A Mother’s Sad Request For Her Son

[From Homer’s Iliad, Book 18, Lines 417 – 482, Vail’s translation]

Rising up to aid Hephaistos, maids of gold moved like lively young girls;
Perfectly made, they had speech, wit and motion, and other skills immortal.
Briskly surrounding their lord for support, he made his way to Thetis,
Gracefully waiting for him to join her upon a silver throne.

Taking her hand, he greeted her warmly, “Sweet Goddess, we are honored;
But are you in need, my dearest Thetis? Your visits are so seldom.
Please tell me if I may be of help, for I will if I am able –
If it is a thing allowed to be done, not known to be forbidden.”

“Hephaistos,” Thetis softly said, with tears on her lashes and cheek,
“Never has another Olympian goddess suffered such sorrow and pain.
No mortal before Peleus Aiakides, my husband chosen by Zeus,
Had ever been given a sea nymph to wed, nor gave her a cheerless bed.

Peleus struggles to subjugate the sea nymph Thetis prior to their marriage in this depiction on an ancient Greek Attic red-figured kylix, painted by the Douris Painter, ca. 490 BCE. Photographed at the Cabinet des Medailles.

Peleus struggles to subjugate the sea nymph Thetis…
(Please click image for more)

“But there I accepted my wifely duty, endured without desire,
And though my man is constrained now by age, pain continues to mock me.
I nursed and raised the son gifted to me; he became a man above men.
Quickly he grew, and I nurtured him better than blossoming orchard trees.

“All this did I do just to see him off, in a ship bound for war with Trojans,
And I shall not see him in Peleus’ hall, his family home, again.
Yet even while sunlight still kisses his eyes, my son is destined to suffer
And I do not have the power to help him, though I stand nearby for comfort.

“The girl-prize given him by the Greeks, Agamemnon took back for his own.
Hot burned the heart of my son at this deed, and he yearned for the girl intensely.
Trojans in war beat them back to their ships, and the Greeks could not escape.
Agamemnon’s officers begged my son’s help, and offered him incentives.

“He did not deem them worthy of aid, nor helped delay the disaster,
But armed Patroklos in his own gear, and sent him into battle.
Fiercely they fought at the Gate all day, and nearly took the city,
But Apollo spied Menoitios’ great son slaying many Trojans.
Killing him in battle, he then gave Hektor a hero’s reward for the deed.

Thetis consoles Achilles over the death of Patroklos, and Nereids bring his new armor. Ancient Greek red-figured pelike pottery vase, from Kamiros, Rhodes, ca. 470 BCE.

Thetis consoles Achilles over the death of Patroklos…
(Please click image for more)

“It is for this I have come to call: now my ill-fated son needs a shield.
A breastplate, too, and a crested helmet, and a pair of tight-clasping greaves.
Hektor stripped the armor from his slain foe, the courageous hero Patroklos,
And now my son lies numb on the ground, in his tent, overcome by grief.”

Enheartening her, the Great GameLegs said, “Have courage, my Lady! Please trust me!
Good gear I can make, but to hide him from death? Now, that is another matter…
I only wish I could help him with that, as I can with the making of arms,
For I am an expert – no eyes have beheld such gear as I shall provide him!”

Leaving her then, and going to his shop, he swiftly set about working.
Twenty smart bellows he aimed at the fire, stirring the coals up fiercely.
Huge bursts they could blow if the toil was tough, and delicate breaths as needed.
He spoke his commands and the bellows obeyed, fully used to the work required.

Molten gold and silver boiled in the blaze, and tin, and Olympian bronze.
With a powerful hammer in his right hand, and tongs in his dexterous left,
Hephaistos mounted the great iron block, knowing that all was in order.

His first task fulfilled was a well-fashioned shield; very strong, wide and shining.
Triple-ply was the sparkling rim around it, and the shoulder strap was silver.
The shield was skillfully crafted together, formed of five welded layers,
And Hephaistos surpassed himself with his art and his brilliant decoration…

Hephaistos gives Achilles' new armor to Thetis...

Hephaistos gives Achilles’ glorious new armor to Thetis…
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Continue to The Appearance of Achilles’ Shield