Priam decides to visit Achilles and offer him a great fortune in exchange for the body of his son Hector, whom Achilles has killed and dragged around Troy behind his chariot.
They brought out a strong mule-waggon, newly made,
and set the body of the waggon fast on its bed.
They took the mule-yoke from the peg on which it hung,
a yoke of boxwood with a knob on the top of it
and rings for the reins to go through.
Then they brought a yoke-band eleven cubits long,
to bind the yoke to the pole; they bound it on at the far end of the pole,
and put the ring over the upright pin
making it fast with three turns of the band on either side the knob,
and bending the thong of the yoke beneath it.
This done, they brought from the store-chamber the rich ransom
that was to purchase the body of Hector,
and they set it all orderly on the waggon;
then they yoked the strong harness-mules
which the Mysians had on a time given as a goodly present to Priam;
but for Priam himself they yoked horses which the old king had bred,
and kept for own use.
Thus heedfully did Priam and his servant
see to the yolking of their cars at the palace.
Then Hecuba came to them all sorrowful,
with a golden goblet of wine in her right hand,
that they might make a drink-offering before they set out.
She stood in front of the horses and said,
"Take this, make a drink-offering to father Jove,
and since you are minded to go to the ships in spite of me,
pray that you may come safely back from the hands of your enemies.
Pray to the son of Saturn lord of the whirlwind,
who sits on Ida and looks down over all Troy,
pray him to send his swift messenger on your right hand,
the bird of omen which is strongest and most dear to him of all birds,
that you may see it with your own eyes and trust it
as you go forth to the ships of the Danaans.
If all-seeing Jove will not send you this messenger,
however set upon it you may be,
I would not have you go to the ships of the Argives."
And Priam answered, "Wife, I will do as you desire me;
it is well to lift hands in prayer to Jove,
if so be he may have mercy upon me."
With this the old man bade the serving-woman
pour pure water over his hands,
and the woman came, bearing the water in a bowl.
He washed his hands and took the cup from his wife;
then he made the drink-offering and prayed,
standing in the middle of the courtyard
and turning his eyes to heaven. "Father Jove," he said,
"that rulest from Ida, most glorious and most great, grant
that I may be received kindly and compassionately in the tents of Achilles;
and send your swift messenger upon my right hand,
the bird of omen which is strongest and most dear to you of all birds,
that I may see it with my own eyes and trust it
as I go forth to the ships of the Danaans."
So did he pray, and Jove the lord of counsel heard his prayer.
Forthwith he sent an eagle,
the most unerring portent of all birds that fly,
the dusky hunter that men also call the Black Eagle.
His wings were spread abroad on either side
as wide as the well-made and well-bolted door of a rich man's chamber.
He came to them flying over the city upon their right hands,
and when they saw him they were glad
and their hearts took comfort within them.
The old man made haste to mount his chariot,
and drove out through the inner gateway
and under the echoing gatehouse of the outer court.
Before him went the mules drawing the four-wheeled waggon,
and driven by wise Idaeus; behind these were the horses,
which the old man lashed with his whip and drove swiftly through the city,
while his friends followed after, wailing and lamenting for him
as though he were on his road to death.
As soon as they had come down from the city
and had reached the plain,
his sons and sons-in-law who had followed him went back to Ilius.
But Priam and Idaeus as they showed out upon the plain
did not escape the ken of all-seeing Jove,
who looked down upon the old man and pitied him;
then he spoke to his son Mercury and said,
"Mercury, for it is you who are the most disposed
to escort men on their way, and to hear those whom you will hear,
go, and so conduct Priam to the ships of the Achaeans
that no other of the Danaans shall see him nor take note of him
until he reach the son of Peleus."
Thus he spoke and Mercury, guide and guardian, slayer of Argus,
did as he was told.Forthwith he bound on his glittering golden sandals
with which he could fly like the wind over land and sea;
he took the wand with which he seals men's eyes in sleep,
or wakes them just as he pleases, and flew holding it in his hand
till he came to Troy and to the Hellespont.
To look at, he was like a young man of noble birth
in the hey-day of his youth and beauty with the down just coming upon his face.
Now when Priam and Idaeus had driven past the great tomb of Ilius,
they stayed their mules and horses that they might drink in the river,
for the shades of night were falling,
when, therefore, Idaeus saw Mercury standing near them he said to Priam,
"Take heed, descendant of Dardanus; here is matter which demands consideration.
I see a man who I think will presently fall upon us; let us fly with our horses,
or at least embrace his knees and implore him to take compassion upon us?"
When he heard this the old man's heart failed him, and he was in great
he stayed where he was as one dazed, and the hair stood on end over his whole body;
but the bringer of good luck came up to him and took him by the hand, saying,
"Whither, father, are you thus driving your mules and horses
in the dead of night when other men are asleep?
Are you not afraid of the fierce Achaeans who are hard by you, so cruel and relentless?
Should some one of them see you bearing so much treasure
through the darkness of the flying night, what would not your state then be?
You are no longer young, and he who is with you is too old
to protect you from those who would attack you.
For myself, I will do you no harm, and I will defend you from any one else,
for you remind me of my own father."
The god pretends to be the personal servant of Achilles
Then answered Priam, "If you are indeed the squire of Achilles
son of Peleus,
tell me now the whole truth. Is my son still at the ships,
or has Achilles hewn him limb from limb, and given him to his hounds?"
"Sir," replied the slayer of Argus, guide and guardian,
"neither hounds nor vultures have yet devoured him;
he is still just lying at the tents by the ship of Achilles,
and though it is now twelve days that he has lain there,
his flesh is not wasted nor have the worms eaten him
although they feed on warriors.
At daybreak Achilles drags him cruelly round the sepulchre of his dear comrade,
but it does him no hurt. You should come yourself and see how he lies
fresh as dew, with the blood all washed away, and his wounds every one of them closed
though many pierced him with their spears.
Such care have the blessed gods taken of your brave son,
for he was dear to them beyond all measure."
Mercury brings Priam safely into the Greek camp, putting the guard to sleep and opening the great gates for him.
Then he sprang from the chariot on to the ground and said,
"Sir, it is I, immortal Mercury, that am come with you,
for my father sent me to escort you. I will now leave you,
and will not enter into the presence of Achilles,
for it might anger him that a god should befriend mortal men thus openly.
Go you within, and embrace the knees of the son of Peleus:
beseech him by his father, his lovely mother, and his son;
thus you may move him."
With these words Mercury went back to high Olympus.
Priam sprang from his chariot to the ground,
leaving Idaeus where he was, in charge of the mules and horses.
The old man went straight into the house where Achilles, loved of the gods, was sitting.
There he found him with his men seated at a distance from him:
only two, the hero Automedon, and Alcimus of the race of Mars,
were busy in attendance about his person,
for he had but just done eating and drinking,
and the table was still there.
King Priam entered without their seeing him,
and going right up to Achilles he clasped his knees
and kissed the dread murderous hands
that had slain so many of his sons.
As when some cruel spite has befallen a man
that he should have killed some one in his own country,
and must fly to a great man's protection in a land of strangers,
and all marvel who see him, even so did Achilles marvel as he beheld Priam.
The others looked one to another and marvelled also,
but Priam besought Achilles saying, "Think of your father, O Achilles like unto the gods,
who is such even as I am, on the sad threshold of old age.
It may be that those who dwell near him harass him,
and there is none to keep war and ruin from him.
Yet when he hears of you being still alive, he is glad, and his days are full of hope
that he shall see his dear son come home to him from Troy;
but I, wretched man that I am, had the bravest in all Troy for my sons,
and there is not one of them left. I had fifty sons when the Achaeans came here;
nineteen of them were from a single womb,
and the others were borne to me by the women of my household.
The greater part of them has fierce Mars laid low,
and Hector, him who was alone left, him who was the guardian of the city and ourselves,
him have you lately slain; therefore I am now come to the ships of the Achaeans
to ransom his body from you with a great ransom.
Fear, O Achilles, the wrath of heaven;
think on your own father and have compassion upon me, who am the more pitiable,
for I have steeled myself as no man yet has ever steeled himself before me,
and have raised to my lips the hand of him who slew my son."
Thus spoke Priam,
and the heart of Achilles yearned as he bethought him of his father.
He took the old man's hand and moved him gently away.
The two wept bitterly- Priam, as he lay at Achilles' feet, weeping for Hector,
and Achilles now for his father and now for Patroclous,
till the house was filled with their lamentation.
But when Achilles was now sated with grief
and had unburthened the bitterness of his sorrow,
he left his seat and raised the old man by the hand, in pity for his white hair and beard;
then he said, "Unhappy man, you have indeed been greatly daring;
how could you venture to come alone to the ships of the Achaeans,
and enter the presence of him who has slain so many of your brave sons?
You must have iron courage: sit now upon this seat,
and for all our grief we will hide our sorrows in our hearts,
for weeping will not avail us.
The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow;
on the floor of Jove's palace there stand two urns,
the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones.
He for whom Jove the lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends,
will meet now with good and now with evil fortune;
but he to whom Jove sends none but evil gifts
will be pointed at by the finger of scorn,
the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world,
and he will go up and down the face of the earth,
respected neither by gods nor men.
Even so did it befall Peleus;
the gods endowed him with all good things from his birth upwards,
for he reigned over the Myrmidons excelling all men in prosperity and wealth,
and mortal though he was they gave him a goddess for his bride.
But even on him too did heaven send misfortune,
for there is no race of royal children born to him in his house,
save one son who is doomed to die all untimely;
nor may I take care of him now that he is growing old,
for I must stay here at Troy to be the bane of you and your children.
And you too, O Priam, I have heard that you were aforetime happy.
They say that in wealth and plenitude of offspring you surpassed
all that is in Lesbos, the realm of Makar to the northward, Phrygia that is more inland,
and those that dwell upon the great Hellespont;
but from the day when the dwellers in heaven sent this evil upon you,
war and slaughter have been about your city continually.
Bear up against it, and let there be some intervals in your sorrow.
Mourn as you may for your brave son, you will take nothing by it.
You cannot raise him from the dead,
ere you do so yet another sorrow shall befall you."
And Priam answered, "O king, bid me not be seated,
while Hector is still lying uncared for in your tents,
but accept the great ransom which I have brought you,
and give him to me at once that I may look upon him.
May you prosper with the ransom and reach your own land in safety,
seeing that you have suffered me to live and to look upon the light of the sun."
Achilles looked at him sternly and said, "Vex me, sir, no longer;
I am of myself minded to give up the body of Hector.
My mother, daughter of the old man of the sea, came to me from Jove
to bid me deliver it to you. Moreover I know well, O Priam, and you cannot hide it,
that some god has brought you to the ships of the Achaeans,
for else, no man however strong and in his prime would dare to come to our host;
he could neither pass our guard unseen, nor draw the bolt of my gates thus easily;
therefore, provoke me no further, lest I sin against the word of Jove,
and suffer you not, suppliant though you are, within my tents."
Achilles has Hector's body washed and laid on the cart in place of the ransom, then offers Priam hospitality.
Achilles sprang from his seat and killed a sheep of silvery whiteness,
which his followers skinned and made ready all in due order.
They cut the meat carefully up into smaller pieces, spitted them,
and drew them off again when they were well roasted.
Automedon brought bread in fair baskets and served it round the table,
while Achilles dealt out the meat,
and they laid their hands on the good things that were before them.
As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink,
Priam, descendant of Dardanus, marvelled at the strength and beauty of Achilles
for he was as a god to see, and Achilles marvelled at Priam
as he listened to him and looked upon his noble presence.
When they had gazed their fill Priam spoke first.
"And now, O king," he said, "take me to my couch
that we may lie down and enjoy the blessed boon of sleep.
Never once have my eyes been closed from the day your hands took the life of my son;
I have grovelled without ceasing in the mire of my stable-yard,
making moan and brooding over my countless sorrows.
Now, moreover, I have eaten bread and drunk wine;
hitherto I have tasted nothing."
As he spoke Achilles told his men and the women-servants
to set beds in the room that was in the gatehouse,
and make them with good red rugs, and spread coverlets on the top of them
with woollen cloaks for Priam and Idaeus to wear.
So the maids went out carrying a torch and got the two beds ready in all haste.
Then Achilles said laughingly to Priam, "Dear sir, you shall lie outside,
lest some counsellor of those who in due course keep coming to advise with me
should see you here in the darkness of the flying night, and tell it to Agamemnon.
This might cause delay in the delivery of the body.
And now tell me and tell me true,
for how many days would you celebrate the funeral rites of noble Hector?
Tell me, that I may hold aloof from war and restrain the host."
And Priam answered, "Since, then, you suffer me to bury my noble son
with all due rites,
do thus, Achilles, and I shall be grateful.
You know how we are pent up within our city;
it is far for us to fetch wood from the mountain, and the people live in fear.
Nine days, therefore, will we mourn Hector in my house;
on the tenth day we will bury him and there shall be a public feast in his honour;
on the eleventh we will build a mound over his ashes,
and on the twelfth, if there be need, we will fight."
Achilles answered, "All, King Priam, shall be as you have said.
I will stay our fighting for as long a time as you have named."