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Now the other gods and the armed warriors on the plain slept
soundly, but Jove was wakeful, for he was thinking how to do honour to
Achilles, and destroyed much people at the ships of the Achaeans. In
the end he deemed it would be best to send a lying dream to King
Agamemnon; so he called one to him and said to it, “Lying Dream, go to
the ships of the Achaeans, into the tent of Agamemnon, and say to
him word to word as I now bid you. Tell him to get the Achaeans
instantly under arms, for he shall take Troy. There are no longer
divided counsels among the gods; Juno has brought them to her own
mind, and woe betides the Trojans.”
  The dream went when it had heard its message, and soon reached the
ships of the Achaeans. It sought Agamemnon son of Atreus and found him
in his tent, wrapped in a profound slumber. It hovered over his head
in the likeness of Nestor, son of Neleus, whom Agamemnon honoured
above all his councillors, and said:-
  “You are sleeping, son of Atreus; one who has the welfare of his
host and so much other care upon his shoulders should dock his
sleep. Hear me at once, for I come as a messenger from Jove, who,
though he be not near, yet takes thought for you and pities you. He
bids you get the Achaeans instantly under arms, for you shall take
Troy. There are no longer divided counsels among the gods; Juno has
brought them over to her own mind, and woe betides the Trojans at
the hands of Jove. Remember this, and when you wake see that it does
not escape you.”
  The dream then left him, and he thought of things that were,
surely not to be accomplished. He thought that on that same day he was
to take the city of Priam, but he little knew what was in the mind
of Jove, who had many another hard-fought fight in store alike for
Danaans and Trojans. Then presently he woke, with the divine message
still ringing in his ears; so he sat upright, and put on his soft
shirt so fair and new, and over this his heavy cloak. He bound his
sandals on to his comely feet, and slung his silver-studded sword
about his shoulders; then he took the imperishable staff of his
father, and sallied forth to the ships of the Achaeans.
  The goddess Dawn now wended her way to vast Olympus that she might
herald day to Jove and to the other immortals, and Agamemnon sent
the criers round to call the people in assembly; so they called them
and the people gathered thereon. But first he summoned a meeting of
the elders at the ship of Nestor king of Pylos, and when they were
assembled he laid a cunning counsel before them.
  “My friends,” said he, “I have had a dream from heaven in the dead
of night, and its face and figure resembled none but Nestor’s. It
hovered over my head and said, ‘You are sleeping, son of Atreus; one
who has the welfare of his host and so much other care upon his
shoulders should dock his sleep. Hear me at once, for I am a messenger
from Jove, who, though he be not near, yet takes thought for you and
pities you. He bids you get the Achaeans instantly under arms, for you
shall take Troy. There are no longer divided counsels among the
gods; Juno has brought them over to her own mind, and woe betides
the Trojans at the hands of Jove. Remember this.’ The dream then
vanished and I awoke. Let us now, therefore, arm the sons of the
Achaeans. But it will be well that I should first sound them, and to
this end I will tell them to fly with their ships; but do you others
go about among the host and prevent their doing so.”
  He then sat down, and Nestor the prince of Pylos with all
sincerity and goodwill addressed them thus: “My friends,” said he,
“princes and councillors of the Argives, if any other man of the
Achaeans had told us of this dream we should have declared it false,
and would have had nothing to do with it. But he who has seen it is
the foremost man among us; we must therefore set about getting the
people under arms.”
  With this he led the way from the assembly, and the other sceptred
kings rose with him in obedience to the word of Agamemnon; but the
people pressed forward to hear. They swarmed like bees that sally from
some hollow cave and flit in countless throng among the spring
flowers, bunched in knots and clusters; even so did the mighty
multitude pour from ships and tents to the assembly, and range
themselves upon the wide-watered shore, while among them ran
Wildfire Rumour, messenger of Jove, urging them ever to the fore. Thus
they gathered in a pell-mell of mad confusion, and the earth groaned
under the ***** of men as the people sought their places. Nine heralds
went crying about among them to stay their tumult and bid them
listen to the kings, till at last they were got into their several
places and ceased their clamour. Then King Agamemnon rose, holding his
sceptre. This was the work of Vulcan, who gave it to Jove the son of
Saturn. Jove gave it to Mercury, slayer of Argus, guide and
guardian. King Mercury gave it to Pelops, the mighty charioteer, and
Pelops to Atreus, shepherd of his people. Atreus, when he died, left
it to Thyestes, rich in flocks, and Thyestes in his turn left it to be
borne by Agamemnon, that he might be lord of all Argos and of the
isles. Leaning, then, on his sceptre, he addressed the Argives.
  “My friends,” he said, “heroes, servants of Mars, the hand of heaven
has been laid heavily upon me. Cruel Jove gave me his solemn promise
that I should sack the city of Priam before returning, but he has
played me false, and is now bidding me go ingloriously back to Argos
with the loss of much people. Such is the will of Jove, who has laid
many a proud city in the dust, as he will yet lay others, for his
power is above all. It will be a sorry tale hereafter that an
Achaean host, at once so great and valiant, battled in vain against
men fewer in number than themselves; but as yet the end is not in
sight. Think that the Achaeans and Trojans have sworn to a solemn
covenant, and that they have each been numbered—the Trojans by the
roll of their householders, and we by companies of ten; think
further that each of our companies desired to have a Trojan
householder to pour out their wine; we are so greatly more in number
that full many a company would have to go without its cup-bearer.
But they have in the town allies from other places, and it is these
that hinder me from being able to sack the rich city of Ilius. Nine of
Jove years are gone; the timbers of our ships have rotted; their
tackling is sound no longer. Our wives and little ones at home look
anxiously for our coming, but the work that we came hither to do has
not been done. Now, therefore, let us all do as I say: let us sail
back to our own land, for we shall not take Troy.”
  With these words he moved the hearts of the multitude, so many of
them as knew not the cunning counsel of Agamemnon. They surged to
and fro like the waves of the Icarian Sea, when the east and south
winds break from heaven’s clouds to lash them; or as when the west
wind sweeps over a field of corn and the ears bow beneath the blast,
even so were they swayed as they flew with loud cries towards the
ships, and the dust from under their feet rose heavenward. They
cheered each other on to draw the ships into the sea; they cleared the
channels in front of them; they began taking away the stays from
underneath them, and the welkin rang with their glad cries, so eager
were they to return.
  Then surely the Argives would have returned after a fashion that was
not fated. But Juno said to Minerva, “Alas, daughter of
aegis-bearing Jove, unweariable, shall the Argives fly home to their
own land over the broad sea, and leave Priam and the Trojans the glory
of still keeping Helen, for whose sake so many of the Achaeans have
died at Troy, far from their homes? Go about at once among the host,
and speak fairly to them, man by man, that they draw not their ships
into the sea.”
  Minerva was not slack to do her bidding. Down she darted from the
topmost summits of Olympus, and in a moment she was at the ships of
the Achaeans. There she found Ulysses, peer of Jove in counsel,
standing alone. He had not as yet laid a hand upon his ship, for he
was grieved and sorry; so she went close up to him and said, “Ulysses,
noble son of Laertes, are you going to fling yourselves into your
ships and be off home to your own land in this way? Will you leave
Priam and the Trojans the glory of still keeping Helen, for whose sake
so many of the Achaeans have died at Troy, far from their homes? Go
about at once among the host, and speak fairly to them, man by man,
that they draw not their ships into the sea.”
  Ulysses knew the voice as that of the goddess: he flung his cloak
from him and set off to run. His servant Eurybates, a man of Ithaca,
who waited on him, took charge of the cloak, whereon Ulysses went
straight up to Agamemnon and received from him his ancestral,
imperishable staff. With this he went about among the ships of the
Achaeans.
  Whenever he met a king or chieftain, he stood by him and spoke him
fairly. “Sir,” said he, “this flight is cowardly and unworthy. Stand
to your post, and bid your people also keep their places. You do not
yet know the full mind of Agamemnon; he was sounding us, and ere
long will visit the Achaeans with his displeasure. We were not all
of us at the council to hear what he then said; see to it lest he be
angry and do us a mischief; for the pride of kings is great, and the
hand of Jove is with them.”
  But when he came across any common man who was making a noise, he
struck him with his staff and rebuked him, saying, “Sirrah, hold
your peace, and listen to better men than yourself. You are a coward
and no soldier; you are nobody either in fight or council; we cannot
all be kings; it is not well that there should be many masters; one
man must be supreme—one king to whom the son of scheming Saturn has
given the sceptre of sovereignty over you all.”
  Thus masterfully did he go about among the host, and the people
hurried back to the council from their tents and ships with a sound as
the thunder of surf when it comes crashing down upon the shore, and
all the sea is in an uproar.
  The rest now took their seats and kept to their own several
places, but Thersites still went on wagging his unbridled tongue—a
man of many words, and those unseemly; a monger of sedition, a
railer against all who were in authority, who cared not what he
said, so that he might set the Achaeans in a laugh. He was the ugliest
man of all those that came before Troy—bandy-legged, lame of one
foot, with his two shoulders rounded and hunched over his chest. His
head ran up to a point, but there was little hair on the top of it.
Achilles and Ulysses hated him worst of all, for it was with them that
he was most wont to wrangle; now, however, with a shrill squeaky voice
he began heaping his abuse on Agamemnon. The Achaeans were angry and
disgusted, yet none the less he kept on brawling and bawling at the
son of Atreus.
  “Agamemnon,” he cried, “what ails you now, and what more do you
want? Your tents are filled with bronze and with fair women, for
whenever we take a town we give you the pick of them. Would you have
yet more gold, which some Trojan is to give you as a ransom for his
son, when I or another Achaean has taken him prisoner? or is it some
young girl to hide and lie with? It is not well that you, the ruler of
the Achaeans, should bring them into such misery. Weakling cowards,
women rather than men, let us sail home, and leave this fellow here at
Troy to stew in his own meeds of honour, and discover whether we
were of any service to him or no. Achilles is a much better man than
he is, and see how he has treated him—robbing him of his prize and
keeping it himself. Achilles takes it meekly and shows no fight; if he
did, son of Atreus, you would never again insult him.”
  Thus railed Thersites, but Ulysses at once went up to him and
rebuked him sternly. “Check your glib tongue, Thersites,” said be,
“and babble not a word further. Chide not with princes when you have
none to back you. There is no viler creature come before Troy with the
sons of Atreus. Drop this chatter about kings, and neither revile them
nor keep harping about going home. We do not yet know how things are
going to be, nor whether the Achaeans are to return with good
success or evil. How dare you gibe at Agamemnon because the Danaans
have awarded him so many prizes? I tell you, therefore—and it shall
surely be—that if I again catch you talking such nonsense, I will
either forfeit my own head and be no more called father of Telemachus,
or I will take you, strip you stark naked, and whip you out of the
assembly till you go blubbering back to the ships.”
  On this he beat him with his staff about the back and shoulders till
he dropped and fell a-weeping. The golden sceptre raised a ****** weal
on his back, so he sat down frightened and in pain, looking foolish as
he wiped the tears from his eyes. The people were sorry for him, yet
they laughed heartily, and one would turn to his neighbour saying,
“Ulysses has done many a good thing ere now in fight and council,
but he never did the Argives a better turn than when he stopped this
fellow’s mouth from prating further. He will give the kings no more of
his insolence.”
  Thus said the people. Then Ulysses rose, sceptre in hand, and
Minerva in the likeness of a herald bade the people be still, that
those who were far off might hear him and consider his council. He
therefore with all sincerity and goodwill addressed them thus:-
  “King Agamemnon, the Achaeans are for making you a by-word among all
mankind. They forget the promise they made you when they set out
from Argos, that you should not return till you had sacked the town of
Troy, and, like children or widowed women, they murmur and would set
off homeward. True it is that they have had toil enough to be
disheartened. A man chafes at having to stay away from his wife even
for a single month, when he is on shipboard, at the mercy of wind
and sea, but it is now nine long years that we have been kept here;
I cannot, therefore, blame the Achaeans if they turn restive; still we
shall be shamed if we go home empty after so long a stay—therefore,
my friends, be patient yet a little longer that we may learn whether
the prophesyings of Calchas were false or true.
  “All who have not since perished must remember as though it were
yesterday or the day before, how the ships of the Achaeans were
detained in Aulis when we were on our way hither to make war on
Priam and the Trojans. We were ranged round about a fountain
offering hecatombs to the gods upon their holy altars, and there was a
fine plane-tree from beneath which there welled a stream of pure
water. Then we saw a prodigy; for Jove sent a fearful serpent out of
the ground, with blood-red stains upon its back, and it darted from
under the altar on to the plane-tree. Now there was a brood of young
sparrows, quite small, upon the topmost bough, peeping out from
under the leaves, eight in all, and their mother that hatched them
made nine. The serpent ate the poor cheeping things, while the old
bird flew about lamenting her little ones; but the serpent threw his
coils about her and caught her by the wing as she was screaming. Then,
when he had eaten both the sparrow and her young, the god who had sent
him made him become a sign; for the son of scheming Saturn turned
him into stone, and we stood there wondering at that which had come to
pass. Seeing, then, that such a fearful portent had broken in upon our
hecatombs, Calchas forthwith declared to us the oracles of heaven.
‘Why, Achaeans,’ said he, ‘are you thus speechless? Jove has sent us
this sign, long in coming, and long ere it be fulfilled, though its
fame shall last for ever. As the serpent ate the eight fledglings
and the sparrow that hatched them, which makes nine, so shall we fight
nine years at Troy, but in the tenth shall take the town.’ This was
what he said, and now it is all coming true. Stay here, therefore, all
of you, till we take the city of Priam.”
  On this the Argives raised a shout, till the ships rang again with
the uproar. Nestor, knight of Gere
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