Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE SHIELD OF HERAKLES - The Poems and Fragments
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THE SHIELD OF HERAKLES - Hesiod, The Poems and Fragments 
The Poems and Fragments done into English Prose with Introduction and Appendices by A.W. Mair M.A. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908).
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THE SHIELD OF HERAKLES
‘O hero Iolaos, far dearest of all mortal men, surely Amphitryon sinned greatly against the Blest Immortals, who keep Olympos, when he went to fair-crowned Thebes, leaving Tirynthos, that well-builded city, when he had slain Elektryon on account of his widebrowed oxen. And he came unto Kreon and long-robed S83-111Henioche, who welcomed him and gave him all things as were meet, which is the due of suppliants, and honoured him in their hearts yet more. He lived in glory with the fair-ankled daughter of Electryon, his wife. And soon with the rolling seasons we in turn were born, alike neither in body nor in mind, even thy father and I. From him Zeus took away his wits, who left his home and his parents, and went to do honour to sinful Eurystheus, fool that he was: surely in after days he groaned much in lamentation of his infatuate deed: but that cannot be taken back. Howbeit on me God imposed hard labours. O my friend, but do thou quickly take the crimson reins of the swift-footed steeds, and, nursing high courage in thy heart, hold straight on the swift car and strength of swift-footed steeds, and fear not at all the din of murderous Ares, who now with shouting rageth round the holy grove of Phoibos Apollo, the archer prince. Verily, strong though he be, he is like to have his fill of war.’
Then spake to him in turn blameless Iolaos: ‘Friend, verily the Father of men and gods honoureth thy head, even as also the lord of bulls, the Earth Shaker, who keepeth the coronal of Troy and guardeth the city, so strong and mighty a man is this whom they lead into thy hands, that thou mayst win fair renown. But come, do on thine armour of war, that with all speed we may bring close the car of Ares and our own and do battle, since verily he shall not put to flight the dauntless son of Zeus, nor the son of S111-140Iphikles: rather methinketh will he flee from the two children of the son of Alkaius, who are nigh unto him, and yearn to array the strife of war, which things are dearer far to them than is the banquet.’
So he spake, and mighty Herakles smiled, exulting in his soul, for he spake words well pleasing unto him. And he answered and spake to him winged words:
‘O hero Iolaos, fosterling of Zeus, not far off now is rough battle. And as thou wert aforetime wise, even so now wheel everywhere the mighty dark-maned horse Areion, and help as thou mayst.’
So he spake, and set about his legs his greaves of gleaming orichalc, the glorious gifts of Hephaistos. Next about his breast he did on his breastplate fair and golden and of cunning work, which Pallas Athene, daughter of Zeus, had given him when first he was about to essay his dolorous labours. And about his shoulders the terrible warrior put him the sword of iron that should ward off destruction, and athwart his breast he cast behind him a hollow quiver, and within it were many arrows, chilly givers of speech-forgotten death. Their tips were charged with death, and flowed with tears: their midst was polished, exceeding long: their butts were covered with the black eagle’s plume. And he took him his mighty spear, edged with gleaming bronze: and on his valiant head set his shapely helm, carven of adamant, fitted to his temples, which guarded the head of Herakles divine.
In his hands he took his flashing shield, and it did none ever rend with bolt nor crush, a marvel to behold. S141-170All round it shone again with gypsum and white ivory and electrum, and shone with gleaming gold, and folds of cyanus were drawn athwart it. In the midst was a dragon terror unspeakable, looking backward with eyes that shone with fire. Whose mouth also was filled with rows of white teeth, terrible, unapproachable; and on his shaggy brow hovered dread Strife, marshalling the throng of men, ruthless Strife, which took mind and wits from men who carried war against the son of Zeus. Their souls go down beneath the earth within the house of Hades, but their bones, when the skin has decayed round them, rot on the black earth under scorching Sirios. On it, too, were fashioned Charge and Retreat, and Din, and Rout, and Slaughter of Men: and Strife and Riot busied them thereon, and deadly Fate, with one man in her clutch new-wounded, another without wound: yet another dead she haled by the feet through the mellay. And the raiment upon her shoulders was red with the blood of men: terrible her glance and the din of her bellowing. Heads of dread serpents, too, were there, unspeakable, twelve serpent heads that terrified the tribes of men on earth, whoso bore war against the son of Zeus: and their teeth rattled when the son of Amphitryon fought, and brightly shone those wondrous works. And there showed as it were spots on the dread dragons: azure were their backs and blackened their jaws. Moreover, there were on the shield herds of wild boars and of lions, that glared at one another in anger and rage, whereof the ranks advanced together, neither S171-199did they tremble these or those, but bristled their manes alike. For already had they laid low a mighty lion, and by him lay two boars that had given up the ghost, and their dark blood flowed to earth while they, with outstretched necks, lay dead beneath the fierce lions. And both troops were yet the more roused to fight in their wrath, the wild boars and the fierce-eyed lions. Also there was upon the shield the battle of the warrior Lapithai, around prince Kaineus, and Dryas, and Peirithoos, and Hopleus, and Exadios, and Phaleros, and Prolochos, and Mopsos, son of Ampyke of Titaresia, scion of Ares, and Theseus son of Aigeus, like unto the deathless gods, silvern men with golden armour on their bodies. And over against them gathered the Kentauroi round mighty Petraios, and the seer Asbolos, and Arktos, and Oureios, and dark-haired Mimas, and the two sons of Peukeus, even Perimedes and Dryalos, silvern men with golden pine trees in their hands. And rushing together, even as living men, they lunged at one another with spear and pine.
Thereon, too, stood the swift-footed steeds of fierce Ares, wrought in gold, and himself withal, even murderous Ares, bearer of spoils, spear in hand, urging on the van: crimson with blood, as if it were living men he slew, he stood upon his car. And by him stood Fear and Rout, fain to enter the war of men.
Thereon, too, was the Driver of the Spoil, Tritogeneia, daughter of Zeus: like to her, even as if she were fain to array battle, with her spear in her hand, and S199-224her golden helmet and her Aegis about her shoulders, she ranged through the dread strife.
Thereon, also, was the holy choir of the deathless gods, and in the midst the son of Zeus and Leto made sweet minstrelsy on a golden lyre: also the habitation of the gods, sacred Olympos, and the assembly of the gods withal, and round them was wreathed infinite bliss in the meeting place of the immortals; and the goddess Muses of Pieria led the song, like unto clear-voiced singers.
Withal, there was a haven of the raging sea, with fair anchorage wrought in a circle of fined tin, like as it were agitated by waves: and many dolphins in the midst thereof were dashing hither and thither in pursuit of fish, like as if they were swimming, and two dolphins wrought in silver were blowing as they feasted on the voiceless fish. And before them trembled the fishes wrought in bronze. And on the shore sat a fisherman on the look-out. In his hands he held a net for fishes, and he looked like one about to cast it.
Thereon, also, was the son of fair-tressed Danae, knightly Perseus, neither touching the shield with his feet nor far from it, a great marvel to remark, since he was supported nowhere. For so the glorious Lame God with his cunning hands had wrought him in gold, and about his feet he had winged sandals. And athwart his shoulders a blackbound sword of gold hung from a baldrick; and he flitted quick as thought. All his back did the head of a dread monster keep, even the Gorgon’s head, and round it ran a silver wallet, S224-255a marvel to behold, and fringes of shining gold hung down. And about the prince’s temples was set the dread helmet of Hades, that had the awful darkness of night. And the son of Danae, even Perseus himself, was straining like as one hasting and chill with fear, while after him sped the Gorgons unapproachable, unspeakable, fain to seize him. And as they moved on the pale adamant, the shield rang with a mighty din, shrill and clear, and on their girdles two dragons were hanging with arched heads: and these were licking with their tongues, and in fury whetted their teeth, while their eyes glared fiercely. But over their dread Gorgon heads was wreathed great Terror, and the men above them were fighting in armour of war, these warding doom from their city and their parents, those fain to sack them. Many lay low while more yet strove and fought, and on the well-built towers they cried with shrill brazen cry and tore their cheeks, like unto living women, the works of glorious Hephaistos. But the men that were old and whom age had seized were gathered outside the gates; and they lifted up their hands to the blessed gods, fearing for their children, while those again engaged in battle. Behind them the dark Fates, with white, rattling teeth, dread of visage and terrible, bloody and unapproachable, contended for them that fell, and all were fain to drink dark blood. And whomso first they found lying low or falling new wounded, about him would a Fate cast her mighty talons, and his soul would go down to the house of Hades, even to chilly Tartaros. And when S255-285they had sated their souls with human blood, they would cast him behind them and hasten again into the din and tumult of the fray. Klotho and Lachesis stood behind them, and Atropos, of less stature, no wise divinely tall, yet was she of them all most excellent and eldest. Around one man they all arrayed bitter battle, and in their rage glared terribly one at the other, and matched them with talons and bold hands. And by them stood Woe, gloomy and dread: pale, squalid, shrunken with hunger, swollen-kneed, while her finger-nails were long. From her nostrils rheum flowed, and from her cheeks the blood trickled to the ground: unapproachably grinning she stood, and much dust, dank with tears, covered her shoulders.
Hard by was a city with fair towers: seven gates of gold, fitted with lintels, guarded it. And the men took their pleasure in festival and dance.
Some on a car with goodly tyres were leading home a bride, and loud arose the marriage song, and far from the blazing torches in the hands of the servants the gleam was rolled. And they in festal brightness marched in front, and sportive choirs followed them, uttering from soft lips their voice to the shrill music of the pipes, and the echo was broken around them, while they to the music of the lyre led on the lovely choir.
Then again, on the other side, young men were holding revel procession to the music of the flute: those sporting with dance and song, those laughing to the fluteplayer, they one and all moved forward; and joy and dance and festal mirth held all the city.
Others, ploughmen, were breaking up the goodly earth, and were equipped with tunics girt high.
And there was a deep corn land. And some were mowing with sharp blades the curved stalks laden with ears of corn, as it were the grain of Demeter. Others were binding the grain in bands, and filling a threshing-floor. Others with hooks in hand were gathering the vintage, while others again were gathering into baskets from the vintagers grapes white and dark from the great rows, laden with leaves and silver tendrils. Others again were gathering them into baskets. And by them was a vinerow wrought in gold, the glorious work of wise Hephaistos, quivering with leaves and stakes of gold, laden with grapes, and these last were wrought in black. And some were treading the grapes, some were drawing off the juice. Others were contending with the fists, or in wrestling. Others as hunters were pursuing swift-footed hares, and in front of them were two dogs of jagged teeth, fain to seize the hares, while they were fain to escape. By them were horsemen labouring; for a prize they strove and toiled, and on the well-pleated cars were mounted charioteers who urged on the swift steeds with slackened reins, while the jointed cars flew rattling on, and therewithal the wheel-naves cried aloud. Unendingly they toiled, and victory for them was never won, the issue of their contest was evermore unsettled. And for them was set within the ring a great tripod of gold, S313-338the glorious work of wise Hephaistos. Round the shield-rim flowed Okeanos, seeming as if full, and it bound the whole cunningly wrought shield. About the stream of Okeanos the flying swans were crying, swimming full many on the surface of the water, and by them the fishes were thronging, a marvellous sight even to Zeus, lord of the hollow thunder, through whose counsels Hephaistos wrought the shield mighty and strong and fitted it with his hands. That shield the valiant son of Zeus wielded masterfully. And he leapt upon his horse-car, even as the lightning of his father Zeus, the lord of the Aegis, moving with light feet: and his charioteer, strong Iolaos, mounted on the car, guided the carved chariot.
And the goddess grey-eyed Athene drew nigh unto them, and encouraged them with winged words, and said:
‘Hail, offspring of far-famed Lynkeus! Now unto you doth Zeus, the lord of the Blessed Ones, vouchsafe victory, even to slay Kyknos and to strip him of his glorious arms. And another thing will I say unto thee, thou noblest of the host. When thou hast bereft Kyknos of sweet life, then leave him where he falleth, and leave his arms, but do thou thyself watch the onset of murderous Ares, and where thou shalt see him uncovered by his cunningly wrought shield, there wound him with the sharp bronze. But then retire, since it is not allotted thee to take either his horses or his glorious armour.’
So spake the bright goddess, and mounted the car S339-367in haste, holding victory and glory in her immortal hands. Then Iolaos of the seed of Zeus called terribly to his horses, and at his shout they swiftly carried the swift car, raising dust over the plain. For the goddess grey-eyed Athene shook her Aegis and put spirit in their breasts; and the Earth groaned about them.
And those others came on together, like whirlwind or fire, even horse-taming Kyknos and Ares insatiate of battle. Then their horses neighed shrilly face to face, and the echo broke around them. First mighty Herakles spake unto him:
‘Fond Kyknos, why now do ye direct your swift horses against us twain, who are experienced in toil and travail? Nay, drive aside your polished car, and yield to go aside from the way. Lo! I drive past unto Trachis unto King Keyx: for he excels all Trachis in might and in majesty, as thou thyself well knowest, since thou hast Themistonoe, his dark-eyed daughter, to wife. O fond! for lo! Ares will not keep from thee the end of death if we twain meet thee in battle. Ere now methinketh he hath had other experience of my spear, what time in defence of sandy Pylos he stood against me, eagerly yearning for battle. Three times smitten by my spear he pressed the dust, his shield being pierced, and the fourth time I smote his thigh with all my might and main, and greatly tore his flesh; and prone in the dust upon the ground he fell by the impulse of my spear. There would he have been disgraced among the deathless gods, if by my hands he had left behind the gory spoils.’
And even as in a mountain glen a tusked boar, terrible to look on, is minded in his heart to fight with hunters, and swerving aside whetteth his white tusk, and the foam floweth about his mouth as he gnasheth his jaws, and his eyes are like unto blazing fire, and he erecteth his bristles on mane and neck,—even in such wise leapt the son of Zeus from his horse-car. And what time the dark-winged chattering cicala perched upon a green branch beginneth to sing to men of summer—the cicala whose meat and drink is the fresh dew, and all day long and in the morning he poureth S396-423forth his voice in the time of fiercest heat, when Sirios parcheth the flesh of men,—in that season the beards grow round the millet, which men sow in summer, when the unripe grapes are turning, which Dionysos hath given to be at once a boon and a bane to men: in that season they fought, and loud arose the battle din. And as two lions in rage rush on one another about a slain deer, and terrible is their roaring, and terrible withal the gnashing of their teeth, and even as vultures of crooked talons and hooked beaks on a lofty rock fight with loud yelping about a mountain-ranging goat or fat deer of the wilds, which some lusty man hath shot and slain with an arrow from the string, and himself hath wandered otherwhere, not knowing the country; and the vultures quickly remark it, and array bitter battle about the beast: even so they cried and rushed on one another.
Then Kyknos, fain to slay the son of mighty Zeus, hurled his brazen spear against his shield, but he brake not the shield of bronze: the gifts of the god protected him. But the son of Amphitryon, valiant Herakles, smote Kyknos with his long spear beneath the chin, where his neck was exposed between helm and shield: with a swift and mighty blow he smote him, and the murderous ashen spear cut away both tendons: for great was the hero’s strength that fell upon him. And he fell as falls an oak or a beetling rock when smitten by the smoking thunderbolt of Zeus. So he fell, and about him rattled his cunning armour of bronze.
‘Ares, stay thy strong might and hands invincible. For it is not lawful that thou shouldst slay Herakles, the stout-hearted son of Zeus, and strip him of his glorious armour. Nay come, make an end of fighting, and stand not up against me.’
So she spake, but she persuaded not the great-hearted spirit of Ares; but with a great cry, and brandishing his arms like fire, he swiftly rushed on S452-480the mighty Herakles, fain to slay him, and hurled his brazen spear on the mighty shield, keenly angered for his son dead. But grey-eyed Athene reached from the car and turned aside the impulse of the spear. And bitter grief seized Ares, and he drew his sharp sword, and rushed upon stout-hearted Herakles. But as he came on, the son of Amphitryon, insatiate of dread battle, smote him strongly where his thigh was bared of the carven shield, and with the thrust of his spear he greatly rent his flesh, and cast him full upon the earth; and Fear and Rout swiftly drove nigh to him his well-wheeled car and steeds, and from the wide-wayed earth placed him in the carven car, and swiftly lashed their horses and came to high Olympos.
But the son of Alkmene and glorious Iolaos stripped from the shoulders of Kyknos his fair armour, and went their way, and speedily thereafter came with swift steeds unto the city of Trachis. But grey-eyed Athene arrived unto high Olympos and her Father’s halls, while Kyknos on the other hand did Keyx bury, himself and a countless host, even they who dwelled nigh the city of the renowned King in Anthe, and the city of the Myrmidons, and glorious Iolkos, and Arne, and Helike, and a great host gathered them in honour of Keyx, that was dear to the blessed gods. But his tomb and cairn did the Anauros sweep from sight in a flood of winter rain. For so did Apollo the son of Leto ordain, for as much as he had been wont to lie in wait and violently despoil every one who led glorious hecatombs unto Pytho.