This is a chapter of The Trojan War, by C. Witt & F. Younghusband.
The night had passed, and the sun had again risen out of the sea. The Greeks hailed the new day with anxiety, yet did not delay to march against the Trojans, who were full of hope that this day would end the long war and decide the victory in their favor.
At first, the Greeks made a brave stand, but the gods were against them, and some of their best heroes were wounded and obliged to leave the battlefield. Achilles was standing at the prow of his ship, looking on at the raging tumult of the battle, when there passed at some distance from him a chariot of war which the aged Nestor was driving hurriedly back towards the ships. He had a wounded hero beside him, and Achilles thought it must be Machaon his friend, who was both a brave hero and a skilled physician. He was not however sure about it, and he called his friend Patroclus and asked him to go to the tent of Nestor and ascertain if it was in truth Machaon who was wounded.
Patroclus was the dearest friend of Achilles; they had lived together as boys, and as they grew older they became more and more attached to one another, and now Achilles loved Patroclus better than anyone else on earth, and could not bear to live without him.
When Patroclus reached the tent of Nestor, he saw that Achilles had been right, and was about to return and tell him so.
But Nestor held him back, and said, “Would that this were the only one! But alas! grievous misfortune has overtaken us, and all our best men —Odysseus, Diomedes, Agamemnon— lie in their tents, pierced through with darts or arrows, and powerless to fight. Has the great Achilles no pity? Means he to wait till Hector thrusts burning brands among our very ships? Has he utterly forgotten the bidding of his father Peleus to make himself renowned as the bravest of all the Greeks, and to fight ever in the forefront of the battle? Entreat him, I pray thee, to come at last to our help; perchance he may yield at thy request. Or, should he still refuse, let him at least send thee into the battle at the head of his Myrmidons, and lend thee his armor. The Trojans will think that he is again in our midst, and will fall back in terror.”
The compassionate spirit of Patroclus had already been moved by the distress of the Greeks, and the words of Nestor pierced his heart and made him more grieved than ever. He was hurrying back to Achilles, but on the way he met a hero so badly wounded in the thigh with an arrow that he could scarcely drag himself along, who begged Patroclus to carry him to his tent and draw out the arrow and lay cooling herbs upon the wound. Patroclus could not refuse, and thus it happened that he remained longer in the camp than he had intended.
During this time, the battle had taken a still worse turn, for the Greeks, unable to resist the attack of their foes in the open field, had retreated behind their wall for shelter and barricaded the gates. The Trojans, on their side, were pressing on against the wall, and doing their utmost to storm it. Many of them, however, lost their lives in the attempt, for the Greeks had taken their stand on the top of the wall, and each Trojan who was bold enough to climb up it was either hurled from the top or pierced through with the sword. The trench was soon filled with the slain, but Hector kept urging on his men to fresh efforts, showing them himself an example of undaunted courage. At last, after many vain efforts, Hector succeeded in bursting open one of the gates with a huge stone that he hurled against it; the two posts gave way, and an opening was made, through which the host of the Trojans could press forward into the camp — thus bringing the battle nearer and nearer to the ships.
All this Patroclus saw before he could return to Achilles, to whom he described it with tears in his eyes, beseeching him that if he would not himself go to the help of the Greeks, he would at least allow his friend to array himself in his armor and lead the Myrmidons to the battle. Stern and pitiless as Achilles had been when the messengers of Agamemnon were sent to him, he was nevertheless moved at the extremity to which the Greeks were now reduced, and yielded to the wish of his friend.
Patroclus was soon standing in the war chariot of Achilles, arrayed in his armor, and bearing his weapons — only the mighty spear he left behind, for that could be wielded by no man save the son of Peleus himself. The Myrmidons had heard with joy that they were to arm themselves and follow Patroclus to the battle, and they were quickly ready to set out; but before they started, Achilles charged his friend on no account to pursue the Trojans to the walls of their city, or attempt to take it, but only to drive them from the camp.
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!
It was high time that someone should come to the rescue of the Greeks, to save them from utter destruction. Long already had the battle raged around the ships themselves, and Hector and the bravest of the Trojans were exerting themselves to the utmost to set these on fire. On one of them stood the mighty Ajax, who had seized a long and heavy oar, and rushed from one side of the ship to the other, dealing ever a death blow to the foremost of the enemy. Faint and exhausted he was with the fatigue of the day, but the dire extremity of the moment still upheld him and goaded him to put forth his utmost strength. For well he knew that, if but one ship should catch fire, the flames would quickly spread through the whole fleet, and cut off the last resource of the Greeks — that of fleeing back to their own homes.
Meanwhile, among the Trojans, Hector kept ceaselessly shouting, “Bring fire! Bring fire! Bring fire! This day is a day of victory given to us by Zeus himself, in which to destroy the ships that have brought this miserable war to our coasts.”
At last, Ajax was unable any longer to brandish the heavy oar; he seized a lighter weapon, but the enemy rained countless darts upon him and his companions, and they began to yield, inch by inch.
Then suddenly among the Trojans arose a cry, “Achilles himself! Achilles is come against us!” as the Myrmidons, with Patroclus at their head, charged amongst them.
They believed it was no other than Achilles, the hero dreaded above all men by every enemy of the Greeks; and, wearied as they were with the struggle which they had carried on since daybreak, they turned and fled before him till they had left the camp far behind them, and were again out in the open field. The Myrmidons pursued them, with the other Greeks, who were now inspired with fresh courage, and many a Trojan was laid low in the dust. Even when they discovered that it was not Achilles himself who was fighting against them, they could not regain their former confidence, but allowed themselves to be driven farther and farther towards the city.
Long before this ought Patroclus to have turned back, in obedience to the wishes of Achilles, but, as a stone that has been set rolling downhill is hard to stop, so was Patroclus on this ill-fated day. His hopes rose ever higher and higher, and as the slaughtered Trojans fell before him, he even dared to think that it might be his proud lot to win the city by storm, and thus put an end to the war. But a limit had been set to his achievement.
As he pursued Hector hotly towards the city, the god Apollo, the friend and protector of the Trojans, came behind and dealt him a heavy blow upon the back just between the shoulders. The helmet fell from his head, shield and armor sank to the ground, and darkness covered his eyes. Then one of the Trojans pierced him with his lance, and Patroclus would have retreated among his followers for protection, but Hector sprang upon him and thrust his spear deep into his body.
Exultingly he cried aloud, “Thou thoughtest, Patroclus, to take our city, but now shalt thou be food for the vultures.”
Patroclus was at the point of death, but with a weak voice he replied, “Neither hast thou much longer to live, for death will speedily overtake thee by the hand of Achilles.”
With these words, he sank back and died, and Hector took his armor —the armor that Achilles had lent him— and put it on his own body.
Then there arose a new battle around the corpse of Patroclus. It was no longer a question of storming or defending Troy, but of gaining the dead body, for the Trojans desired to carry it off as a trophy, while the Greeks on the other hand felt that they would be eternally disgraced if they did not rescue it and bring it back to the camp that it might be burned with due honors.
In the struggle, the corpse was dragged this way and that way, now towards the city and now towards the camp, and the heaps of the slain rose higher and higher. At last, the Greeks got possession of the corpse, but there was still a danger lest the Trojans should again drag it away from them; and while Ajax and Menelaus withstood the Trojans who pressed upon them, they sent a messenger to tell Achilles that his friend had been slain and that his body was in danger of falling into the hands of his enemies.
When Achilles heard the message that had been sent, he rolled himself in the dust in his despair and grief; but quickly recovering himself, he sprang up and hastened at his utmost speed towards the trench that surrounded the camp, without waiting either for armor or weapons. Three times he uttered a piercing cry of grief —the most heart-rending that ever came from human breast— and the Trojans knew that this was indeed the voice of Achilles, and fled before it, seized with terror; neither did they make any further attempt to get possession of the body.