The Duel between Hector and Ajax by Alfred J. Church

And now we must speak of Hector, the noble Trojan prince, who, after Achilles, was the most famous warrior of the two hostile armies. Achilles, indeed, was the son of a goddess, even silver-footed Thetis; while Hector’s mother, Hecuba, was a mortal woman.

Well knowing the dangers to which he was exposed, and how soon he might fall in battle, Hector now bethought him of his lovely wife, Andromache, and his little boy Astyanax. When he came to the Scæan Gate, the Trojan women came running to him, with eager questions about their husbands, sons, and brothers; and sorrow filled their hearts. Among them came his fond and generous mother, Hecuba, leading by the hand the fairest of her daughters, Laodice, and she called him by his name, and spoke: “Dear Son! why hast thou left the field? Do the Achaians press thee hard? Dost thou come to make prayers to Father Zeus, from the Citadel? But come, I will bring thee honey-sweet wine, that thou mayest pour out a libation to Almighty Zeus, the Son of Cronos, and refresh thyself with a draught.”

But Hector answered her, “Bring me no luscious wine, dear mother! lest thou rob me of my strength and courage. Nor dare I make a libation to Zeus, with hands unwashen and soiled with blood. But go thou to the Temple of Athene, driver of the spoil; and lay the finest robe, the most precious to thyself, upon her knees; and vow to sacrifice twelve fat kine to her; and beg her to have mercy on the Trojans, and on their wives and little children! So, perhaps, she will hold back the terrible warrior, Tydides, from sacred Ilium. And I will go and seek out Paris; would that the earth would swallow him up! for Zeus hath cherished him to be the bane of his country, and of his father Priam.”

Then Hecuba went to her ambrosial chamber, and took the finest of her embroidered robes, the work of Sidonian women, which shone like a star; and went, with other aged women, to the temple of Athene. And the fair-cheeked Theano, daughter of Kisseus, the priestess, wife of Antenor, opened the temple gates, and took the shining robe, and laid it upon Athene’s knees, and prayed to the great daughter of Zeus. But the goddess did not grant her prayer.

But Hector went his way to the fair palace of Paris, and found him in his chamber, polishing his beautiful armor, and proving his curved bow. Then, when Hector saw him, he reproached him with bitter words. “O thou strange man! thou dost not well to nurse thy spite against the Trojans, who are now perishing before the city, and all for thy sake! Rise, then, now, lest the city be burned with fire!”

And the goodly Paris answered, “It is not so much by reason of my wrath against the Trojans, but I would fain indulge my sorrow. My wife, too, hath urged me to the battle. Tarry then awhile, and I will don my armor; or go thou before, and I will follow.”

Then the divine Helen, daughter of great Zeus, came and spoke gently to Hector, and said, “O brother! brother of vile me, who am a dog—would that, when my mother bare me, the storm-wind had snatched me away to a mountain, or a billow of the loud-roaring sea had swept me away, before all these evil things had befallen me! Would that I had been mated with a better man than Paris, whose heart is not sound, and never will be. But come, my brother, and sit by me; for thou verily hast suffered most for me, who am a dog, and for the grievous sin of Paris, upon whom, surely, Zeus is bringing evil days; he will be, hereafter, a song of scorn in the mouths of future men, through all time to come.”

But noble Hector answered her, “If thou lovest me, dear Helen, bid me not stay; for I go to succor my friends, who long for me in my absence. But do thou try and rouse this husband of thine, and bid him overtake me. As for me, I shall first go to my home, and to my wife and my little son; for who knoweth whether I shall ever return to them again?”

So spake the glorious Hector, and went his way to his own well-furnished house; but he found not Andromache there; for she had gone to the tower, with her fair-robed nurse and with her boy, all bathed in tears. Hector asked the servants whither the white-armed Andromache was gone; and the busy matron of the house replied, “She is gone to the tower of holy Troy; for she heard that the Trojans were defeated, and the Achaians victorious.” Then Hector returned, by the same way, down the wide streets, and came to the Scæan Gate.

And his peerless wife, even Andromache, daughter of the high-minded Eëtion, king of Cilicia—she whom he had won by countless gifts—came running to meet him. And with her came the handmaid, the nurse, bearing in her arms Hector’s tender boy, Astyanax, beautiful as the morning star. And Hector smiled, and looked on his darling boy, while Andromache stood beside him weeping. And she clasped his hand, and called him by his name. “O my dear lord, thy dauntless courage will destroy thee! Hast thou no pity for thy infant child, and for thy hapless wife, who soon will be a widow? It were far better for me to die, if I lose thee; for nevermore can I know comfort, but only pain and sorrow. For I shall be utterly alone. I have neither father nor mother; for Eëtion, my royal sire, was slain by great Achilles. And all my seven brothers went down to Hades on the selfsame day! they too were slain by swift-footed Pelides. But my mother was smitten in her father’s halls, by the gentle arrows of the archer Artemis. Lo! now, thou art all in all to me, father, mother, brother, and dearly loved husband! Come, then, take pity on us, and abide in the tower, and make not thy boy an orphan, and thy wife a widow!”

And the glorious Hector of the glancing helm answered her, and said, “Dear Wife! I too think of all these things. But how can I shun the battle, like a coward, to be the mock of the Trojans, and of the Trojan dames with trailing robes? I, who have always fought in the van of battle, and won glory for my father and myself? I know that the day will come, when sacred Ilium shall be leveled with the ground, and Priam and the people of Priam shall perish. But it is not so much the fate of Priam, and of my mother, Hecuba, and of my brethren, which fills my soul with anguish; but it is thy misery, dear one, in the day when some Achaian warrior shall bear thee away, weeping, and rob thee of thy freedom. Thou, alas! wilt abide in Argos, and ply the loom, the slave of another woman; or bear water from the Hypereian fount, being harshly treated! And one will say, as he looketh upon thee, ‘This was the wife of Hector, the foremost of the horse-taming Trojans in the war round Ilium.’ But may the deep earth cover me, ere I hear thee crying in the day of thy captivity.”

So spake he, and held out his arms to take his darling boy. But the child shrank crying, and nestled in the bosom of his well-girdled nurse; for he feared the horsehair crest, nodding terribly from the brazen helmet. Then the fond parents laughed; and Hector doffed his helmet, and laid it on the ground. And he kissed his dear child, and fondled him, and prayed thus to Zeus:—

“O Zeus! and all ye Gods! grant that this, my son, may like me be foremost to fight among the Trojans, and rule as a king in Ilium; so that men may say, ‘He is far better than his father’!”

Thus speaking, he laid the child in the fragrant bosom of his dear wife Andromache; and he pitied her, and caressed her with his hand, and called her by her name. “Dear one! be not thus utterly cast down. No man can slay me till my hour of destiny is come. But no man, when once he hath been born, can escape his fate, be he a brave man or a coward. Go thou to thy house, to the distaff and the loom, and make thy maidens ply their labors. But men shall engage in war, and I the first of all in Troy.”

So spake Hector of the glancing helmet, and went his way. And his dear wife went to her home, looking back at him as she went, shedding bitter tears. And she found her maidens there, and with them she bewailed her lord, while yet he lived; for they feared that he would never again return from battle.

And the goodly Paris donned his beautiful armor, and hastened after his brother, whom he overtook, and he made excuse for his long tarrying. And Hector answered him, “No man can justly speak lightly of thy deeds, for thou art strong; but thou art slack and careless, and I am grieved when I hear shameful things said of thee by the Trojans, who for thee bear so much toil. But let us be going.”

So the twain brothers, the glorious Hector and the goodly Paris, went forth to the battle. And Paris slew Menesthius, of Arne, son of Areïthous; and Hector smote noble Eïoneus in the neck, and relaxed his limbs in death. And Glaucus, captain of the Lycian allies, cast his spear at Iphinous, and pierced his shoulder; and he fell from his chariot, and his limbs were loosened.

But when the fierce-eyed Athene saw the Trojans making havoc of the Achaians, she rushed down from the peaks of Olympus, to sacred Ilium. And Apollo, who favored the Trojans, saw her from Pergamus, and hastened to meet her; and they met by the beech-tree, and Apollo of the Silver Bow addressed her: “Why dost thou come, O Daughter of the Loud-Thunderer? Is it to bring victory to the Greeks? for thou hast no pity on the Trojans. But hearken unto me, and let us stop the battle for this day—hereafter they shall fight again.”

And the fierce-eyed goddess answered him, “Be it so, Far-Darter! for this was my purpose when I came from high Olympus. But how thinkest thou to make the war to cease?”

Then King Apollo spake. “Let us rouse the valiant spirit of horse-taming Hector, to challenge one of the Greeks to deadly single combat.” And the fierce-eyed Maid assented to his words.

And the dear son of royal Priam, Helenus, the wise augur, who knew the counsel of the Gods, drew near to Hector, and spake thus to him: “Dear brother, who art peer of Zeus in counsel, wouldst thou listen to me? Make the Trojans and the Achaians sit down; and do thou challenge the bravest of the Achaians to meet thee in single combat. I hear the voice of the deathless Gods, that it is not yet thy lot to die.”

And the great Hector rejoiced at his words; and going into the throng, he held back the companies of the Trojans with his spear, holding it in the middle, and made them all sit down. And Agamemnon made the well-greaved Achaians sit down. And Athene and Apollo, in the form of vultures, sat on a lofty tree, and watched the hosts. And Hector stood between the two armies, and spake: “Hear me, ye Trojans and Achaians! Amongst you are the great chiefs of the Achaians. Now let one of these be your champion, to fight with me, Hector: and I call Zeus to witness, that if he slay me, you shall let him carry off my armor, but give my body to the Trojans, that they may render to me the honor of the funeral pyre. But if the Far-Darter shall grant me glory, that I may slay him, then will I strip him of his armor, and hang it in the Temple of Apollo; but his lifeless body I will give back to the long-haired Achaians, that they may bury him, and build him a barrow by the Hellespont.”

Thus spake the glorious Hector; but all were silent; for they were afraid to meet him. Then, at last, Menelaus, groaning deeply, reproached the Achaians, and said, “O ye women of Achaia, no longer men! surely this will be an everlasting shame to us, if none of the Greeks dare to fight with the noble Hector! But I myself will arm me; for the issues of victory are with the Gods.”

And he began to put on his dazzling armor. And now wouldst thou, Menelaus, have yielded up thy life at the hands of Hector; but the great ruler, Agamemnon, rose up and stayed thee. “Art thou mad, O foster-son of Zeus? Draw back, though with grief and pain; and think not to fight with Hector, the man-slaying son of Priam; for he is a far better man than thou, even godlike Achilles feareth to meet this man in battle. Go then and sit down; and we will choose another champion.”

And the fair-haired Menelaus obeyed his brother’s words, and his henchmen gladly took off his bright armor. And the wise Nestor arose, and upbraided all the Achaian chiefs: “Fie on us! Shame and lamentation have come upon us all. Surely the aged Peleus, the goodly king of the Myrmidons, would deeply groan, if he heard that we are all cowering before great Hector; he would pray that his soul might leave his body and go down to Hades. Would to Zeus, and to Athene and Apollo, that I were young, as when the Pylians met the Arcadians in battle, and Ereuthalion, the squire of King Lycurgus of Arcadia, wearing the divine armor of Areïthous, of the iron mace, before the walls of Pheia, by the waters of Iardanus, challenged all our host; and they were afraid and trembled. Then I, the youngest of all, stood up and fought with him, and Athene gave me great glory; for he was the tallest man, and of the greatest bulk, that I have ever slain. Would that I were still so young and strong! But of you, leaders of the Achaians, not one has heart enough to meet great Hector.”

The wise old man’s reproaches filled the Achaian chiefs with shame; and nine of them rose up, ready to fight; namely, Agamemnon, king of men; and the stalwart Diomedes; and Idomeneus, and his brother in arms, Meriones, equal in fight to murderous Mars; and Eurypylus, and Thaus, and the wily Ulysses, and two others. Then Nestor spake again. “Now cast lots for him that shall be champion.” Then each man marked his lot, and threw it into Agamemnon’s helmet; and all men prayed that the lot might fall on Ajax or Diomedes, or the king of rich Mycenæ. Then Nestor shook the helmet, and the lot of Ajax leapt out; and the herald placed it in the hand of mighty Ajax, and he was glad; for he said, “I think that I shall vanquish goodly Hector.” And they all prayed to the Son of Cronos, to give victory to Ajax, or to grant unto each of them equal glory and renown.

Then huge Ajax donned his bright armor of bronze, and came forth like the war-god Mars when he goeth to battle. The Achaians were glad, but the Trojans trembled; and even the brave Hector felt his heart beat quicker in his breast. But he would not shrink from the combat, seeing that he had himself challenged all the Achaians. And Ajax came on, bearing a mighty shield, like a tower, which Tychius, the cunning leather-worker, had made for him, of sevenfold hides of lusty bulls, all overlaid with bronze. And he stood near godlike Hector, and spake: “Now shalt thou see what manner of men the Greeks have among them, even now when Achilles, the lion-hearted, hath left us in his wrath. But do thou begin the fight!”

And Hector answered him, “Great Ajax, son of Telamon, sprung from Zeus! speak not to me as if I were a poor weak boy, or a woman! for I too have knowledge of war and slaughter. I know how to charge into the midst of the chariots, or, at close quarters, to join in the wild dance of Mars.” He said, and hurled his long-shafted spear, and struck the sevenfold shield of Ajax; it passed through six folds, but was stopped by the seventh.

Then Ajax, sprung from Zeus, threw his ponderous lance at the shield of mighty Priam’s son. It passed right through the bright shield, and through the well-wrought corselet, and rent his tunic; but he swerved aside, and escaped gloomy death. Then the two fell upon each other, like ravening lions or wild boars; and Hector smote the shield of Ajax with his spear, but the sharp point was turned by the stout buckler. Then Ajax leapt upon him, and drove his spear at Hector’s neck, making a wound from which the dark blood flowed.

But Hector, undismayed, took up a great stone from the ground, and with it smote the boss of Ajax’s shield. And Ajax heaved up a far bigger stone and threw it on the buckler of Hector, and it fell on him like a huge millstone, and stretched him on his back! But Apollo raised him, and set him on his legs again.

Then they would have furiously attacked each other with their swords, had not the Achaian herald, Talthybius, and the Trojan herald, Idaius, intervened and stopped the fight, holding their staves of office between the godlike warriors; and Idaius spake to them: “Fight no longer, brave youths; for Zeus loveth you both; and we know well what gallant warriors ye are. Night is upon us, whose commands it behooveth us to obey.”

And the Telamonian Ajax answered, “Let Hector say those words; for it was he who challenged us.”

And Hector of the shining helmet said, “Ajax, since thou hast received strength and wisdom from the Gods, and dost excel all the Achaians in the fight, let us now cease from battle for the day, and hereafter we will fight again, until the Gods shall give victory to one of us. Go now, and rejoice thy friends and kinsmen by the ships, and I will gladden the hearts of Trojan men and long-robed dames in the holy city of King Priam. But now let us exchange costly gifts, that Trojans and Achaians may say of us that we, having met in this heart-gnawing strife, have parted like good friends.” He spake, and gave to Ajax a silver-studded sword; and Ajax gave him a purple belt. So they parted, and went their way; the one to the ships of the Achaians, and the other to the holy city of Troy. And the Trojans rejoiced that Hector had escaped unhurt from the unapproachable hands of mighty Ajax.

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