This is a chapter of The Trojan War, by C. Witt & F. Younghusband.
All the men of Troy were plunged into deep sorrow by the death of Hector, their bravest hero, and it seemed to them as if they could already see the flames springing up around their city. But most sorrowful of all were his parents and his brothers and sisters. To the eyes of the aged Priam there came no sleep, and he neither ate nor drank, but day and night he sat in the courtyard with his grey head wrapped in his mantle, and every now and then, when the remembrance of his grief overcame him, he would roll upon the ground weeping and lamenting, till no stranger would have recognized the king in the dust-covered figure abandoned to sorrow. All around him sat his sons and daughters, weeping also and bemoaning the dead.
But after twelve days had passed, the gods, whom Hector had ever honored, and who loved him, took pity on the poor old father. They poured courage into his soul and inspired him with the resolve to venture into the camp of the Greeks and beg the body of his son from Achilles. He rose up suddenly and ordered his chariot to be brought out, that he might go in it to the tents of Achilles.
The old queen and her sons implored him not to place himself at the mercy of their deadly enemy, but fearlessly he answered: “The gods will protect me; and even should I meet with my death, I will gladly die if I may but once more hold in my arms the body of my son.”
At last, they were obliged to give way to him and harnessed his chariot, and also another, on which they placed the ransom. Priam had chosen out of his treasures whatever was most costly and magnificent, and he took so much that the mules found it no light weight to draw. An old herald guided the chariot of Priam, and the Trojans accompanied him to the gate of the city, fearing that they would never see him again.
Evening was drawing on when the chariots reached the little stream that flowed through the plain. They stopped to let the animals drink, but at that moment there appeared, coming towards them from the Greek camp, a noble-looking young warrior clad in armor. The herald immediately advised that they should flee back towards the city, and the king himself was seized with fear. But the young warrior approached them kindly, for it was no other than the help-giving god Hermes, who had been sent by Zeus to conduct the king in safety to the camp of the Greeks.
He pretended to be astonished at the boldness of Priam’s enterprise, and then he said, “Thy grey hairs remind me of my father, from whom I have long been separated, and I will help thee. I am a Myrmidon, and will conduct thee to the tents of Achilles.”
Full of surprise and joy, Priam begged him to accept a beautiful cup from among those which he had selected for the ransom, but Hermes put it back quickly and said that he would not dare to take any present without the knowledge of Achilles. He mounted the chariot and, placing himself by the side of Priam, took the reins and guided it to the nearest gate of the camp.
Priam asked him whether the body of his son were still in the camp, or whether it had already been devoured by wild beasts Hermes answered: “It looks as if he had died but yesterday; the gods have surely preserved it from all harm.”
And it was even as he said, for the gods had themselves taken care of the body, so that it had neither been injured by time nor by the constant dragging in the dust.
By the time they reached the wall of the camp, it was quite dark. The gate was fastened with strong bars, and behind it watchmen were stationed. But the might of the god threw the watchmen into a deep sleep, and the door opened of its own accord. When they reached the tents of Achilles, Hermes told the king who he was and immediately vanished.
Achilles was sitting in his tent, buried in thought, when he suddenly felt his hand grasped and kissed, and saw kneeling at his feet the sorrowful old man, whom he at once recognized.
Priam said to him: “Be pitiful and give me the body of my son, for which I offer a goodly ransom. Thy father grieves because thou art away from him, but I am far more unhappy than he, for I have lost the greater number of my sons, and now the best and dearest of them all; and so great is my misery, that I am constrained to kiss the hand which has slain my son.”
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Achilles was touched at the allusion to his own father; moreover, the gods had softened his heart, and his anger had in some degree spent itself. Gently he bade the old man stand up and said that he would grant his request. He went out to see about the exchange, but took care to leave Priam in the tent, for he feared lest the sight of his son’s corpse should move the father to curse him, and that then his own wrath at the death of Patroclus would break forth anew and he might be tempted to slay the old man.
The ransom was taken down from the chariot, and in its stead was placed the body, which had meanwhile been washed and anointed by the women, and which was now wrapped in a splendid covering and laid upon a bier. After this, Achilles returned to the tent and pressed the king to eat and drink. He had moreover couches prepared for the king and the herald in the front part of his tent, and the two old men rested peacefully under his roof. Before daybreak, however, Hermes appeared again and bade them hasten home.
Quickly the horses and mules were harnessed, and the chariots passed unnoticed between the tents of the sleeping Greeks and through the gate, which again opened to them of its own accord. Hermes went with them as far as the stream, and by the time the sun had risen they had almost reached the city. The king’s sons were watching from the walls and, as soon as they saw him approaching, they hastened to meet him. All the citizens followed them also, weeping aloud when they caught sight of the shrouded corpse.
The funeral solemnities lasted for twelve days, and during all that time the Trojans were left undisturbed by the Greeks, for Achilles had promised the king, unasked, that for so long a time he would restrain the Greeks from the battle.