Writing Assignment – Week 6

Much of Scroll Eleven is Agamemnon’s “aristeia” (= greatest epic moments). At one point, in the slaying of Isos and Antiphos, he is brought into direct comparison with Achilles (11.101-121). But what exactly is the nature and purpose of this comparison? How does this comparison relate to Agamemnon’s role elsewhere in a poem that claims to be about the “wrath of Achilles”? Is Agamemnon the “villain” of the story, a “foil,” a “father-figure” to Achilles? Or something else? Please be very careful to cite your evidence from the text.

*Please* be sure to respond to and engage with at least one other post (unless you are initial).

NB: Initial posts should be 350-400 words; each reply should be around 100 words.

10 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 6”

  1. At this point in the story, it seems like Agamemnon is the villain of The Iliad. From lines 104-106, it shows Achilleus showing mercy and letting two of his captives live to fight another day. He goes with the solution that makes everyone happy: Isos and Antiphos get to keep their lives and Achilleus gets war spoils. Achilleus becomes the hero Isos and Antiphos because he didn’t mercilessly kill them. But Agamemnon takes another, darker road. He decides to kill these two people without a second thought, like a devil from the depths of Hades. From lines 113-119, Agamemnon is compared to a predatory lion and the two Trojans are compared to a weak, scared deer. Agamemnon is on such a killing path that he is killing something that were easily spooked and already running away for their lives.

    • Mary, I really like what you’ve said and I agree completely. However, I think Agamemnon is more of a foil rather than a villain when compared to Achilleus. Looking beyond Agamemnon’s aristeia in book 11, we see many examples of when Agamemnon’s decisions have failed him while Achilleus’ choices have not. I think we see an example of this comparison first arising in the very beginning of The Iliad when the two men were arguing over what to do with Briseis. Achilleus’ idea to return her to her father, one of Apollo’s priests, would of pleased the gods, unlike Agamemnon’s wish to keep her as a mistress. And as we well know by now, Agamemnon’s actions only made Apollo frown on the Greeks and send the plague on them.

      • I like that you pointed out how often it seems Agamemnon’s actions do not work out for the good. However, in book 11 he successfully takes down many Trojans. It is unusual for us to see Agamemnon in this capacity. Agamemnon has always served as leader of the Greeks troops but we never see him actually fight. In fact, we rarely see him doing a very good job of leading either. Leading up to this aristeia Agamemnon has not necessarily been a villain but also has not appeared as a hero or wise leader. Achilles repeatedly calls him “shameless” (I.158, 9.372), his supposed position of power granted by the gods is frequently undermined by those technically below his rank (9.32ff), and he appears incompetent in leading/inspiring his troops (ex. 2.139-41 – tries to use reverse psychology and fails). For this reason I would agree with you, Breanna, that Agamemnon is not so much a villain but rather a foil. His poor choices, while sometimes intentionally to spite Achilles, are generally just foolish, not villainous.

    • Mary, I can see why you would cast Agamemnon as the villain especially with how he was characterized in this passage, but I agree that he is more of a foil. I think the comparison of Achilles and Agamemnon in this passage was supposed to convey more of a contrast between the two as opposed to making Agamemnon a villain. It shows that the two can be seen as night and day. Achilles settled for ransom, while Agamemnon fought til the death. Also, to follow the prompt in saying that Book 11 is about Agamemnon’s aristeia, I believe that that was another key point in this passage. It was less about villainizing him and more about his epic moment. From 11.113- 121, I think the vivid description is trying to show Agamemnon’s greatness as a warrior, especially seeing that he has failed many times in the past (like Megan mentioned).

  2. I can certainly see that, as Agamemnon is not made out to be someone we should like or really be cheering for, and seems to treat everyone like crap. Even in his apology to Achilles he is only trying to get Achilles back for his sake, making it unlikely that he even feels bad for what he did to Achilles. The interesting thing to note here to is that the gods of many greek mythological stories are made into villains in a way, at least to a reader in the 21st century, but here the only thing they’ve done wrong is support both sides simultaneously, thus prolonging the war to be far longer than it should be.

    • Brandon, I like how you bring up prolonging the war. I never thought about it that way. Who is the villain for the mortals that is really prolonging the war? Is it Agamemnon or Achilleus? I don’t think this war would be this long if Agamemnon hadn’t taken away Briseis. I wonder if he knows this and that is why he is so furious. In this battle scene, even though he is seen as merciless, he is matching Achilleus rage and merciless. Agamemnon may not have let these two people live, but they are also enemy warriors, going to battle, and prepared to die. Achilleus is sulking in his boat killing a lot more warriors that are on his side just because he lost a toy. When you think about is this way, Achilleus seems like the bad guy and Agamemnon is the hero trying to clean up the mess he accidently made.

    • I think both of y’all have really great ideas but I thought I would bring up the idea of how much of the bad luck that has befallen the Greeks is really Achilleus’ fault? Sure, while Achilleus is a great warrior and the Greeks are defiantly at a disadvantage without him, Zeus is also doing a lot of work of making sure things go in the Trojans favor so Achilleus can gain his honor back. And sure, we can say it is Achilleus fault for asking his mother, Thetis, who in turn talked to Zeus, but at the same time Zeus is a god whose actions cause much bigger effects than a mortal. At the end of book 12 when the Trojans are trying to break through the Greeks’ wall, Hektor attempts to grab a huge boulder. He is becomes successful when “the son of devious-devising Kronos made it [the boulder] light,” allowing Hektor to throw the boulder at the gate and crush it (12.450). Suddenly, the war is in the Trojans favor once more because of Zeus’ assistance.

      • Breanna, I completely agree with your point. Even though Agamemnon has a glorious aristaia, it means almost nothing unless the gods are on his side. In this way it may have even been better for him to spare Isos and Antiphos, for they are the sons of Priam and Priam is a powerful character who may have favor with the gods. In addition the two sons are compared to “the innocent young of the running deer, and easily crunches and breaks them in the strong teeth” (11.113-11.114). The two sons are not described as predators that match Agamemnon’s power so in this way I may disagree with the point I made previously and the point brought up in the discussion that killing these two warriors would help end the war. In this way, Agamemnon is shown as a villain.

        • Clara, your reference to Priam and his possible favor with the gods is interesting as Agamemnon is described as having been given the right “to be king over the people” by Zeus directly (9.96ff). This is something I forget because we rarely see the gods stepping in to support Agamemnon but there is, at least, some indication that his power is god given and it may be the case, then, that he too has favor with the gods. Yes, Agamemnon does slaughter these two mercilessly even though they had no chance of receiving help (11.120), but in the ancient context of the poem, is this a villainous act? Are certain slaughters of war justified and others not (the answer may be yes, but why would this one be unjustified?)? It seems in other circumstances we could argue that Achilles was the villain when he chose to let these two go for ransom, taking a prize and allowing these warriors to fight his own people once again. In my opinion, this moment is just yet another instance of Agamemnon asserting his power of Achilles. By slaughtering these two warriors that Achilles let go free, he is finishing something Achilles could not (or at least that may be how he sees it).

  3. In book eleven, we see that Agamemnon shows no mercy during his “aristeia”, even when he encounters Isos and Antiphos. In this passage Agamemnon reflects on how Achilles “released them for random” showing mercy on the men while financially gaining from the situation (11.106). Agamemnon compares this to how he “struck Isos with the thrown spear” and “Antiphos by the ear with the sword and hurled him from his horse” (11.108-11.109) taking no such pity on the men. While Achilles gives these men pity, Agamemnon does not even show them the honor of not taking their armor. In this way, Agamemnon is a shown as a villain. Agamemnon is even compared to a lion that “seizes the innocent young of the running dear” stressing the fact that he has no mercy and is a villain for killing something so young, innocent, and unthreatening (11.117).
    From another perspective, however, where Achilles is merciful, he can also be shown as week, as he has lets Isos and Antiphos fight on the Trojans side by sparing them. This intern could have lead to the death of numerous Achaians. Agamemnon, on the other hand, takes the role of the strong father, not letting Isos and Antiphos live to fight another day. He does not allow these “young of the dear” to grow up into a strong creature. In this way Achilles is shown as a young idealistic son who has pity in his heart, and Agamemnon is shown as someone who is a little wiser and accustom to the ways of war.
    In both cases Agamemnon is shown as the opposite of Achilles. This passage is used to contrast the different fighting styles, and humanitarian works of both men. In addition the aristeia of Agamemnon would have made it out of character foe the king to spare anyone.

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