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.

14 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 5

  1. Paulina Horton

    In order to understand why Achilles would refuse Agamemnon’s gifts we have to look at what he is “giving” Achilles. Even though Agamemnon’s gifts seem like an extremely generous offer, most of them are meant to subordinate Achilles to him. By making him his son-in-law (9.141 to 9.148) Achilles his son basically, and as a son of Agamemnon Achilles would have to recognize Agamemnon as the patriarch of the family, but since Achilles isn’t actually his son he would never inherit his title to eventually share the same status as him. That would go to Orestes and Achilles would basically be forever subordinate to Agamemnon’s family. Even at the end of his list of gifts to give Achilles Agamemnon attaches a stipulation saying that Achilles must recognize that he is the kinglier one of them (9.160 to 9.161). So even though it sounds like Agamemnon is being generous he is actually just trying to assert his dominance over Achilles.

    Now looking at Achilles’ argument, I think his main reason for refusing Agamemnon’s gifts is that he realizes that Agamemnon is a hypocrite. This entire war was started because Paris took the wife of Menelaus, but then Agamemnon does the exact same thing as Paris by taking Briseis from Achilles. Achilles calls him out on this in lines 9.337 to 9.343. Achilles also feels as if he is the only one being dishonored since he was the only prince to have his prize taken from him (9.334 to 3.336). Lastly his main other reason for refusing is because he recognizes that he is under appreciated. He does most of the fighting (9.323 to 9.333) but receives very little credit (9.314 to 9.317). Despite the fact that Odysseus promises that the rest of the Achaians will worship him like a god (9.302 to 9.303) Achilles knows that they won’t because they weren’t doing it before even though they knew he was the greatest fighter. Ultimately Achilles realizes that this entire meeting has little real meaning (9.312 to 9.313) and refuses to return because his honor won’t be completely returned.

    Despite his continued stubbornness, the Achilles in this book is much different from the one in Book 1. He is a man of words in this book and not just an angry warrior. He clearly and forcefully explains why he is refusing the gifts and does so in a logical and non-belligerent way. Though his companions don’t agree with him, he never once insults them or accuses them of being against him. After Phoinix’s plea he even considers changing his mind (9.612) because he hates to see his father figure upset. Even though he isn’t as tender with Ajax and Odysseus he continues to remain respectful to his friends.

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    1. Teresa Plummer

      Hi Paulina,

      I agree that Achilles “clearly and forcefully explains why he is refusing the gifts.” I think it is interesting how his arguments change slightly depending on who he is addressing. In his first speech, he is addressing “brilliant” Odysseus who clearly and logically explained his argument. In response, Achilles logically lays out a number of arguments from we all die whether we fight or not (9.318-320) to I can either gain glory and lose my life or gain my life and lose glory (9.411-416). After Phoinix, “the aged horseman” who is like a father to him, makes a more emotional appeal, Achilles responds emotionally, almost pleadingly, not arguing, but asking him to stay with him, share equally with him, and then decide together the next day whether to leave or not (9.616-619). After Aias “the godlike” almost orders him to stop being angry and return to the fight for the sake of his fellow Achaians, Achilles responds more forcefully and tells him that he won’t fight until Hektor gets to the ships (9.650-655). All three men have different approaches to Achilles and he responds differently to each of them. I think it is interesting that it is Patroklos, who was silent during this meeting, that finally brings Achilles back into the fight.

      Terri

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    2. Alicia Wooten

      To be honest, I am not entirely sure what my opinion on Achilleus’s motivations are, so for discussion’s sake I am going to play devil’s advocate.

      Maybe Achilleus just does not want to die. At the beginning of his first speech, Achilleus says, “I detest the doorways of Death” (9.312). One of the first thing Achilleus mentions is his hatred of death. Agamemnon offers Achilleus great amounts of material goods, but to Achilleus, these gifts will not matter. What is the point of having a lot of stuff if you are just going to die before you can really appreciate it? One of Agamemnon’s great gifts to Achilleus is Achilleus’s choice of Agamemnon’s daughters should they return home safely, but Achilleus knows he will die in battle. This gift is completely pointless because Achilleus knows he will die before he can claim it. In Book 1, Achilleus says, “I for my part did not come here for the sake of the Trojan spearmen to fight against them, since to me they have done nothing” (1.152-153). Achilleus is not personally invested in the war, so he might as well decide to go home and live.

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      1. Paulina Horton

        I agree with you Alicia. Achilles definitely doesn’t want to die, but at the end of the day he wants to win glory more. Despite all of his talk about going home he never does. He could’ve left when Agamemnon first insulted him, but he stayed and he is going to stay again. He may not be personally invested in the war, but he wants to undying glory which can only be attained through battle. I think if Achilles could he’d like to be able to live and gain glory, but he can’t. So even though he knows he’s going to die, so Agamemnon’s gifts are worthless to him, I still think he refuses them mainly to spite Agamemnon not because he knows he’s going to die at Troy.

        Reply
        1. Alicia Wooten

          In truth, I think Achilleus refuses Agamemnon’s gifts for a combination of both reasons. Book 1 is evidence that Achilleus has no problem speaking his mind and pouting over his precious pride. If it is just Achilleus’s damaged honor stopping him from re-entering battle, why would he even mention the prophecy of his death? In his speech, Achilleus says, “we would bring them [treasures] back, and give them to Agamemnon, Atreus’ son; while he, waiting back beside the swift ships, would take them, and distribute them little by little, and keep many” (9.331-333). Achilleus calls out Agamemnon again for being selfish, so clearly Achilleus is still angry with Agamemnon. This means the prophecy cannot be the only thing holding him back. It must be a combination of not wanting to die and being angry at Agamemnon.

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      2. Sarah Lister

        Hi Alicia,

        I hope you don’t mind me replying to your comment, but i found it really interesting that you brought up the not wanting to die issue – even playing “devil’s advocate.” I always sort of assume that it’s a given that people don’t want to die, and sort of brushed off his remarks about death because I figured that the glory would have outweighed the fear of death, since glory seemed to be something everyone wanted, but after reading your comment, I went back and reread the passage, and I think you have a point. He wouldn’t have bought up death unless there was a reason, whether he was trying to argue or he was truly afraid to die – and with the prophecy, it makes sense that he’d be worried about death. Thank you for making me go back and reread! 🙂

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      3. Pascha Seda

        I agree with you completely Sarah. It is in us as human being to have fear and I do believe want of the greatest and most hating fears of all is of death. Although I do not think that Achilles had any fear of death. He was born with this fate and had his entire life to accept this as fact. Its almost the same as a religious enlightening for some, or the belief that you were placed on this Earth with a divine purpose and this purpose only. You then set it out day by day to fulfill this purpose. You live for this purpose. Therefor we can kind of say Achilles is living to die. This is his purpose and his glory that he lives to fulfill.

        IL.9.320 A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.

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        1. Avery Tucker

          I think the quote “I detest the doorways of Death” (9.312) by Achilles is a very interesting way to argue his opposition to returning to the war. From the two quotes used by Sarah it almost sounds like Achilles is afraid of war, which clearly is not true. I see the two quotes in a different way. I see this as Achilles’ way of making Agamemnon feel even more less superior to him. Not only is Agamemnon offering Achilles gifts, but now he is borderline begging for his aid in a time of desperation and need. If I were Achilles this would be my way of getting back at Agamemnon for some of the previous conflicts caused by the tension of their power struggle.

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  2. Teresa Plummer

    Hi Paulina,

    Good insight into Agamemnon’s motivation for offering the gifts “to subordinate Achilles to him.” I never thought of it like this, but it makes sense. And, I agree with your summary of Achilles’ argument. I thought it was ironic that Agamemnon was asking Achilles to join the fight to take back Menelaos’ wife when he had taken Achilles’ wife. I love Achilles sarcasm when he says, “Are the sons of Atreus alone among mortal men the ones who love their wives?” So, when Paris steals Menelaos’ wife, an entire army goes to Troy to bring her back, but when Agamemnon steals Achilles’ wife, no one does anything to stop it. I guess that is the difference between being a king and just being a hero, but it still doesn’t sit well with Achilles!

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  3. Sarah Lister

    Hi Paulina,

    I agree, and love the irony that Agamemnon is trying to get Achilles to rejoin a battle started because of the same insult that Agamemnon committed against Achilles – and I believe that Achilles recognizes the irony behind this conversation as well; when he says “Yet why must the Argives fight with the Trojans? And why is it the son of Atreus assembled and led here these people? Was it not for the sake of lovely haired Helen? Are the sons of Atreus alone among mortal men the ones who love their wives” (9.337), he’s pointing out the irony and the unfairness that comes with power(in a beautifully sarcastic way). I find it interesting how his reactions have changed since book one – while it’s clear that Agamemnon has insulted and is still insulting him in offering gifts that would do nothing but force him to essentially submit to the king, he’s talking through it with logical arguments, rather than the wrath of the first argument; his words seem almost resigned, rather than angry.

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  4. Pascha Seda

    Good evening guys! You all have brought up very valid point and I haven’t read a single thing that I disagreed with although I must say I believe Achilles’ decision and action are a lot more motivated my his scorn and need to requite Agamemnon’s complete disrespect. Although I do believe that all of Achilles’ words were completely sincere and he did feel that Agamemnon was shamelessly manipulative and selfish, I do not think that his refusal was simply driven by those things. He made it a point to make sure the very first thing he expressed was his dislike for someone who doesn’t really say what’s on their heart and so he goes on to empty his heart’s weight. But the thing that really stood out to me was his sudden urgency to head home the very next day although he and his men had lingered this entire time inactive as the war had continued to go on. I believe this sudden urgency was triggered in spite of Agamemnon wholly as well as his sudden contemplation on life out weighing kleos. As we all know Achilles later rejoins the battle with no contemplation or remorse for his own life or anyone else’s.

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    1. Sheree Goffe

      I agree with you Pashca. Achilles even stated in book 1 how he viewd Agammnon as he is all about himself. IL.1.225-31. You wine sack, with a dog’s eyes, with a deer’s heart. Never once have you taken courage in your heart to arm with your people for battle, or go into ambuscade with the best of the Achaians. No, for in such things you see death. Far better to your mind is it, all along the widespread host of the Achaians to take away the gifts of any man who speaks up against you. King who feed on your people,. This was the build up for Achillues response in the way he turned down Agammnons gifts.

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  5. Sheree Goffe

    My view point might be a little bit different on the idea of Achilleus being different in book 1. I think he is the same person. He was really hurt when Agammnon took away Breseis. He wass so moved to swear on Agammnon’s suffering. IL1.239-44And this shall be a great oath before you: some day longing for Achilleus will come to the sons of the Achaians, all of them. Then stricken at heart though you be, you will be able to do nothing, when in their numbers before man-slaughtering Hektor they drop and die. And then you will eat out the heart within you in sorrow, that you did no honour to the best of the Achaians.’ He waited for Agammnons suffering since book 1 and he finally got it in book 9.

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    1. Avery Tucker

      This is definitely a method of Achilles to get back at Agamemnon for taking Breseis away from him. Achilles’ revenge is foreshadowed IL1.239-244 and the passage even quotes that there will be some fighting or form of death due to the fact that Achilles will take his revenge by not fighting with the Achaeans. It is interesting that the Achaeans as a whole lose out due to the fact that Agamemnon made a selfish choice to take Achilles’ girl who he began to develop feelings for. I also think it is interesting that Hector is foreshadowed to kill multiple of the Achaeans due to this remarkable mistake by Agamemnon.

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