Battle Piece from the Eighteenth Book of the Iliad

Charles Harpur


Paraphrased in Homeric Hexameters.

Up, in his might, he arose—Achilles, the favoured of heaven;
Pallas herself, having slung the broad shield of Jove o’er his shoulders,
Put them about his bold head a golden mist light ning with splendour
As doth a cloudlet inflamed with all the fierce glory of sunrise.
And as when smoke goeth up from a town in some outlying island
Whose foes, from their own stronger hold, forth ever pouring, besiege it,
Soon as the set sun hath drawn down with him the grey strip of twilight,
How the red tongues of the fires are seen to rush up in the darkness,
Making a glow in the sky, and pathing with light the dim waters,
Where cometh haply some helper, ploughing the deep with his galleys:
So from the head of Achilles went up aloft an effulgence.

Past the camp wall went he forth, and there by the trench (though still keeping
Back from the host of the Greeks, being held by the hest of his mother),
Standing straight up like a tower a terrible menace he shouted!
Which, as it rang in its wrath along the gored fronts of the battle,
Pallas enforced by a cry, that fell as if shrieked out of heaven!
And as that clear-ringing voice tore out like the blare of a trumpet,
Threatening the gates of a town which implacable foremen beleaguer,
Loud in the host of the Trojans rose a wild thunder-like tumult!
And when, too, her cry in their midst fell shrieking, fell with it confusion,
Fell with it fear, and horror that suddenly shuddered within them,
Rending their legions as clouds are torn by the winds of a tempest!
For even the proud-maned steeds swerved, huddled, and backed on their haunches,
Full well forseeing, it seemed, calamity clothed in the omen;
Also the charioteers were smitten with panic, beholding
Fire on that terrible head—the head of the godlike Achilles—
Burning and raging aloft, an active and ominous glory!

Thrice o’er the trench did he shout, and as oft with their helps were the Trojans
Whirl’d into dust-clouded heaps, and rolled back in utter disorder;
While of their valiantest captains twelve in the huddlement perished,
Crushed by the jambing of wheels and under the wrecks of their chariots.


The same, more closely rendered in Blank Verse.

Thus having spoken, the swift-footed one
Passed heavenward, and divine Achilles rose;
And o’er his mighty shoulders Pallas threw
Her many-fringèd ’gis: and she put
About his head a golden cloud, from which
A shining flame went burning. And as when
A smoke ascendeth from some island town
Which foes besiege, who from their own stronghold,
Marshalling out against it, all day long
Contend in hateful fight;—till sunset, when
The torches fiercelier blazing, shoot aloft
Such skiey splendours as may haply warn
Some friendly dwellers in the neighbouring isles
Of its extremity, and who so warned
Straight for those signals in swift ships shall come
Repellers of the war: so heavenward up
That flame went burning from Achilles’head.

Advancing then beyond the wall, he stood
Beside the trench, nor mingled with the Greeks,
For he revered his mother’s prudent words,
And standing there, he shouted. Pallas, too,
Shouted aloud with him, and thereby raised
Among the Trojans a tremendous tumult!
And as the clangour of a trumpet shrills,
When blown by deadly foes against a town
Which they beleaguer; so distinct an clear
Did Eacus’s great descendant then
Send forth his brazen voice: whereby all souls
Were troubled, and the beautiful-maned steeds
Backed in their chariots, as presaging woe.
And all the charioteers were smitten through
With shivering panic, while beholding there
That terrible indefatigable flame,
Which from the head of the great-souled Achilles
Rose burning, as the blue-eyed goddess willed,—
Even great Pallas, who had kindled it.


The same, very literally.

Thus having spoken, the swift-footed Iris departed;
But Achilles, beloved of Jove, arose,
And Pallas threw her fringed ’gis about his strong shoulders.
And of goddesses the divine one
Crowned his head with a golden cloud,
Wherefrom she kindled a shining flame.
And as when smoke goeth up from a city,
And reaches the ’ther from a far-off island,
Which foes invest, issuing from their own city,
And contend all day in hateful fight;
But with the setting sun torches blaze in succession,
And the brightness thereof ascends, rushing up aloft,
for neighbours to behold, who haply come with ships,
Repellers of the war. Thus did the flame
From the head of Achilles reach up to heaven.
Advancing from the wall to the trench, he stood,
Nor did he mingle with the other Greeks,
For he heeded the sage counsel of his mother.
Thus standing he shouted, and Pallas Athene
Made on the other side a loud outcry,
Which stirred up a vast tumult among the Trojans.
And as the tone of a trumpet is very clear
When sounded by deadly foes beleaguering a city,
So distinct was then the voice
Of the descendant of Aecus.
But when they heard the brazen voice of Achilles,
All were troubled to the soul.
At the same time the beautiful-maned steeds
Turned the chariots backwards, foreboding afflictions in their minds.
The charioteers, too, were panicstruck
While beholding that dreadful unresting flame,
Which blazed above the head of the magnanimous Peleid;
For Pallas, the azure-eyed goddess, lighted it.
Thrice over the trench the noble Achilles loudly shouted,
And thrice flung into confusion
Were the Trojans and their glorious allies;
And there perished then twelve of their bravest heros
By their own chariots and spears.

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