The Famous Night Scene in the Eighth Book of the Iliad

Charles Harpur


Paraphrased in Homeric hexameters.

CHAFED and sweating, the horses straight from their trances are loosened,
And, where the cars in long ranks make long gleamy rents in the gloaming,
Fastened, round heaps of white barley. Out from the town in abundance
Oxen are brought, and fat sheep, with bread fresh and wholesome, and wine too,
Meant as a feast for the troops; who thereto have chopped with their axes
Sticks in great store, and kindled their camp-fires red-flaming in hundreds:
Whence on the wind spreadeth soon the steam of their savory supper.

As when the moon riseth full, and all the bared ether is breathless,
Wide in her van crowding forth, the stars with a manifold splendour,
Throb, as if surely alove;—around in the beautiful brightness
See the long rock-roughened backs and black-bulging brows of the mountains
How, in their Titan-like bulk, they thrust themselves up in the prospect—
Up with their ledges and slopes, that erewhile lay huddled in shadow,
Till the vales even at last are filled with a silvery glitter!
While in the sky, thus cleft with its marvellous surcharge of glory,
Noting each sigh of the year, the soul of the shepherd rejoices.

So blaze the bivouac fires before the proud city of Priam,
Bringing its structures by gleams substantial out from the darkness,
Temple, and bastion, and tower; as if from some region Plutonian
Conjured by magical craft,—and out toward the trench-guarded gallerys,
Reddening far on their way the bickering currents of Xanthus:
While round each fire keep watch a guard of full fifty bold Trojans,
Glaring in arms as they move; and there, too, the studs of the chariots
Scatter out into the dark a broken and shadowy lustre;
There, too, the horses at times are heard neighing loud o’er their fodder,
Fretting, as ’twere, to behold the white-coming steps of Aurora.


The same, more closely rendered in Blank Verse.

The sweating steeds are loosened from the yoke,
And bound with halters to the cars in pairs.
Out from the city oxen and fat sheep
Are meanwhile brought, with wine and home-baked bread.
Then gathered faggots into fires are built,
From which the savour of their supper soon
Spreads o’er the plain upon the winds of heaven;
While in the cheerful light, in ranks of war,
Greatly elated, feast the Trojan troops.

As when aloft the golden stars appear
Keenly outshining round the shining moon,
Distinct, the jagged rocks, and lofty tops
Of mountains, with darker woods, are seen
Outlined against the ether’s wide expanse,
Thus luminous, thus alive with crowding lights,
Whose nimble radiations, mixing, blend
Into one hoary shine: while, in his watch,
The shepherd, noting every annual sign,
Each in its order, gladdens in his heart.

Over the wide-extended plain, even thus,
So many and thick, the Trojan-kindled fires
Before the towery walls of Ilium shine,
And twixt the ships and Xanthus’ bright-lit streams.
A thousand fires are playing on the plain,
While in the red glare of each fire there sit
Full fifty armèd men. But ranged apart
Beside the chariots o’er their fodder stand
The unyoked steeds,—as all awaiting so
The beautiful-throned Aurora’s orient rise.


The same, in Heroic Rhyme.

The sweating steeds are loosened from the cars,
And tied with halters to their axle-bars.
Meanwhile, out from the city, oxen fine
And fatted sheep are brought, with loaves and wine.
Then fires are kindled, whence the winds amain
Soon spread a savoury steam o’er all the plain;
While grouped in guards within those rings of light,
Elate the Trojans feast—feast far into the night.

As when the windless summer heaven is bear,
And the moon shines in all her beauty there,
With every star and little starlet known
To night, around her thick as field-flowers strown;
The jagged rocks, dark woods, and hilltops rise
Sharply distinct against the cloudless skies,
Thus populous with glories: while apart
The watching shepherd gladdens in his heart.

Over the wide-extended plain, even so,
The Trojan-kindled fires in-numerous glow
Before proud Ilion’s towering walls, and tween
The Grecian ships, and where a ruddy sheen
From Xanthus lightens onward; while beside
Each ire full fifty armèd men abide;
But ranged along the chariots in a row
The full-fed steeds all stand—awaiting so
That wished for moment when the kindling skies
Shall harbinger the morning’s golden rise.


The same, very literally.

And they loosed from the yoke the sweating steeds,
And fastened them with halters,
Every one to his own chariot.
Quickly brought they from the city oxen and fat sheep;
And they brought sweet wine and bread from their homes;
And also gathered together much fuel,
And the winds raised the savour
From the plain to heaven.
But they, exceedingly elated, sat all night long
In ranks of war, and many fires blazed for them;
As when in heaven the stars appear
Very plainly about the clear moon,
When the air is used to be without a breeze,
And all pointed rocks and lofty hilltops and goes appear;
But the vast ether is opened in heaven,
And all the stars are seen,
And the shepherd rejoices in his soul.

Thus did many fires, by the Trojans kindled,
Appear before Ilium,
Between the ships and the streams of Xanthus
A thousand fires blazed in the plain,
And in the light of each blazing fire sat fifty men.
But their steeds, eating white barley and oats,
Were standing by the chariots,
Awaiting the beautiful-throned Aurora.

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