The Iliad ~ Book IX & Book X

The Iliad Read-along

As we read along, we are experiencing different characters’ aresteias, the peculiar and capricious behavior of the gods, bravery and cowardice and now, in these upcoming chapters we’ll see the art of persuasive reasoning.  The Iliad truly has many things to offer!

The Embassy to Achilles

Ambassadors sent by Agamemnon to urge Achilles to fight (1801) Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Book IX

Panic, the companion of Terror, moves among the Achaians and when a tearful Agamemnon calls an assembly, it’s a dispirited bunch of warriors that he addresses.  He says that in spite of Zeus promising a conquered Ilion, he has deceived them, and the only recourse is to head homeward.  Diomedes finally responds, as the rest of the warriors are stupified.  He disparages Agamemnon’s courage and tells the expedition leader to leave if he wants, but the rest of the Achaians will stay and fight; even if he (Diomedes) is left with only Sthenelos, he will not abandon his responsibility.  The Achaians shout support for Diomedes; Nestor applauds his words as well and deftly unites the warriors to one cause, then later Nestor attempts to persuade Agamemnon to send an embassy to Achilles with gifts, supplication and words of friendship, to convince him to return to the fighting.  Surprisingly, Agamemnon agrees that he was “mad” to offend Achilles and offers so many gifts as to astound, including military prowess, political power and beautiful women as well as Briseis, who he swears he hasn’t slept with. However, at the end of his offer he makes clear that he expects Achilles to “yield place” to him.

Nestor calls men for the embassy, who includes:

  1. Phoinix
  2. Telamon Aias
  3. Odysseus
  4. Odios
  5. Eurybates

Making their way,

“Now they came beside the shelters and ships of the Myrmidons

and they found Achilleus delighting his heart in a lyre, clear-sounding,

… With this he was pleasuring his heart, and singing of men’s fame,

as Patroklos was sitting over against him, alone, in silence

watching Aiakides and the time he would leave off singing..”

(Lines 185-186, 189-191)

Achilles is astounded by their appearance but greets them respectfully and warmly:

“Welcome.  You are my friends who have come, and greatly I need you,

who even to this my anger are dearest of all the Achaians.”

(Lines 197-198)

After Achilles has treated them all to a generous feast, Odysseus urges Achilles to accept Agamemnon’s offer of gifts, to forget his anger and fight, as Zeus is favouring the Trojans and Hektor is a relentless force; they are at the brink of defeat.  However, if Achilles is unable to forgive Agamemnon, think of the other Achaians who will honour him “as a god.”  Achilles counters with a philosophical speech which seems a strange contraction to his Greek worldview:

“For as I detest the doorways of Death, I detest that man, who

hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another.

But I will speak to you the way it seems best to me: neither

do I think the son of Atreus, Agamemnon, will persuade me,

nor the rest of the Danaans, since there was no gratitude given

for fighting incessantly forever against your enemies.

Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard.

We are all held in a single honour, the brave with the weaklings.

A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.

Nothing is won for me, now that my heart has gone through its afflictions

in forever setting my life on the hazard of battle.”

(Lines 312-322)

He has fought too long, seeing Agamemnon take most of the spoils.  Let the Achaians fight without him as they will see his ships departing at dawn.  He despises Agamemnon:

“…. wrapped as he is forever in shamelessness; yet he would not,

bold as a dog though he be, dare look in my face any longer.

I’ll join with him in no counsel, and in no action.

He cheated me and he did me hurt.  Let him not beguile me

with words again.  This is enough for him.  Let him of his own will 

be damned, since Zeus of the counsels has taken his wits away from him.

I hate his gifts. I hold him light as the strip of a splinter.

Not if he gave me ten times as much ….

…. not if he gave me gifts as many as the sand or the dust is,

not even so would Agamemnon have his way with my spirit

until he had made good to me all this heartrending insolence.”

(Lines 372-379; 385-387)

He has two destinies, and it appears that he can choose:

“I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death.  Either,

if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans,

my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;

but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,

the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life

left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.”

(Lines 411-416)

Astonishingly, Achilles counsels:

“And this would be my counsel to others also to sail back

home again, since no longer shall you find any term set

on the sheer city of Ilion since Zeus of the wide brows has strongly

held his own hand over it, and its people are made bold.”

(Lines 417-420)

However, he says, Phoinix, his old foster-father, may stay and return home with him. The aged horseman, Phoinix, has other plans and launches into a lengthy plea for Achilles’s assistance, complete with a tale of Meleagros, another hero, who refused to fight.  He beseeches Achilles to accept the gifts of Agamemnon, as his honour would then be greater with the gifts.  Yet Achilles still steadfastly refuses, and Telamon Aias proposes that they return to the Danaans.  But before exiting, he lectures Achilles, saying that his pride has overcome his loyalty to those who have honoured him, for the sake of one girl.  Interestingly, Achilles’ response is somewhat different from his response to Odysseus and Phoinix; he accepts the wisdom of Telamon Aias’ words, and agrees not to leave for home but will fight only if Hektor reaches his ships.  His fighting will be defensive only.  Patroclus prepares a bed for Phoinix, while the embassy returns, and all are stupefied when Odysseus relates Achilles’ response, however Diomedes instructs Agamemnon that his gifts have stung Achilles’ pride even further.  He believes that Achilles will fight when he’s ready, but for now, they must prepare for battle in the morning.

Detail of Agamemnon from Minerva (Athene) restraining achilles from killing Agamemnon

Detail of Agamemnon from Minerva / Athene restaining Achilles from killing Agamemnon (1757) Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
~ source Wikiart

Agamemnon’s Gifts; Achilles’s Response

First of all, isn’t it a wonderful scene with Achilles playing the lyre while Patroclus reclines against him?  It indeed gives a deeper insight into this warrior who is not only brave but temperamental.  But on to the topic …  So what do you think of Agamemnon’s offer to Achilles to return to battle?  What do you think of Achilles’ response?  Achilles obviously holds no animosity towards the warriors who make up the embassy as he welcomes them warmly and gives them food (traditional guest-host behaviour).  However, with Agamemnon, it’s a different matter.  It isn’t just the fact that Agamemnon took Briseis, as Achilles alluded to a number of circumstances where Agamemnon took more than his fair share of the spoils.  In spite of all the cities that Achilles has sacked, he has not been given spoils equal to his accomplishments; he has felt disrespected by the Argive leader before and Briseis was just the ignition to the fuel.  This is why Achilles categorically refuses Agamemnon’s offer.  Do you think Agamemnon could have offered anything that would have brought Achilles back to the fighting?  The only thing I could think of, would be his complete supplication and humiliation, and we can see that Agamemnon, with his “heartrending insolence,” is not going to supplicate to Achilles; he’s still talking about Achilles giving way to him.  Agamemnon’s ego is bigger than his brain.

Here’s another question: does Achilles owe it to the other Achaians to fight with them?  From Aias’ words, they think so, but no one stood by him when Briseis was taken from him, so it appears that he feels he owes them nothing.  From his point of view, he is not abandoning them because they have already abandoned him.

So knowing what we know now, do you think Achilles’ response is justified?


More Parallels

We’ve already talked about the parallel between the exchange of armour between guest-friends Diomedes and Glaukos and how it was imbalanced as is the cause of the war compared to the enormous conflict and death is has perpetuated.  In this Book IX, we have a parallel of the gifts Agamemnon offers Achilles in atonement for his actions, and the gifts that were offered to Paris by the three goddesses in the Judgement of Paris (see Introduction): prowess in war, kingship over many cities and beautiful women.


A Guide to Rhetoric

The Iliad is known to contain some of the best examples of rhetoric.  For example, Book IX contains the Three Modes of Persuasion (Aristotle): Logos (the rational mode ~ appeal to reason) which is exemplified in Odysseus’ words to Achilles; Ethos (the credibility of the author or speaker) which is exemplified by Aias; and Pathos (appeal to emotion) which is exemplified by Phoinix.  Open The Iliad and on almost any page you can find examples of rhetoric.  Let’s watch for other examples as we read along.

Rhetoricians at a Window

Rhetoricians at a Window (1658-65) Jan Steen
~ source Wikiart

Book X

While the rest of the Achaians slumber, Agamemnon remains sleepless.

“…. such was Agamemnon, with the beating turmoil in his bosom

from the deep heart, and all his wits were shaken within him.” (Lines 9-10)

He decides the wise Nestor may have an plan, rises, dresses in his war gear, and then goes in search of his brother, Menelaus, who is also looking for him.  Lamenting their tenuous position, he bids Menelaus to find Idomeneus and Aias while he searches for Nestor.  Menelaus is also to wake the other leaders, but Agamemnon cautions him to do it with respect and without haughtiness.  Finding Nestor, Agamemnon confesses:

“Terribly I am in dread for the Danaans, nor does my pulse beat

steadily, but I go distracted, and my heart is pounding

through my chest and my shining limbs are shaken beneath me.” (Lines 93-95)

He fears they might be attacked in the darkness.  Nestor reveals that he doesn’t believe Hektor will overcome them and alludes to the return of Achilles.  Yet he maligns Menelaus, feeling Agamemnon does his share of the work.  Agreeing, Agamemnon makes the excuse that Menelaus’ actions are only because he looks to Agamemnon to lead, and in fact, Menelaus came to him and is even now rousing the warriors.  Nestor arms himself, then goes to wake Odysseus, exhorting him to come with them to decide whether to fight or flee.  He then wakes Diomedes and sends him to wake Aias.  They find the sentries alert on duty, which pleases Nestor and they begin their counsel.  Nestor suggests that someone should infiltrate the camp of the Trojans to ascertain their plans, and brave Diomedes volunteers but wishes for a companion for his reconnaissance, choosing Odysseus.  As they set out, Athene sends a heron down to them and they pray for her favour.

Now Hektor, on the Trojan side, is holding his own counsel, offering fine gifts to the man who will go among the Achaian ships to discover whether the Achaians plan to stay or flee and if their guard is down. The Trojans are “stricken to silence,” but Dolon, son of Eumedes, offers to makes the sortie, but he is spotted by Odysseus, on his recon with Diomedes, who swears that he will not escape.  At first, Dolon believes that two Trojans are following him, but when he spies Odysseus and Diomedes, he flees in terror.  Diomedes sends a spear flying at him, missing on purpose, and Dolon stops his flight, begging for his life and promising them ransom, as he reveals his mission and gives a detailed description of the Trojans layout and fortifications.  He pleads to them to leave him, as they discover the truth of his words, but Diomedes has no mercy and beheads him.

They now head to where Dolon revealed the Thracians’ camp, newly arrived and away from the rest of the Trojans.  As the Thracians sleep soundly, Diomedes goes among them, slaughtering mercilessly as Odysseus drags the corpses away.  Taking the horses of the butchered king, and at the behest of Athene, they return to the Achaian camp.  Apollo, seeing Athene assisting them, is outraged and wakes a Thracian who sees the carnage, and the Trojans are in uproar.  Meanwhile, Odysseus and Diomedes are congratulated by their countrymen and praised by Nestor.  Taking up their spoils, they wash off their sweat in the sea, bath in bathtubs, anoint themselves with olive oil, and sit to dine, pouring an offering to Athene.

Diomedes and Odysseus Strealing Rhesus' Horses

Diomedes and Odysseus Stealing Rhesus’ Horses
~ source Wikipedia

The Leadership of Agamemnon

A check in to see how you are finding Agamemnon as a leader based on his recent actions?  He has taken Achilles’s woman, Briseis; he has apparently taken more than his fair share when they have conquered cities; he’s stubbornly refused to return Briseis up to this point; he’s suggested they make a run for home twice; he’s denigrated some of his other warriors, including Diomedes, and now, which I find rather fake, he makes certain the warriors are addressed with respect (when he seemed to have had no thought for this before).  I cannot respect him as a leader at all.  I believe he brought the most ships and the most money AND he has the sceptre of Zeus, but I cannot respect his character.


Translation Note

Some scholars have left out this chapter in their translation, feeling it is not part of The Iliad (why, I don’t know).  However, why you would remove something that has been included for thousands of years is puzzling and I don’t think wise. So I think I’ll ignore those scholars.


⇐ Book VII & VIII                                                                           Book XI & XII ⇒

18 thoughts on “The Iliad ~ Book IX & Book X

  1. Many great points.

    First, something unrelated. I visited your well educated mind list, and it’s impressive. I saw you have Tartuffe, by Molière. I have read some of Molière plays, which are very short, and they are super comical and witty. I hope you find a rhymed one in English if you get to read any. In Spanish they are translated in rhyme as the original, and that makes them extra good for some reason.

    Love the parallelisms. And can’t help agreeing with that which you see. I like how you argument Achilles situation, and I too think only Agamemnon apology would have changed his position. Agamemnon is showing his true face, and he is not looking to be a worth leader.

    I’m glad you ignore the scholars. I’m with you in this too.

    Finally, I have a question for you, what is your opinion of Odysseus so far? I want to make an opinion of him to compare him to the Odysseus of the Odyssey, because you said he looks different in both books.

    Now for real, I hope this connection is not out of place. When reading some chapters of the punic wars by Polibius and some chapters by Livy, there’s one instance in which two Roman generals are sent to battle together, and it doesn’t go well at all (very different approach), and one that has the upper hand or most power, tries to set the other one up for failure. I simply mean that two men such as these two are one too many. And Achilles got the worst out of Agamemnon. If Achilles had been the one with ultimate power, would he have abused it and humiliated Agamemnon as Agamemnon did to him? Or are these men this way because they had those characters from the start?

    • Commenting on my comment, lol, I do see Agamemnon lacks luster completely as a leader, and he has not treated Achilles well for the reasons you mention, and that’s unpardonable. Maybe he lacks the more virtuous character proper of Achilles. I must continue reading.

    • That’s great to hear about Molière! I’ll look forward to reading him and take your advice about the translations!

      As for my opinion of Odysseus, I find him more noble and solid in The Iliad. With the Odyssey, I have more questions about his character. There are a few decisions he makes which are rather selfish and short-sighted in The Odyssey. It’s hard to explain exactly the difference. I think it’s the tone of both the poems which are different as well. I’m keeping an open mind but right now my complete uneducated guess would be the two were composed by different composers. However, that’s my opinion only.

      I don’t think Agamemnon and Achilles’ conflict is a conflict of power. I forgot to mention it in my post (I should add it as an edit), but Achilles did not owe Agamemnon anything. He was not one of the oath-takers, as he was not one of Helen’s suitors. So he signed on expecting to get glory and Agamemnon must have agreed to this. However, once committed, Agamemnon is not giving Achilles the glory=spoils that he expected or deserves. He (Agamemnon) promised him glory but is not only not giving it, he has now taken it away. Seen this way, Achilles’ wrath is understandable. If Agamemnon had held to his promise, all would have been well.

      • About Odysseus. I read the Odyssey a few years ago, and I still remember that selfish behavior as you mention, different from how noble and solid I’ve seen him in this reading of the Iliad.

        True. I keep forgetting that Achilles doesn’t owe Agamemnon anything.

        I just read those pages today. I forgot that, when we hear tent, I think about ‘camping’, ha ha ha, but Achilles playing the harp, and how he received the messengers, how lavish his tent or tents.

        Yes, Achilles tells the soldiers to forget about it and go home. He’s disenchanted about this war, and he mentions that apology, and his distrust about Agamemnon’s offer. (He’s not kept his part of the deal before. It’d be fair to say that Achilles’ wrath is understandable.

        Back in Agamemnon’s camp, though, Diomedes laments Agamemnon’s offer of those many presents, in his eyes, this has only inflated Achilles’ pride.

        We know Achilles’ position is understandable. Do the Greeks have a belief system in which a person can sacrifice pride and understandable wrath for a greater cause? (I know the end, and I want to say yes. But, so far, the other men’s pleas are not moving Achilles, neither is he going to submit to Agamemnon without him truly apologizing.

        • “. Do the Greeks have a belief system in which a person can sacrifice pride and understandable wrath for a greater cause?”

          The issue is honour and glory, and pride and wrath are only the by-products of Agamemnon’s theft of Achilles’ honour and glory. There is nothing above honour and glory for the Greeks …. it’s their “everlasting life”.

          I suppose if another circumstance that depended on honour and glory arose, Achilles could choose between one or the other but I can’t see him forgiving Agamemnon.

          Someone made a great point about the gifts Agamemnon offered Achilles; he offered him countless cities but they were all under Agamemnon’s domain so, in effect, Achilles would be his vassal. Achilles might have seen that as yet another insult. Agamemnon is either so obtuse or his ego is so inflated that it’s staggering!

  2. I’ve got your questions and thoughts printed out to have next to me as I read these two sections. I read most of your commentary first too. So I think I’m ready now to dive in. 🙂 I’ll be back in a few days hopefully to add in my comments.

  3. One of the points I remember from reading Iliad last year was not only my complete lack of respect for Agamemnon, but the feeling that Homer didn’t seem to think much of him either. I can’t precisely remember why I thought that, but he certainly is not painted in a good light. It may be, as was discussed in your previous post and comments, that this is not a story of good vs. evil, but it is certainly a story heroes and antiheroes.

    • I agree about Agamemnon, however I don’t feel a personal bias from Homer. He seems to simply be relating what Agamemnon has done. His character speaks for itself. Yet in spite of his behaviour, the warriors are still willing to have him seen as leader. I find that curious, especially considering the people he has wronged/insulted, including Diomedes. Ha, ha, I think many of them have shown anti-hero tendencies; even Odysseus was at one point running for his ships. However, I think this portrayal is partly to emphasis not the weakness of certain warrior’s characters, but more to emphasis how the Trojans were becoming stronger and the Greeks very survival was imperiled.

      • I replied above before reading this. I thought the same, how the warriors still are loyal to Agamemnon, despite how many he’s wronged/insulted. Still Diomedes, as you say, shows disgust with Achilles for not coming along to their files and inciting the men to go back home.

    • Aw, why are you feeling out of your league, Karen? What translation are you reading again? If it’s too much, try getting your hands on a Fagles translation. That might help!

      The Odyssey read-along will begin April 1st. I’m taking March off to recover, lol! 😀

      • I’m just not picking up on so much that you all are. 🙂 I feel like I’m doing good to get the basic storyline still. Ha! By yesterday afternoon, I was ready to throw in the towel since I’ve already read it, and just come read your posts and the discussion. I don’t want to be burnt out to the point that I don’t want to tackle the Odyssey.

        But I will say, I felt a bit more encouraged late last night. My husband and I somehow got on to the topic of Greek gods and goddesses and demi-gods and he was sharing about one of the Greek myths and it sounded an awful lot like Paris being able to pick who he thought was the most beautiful woman and him picking Helen. So I told my husband, are you sure you’re not talking about Paris and Helen? But he thought some more and remembered more of the story and it wasn’t the same. But I told him all about Paris and Helen and we got to talking about the women in the story of the Iliad and how they were treated and I was actually able to have a conversation about the storyline of the Iliad and discuss some of the aspects of it. It was basic….but it was still encouraging for me. I thought, okay, even if the reading feels tedious and I’m feeling confused or lost off and on as I read it, I’m still picking up on *some* things and can talk about it more now than I could when I read it the first time. Of course, I attribute some (or a lot!) of that to reading your posts and the discussions. Because ya’ll help me see so much more than I pick up on just in my own reading.

        I’m reading the Lattimore translation. But I read the Butler translation last year and it was still tedious and I didn’t remember much from it.

        • I heard Susan Wise Bauer speak once … she’s the author of The Well-Educated Mind. She said when reading classics, don’t expect to “get” it all the first time. That’s why they’re classics … because they’re so multi-leveled and insightful, you can read them over and over and still get something out of them. She said, even if you only understand 30%, keep going! You’re still better off than when you started. I’ve always remembered these words and they’ve helped me get through some difficult works.

          Absolutely! It’s so beneficial to have someone to actually talk with and that can enlarge understanding.

          I’d still recommend getting the Fagles translation and trying it out. It might not be as close to the original as Lattimore, but it might help, as I believe it’s somewhat clearer.

          I admire your perseverance, Karen!

          • Thanks Cleo, I know the response was for Karen but the comment about understanding only 30 % was encouraging to me. I was beginning to question whether I shouldn’t be putting more into to this reading, while at the same time feeling like the researching was starting to take away some of pleasure of discovering this story.
            I continue to love reading all the comments but have given myself permission not to stress over it.

          • Please don’t stress over it. You’ll never get ALL of it at once. This is my second or third read but my fifth or sixth of half the book, so I have a good overview already. Just pick moments that resonate with you and enjoy those. 👍

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