Thursday, January 10, 2013

Before the War Ends

When he was an old man, Nestor fought alongside Achilles, Ajax, Odysseus, Menelaus, all the great Greek warriors in the siege of Troy that lasted for ten years.  When he was young, Nestor was an Argonaut, part of a league that included Jason and the legendary Hercules.  His comrades in the Trojan War knew this because he was constantly talking about it.

Now, just imagine what that would have been like.  He was not just an old man by the time of the Trojan War, but biblically old, far beyond the advanced age typically associated with our ancestors, well past his hundredth birthday.  He was no good in battle, but well-respected as an elder, counselor, and leader of men.  When he talked about the good old days, the heroes of the Trojan War were chastened.
Well, just imagine…

I remember it as if it were only yesterday, and I’m referring, of course, to our landing here on the shores of Ilium, we Greeks and our thousand ships.  When we disembarked, it was as if a massive tidal wave of humanity descended on the beach, the greatest storming in history.  The Trojans were ready, and hurled great balls of molten fire at us.  Many fell in an instant, never to wake again, but we were not to be chastened, not by the Trojans, not by the theft of the wretched Prince Paris of our Helen, the lost bride of Menelaus.  Mighty Agamemnon was ever marshalling us forward, from the day the plan was hatched to that great landing.  Many were the oarsmen who cheered when we reached those shores, for they would not drive us onward again until we have achieved our goal.  We had no idea it would take so long.
I herald these warriors, not for what they achieved, just as I do not chastise them for failing to succeed swiftly; rather, because they were all great men when we set out, like the bright rays of Apollo, full of life and vigor and ready to fight to the very death against those who would protect the adulterer Paris, brother of brave Hector, son of the wise Priam, children of all those who mastered the stallions of Troy. 
I can still recall how strong each of them were in their convictions, prideful but not without cause, even the troubled Achilles, who challenged the might of Agamemnon and lost, who has gone sulking in the tents of his Myrmidons.  I have seen many of these champions fall in battle since that landing, their crimson blood soaking the ground they fought on, lost to worthy foes who don’t understand their cause for the folly it represents.  We Greeks will win, in the end. 
My only regret in this age is that my age has seen so many years, that I am an old and shriveled warrior, incapable of supporting with my own strength these men who give so freely, too many, for too long.  Many nights have I sat restless in my tent, weeping at my own futility.  Many friends have tried to cure me of this melancholy, reminding me of all that I still do for them, the encouragement and sage advice they value like succor, or the many glorious tales I impart, freely, of the days long ago when I walked and fought alongside great Hercules, tamer of lions, bender of rivers, who conquered every labor set before him, even death.  I’m told I speak too much of those days, and I smile, because in my own mind, in my own dreams, those are the days I wish were still spread beneath the bright rays of Apollo.
This is what I say to Achilles, when I visit the tents of the Myrmidons, this is what I speak of, the sturdy example of Hercules, what Achilles could be if only he was in person what his men, what the whole of the Greek and Trojan armies already believe him to be, the greatest warrior who ever walked the earth.  I beg of him to forget his own slight misfortunes, the girl stolen from him like a thief in the night by cunning Agamemnon.  It is true, I tell him, that Hercules was among the most gifted of lovers in his own day, who tamed the wild hearts of Amazons, but he, too, was betrayed by his heart, with fatal consequences, journeys to the underworld of Hades and beyond.  Would it not be wiser to learn from the tales of Hercules, I hasten Achilles to realize, than sit amongst his Myrmidons in their tents instead of leading the charge of the mighty Greek armies against Hector and the horse-breakers of Ilium?
Hercules was wild in his day, too, and that is one reason why he no longer walks in the land of mortal men, and I do.  I have failed just as surely as the Greeks have in their siege of Troy, to bring about a speedy conclusion, and despite all my accolades, despite the pride men have in my presence, I cannot but feel myself a failure.  I have thought day and night as to how we might end this folly, reclaim Helen, the lost wife of Menelaus, and chastise the sons of Troy, yet day and night I am forced to reflect anew on the enduring struggle, the lost lives of champions, and the spreading chasm from the day we first landed until now.
I have spoken too often of the days of my youth, when men were gods among us, mighty Hercules the best of them all, but hardly the last of them.  I was counted among the Argonauts, led by courageous Jason, and I daily meditate on the belief that we Argonauts alone might have succeeded in this quest long ago, not without hardship, not without loss, but in sure victory, which even now causes me to wonder if I shall live to see it.  I hide behind my frailty, and the strength of other men, and bold words, but what is that to a committed child of Ilium, should our defenses, our ramparts and our shields, at last fall?  What if bold Achilles refuses to reenter the fray, proud Agamemnon refuse to relent in his pride, and the strongest of us fail in our offensive?  What if cunning Odysseus fails in calculating how best to defeat the horse-breakers of Troy, and should never see his wife and child again?
The gods, the gods are committed against us.  They plot and they toil amongst themselves, and daily interrupt our fortunes, the destiny all the Greek nations and hosts dreamed of, were assured by signs, and fought for since the landing on the beaches of Ilium, with so many brave warriors lost beneath the sands, never to embrace their kin again.  What right do these gods have, who are as much subject to us as we are to them?  Many a Greek must surely have viewed me as among those divine, so legendary were my exploits, and those I walked among, like strong Hercules, and yet was I so great as to live up to so much?  I sit in my tent and wonder the night away.
The thousand ships remain anchored on the shores of Troy, and I sometimes wonder if it would not be better to steer Achilles and his Myrmidons back to the sea, and return home.  Since Achilles has already chosen to forsake our Greek armies, and time has already stolen the best of my powers, would it not benefit all if we were gone, and no longer sitting in the sand fretting over the fortunes of our brethren?  Too many games have I attended in celebration of lost heroes, too broken in spirit and conviction, fearful that the day must inevitably come when I myself have joined those ignoble but glorious ranks, and not on my terms, but at the spear of a Trojan warrior, trampled by their magnificent stallions.
Too often have I argued with stubborn Agamemnon, pleaded with him to relent of his jealously towards Achilles, son of the gods we all cherish, but fear to meet too soon.  Too often have I heard Agamemnon repeat the same arguments, that it is the duty of one so mighty as Achilles to fight, and the pleasure of one so glorious as Agamemnon to enjoy the spoils of war, while just as often Achilles to speak of his pride, and the comfort of a soft woman beside him in his tent, which he suffers without now because of that same pride.  I wonder if the rigors of my age have confused what mighty Hercules would have done in such circumstances, if I have not augmented the pleasures of the past to spite the fortunes of the present.
Will this torment never end?  Will we Greeks not succeed in our great effort against Priam and his sons and all those who conquered stallions for the sake of Troy?  Ten years we’ve been here, ten years and never a word from home.  What might our neighbors think, those who remained behind, those who never understood the necessity of our quest, who doubted the very honor of Helen?  Might they have already declared ours to be a lost cause, from the moment our thousand ships set sail?  We boasted of victory before we ever left, and already there were murmurings of our folly.  I was among those who believed most fiercely of the inevitable victory, the swift defeat of Troy, of the joyous reunion between Helen and Menelaus, and now even I have come to doubt it, all of the warm tidings I had thought already written across the face of the earth, joined with the glorious days of my youth, when I walked beside Hercules and brave Argonauts.  I am an old fool.  There is no longer any use in denying it.
Yet there are days when I confess this weakness to Achilles, and he chastens me to remember myself, to remember the days of my youth, among the mighty Argonauts, the great victories then as surely there will be now, shining like the bright rays of Apollo across all mankind, Greek and Trojan alike, undeniable despite our many hardships, even those of brave Achilles, who confesses that even he sometimes wonders about the wisdom of his decisions, if spiting the prideful Agamemnon is worth the powerful doubt he observes within me.  I cherish him most then, not in the memories of his cunning on the battlefield, but in his humanity, the thing he recognizes in the aged face before him, the wrinkled visage he will never see reflected from himself, doomed by his own glory.  In this courage, I feel the strength to believe our cause is not lost, despite how it seems in the inglorious moment, when all of our strength clashes against the Trojans like great waves in the heart of Poseidon’s ocean, beneath the stormiest of Zeus’s skies, ineffectual as an old man fearful of the present, the past, and all that lies before him.
I boast of my days with Hercules, with the Argonauts, and all the great champions of the past, while those of the present sacrifice themselves to the torment of an unending war, against a foe represented best not by the cowardly and lustful Paris, but by his brave and loyal brother Hector, breaker of stallions and true son of Priam.  Many will fall before one side claims victory, and somehow I will not be among them.  That is not my fate, and this I believe just as I still believe that we will prevail, that the walls of Ilium will fall, Helen will be reclaimed, Menelaus will cheer, and all the thousand ships of the Greeks will return home in triumph, while Troy burns to the ground.  Ours is not the final nor greatest age the shining rays of Apollo will ever know, but we will have done our part, and I will have celebrated mine, relished the pleasures of my age, and finally, finally enjoyed a deserved rest.        

No comments:

Post a Comment