hector: tamer of horses

Tamer of Horses, pts 2 and 3

Since these are vignettes, some of them are really short, so here’s two of them!

It was not long before little Hector was sneaking from the high citadel, running joyfully through the grasses that reached to his chubby belly. Always by the time his panicked nurse found him, an old woman apparently prone to fits of dozing, he would be swimming at my surface or playing in the mud at my bank. She would grab him roughly by the ear, scolding him and ignoring his squawks of protest. “Your parents will have my hide if they find out I’ve lost you again!”

Head tilted painfully as he stumbled after her, he would always shout, “They’ll be mad if you rip off my ear, too!” She would let go. Scowling and glaring, with a a longing glance back at my wide expanse, he would reluctantly follow her back to the high walls of Ilion. He was a child always hungry for the openness of the plain and the feel of the wind in his dark, wavy hair.

The stars wheeled in the skies overhead, seasons turning, and the chubby child was growing into a lean, swift young man. In the mornings now he would be on the plain outside the city walls, practicing with a spear and shield. His teacher was a middle-aged man called Xanthos, forearms knotted with thick muscles and puckered scars. He walked with a limp on rainy days, but his back was as straight and proud as an ashen spear, formidable as a flood. There were other boys in his teaching, too, the sons of noble houses. Hour after hour, every day, he drilled them in the art of war. He taught them the simple moves first, the thrust and the block and the parry, then the more complex moves; how to combine them, how to make the shield and spear as much a part of you as the hands that held them.

  He taught them to flow like water, graceful and never still: swift as a raging flood at times and slow as a nearly-dry creek at others. Never in all my long life have I seen a man move so effortless as Hektor, even then, before the beard darkened his cheeks and the muscles grew lean and hard from war. He learned to fight with the certainty of water flowing, the greatest gift I had given him, one that would earn him a reputation as the best fighter the Trojans could bring to battle. Just as water flows through rock and carves its way through something much stronger than itself through sheer persistence, so did Hector learn to fight. But there is one thing more inexorable than water cutting through stone, and fate, like water, has a will all its own.

Decided to share a little bit of one of my pet projects that I’ve been working on for a while, although not recently because of my crazy schedule. I know we have some Greek mythology buffs around here, so here’s the first piece I wrote of a Trojan War story. It’s a series of vignettes told by the Scamander River about Prince Hector. And because it’s about Hector, of course it’s called Tamer of Horses.

    It was many years ago that I first beheld the tamer of horses; cradled against the chest of his fretful mother. She was young then, Queen Hecuba, looking down at her firstborn as if his small, flushed face were the sun itself. Her husband guided her by the elbow, showing no sign of the stooped grey-beard he would become. He murmured soft reassurances half-heartedly in her direction, knowing her attention was focused only on her child.

    She dropped to her knees on my bank, moving in the slow, careless manner that marks hopelessness. The babe in her arms was frightfully still, and as she unwrapped his blankets I saw the rapid, shallow rise and fall of a too-thin chest. Hearty babies at that age should be chubby and lively, but this child was neither. Even the pattering of his mother’s tears on that flushed skin didn’t rouse him.

    With an impatient grunt, King Priam took the baby gently from her, ignoring her shrill, howling protest, and waded into my depths. I thought with a stab of panic he meant to drown the babe, and the shrieking madwoman that followed him evidently thought so, too. Instead he cradled his son gently, submerging him up to his chin in my cooling embrace. “Hush, woman, do you think I would kill my own heir?” He scowled at her, and she looked sheepishly into my clear depths. “The priest said he had to be bathed in the river to break the fever, hey? Make yourself useful and sing a paean to the river god.”

    She obeyed, swaying slightly with my quick snow-swollen current, singing in a voice hoarse from long crying. The despair in her touched me, as the suffering of mortals sometimes does. She feared the loss of her son more than the loss of her own life. I am only a minor deity, but I sent what strength I could into the frail babe. I did not know yet who he would become. I have wondered, in the long years since, if I would have done otherwise had I known. Would I have let him pass softly into the underworld, there never to suffer? But if I had not helped him, some other god would have. He was not fated to die yet. When she finished her song, wiping tears from her cheeks with her wet gown, Priam placed the babe back in her arms. His eyes were open now, green as a stagnant stream.

    “His eyes were not that color before,” Hecuba’s voice shook.

    Priam glanced down at his son, smiling. “Skamander marked him.” He leaned down to gently kiss the baby’s forehead. “Prince Hector, beloved of the gods.”

I don't know why this irritates me so much...

So after reading one of our translations of the Iliad, I’m paging through our other, newer one, which I’ve never read before (yes we have two, you can never have enough different translations of something)

and I’m irrationally irritated by the fact that Hector’s main epithet, which I’ve ALWAYS seen translated as “tamer of horses” is here written as “breaker of horses.”

I guess it technically means the same thing, but “breaker” has more aggressive connotations, while “tamer” is pretty neutral, and, to me, fits better with Hector’s character. Also, I’m just used to it, and don’t see why it ought to be changed.