Glorious Battle Thersites creeps warily across the field, glancing around at the pairs of soldiers who grunt and sweat in strenuous fighting. Swords’ sudden flashes cripple some; others stagger away, aghast, after knives have plunged deep during angry embraces. Many lie alone, moaning—or dead.
The gentleman enjoys the spectacle. Now they are clapper-clawing one another! I’ll go look on. He moves to a place nearer a path, and spots a Greek with a familiar shield. He laughs. That dissembling, abominable varlet Diomedes has got that same scurvy, doting, foolish young knave of Troy’s sleeve there on his helm!
I would fain see them meet, so that that same young Trojan ass who loves the whore then might send that Greekish, whore-masterly villain with the sleeve back to the luxurious drab on a sleeveless errand! The visit would be futile for one who is castrated.
On t’other side, the scheming of those crafty, swearing rascals—that stale, dry old mouse-eaten cheese Nestor, and that tame-dog fox Ulysses—has not proved worth a blackberry! They set up, in policy, that mongrel cur Ajax against that dog of as bad a kind, Achilles!
He laughs again, even harder. And now is the cur Ajax prouder than the cursèd Achilles, and will not arm today!—whereupon the Grecians begin to proclaim ‘Barbarism!’—and ‘policy’ grows into an ill opinion!
Soft! Here comes Sleeve, and t’other! He sees Diomedes rush toward an open area on the turf, with Troilus chasing after him.
“Fly not!” cries the prince, “for shouldst thou take to the River Styx, I would swim after!”
Diomedes halts, and turns to face him angrily, steel blade raised and ready. “Thou dost miscall a retire!—I do not fly! Only advantageous care withdrew me from the odds of multitude! Have at thee!”
Thersites savors the spectacle of their fight. Hold thy whore, Grecian! —Now for thy whore, Trojan! That reversal of their respective armies’ aims delights the cynic. Now The Sleeve! Now for thy sleeve!
As the men in armor assail each other, sparring and stabbing with loud-clashing strokes, Prince Hector comes up behind Thersites.
“What art thou, Greek?” he demands; red already runs glistening on his sword. “Art thou for Hector’s match?—art thou of blood and honour?”
“No, no, I am a rascal!” cries the jester, backing away, empty hands raised defensively, “a scurvy, railing knave! A very filthy rogue!”
Hector laughs. “I do believe thee!” He strides away along the field of combat. “Live.”
Thersites watches him, astonished. God of mercy, that thou wilt believe me! But a plague break thy neck for frighting me!
He looks around the field for Diomedes and Troilus. What’s become of the wenching rogues? I think they have swallowed one another! I would laugh at that miracle; but, in a way, lechery does eat itself.
I’ll seek them. He wanders away, carefully avoiding the furious combatants, and stepping over the fallen ones.
Further south on the plain, at the fringe of battle, Diomedes is exulting. He speaks hastily to his page: “Go, go, my servant, take thou Troilus’s horse; present the fair steed to my lady Cressida! Fellow, commend my service to her beauty; tell her I have chastised the amorous Trojan—and am her knight by proof!”
The boy bows and takes the reins. “I go, my lord!” Looking around apprehensively, he leads away the skittish stallion.
“Yea, Troilus? Oh, well fought, my youngest brother!” While combat raged near them, Hector has heard astirring account of the encounter.
Now they separate. The older prince, leading several other warriors, heads back into the area of most-intense fighting. And there the battle-weary Trojan champion faces yet another Greek knight—and is surprised to find that it is his rival. “Now do I see thee!”
“Have at thee, Hector!” cries Achilles. But he does not advance. He has ventured forth hurriedly this afternoon without his own armor, sword and shield, to search for Patroclus; that young knight joined the fray to prove himself. Achilles, recognized here amid the row, does not want to break his vow to a lover.
Hector regards his chief opponent. “Pause, if thou wilt.”
“I do disdain thy courtesy, proud Trojan!” says Achilles. Still, he does not press forward. “Be happy that my arms are out of use! My rest in negligence befriends thee now—but anon thou shalt hear of me again! Till then, go seek thy fortune.” He stamps away.
Hector hurls another taunt: “Fare thee well! I would have been a much fresher man, had I expected thee.” He sees that his companions have again engaged opponents. “How now, my brother?” he asks, as Troilus returns.
“Ajax hath ta’en Aeneas! Shall it be? No, by the flame of yonder glorious heaven, he shall not carry him! I’ll bring him off, or be ta’en too!
“Fate, hear me what I say: I’ll wreak now, though I end my life today!” Troilus storms away, bent on exorcising the demoniac fury that possesses him.
But now a man bearing the distinctive shield of Achilles appears, sword poised for a fight.
“Stand, stand, thou Greek!” cries Hector happily, “thou art a goodly mark!” But the other warrior suddenly turns away. “No? Wilt thou not? I like thine armour well!—I’ll crush it and unlock all the rivets, but I’ll be master of it!
“Beast, wilt thou not abide?” he cries, laughing. “Why, then fly on!—I’ll huntthee for thy hide!”
He chases the overreacher—poor Patroclus, in his friend’s borrowed armor.
Agamemnon is rallying his officers, and calling for more troops. “Renew, renew!”
The general is alarmed by the Greeks’ losses. “The fierce Polydamas hath beat down Menon! Bastard Margarelon”—one of Priam’s sons—“hath Doreus prisoner, and stands colossus-wise, waving his beam”—club—“over the pashèd corpses of the kings Epistrophus and Cedius!”
He tells Diomedes, “Polyxenes is slain, Amphimachus and Thoas deadly hurt! Patroclus ta’en or slain, and Palamedes sore hurt and bruisèd!
“The dreadful sagittary”—a small Trojan contingent, but on horseback—“appals our numbers!
“Haste we, Diomed, to reinforcement, or we perish all!”
Nestor comes to them. He tells some soldiers, “Go, bear Patroclus’ body to Achilles; and bid the snail-paced Ajax arm for shame!” He hopes to stir those warriors. The troops hurry away to find the corpse.
“There are a thousand Hectors in the field!” Nestor tells Agamemnon, highly alarmed. “Now here he fights on Galathe, his horse, and there lacks work! Anon he’s there afoot, and there they fly or die, like scared sculls”—rowboats—“before the belching whale! Then is he yonder—and there the straw Greeks, ripe for his edge, fall down before him like a mower’s swath!
“Here, there, and every where, he takes and leaves, dexterity so obeying appetite that what he wills he does!—and does so much that impossibility is callèd proof!”
Ulysses rushes to them. “Ah, courage, courage, princes! Great Achilles is arming!—weeping, cursing, vowing vengeance! Patroclus’ wounds have roused his drowsy blood!—together with his mangled Myrmidons,”—unquestioning followers, “who, noseless, handless, hacked and clipped, come to him, crying against Hector!
“Ajax hath lost a friend too, and foams at mouth!—and he is armed and at it, roaring for Troilus!—who today hath done mad and fantastic execution, engaging, then redeeming himself, with such unforcèd care and careless force as if Luck, in very spite of cunning, bade him win all!”
Ajax clumps past them, eyes searching the field. “Troilus! Thou coward, Troilus!”
“Aye!—there, there!” cries Diomedes, pointing, and following after to urge him on.
Nestor spies the Greeks’ chief hero, finally ready to take part. “So, so, we draw swords together!”
Achilles meets them, raging. “Where is this Hector?
“Come, come, thou boy-queller, show thy face!” he bellows to the field. “Know what it is to meet Achilles angry!
“Hector!” he howls, “where’s Hector? I will none but Hector!”
He moves heavily past the lesser combatants, followed closely by four of his own obedient men of Thessaly.
Ajax pauses again to call. “Troilus, thou coward Troilus!—show thy head!”
Diomedes catches up to him, sword in hand. “Troilus, I say! Where’s Troilus?”
“What wouldst thou?”
“I would correct him!”
“Were I the general, thou shouldst have my office ere that correction!” growls Ajax. “Troilus, I say!” he shouts, “What, Troilus!”
That prince himself strides up behind the two Greeks. “O traitor Diomed!” he cries. “Turn thy false face, thou trader—and pay the life thou owest me for my horse!”
Diomedes turns, smiling with satisfaction. “Hah, art thou here?”
Ajax is eager. “I’ll fight with him alone! Stand, Diomed,” he orders.
“He is my prize!” protests Diomedes. “I will not look on!”
“Come both you cogging Greeks!—have at you both!” cries Troilus, in a rage. He rushes forward, viciously swinging his heavy sword.
Achilles addresses the warriors with him. “Come here about me, you my Myrmidons; mark what I say.
“Attend me where I wheel. Strike not a stroke, but keep yourselves in breath. And when I have the bloody Hector found, empale him with your weapons round about!—in fellest manner execute your aims!
“Follow me, sirs, and my proceeding eye! It is decreed: Hector the great must die!” He sets off, with the others close behind, watchful and ready.
Thersites observes with interest—but carefully—as King Menelaus and Prince Paris fight. The cuckold and the cuckold-maker are at it!
“Now, bull! Now, dog!” He calls, as if he were at a public ring for animal baiting: “Halloo, Paris, ’loo! now, my drabble-henned sparrow! ’Loo, Paris, ’loo!
“The bull has the game! Beware horns, ho!”
Lord Margarelon startles him. “Turn, slave, and fight!”
Thersites stares, wide-eyed. “What art thou?”
“A bastard son of Priam’s.”
Thersites falls to his knees and leans back, hands held high, beseeching. “I am a bastard, too! I love bastards! I am a bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valour—in everything illegitimate!
“One bear will not bite another!—then wherefore should one bastard?
“Take heed: this quarrel’s most ominous to us: if the son of a whore fights for a whore, he tempts Judgment!”
Margarelon starts forward, but Thersites is already on his feet and running. “Farewell, bastard!” he cries, legs pumping.
Margarelon laughs. “The Devil take thee, coward!”
Hector looks down at the man lying dead at his feet. As is customary, he has claimed the defeated champion’s armor; but while pulling off the helmet, he was annoyed. “Most putrefièd core, so fair without, this goodly armour hath cost thy life!”
He is exhausted. “Now is my day’s work done. I’ll take good breath. Rest, sword; thou hast thy fill of blood and death!” He sits, laying his shield and sword on the turf beside him, next to those Patroclus had carried.
Achilles and the Myrmidons have spotted him; they approach from behind, cautiously, silently.
The Greek hero steps around to stand before him. “Look, Hector, how the sun begins to set, how ugly night comes breathing at his heels!” He says grimly, “Even with the veilèd darkening of the sun to close up the day, Hector’s life is done!”
Hector rises calmly. “I am unarmed; forego this vantage, Greek.”
“Strike, fellows, strike!” cries Achilles, “this is the man I seek!”
He watches as the others’ swords pierce the Trojan, then slash brutally as he lies dying on the bloody ground.
Says Achilles with satisfaction, “Hector falls.” He has not, in his mind, violated his promise to Hector’s sister. “So, Ilion, fall thou next!
“Now, Troy, sink down! Here lie thy heart, thy sinews, and thy bone!
“On, Myrmidons, and cry you all amain, ‘Achilles hath the mighty Hector slain!’”
He hears trumpets sounding a retreat. “Hark!—a retire upon our Grecian part.”
“The Trojan trumpets sound the like, my lord,” a Myrmidon tells him.
Achilles sees that the surviving fighters of both sides are indeed starting to withdraw. “The dragon wing of night o’erspreads the earth, and, stricken alike, the armies separate.
“My half-supped sword, that frankly would have fed, pleasèd with this dainty bait, thus goes to bed.” He sheathes his dry blade.
“Come, tie his body to my horse’s tail; along the field I will the Trojan trail.”
Agamemnon and Menelaus are leading their warriors back into camp when they hear voices calling out in jubilation. “Hark! Hark!—what shout is that?” asks the general.
Nestor calls, to the soldiers pounding a lively cadence, “Peace, drums!”
They can now discern the troops’ words: “Achilles!” “Achilles!” “Hector’s slain—Achilles!”
Nestor, misunderstanding, pales and gasps. Diomedes tells the old man. “The bruit is, Hector’s slain, and by Achilles.”
Ajax is glum. “If it be so, yet bragless let it be; great Hector was a man as good as he.”
Agamemnon motions his troops forward. “March along patiently.
“Let one be sent to pray Achilles see us at our tent. If in this death the gods have us befriended, great Troy is ours, and our sharp wars are ended!”
Tonight the Greeks will eat and drink, in celebration of the Trojan champion’s demise, and in hopes that the war will soon draw to a close.
It will not.
Aeneas, ebullient, given his soldiers’ successes, their minor losses, calls out to the assembling Trojans: “Stand, ho! Yet are we masters of the field! Never go home!—here starve we out the night!”
Troilus comes forward to announce the news. “Hector is slain.”
All around them are cries of anguished disbelief: “Hector? The gods forbid!”
“He’s dead,” says Troilus. “And at the murderer’s horse’s tail, in beastly manner, dragged through the shameful field!
“Frown on, you heavens!—effect your rage with speed! Sit, gods, upon your thrones, and smite at Troy!—at once I say! Let brief plagues be your mercy—and linger not in our sure destruction!”
The commander protests—their men can hear: “My lord, you do discomfort all the host!”
“You understand me not that tell me so!” cries the embittered prince. “I do not speak of flight, of fear, of death, but dare all imminence that gods and men address their dangers in!” He will continue the fight, however hopeless, recklessly, with abandon.
He glares. “Hector is gone. Who shall tell Priam so, or Hecuba?” he demands, his voice cracking. “Let him that would a screech-owl forever be called go into Troy and say there, ‘Hector’s dead!’—there is a word will Priam turn to stone!—make of the maids and wives wells and Niobes eternal”—sources of endless flowing tears, “make cold statues of the youth, and with the word, scare Troy out of itself!
“But march away,” he tells the soldiers. “Hector is dead; there is no more to say.”
His bloody hands hanging beside him, Troilus stares wearily over the plain, toward the thin lines of smoke already rising from the enemy’s cooking fires. “Stay yet,” he suddenly tells Aeneas.
He shouts, his voice raw, toward Achilles’ camp. “You vile, abominable tents, thus proudly pight upon our Phrygian plains, let Titan”—a legendary giant—“rise as early as he dare, I’ll through and through you!
“And, thou great-sized coward, no space on earth shall sunder our two hates!
“I’ll haunt thee like a wicked conscience, that moldeth goblins swift as frenzy’s thoughts!”
He tells Aeneas, “Strike a march to Troy. With comfort go: hope of revenge shall hide our inward woe.”
Aeneas signals the drummers, and the sullen Trojans return to their gated city.
As he enters the palace, Troilus finds Pandarus waiting.
The portly lord approaches. “Only hear you, hear you—”
“Hence, broker-lackey!” cries Troilus. “Ignominy and shame pursue thy life, and live forever with thy name!” He brushes roughly past the old man, and goes to his quarters.
Pandarus is distressed. A goodly medicine for my aching bones!