Writing Assignment – Week 5

The embassy to Achilles in Book 9 marks our first encounter with the hero since he departed the fighting in Book 1. In his reply to Odysseus (9.307-429), Achilles sets out his rationale for refusing the gifts and promises offered by Agamemnon. Through a careful reading of this speech, discuss the arguments that Achilles puts forth and elucidate what it is, exactly, that Achilles identifies as his reason for not returning to battle. As you consider your response, pay close attention to the structure of Achilles’ speech as a whole and the rhetoric he employs throughout, keeping in mind how other characters (and especially Phoinix) react to what the hero says. You might also consider how this Achilles is or is not like the Achilles we meet in Book 1 (i.e. how he has or has not changed since the argument with Agamemnon?) and if his reasoning changes between his answers to Odysseus, Phoinix, and Aias. As you think through this passage and Book 9, it might be helpful to consider other instances in the Iliad in which a character (mortal or immortal) changed his or her mind, and why. Be very careful to cite your evidence from the text.

17 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 5”

  1. “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.” Achilles is not like most men of these stories, who desire wealth and women. Despite being offered the opportunity to fill his “ship and load it deep as you please with gold and bronze” after they win the war, Achilles clings to the past and is angry with Agamemnon despite his plea. The appealing party sent by Agamemnon takes the time to explain all of the possible things that Achilles will acquire should he return to battle victorious with them, and yet he sets his greed aside, almost as if he had none, and allows anger and pride to take over and prevent him from returning to fight what he believes is now Agamemnon’s fight. What is interesting here is that Achilles seemed to be loyal to his fellow soldiers and Agamemnon, for he was fighting for his country, but now that he has left them he no longer feels the ties of loyalty, and seemingly has no problem with abandoning them, even when they come to make peace. He states that he will not continue the fight against the Trojans unless they attack his ships, and intends to go home no matter how much anyone, Odysseus, Ajax, or Phoenix argues with him. Unlike the originally seen Achilles who is a war hero to his people, this Achilles is now uncaring of how his once fellow soldiers will fair in the battle to come. He chooses a long and simple life, rather than a short and glorious one.

    • Brandon, I love your response to this prompt. You covered a lot of the key attitudes of Achilles that struck me in this reading. Achilles contradicts the priorities we have seen up to this point. He is holding the idea of having a long life above great remembrance and glory in death. His attitude is most clear and, in my opinion, most astonishing from line 410 to 420 of book 9. Here he admits that if he goes back to battle his “glory shall be everlasting” and if he refuses and just goes home “the excellence of [his] glory is gone” (9.413-415). However, fully acknowledging this he chooses to go home and advises that others do the same (9.417f). All of this seems to connect back to his concept of fate. He excuses his actions by asserting that “Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard” (9.318). However, if all men held this attitude why would anyone do anything? Why would men honor the gods and make “righteous” choices? Achilles is allowing his fight for his hubris to cast out his respect for his people and his gods.

    • I agree with your prompt Brandon, saying that Achilles does’t go after the more obvious choice, money and women. But, he goes after glory, honor, and respect and can’t get over the fact that Agamemnon took Briseis from him. I also agree with how you mentioned that early on in the iliad, Achilles was a war hero and valiant soldier but now he’s throwing tantrums and picking the long simple life, instead of the short life filed with kleos.

    • I agree that with you Brandon, that Achilleus is being very prideful- just as prideful as in book one. He’s upset that a toy was taken from him, and he isn’t entirely ready to forgive that. He feels wronged by someone that is his equal value, if not his lesser. But I don’t think that is his only reason for refusing. Agamemnon is offering things that Achilleus doesn’t need. He already has glory from all the other places he has sacked. His dad has stuff that will be passed down to him. I think he’s tired of fighting another man’s battles. On lines 651-654, Achilleus talks about how he doesn’t care to fight the Trojans because they haven’t harmed him. Only when they come to his home and start attacking him, will it be war.

    • Brandon, you make valid points about where Achilles is characteristically speaking, in the epic thus far. We need Achilles to “abandon” his duty of fighting as a reminder of his mortality and the necessity of his anger in the war. We need him to bounce back, doubly angry and fight an even harder battle – this is his fate, not a long life lived out in the country. You’re correct, he doesn’t seem much interested in wealth or money, except for Briseis whom he loves “from my heart even though it was a spear that won her” (9.343). His anger and pride cloud his judgement and most of his heart (he does have a special relationship with Patroclus too, of course) and this is what makes him such a valuable piece to this puzzle of war.

    • Brandon, I think you have a lot of valid points but I do disagree slightly on the last point you made about Achilleus no longer being a war hero because he is choosing to go home and live a long life rather than staying at Troy and dying with honor. For one thing, he actually doesn’t leave Troy. After hearing Aias argument and reasoning why he should stay and rejoin the battle, Achilleus says that he still won’t rejoin the fighting, but not because he is going home. Instead, he says “I shall not think again of the blooding fighting until such time as the son of wise Priam, Hektor the brilliant, comes all the way to the ships of the Myrnidons… slaughtering the argives,” (9.650-653). Plus, I think Achilleus would have been declared a war hero had he actually leave Troy and gone back home. He was one before Troy, and I’m sure he would have been one afterwards as well because that is just the kind of person he is. And there’s the chance he may have been looked at with praise for leaving Troy and refusing to fight for someone who insulted and disgraced him. Just another possibility for Achilleus, though we will obviously never know.

    • Brandon, I think the points you made were good. I disagree that Achilles was so loyal in the beginning. Yes he was a great warrior, but it was in Book 1 that he gave up fighting for the Achaians, so we never really got to see him as the loyal soldier we try to portray him as. He was upset with Agamemnon’s greed and demeanor then and he has those same feelings toward him now. I think him not returning is less about him wanting to live a long life without glory and more about his hatred for Agamemnon. He says “Go back and proclaim to him all that I tell you, openly, so other Achaians may turn against him in anger.” (9.369-370) I think he’s being spiteful, but covering that up with his “need” to leave, settle down, and live a long life.

  2. Odysseus tells Achilles in a long speech to end the dispute between him and Agamemnon. He also tells him if he doesn’t come back, then all of the Greeks will die. Achilles tells Odysseus that neither him nor anyone else will win him back. He loathes Agamemnon. He basically says he was the one doing everything, but reaping none of the benefits, like a pawn. He was always the one risking his life, while Agamemnon took the lion’s share of the prizes, just as he took Briseis. He says the Greeks have built themselves a wall and that it’s unnecessary, if he was fighting Hector. But he doesn’t choose to fight Hector. He says tomorrow he shall be on his way home, with all his prizes, except Briseis, the one that got away. He tells Odysseus to tell Agamemnon where to stick his gifts, and his daughter. He also boasts about his power and influence saying he can get wealth, or a wife any time – but he can never get another life. He also says the Greeks will have to find some other way to save themselves. The Greeks are like a team without their star player. Achilles’ advice is to forget about taking Troy, and all sail home and to tell Agamemnon that his offer has been met with absolute rejection. He warns Phoenix that if he goes on pleading to Agamemnon, he may lose him as a friend. Achilles grows agitated and wants Odysseus and Ajax to leave his place by signaling Patroclus to make up his bed. Ajax is mad and before he leaves he calls Achilles arrogant and selfish. Achilles rage is as bitter as ever, and he issues a proposition. He will not fight, until Hector sets fire to the fleet, and reaches the huts and ships of his own followers, the Myrmidons.(Lines 336-344)

    • This characterization of Odysseus is great; it highlights his tactical nature, his careful, subliminal messaging that fills his language. In class tonight for USM we talked about the one thing Odysseus left out, and that was lines 9.160-162 where Agamemnon says he promises all this so long as Achilleus will agree that Agamemnon is “kinglier” and the elder. But, like you say, Joseph, that doesn’t change Achilleus’ mind. For a list of reasons (you gave a lot of them) Achilleus won’t accept all the gifts Agamemnon has offered. Despite Odysseus’ clever words, and his careful choice of presentation, Achilleus isn’t swayed. I think this is all indicative of Achilleus’ inner turmoil that has arisen; he’s faced with fighting and dying, or leaving and living. It seems evident now, with Agamemnon’s offer having been refused so quickly, that Achilleus has decided on living rather than eternal kleos in death.

      • Michael, I like how you pointed out Odysseus left out that Achilleus had to say Agamemnon was better than him. It makes it seem like this fight between Achellius and Agamemnon is really a fight about war prizes. I feel like Agamemnon felt threatened by how much glory Achilleus was obtaining and decided he should be knocked down a peg. The only way Agamemnon knew to do that was denying Achilleus in public. This was the best way to establish his dominance over Achilleus. But Achilleus knows that , so he denies Agamemnon’s gifts as if to say, “you’re not the boss of me.”

        • Mary, that is a really interesting point. I never thought to think that there was a possibility Agamemnon felt threatened by the amount of glory, war prizes, and respect by the other Greeks Achilleus was gaining. But it does make sense. Agamemnon comes off as an extremely pompous and arrogant character and I can totally see him being insulted or afraid of Achilleus’ rising popularity. What is sort of ironic about the situation though is that, like many of Agamemnon’s other “brilliant” ideas, by trying to put Achilleus back in his place, Agamemnon just worsened his own reputation. Now he is the king that was stupid enough to offend the Greeks’ best warrior and hope for winning the war.

    • Reid, I think you have a very good point when you say that Achilles feels like a pawn. I believe part of the reason he refuses to go back into the Trojan war in because he feels dishonored. Agamemnon decided to wield his power over Achilles even though Achilles is a very valuable soldier, and even knows he will lose his life in battle young. Also when you say that Ajax calls Achilles arrogant I believe that because he cannot fathom that Achilles would let the entire Achaian army fail because Achilles felt insulted by Agamemnon.

  3. “..illustrious, when you went from the shelter of angered Achilleus, taking by force the girl Briseis against the will of the rest of us, since I for my part urged you strongly not too, but you, giving way to your proud heart’s anger, dishonored a great man, one whom the immortals honor, since you have taken his prize and keep it. But let us even now think how we can make this good and persuade him with words of supplication and with gifts of friendship.” This successful invocation from Nestor elucidates several meanings of conflict between Agamemnon and Achilleus and the current dire predicament the Achaians find themselves in. I understood this passage as another reminder of how egregious the injustice that was done to Achilleus, and the fact that proud and boastful Agamemnon had to admit his wrong doings makes it very evident how strongly virtue and honor is held in the ancient culture in the Iliad. And as brilliant Odysseus attempts to persuade Achilleus, “ Yet even now stop, and give way from the anger that hurts the heart. Agamemnon offers you worthy recompense if you change from your anger.” And goes on to list the gifts Agamemnon is willing to give. I identify this two statements because I feel that it further bolsters and legitimizes Achilleus’s decision to stay out of war because he was dishonored. It eludes to us the worth of the entire world is not equal to the honor one must fight to have. This conflict between Agamemnon and Achilleus is as critical as the war waged on Troy. And that has to do with the personal grievances towards each other, that has to do with pride an honor of the king of kings that must not be subjected to the pride and will of one warrior even if he is favored by the immortals, and that of the strongest warrior that feels he deserves more glory than a king. The need for Nestor and Odysseus to mediate sets the stage for Achilleus justified speech to deny the war.

    • I think that you’ve nailed a lot of the reasons for tension between these two; it’s the honor (Achilleus’ honor) that’s so valuable in this culture that Agamemnon has wounded. For that, Achilleus can’t forgive. I think there’s more to it all, too. In lines 9.316-322 Achilleus says that much of his unforgiving anger comes from the fact that after all this fighting, Agamemnon is still selfish; Achilleus thinks that he has seen “no gratitude for fighting incessantly forever” He argues that a man who doesn’t fight receives death just as much as one who does. It seems to me that he’s arguing that choosing to live rather than die in battle is just as honorable.

  4. Mohamed, “This conflict between Agamemnon and Achilleus is as critical as the war waged on Troy” so very true. It’s almost like a war within a war, right? Yes, Agamemnon is king and yet Achilles knows he is worth more than what he has been given. We know this to be true because he is indeed favored by the gods and is not entirely mortal, as proven by his decision of fate. Not every man gets to make that decision. (Or do they?…) Achilles may be justified in wanting the war to end because he feels it’s an unnecessary fight, but he is also acting this way because the girl he stole from fighting a good fight was stolen away from him. His argument may not be entirely about the war but a realization that no matter how hard he fights, there will always be someone “kinglier” to take away the medals of his hard work.

  5. Achilles refuses Agamemnon’s offer for a number of reasons. After hearing what Agamemnon has promised, Achilles says “we are all held in a single honor, the brave and the weaklings” (9.318-9.319)and “All the other Achaians he has taken and keeps the bride of my heart” (9.335-9.336). Through this we can see that Achilles feels dishonored as a warrior for Agamemnon took his one most treasured bride after all Achilles had given up to fight for the Achaians. In addition Achilles knows he will die in battle and feels that his Klaos is not worth his life if the Agamemnon does not appropriate him. In addition in chapter nine Achilles has trouble dealing with thetime in war, almost as if he has post dramatic stresses he states ” I lay through all my nights unsleeping, such as I wore through all the many bloody days of the fighting” (9.325-9.326). The glorious men who try to persuade him to get into the war cannot seem to fathom that he does not wish to go after the glory he originally was so eager to go after. Phoinix in particular tells of the story of Melegros to persuade Achilles. In the story, Melegros goes into battle too late and does not receive glory and all the prizes war has to offer. In this sense Melegros does fight but all the positives of war are lost on him. The Achaians leave without persuading Achilles and cannot see why he cannot ” beat down your [Achilles] great anger” and say that it is not his to have a ” pitiless heart” (9.396-9.397). What they do not realize it that it will take more than Kleaos, war prizes, and the promise of land to persuade Achilles. It will be his anger, morning, and lust for revenge that brings Achilles back into the Trojan war.

    • Clara, I love the way you stated what it will take to get Achilles back in the war. It will take his anger. It was his anger that caused Achilles to leave the fighting and it will take an even greater anger to convince him to fight once again. At the end of book nine Diomedes explains to Agamemnon that it was not good for him to supplicate Achilles because “he is a proud man” and now he is only driven “deeper into his pride” (9.698-700). Still filled with rage at the injustice served him by Agamemnon, Achilles asserts that no amount of gifts could win him over (9.385). A proud man will not be bought with bribes. So yes, it will be his anger that drives Achilles back into war but it will be a new kind of anger – an anger born out of sorrow and bent on vengeance.

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