Panel 13: a fool’s death
King Memnon arrives with the Aethiopians, Susans and many allies from the countries of Eos who have marched to meet the Achaeans at Troy. Among them are many Lycians seeking vengeance, as well as Amazons accompanied by men from the country of the Thermodon.
Priamos welcomes Memnon with a feast while the hordes prepare for battle. The Greeks arrive led by Antilochus and the Myrmidons but soon Memnon turns their multitudes back toward the ships. Antilochus fights valiantly but falls to the might of Memnon.
Nestor pleads with Achilles to once again save the Greeks from a rout. The son of Peleus meets Memnon as an equal and following a violent confrontation where he is wounded, Achilles slays the king of Susa. Weakened and delirious from the Erinýes, Achilles wanders away from the main battle in search of Amazons. He falls on women in mourning and having being instructed by Lyssa that they are Amazons, he murders them.
Hera, having lost patience with the son of Thetis, arranges that Apollo and Artemis receive satisfaction for the injuries that Achilles has inflicted, these being the desecration of the Temple of Apollo and the killing of Penthesilea while she was on a mission of atonement. Apollo and Artemis find Achilles alone by the Scaean gates. While Zeus sleeps on Ida and Poseidon tends to his palace, an arrow launched from distant walls at a stranger by Paris is guided by Apollo through Achilles’ ankle. Surprised and wounded by dogs sent by Artemis, Achilles receives two more darts and curses the heavens. Awake now and angered by the insolence of Achilles, Zeus strikes him dead.
Eris once again enters the household of Zeus. In the confusion on the plains, a battle begins for the body of Achilles. The Greeks prevail and while Ajax carries the body of Achilles back to the ships, Odysseus pushes the Trojans back to the city.
On the third day after the short truce to bury the dead, at a time when the sun was highest in the heavens, there came news of a cloud of dust on the northern horizon that was like the growing storms in the wilderness that violet-winged Boreas would make when he was angered. Then came the clamour of horses, metal and chariots that blackened the horizon. At length, King Memnon arrived, leading his armies of Aethiopians and the greatest princes and chiefs of Susa and all the allies who had joined the son of Tithonus.
King Memnon began his victorious march with 900 chariots, 16,200 infantry and 5,000 fierce Aethiopian warriors. The city of Kish added 100 chariots and 1,800 of their finest infantry, Opis added thirty chariots, all skilled archers, and 600 men, Assur, 60 chariots and 1,000 men, Tushpa, 50 chariots and 950 warriors, Tieum, 45 chariots and 810 infantry, and Pandaros joined Memnon at Zelela with his 120 chariots and 2,400 hoplites.
When Memnon early in the first season came to the shores of the Hospitable Sea, he sent ambassadors to Queen Otrere of Themiskyra. They came back to him with news that the expedition of the warrior queen Penthesilea had already left for the Temple of Apollo near the city of old King Laomedon. Otrere sent gifts of oil, wine and jewellery to King Memnon along with a guard of twenty of her fiercest archers on horseback for they had begged Queen Otrere to join the warrior maiden at Troy. To their number, the peaceful farmers of Paphlagonia paying homage to Queen Penthesilea sent 15 chariots and 200 of their young warriors.
The Lycians, wishing to avenge the death of King Sarpedon, rallied 400 chariots and 7,200 fresh hoplites. When the army of King Memnon reached the country of Troy he had accumulated 1,720 chariots and 35,000 warriors from all the countries of Eos, enough to equal the Achaean multitude.
The Trojans rejoiced, for Memnon had now completed his long journey from the country of Eos, through the land between two rivers northward to the Hospitable Sea and finally south to Troy. In his march he had subdued the country of the Solymoi. The Solymoi were the fiercest of men on chariots and rose up against Memnon thinking that he was the new Lycian king, but he and his army fought them and defeated them, plundering their gold and treasures and driving them back to the hills. When Memnon came to the table of Priamos, the king gave him a great cup of forged gold, full of sweetened dark wine to the brim, and Memnon, to express his appreciation, drank the wine at one draught.
“You have come to save our city”, the nobles cried, “for he who is equal to Achilles has arrived!” but Memnon wisely did not make boasts of what he could do for he had now learned of the tragic fate of Queen Penthesilea who was equal to the greatest of all warriors and he said in a sober tone, “I have come to meet the Achaeans on the field and whether I am a good man at arms will only be known in battle, where the strength of men is tried. So now let us drink and listen to sweet music and rest this evening for the Greek camp, having witnessed my arrival, is certainly preoccupied with plans of war.”
Priamos then praised this wisdom. He invited Memnon, his generals and the gods to his table where in the company of Zeus, Apollo and Ares they gave thanks for this miracle and sacrificed six rams, two ewes, four goats and three pigs. He gathered the royal family and the nobles of Troy and the princes and chiefs and with the finest of terebinth-scented wine they feasted on all that the king and princes could offer and then went to bed early for the Greek hordes waited on the plains. Eos unwillingly opened the curtains of darkness the next day, to throw light on the battle where her son was to challenge the Greek princes. King Memnon had already rallied the dark clouds of his chariots, the Amazons and his infantry and the Greek multitudes gathered there had a foreboding of death when appeared so diverse an army of warriors.
Antilochus, the son of Nestor, rode up from the ships to lead the Greeks in his shining mail and to restore to them their courage. At the same time, Memnon fell upon the left wing of the Greeks, and on the men of Nestor, and first he slew Ereuthus and then turned his sword to Nestor but held back having seen the age and wisdom in the clear eyes behind the folds of experience. “I cannot slay you, old man,” he spoke. “Go back to your country!”
Then Nestor’s son Antilochus, who was the dearest friend of Achilles and who had been left to command the Myrmidons, arrived with the formidable warriors. He, a prince in wrought armour, came on chariot to spare his father but Artemis intervened and forced the young prince on to the field with a shower of arrows and lances. Antilochus, adeptly lowering his shield, thrust his lance between the corselet and girdle of Aithops, who fell dead at the feet of Memnon. Seeing his dear friend bleeding in the dust the Aethiopian leaped on Antilochus like a lion on a kid, but the son of Nestor with the strength of Heracles turned to lift a stone from the plain, a rounded pillar that had been set on the tomb of some great warrior, and flung it at the helmet of Memnon, who reeled injured to the ground. But the son of Eos seized his spear and, standing again, guided it through the shield and mail of Antilochus to pierce his heart. The young man fell and died beneath his father’s eyes. Nestor in sorrow and anger called to his other son, Thrasymedes, but Memnon was too strong for Thrasymedes, who retreated to save himself. Then Nestor himself raised his sword but drew back for he was weak with age. His men quickly forced him on a chariot and retreated to the ships.
Memnon and his army were now pushing the Greeks toward the sea, slaying all opposition and stripping the dead. Surely as the rising tide covers the sun-dried stones, the thousands advanced over the plains and through the marshes closer to the shores.
Nestor was taken to Achilles, who had only just returned with Odysseus from Lesbos. Weeping, he implored Achilles to come swiftly to save the body of his son Antilochus before it be desecrated by the Trojans. Achilles, still regretting his loss of Patroclus, wept with Nestor, furious that the gods, after his due sacrifice, once again conspired to betray the son of Thetis.
He gathered his Myrmidons and sped to meet Memnon, who standing with his horde saw the son of Peleus as an equal. Memnon threw a lance, glancing Achilles on the left shoulder, but Achilles was not shaken by the blow. The half-god ran forward and wounded Memnon over the rim of his shield yet Memnon fought and managed to thrust his spear through the arm of Achilles, for the son of Peleus fought with bare arms. Then, wounded Achilles, in pain, his blood spilling to the dust, drew his sword and fell on Memnon. They lashed at each other and thrust at each other’s throats. The dust beneath their feet rose in a cloud around them as they fought, neither of them yielding until finally, guided by Athene, Achilles passed his bronze sword clean through the body of Memnon who fell moaning at his feet.
Wounded and weak, Achilles did not stop to strip the golden armour of Hephaestus, but shouted a war cry for he had heard that the king of Susa had come to Troy with more Amazons. All the Greeks followed after him and pursued the fleeing army of Menmon, slaying as they went, and the Dardanian Gate was choked with armed men, pursuing and pursued. In that hour the Greeks could have entered Troy and burned the city and ravished the women but that Paris with his archers stood on the tower above the gate and in his mind was anger for the death of his brother Hektor. With black clouds of arrows and spears that fell like the dark rain from the anger of Zeus he held back the Greeks. Then Odysseus surveying the impenetrable gate fell back with the Argives from the melee, calling a retreat to reorganize.
Achilles, struggling to remain conscious and hearing clamour from another direction, saw Artemis who had taken the form of Penthesilea. The queen appeared not like a spirit but as a maiden in full youth and beauty. With tears in her grey eyes she urged him to turn away from the thick of the battle and join her. But Achilles, certain that his lethal sword had slain the maiden, sensed a ruse of the gods to keep him from fighting. Still following the sounds of distant battle he lightened himself of armour and made his way toward the Scaean Gates that were still being besieged by the Amazons. As he walked he saw neither living Aethiopian nor Asian but only fallen Achaeans and Trojans to his left and right. The blood-soaked plain was oddly quiet except for the common thieves who in their filthy clothes stripped the dead for what was left of garments and possessions. As he approached the western gate toward the north he realized that the multitudes had vanished, for Eos mourning the loss of her son had begged the intervention of Zeus, who had transformed the Susans and Aethiopians into two flocks of birds who would honour forevermore the ashes of the fallen Aethiopian king.
Let no one disparage Artemis, for her altar had been dishonoured by the son of Peleus and yet she could not be satisfied, for he lived under the watchful eye of Zeus who allowed no peace on the plains of Troy. Now Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons who had once refused to dance around the altar of the goddess, had come to love Artemis and offered bread and oil and wine and celebrated her in all the cities of the Thermodon, but Ares demands blood sacrifice and so the daughter of Otrere had fallen to the spear of her chaste sister. Tormented by the Erinýes, the queen had fled to Troy for purification. Hera, who had banished Leto to Delos when she was full with her twins, who hated Paris for slighting the beauty of the daughter of Kronos, and who had little patience when Ares’ children made sacrifice to Apollo and Artemis, now sought to put an end to the contempt of the son of the nereid, for she could tolerate no more. As Zeus slept sweetly on Ida, she softly petitioned Poseidon to join her lest Achilles bring down the walls of Troy, to which the earth shaker chided, “Hera, mistress of trouble that you are, what empty-headed talk is this? I would not dream of pitting the rest of us against the interdiction of Zeus. He overmasters all!”
Then ox-eyed Hera replied, “I shared no love with Otrere when she lay with Ares, but I have a blood relationship with the children of the war god. Queen Penthesilea came to the Temple of Apollo to seek atonement for a divine accident that claimed her sister Hippolyte, but Achilles, secretly lusting after the maiden, drew chaste blood with the lance of Peleus. Should we then be surprised that the children of Leto conspire against the son of Kronos while Achilles, who places himself above us, continues with his insults? Thetis of easy virtue has exhausted the favours that she asks when my eyes are turned. I plead not for the walls of Troy nor for the heirs of Laomedon but rather that the children of Leto return honour to the Amazon queen who, in her innocence, worshipped them.”
To this Poseidon said nothing, but soon left the fields of Troy to wade deep into the sea to his palace.
With Zeus in deep sleep and the continued clamour at the Dardanian Gates, Apollo found the son of Peleus stripped of war garments searching for Amazons near the Scaean Gates.
Achilles had come upon a group of Trojan women searching for kin and tending to their dead, for even the poor must receive obsequies in proportion to their sacrifices. The widows in dark garments, some with their hair shaved, were charged with carefully washing the bodies in perfumed water and singing laments to say farewell for the last time before the dead were collected for burial. Achilles approached the spring with raised lance and challenged the women, “Why do you come here in the place of men?”
The men stripping the dead, not recognising Achilles and supposing him to be one of them asked, “Why are you threatening these women who are lamenting their husbands? There is enough plunder for all of us. Look here, this man still has gold hidden in his belt!”
Achilles responded in anger, “I need no gold! I am fighting Amazons. Do you not see that I come on behalf of all men? These interlopers pretend to be as strong as men and then steal opportunities and glory from us. They are an insult to the natural order of things!” Turning quickly and applying full force to his lance he pierced the heart of a woman who was tending to the body of her husband. Achilles cried loudly, “Amazons must be taught their place!”
The women, confused and frightened by his sudden act, fell back. A mourner whose name was Aoide tried to say that they were not Amazons but Trojans, but this only enraged the son of Peleus. He lifted his spear again and as she screamed and tried to flee, he lanced her through the neck. Still breathing, she pleaded for assistance and so Achilles returned to her. He sat next to her, quietly pulling his sword from the sheath and stabbed her through the heart. She uttered in surprise and pain and fell back to the earth. Then without mercy, he plunged it twice again until Aoide lay silent.
Suddenly no one dared to move. No one wished to draw the attention of Lyssa. Clearly this stranger bent on destruction was blind to reality.
Achilles, convinced that there were more Amazons within the city, growled and moved hunched over like a hungry dog. All this time he was carefully watched by Apollo and Artemis as he moved toward the Scaean Gate.
The battle waning, Paris, growing suspicious of the silence on the flank with the weakest gate, gathered his archers and moved along the wall. Below him ran a passageway between two walls, where any intruders who might have breached the initial gates would be trapped. He reached the parapet above the gates and surveyed an empty battlefield. Dark cloaked scavengers moved from one corpse to another. Women mourned and gathered. Mindful of Helenus who had presaged the many battles fought at this gate, he looked for anything unusual. Then he saw a crowd near the springs and a lone warrior running toward the city. A skilled archer, he drew his bowstring to the bridge of his nose and aiming true launched an iron-tipped arrow.
Apollo, seeing an opportunity, guided the arrow but Achilles, hearing the whisper of the dart, turned away just as it pierced his ankle. Surprised, and momentarily immobilised by the pain, the son of Peleus looked up to see where it came from. He reached down to his ankle to break the arrow and continued to limp toward the gate. Then he saw Penthesilea to his right, in hunting dress, approaching him with her dogs. “I see an immortal!” he cried, but wounded twice, he suspected that she was a vision. He challenged the apparition with his sword as the archers on the wall watched him turn in circles blindly swinging at ghosts. From the spring the women, ever cautious, watched a strange naked creature dance with Lyssa.
All the while Artemis, a pack of dogs behind her and in the form of the Amazon queen, was drawing nearer to her prey. With her hunter’s eye she cried, “A stag!” She drew her golden bow until the two ends met, then aimed and shot an arrow through his throat. He turned his slender neck to look at her beauty and cried, “Ajax! Odysseus!” They did not answer. Encircled by her dogs, he looked around for brush or tall grass. On hands and knees he crawled away in pain, slowly losing the strength that he had once possessed. It has been said that war is a man drenched in blood who still has the will to burn the land of the living, yet here was war in the form of a woman surrounded by hungry wolves.
With a bow in her hands, the hunter screamed and with the strength of rage she drew, aimed, and shot again. A third arrow found its home deep in Achilles’ flesh. Still he picked himself up and stood drunk in pain and injury, then fell again, an easy target for raging dogs. The huntress approached her game. Now lying in blood, Achilles looked up at the Amazon queen and reached for the soft cheek of a lover. He uttered, “Is this how I die?” He reached for her breast. She pulled back, repulsed. Frustrated that he still lived she looked for Apollo to complete her vengeance but her brother, fearing Poseidon, had left the field. Achilles tried again to stand but now the dogs held him down. United, they sank their teeth into his flesh. He moaned loudly, no longer in pain he begged with anguished whimpers. Suppliant on his knees he felt the beasts all around him, draining his lifeblood. Still trying to deprive chaste Artemis of satisfaction, Achilles taunted Zeus, raising his hands over his head and calling, “Here I am!” At that moment a bolt of lightning struck the son of Peleus, killing him instantly.
Zeus, having smitten motionless the son of Peleus with his anger, now had to mediate endless quarrels in his house. Athene began the recriminations, putting the blame on Hera for arranging that Achilles could be in a moment of vulnerability as he was mourning Antilochus. The war god on his part protested the interference of Thetis to the extent that he could not avenge the loss of his dearest daughter to the sword of Achilles.
All were questioning the means by which the children of Leto had been able to interfere at the Sceaen Gates, contradicting the father of gods and men. Apollo, whose temple had been so grievously desecrated, certainly did not lack motive but did he truly wish to invite divine displeasure by guiding the dart that incapacitated Achilles, or had Tyche, protecting the walls of Troy, endowed Paris with godlike accuracy on this occasion? What was certain was that the huntress with her hounds intended to finish the work of her brother while Zeus dreamed on Ida’s summit.
No one doubted her desire for satisfaction but now Eris was guiding the debate. Thetis had petitioned immortality for her son but the greatest of the Achaeans lay lifeless and mutilated. The Olympians were left with the task of retelling history in light of each of their particular interests and designs. Their intent to fashion a hero would obscure the truth of the circumstances of his demise. None of those on Olympus could permit that Achilles died a fool, driven mad by his contempt of women and gods, nor could they accept that he had been finally struck dead by the rage of Zeus.
Now the crowd moved from the springs and surrounded the fallen Achaean. Paris, realising that his arrows had found their mark, ordered the gates opened so that the Trojans might know whom they had slain and retrieve the body. At the same time, the Greeks who had retreated from the Dardanian Gates were now quickly moving toward the commotion. While archers watched from the parapets, a contingent of Lycians and Trojans accompanied by many experienced defenders of Troy led by Glaucus and Aeneas were marching toward the gathering.
Unknown to the defenders, behind the scattered Achaeans they had already observed was the Greek horde led by Ajax and Odysseus.
Aeneas was halfway to the fountain when his messenger returned with the word, “Achilles.” The news spurred the Trojan defenders to run toward the spring, leaving the hoplites behind. It was clear by now that a larger group of Greeks was marching to the same place. The Trojans, unprepared for a major confrontation, asked Chromis and his Mysians to provide a diversion as Aeneas and his men moved to recover the body of Achilles. It was too late however, for leading the scattered Achaeans was the son of Telamon, with resourceful Odysseus coming from the other direction with the Greek multitude.
The groups met near the spring with great noise and clashing of steel and breaking of wood and bones. There was fierce fighting over Achilles’ body, now lying uncovered like a fallen stag. Ajax challenged Glaucus, who had been the first to reach the body.
Ajax moved swiftly, delivering a thrust with his bronze sword to the face of the Lycian. Glaucus responded by bringing his shield up to defend himself. Ajax pulled back and delivered a cut to Glaucus’ exposed leg but Glaucus having expected Ajax’s move responded violently with a counter-attack followed by a brief withdrawal. Then using identical moves, Glaucus landed a blow on Ajax who withdrew into a guard to begin the fight again. Ajax returned, his eyes raging, his shield close to his side and lunged at Glaucus’ head, stepping forward with his right foot. Glaucus raised his shield to defend himself but Ajax’s sword found an opening on Glaucus’ exposed leg.
Pushing back the bleeding warrior, Ajax thrust again at Glaucus’ head and then pulled back to cut low. As the son of Telamon attacked, Glaucus stepped alertly to his right, removing Ajax’s target, and delivered a short edge cut to Ajax’s head. Ajax, recognizing the feint, removed the obvious target, allowing an opening that permitted him to deliver a devastating back thrust to the helmet guard. Glaucus, surprised, pulled back and cut low but Ajax quickly stepped out and back, bringing his sword up in front of him for an attack to the other side.
Glaucus shielded another attack to the head but Ajax adroitly retargeted. He moved his shield to block Glaucus’ counter-attack, a move that necessarily exposed Glaucus’ arm. Ajax returned with a vicious slice. Now feeling pain, Glaucus returned with a shield bind to Ajax but the Achaean thrust to cut low, forcing Glaucus out and back. Ajax raised his right arm for a new attack but Glaucus aggressively responded and bound Ajax’s sword arm with his shield and managed a cut to the inside of Ajax’s leg.
As Ajax, now bleeding as well, raised his sword, quick-thinking Glaucus recognized that he was well set up for a thrust under Ajax’s shield but his opponent quickly withdrew and returned, pushing his shield on Glaucus. The move was confusing to Glaucus for it might have been an advance, an attempt to cause loss of balance, or merely an opportunity for withdrawal. In the instant of his hesitation, Ajax rapidly sliced behind Glaucus’ knee and, as the Lycian fell back, Ajax thrust a sword deeply into his abdomen. Glaucus, blood flowing from his limp body, felt his life fade into darkness.
The great struggle for the body of Achilles continued and many fell. Odysseus and the Argives defended their position until the Achaeans prevailed and forced the Trojans back to the gates of Troy. Ajax had already left the plain, carrying the body of his comrade back to the Greek camp.
Thetis had been forbidden by Peleus to console the young Achilles. Perhaps it was because of this that the boy grew up brimming with rage and primed to hate the only creatures that he perceived as lowlier than himself – women. Now silver-footed Thetis along with the mousai mourns her son. Zeus had determined not to explain the sordid circumstances of his death; that her son had died murdering women. He let the rumour be told that Paris' arrow found its mark in an unanointed ankle as Achilles valiantly scaled the walls of the city together with the Myrmidons, the son of Telemon, and Odysseus and the Argives. His wound and ensuing fever festered on his body and broke his skin. He died in the presence of his comrades in arms.
The body of Achilles was thus explained and delivered with all honours to his grieving mother surrounded by the nereids. Then from the surge of the seas rose Poseidon, who spoke to grief-draped Thetis, "Do not mourn for Achilles for I will give to him a holy island as my gift. It lies far within the Euxine Sea and there evermore as god your son shall reign and be honoured with incense and sacrifice". Her heart lightened with his words and then the nereids changed to mist and were absorbed by the sea followed by the mousai singing sweet dirges in memory of Achilles.
Athene, frustrated and angry that the walls of Troy stood unassailed, demanded that Zeus bring an end to the war. No longer amused nor caring about the original dispute that Eris had so cleverly enabled with the golden apple, she spoke, "Thetis mourns the son that Peleus abandoned and the world has been bereaved of many a prince. Let Poseidon assuage her tears. Permit me to teach Odysseus a manner by which the Achaeans may enter Troy and put an end to the slaughter."
To this Zeus replied, "Know that our life is but a sport and a diversion, an adornment and a cause of boasting among you, and a rivalry in wealth and children. This war is like the rain whose vegetation pleases the eye and feeds the appetite; then it withers and yellows and turns to corruption. As we argue in our joy of delusion, we give mortals forgiveness and good pleasure but this has become outweighed by grievous punishment and death. Daughter, I too mourn children who have fallen to the adulteration of sickness, blood, and death that quarrels have sown. Go, and counsel the son of Laertes. Tell him that the families of the dead have the responsibility to fulfill any debts as soon as possible and that they must swear the commitment to maintain contacts and courteous relationships with their former enemies. Let them feast and sacrifice together to bring an end to this conflict. Then there must be charity, fasting, prayers and pilgrimage on behalf of the dead."
Hearing these instructions yet determined to execute her designs, Athene returned to Troy to provide surreptitious advice to the prince of Ithaca.
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