Alas! what weight of anguish hast thou known?


      Alas! what weight of anguish hast thou known?
Unhappy Prince! thus guardless and alone
To pass thro' foes, and thus undaunted face
The man whose fury has destroy'd thy race?
Heav'n sure has arm'd thee with a heart of steel,
A strength proportion'd to the woes you feel.
Rise then: let reason mitigate our care:
To mourn, avails not: Man is born to bear.
Such is, alas! the Gods severe decree:
They, only they are blest, and only free.
Two urns by Jove's high throne have ever stood,
The source of Evil one, and one of Good;
From thence the cup of mortal man he fills,
Blessings to these, to those distributes ills;
To most, he mingles both: The wretch decreed
To taste the bad, unmix'd, is curst indeed;
Pursu'd by wrongs, by meagre famine driv'n,
He wanders, outcast both of earth and heav'n.
The happiest taste not happiness sincere,
But find the cordial draught is dash'd with care.
Who more than Peleus shone in wealth and pow'r?
What stars concurring blest his natal hour?
A realm, a Goddess, to his wishes giv'n,
Grac'd by the Gods with all the gifts of heav'n!
One evil yet o'ertakes his latest day,
No race succeeding to imperial sway:
An only son! and he (alas!) ordain'd
To fall untimely in a foreign land!
See him, in Troy, the pious care decline
Of his weak age, to live the curse of thine!
Thou too, old man, hast happier days beheld;
In riches once, in children once excell'd;
Extended Phrygia own'd thy ample reign,
And all fair Lesbos' blissful seats contain,
And all wide Hellespont's unmeasur'd main.
But since the God his hand has pleas'd to turn,
And fill thy measure from his bitter urn,
What sees the sun, but hapless heroes falls?
War, and the blood of men, surround thy walls!
What must be, must be. Bear thy lot, nor shed
These unavailing sorrows o'er the dead;
Thou can'st not call him from the Stygian shore,
But thou alas! may'st live to suffer more!
      To whom the King. Oh favour'd of the skies!
Here let me grow to earth! since Hector lies
On the bare beach, depriv'd of obsequies.
Oh give me Hector! to my eyes restore
His corse, and take the gifts: I ask no more.
Thou, as thou may'st, these boundless stores enjoy;
Safe may'st thou sail, and turn thy wrath from Troy;
So shall thy pity and forbearance give
A weak old man to see the light and live!
      Move me no more (Achilles thus replies,
While kindling anger sparkled in his eyes)
Nor seek by tears my steady soul to bend;
To yield thy Hector I my self intend:
For know, from Jove my Goddess-mother came,
(Old Ocean's daughter, silver-footed dame)
Nor com'st thou but by heav'n; nor com'st alone,
Some God impels with courage not thy own:
No human hand the weighty gates unbarr'd,
Nor could the boldest of our youth have dar'd
To pass our out-works, or elude the guard.
Cease; lest neglectful of high Jove's command
I show thee, King! thou tread'st on hostile land;
Release my knees, thy suppliant arts give o'er,
And shake the purpose of my soul no more.
      The Sire obey'd him, trembling and o'eraw'd.
Achilles, like a lion, rush'd abroad:
Automedon and Alcimus attend,
(Whom most he honour's since he lost his friend;)
These to unyoke the mules and horses went,
And led the hoary herald to the tent;
Next heap'd on high the num'rous presents bear
(Great Hector's ransome) from the polish'd car.
Two splendid mantles, and a carpet spread,
They leave; to cover, and inwrap the dead.
Then call the handmaids with assistant toil
To wash the body and anoint with oil;
Apart from Priam, lest th'unhappy sire
Provok'd to passion, once more rouze to ire
The stern Pelides; and nor sacred age
Nor Jove's command, should check the rising rage.
This done, the garments o'er the corse they spread;
Achilles lifts it to the fun'ral bed:
Then, while the body on the car they laid,
He groans, and calls on lov'd Patroclus' shade.
      If, in that gloom which never light must know,
The deeds of mortals touch the ghosts below:
O friend! forgive me, that I thus fulfill
(Restoring Hector) heav'ns unquestion'd will.
The gifts the father gave, be ever thine,
To grace thy manes, and adorn thy shrine.
      He said, and entring, took his seat of state,
Where full before him rev'rend Priam sate:
To whom, compos'd, the God-like chief begun.
Lo! to thy pray'r restor'd, thy breathless son;
Extended on the fun'ral couch he lies;
And soon as morning paints the eastern skies,
The sight is granted to thy longing eyes.
But now the peaceful hours of sacred night
Demand refection, and to rest invite:
Nor thou, O father! thus consum'd with woe,
The common cares that nourish life, forego.
Not thus did Niobe, of form divine,
A parent once, whose sorrows equal'd thine:
Six youthful sons, as many blooming maids,
In one sad day beheld the Stygian shades;
These by Apollo's silver bow were slain,
Those, Cynthia's arrows stretch'd upon the plain.
So was her pride chastiz'd by wrath divine,
Who match'd her own with bright Latona's line;
But two the Goddess, twelve the Queen enjoy'd;
Those boasted twelve th'avenging two destroy'd.
Steep'd in their blood, and in the dust outspread,
Nine days neglected lay expos'd the dead;
None by to weep them, to inhume them none;
(For Jove had turn'd the nation all to stone:)
The Gods themselves at length relenting, gave
Th' unhappy race the honours of a grave.
Her self a rock, (for such was heav'ns high will)
Thro' desarts wild now pours a weeping rill;
Where round the bed whence Achelous springs,
The wat'ry fairies dance in mazy rings,
There high on Sipylus his shaggy brow,
She stands her own sad monument of woe;
The rock for ever lasts, the tears for ever flow!
      Such griefs, O King! have other parents known;
Remember theirs, and mitigate thy own.
The care of heav'n thy Hector has appear'd,
Nor shall he lie unwept, and uninterr'd;
Soon may thy aged cheeks in tears be drown'd,
And all the eyes of Ilion stream around.
      He said, and rising chose the victim ewe
With silver fleece, which his attendants slew.
The limbs they sever from the reeking hide,
With skill prepare them, and in parts divide:
Each on the coals the sep'rate morsels lays,
And hasty, snatches from the rising blaze.
With bread the glitt'ring canisters they load,
Which round the board Automedon bestow'd:
The chief himself to each his portion plac'd,
And each indulging shar'd in sweet repast.
When now the rage of hunger was represt,
The wond'ring hero eyes his royal guest;
No less the royal guest the hero eyes;
His god-like aspect and majestick size;
Here, youthful grace and noble fire engage,
And there, the mild benevolence of old age.
Thus gazing long, the silence neither broke,
(A solemn scene!) at length the father spoke.
      Permit me now, belov'd of Jove! to steep
My careful temples in the dew of sleep:
For since the day that numbred with the dead
My hapless son, the dust has been my bed,
Soft sleep a stranger to my weeping eyes,
My only food my sorrows and my sighs!
Till now, encourag'd by the grace you give,
I share thy banquet, and consent to live.
      With that, Achilles bad prepare the bed,
With purple soft, and shaggy carpets spread;
Forth, by the flaming lights, they bend their way,
And place the couches, and the cov'rings lay.
Then he: Now father sleep, but sleep not here.
Consult thy safety, and forgive my fear,
Lest any Argive (at this hour awake,
To ask our counsel or our orders take,)
Approaching sudden to our open'd tent,
Perchance behold thee, and our grace prevent.
Should such report thy honour'd person here,
The King of men the ransom might defer.
But say with speed, if ought of thy desire
Remains unask'd; what time the rites require
T' inter thy Hector? For, so long we stay
Our slaught'ring arm, and bid the hosts obey.
      If then thy will permit (the Monarch said)
To finish all due honours to the dead,
This, of thy grace, accord: To thee are known
The fears of Ilion, clos'd within her town,
And at what distance from our walls aspire
The hills of Ide, and forests for the fire.
Nine days to vent our sorrows I request,
The tenth shall see the fun'ral and the feast;
The next, to raise his monument be giv'n;
The twelfth we war, if war be doom'd by heav'n!
      This thy request (reply'd the chief) enjoy:
Till then, our arms suspend the fall of Troy.


                                     –The Iliad, XXIV, 653-839
                         Greek; trans. Alexander Pope


Homer, Greek,trans. Alexander Pope, The Iliad, Penguin Books, 1996.