The Parting of Andromache and Hektor

From Homer’s The Iliad
Translated from the Ancient Greek by Ana Guay

Translator’s Note: This series of poems interprets a scene between Hektor, prince of Troy, and his wife Andromache in Book VI of Homer’s Iliad. During a lull in the fighting, Hektor returns to Troy to see his wife and child. Andromache begs her husband not to fight, illuminating the tension between Hektor’s private and public cares; even as he admits his own misgivings, Hektor reminds his wife that it would mean shame to withdraw. The dialogue, which is evocative of a funeral lament, foreshadows Hektor’s eventual death as well as Andromache’s enslavement by the Greeks. Hektor does not foresee the horrible fate of their infant son, who will be thrown to his death from the walls of Troy.

I.

Hektor of the shining helmet went
swiftly, leaving to another leaving.
But his home was empty
of Andromache, his wife,
of Andromache white-armed,
much-giving, and blameless.

Hektor, a dutiful man, believed the gods
would answer his prayers.

Let me never hear my wife taken as a slave
to work the loom and carry water for another,
my name ever a fresh grief upon her.
Let the furtive earth swallow me before this.
And let them say of my son, when he is king,
that he was better by far than his father.

But no man can escape his fate,
neither the coward nor the brave man,
nor the bravest of men,
not even the best of the Trojans.

II.

Andromache thought:
would that I could sink as you fall,
and we could meet there, under the earth.
It would be a kind fate,
but kindness is not something
understood by the gods.

After Achilles had slaughtered
her seven brothers and her father
she had thought she had nothing more
for the Achaians to take away.

Like a madwoman she had gone to the towers.
One day the sweet blood of her own blood
would be from these same towers hurled.
Gods always hear prayers and answer,
in one way or another.

Andromache did not know this,
yet she kept their princely son
far back from the high walls.

He, as beautiful as a shining star,
was held safe in the arms of an attendant.
Astyanax, they called him, lord of the city,
after his father. He was very like his father.

Perhaps to hold him then would have been,
for Andromache, a sorrow too great.

III.

Astyanax screamed to see his father
decked out in the plumes of war.
Hektor must have looked so terrible.
And he must have realized it then,
for he set his shining helmet in the dust
even as he laughed to watch his son.

Even as Andromache, ever dutiful,
smiled through her tears.

What was in her heart was in his too.
She knew: he is dead already.
When he leaves I will mourn him
like a dead man, even as he still lives.
I am holding the hand of a ghost.

Still, she held more tightly.

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