Performing Arts in Art Student Handout Battle of Achilles and Hector from Homer’s

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Performing Arts in Art Student Handout
Battle of Achilles and Hector from Homer’s Iliad

No more words—he dashed toward the city,

heart racing for some great exploit, rushing on

like a champion stallion drawing a chariot full tilt,

sweeping across the plain in easy, tearing strides—

so Achilles hurtled on, driving legs and knees.
And old King Priam was first to see him coming,

surging over the plain, blazing like the star

that rears at harvest, flaming up in its brilliance,—


So they wept, the two of them [Priam and Hecuba] crying out

to their dear son, both pleading time and again

but they could not shake the fixed resolve of Hector.

No, he waited Achilles, coming on, gigantic in power.

So he wavered,

waiting there, but Achilles was closing on him now

like the god of war, the fighter’s helmet flashing,

over his right shoulder shaking the Pelian ash spear,

that terror, and the bronze around his body flared

like a raging fire or the rising, blazing sun.

Hector looked up, saw him, started to tremble,

nerve gone, he could hold his ground no longer,

he left the gates behind and away he fled in fear—

and Achilles went for him, fast, sure of his speed

as the wild mountain hawk, the quickest thing on wings,

launching smoothly, swooping down on a cringing dove

and the dove flits out from under, the hawk screaming

over the quarry, plunging over and over, his fury

driving him down to beak and tear his kill—

so Achilles flew at him, breakneck on in fury

with Hector fleeing along the walls of Troy,

fast as his legs would go. On and on they raced,

passing the lookout point, passing the wild fig tree

tossed by the wind, always out from under the ramparts

down the wagon trail they careered . . .


Athena rushed to Achilles, her bright eyes gleaming,

standing shoulder-to-shoulder, winging orders now:

“At last our hopes run high, my brilliant Achilles—

Father Zeus must love you—

we’ll sweep great glory back to Achaea’s fleet,

we’ll kill this Hector, mad as he is for battle!

No way for him to escape us now, no longer—

not even if Phoebus the distant deadly Archer

goes through torments, pleading for Hector’s life,

groveling over and over before our storming Father Zeus.

But you, you hold your ground and catch your breath

while I run Hector down and persuade the man

to fight you face-to-face.”
So Athena commanded

and he obeyed, rejoicing at heart—Achilles stopped,

leaning against his ashen spearshaft barbed in bronze.

And Athena left him there, caught up with Hector at once,

and taking the build and vibrant voice of Deiphobus

stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him, winging orders:

“Dear brother, how brutally swift Achilles hunts you—

coursing you round the city of Priam in all his lethal speed!

Come, let us stand our ground together—beat him back.”
“Deiphobus!”—Hector, his helmet flashing, called out to her—

“dearest of all my brothers, all these warring years,

of all the sons that Priam and Hecuba produced!

Now I’m determined to praise you all the more,

you who dared—seeing me in these straits—

to venture out from the walls, all for my sake,

while the others stay inside and cling to safety.”


Athena luring him on with all her immortal cunning—

and now, at last, as the two came closing for the kill

it was tall Hector, helmet flashing, who led off:

“No more running from you in fear, Achilles!

Not as before. Three times I fled around

the great city of Priam—I lacked courage then

to stand your onslaught. Now my spirit stirs me

to meet you face-to-face. Now kill or be killed!

Come, we’ll swear to the gods, the highest witnesses—

the gods will oversee our binding pacts. I swear

I will never mutilate you—merciless as you are—

if Zeus allows me to last it out and tear your life away.

But once I’ve stripped your glorious armor, Achilles,

I will give your body back to your loyal comrades.

Swear you’ll do the same.”
A swift dark glance

and the headstrong runner answered, “Hector, stop!

You unforgivable, you . . . don’t talk to me of pacts.

There are no binding oaths between men and lions—

wolves and lambs can enjoy no meeting of the minds—

they are all bent on hating each other to the death.

So with you and me. No love between us. . . .


With that,

shaft poised, he hurled and his spear’s long shadow flew

but seeing it coming glorious Hector ducked away,

crouching down, watching the bronze tip fly past

and stab the earth—but Athena snatched it up

and passed it back to Achilles

and Hector the gallant captain never saw her.


Shaft poised, he hurled and his spear’s long shadow flew

and it struck Achilles’ shield—a dead-center hit—

but off and away it glanced and Hector seethed,

his hurtling spear, his whole arm’s power poured

in a wasted shot. He stood there, cast down . . .

he had no spear in reserve. So Hector shouted out

to Deiphobus bearing his white shield—with a ringing shout

he called for a heavy lance—

but the man was nowhere near him,


yes and Hector knew the truth in his heart

and the fighter cried aloud, “My time has come!

At last the gods have called me down to death.”


So Hector swooped now, swinging his whetted sword

and Achilles charged too, bursting with rage, barbaric,

guarding his chest with the well-wrought blazoned shield,

head tossing his gleaming helmet, four horns strong

and the golden plumes shook that the god of fire

drove in bristling thick along its ridge.

Bright as that star amid the stars in the night sky,

star of the evening, brightest star that rides the heavens,

so fire flared from the sharp point of the spear Achilles

brandished high in his right hand, bent on Hector’s death,

scanning his splendid body—where to pierce it best?

The rest of his flesh seemed all encased in armor,

burnished, brazen—Achilles’ armor that Hector stripped

from strong Patroclus when he killed him—true,

but one spot lay exposed,

where collarbones lift the neckbone off the shoulders,

the open throat, where the end of life comes quickest—there

as Hector charged in fury brilliant Achilles drove his spear

and the point went stabbing clean through the tender neck


So he triumphed

and now he was bent on outrage, on shaming noble Hector.

Piercing the tendons, ankle to heel behind both feet,

he knotted straps of rawhide through them both,

lashed them to his chariot, left the head to drag

and mounting the car, hoisting the famous arms aboard,

he whipped his team to a run and breakneck on they flew,

holding nothing back. . . .


Excerpted from Homer’s Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin Books, 1990)

© 2011 J. Paul Getty Trust

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