The King, the Soldier, the Slain
By Sara Chopra
τοὺς δ’ ἔλαθ’ εἰσελθὼν Πρίαμος μέγας, ἄγχι δ’ ἄρα στὰς
χερσὶν Ἀχιλλῆος λάβε γούνατα καὶ κύσε χεῖρας
δεινὰς ἀνδροφόνους, αἵ οἱ πολέας κτάνον υἷας.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἄνδρ’ ἄτη πυκινὴ λάβῃ, ὅς τ’ ἐνὶ πάτρῃ
φῶτα κατακτείνας ἄλλων ἐξίκετο δῆμον
ἀνδρὸς ἐς ἀφνειοῦ, θάμβος δ’ ἔχει εἰσορόωντας,
ὣς Ἀχιλεὺς θάμβησεν ἰδὼν Πρίαμον θεοειδέα:
θάμβησαν δὲ καὶ ἄλλοι, ἐς ἀλλήλους δὲ ἴδοντο.
τὸν καὶ λισσόμενος Πρίαμος πρὸς μῦθον ἔειπε:
μνῆσαι πατρὸς σοῖο θεοῖς ἐπιείκελ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ,
τηλίκου ὥς περ ἐγών, ὀλοῷ ἐπὶ γήραος οὐδῷ:
καὶ μέν που κεῖνον περιναιέται ἀμφὶς ἐόντες
τείρουσ’, οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν ἀρὴν καὶ λοιγὸν ἀμῦναι.
ἀλλ’ ἤτοι κεῖνός γε σέθεν ζώοντος ἀκούων
χαίρει τ’ ἐν θυμῷ, ἐπί τ’ ἔλπεται ἤματα πάντα
ὄψεσθαι φίλον υἱὸν ἀπὸ Τροίηθεν ἰόντα:
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ πανάποτμος, ἐπεὶ τέκον υἷας ἀρίστους
Τροίῃ ἐν εὐρείῃ, τῶν δ’ οὔ τινά φημι λελεῖφθαι.
πεντήκοντά μοι ἦσαν ὅτ’ ἤλυθον υἷες Ἀχαιῶν:
ἐννεακαίδεκα μέν μοι ἰῆς ἐκ νηδύος ἦσαν,
τοὺς δ’ ἄλλους μοι ἔτικτον ἐνὶ μεγάροισι γυναῖκες.
τῶν μὲν πολλῶν θοῦρος Ἄρης ὑπὸ γούνατ’ ἔλυσεν:
ὃς δέ μοι οἶος ἔην, εἴρυτο δὲ ἄστυ καὶ αὐτούς,
τὸν σὺ πρῴην κτεῖνας ἀμυνόμενον περὶ πάτρης
Ἕκτορα: τοῦ νῦν εἵνεχ’ ἱκάνω νῆας Ἀχαιῶν
λυσόμενος παρὰ σεῖο, φέρω δ’ ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα.
ἀλλ’ αἰδεῖο θεοὺς Ἀχιλεῦ, αὐτόν τ’ ἐλέησον
μνησάμενος σοῦ πατρός: ἐγὼ δ’ ἐλεεινότερός περ,
ἔτλην δ’ οἷ’ οὔ πώ τις ἐπιχθόνιος βροτὸς ἄλλος,
ἀνδρὸς παιδοφόνοιο ποτὶ στόμα χεῖρ’ ὀρέγεσθαι.
ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἄρα πατρὸς ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο:
ἁψάμενος δ’ ἄρα χειρὸς ἀπώσατο ἦκα γέροντα.
τὼ δὲ μνησαμένω ὃ μὲν Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο
κλαῖ’ ἁδινὰ προπάροιθε ποδῶν Ἀχιλῆος ἐλυσθείς,
αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς κλαῖεν ἑὸν πατέρ’, ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε
Πάτροκλον: τῶν δὲ στοναχὴ κατὰ δώματ’ ὀρώρει.
Slipping unseen past the soldiers, Priam, in his majesty, knelt at Achilles’ side
And grasped the half-god’s knees, pressing his lips to his hardened hands—
The leathery fingers, blister-burnt palms, the man-killing hands that had emptied out Troy’s palace.
And just as when a youth, lured by foolish anger,
Kills one man and flees his homeland for the shores of another,
Where he breaks bread with a wealthy patron, where all who see him stand silent in amazement—
Achilles himself now sat speechless, seeing the Trojan king at his feet,
And the slack-jawed Achaeans at his side exchanged a wide-eyed glance.
Tremoring, great Priam broke the silence, bowing to Achilles:
“Think of your father, goddess-born son of Peleus,
By now he is surely like me, worn with years, teetering on the threshold of old age.
Think of the neighbors back home: they must be relentlessly knocking at his door
As he locks himself inside, alone—no son to defend him, none to silence the harassment.
But still, even this man, when he hears a wind-whispered rumor that you live,
Delights in the hope that one day, he’ll see his son making his way up the road home from Troy.
So he is not like me—unlucky me, to whose prayers Olympus has grown deaf,
Pitiful me, whose sons, the best in all of great Troy, will never again ascend the palace steps.
When you first pitched this tent, Achaean, fifty pairs of feet echoed throughout my halls:
Nineteen princes given life by the same queenly mother,
And other brave sons born from the palace’s women.
But Ares, boiling over in his fury, crushed the knees of each brother
Until one—one alone—remained: the protector of our city, our people, our Troy,
He whose blood you spilled, several sleepless nights ago, as he stood for the walls of Ilium—Hector.
And now, for his own sake, I lay myself down here before the keels of the Achaeans
To free him from your grasp, bearing countless riches to buy back a priceless son.
Step down before the gods, son of Thetis, and be moved by the sight of me,
Imagining the figure of your poor father in Phthia. For I am far more worthy of your pity
Having lived through a pain that no other man upon the earth will ever know:
I have brought my lips to the hand that robbed me of my final son.”
His words stirred up within Achilles a longing to weep for his own father,
And taking his hand, the half-god gently pushed the frail king away from his feet.
Together, the two let their memories overcome them:
The old man reached out for his son, the slayer of men,
And sputtered with thick sobs, writhing in his grief before man-slaying Achilles,
Who wept for his distant father, and time and time again grew choked up with longing for Patroclus,
Until their wails became a single cry, flooding the tent with tears.
When I read the final book of the Iliad in Greek this spring, this scene between Priam and Achilles stood out to me for its distinct portrayal of the two; the passage defines these characters by their humanity rather than by their societal positions or opposition in war. In my free-verse translation, I aim to emphasize the core of each character in this moment—Priam is a father enduring the deaths of his sons, and Achilles is a son who knows he will die far from his own father and homeland. My rendition seeks to show the evolution of their relationship, from a king and soldier tied together by a slain warrior’s death to two men connected by the fundamentally human sense of loss.
Sara Chopra (College ’22) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classical Studies, Consumer Psychology, and Ancient History.