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!
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:
- Telamon Aias
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 ⇒