Vol. 36 No 3-4
Greek Poetry: New Voices and Ancient Echoes
From: Iliad (Book VI, lines 390-496, omitting 396-98)
As the housekeeper finished, Hector dashed back
The way he had come up the well-built streets.
Race through the city, each Skaian gates,
Thinks 'Shall I go through them, through to the battlefield?' —
But — rushing to meet him — his Andromache, his wife,
The great-hearted daughter of gutsy Eetion.
With her the nurse, and, nestling in her arms,
His son, the littl'un, the loved one, their baby,
Their morning star — Scamandrios —
So Hector had named him — but known as Astyanax —
That's Prince-of-the-city — to the people in general,
Hector being the bastion of Troy.
In silence he looked at his son, and smiled.
Andromache pressed on him, pouring tears.
Taking his hand in hers, she said:
`My wonderful man, your will is a death-dealer.
You're merciless to your baby and to me — I'm nothing,
If I'm widowed — if the Achaeans kill you — they'll do it —
Whole mob in a rush. I'd rather — if it happened —
If I lost you — have the earth heaped on me.
For with you away, all warmth vanishes.
I have no father. No honourable mother.
Noble Achilles killed my father.
He sacked the well-built city of the Cilicians,
Our Thebe, with its towering gates,
And did for Eetion, but dishonour — no.
No stripping of the corpse: respect. A proper
Pyre for my father, in full armour, burnished,
And the grave-mound afterwards... Elm trees were planted
All round by the nymphs of ridge and rockface,
Daughters of the aegis- doom-dealer Zeus.
And the seven brothers brought up with me —
On one day — death, for every one of them.
Noble Achilles, that nimble runner,
Leapt on them among their lazy-footed oxen
And the shining fleeces of their sheep. And mother —
Who was queen of the forestland climbing Mount Plakos —
He lugged her here like loot, though later
He did free her — for a priceless ransom,
And she died from the arrows of Artemis at home.
So Hector, to me you are mother, and father,
And my family of brothers .. as I feel .. your ..
Strong body .. in bed beside me.
Take pity on us. Stay on the tower here.
Or its widow and orphan for wife and child.
Have you noticed—by the fig-tree— our fortifications
Are most easily scaleable? They could be climbed there.
Three times there've been champions attempting it — the two
Ajaxes, Idomeneus, and Diomedes,
Powerful Tydeus-son. Put a guard there.
Was that some prophet's recommendation?
Or themselves on their own — a sudden insight?'
Hector answered her — his helmet was sparkling:
'I also, my wife, am worrying about these things.
But — Trojan women with trailing dresses —
I'd be ashamed to confront them if I funked the battle.
I obey the orders my own guts give me
To fight in the front line with my Trojans, to be brave
All the time — I've taught myself how.
So I gain for my father some glory .. and for me.
Yes — deep inside me — I surely know
There will come a day of death for holy
Troy, for Priam whose spear is of ash-wood,
And for Priam's people. But the pain in store
For Troy as a whole, for Priam, the king,
For my mother, Hecuba — that hurts me less —
My brothers too — brave, the lot of them —
Falling in the dust at the feet of their killers —
It's the thought of you that tears me .. you,
Sobbing as a Greek in his brazen tunic
Drags you away to rob you of your freedom.
You .. in Argos .. at someone else's loom,
Weaving their wool .. and water-carrying
From a Greek stream in Sparta or Thessaly,
Your freedom violated by force ... Will someone,
Seeing the tears you are shedding, say:
'That was Hector's wife. Of all horsetaming Trojans
He was their chief champion in the war.'
So someone may say. More sorrow for you.
No husband to shield you from the shame of slavery.
Oh may I be dead, and deep under grave-mound,
Ere I hear you weeping, as you're hauled away.'
Then radiant Hector reached for his son.
But the baby cried, and clung to the breasts
Of his bright-girdled nurse. The boy was terrified,
Afraid of the sight of the father who loved him
In his bronze helmet — the horsehair crest
Shuddering on top of the shiny thing — horrible.
Laughter out loud from the loving father
And lady Andromache. Down with the helmet.
Radiant Hector hurriedly takes it
Off his head, and places it, gleaming, on the ground.
Then he kissed his dear son, caught him up in his hands,
And prayed to Zeus, and the rest of the gods:
'Zeus, and all gods, grant, I pray
My son to excel in this city like me,
To have strength like mine, to be Troy's king,
And for people to declare, as he comes home from battle,
`He's far, far better than his father.' So may
He kill and bring back the bloody armour,
Making the heart of his mother glad.'
Then he placed his baby in his loving wife's arms.
She took him to her breast, crying and laughing.
Her perfumed breast. Pity seized Hector.
His hand caressing her, he said:
'My wonderful wife, don't wound your spirit
With too much sorrow. For they shall not — no one
Shall hurl me down into Hades .. till Destiny
Lets them ... But fleeing Fate is impossible.
For coward, for champion — no escape. Never.
Go home now. Attend to the tasks of the house:
Your weaving, your spinning. Supervise
The work of our servants. Worrying about the war —
That's for men — all of us, and me, specially.'
Then radiant Hector grabbed the helmet
With its horse-hair plume. Home went his wife,
Turning round often, her tears pouring down.
Translated by Leo Aylen
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