This is based on a very striking passage in the Iliad, in which Achilles is laying waste to the Trojans and comes across Lycaon, one of Priam's young sons, who goes down on his knees and begs Achilles to spare him because he was not one of those who had killed Greeks and he was only half-brother to Hector, who had killed Patroclus. But Achilles insists that all Trojans will die for the death of Patroclus and of the other Greeks, and then, calling Lycaon his friend, tells him that all, even he, Achilles, will die. Achilles then cuts off his head, throws Lycaon's body into the River Scamander (further angering the river-god, who hates Achilles) and taunts him, saying that little fish will come and eat the white fat of Lycaon. It is a very old-style pagan passage: terrible savagery and human sympathy side by side with no sense of contradiction, full of resignation and revenge at one time, showing the full range of human emotion in one bewildering mix, simultaneously plausible and strange.
Achilles to Lycaon Before the Death-Blow
You too, my friend, you too must die;
Why then beg mercy, weep tears, and cry?
Others have died, of great heart and loves true,
Heroic in passion; yea, better than you.
And death rules all, even I, yea, I,
It hangs over all like a thundering sky.
Come morning, come evening, come sun-searing noon,
My life will be taken, too swift and too soon,
By some arrow shot, or some spear made to stray,
And down I will fall, and leave realms of day.
Why then beg mercy, or tremble and cry,
When you, my friend, you, you also must die?