The Iliad 

Translation by Ian Johnston

Book Twenty
Achilles Returns to Battle

[As the armies ready for battle, Zeus summons an assembly of gods, tells them they can join the fight on either side; the gods leave Olympus for the battle; Apollo persuades Aeneas to fight Achilles; Aeneas and Achilles confront each other; Aeneas explains his ancestry; Aeneas and Achilles fight; Poseidon saves Aeneas; Achilles starts his slaughter of Trojans; Hector confronts Achilles; they Apollo saves Hector; Achilles continues his slaughter]

Then, son of Peleus, Achaeans armed themselves
around you, feeding your boundless appetite for war.
On the other side, higher up the sloping plain,
the Trojans did the same.  At that very moment,
from the summit of many-ridged Olympus,
Zeus told Themis to summon gods to an assembly.
She raced around, calling them to Zeus' home.
None of the rivers was left out, except Oceanus,
nor any nymph.  All those who live in lovely woods,
river springs, and grassy meadows came together                                   10
at cloud-gatherer Zeus' home, seating themselves                                            [10]
on porticoes of polished stone, built there
by Hephaestus' cunning arts for his father Zeus.
The gods gathered there in Zeus' house.  Poseidon
also answered Themis' summons, coming from the sea
to join them.  He sat in the middle of them all,
asking about Zeus' purposes:

                                       "Lord of bright lightning,
why have you called gods to this assembly?
Are you concerned for Trojans and Achaeans?
Right now their fight is close to flaring up                                    20  
into a total war."

                                                  Cloud-gatherer Zeus
then said to Poseidon in reply:

                                      "You understand, Earthshaker,                        [20]
the plans here in my chest, the reasons why
I've summoned you.  Yes, I am concerned for them.
Though they are being destroyed, I'll stay here,
sitting on a ridge of Mount Olympus.
From here I'll look on to my heart's content.
However, all the rest of you can go away
to join the Trojans and Achaeans, helping
either side, as your spirits each dictate.                                        30 
For if we leave Achilles there alone
to fight the Trojans, they'll not hold out
against the swift-footed son of Peleus,
not even briefly.  In earlier days,
if they saw him, their fear would make them shake,
and now his heart's so terribly enraged
for his companion, I fear he may go
beyond what fate ordains and storm the walls."                                       [30]

With these words, Cronos' son then launched relentless war.
The gods charged off to battle, their hearts divided                                40
in two groups.  Hera went to the assembled ships,
with Pallas Athena and Poseidon, who shakes the earth.
Helper Hermes accompanied them as well, the god 
with the most cunning mind of all.  Hephaestus
also went along with them, exulting in his power.
Though he was lame, his feet moved quickly under him.
Ares with the shining helmet joined the Trojans,
taking with him long-haired Phoebus, archer Artemis,
Leto, Xanthus, and laughter-loving Aphrodite.                                                 [40]

As long as the gods were far away from mortal men,                              50
Achaeans won the glory, since Achilles
had come back, after staying away from war so long.
For every Trojan's limbs were seized with trembling fear
when they observed him there, swift son of Peleus
in that blazing armour, like man-killing Ares.
But once Olympians mingled in the crowds of soldiers,
then mighty Strife, who stirs men up in battle,
went into action, while Athena kept on shouting,
sometimes standing by the ditch they'd dug beyond the wall,
sometimes yelling out beside the roaring sea shore.                                 60           [50]
On the other side, like a black whirlwind, Ares
kept yelling out his piercing orders to the Trojans,
sometimes from the city heights, sometimes as he raced
along the banks of Simois to Callicolone.

Thus, sacred gods spurred both sides on, urging them
to war, inciting cruel conflict.  From on high,
the father of gods and men thundered ominously,
while Poseidon shook the vast earth under them
and lofty mountain crests.  All the lower slopes of Ida,
with its many springs, trembled, as did the peaks,                                   70
the Trojan city, and Achaean ships.  Under the earth,                                      [60]
the king of the dead, Aidoneus, was terrified.
He leapt up from his throne afraid and shouting,
frightened that Earthshaker Poseidon would split up
the earth above him and reveal to gods and men
the dark and dreadful habitations of the dead,
which even gods detest, so massive was the shock
when gods collided in that war, with Poseidon
matched against Apollo with his feathered arrows,
glittery eyed Athena going against a mighty god,                                    80 
Ares Enyalius, and Hera against Artemis,                                                         [70]
with her golden arrows, goddess of the noisy hunt,
sister of Apollo, god who shoots from far away.
Strong Helper Hermes was opposed by Leto,
and Hephaestus by that huge and swirling river
the gods call Xanthus, but all men name - 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 revised March 15, 2004]

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