Priam and Hecuba.

Iliad. Book XXII.

[The scene preceding the death of Hector is, perhaps, the most pathetic picture in the whole
range of poetry. Achilles has defeated the Trojans and driven them into the city, but has
been prevented from following them close by Apollo, who, in the shape of Agenor, has
lured him away in another direction.]
Thus, flying wild like deer, to their city hurried the Trojans ;1
There from their sweat they cool’d, and assuaged the rage of their hot thirst,2
Leaning against the crest of the wall ; and on the Achaians3
Nearer came, with their shoulders join’d, close locking their bucklers.4
But outside to remain, his malign fate, Hector ensnarèd,5
There in front of the Ilian wall and the Skaïan portals.6
And thus then to Pelides outspake Phœbus Apollo :7
Why, O Peleus’ son, in rapid pursuit dost thou urge me,—8
Me, an immortal, a mortal thou ?— nor, blindly, discernest9
That I deity wear, and that thy anger is futile.10
Carest thou not to distress thy Trojan foes, who have fled thee11
Into the city safe, while thou rushest devious hither,12
Seeking me to kill whose life is appointed immortal ?”13
Him, in wrath profound, thus addressed swift-footed Achilles :14
Ill with me hast thou dealt, malignant most of the godheads,15
Luring me thus from the wall ; else, sure full many a foenian16
Earth had bit in his fall ere he reacht the Tian ramparts.17
Now from me thou hast snatcht my glory, and them thou hast savèd ;18
Small is the cost to thee, nor hadst thou fear of requital.19
Swift should my vengeance be, if vengeance on thee were allow’d me.”20
Thus spake he, and in ire majestic toward the City21
Bent his rapid career, like some victorious racer22
When to the goal he his chariot whirls, swift scouring the champain ;23
Agile so in his limbs and his feet, advancèd Achilles.24
Him then aged Priam saw, first marking his motion,25
Blazing like to a star in the sky, as he travers’d the champain—26
Like the autumnal star, that, brightest of all in the heaven,27
Shines in the stillness of night ’mid a crowd of scantier splendours,—28
Him whom, to mark him forth, they call the Dog of Orion ;29
Brightest of all the stars is he, but his sway is malignant ;30
Fever he brings and disease to the dwellings of mortals unhappy :31
So did the brazen arms of Achilles shine as he movèd.32
Then did the old man wail, and smote his head with his two hands,33
Holding his arms aloft ; and groan’d with pitiful accent34
Uttering pray’rs to his son : but he in front of the portals35
Stood, insatiate longing to join in fight with Achilles.36
Him the old man, with hands stretcht forth, thus piteous urgèd :37
Hector ! my son beloved ! wait not thus alone, I implore thee,38
That dread man’s approach, lest fate precipitate whelm thee,39
Smit by Pelides’ might ; for alas ! far mightier he is.40
Creature abhorred and feared !  O were he to the Immortals41
Only as dear as to me ! Then soon would the dogs and the vultures42
Tear him, stretcht on the plain, and my sore breast would be easèd.43
Many a fair son now do I mourn, all reft and bereaved,44
Slain by him, or sold to distant isles as a captive ;45
And e’en now there are two, Lycaon and eke Polydorus,46
Whom I cannot discern ’mid those who have ’scaped to the city,47
My dear sons and sons of Leucothea, fairest of women.48
But if they live in the Grecian host we will ransom them, surely,49
Paying ransom in brass and in gold, for of such we have treasure ;50
And great store of these gave Altes along with his daughter :51
But if, already dead, they dwell in the mansion of Hades,52
Great is the grief to me and to her, their mother unhappy ;53
But on the rest of Troy that grief will lightlier press if54
Thou too, my son, fall not, smit down by the spear of Achilles.55
Nay but, O son, return to the wall, that yet thou mayest save the56
Sons and daughters of Troy, nor feed the glory and pride of57
Him, Pelides, and so may’st escape the omen’d disaster.58
Yea, and on me most wretched have pity, while I can feel it ;59
Me, ill-fated, whom Zeus severe in my desolate age shall60
Dash to the earth, and fill the measure of woe he has sent me,61
While my sons he has slain and dragged my daughters to bondage,62
And has widow’d the wives, and seized the innocent infants,63
And has dasht on the stones in the pitiless fury of warfare,64
Naked dragg’d from their beds by the ruthless hands of the Grecians.65
And me last, the ravenous dogs at the door of my mansion66
Limb from limb shall tear, when some foe with murderous steel shall,67
Stabbing or flinging the dart, dislodge my soul from my bosom,—68
Dogs that I fed in my house, that ate the crumbs of my table,—69
They shall lap my blood and wrangle over my body,70
As it lies at the door. In the youth, even death has its graces,71
When, fresh fallen in fight and markt with wounds on his bosom,72
On the field he lies ; then all is beauty and glory.73
But when the silver beard and the hoary head of the agèd74
Dogs obscene devour, as it lies cast forth and dishonour’d,75
That is the last of woes in the wretched fortune of mortals,”76
So the old man spoke, and his silvery locks in his hands full,77
Tore from his head ; yet still unmov’d was the spirit of Hector.78
And on the other side his mother wept and lamented,79
Baring her bosom and showing her breasts on this and on that side,80
And with a flood of tears thus in wingèd accents besought him :81
Hector ! O look on this, my child, and pity thy mother :82
Yea, if ever from these white founts I nourisht thy childhood,83
Pity me now, and shun to meet this terrible warrior84
Down in the plain : remain in the walls, nor rashly expose thee,85
Wretched. For it he slay thee, ne’er shall thy funeral pallet86
Flow with the tears of me, the tender mother who bore thee,87
Nor of thy loving wife : but far away from our wailings88
There at the Grecian ships shall the dogs unclean devour thee.”89
Thus with weeping words did the parents plead with their son, and90
Earnestly prayed ; but yet not so was Hector persuaded,91
But still waited the mighty Achilles as near he approachèd.92