Helen of Troy | Part 6

(The siege of Troy by the Greeks continued for nine years though there was not much fighting during that time. During the winter of the ninth year, Achilles, the Greek warrior, saw Polyxena, the daughter of King Priam and fell desperately in love with her. He was told he could marry her if he betrayed the Greek camp. Soon he picked up a quarrel with Agamemnon and retired from the field. The Trojans at once took the offensive and set one of the Greek ships ablaze.)

ACHILLES was mad with rage when he saw the ship of Protesilaus burning. Though he had, in anger, retired from the field with his forces, he now relented enough to send his Myrmidons to assist the unhappy Greeks.

In the meantime, a Greek warrior named Patroclus managed to cause a commotion among the Trojans who had gathered around the burning ship. He flung a spear amidst them and hit the King of the Paeonians. The Trojans thought this was the doing of Achilles, whom they were mortally afraid of. The Trojans fled in confusion because Achilles had returned to the field.

Unfortunately, there was no one to rally the Trojans since Hector had retired from the field earlier and had returned to Troy badly wounded by Ajax.

Having created panic amongst the Trojans, Patroclus put out the fire in the boat and gave chase to the fleeing Trojans. He was wearing the armour of Achilles, which he had borrowed, and because of that, the Trojans mistook him for Achilles.

Patroclus determined to take Troy that day and made desperate efforts to that end. He made three attempts to climb the walls of Troy, but the Trojans thrust him back each time and foiled his attempt.

Fighting continued until nightfall, and in the oncoming darkness, Patroclus was hit from behind and fell. He lost his helmet, his spear was broken into splinters, and he was helpless. He was struck again by another Trojan. Badly wounded and disarmed, Patroclus was removing himself from the field as best he could when Hector, who had returned to the area, saw him and finished him off with a single blow. Then he stripped him of the borrowed armour and took it.

At that moment, Menelaus and Great Ajax arrived on the scene. They protected the body of Patroclus till it was dark, and then they managed to take it to the camp, despite the attempts of the Trojans to snatch it away.

When Achilles heard of Patroclus’s death, he wept loudly and rolled in the dust in an ecstasy of grief.

His mother, Thetis, came to the camp with a new suit of armour which she had got ready on the spur of the moment, in the place of the one lent to Patroclus.

Achilles put on the new armour and went to make peace with Agamemnon, for he was now ready to fight and avenge Patroclus.

Achilles went into battle with such terrible wrath that no one could stand up against him. The Trojans broke into force and fled towards the river Scamander. Here Achilles split them into two bodies and butchered them mercilessly. Those Trojans who managed to return to the city looked like a herd of frightened deer.

Then came the unique fight of all, a duel between Hector and Achilles, the most courageous fighters on both sides, they had never met, and everybody on both sides stopped fighting and watched the single combat anxiously.

Instead of meeting Achilles, Hector turned and ran around the city walls. Achilles had been inactive for some time, and Hector hoped to make him exhausted and short of breath to conquer him easily.

In this, Hector was mistaken. He made Achilles run thrice around the walls but did not show the slightest bit of exhaustion. He was in excellent form.

Finally, Hector stopped running and faced his enemy. Achilles pierced his breast with a single powerful thrust.

As Hector lay wounded and dying, he begged Achilles to sell his body to the Trojans at a price.

But Achilles did not do so. He tied Hector’s body to his chariot with leather thongs and drove off towards the ships, dragging the body behind him in the dust.

Now that he was avenged, Achilles buried Patroclus with great pomp.

Wood for the funeral pyre was brought from Mount Ida. Achilles sacrificed on the pyre horses and hounds of Rhesus and twelve noble Trojan captives, some of whom were sons of King Priam. He initially thought of throwing Hector’s body to the hounds but desisted from doing so for some reason.

Funeral games were held in which Diomedes won the chariot race. The wrestling contest between Ajax and Odysseus ended in a draw.

Achilles still mourned for Patroclus. Every morning, at dawn, he would drag Hector’s body thrice around the tomb of Patroclus.

One night Priam himself came to the Greek camp to beg Achilles for Hector’s body at a price.

When he arrived, Achilles was asleep, and Priam could have easily killed him if he wanted. But he showed great kindness and spared Achilles, who had killed his son.

On waking, Achilles talked with Priam. He agreed to part with Hector’s body in exchange for its weight in gold.

A pair of scales were set up outside the walls of the city of Troy. Hector’s body was placed in one pan, and the Trojan gold was heaped in the other.

Priam’s treasury was empty of all gold, but more was required to balance Hector’s great weight. Seeing this, Polyxena, daughter of king Priam, took off her bracelets and added them to the gold, thus supplying the missing weight.

Achilles, who had been in love with Polyxena for a long time, seeing her do this, turned to King Priam and said, “I don’t want your gold. Give me Polyxena in exchange for Hector’s body. Then restore Helen to Menelaus. I’ll make peace between your people and mine.”

Priam made a counterproposal. “Take the gold in exchange for Hector’s body. You can have Polyxena if you can persuade your people to stop the fight and depart without Helen,” he said to Achilles.

“I shall do what I can,” Achilles replied.

Priam took away Hector’s corpse for burial. There was a terrific uproar when the Trojans mourned at the grand Hector’s funeral.

When Archilles undertook to bring the war to an end because of his desire to marry Polyxena, he signed his death warrant. Priam had offered him Polyxena on condition that the siege of Troy was raised. But Polyxena, who could not forgive Achilles for the murder of her brother Troilus, did not love him. Yet she pretended to love him and learnt from him the vulnerability of his heel.

“Come to the temple of Thymbraean Apollo, barefoot and unarmed,” she told Achilles. “There, we shall offer sacrifices and ratify the agreement of our marriage.”

Accordingly, Achilles went there barefoot and unarmed. Polyxena was there with her people.

Her brother Deiphobus embraced him in pretended friendship, while Paris, hiding behind the god’s image, pierced his vulnerable heel with a poisoned arrow.

Achilles, however, gave a good account of himself before succumbing to the wound. He seized firebrands from the altar and laid about him vigorously, felling many Trojans and temple servants.

In the meantime, at the Greek camp, Odysseus, Ajax and Diomedes suspected Achilles of treachery and followed him to the temple.

They were unaware of the pact Achilles had made with Priam to marry Polyxena. They only knew that Achilles had started alone for the temple of Apollo.

As the Greek warriors entered the temple doorway, they met Paris and Deiphobus going out. They went in and saw Achilles on the point of dying. As he died in their hands, Achilles said to his comrades, “After the fall of Troy, sacrifice Polyxena at my tomb.”

Ajax, a powerful man, took Achilles’ body on his shoulders, and the three came out of the temple. The Trojans tried their best to capture the body, but the Greeks fought, drove them off, and conveyed it to their ships.

Thetis mourned her son’s death, as did the rest of the Greeks.

The mourning lasted seventeen days.

On the eighteenth day, Achilles’ body was burned upon a pyre, and his ashes, along with those of Patroclus, were laid in a golden urn and buried on the headland of Sigaeum. Here they raised a tall cairn.

The statue of Achilles, wearing woman’s earrings, can still be seen at this spot.

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