Vulcan Makes Armor for Achilles by Walter C. Perry

On high Olympus, the Loud-thundering Zeus spake mockingly to his consort, Juno, and said, “At length, thou hast what thou desirest, and hast roused Achilles to fight against the Trojans. Surely, the long-haired Achaians must be thine own children, since thou lovest them so dearly!”

And the ox-eyed queen replied, “Dread son of Cronos! what words are these which have passed the barrier of thy teeth? Even a mortal man doth what he can to help another; and shall not I, the chief of goddesses by birth and as thy wife—O thou king of the deathless Gods!—shall not I avenge myself upon the men of Troy?”

Thus these two strove with one another.

Meantime, the silver-footed Thetis came to the splendid palace of Vulcan, bright and immortal, which shone like a star among the mansions of the Gods. She found him at his bellows, sweating from his mighty toil; for he was forging twenty tripods, to stand round the walls of his well-built mansion. Beneath each of them he placed wheels of gold; and they move, of themselves, into the assembly of the Gods, and so return.

While he was thus employed, the silver-footed Thetis approached the house. And Charis, of the shining veil, the wedded wife of Vulcan (whose first wife had been Aphrodite or Venus), came forth to meet her, and took her by the hand, and called her by her name. “O long-robed Thetis! dear and honored as thou art! not oft, I ween, dost thou come to visit us. But follow me, that I may show thee due hospitality.”

Then she led the way in, and seated Thetis on a lofty chair with silver studs, beautiful, and cunningly wrought, and placed a footstool beneath her shining feet. And she called to Vulcan, the divine artificer, “Come hither, Vulcan! for the silver-footed Thetis seeketh thine aid.”

And the glorious lame god answered, “Revered and dear to me is she; for she saved me, when my shameless mother threw me down from heaven; and I should have suffered dire anguish had not Eurynome, daughter of Oceanos, and Thetis taken me to their hearts and comforted me. Nine years I spent with them, and fashioned all kinds of curious work of bronze—clasps, and spiral bracelets, and ear-rings, like the calyx of a flower, and necklaces—in the hollow grot, while all around me roared the streams of great Oceanus. And none of the other Gods knew where I was, but only Thetis and Eurynome. And now that she is come, a welcome guest, to my house, I will repay the fair-haired nymph in every way, for saving my life.”

So saying, he raised his mighty bulk from the block, and, limping on his slender legs, moved quickly; and he put away his bellows, and placed his tools in a silver chest, and sponged his face and hands, his strong neck and hairy breast; then he donned his tunic, and leaning on a staff, he limped along. And golden handmaids, in the form of living maidens, came to help their lord; these have intelligent minds, and human voices, and skill from the deathless Gods. And he went with halting gait, and seated himself on a shining throne, near the silver-footed Thetis; and he took her by the hand, and said to her, “O dear and honored Thetis of the flowing robes! why comest thou to our house, thou, an infrequent guest?”

Then the silver-footed goddess answered him, “O Vulcan! hath Zeus, the son of Cronos, laid on any other goddess in Olympus such grievous woes as on me, unhappy that I am? He chose out me, from all the sea nymphs, to endure marriage with a mortal. A son I bare, the greatest of heroes. I brought him up, like a young tree in a fruitful soil, and sent him in a high-peaked ship to war against the Trojans; but never again will he return to me, in the halls of his aged father Peleus. And even while I yet see him, and he beholdeth the light of the sun, he is full of grief, and I cannot help him. For King Agamemnon took away his prize, the dearly loved maiden Briseïs. For the loss of her, he pined and wept; nor would he allow his Myrmidons to join in the battle, though the Achaians were hard pressed and driven to their ships. The chiefs of the Argives came to him with prayers and tears, and many costly gifts. And though he refused himself to rescue them, he suffered Patroclus to put on his divine armor, and sent many of the Myrmidons with him to the battle. And the son of Menoetius performed high deeds of valor, and went near to sack the city. But the Far-Darting Apollo and glorious Hector slew him, and gained immortal glory. And now, I come as a suppliant, to clasp thy knees, and to pray that thou wouldst give my short-lived son a shield, a helmet, a breastplate, and goodly greaves.”

Then the lame god, the famous artificer, replied, “Be of good cheer, O silver-footed Queen, and be not troubled about these things! Would that I could as surely save him from mournful death, as that I will supply him with goodly armor, a wonder to behold!”

And he returned to his workshop, and bade his bellows—there were twenty of them—blow the blasts on the fire and prepare the earthen moulds; and as Vulcan willed, the work was done. He melted the tough bronze and tin, the gold and silver, with the fire; and placed an anvil and took a strong hammer in one hand, and tongs in the other, and with these he worked.

First, he made the shield, broad and strong, with many decorations. Around it he placed a triple bright rim, and a silver strap depended from it. The shield itself was formed with five zones, in each of which he fashioned many curious works.

Therein he fashioned the Earth, the Sky, the Sea, the unwearied Sun, the Moon at the full, and all the bright luminaries which crown the azure firmament: the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas, the Hyades, the mighty Orion, and, turning about to watch Orion, the Bear, which alone of all the stars bathes not in the streams of Oceanus.

Also, on the shield, he sculptured two fair cities of articulate-speaking men. In one of these were wedding-festivals; and, with a blaze of torchlight, the brides were conducted from their chambers along the streets; while the hymeneal song was loud, and the youths whirled round and round in the giddy dance, to the music of flute and harp; while the women stood at their doors, watching and admiring. In that city he also fashioned an assembly of the people, in which a contention had arisen, about the blood-fine or “were-geld” for a murdered man; the people, with noisy shouts, cheered, on either side; but the heralds stilled the tumult, holding their staves of office in their hands; and then the judges rose up, to pronounce their verdict.

Around the other city lay two armies besieging it, with flashing arms. Two plans were considered: either to destroy the town, or to divide the wealth thereof with its citizens. But the beleaguered garrison had not yet yielded, but armed themselves and set an ambush. Their dear wives and children, and the old men, stood on the walls to defend it, while the strong men went forth to fight. And they were led by Mars and Athene, whose forms were fashioned in gold, with golden raiment; and, as gods, he made them larger and more beautiful than the mortals around them.

The men in ambush set upon the herdsmen who were driving oxen to the watering-place of the army, and making music with their pipes. They carried off the cattle; but the besiegers, as they sat before the rostra, heard the lowing of the oxen and drove up, with their high-stepping horses, to repel the raid. Then a fierce conflict arose; and in it were seen Strife, and Uproar, and Dire Fate; like living warriors, they rushed on one another, and haled away the dead whom they slew.

In another part of the shield, he represented a rich, deep-soiled, fallow field, thrice ploughed; and when the ploughers came to the end of the furrow, a man would give to each of them a goblet of sweet wine. And the ploughed ground grew black behind them, like real soil, although it was of gold. Then there, too, was a rich field of corn, where reapers were cutting the harvest with their sickles and it fell in rows; and others were binding it with bands of straw; while the lord looked on, and was glad at heart. And under a spreading oak a feast was being made ready for the reapers.

And he fashioned therein a vineyard, rich with clusters of black grapes, which the youths and maidens, in their glee, carried in baskets; while a boy, in their midst, made sweet music on a clear-sounding harp; and he sang the “Song of Linos,” and the rest kept time with their feet.

And there was a herd of straight-horned oxen, all of gold and tin, hurrying to the pasture beside the gently murmuring stream and the waving rushes. Four herdsmen, of gold, followed them, and nine fleet dogs. And two terrible lions seized a bellowing bull. The herdsmen followed, but they could not set on their dogs to bite the lions, for the dogs shrank back, barking and whining, and turned away.

And therein the glorious divine artist placed a wide pasture full of white sheep, with folds and tents and huts. And he made a dancing-ground, like that which Dædalus wrought at Gnosos for lovely fair-haired Ariadne. There, lusty youths in shining tunics glistening with oil, danced with fair maidens of costly wooing. The maidens had wreaths of flowers upon their heads; and the youths wore daggers banging from silver sword-belts. They whirled round, with lightly tripping feet, swift as the potter’s wheel, holding each other by the wrist; and then they ran, in lines, to meet each other. A crowd of friends stood round and joyfully watched the dance, and a divine minstrel made sweet music with his harp, while a pair of tumblers diverted the crowd.

Lastly, around the margin of the shield, Vulcan made the stream of the mighty river Oceanus, which encircleth the earth.

And when he had finished this strong and splendid shield, he wrought the breastplate, glowing with blazing fire; and he made a heavy helmet for the head, beautiful, and adorned with curious art; upon it was a crest of gold. But the goodly greaves he made of flexible tin. When he had completed the whole suit of glorious armor, he laid it before the silver-footed Thetis, the mother of Achilles; and she darted, swift as a hawk, from snowy Olympus, bearing the brightly glittering arms to her dear son.

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