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Latona's son a dire contagion spread,
And heaped the camp with mountains of the dead.
The king of men his reverent priest defied,
And for the king's offense the people died.
For Chryses sought with costly gifts to gain
His captive daughter from the victor's chain.
Suppliant the venerable father stands;
Apollo's awful ensigns grace his hands:
By these he begs; and lowly bending down,
Extends the scepter and the laurel crown.
He sued to all, but chief implored for grace
The brother kings, of Atreus' royal race:
"Ye kings and warriors! may your vows be crowned And Troy's proud walls lie level with the ground.
May Jove restore you when your toils are o'er
Safe to the pleasures of your native shore.
But, oh! relieve a wretched parent's pain,
And give Chryseïs to these arms again;
If mercy fail, yet let my presents move,
And dread avenging Phoebus, son of Jove."
The Greeks in shouts their joint assent declare,
The priest to reverence, and release the fair.
Not so Atrides: he, with kingly pride,
Repulsed the sacred sire, and thus replied:-
"Hence on thy life, and fly these hostile plains,
Nor ask, presumptuous, what the king detains:
Hence, with thy laurel crown, and golden rod;
Nor trust too far those ensigns of thy god.
Mine is thy daughter, priest, and shall remain;
And prayers, and tears, and bribes, shall plead in vain
Till time shall rifle every youthful grace,
And age dismiss her from my cold embrace.
In daily labors of the loom employed,
Or doomed to deck the bed she once enjoyed.
Hence then; to Argos shall the maid retire,
Far from her native soil or weeping sire."
The trembling priest along the shore returned,
And in the anguish of a father mourned.
Disconsolate, not daring to complain,
Silent he wandered by the sounding main;
Till, safe at distance, to his god he prays,
The god who darts around the world his rays:
"O Smintheus! sprung from fair Latona's line,
Thou guardian power of Cilla the divine,
Thou source of light! whom Tenedos adores,
And whose bright presence gilds thy Chrysa's shores
If e'er with wreaths I hung thy sacred fane,
Or fed the flames with fat of oxen slain;
God of the silver bow! thy shafts employ,
Avenge thy servant, and the Greeks destroy."
Thus Chryses prayed: - the favoring power attends, And from Olympus' lofty tops descends.
Bent was his bow, the Grecian hearts to wound;
Fierce as he moved, his silver shafts resound.
Breathing revenge, a sudden night he spread,
And gloomy darkness rolled about his head.
The fleet in view, he twanged his deadly bow,
And hissing fly the feathered fates below.
On mules and dogs the infection first began;
And last, the vengeful arrows fixed in man.
For nine long nights, through all the dusky air,
The pyres, thick-flaming, shot a dismal glare.
But ere the tenth revolving day was run,
Inspired by Juno, Thetis' godlike son
Convened to council all the Grecian train;
For much the goddess mourned her heroes slain.
The assembly seated, rising o'er the rest,
Achilles thus the king of men addressed:
"Why leave we not the fatal Trojan shore,
And measure back the seas we crossed before?
The plague destroying whom the sword would spare,
'Tis time to save the few remains of war.
But let some prophet, or some sacred sage,
Explore the cause of great Apollo's rage;
Or learn the wasteful vengeance to remove
By mystic dreams, for dreams descend from Jove.
If broken vows this heavy curse have laid,
Let altars smoke, and hecatombs be paid.
So Heaven, atoned, shall dying Greece restore,
And Phoebus dart his burning shafts no more."
He said, and sat: when Calchas thus replied;
Calchas the wise, the Grecian priest and guide,
That sacred seer, whose comprehensive view,
The past, the present, and the future knew:
Uprising slow, the venerable sage
Thus spoke the prudence and the fears of age:
"Beloved of Jove, Achilles! wouldst thou know
Why angry Phoebus bends his fatal bow?
First give thy faith, and plight a prince's word
Of sure protection, by thy power and sword:
For I must speak what wisdom would conceal,
And truths, invidious to the great, reveal.
Bold is the task, when subjects, grown too wise,
Instruct a monarch where his error lies;
For though we deem the short-lived fury past,
'Tis sure the mighty will revenge at last.”
To whom Pelides: "From thy inmost soul
Speak what thou know'st, and speak without control.
E'en by that god I swear who rules the day,
To whom thy hands the vows of Greece convey,
And whose blessed oracles thy lips declare;
Long as Achilles breathes this vital air,
No daring Greek, of all the numerous band,
Against his priest shall lift an impious hand;
Not e'en the chief by whom our hosts are led,
The king of kings, shall touch that sacred head."
Encouraged thus, the blameless man replies:-
"Nor vows unpaid, nor slighted sacrifice,
But he, our chief, provoked the raging pest,
Apollo's vengeance for his injured priest.
Nor will the god's awakened fury cease,
But plagues shall spread, and funeral fires increase,
Till the great king, without a ransom paid,
To her own Chrysa send the black-eyed maid.
Perhaps, with added sacrifice and prayer,
The priest may pardon, and the god may spare."
The prophet spoke: when with a gloomy frown
The monarch started from his shining throne;
Black choler filled his breast that boiled with ire,
And from his eyeballs flashed the living fire.
"Augur accursed! denouncing mischief still,
Prophet of plagues, forever boding ill!
Still must that tongue some wounding message bring,
And still thy priestly pride provoke thy king?
For this are Phoebus' oracles explored,
To teach the Greeks to murmur at their lord?
For this with falsehood is my honor stained,
Is heaven offended, and a priest profaned;
Because my prize, my beauteous maid, I hold,
And heavenly charms prefer to proffered gold?
A maid unmatched in manners as in face,
Skilled in each art, and crowned with every grace;
Not half so dear were Clytemnestra's charms,
When first her blooming beauties blessed my arms.
Yet, if the gods demand her, let her sail;
Our cares are only for the public weal:
Let me be deemed the hateful cause of all,
And suffer, rather than my people fall.
The prize, the beauteous prize, I will resign,
So dearly valued, and so justly mine.
But since for common good I yield the fair,
My private loss let grateful Greece repair;
Nor unrewarded let your prince complain,
That he alone has fought and bled in vain."
"Insatiate king (Achilles thus replies),
Fond of the power, but fonder of the prize!
Wouldst thou the Greeks their lawful prey should yield,
The due reward of many a well-fought field?
The spoils of cities razed and warriors slain,
We share with justice, as with toil we gain;
But to resume whate'er thy avarice craves
(That trick of tyrants) may be borne by slaves.
Yet if our chief for plunder only fight,
The spoils of Ilion shall thy loss requite,
Whene'er, by Jove's decree, our conquering powers
Shall humble to the dust her lofty towers."
Then thus the king: "Shall I my prize resign
With tame content, and thou possessed of thine?
Great as thou art, and like a god in fight,
Think not to rob me of a soldier's right.
At thy demand shall I restore the maid:
First let the just equivalent be paid;
Such as a king might ask; and let it be
A treasure worthy her, and worthy me.
Or grant me this, or with a monarch's claim
This hand shall seize some other captive dame.
The mighty Ajax shall his prize resign;
Ulysses' spoils, or even thy own, be mine.
The man who suffers, loudly may complain;
And rage he may, but he shall rage in vain.
But this when time requires. It now remains
We launch a bark to plow the watery plains,
And waft the sacrifice to Chrysa's shores,
With chosen pilots, and with laboring oars.
Soon shall the fair the sable ship ascend,
And some deputed prince the charge attend:
This Creta's king, or Ajax shall fulfill,
Or wise Ulysses see performed our will;
Or, if our royal pleasure shall ordain,
Achilles' self conduct her o'er the main ;
Let fierce Achilles, dreadful in his rage,
The god propitiate, and the pest assuage."
At this, Pelides, frowning stern, replied:—
"O tyrant, armed with insolence and pride!
Inglorious slave to interest, ever joined
With fraud, unworthy of a royal mind!
What generous Greek, obedient to thy word,
Shall form an ambush, or shall lift the sword?
What cause have I to war at thy decree?
The distant Trojans never injured me;
To Pythia's realms no hostile troops they led:
Safe in her vales my warlike coursers fed;
Far hence removed, the hoarse-resounding main,
And walls of rocks, secure my native reign,
Whose fruitful soil luxuriant harvests grace,
Rich in her fruits, and in her martial race.
Hither we sailed, a voluntary throng,
To avenge a private, not a public wrong:
What else to Troy the assembled nations draws,
But thine, ungrateful, and thy brother's cause?
Is this the pay our blood and toils deserve;
Disgraced and injured by the man we serve?
And darest thou threat to snatch my prize away,
Due to the deeds of many a dreadful day?
A prize as small, O tyrant! matched with thine,
As thy own actions if compared to mine.
Thine in each conquest is the wealthy prey,
Though mine the sweat and danger of the day.
Some trivial present to my ships I bear:
Or barren praises pay the wounds of war.
But now, proud monarch, I'm thy slave no more;
My fleet shall waft me to Thessalia's shore:
Left by Achilles on the Trojan plain,
What spoils, what conquests, shall Atrides gain?"
To this the king: "Fly, mighty warrior! fly;
Thy aid we need not, and thy threats defy.
There want not chiefs in such a cause to fight,
And Jove himself shall guard a monarch's right.
Of all the kings (the god's distinguished care)
To power superior none such hatred bear;
Strife and debate thy restless soul employ,
And wars and horrors are thy savage joy.
If thou hast strength, 'twas Heaven that strength bestowed
For know, vain man! thy valor is from God.
Haste, launch thy vessels, fly with speed away!