Ulysses Sails to seek the Son of Achilles

The Valour of Eurypylus

by Andrew Lang


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


When the Greeks found Aias lying dead, slain by his own hand, they made great lament, and above all the brother of Aias, and his wife Tecmessa bewailed him, and the shores of the sea rang with their sorrow.  But of all no man was more grieved than Ulysses, and he stood up and said: “Would that the sons of the Trojans had never awarded to me the arms of Achilles, for far rather would I have given them to Aias than that this loss should have befallen the whole army of the Greeks.  Let no man blame me, or be angry with me, for I have not sought for wealth, to enrich myself, but for honour only, and to win a name that will be remembered among men in times to come.”  Then they made a great fire of wood, and burned the body of Aias, lamenting him as they had sorrowed for Achilles.

Now it seemed that though the Greeks had won the Luck of Troy and had defeated the Amazons and the army of Memnon, they were no nearer taking Troy than ever.  They had slain Hector, indeed, and many other Trojans, but they had lost the great Achilles, and Aias, and Patroclus, and Antilochus, with the princes whom Penthesilea and Memnon slew, and the bands of the dead chiefs were weary of fighting, and eager to go home.  The chiefs met in council, and Menelaus arose and said that his heart was wasted with sorrow for the death of so many brave men who had sailed to Troy for his sake.  “Would that death had come upon me before I gathered this host,” he said, “but come, let the rest of us launch our swift ships, and return each to our own country.”

He spoke thus to try the Greeks, and see of what courage they were, for his desire was still to burn Troy town and to slay Paris with his own hand.  Then up rose Diomede, and swore that never would the Greeks turn cowards.  No! he bade them sharpen their swords, and make ready for battle.  The prophet Calchas, too, arose and reminded the Greeks how he had always foretold that they would take Troy in the tenth year of the siege, and how the tenth year had come, and victory was almost in their hands.  Next Ulysses stood up and said that, though Achilles was dead, and there was no prince to lead his men, yet a son had been born to Achilles, while he was in the isle of Scyros, and that son he would bring to fill his father’s place.

“Surely he will come, and for a token I will carry to him those unhappy arms of the great Achilles.  Unworthy am I to wear them, and they bring back to my mind our sorrow for Aias.  But his son will wear them, in the front of the spearmen of Greece and in the thickest ranks of Troy shall the helmet of Achilles shine, as it was wont to do, for always he fought among the foremost.”  Thus Ulysses spoke, and he and Diomede, with fifty oarsmen, went on board a swift ship, and sitting all in order on the benches they smote the grey sea into foam, and Ulysses held the helm and steered them towards the isle of Scyros.

Now the Trojans had rest from war for a while, and Priam, with a heavy heart, bade men take his chief treasure, the great golden vine, with leaves and clusters of gold, and carry it to the mother of Eurypylus, the king of the people who dwell where the wide marshlands of the river Cayster clang with the cries of the cranes and herons and wild swans.  For the mother of Eurypylus had sworn that never would she let her son go to the war unless Priam sent her the vine of gold, a gift of the gods to an ancient King of Troy.

With a heavy heart, then, Priam sent the golden vine, but Eurypylus was glad when he saw it, and bade all his men arm, and harness the horses to the chariots, and glad were the Trojans when the long line of the new army wound along the road and into the town.  Then Paris welcomed Eurypylus who was his nephew, son of his sister Astyochê, a daughter of Priam; but the grandfather of Eurypylus was the famous Heracles, the strongest man who ever lived on earth.  So Paris brought Eurypylus to his house, where Helen sat working at her embroideries with her four bower maidens, and Eurypylus marvelled when he saw her, she was so beautiful.  But the Khita, the people of Eurypylus, feasted in the open air among the Trojans, by the light of great fires burning, and to the music of pipes and flutes.  The Greeks saw the fires, and heard the merry music, and they watched all night lest the Trojans should attack the ships before the dawn.  But in the dawn Eurypylus rose from sleep and put on his armour, and hung from his neck by the belt the great shield on which were fashioned, in gold of many colours and in silver, the Twelve Adventures of Heracles, his grandfather; strange deeds that he did, fighting with monsters and giants and with the Hound of Hades, who guards the dwellings of the dead.  Then Eurypylus led on his whole army, and with the brothers of Hector he charged against the Greeks, who were led by Agamemnon.

In that battle Eurypylus first smote Nireus, who was the most beautiful of the Greeks now that Achilles had fallen.  There lay Nireus, like an apple tree, all covered with blossoms red and white, that the wind has overthrown in a rich man’s orchard.  Then Eurypylus would have stripped off his armour, but Machaon rushed in, Machaon who had been wounded and taken to the tent of Nestor, on the day of the Valour of Hector, when he brought fire against the ships.  Machaon drove his spear through the left shoulder of Eurypylus, but Eurypylus struck at his shoulder with his sword, and the blood flowed; nevertheless, Machaon stooped, and grasped a great stone, and sent it against the helmet of Eurypylus.  He was shaken, but he did not fall, he drove his spear through breastplate and breast of Machaon, who fell and died.  With his last breath he said, “Thou, too, shalt fall,” but Eurypylus made answer, “So let it be!  Men cannot live for ever, and such is the fortune of war.”

Thus the battle rang, and shone, and shifted, till few of the Greeks kept steadfast, except those with Menelaus and Agamemnon, for Diomede and Ulysses were far away upon the sea, bringing from Scyros the son of Achilles.  But Teucer slew Polydamas, who had warned Hector to come within the walls of Troy; and Menelaus wounded Deiphobus, the bravest of the sons of Priam who were still in arms, for many had fallen; and Agamemnon slew certain spearmen of the Trojans.  Round Eurypylus fought Paris, and Aeneas, who wounded Teucer with a great stone, breaking in his helmet, but he drove back in his chariot to the ships.  Menelaus and Agamemnon stood alone and fought in the crowd of Trojans, like two wild boars that a circle of hunters surrounds with spears, so fiercely they stood at bay.  There they would both have fallen, but Idomeneus, and Meriones of Crete, and Thrasymedes, Nestor’s son, ran to their rescue, and fiercer grew the fighting.  Eurypylus desired to slay Agamemnon and Menelaus, and end the war, but, as the spears of the Scots encompassed King James at Flodden Field till he ran forward, and fell within a lance’s length of the English general, so the men of Crete and Pylos guarded the two princes with their spears.

There Paris was wounded in the thigh with a spear, and he retreated a little way, and showered his arrows among the Greeks; and Idomeneus lifted and hurled a great stone at Eurypylus which struck his spear out of his hand, and he went back to find it, and Menelaus and Agamemnon had a breathing space in the battle.  But soon Eurypylus returned, crying on his men, and they drove back foot by foot the ring of spears round Agamemnon, and Aeneas and Paris slew men of Crete and of Mycenae till the Greeks were pushed to the ditch round the camp; and then great stones and spears and arrows rained down on the Trojans and the people of Eurypylus from the battlements and towers of the Grecian wall.  Now night fell, and Eurypylus knew that he could not win the wall in the dark, so he withdrew his men, and they built great fires, and camped upon the plain.

The case of the Greeks was now like that of the Trojans after the death of Hector.  They buried Machaon and the other chiefs who had fallen, and they remained within their ditch and their wall, for they dared not come out into the open plain.  They knew not whether Ulysses and Diomede had come safely to Scyros, or whether their ship had been wrecked or driven into unknown seas.  So they sent a herald to Eurypylus, asking for a truce, that they might gather their dead and burn them, and the Trojans and Khita also buried their dead.

Meanwhile the swift ship of Ulysses had swept through the sea to Scyros, and to the palace of King Lycomedes.  There they found Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, in the court before the doors.  He was as tall as his father, and very like him in face and shape, and he was practising the throwing of the spear at a mark.  Right glad were Ulysses and Diomede to behold him, and Ulysses told Neoptolemus who they were, and why they came, and implored him to take pity on the Greeks and help them.

“My friend is Diomede, Prince of Argos,” said Ulysses, “and I am Ulysses of Ithaca.  Come with us, and we Greeks will give you countless gifts, and I myself will present you with the armour of your father, such as it is not lawful for any other mortal man to wear, seeing that it is golden, and wrought by the hands of a God.  Moreover, when we have taken Troy, and gone home, Menelaus will give you his daughter, the beautiful Hermione, to be your wife, with gold in great plenty.”

Then Neoptolemus answered: “It is enough that the Greeks need my sword.  To-morrow we shall sail for Troy.”  He led them into the palace to dine, and there they found his mother, beautiful Deidamia, in mourning raiment, and she wept when she heard that they had come to take her son away.  But Neoptolemus comforted her, promising to return safely with the spoils of Troy, “or, even if I fall,” he said, “it will be after doing deeds worthy of my father’s name.”  So next day they sailed, leaving Deidamia mournful, like a swallow whose nest a serpent has found, and has killed her young ones; even so she wailed, and went up and down in the house.  But the ship ran swiftly on her way, cleaving the dark waves till Ulysses showed Neoptolemus the far off snowy crest of Mount Ida; and Tenedos, the island near Troy; and they passed the plain where the tomb of Achilles stands, but Ulysses did not tell the son that it was his father’s tomb.

Now all this time the Greeks, shut up within their wall and fighting from their towers, were looking back across the sea, eager to spy the ship of Ulysses, like men wrecked on a desert island, who keep watch every day for a sail afar off, hoping that the seamen will touch at their isle and have pity upon them, and carry them home, so the Greeks kept watch for the ship bearing Neoptolemus.

Diomede, too, had been watching the shore, and when they came in sight of the ships of the Greeks, he saw that they were being besieged by the Trojans, and that all the Greek army was penned up within the wall, and was fighting from the towers.  Then he cried aloud to Ulysses and Neoptolemus, “Make haste, friends, let us arm before we land, for some great evil has fallen upon the Greeks.  The Trojans are attacking our wall, and soon they will burn our ships, and for us there will be no return.”

Then all the men on the ship of Ulysses armed themselves, and Neoptolemus, in the splendid armour of his father, was the first to leap ashore.  The Greeks could not come from the wall to welcome him, for they were fighting hard and hand-to-hand with Eurypylus and his men.  But they glanced back over their shoulders and it seemed to them that they saw Achilles himself, spear and sword in hand, rushing to help them.  They raised a great battle-cry, and, when Neoptolemus reached the battlements, he and Ulysses, and Diomede leaped down to the plain, the Greeks following them, and they all charged at once on the men of Eurypylus, with levelled spears, and drove them from the wall.

Then the Trojans trembled, for they knew the shields of Diomede and Ulysses, and they thought that the tall chief in the armour of Achilles was Achilles himself, come back from the land of the dead to take vengeance for Antilochus.  The Trojans fled, and gathered round Eurypylus, as in a thunderstorm little children, afraid of the lightning and the noise, run and cluster round their father, and hide their faces on his knees.

But Neoptolemus was spearing the Trojans, as a man who carries at night a beacon of fire in his boat on the sea spears the fishes that flock around, drawn by the blaze of the flame.  Cruelly he avenged his father’s death on many a Trojan, and the men whom Achilles had led followed Achilles’ son, slaying to right and left, and smiting the Trojans, as they ran, between the shoulders with the spear.  Thus they fought and followed while daylight lasted, but when night fell, they led Neoptolemus to his father’s hut, where the women washed him in the bath, and then he was taken to feast with Agamemnon and Menelaus and the princes.  They all welcomed him, and gave him glorious gifts, swords with silver hilts, and cups of gold and silver, and they were glad, for they had driven the Trojans from their wall, and hoped that to-morrow they would slay Eurypylus, and take Troy town.

But their hope was not to be fulfilled, for though next day Eurypylus met Neoptolemus in the battle, and was slain by him, when the Greeks chased the Trojans into their city so great a storm of lightning and thunder and rain fell upon them that they retreated again to their camp.  They believed that Zeus, the chief of the Gods, was angry with them, and the days went by, and Troy still stood unconquered.