The Iliad 

Translation by Ian Johnston

Book Eleven
The Achaeans Face Disaster

[The description of Agamemnon's armour as he prepares for battle; the battle resumes; Agamemnon's exploits on the battlefield; the Trojans are pushed back close to the city; Zeus sends Hector a message; Agamemnon is wounded, has to withdraw from the battle; Hector re-enters the battle, kills many Achaeans; Diomedes and Odysseus make a stand against the Trojans; Diomedes is wounded by Paris; Odysseus is left alone; Odysseus is wounded; Menelaus and Ajax come to help Odysseus; Machaon is wounded, taken from the battle by Nestor; Hector moves against Ajax; Ajax is forced to retreat; Eurypylus is wounded; Achilles sends Patroclus to find out news of the battle; Patroclus visits Nestor and Machaon; Nestor's long speech about his youthful fighting; Nestor questions Patroclus about Achilles; Patroclus meets Eurypylus, takes him to his hut, gives him medicines]

As Dawn rose from her bed beside lord Tithonus,
bringing light to immortal gods and men alike,
Zeus sent Strife down to the fast Achaean ships,
the savage goddess, carrying the sign of war.
She stood by Odysseus' broad-beamed black ship
in the middle of the line, so she could be heard
in both directions, from the huts of Ajax,
son of Telamon, to those of Achilles,
whose well-balanced ships were drawn up at the ends,
for these men trusted courage and their own strong hands.                        10
Standing there, the goddess screamed out a piercing call,                                 [10]
a dreadful sound.  In the heart of each Achaean,
she put strength for war, for unremitting combat.
To men war then became sweeter than sailing back,
going home in their hollow ships to their dear native land.
The son of Atreus shouted to his Argives
to get their armour on.  He pulled on his shining bronze.
First on his legs he set his shin guardsbeautifully made,
fitted with silver ankle clasps.  Then he put
a breast plate round his chest, something he'd received                               20
as a gift of hospitality from Cinyras,                                                                  [20]
who'd learned in Cyprus the great news that Achaeans
were intending to set sail in their ships for Troy.
So Cinyras gave the breastplate to Agamemnon,
to please the king.  On it there were ten metal strips,
each dark blue, twelve of gold, and twenty made of tin.
Enamelled snakes coiled up towards the neck, three on each side,
like rainbows which the son of Cronos sets in clouds,
prophetic omens for mortal men.  On his shoulder,
he slung his sword studded with shining gold.                                          30  
The scabbard was silver, fitted with golden straps.                                           [30]
Then he picked up his richly decorated shield,
which covered his whole body, a beautiful work,
with ten bronze circles, twenty bosses of white tin,
and in the centre a boss of blue enamel.
On that shield, as crowning symbol, stood the Gorgon,
a ferocious face with a horrific stare.
Terror and Panic were placed on either side. 
On the shield's silver strap writhed an enamel snake,
its three heads intertwined, all growing from one neck.                             40          [40]
On his head Agamemnon placed his helmet,
with four bosses, a double ridge, and horsehair plume
nodding menacingly on top.  He took two strong spears,
sharp ones with bronze points, whose glitter shone from him
right up to heaven.  Athena and Hera then
pealed thunder overhead, paying tribute to him,
Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, rich in gold.

Then each man told his charioteer to curb his horses
and line up in good formation at the ditch's edge,
while they marched ahead on foot in all their armour,                             50
moving fast, shouting bravely in the early dawn.                                               [50]
They arranged their ranks on the far side of the ditch,
well beyond the chariots following at some distance.
Then Cronos' son brought them confusing signs of trouble,
sending down from high in heaven a rain of blood
dripping from the sky, for his intention was
to hurl the heads of many brave men down to Hades.

On the opposite side by the high ground on the plain, 
Trojans gathered round Hector, fine Polydamas,
Aeneas, whom Trojan people honoured like a god,                                 60
and three sons of AntenorPolybus, Agenor,
godlike man, and youthful Acamas, who seemed                                              [60]
like one of the immortals.  In the front ranks,
Hector carried his shield, an even perfect circle.
As some ominous star now suddenly appears,
shining through the clouds and then disappears again
into the cloud cover, that's how Hector looked right then,
as he showed up in front, then in the rear,
issuing orders.  All in shining bronze, he flashed
like lightning from Father Zeus, who holds the aegis.                               70 

Then, just as reapers work in some rich man's fields,
arranged in rows facing each other, cutting the crop,
wheat or barley, scything handfuls thick and fast,
that's how Trojans and Achaeans went at each other,                                       [70]
slicing men down.  No one thought of lethal flight.
The sides were matched in fury equallythey fought
like wolves ripping at each other.  Looking on, Strife,
goddess who brings much sorrow, was delighted.
She was the only god present at this battle.
The others were far off, sitting at their ease,                                           80
in their own homes on many-ridged Olympus,
where a fine house had been build for each of them.
All blamed the son of Cronos, lord of the dark cloud,
because he planned to give glory to the Trojans.
But Father Zeus was not concerned on their account.                                      [80]
Withdrawing some distance from them, he sat apart,
exultant, glorious.  He looked out at Troy,
at the Achaean ships, at the flashing bronze,
at warriors killing, and at warriors being killed.

Throughout early morning, as that sacred day                                         90  
grew stronger, weapons thrown by both sides
took their grim tollmen kept on falling.
But at the hour a woodcutter prepares his meal
in some mountain glade, when his arms are tired
cutting big trees, when weariness comes in his heart
and sweet appetite for food overtakes his mind,
that's when Danaans, calling to each other in the ranks,                                   [90]
courageously broke through.  The first to kill a man
was Agamemnon.  He slaughtered Bienor,
shepherd of his people, and his companion, too,                                    100
Oileus, the charioteer, who'd jumped down
from the chariot to challenge Agamemnon.
He'd charged straight at him, but took a sharp spear thrust
in the forehead.  The rimmed helmet made of heavy bronze
didn't check the spear, which smashed through it, through the bone,
and splattered his brain inside the entire helmet.
That stopped his bloodthirsty charge. Agamemnon,
king of men, stripped off their tunics and left them there,                                 [100]
their white skin showing.  Then he moved on to butcher
Isus and Antiphus, two of Priam's sons                                                110
one was a bastard, the other one legitimate
both travelling in a single chariot.  The bastard,
Isus, held the reins, and renowned Antiphus
stood beside him as the fighting man.  These two men
Achilles had once tied up with willow shoots,
when he'd captured them while they were herding sheep
on Mount Ida's lower slopes.  He'd let them go
for ransom.  But this time, wide-ruling Agamemnon,
son of Atreus, with his spear struck Isus in the chest,
above the nipple, and his sword sliced Antiphus                                    120
right by his ear, throwing him out of the chariot.
He quickly stripped off their fine armour.  He knew them,                               [110]
for he'd noticed them before by the fast ships,
when swift-footed Achilles led them in from Ida.
Just as a lion chews up with ease the tender offspring
of some nimble deer, when he comes in their den
his strong teeth seize them and rip out their tender life
and the mother, even close by, cannot help them,
for a fearful trembling panic seizes her, so she runs fast,
bolting in a lather through dense foliage and trees,                                 130
from that mighty beast's attackin just that way,
no Trojan then could save these two from slaughter.                                        [120]
For they were running off in flight from Argives.

Next, Agamemnon battled brave Hippolochus
and Peisander, sons of fiery-hearted Antimachus,
a man who'd received much gold from Alexander,
a splendid gift, so he'd agree not to hand back
Helen to fair-haired Menelaus.  This man had two sons.
Mighty Agamemnon now caught them, both riding
in one chariot, attempting to control their horses.                                 140
The shining reins had fallen from the driver's hands, 
panicking the horses. The son of Atreus jumped out
and faced them like a lion. From the chariot 
the two warriors begged Agamemnon:                                                               [130]

"Take us alive, son of Atreus.  You'll get
a worthy ransom.  There are many treasures
in Antimachus' homesbronze and gold
and well-worked iron.  Our father will be glad
to give a massive ransom from all that,
if he learns we're at Achaean ships alive."                                   150

The men said this in tears, addressing the king
with tender words.  But the reply they heard was harsh.

"If you're the two sons of Antimachus,
that fiery-hearted man who, when Menelaus came
as envoy once to the assembled Trojans
with godlike Odysseus, urged the Trojans                                               [140]
to kill Menelaus, to stop his return
to the Achaeans, now you'll pay the price
for those shameful actions of your father."

Agamemnon spoke.  Then he struck Peisander,                                     160
knocking him from the chariot to the earth
with a spear thrust to his chest.  He crashed on the ground
and lay there motionless.  Hipplochus jumped out.
But Agamemnon killed him on the ground.
His sword sliced away his arms and slashed his head off.
Then he set the head rolling through the crowd,
like some round stone.  Leaving the bodies there, he charged
into the line where soldiers' ranks were most confused,
leading other well-armed Achaeans with him.
Their infantry cut down soldiers compelled to flee.                                170       [150]
Chariots went at chariots.  On the plain, dust clouds arose
from underneath, kicked up by thundering horses' hooves.
Men butchered men with bronze.  Mighty Agamemnon,
surged on ahead, always killing as he moved,
shouting out instructions to the Argives.
Just as destructive fire strikes thick woodland scrub,
driven in all directions by the swirling wind,
burning thickets to their roots, so they disappear,
swallowed up in the inferno's fiery rush,
that's how the heads of Trojans fell, as they ran off,                              180
brought down by Agamemnon, son of Atreus.
Many strong-necked horses in the battle lanes
rattled past with empty chariots, missing their drivers,                                      [160]
excellent charioteers now lying on the ground,
far more friendly to the vultures than their wives.

Zeus pulled Hector back from the flying weapons,
dust, slaughter, blood, and noise, but Agamemnon,
bellowing orders to his Danaans, still pursued.
Trojans rushed back across the middle of the plain,
past the tomb of ancient Ilus, son of Dardanus,                                     190
even past the fig tree, desperate to reach the city.
But with his invincible blood-spattered hands, 
Agamemnon kept up his pursuit relentlessly.
When Trojans reached the Scaean Gates and oak tree,                                     [170]
they stopped there, to wait for their remaining men.
But they were still in flight across the middle of the plain,
like cows scattered by a lion coming at them
in the dead of nighta general stampede,
but clearly grim destruction for one of them, 
whose neck the lion first seizes in strong teeth,                                      200   
breaks it, then gorges on the blood and all the innards
that's how mighty Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
harassed Trojans, always killing off the stragglers,
as they fled back.  Many men collapsed face down,
or on their backs, at the hands of Atreus' son,                                                  [180]
as with his spear he raged up and down the field.

But just as Agamemnon was about to reach
the steep walls of the city, the father of gods and men
came down from heaven, sat on the peaks of Ida,
with its many springs, holding a thunderbolt.                                         210
He sent off gold-winged Iris with a message:

"Go, swift Iris, and tell Hector this
as long as he sees Agamemnon,
that shepherd of his people, rampaging 
at the front, mowing down rows of men, 
he must restrain himself, tell other troops 
to fight the enemy in the killing zone.                                                     [190]
But when Agamemnon, hit by a spear
or wounded with an arrow, mounts his chariot,
then I'll give Hector power to kill and kill,                                   220
until he comes to the well-decked ships,
at sunset, when sacred darkness comes."

Zeus finished.  Wind-swift Iris obeyed, going down
from Ida to sacred Ilion.  She found Hector,
wise Priam's noble son, standing with his horses,
in his well-made chariot. Coming close beside him,
swift-footed Iris spoke:

                                  "Hector, son of Priam,                                          [200]
like the gods for your wise counsel, Father Zeus
has sent me to give you these instructions
so long as you see Agamemnon,                                                   230
that shepherd of his people, rampaging 
at the front, mowing down rows of men, 
you must restrain yourself, tell other troops 
to fight the enemy in the killing zone.  
But when Agamemnon, hit by a spear
or wounded with an arrow, mounts his chariot,
then Zeus will give you power to kill and kill,  
until you reach the well-decked ships,
at sunset, when sacred darkness comes."

After saying this, swift-footed Iris sped away.                                        240          [210]
With his weapons Hector jumped out of his chariot 
down to the ground.  Brandishing his sharp spear, he moved
all through the army, urging men to battle on,
encouraging their spirits for the dreadful fight.
The troops rallied and stood up against Achaeans.
Opposing them, the Argives reinforced their ranks.
Agamemnon was among them, first to charge ahead,
eager to fight well in advance of everyone.

Tell me now, you Muses inhabiting Olympus,
who was the first to come against Agamemnon                                  250
one of the Trojans or one of their famous allies?                                               [220]
It was Iphidamas, son of Antenor,
a fine large man, raised in the fertile land of Thrace,
which nurtures flocks.  His mother was lovely Theano.
Cisseus, his mother's father, raised him in his house 
when he was very young. Once Iphidamas had reached
the age when younger men seek glory, Cisseus tried
to keep him there, marrying him to his daughter.
But he'd left his bridal chamber to chase after fame
against Achaeans, taking with him twelve beaked ships,                        260
which followed him.  He'd left these well-balanced ships
at Percote, then come on foot to Ilion.                                                              [230]   
Now he moved out to face Atreus' son Agamemnon.
When the two were close, within each other's range,
Agamemnon threw and missedhis spear turned aside.
But Iphidamas struck Agamemnon in his belt,
just below the breast plate, thrusting with all his force,
trusting his strong hands.  But he didn't penetrate
the gleaming belt, for the spear hit the silver first,
then bent aside, like lead.  Wide-ruling Agamemnon                              270 
grabbed the spear in his fists and yanked it towards him
with the fury of a lion, pulling it away,
right out of Iphidamas' hands.  Then he hit him,
slashing his neck with his sword—his limbs collapsed,.                                    [240]
and Iphidamas fell there into a bronze sleep,
unhappy man, far from the wife he'd married,
to help his fellow citizens, far from that lady
from whom he'd had no favours, though for bride price
he'd offered much. First, he'd given a hundred cattle
and promised a thousand goats and sheep combined,                            280
taken from the immense numbers in his flocks.
But then Agamemnon, son of Atreus, killed him,
stripped him, and went off through the Achaean throng,
carrying his armour.

                                     When Coön noticed this,
an eminent man, Antenor's eldest son,
his eyes darkened with grief for his fallen brother.                                            [250]
He moved out of lord Agamemnon's line of sight,
to one side, then struck his forearm with his spear,
just below the elbow.  Coön's shining spear point
sliced straight through.  Agamemnon, king of men, shuddered,             290
but didn't stop the fight or pull back from battle.
He charged at Coön, holding his weather-beaten spear.
Coön was feverishly dragging his blood brother, 
Iphidamas, out by the feet, crying for help
to all the finest men.  Agamemnon struck him
with his bronze-tipped spear shaft below his embossed shield,
as he was pulling Iphidamas out from the crowd.                                              [260]
Coön's limbs gave way.  Agamemnon stood over him,
then hacked off his head, so it fell on Iphidamas.
Thus, Antenor's sons came to their fatal end                                          300
at king Agamemnon's hands and went down to Hades.

While the warm blood was still flowing from his wound,
Agamemnon strode around the other ranks,
with spear and sword and massive boulders. But once that wound
began to dry and blood stopped flowing, then sharp pain
started to curb Agamemnon's fighting spirit.
Just as a sharp spasm seizes women giving birth,
a piercing labour pain sent by the - NEXT

Translation by Ian Johnston, Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC.  This document is in the public domain and may be used by anyone without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged. 

[Last modified March 8, 2004]

[Note that the numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text]