain.

But Hector was sent into the city to bid the women pray to the goddess Athênê for help, and he went to the house of Paris, whom Helen was imploring to go and fight like a man, saying: “Would that the winds had wafted me away, and the tides drowned me, shameless that I am, before these things came to pass!”

Then Hector went to see his dear wife, Andromache, whose father had been slain by Achilles early in the siege, and he found her and her nurse carrying her little boy, Hector’s son, and like a star upon her bosom lay his beautiful and shining golden head.  Now, while Helen urged Paris to go into the fight, Andromache prayed Hector to stay with her in the town, and fight no more lest he should be slain and leave her a widow, and the boy an orphan, with none to protect him.  The army she said, should come back within the walls, where they had so long been safe, not fight in the open plain.  But Hector answered that he would never shrink from battle, “yet I know this in my heart, the day shall come for holy Troy to be laid low, and Priam and the people of Priam.  But this and my own death do not trouble me so much as the thought of you, when you shall be carried as a slave to Greece, to spin at another woman’s bidding, and bear water from a Grecian well.  May the heaped up earth of my tomb cover me ere I hear thy cries and the tale of thy captivity.”

Then Hector stretched out his hands to his little boy, but the child was afraid when he saw the great glittering helmet of his father and the nodding horsehair crest.  So Hector laid his helmet on the ground and dandled the child in his arms, and tried to comfort his wife, and said good-bye for the last time, for he never came back to Troy alive.  He went on his way back to the battle, and Paris went with him, in glorious armour, and soon they were slaying the princes of the Greeks.

The battle raged till nightfall, and in the night the Greeks and Trojans burned their dead; and the Greeks made a trench and wall round their camp, which they needed for safety now that the Trojans came from their town and fought in the open plain.

Next day the Trojans were so successful that they did not retreat behind their walls at night, but lit great fires on the plain: a thousand fires, with fifty men taking supper round each of them, and drinking their wine to the music of flutes.  But the Greeks were much discouraged, and Agamemnon called the whole army together, and proposed that they should launch their ships in the night and sail away home.  Then Diomede stood up, and said: “You called me a coward lately.  You are the coward!  Sail away if you are afraid to remain here, but all the rest of us will fight till we take Troy town.”

Then all shouted in praise of Diomede, and Nestor advised them to send five hundred young men, under his own son, Thrasymedes, to watch the Trojans, and guard the new wall and the ditch, in case the Trojans attacked them in the darkness.  Next Nestor counselled Agamemnon to send Ulysses and Aias to Achilles, and promise to give back Briseis, and rich presents of gold, and beg pardon for his insolence.  If Achilles would be friends again with Agamemnon, and fight as he used to fight, the Trojans would soon be driven back into the town.

Agamemnon was very ready to beg pardon, for he feared that the whole army would be defeated, and cut off from their ships, and killed or kept as slaves.  So Ulysses and Aias and the old tutor of Achilles, Phoenix, went to Achilles and argued with him, praying him to accept the rich presents, and help the Greeks.  But Achilles answered that he did not believe a word that Agamemnon said; Agamemnon had always hated him, and always would hate him.  No; he would not cease to be angry, he would sail away next day with all his men, and he advised the rest to come with him.  “Why be so fierce?” said tall Aias, who seldom spoke.  “Why make so much trouble about one girl?  We offer you seven girls, and plenty of other gifts.”

Then Achilles said that he would not sail away next day, but he would not fight till the Trojans tried to burn his own ships, and there he thought that Hector would find work enough to do.  This was the most that Achilles would promise, and all the Greeks were silent when Ulysses delivered his message.  But Diomede arose and said that, with or without Achilles, fight they must; and all men, heavy at heart, went to sleep in their huts or in the open air at their doors.

Agamemnon was much too anxious to sleep.  He saw the glow of the thousand fires of the Trojans in the dark, and heard their merry flutes, and he groaned and pulled out his long hair by handfuls.  When he was tired of crying and groaning and tearing his hair, he thought that he would go for advice to old Nestor.  He threw a lion skin, the coverlet of his bed, over his shoulder, took his spear, went out and met Menelaus—for he, too, could not sleep—and Menelaus proposed to send a spy among the Trojans, if any man were brave enough to go, for the Trojan camp was all alight with fires, and the adventure was dangerous.  Therefore the two wakened Nestor and the other chiefs, who came just as they were, wrapped in the fur coverlets of their beds, without any armour.  First they visited the five hundred young men set to watch the wall, and then they crossed the ditch and sat down outside and considered what might be done.  “Will nobody go as a spy among the Trojans?” said Nestor; he meant would none of the young men go.  Diomede said that he would take the risk if any other man would share it with him, and, if he might choose a companion, he would take Ulysses.

“Come, then, let us be going,” said Ulysses, “for the night is late, and the dawn is near.”  As these two chiefs had no armour on, they borrowed shields and leather caps from the young men of the guard, for leather would not shine as bronze helmets shine in the firelight.  The cap lent to Ulysses was strengthened outside with rows of boars’ tusks.  Many of these tusks, shaped for this purpose, have been found, with swords and armour, in a tomb in Mycenae, the town of Agamemnon.  This cap which was lent to Ulysses had once been stolen by his grandfather, Autolycus, who was a Master Thief, and he gave it as a present to a friend, and so, through several hands, it had come to young Meriones of Crete, one of the five hundred guards, who now lent it to Ulysses.  So the two princes set forth in the dark, so dark it was that though they heard a heron cry, they could not see it as it flew away.

While Ulysses and Diomede stole through the night silently, like two wolves among the bodies of dead men, the Trojan leaders met and considered what they ought to do.  They did not know whether the Greeks had set sentinels and outposts, as usual, to give warning if the enemy were approaching; or whether they were too weary to keep a good watch; or whether perhaps they were getting ready their ships to sail homewards in the dawn.  So Hector offered a reward to any man who would creep through the night and spy on the Greeks; he said he would give the spy the two best horses in the Greek camp.

Now among the Trojans there was a young man named Dolon, the son of a rich father, and he was the only boy in a family of five sisters.  He was ugly, but a very swift runner, and he cared for horses more than for anything else in the world.  Dolon arose and said, “If you will swear to give me the horses and chariot of Achilles, son of Peleus, I will steal to the hut of Agamemnon and listen and find out whether the Greeks mean to fight or flee.”  Hector swore to give these horses, which were the best in the world, to Dolon, so he took his bow and threw a grey wolf’s hide over his shoulders, and ran towards the ships of the Greeks.

Now Ulysses saw Dolon as he came, and said to Diomede, “Let us suffer him to pass us, and then do you keep driving him with your spear towards the ships, and away from Troy.”  So Ulysses and Diomede lay down among the dead men who had fallen in the battle, and Dolon ran on past them towards the Greeks.  Then they rose and chased him as two greyhounds course a hare, and, when Dolon was near the sentinels, Diomede cried “Stand, or I will slay you with my spear!” and he threw his spear just over Dolon’s shoulder.  So Dolon stood still, green with fear, and with his teeth chattering.  When the two came up, he cried, and said that his father was a rich man, who would pay much gold, and bronze, and iron for his ransom.

Ulysses said, “Take heart, and put death out of your mind, and tell us what you are doing here.”  Dolon said that Hector had promised him the horses of Achilles if he would go and spy on the Greeks.  “You set your hopes high,” said Ulysses, “for the horses of Achilles are not earthly steeds, but divine; a gift of the Gods, and Achilles alone can drive them.  But, tell me, do the Trojans keep good watch, and where is Hector with his horses?” for Ulysses thought that it would be a great adventure to drive away the horses of Hector.

“Hector is with the chiefs, holding council at the tomb of Ilus,” said Dolon; “but no regular guard is set.  The people of Troy, indeed, are round their watch fires, for they have to think of the safety of their wives and children; but the allies from far lands keep no watch, for their wives and children are safe at home.”  Then he told where all the different peoples who fought for Priam had their stations; but, said he, “if you want to steal horses, the best are those of Rhesus, King of the Thracians, who has only joined us to-night.  He and his men are asleep at the furthest end of the line, and his horses are the best and greatest that ever I saw: tall, white as snow, and swift as the wind, and his chariot is adorned with gold and silver, and golden is his armour.  Now take me prisoner to the ships, or bind me and leave me here while you go and try whether I have told you truth or lies.”

“No,” said Diomede, “if I spare your life you may come spying again,” and he drew his sword and smote off the head of Dolon.  They hid his cap and bow and spear where they could find them easily, and marked the spot, and went through the night to the dark camp of King Rhesus, who had no watch-fire and no guards.  Then Diomede silently stabbed each sleeping man to the heart, and Ulysses seized the dead by the feet and threw them aside lest they should frighten the horses, which had never been in battle, and would shy if they were led over the bodies of dead men.  Last of all Diomede killed King Rhesus, and Ulysses led forth his horses, beating them with his bow, for he had forgotten to take the whip from the chariot.  Then Ulysses and Diomede leaped on the backs of the horses, as they had not time to bring away the chariot, and they galloped to the ships, stopping to pick up the spear, and bow, and cap of Dolon.  They rode to the princes, who welcomed them, and all laughed for glee when they saw the white horses and heard that King Rhesus was dead, for they guessed that all his army would now go home to Thrace.  This they must have done, for we never hear of them in the battles that followed, so Ulysses and Diomede deprived the Trojans of thousands of men.  The other princes went to bed in good spirits, but Ulysses and Diomede took a swim in the sea, and then went into hot baths, and so to breakfast, for rosy-fingered Dawn was coming up the sky.