The Iliad, Book XVIII, [The Shield of Achilles]
Thetis goes to the palace of Vulcan to obtain new arms for her son. "Thee, welcome, goddess! what occasion calls (So long a stranger) to these honour'd walls? 'Tis thine, fair Thetis, the command to lay, And Vulcan's joy and duty to obey." To whom the mournful mother thus replies: (The crystal drops stood trembling in her eyes:) "O Vulcan! say, was ever breast divine So pierced with sorrows, so o'erwhelm'd as mine? Of all the goddesses, did Jove prepare For Thetis only such a weight of care? I, only I, of all the watery race By force subjected to a man's embrace, Who, sinking now with age and sorrow, pays The mighty fine imposed on length of days. Sprung from my bed, a godlike hero came, The bravest sure that ever bore the name; Like some fair plant beneath my careful hand He grew, he flourish'd, and he graced the land: To Troy I sent him! but his native shore Never, ah never, shall receive him more; (Even while he lives, he wastes with secret woe;) Nor I, a goddess, can retard the blow! Robb'd of the prize the Grecian suffrage gave, The king of nations forced his royal slave: For this he grieved; and, till the Greeks oppress'd Required his arm, he sorrow'd unredress'd. Large gifts they promise, and their elders send; In vain--he arms not, but permits his friend His arms, his steeds, his forces to employ: He marches, combats, almost conquers Troy: Then slain by Phoebus (Hector had the name) At once resigns his armour, life, and fame. But thou, in pity, by my prayer be won: Grace with immortal arms this short-lived son, And to the field in martial pomp restore, To shine with glory, till he shines no more!" To her the artist-god: "Thy griefs resign, Secure, what Vulcan can, is ever thine. O could I hide him from the Fates, as well, Or with these hands the cruel stroke repel, As I shall forge most envied arms, the gaze Of wondering ages, and the world's amaze!" Thus having said, the father of the fires To the black labours of his forge retires. Soon as he bade them blow, the bellows turn'd Their iron mouths; and where the furnace burn'd, Resounding breathed: at once the blast expires, And twenty forges catch at once the fires; Just as the god directs, now loud, now low, They raise a tempest, or they gently blow; In hissing flames huge silver bars are roll'd, And stubborn brass, and tin, and solid gold; Before, deep fix'd, the eternal anvils stand; The ponderous hammer loads his better hand, His left with tongs turns the vex'd metal round, And thick, strong strokes, the doubling vaults rebound. Then first he form'd the immense and solid shield; Rich various artifice emblazed the field; Its utmost verge a threefold circle bound; A silver chain suspends the massy round; Five ample plates the broad expanse compose, And godlike labours on the surface rose. There shone the image of the master-mind: There earth, there heaven, there ocean he design'd; The unwearied sun, the moon completely round; The starry lights that heaven's high convex crown'd; The Pleiads, Hyads, with the northern team; And great Orion's more refulgent beam; To which, around the axle of the sky, The Bear, revolving, points his golden eye, Still shines exalted on the ethereal plain, Nor bathes his blazing forehead in the main. Two cities radiant on the shield appear, The image one of peace, and one of war. Here sacred pomp and genial feast delight, And solemn dance, and hymeneal rite; Along the street the new-made brides are led, With torches flaming, to the nuptial bed: The youthful dancers in a circle bound To the soft flute, and cithern's silver sound: Through the fair streets the matrons in a row Stand in their porches, and enjoy the show. There in the forum swarm a numerous train; The subject of debate, a townsman slain: One pleads the fine discharged, which one denied, And bade the public and the laws decide: The witness is produced on either hand: For this, or that, the partial people stand: The appointed heralds still the noisy bands, And form a ring, with sceptres in their hands: On seats of stone, within the sacred place, The reverend elders nodded o'er the case; Alternate, each the attesting sceptre took, And rising solemn, each his sentence spoke Two golden talents lay amidst, in sight, The prize of him who best adjudged the right. Another part (a prospect differing far)(255) Glow'd with refulgent arms, and horrid war. Two mighty hosts a leaguer'd town embrace, And one would pillage, one would burn the place. Meantime the townsmen, arm'd with silent care, A secret ambush on the foe prepare: Their wives, their children, and the watchful band Of trembling parents, on the turrets stand. They march; by Pallas and by Mars made bold: Gold were the gods, their radiant garments gold, And gold their armour: these the squadron led, August, divine, superior by the head! A place for ambush fit they found, and stood, Cover'd with shields, beside a silver flood. Two spies at distance lurk, and watchful seem If sheep or oxen seek the winding stream. Soon the white flocks proceeded o'er the plains, And steers slow-moving, and two shepherd swains; Behind them piping on their reeds they go, Nor fear an ambush, nor suspect a foe. In arms the glittering squadron rising round Rush sudden; hills of slaughter heap the ground; Whole flocks and herds lie bleeding on the plains, And, all amidst them, dead, the shepherd swains! The bellowing oxen the besiegers hear; They rise, take horse, approach, and meet the war, They fight, they fall, beside the silver flood; The waving silver seem'd to blush with blood. There Tumult, there Contention stood confess'd; One rear'd a dagger at a captive's breast; One held a living foe, that freshly bled With new-made wounds; another dragg'd a dead; Now here, now there, the carcases they tore: Fate stalk'd amidst them, grim with human gore. And the whole war came out, and met the eye; And each bold figure seem'd to live or die. A field deep furrow'd next the god design'd, The third time labour'd by the sweating hind; The shining shares full many ploughmen guide, And turn their crooked yokes on every side. Still as at either end they wheel around, The master meets them with his goblet crown'd; The hearty draught rewards, renews their toil, Then back the turning ploughshares cleave the soil: Behind, the rising earth in ridges roll'd; And sable look'd, though form'd of molten gold. Another field rose high with waving grain; With bended sickles stand the reaper train: Here stretched in ranks the levell'd swarths are found, Sheaves heap'd on sheaves here thicken up the ground. With sweeping stroke the mowers strow the lands; The gatherers follow, and collect in bands; And last the children, in whose arms are borne (Too short to gripe them) the brown sheaves of corn. The rustic monarch of the field descries, With silent glee, the heaps around him rise. A ready banquet on the turf is laid, Beneath an ample oak's expanded shade. The victim ox the sturdy youth prepare; The reaper's due repast, the woman's care. Next, ripe in yellow gold, a vineyard shines, Bent with the ponderous harvest of its vines; A deeper dye the dangling clusters show, And curl'd on silver props, in order glow: A darker metal mix'd intrench'd the place; And pales of glittering tin the inclosure grace. To this, one pathway gently winding leads, Where march a train with baskets on their heads, (Fair maids and blooming youths,) that smiling bear The purple product of the autumnal year. To these a youth awakes the warbling strings, Whose tender lay the fate of Linus sings; In measured dance behind him move the train, Tune soft the voice, and answer to the strain. Here herds of oxen march, erect and bold, Rear high their horns, and seem to low in gold, And speed to meadows on whose sounding shores A rapid torrent through the rushes roars: Four golden herdsmen as their guardians stand, And nine sour dogs complete the rustic band. Two lions rushing from the wood appear'd; And seized a bull, the master of the herd: He roar'd: in vain the dogs, the men withstood; They tore his flesh, and drank his sable blood. The dogs (oft cheer'd in vain) desert the prey, Dread the grim terrors, and at distance bay. Next this, the eye the art of Vulcan leads Deep through fair forests, and a length of meads, And stalls, and folds, and scatter'd cots between; And fleecy flocks, that whiten all the scene. A figured dance succeeds; such once was seen In lofty Gnossus for the Cretan queen, Form'd by Daedalean art; a comely band Of youths and maidens, bounding hand in hand. The maids in soft simars of linen dress'd; The youths all graceful in the glossy vest: Of those the locks with flowery wreath inroll'd; Of these the sides adorn'd with swords of gold, That glittering gay, from silver belts depend. Now all at once they rise, at once descend, With well-taught feet: now shape in oblique ways, Confusedly regular, the moving maze: Now forth at once, too swift for sight, they spring, And undistinguish'd blend the flying ring: So whirls a wheel, in giddy circle toss'd, And, rapid as it runs, the single spokes are lost. The gazing multitudes admire around: Two active tumblers in the centre bound; Now high, now low, their pliant limbs they bend: And general songs the sprightly revel end. Thus the broad shield complete the artist crown'd With his last hand, and pour'd the ocean round: In living silver seem'd the waves to roll, And beat the buckler's verge, and bound the whole. This done, whate'er a warrior's use requires He forged; the cuirass that outshone the fires, The greaves of ductile tin, the helm impress'd With various sculpture, and the golden crest. At Thetis' feet the finished labour lay: She, as a falcon cuts the aerial way, Swift from Olympus' snowy summit flies, And bears the blazing present through the skies.
Translated by Alexander Pope. This poem is in the public domain.