The Iliad, Book XII

Original Text: 
The Iliad of Homer, trans. Alexander Pope, III (London: W. Bowyer for Bernard Lintot, 1717): 920-25 (Book XII). E-10 4020 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
295Furious he spoke, and rushing to the wall,
296Calls on his host; his host obey the call;
297With ardour follow where their leader flies:
298Redoubling clamours thunder in the skies.
300And drifts of dust the clouded navy hide;
301He fills the Greeks with terror and dismay,
302And gives great Hector the predestined day.
303Strong in themselves, but stronger in his aid,
304Close to the works their rigid siege they laid.
305In vain the mounds and massy beams defend,
306While these they undermine, and those they rend;
307Upheave the piles that prop the solid wall;
308And heaps on heaps the smoaky ruins fall.
309Greece on her ramparts stands the fierce alarms;
310The crowded bulwarks blaze with waving arms,
311Shield touching shield, a long refulgent row;
312Whence hissing darts, incessant, rain below.
313The bold Ajaces fly from tow'r to tow'r,
314And rouze, with flame divine, the Grecian pow'r.
315The gen'rous impulse ev'ry Greek obeys;
316Threats urge the fearful; and the valiant, praise.
317Fellows in arms! whose deeds are known to fame,
318And you whose ardour hopes an equal name!
319Since not alike endu'd with force or art,
320Behold a day when each may act his part!
321A day to fire the brave, and warm the cold,
322To gain new glories, or augment the old.
323Urge those who stand, and those who faint excite;
324Drown Hector's vaunts in loud exhorts of fight;
325Conquest, not safety, fill the thoughts of all;
326Seek not your fleet, but sally from the wall;
327So Jove once more may drive their routed train,
328And Troy lie trembling in her walls again.
329Their ardour kindles all the Grecian pow'rs;
330And now the stones descend in heavier show'rs.
331As when high Jove his sharp artill'ry forms,
332And opes his cloudy magazine of storms;
333In winter's bleak uncomfortable reign,
334A snowy inundation hides the plain;
335He stills the winds, and bids the skies to sleep;
336Then pours the silent tempest, thick, and deep;
337And first the mountain tops are cover'd o'er,
338Then the green fields, and then the sandy shore;
339Bent with the weight the nodding woods are seen,
340And one bright waste hides all the works of men:
341The circling seas alone absorbing all,
342Drink the dissolving fleeces as they fall.
343So from each side increas'd the stony rain,
344And the white ruin rises o'er the plain.
345Thus god-like Hector and his troops contend
346To force the ramparts, and the gates to rend:
347Nor Troy could conquer, nor the Greeks would yield,
349For mighty Jove inspir'd with martial flame
350His matchless son, and urg'd him on to fame.
351In arms he shines, conspicuous from afar,
352And bears aloft his ample shield in air;
353Within whose orb the thick bull-hides were roll'd,
354Pond'rous with brass, and bound with ductile gold:
355And while two pointed javelins arm his hands,
356Majestic moves along, and leads his Lycian bands.
358Descends a lion on the flocks below;
359So stalks the lordly savage o'er the plain,
360In sullen majesty, and stern disdain:
361In vain loud mastives bay him from afar,
362And shepherds gall him with an iron war;
363Regardless, furious, he pursues his way;
364He foams, he roars, he rends the panting prey.
365Resolv'd alike, divine Sarpedon glows
366With gen'rous rage that drives him on the foes.
367He views the tow'rs, and meditates their fall,
368To sure destruction dooms th'aspiring wall;
369Then casting on his friend an ardent look,
370Fir'd with the thirst of glory, thus he spoke.
372Where Xanthus' streams enrich the Lycian plain,
373Our num'rous herds that range the fruitful field,
374And hills where vines their purple harvest yield,
375Our foaming bowls with purer nectar crown'd,
376Our feasts enhanc'd with music's sprightly sound?
377Why on those shores are we with joy survey'd,
378Admir'd as heroes, and as gods obey'd?
379Unless great acts superior merit prove,
380And vindicate the bount'ous pow'rs above.
381'Tis ours, the dignity they give, to grace;
382The first in valour, as the first in place.
383That when with wond'ring eyes our martial bands
384Behold our deeds transcending our commands,
385Such, they may cry, deserve the sov'reign state,
386Whom those that envy, dare not imitate!
388Which claims no less the fearful than the brave,
389For lust of fame I should not vainly dare
390In fighting fields, nor urge thy soul to war.
391But since, alas! ignoble age must come,
392Disease, and death's inexorable doom;
393The life which others pay, let us bestow,
394And give to fame what we to nature owe;
395Brave tho' we fall, and honour'd if we live,
396Or let us glory gain, or glory give!


299] "It is worth our Notice to observe how the least Circumstance grows in the Hand of a great Poet. In this Battel it is to be supposed that the Trojans had got the Advantage of the Wind of the Grecians, so that a Cloud of Dust was blown upon their Army: This gave room for this Fiction of Homer, which supposes that Jove, or the Air, rais'd the Dust, and drove it in the Face of the Grecians. Eustathius." (III, 944; note by Pope and/or William Broome) Back to Line
348] "The Poet here ushers in Sarpedon with Abundance of Pomp: He forces him upon the Observation of the Reader by the Greatness of the Description, and raises our Expectations of him, intending to make him perform many remarkable Actions in the Sequel of the Poem, and become worthy to fall by the Hand of Patroclus. Eustathius. (III, 944; note by Pope and/or William Broome) Back to Line
357] "This Comparison very much resembles that of the Prophet Isaiah, Ch. 31. V. 4. where God himself is compared to a Lion: Like as the Lion, and the young Lion roaring on his Prey, when a Multitude of Shepherds is call'd forth against him, he will not be afraid of their Voice, nor abase himself for the Noise of them: So shall the Lord of Hosts come down that he may fight upon Mount Sion. Dacier." (III, 945; note by Pope and/or William Broome) Back to Line
371] "In former Times Kings were look'd upon as the Generals of Armies, who to return the Honours that were done them, were oblig'd to expose themselves first in the Battel, and be an Example to their Soldiers. Upon this Sarpedon grounds his Discourse, which is full of Generosity and Nobleness. We are, says he, honour'd like Gods; and what can be more unjust, than not to behave our selves like Men? he ought to be superior in Virtue, who is superior in Dignity; What Strength is there, and what Greatness in that Thought? it includes Justice, Gratitude, and Magnanimity; Justice, in that he scorns to enjoy what he does not merit; Gratitude, because he would endeavour to recompense his Obligations to his Subjects; and Magnanimity, in that he despises Death, and thinks of nothing but Glory. Eustathius. Dacier (III, 945; note by Pope and/or William Broome) Back to Line
387] "There is not a more forcible Argument than this, to make Men contemn Dangers, and seek Glory by brave Actions. Immortality with eternal Youth, is certainly preferable to Glory purchas'd with the Loss of Life; but Glory is certainly better than an ignominious Life; which at last, tho' perhaps late, must end. It is ordain'd that all Men shall die, nor can our escaping from Danger secure us Immortality; it can only give us a longer Continuance in Disgrace, and even that Continuance will be but short, tho' the Infamy everlasting. This is incontestable, and whoever weighs his Actions in these Scales, can never hesitate in his Choice: But what is most worthy of Remark is, that Homer does not put this in the Mouth of an ordinary person, but ascribes it to the Son of Jupiter. Eustathius. Dacier." (III, 946; note by Pope and/or William Broome) Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire