The Slaying of Paris
An Extract From: Tales of Troy,
Ulysses the Sacker of Cities
When the Greeks were disheartened, as they often were, they consulted
Calchas the prophet. He usually found that they must do something,
or send for somebody, and in doing so they diverted their minds from
their many misfortunes. Now, as the Trojans were fighting more
bravely than before, under Deiphobus, a brother of Hector, the Greeks
went to Calchas for advice, and he told them that they must send Ulysses
and Diomede to bring Philoctetes the bowman from the isle of Lemnos.
This was an unhappy deserted island, in which the married women, some
years before, had murdered all their husbands, out of jealousy, in a
single night. The Greeks had landed in Lemnos, on their way to
Troy, and there Philoctetes had shot an arrow at a great water dragon
which lived in a well within a cave in the lonely hills. But when
he entered the cave the dragon bit him, and, though he killed it at
last, its poisonous teeth wounded his foot. The wound never healed,
but dripped with venom, and Philoctetes, in terrible pain, kept all
the camp awake at night by his cries.
The Greeks were sorry for him, but he was not a pleasant companion,
shrieking as he did, and exuding poison wherever he came. So they
left him on the lonely island, and did not know whether he was alive
or dead. Calchas ought to have told the Greeks not to desert Philoctetes
at the time, if he was so important that Troy, as the prophet now said,
could not be taken without him. But now, as he must give some
advice, Calchas said that Philoctetes must be brought back, so Ulysses
and Diomede went to bring him. They sailed to Lemnos, a melancholy
place they found it, with no smoke rising from the ruinous houses along
the shore. As they were landing they learned that Philoctetes
was not dead, for his dismal old cries of pain, ototototoi, ai, ai;
pheu, pheu; ototototoi, came echoing from a cave on the beach.
To this cave the princes went, and found a terrible-looking man, with
long, dirty, dry hair and beard; he was worn to a skeleton, with hollow
eyes, and lay moaning in a mass of the feathers of sea birds.
His great bow and his arrows lay ready to his hand: with these he used
to shoot the sea birds, which were all that he had to eat, and their
feathers littered all the floor of his cave, and they were none the
better for the poison that dripped from his wounded foot.
When this horrible creature saw Ulysses and Diomede coming near,
he seized his bow and fitted a poisonous arrow to the string, for he
hated the Greeks, because they had left him in the desert isle.
But the princes held up their hands in sign of peace, and cried out
that they had come to do him kindness, so he laid down his bow, and
they came in and sat on the rocks, and promised that his wound should
be healed, for the Greeks were very much ashamed of having deserted
him. It was difficult to resist Ulysses when he wished to persuade
any one, and at last Philoctetes consented to sail with them to Troy.
The oarsmen carried him down to the ship on a litter, and there his
dreadful wound was washed with warm water, and oil was poured into it,
and it was bound up with soft linen, so that his pain grew less fierce,
and they gave him a good supper and wine enough, which he had not tasted
for many years.
Next morning they sailed, and had a fair west wind, so that they
soon landed among the Greeks and carried Philoctetes on shore.
Here Podaleirius, the brother of Machaon, being a physician, did all
that could be done to heal the wound, and the pain left Philoctetes.
He was taken to the hut of Agamemnon, who welcomed him, and said that
the Greeks repented of their cruelty. They gave him seven female
slaves to take care of him, and twenty swift horses, and twelve great
vessels of bronze, and told him that he was always to live with the
greatest chiefs and feed at their table. So he was bathed, and
his hair was cut and combed and anointed with oil, and soon he was eager
and ready to fight, and to use his great bow and poisoned arrows on
the Trojans. The use of poisoned arrow-tips was thought unfair,
but Philoctetes had no scruples.
Now in the next battle Paris was shooting down the Greeks with his
arrows, when Philoctetes saw him, and cried: “Dog, you are proud
of your archery and of the arrow that slew the great Achilles.
But, behold, I am a better bowman than you, by far, and the bow in my
hands was borne by the strong man Heracles!” So he cried
and drew the bowstring to his breast and the poisoned arrowhead to the
bow, and the bowstring rang, and the arrow flew, and did but graze the
hand of Paris. Then the bitter pain of the poison came upon him,
and the Trojans carried him into their city, where the physicians tended
him all night. But he never slept, and lay tossing in agony till
dawn, when he said: “There is but one hope. Take me to Œnone,
the nymph of Mount Ida!”
Then his friends laid Paris on a litter, and bore him up the steep
path to Mount Ida. Often had he climbed it swiftly, when he was
young, and went to see the nymph who loved him; but for many a day he
had not trod the path where he was now carried in great pain and fear,
for the poison turned his blood to fire. Little hope he had, for
he knew how cruelly he had deserted Œnone, and he saw that all
the birds which were disturbed in the wood flew away to the left hand,
an omen of evil.
At last the bearers reached the cave where the nymph Œnone
lived, and they smelled the sweet fragrance of the cedar fire that burned
on the floor of the cave, and they heard the nymph singing a melancholy
song. Then Paris called to her in the voice which she had once
loved to hear, and she grew very pale, and rose up, saying to herself,
“The day has come for which I have prayed. He is sore hurt,
and has come to bid me heal his wound.” So she came and
stood in the doorway of the dark cave, white against the darkness, and
the bearers laid Paris on the litter at the feet of Œnone, and
he stretched forth his hands to touch her knees, as was the manner of
suppliants. But she drew back and gathered her robe about her,
that he might not touch it with his hands.
Then he said: “Lady, despise me not, and hate me not, for my
pain is more than I can bear. Truly it was by no will of mine
that I left you lonely here, for the Fates that no man may escape led
me to Helen. Would that I had died in your arms before I saw her
face! But now I beseech you in the name of the Gods, and for the
memory of our love, that you will have pity on me and heal my hurt,
and not refuse your grace and let me die here at your feet.”
Then Œnone answered scornfully: “Why have you come here
to me? Surely for years you have not come this way, where the
path was once worn with your feet. But long ago you left me lonely
and lamenting, for the love of Helen of the fair hands. Surely
she is much more beautiful than the love of your youth, and far more
able to help you, for men say that she can never know old age and death.
Go home to Helen and let her take away your pain.”
Thus Œnone spoke, and went within the cave, where she threw
herself down among the ashes of the hearth and sobbed for anger and
sorrow. In a little while she rose and went to the door of the
cave, thinking that Paris had not been borne away back to Troy, but
she found him not; for his bearers had carried him by another path,
till he died beneath the boughs of the oak trees. Then his bearers
carried him swiftly down to Troy, where his mother bewailed him, and
Helen sang over him as she had sung over Hector, remembering many things,
and fearing to think of what her own end might be. But the Trojans
hastily built a great pile of dry wood, and thereon laid the body of
Paris and set fire to it, and the flame went up through the darkness,
for now night had fallen.
But Œnone was roaming in the dark woods, crying and calling
after Paris, like a lioness whose cubs the hunters have carried away.
The moon rose to give her light, and the flame of the funeral fire shone
against the sky, and then Œnone knew that Paris had died—beautiful
Paris—and that the Trojans were burning his body on the plain
at the foot of Mount Ida. Then she cried that now Paris was all
her own, and that Helen had no more hold on him: “And though when
he was living he left me, in death we shall not be divided,” she
said, and she sped down the hill, and through the thickets where the
wood nymphs were wailing for Paris, and she reached the plain, and,
covering her head with her veil like a bride, she rushed through the
throng of Trojans. She leaped upon the burning pile of wood, she
clasped the body of Paris in her arms, and the flame of fire consumed
the bridegroom and the bride, and their ashes mingled. No man
could divide them any more, and the ashes were placed in a golden cup,
within a chamber of stone, and the earth was mounded above them.
On that grave the wood nymphs planted two rose trees, and their branches
met and plaited together.
This was the end of Paris and Œnone.