The Slaying of Paris

by Andrew Lang


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.