The Iliad, books 1 – 17


“The cry went out, the men came crowding, officers

from their commander’s side went swiftly down
to form each unit — and the grey-eyed goddess
Athena kept the pace behind them, bearing
her shield of storm, immortal and august,
whose hundred golden-plaited tassels, worth
a hecatomb each one, floated in air.
So down the ranks that dazzling goddess went
to stir the attack, and each man in his heart
grew strong to fight and never quit the melee,
for at her passage war itself became
lovelier than return, lovelier than sailing
in the decked ships to their own native land.

“As in dark forests, measureless along
the crest of hills, a conflagration soars,
and the bright bed of fire glows for miles,
now fiery lights from this great host in bronze
played on the earth and flashed high into heaven.

“And as migrating bids, nation by nation,
wild geese and arrow-throated cranes and swans,
over Asia’s meadowland and marshes
around the streams of Kastrios, with giant
flight and glorying wings keep beating down
in tumult on that verdant land
that echoes to their pinions, even so,
nation by nation, from the ships and huts,
this host debouched upon Skamander plain.
With noise like thunder pent in earth
under their trampling, under the horses’ hooves,
they filled the flowering land beside Skamander,
as countless as the leaves and blades of spring.
So, too, like clouds of buzzing, fevered flies
that swarm about a cattle stall in summer
when pails are splashed with milk: so restlessly
by thousands moved the fighters of Akhaia
over the plain, lusting to rend the Trojans.

Book 2, “Assembly and Muster of Armies” – lines 520 -550


“…And seeing you in tears, a man may say:
‘There is the wife of Hector, who fought best
of Trojan horsemen when they fought at Troy.’
So he may say — and you will ache again
for one man who could keep you out of bondage.
Let me be hidden dark down in my grave
before I hear your cry or know you captive!’

As he said this, Hector held out his arms
to take his baby. But the child squirmed round
on the nurse’s bosom and began to wail,
terrified by his father’s great war helm —
the flashing bronze, the crest with horsehair plume
tossed like a living thing at every nod.
His father began laughing, and his mother
laughed as well. Then from his handsome head
Hektor lifted off the helm and bent
to place it, bright with sunlight, on the ground.
When he had kissed his child and swung him high
to dandle him, he said this prayer:

‘O Zeus,
and all immortals, may this child, my son,
become like a prince among the Trojans.
Let him be strong and brave and rule in power
at Ilion; then someday men will say
‘This fellow is far better than his father!’
seeing him home from war, and in his arms
the bloodstained gear of some tall warrior slain—
making his mother proud.’

After this prayer,
into his dear wife’s arms he gave his baby,
whom on her fragrant breast
she held and cherished; laughing through her tears.

– Book VI, Interludes in Field in City, lines 535 -565


… Then
in his turn Menelaos made his lunge,
calling on Zeus. The spearhead pierced the young man’s
throat at the pit as he was falling back,
and Menelaos with his heavy grip
drove it on, straight through his tender neck.
He thudded down, his gear clanged on his body,
and blood bathed his long hair, fair as the Graces,
braided, pinched by twists of silver and gold.
Think how a man might tend a comely shoot
of olive in a lonely place, well-watered,
so that it flourished, being blown upon
by all winds, putting out silvery green leaves,
till suddenly a great wind in a storm
uprooted it and cast it down: so beautiful
had been the son of Panthoos, Ephorbos,
when Menelaos killed him and bent over
to take his gear.

– Book XVII, lines 49- 70


… As a wooded headland
formed across a plain will stem a flood
and hold roiled currents, even of great rivers,
deflecting every one to wander, driven
along the plain; and not one, strongly flowing,
can wash it out or wear it down: just so
the two named Aias held the fighting Trojans
and threw them back. Still they pressed on, and most
of all Aineias Ankhisiades
with brilliant Hektor. as a cloud of starlings
or jackdaws shrieking bloody murder flies
on seeing a hawk about to strike; he brings
a slaughter on small winged things: just so
under pursuit by Hektor and Aineias
Akhaian soldiers shrieked and fled, their joy
in combat all forgotten. Routed Akhaians’
gear of war piled up along the moat,
and there was never a respite from the battle.

-Final lines of Book XVII, Contending for a Soldier fallen


As translated by Roger Fitzgerald, The Iliad, Farrar, Straus, Giroux: New York, New York; 2004.