The Iliad: Book 22 (excerpt)
Meanwhile Achilles drove Hector relentlessly on.
Like a fawn that is flushed by a dog from her mountain lair
and he chases her through the valleys, and though she escapes
for a while and cowers under a bush, the dog
keeps sniffing her out and hunting until he finds her:
just so did Hector fail to escape from Achilles.
Each time he headed toward the Dardanian Gates
to get close enough to the wall for the warriors on it
to protect him by showering down their arrows and spears,
Achilles would cut him off by dashing between
him and the wall, and forcing him back toward the plain.
And as in a dream a man is unable to catch
someone he is chasing—the harder he tries to run,
the less he can move: just so Achilles could not
narrow the distance, and Hector could not outrun him.
And how could Hector have kept clear of death until then
if Apollo had not supported him with fresh power
and fresh speed, though this was the last time that he would do it?
And now Achilles signaled his men, with a shake
of his head, that they were all to refrain from shooting
their arrows and spears, so that none of them would hit Hector
and win the glory and he himself come too late.
But when they had circled around to the springs for the fourth time,
the Father held out his golden scales, and upon them
he put two portions of death—one for Achilles,
and one for Hector—and lifted the scales by the middle,
and Hector's portion began to sink and kept sinking
down toward the realm of death. And Apollo left him.
Athena came up and stood by Achilles and said,
"Now it is time, Achilles, beloved of Zeus,
that the two of us bring great glory to the Achaeans
and return to the ships. Our chance has come to kill Hector.
However fiercely he struggles, it is no longer
possible that he can escape, though Apollo
may grovel as much as he wants before Father Zeus.
But stay here now and recover your breath, while I
go and persuade him to fight with you man to man."
When he heard these words, he obeyed, and his heart rejoiced,
and he stood there and rested, leaning on his great spear.
Athena left him and, taking the form and voice
of Deíphobus, she went up to Hector and said,
"Brother, Achilles is wearing you out. You will never
pull away from him; no one is faster than he is.
So stop. We will make a stand and see who is stronger."
Hector replied, "Deíphobus, you were always
my favorite brother of all the sons born to Priam
and Hecuba. Now I will honor you even more,
since you had the courage to leave the wall when you saw me,
and you came here while all the others remained inside."
Athena said, "Brother, with all respect, it is true
that our father and mother and all our comrades implored me
to stay where I was, so terrified are they all
of that man Achilles. I had to come, though; my heart
was aching for you when I saw you. Now let us charge
straight at Achilles. Soon we will know whether he
will kill us both and carry our bloodstained armor
back to the ships or himself be cut down by your spear."
When they had come within range of Achilles, they faced him,
and Hector spoke first: "Son of Peleus, no longer
will I run away from you. You have already chased me
three times around the city. I haven't dared
to stop and await your attack. It is time now. My heart
commands me to fight; I will kill you or else be killed.
But first let us swear an agreement and call on the gods
as our witnesses. I swear, if Zeus grants me the triumph,
not to defile your body; all I will do
is strip off your glorious armor, then give your corpse
back to the Argives. Swear you will do the same."
Achilles answered him then, with an angry scowl,
"Don't talk to me of agreements, you son of a bitch.
No solemn oaths are sworn between lions and men;
wolves and lambs don't bargain to make a truce
but hate one another for all time. There can never
be friendship for you and me, nor will there be oaths
sworn between us till one or the other has fallen,
gorging mad Ares with blood. Now is the moment
to summon up all your courage and all your skill
as a warrior—and I promise that you will need it.
But nothing will save you. Athena will cut you down
with my spear, and soon you will pay me back the full price
for all the grief that I felt when you killed my comrades."
With these words he aimed and hurled his long-shadowed spear.
But Hector saw it coming and crouched to avoid it,
and the spear flew over his head and stuck in the ground.
Athena, unseen by Hector, pulled out the spear shaft
and gave it back to Achilles. Then Hector shouted,
"You missed! So it seems that Zeus, after all, told you nothing
about my death, although you pretended to know.
It was empty talk; you were using your power with words
to frighten me and make me forget my courage.
But I will not flee and allow you to stick a spear
in my back; if a god lets you win this fight, you will have to
thrust your spear through my chest as I charge straight at you.
Now it is your turn; avoid my spear if you can.
May it find you and drive through your body with its whole length.
This war would be that much easier for the Trojans
if I killed you here, since you are our greatest affliction."
With these words he aimed and hurled his long-shadowed spear,
and he hit the great shield dead on, but the spear bounced off
and stuck in the ground at a distance. Hector was angry
that the shot, though it had been perfectly aimed, was wasted,
and he stood there dismayed, since that was his only spear.
He called out loud to Deíphobus to come bring him
another one. But Deíphobus was not there.
And suddenly Hector realized the truth. He said,
"Ah, so the gods did summon me to my death.
I thought that Deíphobus was standing beside me,
but he is behind the wall. Athena has tricked me.
Now death is on its way here. I can feel it coming;
there is no escape. This end must have been decided
a long time ago by Zeus and Apollo, however
often they came to protect me. It always seemed
that they were on my side; but fate is about to seize me.
Let me at least die gloriously, with a struggle,
and do some great deed that men will praise for all time."
Excerpted from The Iliad translated by Stephen Mitchell.
Copyright 2011 by Stephen Mitchell.
Excerpted by permission of Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.