Achilles Fights the River
"the river roared."
- The Iliad, Book 21, line 19
Achilles takes his fight to the Trojans as Book 21 of the Iliad begins with the Trojans routed, one half blocked by Hera with the other half "packed in the silver-whirling river," (line 9). Achilles slays Lycaon, son of Priam, and Asteropaeus, son of Pelegon. Then he goes after the Trojan's allies from Paeona, beating and hacking them "in a blur of kills" (line 235). The blood of the men is so thick that the river rose and,
"taking a man's shape, its voice breaking out of a whirlpool:
"Stop, Achilles! Greater than any man on earth,
greater in courage too --
for the gods themselves are always at your side!
But if Zeus allows you to kill off all the Trojans,
drive them out of my depths at least,"
(lines 239-45) -
But Achilles proceeds to attack and fight the river itself. Continuing until the gods recognize that this cannot stay. Poseidon and Athena come to him and advise him, "It's not your fate to be swallowed by a river:" (line 328). The gods take over from this point and the book chronicles the spectacle of battles among the gods, mirroring the battles of the men below. even through this the river remains a thread that cannot be forgotten. The Trojan's and Hector's days in particular are numbered from this point onward.
The Iliad by Homer. Robert Fagles, trans. Viking Penguin, New York. 1990