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.

20 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 5

  1. Celina Gauthier

    Achilleus is obviously angry with Agammemnon for his decision to claim Briseis as his own. In Book 1 (337-344), when Talthybios and Eurybates show up to take Briseis to Agammemnon, Achilleus states, “Go then, illustrious Patroklos, and bring the girl forth and give her to these to be taken away. Yet let them be witnesses in the sight of the blessed gods, in the sight of mortal men, and of this cruel king, if ever hereafter there shall be need of me to beat back the shameful destruction from the rest. For surely in ruinous heart he makes sacrifice and has not wit enough to look behind and before him that the Achaians fighting beside their ships shall not perish.” Achilleus make a definitive decision that there is no going back for him. He is making a stand and clearly states that he no longer holds any type of allegiance to Agammemnon.
    In Book 9, Achilleus remains unswayed by Odysseus, persuasive dialog. He tells Odysseus, Phoinix, and Aias (9.344-345), “Now that he has deceived me and taken from my hands my prize of honour, let him try me no more. I know him well. He will not persuade me.” He goes on (9.410-417) to state, “For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me 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.” Achilleus has decided that he is not willing to risk his life for Agammenon’s fight. He has decided that his glory or kleos is tainted now due to Agamemnon’s lack of respect for him. His honor and pride is slighted.
    Achilleus has a passionate personality. He is very passionate about those he loves and those he hates. He hates Agammemnon and his mind will not be swayed. He loves Phoinix and the reader is able to discern this when Achilleus tells Phoinix (9.608-617), “I think I am honoured in Zeus’ ordinance which will hold me here beside my curved ships as long as life’s wind stays in my breast, as long as my knees have their spring beneath me. And put away in your thoughts this other thing I tell you. Stop confusing my heart with lamentation and sorrow for the favour of great Atreides. It does not become you to love this man, for fear you turn hateful to me, who love you. It should be your pride with me to hurt whoever shall hurt me. Be king equally with me; take half of my honour.”

    Reply
    1. Danielle Wood

      Celina,
      I agree that Achilles is a passionate and steadfast person. He is resolute and stubborn in his thinking and he thinks only of himself rather than of others. He is still very upset over Agamemnon taking Briseis away from him, but I think the main point of his argument changed between the initial action and his speech in book 9. I believe he’s much more worried about his own foretold death and that is the main reason that he keeps himself from battle. “We are all held in a single honor, 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” (9.319-322). He speaks with the resignation that no matter what he does, he’s going to die, and he’d rather leave without the glory and live a long life than die in battle, living a short life. Even the words of Phoinix can’t completely sway him because the fear of death holds him so tightly. If it weren’t for that, I think Achilles would’ve probably taken the lavish gifts from Agamemnon and rejoined the battle because he wouldn’t have been fated to die in it.

      Reply
      1. Camille Leeds

        Danielle,

        I also think, in addition to what you said, that Achilleus is not entirely sure whether or not he wants to go back to the fighting. He’s frustrated at Agamemnon, but he also says to Aias, “…I shall not think again of the bloody fighting until such time as the son of wise Priam, Hektor the brilliant, comes all the way to the ships of the Myrmidons, and their shelters, slaughtering the Argives, and shall darken with fire our vessels.” (9.650-653)
        So if his ships are set on fire, he’ll fight. But if he’s leaving in the morning, how could his ships be set on fire? So Achilleus is not entirely sure that he’s even going to leave, that he might just want to stay and see what happens.

        Reply
        1. Celina Gauthier

          Hi Camille:
          I agree with your perspective Achilleus does not strike me as the timid type. He tells Agammemnon in the first book that he can take back his gifts but if he tries to take Achillleus’s property, Achilleus will not surrender it without a fight. Achilleus has lost the motivation to fight against the Trojans. I think that the army of Greeks that will perish without his help ways heavily on his conscience or else he would just sail away.
          Celina

          Reply
      2. Brittany Matthews

        Danielle Wood,
        I agree that Achilleus is extremely worried about himself, but I disagree that he only thinks of himself. When he left the Trojan War in book I, he took the rest of the Myrmidons with him. I believe he did this because he did not want his men in danger if he himself was not in that same danger. This could also explain why he asked Phoinix, his close friend, to leave the war as well (9.617). In addition to that, Achilleus has no personal reason to be in the Trojan War. Why would he fight for another man’s woman when his was taken away from him? No one put their life on the line and fought for Achilleus’s woman. I disagree that Achilleus may have re-joined the Trojan War if he was not fated to die in it. I believe that Achilleus is more upset about Agamemnon dishonoring him than afraid of dying because he expressed his anger towards Agamemnon multiple times, and he knows that he will die whether he fights in the war or not because he is mortal (9.318). The fact that Achilleus re-joins the war after Hektor kills Patroklos is proof that he is not too afraid of his own death to fight.

        Reply
        1. Danielle Wood

          Brittany,
          I can see your point that he doesn’t only think of himself but the only other people he thinks of besides himself are those closest to him which is, in a sense, still a little selfish. He knows he could help in the war and push back the Trojans, saving Achaian lives, but he chooses not to. “…and yet when I was fighting among the Achaians Hektor would not drive his attack beyond the wall’s shelter… There once he endured me alone, and barely escaped my onslaught” (9.352-355). And it’s also true that he does rejoin the fight eventually, but in this particular moment, it is mainly the fear of death that keeps him from fighting on top of his anger toward Agamemnon and the idea of fighting a war that he has no stake in other than to eventually die in it.

          Reply
    2. Camille Leeds

      Celina,

      You’re right in saying that Achilleus is extremely stubborn in his position, refusing to fight for Agamemnon. However, I do think he has changed a little. The whole point of him staying out of the war was to regain his honor and glory by making Agamemnon and the Greeks know that they could not win without him. Now he seems to be a bit iffy on what is actually going to bring him glory. He said, “Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard.” (9.318). Here he’s saying, well, my fate is going to be the same either way, whether or not I fight, I’m eventually going to die, so why should I fight for someone I’m angry at? So now Achilleus has decided to sail back home, “And this would be my counsel for others also, to sail back home again, since no longer shall you find any term set on the sheer city of Ilion…” (9.417-419). I don’t think he’s really as sure of himself as he acts, because he claims he’s staying out of the fighting because of glory, but he’s also saying he doesn’t care about glory anymore, he’d rather live a long life.

      Reply
    3. Natalie Smith

      Celina,

      Perhaps Achilleus has not re-entered the battle because Agamemnon still hasn’t admitted that he was in the wrong to Achilleus’ face. I think that Achilleus would rather die honor-less than fight for a man who is that arrogant. I believe that Achilleus wants to fight again, but he has not heard that Agamemnon wants him back, so he is waiting until he has validation that only he can win the war.

      Reply
      1. Natalie Smith

        Sorry, I’m not techy so my reply sent sooner than I meant it to!!

        As Camille states Achilleus would rather sail home than fight for the arrogant Agamemnon. However, were Agamemnon to admit that he needs Achilleus, Achilleus may be more willing to join in the battle again. All he needs is a little validation that he would not be fighting to prove himself, but fighting because they need him. He just needs to hear them admit that they need him in order to win the war, and then he will be happy to die in battle.

        Reply
        1. Celina Gauthier

          I agree Natalie. I think if Agammemnon would have gone himself instead of sending Odysseus and Aias, Achilleus would have been swayed. Of course, Agammemnon would have had to leave out that he is the kingliest.
          Celina

          Reply
    4. Chris

      Hi, Celina.
      You have come to a great understanding regarding Achilleus’ disdain for Agamemnon and his unwillingness, as you have put it, to “risk his life for Agamemnon’s fight.” He loves his Achaian brethren dearly and would fight for them unceasingly, but Agamemnon has dishonored him irreparably. Brilliant Achilleus, in all his wisdom and with influence from the words of his mother, has come to realize that either in glory or in old age, we all must die. In the broad perspective, he has come to understand the value of hanging back and living to love and enjoy that which one cares for in this world.

      Reply
    5. Chris

      In Book 9, Achilleus proclaims, “And this would be my counsel to others also, to sail back home again . . . that they think out in their minds some other scheme that is better, which might rescue their ships, . .” (9.417-26) The over-glorified tradition of dying by the blade and not of old age becomes something Achilleus wants his men to take qualm with, that for all their glory he would in an instant trade their longevity. He speaks on this further in his comments on the loyalty of love among the companions, as you’ve cited, where he tells them that by loving Agamemnon they in equity offend his love for them with disloyalty.

      Reply
  2. Neko Ramos

    I agree with your reasoning that Achilles is the one who is remaining steadfast on his decision to not be apart of the battle and help Agamemnon. Although i believe that his decision has remained the same the same, i believe that his demeanor and his confidence has increased, due to the prideful joy that he receives in seeing Agamemnon in a defeated state. This personally was my favorite book because it showed Achilles as a man of firm on his word and who will not easily be persuaded. The line that represents his stance, “Now that he has deceived me and taken from my hands my prize of honour,let him try me no more. i know him well, he will not persuade me.”(9.344-345), clearly shows that Achilles is not ignorant or naive to Agamemnon’s character.
    Another key aspect of Achilles speech is the fact that he first points out that the Acheans obviously need him to fight against Hector, but then refuses to help them. “Yet so he cannot hold the strength of manslaughtering Hector, and yet when i was fighting amongst the Achaians, Hector would not drive his attack beyond the walls shelter, but would come forth, only so far as the Skaian gates and the oak tree. There once he endured me only and barely escaped my onslaught, but now i am unwilling to fight against brilliant Hector.”(9.351-356) Achilles is not just refusing the battle out of emotion, but he has clear wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of the circumstances, and knows that he can be an asset, but chooses not to. Once again this goes back to the difference in his demeanor from book 1, where now we see him with extreme confidence in book 9.
    Through careful examination, i believe that the main reason why Achilles is not entering into battle is because Agamemnon has stolen his other possessions in Phthia.”I have many possessions there that i left behind when i came here on this desperate venture, from here there is more gold and red bronze, fair girdled women, and grey iron i will take back; all that was allotted to me.But my prize: he who gave it, powerful Agamemnon, son of Atreus, has taken it back AGAIN outrageously”(9.364-369) I believe that he wants other Achaians to understand the evil deeds Agamemnon has done and to be angry with him.
    He is also honoring his mother Thetis, in agreement with Ms. Gauthier, ” For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me 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.”, which is another reason as to why he has the confidence that he has to step away from battle.
    Achilles is smart and wise when it comes to his decisions.

    Reply
  3. Emily Berg

    Majority of Achilles’s arguments for not wanting to return to battle stemmed from the idea that he does not care about glory as much as he does living the life he wants. To me, this was somewhat admirable. Obviously, Achilles is very confident in himself and somewhat arrogant, but I was impressed at his denial of gifts and his continual love for Briseis.

    One of Achilles’s arguments that stood out to me was, “For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me 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” (9.410-416). I appreciate that Achilles made this statement because I feel like throughout all other books thus far, we have constantly seen men choosing glory over their families (for example Hektor), which results in lamenting, or we see greed and desire of possessions (Paris desiring Helen, for example).

    Achilles does a tremendous job of conveying his empty attitude towards war to the other men. This is evident when Homer writes, “So he spoke, and all of them stayed stricken to silence in amazement at his words” (9.429-430). We know as the audience that Achilles’s epithet is “swift-footed Achilles”, demonstrating he is not usually one with words (that is Odysseus). Therefore, I believe that is where most of the surprise comes from.

    Reply
    1. Natalie Smith

      Emily,

      I think that Achilleus would rather die with a family than fight to prove himself to Agamemnon. If the situation were different, I feel like he’d chose to run out into the battle to win the war with his power rather than go home and die honor-less. But because Agamemnon has not begged Achilleus to return, Achilleus will keep his pride intact and die with family, not honor. Previously, I believe, he told his mother that he would not rejoin the fight until Agamemnon himself apologized. Achilleus says “… so that thus they may all have profit of their own king, that Atreus’ son wide-ruling Agamemnon may recognize his madness, that he did no honor to the the best of the Achians”(1.410-1.412) to his mother. Though not “Mommy, make him say sorry”, he is showing that he wants a real apology directly from Agamemnon. If he really wanted to leave the war for a family, he would try to get Briseus back. However, his actions of preparing the boat are just to goad Agamemnon into apologizing so that Agamemnon will have to admit that he needs Achilleus. Achilleus has no desire for family. He has a desire to be praised, honored, and remembered for all eternity. I feel like Achilleus is just as bad as Paris. He doesn’t desire a person, but he does desire validation that he is in fact the best fighter Greece has ever seen. If Agamemnon had apologized to Achilleus earlier, then he wouldn’t have talked about what his mother said and he wouldn’t be heading home.

      Reply
  4. Emily Berg

    Neko,

    I like your observation that Achilles has appeared to have the same decision to refrain from battle throughout the books but that his confidence has increased. This is especially evident when Achilles states, “Son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, resourceful Odysseus: without consideration for you I must make my answer” (9.308-309). This passage demonstrates the manner in which Achilles thinks, which is primarily only about himself. He knows how badly the other men need and want him and uses that to fuel his confidence.

    This is conveyed again when Achilles states, “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” (9.315-317). In this passage, Achilles separates himself from the other men, making it seem like he has done them a huge favor by fighting their enemies. While Achilles is one the best fighters, all the men are in this together and Achilles fails to recognize that.

    However, something I found particularly interesting about Achilles’s attitude as his speech progresses. Achilles states, “A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much” (9.320). This statement is interesting because the reader would assume that dying with glory and a reputation as the best fighter would be something Achilles wants. Again, Achilles comments on glory when he tells the men that he would rather go home and live a long life without glory than stay and fight and be glorified.

    So far, Achilles is the only character that has denied glory. At first, I thought this was very admirable of him, but after reflecting upon it, I concluded that Achilles is only denying glory because he knows he can. He knows that even if he denies returning to battle, he will be remembered as one of the best fighters and a man the Greek’s needed to win.

    Reply
  5. Brittany Matthews

    In book IX, Achilleus expresses different reasons for not returning to the Trojan War. He told Odysseus, “I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another” (9.312-313). I believe that Achilleus was trying to say that Agamemnon is not necessarily sorry that he took Briseis but sorry that taking Briseis led to the absence of a great warrior as an ally. Achilleus said he would not be persuaded because there was “no gratitude given for fighting incessantly forever against your [Achaians’] enemies” (9.316-317). He is also still angry that Agamemnon took Briseis (9.344-345) and he seems to not be interested in fighting a war for another man’s woman (9.338-341). Achilleus said that he would not be persuaded by Agamemnon “until he had made good to me all this heartrending insolence” (9.387). In addition, Achilleus claimed that his mother (Thetis) warned him that if he fights in the Trojan War again he would die (9.410-416). I do not believe Achilleus is too afraid to die because he re-joins later in the story but I believe he does not have a good enough reason to re-join when Agamemnon asks him to in book IX. After Phoinix told Achilleus that the Achaians would honor him like he was a god if he saved them, Achilleus told Phoinix that he does not need such honor because he believed that he was “ honoured already in Zeus’ ordinance” (9.607-608). Achilleus told Aias “Yet still the heart in me swells up in anger, when I remember the disgrace that he wrought upon me before the Argives, the son of Atreus, as if I were some dishonoured vagabond” (9.646-6480). He still holds on to his same reason to stay out of the war that he had in book I, which was to punish Agamemnon for dishonoring him, but he has even more reasons in book IX. Overall, Achilleus has not changed his mind about staying out of the Trojan War yet.

    Reply
    1. Neko Ramos

      i agree with your statement that Agamemnon is not apologetic for taking Briseis, but he only feels bad that the decision led to the losing the relationship he had with Achilles. I would also go as far as to say that Agamemnon is clearly only obeying the commandments of Nestor, whom he admires and honors. Achilles understands that Agamemnon is at his last breathe and that he looked to him as his last resort, so he gave Achilles those gifts out of pity and sorrow, and not with a genuine heart. I believe that Achilles will rejoin the battle at his own risks and fighting for his own cause without the appeasement of Agamemnon.

      Reply
    2. Katharyn Hill

      I completely agree with you Brittany about Agamemnon being sorry that by taking Briseis, it lead to Achilles absence in the war, but he was not sorry for his actions. It’s interesting to see Agamemnon break down and cry in front of the soldiers and say “Come then, do as I say, let us all be won over; let us run away with our ships to the beloved land of our fathers since no longer now shall we capture Troy of the wide ways”(9.26-9.29), which is out of character for this strong Achaean warrior. I commend Achilles for not taking the gifts offered by Agamemnon and not being swayed to coming and fighting in the war. I image that it must be fairly clear to Achilles that the Achaeans are in trouble if it has gotten to the point where Agamemnon has to go to Achilles.

      Reply
  6. Katharyn Hill

    Achilles is obviously still angry with Agamemnon so to receive bribes from him was most likely insulting. Instead of Agamemnon trying to fix the issue and build some sort of cordial relationship with Achilles, he tried to fix the problem by showering him with gifts. This certainly didn’t help Achilles ego, plus Achilles already had plans to travel home so the thought of risking his life even though ones fate is predetermined, seemed pointless. Achilles did start to question his decision to travel after talking to Odysseus, Paris, and Phoinix which can be seen when Achilles says “These men will carry back the message; you stay here and sleep here in a soft bed, and we shall decide tomorrow, as dawn shows, whether to go back home again or else to remain here”(9.617-9.619) If Achilles does choose to fight, I think that his decision will be based off of kleos rather than anything that Agamemnon could say or do.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *