This is a chapter of The Sunset of the Heroes: Last Adventures of the Takers of Troy, by W. M. L. Hutchinson.
When these things were come to pass, the Trojans had respite for a season, because the Greeks had no heart for the work of war, seeing themselves bereaved of their two mightiest champions. And even more heavily than the loss of godlike Achilles did the fate of Ajax weigh down their spirits, for few of the chiefs could think thereon without self-reproach, and to the commonalty it seemed a manifest token that some curse from the gods pursued the enemies of sacred Troy.
In this gloomy posture of affairs, Agamemnon had recourse to Calchas the seer and besought him to devise some means of reviving hope and courage among the host before worse should come of their sullen despondency. And the seer bade him convene a general assembly of chiefs and folk, which being done, he came into the midst and thus addressed them:
“Be it known unto you, princes and people of the Greeks, that the wrath of the gods, and especially mighty Athena, has been kindled against none of us, but against Ajax only. And it fell on him for this cause, that twice he sinned against them with his lips, through insensate pride, for, when he embarked for this war, the good Telamon exhorted him, saying, ‘So fight, my son, as one resolved to conquer by the help of the gods’; but the young man answered in his folly, ‘Nay, father, let the gods help those that cannot help themselves. But I will conquer by valor and the spear.’
“And yet again, in our first great battle with the Trojans, Ajax spake impious words, when the strong daughter of Zeus vouchsafed to appear to him and his men, urging them on, for he answered her chidingly, ‘What needs this, queen Athena? Go, play the captain to others of the Greeks; as for me and mine, we know how to hold our own better than you can teach us.’ So when the day of reckoning was fully come, the mindful goddess repaid these words with usury, in the manner we have seen. But to the rest of us, and to pious Odysseus above all, she remains a very present help; wherefore let us thank her and take courage.”
Thus Calchas strove to hearten the folk, and they heard him gladly, yet murmurs arose among the clansmen of Achilles: “It is but lost labor that we abide here now our lord is passed away. The oracle! What says the seer to the ancient oracle that Troy shall not be taken save by a prince of the house of Peleus?”
Then cried Calchas, pointing seaward with his staff, “There is my answer, Myrmidons! Mark you that ship flying hitherward over the waves? She comes from the isle of Scyros, bringing us the young son of Achilles! For soon as the godlike hero passed, Agamemnon, by my counsel, privily sent a trusty messenger to fetch the lad — even the aged Phoenix, henchman of Peleus, whom Achilles called foster father.”
Then all the Greeks were glad, but the more part were astonished, not knowing that Achilles had a son born to him in Scyros. But so it was, for ere he departed thence he wooed and wedded the king’s daughter, whose loved playmate he had been in his disguise of maiden. And she, left a mourning bride in her father’s house, bore in due time a son, whom she called Neoptolemus, which is being interpreted Novice in War, because Thetis foretold at his birth that he should win a great victory as a warrior yet untried.
Now when the ship came in, a golden-haired lad was the first to leap ashore, whom the Myrmidons greeted with tears of joy, so like he was to their lost chief. Then Agamemnon and all the princes gave him welcome also, and the host passed that day merrily, with sacrifices of thanksgiving and with feasting, because the gods had raised up a new Achilles for the overthrow of Troy. Moreover, Odysseus, prompted by his own far-seeing mind, brought the arms of Achilles and gave them to Neoptolemus in sight of all, saying, “The gods forbid that I should keep these now, for they are yours by right of inheritance.” Whereby he earned the applause of every man and made Neoptolemus a firm friend from that hour.
So the Greeks went to rest that night well content and filled with high hopes for the morrow, when, as they promised themselves, they were to follow the son of Achilles to victory; but the gods willed otherwise.
Now while others slept, Odysseus armed himself and went forth alone towards Troy, for the night was moonless, and, whenever he had cover of darkness, he loved to prowl and forage around the city; stealthy as a cat he walked, and like a cat, men said, he could see as well by night as by day. No spy in all the host was at once so wily and so daring, or gleaned so much of the doings of the besieged. More than once he had waylaid a Trojan scout, forced intelligence from him, and then done him to death; but his friends whispered that he always carried with him a stronger weapon than his sword —a well-filled purse, to wit— and held secret intercourse with certain traitorous citizens whom his gold had corrupted.
Be that as it may, on this night Odysseus was to learn momentous tidings by good luck alone, for, as he approached the city by the road that led from Ida, he overtook and seized a youth whom he recognized as a son of Priam, Helenus by name. Now Helenus was frail of body and no warrior, but a priest and soothsayer; one, moreover, reputed to know better than any man the ancient secret oracles concerning Troy. And Odysseus, holding a dagger to his throat, threatened him with present death unless he revealed how the city might be taken. Then said the youth, half fainting with terror, “Swear to me by your gods, Odysseus, to let me go unharmed if I tell you.”
Classicsness 🎙️ the podcast about Classics
Subscribe gratis on your favorite platform and get the new episodes pushed right to your device as soon as they’re published!
Right now, we’re telling myths for all audiences!
“I swear it by Zeus and Athena,” replied Odysseus, with a grim smile, “for I can wait to kill you under your mother’s eyes, my pretty lad, and in your burning home.”
“There are three things, then,” said Helenus, shuddering, “that the Greeks must have before our city can fall. A leader sprung from Peleus, the bow of Heracles, and the Luck of Troy — the ancient image of Athena that we call the Palladium. The son of Achilles, I know, is come to you this day, but he can avail you nothing without those other things.”
“Say you so?” answered Odysseus. “Well, the bow of Heracles is in a place I wot of; but tell me, where keep you your Palladium?”
“That secret,” said Helenus, “not the fear of death shall wring from me, coward though I am. Alas, I have betrayed my country — but false to my solemn oath I will not be!”
“Neither will I,” said Odysseus, “so you are safe, boy — until we meet again. Go, for you have said enough to set me guessing — and I seldom guess wrong, Helenus, though I am not a diviner, like you.”
With that he turned and made straight for the camp, muttering to himself as he went — “Ay, their Palladium, their Little Pallas — they told me only the king and a few priests know where it is kept. So Helenus is in the secret; bound by a solemn oath; maybe has charge of it — a priest of the blood royal, who more likely? Then what makes he outside the city — stealing home, it seems, from Ida? Ida! What if the Trojans have bethought them to hide their Luck up there, where we should never think of looking for it? I warrant ’tis so — and I shall find it, I shall find it, my friends, though I dig down the mountain! But first we will set about the easier task — we will fetch the bow of Heracles.”