Excerpt from Book 11 of The Odyssey: Hades: The Kingdom of the Dead

The Hades episode of The Odyssey, Odysseus' journey to the underworld, is given the central position in the whole poem: we are literally at its center point. In this episode the hero conquers death. The ghosts of the people whom he loved teach him the meaning of life.

At the climactic moment of the episode, the great hero of The Iliad faces the great hero of The Odyssey.
When Achilles returned to the field of battle, he knew that he was dooming himself.
What does he think now of that decision to die for honor?
What does he dream of doing one last time, fight again at Troy?


Then Achilles' shade came up, son of Peleus,
with those of splendid Antilochus
and Patroclus, too, as well as Ajax,
who in his looks and body was the best
of all Danaans, after Achilles,                                                           
who had no equal.  Then the shadow
of the swift-footed son of Aeacus
knew who I was, and with a cry of grief,
he spoke to me
—his words had wings:*

'Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son                                   600
and Zeus' child, what a bold man you are!
What exploit will your heart ever dream up
to top this one?  How can you dare to come
down into Hades' home, the dwelling place
for the mindless dead, shades of worn-out men?'

"Achilles spoke.  I answered him at once:

'Achilles, son of Peleus, mightiest
by far of the Achaeans, I came here
because I had to see Teiresias.
He might tell me a plan for my return         
                       610  [480]
to rugged Ithaca.  I've not yet come near
Achaean land.  I've still not disembarked
in my own country.  I'm in constant trouble.
But as for you, Achilles, there's no man
in earlier days who was more blest than you,
and none will come in future.  Before now,
while you were still alive, we Argives
honoured you as we did the gods.  And now,
since you've come here, you rule with power
among those who have died.  So Achilles,                        
you have no cause to grieve because you're dead.'

"I paused, and he immediately replied:

'Don't try to comfort me about my death,
glorious Odysseus.  I'd rather live
working as a wage-labourer for hire
by some other man, one who had no land
and not much in the way of livelihood,                               
than lord it over all the wasted dead.
But come, tell me of my noble son—
whether he went off to war or not.                          
Did he became a leader?  Talk to me
about great Peleus, if there's something
you have heard.  Is he still held in honour
among the many Myrmidons? Do men
disparage him in Greece and Phthia
because old age now grips his hands and feet?
I am not there, living in the sunlight,
to help him with the power I once had
in spacious Troy, when I killed their best men        
and kept the Argives safe.  But if I came                        
back to my father's house with strength like that,
though only for the briefest moment,
those who act with disrespect against him,
denying him honour, would soon come to fear
my force, these overpowering hands of mine.'

"Achilles spoke.  I answered him at once:

'To tell the truth, I've heard nothing at all
of worthy Peleus.  As for your son,
dear Neoptolemus, I can tell you
the entire truth, just as you requested.            
I myself
brought him in my fine ship
from Scyros, to join well-armed Achaeans.
And when we discussed our strategies                     
around the Trojans' city, I tell you, 
he was always first to state his own ideas,
and when he talked, he never missed the mark.
The only ones superior to him
were godlike Nestor and myself.  And then,
on the Trojan plain when we Achaeans fought,
he never stayed back in the crowds of men                  
with ranks of soldiers.  No.  He ran ahead,
far out in front.  No man's strength matched his.
In fearful battles he killed many men.
I can't give you the names of all of them,
those he slew while fighting for the Argives.
But his sword cut down the son of Telephus,
brave Eurypylus.  What a man he was!
Many of his comrades, the Ceteians,                                          
were also slaughtered there around him
because a certain woman wanted gifts.*                
He was the finest looking man I saw
after noble Memnon.  And then, when we,
the noblest Argives, were climbing in
the wooden horse crafted by Epeius,
with me in overall command, telling men
to open up or close our well-built trap,
many other Danaan counsellors
and leaders, too, were brushing tears aside,
and each man's legs were trembling—even then
my eyes never saw his fair skin grow pale              
or watched him wipe his cheeks to clear off tears.     
He begged me many times to let him loose,
to leave the horse, and he kept reaching for
his sword hilt and his spear of heavy bronze.
That's how keen he was to kill the Trojans.
Once we'd ravaged Priam's lofty city,
he took his share of loot and a fine prize,
when he went to his ship. He was unhurt—
no blows from sharp bronze spears or other wounds
from fighting hand-to-hand, the sort one gets           
so frequently in battle.  For Ares,
when he's angry, does not discriminate.'

"I spoke.  Then the shade of swift Achilles
moved off with massive strides through meadows
filled with asphodel, rejoicing that I'd said
his son was such a celebrated man.