Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Asia Minor: Scamander (Xanthus), the River


By Homer (fl. 850 B.C.)

(From The Iliad, Book XXI)
Translated by W. C. Bryant

AND then Achilles, mighty with the spear,

From the steep bank leaped into the mid-stream,

While, foul with ooze, the angry River raised

His waves and pushed along the heaps of dead

Slain by Achilles. These, with mighty roar,

As of a bellowing ox, Scamander cast

Aground; the living with his whirling gulfs

He hid, and saved them in his friendly streams.

In tumult terribly the surges rose

Around Achilles, beating on his shield,

And made his feet to stagger, till he grasped

A tall, fair-growing elm upon the bank.

Down came the tree, and in its loosened roots

Brought the earth with it; the fair stream was checked

By the thick branches, and the prostrate trunk

Bridged it from side to side. Achilles sprang

From the deep pool, and fled with rapid feet

Across the plain in terror. Nor did then

The mighty river-god refrain, but rose

Against him with a darker crest, to drive

The noble son of Peleus from the field,

And so deliver Troy. Pelides sprang

A spear’s cast backward,—sprang with all the speed

Of the black eagle’s wing, the hunter-bird,

Fleetest and strongest of the fowls of air.

Like him he darted; clashing round his breast,

The brazen mail rang fearfully. Askance

He fled; the water with a mighty roar

Followed him close. As, when a husbandman

Leads forth, from some dark spring of earth, a rill

Among his planted garden-beds, and clears

Its channel, spade in hand, the pebbles there

Move with the current, which runs murmuring down

The sloping surface and outstrips its guide,—

So rushed the waves where’er Achilles ran,

Swift as he was; for mightier are the gods

Than men. As often as the noble son

Of Peleus made a stand in hope to know

Whether the deathless gods of the great heaven

Conspired to make him flee, so often came

A mighty billow of the Jove-born stream

And drenched his shoulders. Then again he sprang

Away; the rapid torrent made his knees

To tremble, while it swept, where’er he trod,

The earth from underneath his feet. He looked

To the broad heaven above him, and complained:

“Will not some god, O Father Jove, put forth

His power to save me in my hour of need

From this fierce river? Any fate but this

I am resigned to suffer. None of all

The immortal ones is more in fault than she

To whom I owe my birth; her treacherous words

Deluded me to think that I should fall

Beneath the walls of Troy by the swift shafts

Of Phœbus. Would that Hector, the most brave

Of warriors reared upon the Trojan soil,

Had slain me; he had slain a brave man then,

And a brave man had stripped me of my arms.

But now it is my fate to perish, caught

In this great river, like a swineherd’s boy,

Who in the time of rains attempts to pass

A torrent, and is overwhelmed and drowned.”

He spake, and Neptune and Minerva came

Quickly and stood beside him. In the form

Of men they came, and took his hand, and cheered

His spirit with their words. And thus the god

Neptune, who makes the earth to tremble, said:

“Fear not, Pelides, neither let thy heart

Be troubled, since thou hast among the gods,

By Jove’s consent, auxiliars such as I

And Pallas. It is not thy doom to be

Thus vanquished by a river. Soon its rage

Will cease, as thou shalt see. Meantime we give

This counsel; heed it well: let not thy hand

Refrain from slaughter till the Trojan host

Are all shut up—all that escape thy arm—

Within the lofty walls of Troy. Then take

The life of Hector, and return on board

Thy galleys; we will make that glory thine.”

Thus having spoken, they withdrew and joined

The immortals, while Achilles hastened on,

Encouraged by the mandate of the gods,

Across the plain. The plain was overflowed

With water; sumptuous arms were floating round,

And bodies of slain youths. Achilles leaped,

And stemmed with powerful limbs the stream, and still

Went forward; for Minerva mightily

Had strengthened him. Nor did Scamander fail

To put forth all his power, enraged the more

Against the son of Peleus; higher still

His torrent swelled and tossed with all its waves,

And thus he called to Simoïs with a shout:

“O brother, join with me to hold in check

This man, who threatens soon to overthrow

King Priam’s noble city; for no more

The Trojan host resist him. Come at once

And aid me; fill thy channel from its springs,

And summon all thy brooks, and lift on high

A mighty wave, and roll along thy bed,

Mingled in one great torrent, trees and stones,

That we may tame this savage man, who now

In triumph walks the field, and bears himself

As if he were a god. His strength, I deem,

Will not avail him, nor his noble form,

Nor those resplendent arms, which yet shall lie

Scattered along the bottom of my gulfs,

And foul with ooze. Himself, too, I shall wrap

In sand, and pile the rubbish of my bed

In heaps around him. Never shall the Greeks

Know where to gather up his bones, o’erspread

By me with river-slime, for there shall be

His burial-place; no other tomb the Greeks

Will need when they perform his funeral rites.

He spake, and wrathfully he rose against

Achilles,—rose with turbid waves, and noise,

And foam, and blood and bodies of the dead.

One purple billow of the Jove-born stream

Swelled high and whelmed Achilles. Juno saw,

And trembled lest the hero should be whirled

Downward by the great river, and in haste

She called to Vulcan, her beloved son:

“Vulcan, my son, arise! We deemed that thou

And eddying Xanthus were of equal might

In battle. Come with instant aid, and bring

Thy vast array of flames, while from the deep

I call a tempest of the winds,—the West,

And the swift South,—and they shall sweep along

A fiery torrent to consume the foe,

Warriors and weapons. Thou meantime lay waste

The groves along the Xanthus; hurl at him

Thy fires, nor let him with soft words or threats

Avert thy fury. Pause not from the work

Of ruin till I shout and give the sign,

And then shalt thou restrain thy restless fires.”

She spake, and Vulcan at her word sent forth

His fierce, devouring flames. Upon the plain

They first were kindled, and consumed the dead

That strewed it, where Achilles struck them down.

The ground was dried; the glimmering flood was stayed.

As when the autumnal north-wind, breathing o’er

A newly watered garden, quickly dries

The clammy mould, and makes the tiller glad,

So did the spacious plain grow dry on which

The dead were turned to ashes. Then the god

Seized on the river with his glittering fires.

The elms, the willows, and the tamarisks

Fell, scorched to cinders, and the lotus-herbs,

Rushes and reeds that richly fringed the banks

Of that fair-flowing current were consumed.