Achilles et Cygnus.Fame now had spread the tidings, a great fleet
of Greek ships was at that time on its way,
an army of brave men. The Trojans stood,
all ready to prevent the hostile Greeks
from landing on their shores. By the decree
of Fate, the first man killed of the invaders' force
was strong Protesilaus, by the spear
of valiant Hector, whose unthought-of power
at that time was discovered by the Greeks
to their great cost. The Phyrgians also learned,
at no small cost of blood, what warlike strength
came from the Grecian land. The Sigean shores
grew red with death-blood: Cygnus, Neptune's son,
there slew a thousand men: for which, in wrath,
Achilles pressed his rapid chariot
straight through the Trojan army; making a lane
with his great spear, shaped from a Pelion tree.
And as he sought through the fierce battle's press,
either for Cygnus or for Hector, he
met Cygnus and engaged at once with him
(Fate had preserved great Hector from such foe
till ten years from that day).
Cheering his steeds,
their white necks pressed upon the straining yoke,
he steered the chariot towards his foe,
and, brandishing the spear with his strong arm,
he cried, “Whoever you may be, you have
the consolation of a glorious death
you die by me, Haemonian Achilles!”
His heavy spear flew after the fierce words.
Although the spear was whirled direct and true,
yet nothing it availed with sharpened point.
It only bruised, as with a blunted stroke,
the breast of Cygnus! “By report we knew
of you before this battle, goddess born.”
The other answered him, “But why are you
surprised that I escape the threatened wound?”
(Achilles was surprised). “This helmet crowned,
great with its tawny horse-hair, and this shield,
broad-hollowed, on my left arm, are not held
for help in war: they are but ornament,
as Mars wears armor. All of them shall be
put off, and I will fight with you unhurt.
It is a privilege that I was born
not as you, of a Nereid but of him
whose powerful rule is over Nereus,
his daughters and their ocean.” So, he spoke.
Immediately he threw his spear against Achilles,
destined to pierce the curving shield through brass,
and through nine folds of tough bull's hide.
It stopped there, for it could not pierce the tenth.
The hero wrenched it out, and hurled again
a quivering spear at Cygnus, with great strength.
The Trojan stood unwounded and unharmed.
Nor did a third spear injure Cygnus, though
he stood there with his body all exposed.
Achilles raged at this, as a wild bull
in open circus, when with dreadful horns
he butts against the hanging purple robes
which stir his wrath and there observes how they
evade him, quite unharmed by his attack.
Achilles then examined his good spear,
to see if by some chance the iron point
was broken from it, but the point was firm,
fixed on the wooden shaft. “My hand is weak,”
he said, “but is it possible its strength
forsook me though it never has before?
For surely I had my accustomed strength,
when first I overthrew Lyrnessus' walls,
or when I won the isle of Tenedos
or Thebes (then under King Eetion)
and I drenched both with their own peoples' blood,
or when the river Caycus ran red
with slaughter of its people, or, when twice
Telephus felt the virtue of my spear.
On this field also, where such heaps lie slain,
my right hand surely has proved its true might;
and it is mighty.”
So he spoke of strength,
remembered. But as if in proof against
his own distrust, he hurled a spear against
Menoetes, a soldier in the Lycian ranks.
The sharp spear tore the victim's coat of mail
and pierced his breast beneath. Achilles, when
he saw his dying head strike on the earth
wrenched the same spear from out the reeking wound,
and said, “This is the hand, and this the spear
I conquered with; and I will use the same
against him who in luck escaped their power;
and the result should favor as I pray
the helpful gods.”
And, as he said such words,
in haste he hurled his ashen spear, again
at Cygnus. It went straight and struck unshunned.
Resounding on the shoulder of that foe,
it bounced back as if it hit a wall
or solid cliff. Yet when Achilles saw
just where the spear struck, Cygnus there
was stained with blood. He instantly rejoiced;
but vainly, for it was Menoetes' blood!
Then in a sudden rage, Achilles leaped
down headlong from his lofty chariot;
and, seeking his god-favored foe, he struck
in conflict fiercely, with his gleaming sword.
Although he saw that he had pierced both shield
and helmet through, he did not harm the foe—
his sword was even blunted on the flesh.
Achilles could not hold himself for rage,
but furious, with his sword-hilt and his shield
he battered wildly the uncovered face
and hollow-temples of his Trojan foe.
Cygnus gave way; Achilles rushed on him,
buffeting fiercely, so that he could not
recover from the shock. Fear seized upon
Cygnus, and darkness swam before his eyes.
Then, as he moved back with retreating steps,
a large stone hindered him and blocked his way.
His back pushed against this, Achilles seized
and dashed him violently to the ground.
Then pressing with buckler and hard knees the breast
of Cygnus, he unlaced the helmet thongs,
wound them about the foeman's neck and drew
them tightly under his chin, till Cygnus' throat
could take no breath of life. Achilles rose
eager to strip his conquered foe but found
his empty armor, for the god of ocean
had changed the victim into that white bird
whose name he lately bore.