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.

9 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 5

  1. Joseph Reid

    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 (Myrmidons).

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  2. Jerome Lawrence

    Achilles’ reply to Odysseus (lines 9.307-429) displays Achilles’ unwavering state of mind concerning Agamemnon and the past wrong that Agamemnon had done to him. Remember that in book 1 (lines 1.345-1.350) Achilles gave his war prize, Briseis, to Agamemnon in exchange for Chryseis, the daughter of Chryses, the priest.
    Beginning in line 9.308 Achilles told Odysseus that he will give his answer without consideration so that another messenger would not be sent by Agamemnon to ask him to help his army fight against the Trojans and other nations. By saying this Achilles tells the entire Achaian army (through the messengers sent by Agamemnon) that he will not change his mind and he really does not want others to come and ask him for help. Thus Achilles can now be seen as having a one track mind concerning helping Agamemnon and giving him more glory (kleos) and higher acknowledgement over him that he already has. When Achilles said “speak softly” (line 9.311) it can be interpreted as the messenger quoting sweet, persuasive words trying to sway his already cemented decision. In lines 9.312-9.313 Achilles said that he hates Agamemnon as much as he hates death (fears dieing) since he does not tell the whole truth to him or people in general. What can be taken from this statement is that Achilles perceives Agamemnon as a deceiver and that he may have an ulterior motive by giving Achilles the gifts that he promised through his messengers. One ulterior motive may be that Agamemnon is trying to secure permanent dominance over Achilles by having him marry his daughter and raising him around his son Orestes who will eventually become king. Achilles would have become a general, counselor, servant figure under Orestes had Achilles accepted the offer and since Orestes is Agamemnon’s son, Agamemnon would have indirect power over him for years to come which would elevate Achilles’s status only a little, but not enough for Achilles to achieve the kleos (glory) that he wishes to have in the future. This point is reinforced from line 9.314 to line 9.345 many times. When he says “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,” (lines 9.318-9.319) it reflects his mentality that if he goes back and fights in the Achaian army under Agamemnon’s rule he may die with the same level of honour that is given to men who did not fight and that when he was fighting amongst the ranks of the Achaians he noticed that men die whether or not they fought with all their might or held back some strength or fell amongst the crowds of their comrades. In lines 9.314-9.317 he says blunty that Agamemnon will not persuade him because he did not receive any thanks nor other forms of gratitude for his constant battling (fighting) under Agamemnon’s rule. From line 9.323-9.327 he compared himself to a mother bird who suffers in order to feed her young. He said that he fought nonstop for the sake of the other warriors’ women. Achilles’ seriousness on the matter was best illustrated in lines 9.335-9.337 when he said that Agamemnon can lie beside the bride of his heart (most likely this ‘bride’ is Briseis) and be happy.

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    1. Jerome Lawrence

      Beginning in line 9.348 Achilles illustrated how much gratitude he deserves when he mentioned the fact that while he was fighting in the Achaian army Hektor would not dare to cross into the territorial borders that the Achaians built for themselves yet; now that he is not among them Hektor and is army are overpowering Agamemnon’s army. Achilles repetition on the matter that Agamemnon took back his war prize that he gave to him and the fact that he called that act outrageous further shows the readers (listeners in the case of Homer) just how that act had upset him. He wanted the messengers to deliver his message openly so that other Achaians would become upset with Agamemnon and so that Agamemnon could not do what he did to Achilles to another Achaian warrior. “I hate his gifts. Not if he gives me ten times as much, and twenty times over as he possesses now” (lines 9.378-9.380) solidified the fact that no matter what Agamemnon offered, even if it is among the greatest treasures that Achilles will not fight under Agamemnon nor aid/help him battle against the Trojans nor any other civilization/nation/people in the future.

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      1. Alyssa Sohns

        I completely agree with you Jerome! Even though Agamemnon offers Achilles gifts to compensate him for Briseis, Achilles refuses to fight, because he perceives what Agamemnon did to him as unable to be repaid through gifs. I find it interesting that while he is being overly selfish in his refusal to fight with the Achaians, he wants his message to be delivered to the rest of the warriors openly so that they can not be screwed over by Agamemnon like he was, which is a move that I would not have expected from him at this point in the story.

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    2. Cordelia Davies

      Great points. I was also really interested in Achilles’ argument that, “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,” (lines 9.318-9.319) I thought that this point alone really shuts down the Greeks who were sent to persuade him. He is basically saying, “why should I help you?” He feels that he has gone to bat for them many times and put his life on the line and still the Achaians have no gratitude, so what is different about this time? Phoinix says that the Achaians will treat him like a god if he comes to fight with them, but I think Achilles doesn’t believe him as he doesn’t feel they, and Agamemnon in particular, had shown him this kind of respect and gratitude in the past. And not only that, but Agamemnon actually completely disrespected Achilles by taking his war prize back and allowed all the other Greeks to keep theirs. It is like the pleas and promises of a desperate man; like taking a tortured hostage’s word to be truth. Just like Phoinix was saying that if Achilles were to come to battle after all the men had already perished, that there would be no glory and it would not be received well, the promise of gifts and good treatment by a desperate man after having stolen gifts and treated him badly also will not be received well.

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  3. Bailey Allen

    Im curious as to how people listening to the poem originally would have felt about Achilleus’ speech. In the context of the poem, there is not clear evidence of how it would be recieved. Thetis and Zeus seem to feel that his feelings of dishonor are legitimate and need to be rectified. However, the mortals, mainly Odysseus, seems to feel that he should just get over it and help them end this war already. Would the audience of the time have a consistent opinion on what Achilleus should do? In my personal opinion, Achilleus and Agamemnon acting a lot like toddlers. First, Agamemnon’s toy gets taken away, so he takes Achilleus’s toy. I can understand the feeling of “I’m the oldest so I should get the coolest toy!” as I am the oldest in my family and have always felt that as I have the most power, I better be the one with the coolest stuff. But did Agamemnon have to anger, to use a previous metaphor, his star player? Achilleus’ reaction was no more noble. He went to his mommy, again like a toddler, and cried. Unfortunately, the greatest Greek hero, went and cried to his mommy about losing his toy. And then refused to participate in the rest of the game. I would also like to point out the fact that the war is prolonged by someone taking someone else’s woman, which was how the war was started. It seems like Agamemnon should have noticed that taking someone’s girl does not typically end well. Sometimes even results in ten year wars. Does anyone have an opinion on what the audience would have thought, or if Agamemnon or Achilleus were justified?

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    1. Alyssa Sohns

      I feel like Greek people reading the Iliad would have thought both sides were justified, depending on what their views on the proper behavior of a Greek. Agamemnon as the king could be seen as technically entitled to steal Briseis away from Achilles, for even though Achilles is great, Agamemnon is a king, the most powerful one of all the Greek states. I feel like the more powerful citizens of Greek would take his side, and think that Achilles was in the wrong for protesting something that was Agamemnon’s right to do. Contrastingly, Achilles is a great warrior who’s physical manifestation of glory has been taken away from him, which as we all know he considers a huge dishonor. Because of this insult to him, it could also be seen as right to reject the Greeks and Agamemnon and refuse to fight. In this case, I think the common man/ Greek soldier would identify more with Achilles, and would not agree with the treatment he got from Agamemnon. So I think it really depends on the Greek that you talked to, as they could have either viewpoint.

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    2. Cordelia Davies

      It is interesting what you said about the war being prolonged by the very reason it was started in the first place: a woman being taken from one man and given to another. It got me thinking about Achilles’ seeming revelation about this war and its origins. I understand Achilles’ reasoning because more than him having something that he cared about taken from him: he feels he was singled out and punished amongst the Achaians when it is he who is their most valuable member in many ways. I think that the original audience would understand this as honor and respect was probably the most important and present in every aspect of society. But I think Achilles makes a really good point in Homer’s time and in modern times. He accuses Agamemnon of being a hypocrite. He has waged war on the Trojans because Paris violated xenia by stealing their possessions, but most of all because he took Menelaos’ wife, Helen. In lines 9.340-341 Achilles poses the question: “Are the sons of Atreus alone among mortal men the ones who love their wives?” Achilles is asking: why is it not okay for Paris to take Menelaos’ wife, but okay for Agamemnon to take Achilles’?” There is a double standard there that drives Achilles crazy and I actually completely agree with him there.

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  4. Bailey Allen

    Achilleus, in each of the speeches to Odysseus, Phoinix and Aias, has a slightly different reason for not joining the battle. To Odysseus, he states that, as you guys have stated above, that Agamemnon is ungrateful for the ten years of battling he has done for him, his evidence being that Agamemnon is stingy with handing out war prizes. He has a similar reason for Aias, saying that he has been disgraced by Agamemnon in front of the army. Both arguments center around honor and the confiscation of Briseis. Interestingly, though Phoinix had the longest and most personal argument, he received the shortest response, that Achilleus has enough honor by Zeus and has no need to earn more. In these speeches, it seems as if honor is some kind of video game point system, and Achilleus has reached a sufficiently high level. I would also like to briefly bring up the Briseis situation. He refers to her as the “bride of my heart” and says that he “loved this one from my heart” yet she is also simply his “prize of honor” (3.43). Yet he also lists the slave women in a list of possessions he has earned in the war (3.64f). The concept of love and its relationship with women her is a little disturbing. He equates his relationship with Briseis to that of Menelaos and Helen, a marriage. Is he exaggerating, or would the two situations be equivalent? If they are indeed equivalent, would that mean that Helen, who was legitimately married to Menelaos, is in equal standing with a slave taken in war? That either places the slave above the status of property, or lowers the wife to mere property.

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