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. Robert Moore

    A theme that is in recurrence so far in the Iliad, Achilleus and Agamemnon do not see eye-to-eye on decisions that are made in the Trojan War. As a desperate plea from Agamemnon, Odysseus tells of the gifts and offerings that Achilleus will receive if he would fight for the Danaans. Odysseus tries his hardest to persuade Achilleus to go back into battle, but to no avail. In the speech by Achilleus in Book 9, he explains the various reasons for not going back into battle. The first explanation that I see in Book 9 was when Achilleus proclaims “neither do I think the son of Atreus, Agamemnon, will persuade me, … since there was no gratitude given for fighting incessantly forever against your enemies” (9.314-317). Achilleus is fed up with being used for his power and Agamemnon receives all of the praise and glory. This also contributes to Achilleus trying to achieve glory, but can’t because of the demands and disagreements with Agamemnon. Next, Achilleus thinks of himself as a mother bird providing for her chicks, which then is compare to Achilleus when he fought days on end without resting, “as I lay through all the many nights unsleeping, such as I wore through the bloody days of fighting, striving with warriors for the sake of these men’s women” (9.325-327). Achilleus then touches on that Agamemnon only reaps the benefits of battle and gives a little to the men, but the only thing Achillieus cares for is Briseis and he says “but from me alone of all the Achaians he has taken and keeps the bride of my heart” (9. 335-336). He then continues on how he hates the gifts that Agamemnon is trying to use to persuade Achilleus to get back into battle and explains more on how he was cheated by Agamemnon. Agamemnon also offers Achilleus his daughters’ hand in marriage when they get back to Greece, but Achilleus states that he would rather marry someone from back home that is not royalty or in a position of power than to marry one of his daughters. The structure of Achilleus’ speech is in a way that Achilleus tells Odysseus that he has been used and stretch thin in battle for Agamemnon’s gain and questions why they are still in a war with Troy. Then he ends his speech by taking the gifts from Agamemnon as an insult to his character as a warrior and a man. Phoinix’s reaction towards Achilleus’ speech is of disappointment because Phoinix’s duty to Achilleus. He promised to teach him the ways of debate and a speaker, but he fell short because Achilleus is deciding to go home. Achilleus has changed since Book 1, I feel like he was more of uncontrollable beast of a person and only wanted to fight, but now he has matured and explains himself for not fight in the cause of the Danaans. He has become more sensible and values his life more than glory.

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    1. Emmy Sheldon

      Robert,
      I think you did a great job of providing examples of why Achilleus feels that this fighting is no longer worthwhile. I agree with you and Sallie that Achilleus has seen the importance of life, and lines 9.315-317 are the perfect way to sum up his feelings. I would also agree with what you have said, Sallie, about how Achilleus feels used by Agamemnon. In lines 9.312-313 “I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another.” Achilleus has lost all trust in Agamemnon and that is fueling his refusal of the gifts, since he see’s it as an empty promise when he says (9.375-376) “He cheated me and did me hurt. Let him not beguile me with words again. This is enough for him.” I also found it interesting that Achilleus had to REMOVE himself from battle in order to come to this realization. Would he have come to the same conclusion had he stayed in the fighting?

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      1. Brianna Belske

        I feel all of you have replied to this question really well. In my class discussion we all were weighing both sides of whether Achileus was still concerned about his glory or if he was more concerned about his life and taking himself out of the battle. I think Achilleus has pushed that fact of restoring his honor to the side for now but i feel like it still is there in the back of his mind. As for the fact that Agamemnon was trying to bribe him back into the battle it seemed like Achilleus took that as an insult.
        Emmy I think you bring up a great question, it be interesting to know how Achilleus would react to this scene if he had never left the fighting. I think he would still feel the same though, what I mean the war has been going on for ten years,and many of the soldiers have in the previous books considered the fact to leave the shores of Troy and return home.

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        1. Maddy Lee

          Great answer to this week’s question Robert, and to everyone else as well. Achilleus has certainly changed from the man he once was in the early books, he once demanded respect and control from his peers, I thought he was a little distant from the other men- worrying about himself and glory. The opening lines of his speech offer an interesting view into the mind of Achilleus. “For as I detest the doorways of Death, I detest a man who, hides one thing in the depths of his heart…” (9.312-313). To earn glory an honor in the Homer time period means to have stories passed down from generation to generation. Achilleus was once worried about escaping death to live a long adventurous life to fill the stories. Now he is just content to worry about death.

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    2. Kris Adams

      Great post, there was one portion of the USM lecture on Thursday about Odysseus’ speech that really stuck out to me that he had left out the portion where Agamemnon says “All these things I will bring to pass for him if he changes from his anger… And let him yield place to me, inasmuch as i am kinglier and inasmuch as I can call myself born the elder” (9.157-161)He leaves this portion because he knows that if he says that, Achilleus would never fight for Agamemnon again. Granted he said he wouldn’t fight to begin with but it still doesn’t change the fact that Agamemnon doesn’t actually feel bad about what he did to Achilles and that he only wants him back because he is losing the war

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      1. Emmy Sheldon

        Kris, I think the point you are making about Agamemnon wanting Achilles back just because he is losing the war is very important. Agamemnon’s honor is still more important to him than his life, he would rather die than risk losing the war, and in turn lose face. I think Odysseus omitting that point from Agamemnon’s speech shows that Odysseus understands the arrogance of Agamemnon and that it would not be well received. However it is ironic that Agamemnon refers to himself as kinglier and elder but is not acting the part in the slightest.

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        1. Kris Adams

          It just to attribute to his arrogance he feels that he has done nothing wrong in what he did against Achilleus. The only reason that he even considers to give it back is because he thinks he can’t win the war without him. It’s plain human nature. We either don’t feel that we are at fault or we try to pass the blame onto another person.

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    3. John Anderson

      Wonderful responses,
      There is still one more thing which I would bring to your attention and that is that to some extent, Achilles is presenting a new philosophy of governance which regards the tribulations of both rulers and subjects as equals. “Yet why must the Argives fight with the Trojans? And why was 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?” (9.337-341). With these words addressed to Odysseus he is openly questioning the social order to which he has previously committed himself to fighting for: “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… we followed you to do you favor… to win your honor and Menelaus’…,” (1.152-159). This shift in attitudes or concerns for one’s filial duties is something which we find to be no longer a hallmark of Achilles or the elite. Rather, and quite surprisingly, we find it early on in Book 9 among the fighting men of Achaia. In response to Agamemnon’s tearful lamentation and despair of victory, Diomedes retorts, “The son of devious-devising Kronos… he did not give you a heart, and of all power this is the greatest. Sir, sir, can you really believe the sons of the Achaians are so unwarlike and so weak of their hearts as you call them? But if in truth your own heart is set upon going go….yet the rest of the flowing-haired Achaians will stay here until we have sacked the city of Troy…” (9.37-46). This is no longer a fight concerned with duty or the preservation the king’s honor. This war has become personal and vengeful in nature. Further, the sons of the Achaians are said to have “shouted acclaim for the words of Diomedes,” (9.50-51). This seems quite out of place, and insurrectionist in its nature, especially after their leader was insulted in such a manner.

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    4. Jace Austin

      Great post Robert!, As I read the quotes you used to explain Achilles reasoning I just want to add to some of Achilles other possible reasoning’s. In class we discussed how Achilles told Agamemnon that he hated his gifts for a variety of reasons, well we analyzed what Agamemnon was actually offering, which was the world, but still subordination for Achilles which is what Agamemnon had been trying to impose on Achilles from book 1. For example, Agamemnon offered his daughters for Achilles to marry and upon that marriage Achilles would be diminished as he would become only a son-in law while Agamemnon’s real son will still be in line to become king of Mykenai. And Agamemnon said in his original proposal that he was indeed kinglier but he would take the chance of supplicating Achilles whom he implied is the lower man or his subordinate. And also as Achilles compares Agamemnons gifts to greater things that he could have been given but he still wouldnt have accepted.”Nor will I marry a daughter of Atreus’ son, Agamemnon,not if she challenged Aphrodite the golden for loveliness,not if she matched the work of her hands with grey-eyed Athene;
      not even so will I marry her”(9.388-9.391) I think it symbolizes that It isnt really about Briseis or Agamemnons greed but mostly Agamemnon trying to basically bully Achilles into submission and Achilles expressing his relentlessness.

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  2. Sallie Puffer

    Robert,
    Wonderful reply. I agree, Achilleus certainly has grown from the man that valued glory more than life. This is evident in his speech to Odysseus when he is telling him how every possession can always be had, “but a man’s life cannot come back again, it cannot be lifted nor captured again by force, once it has crossed the teeth’s barrier (9.
    408-409). Also it is clear that Achilleus feels used by Agamemnon that he has come to realize that Agamemnon is only concerned with Agamemnon. He speaks of how he would go to battle and gather treasures after his victories only to have Agamemnon, “take them, and distribute them little by little, and keep many.”(9.333) The fact that Achilleus realizes how Agamemnon used him shows us that he has grown and values more than just treasures and glory as he previously showed value for little more. I also find it fascinating that Achilleus mentions his beloved numerous times in context such as, “but from me alone of all the Achaians he has taken and keeps the bride of my heart. Let him lie beside her and be happy.” (9.336-337) and, “Now that he has deceived me and taken from my hands my prize of honor” (9.344)Although he does not seem hostile towards Agamemnon due to him taking his beloved he clearly is bitter, I think this act was the last act that Agamemnon committed before Achilleus decided to withdraw from battle.

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    1. John Anderson

      Such a stark transformation of attitudes seems to me to reflect the similar self-loathing of Helen who regrets her own decision to follow Paris to Troy. She has lost most if not all of her free-agency, and it appears as though Achilles has forgotten his own pleading with his mother Thetis. Is this all he desired at the time he made such pleas; that others would express their need for his great strength, or did he intend at such time to return to the fighting? Has his eventual return to fighting already been fated? “For Hektor the huge will not sooner be stayed from his fighting until there sties by the ships the swift footed son of Peleus…over fallen Patroklos,” (8.473-476). It appears to me that it has indeed been fated and this is due largely to Achilles request for Thetis intercession with Zeus. He, much like Helen, by his own initiative, has gotten himself into a divinely ordained conflict from which there appears no escape, despite having changed his mind.

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  3. Matt Braley

    Robert,
    Excellent response. I would have to agree with you on the fact that Achilleus has grown to value his own life (9.320)”A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.” He seems to have realized that one way or another people all die and no amount of gifts or money can change the fact that when your dead your dead for a long time. He seems to have lost value in the glory obtained from battle. I think he may be realizing what it means to be mortal.

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    1. Sallie Puffer

      Matt,
      That line is fantastic. I think it shows that Achilleus is beginning to understand that immortality through glory is not the same thing as immortality. (9.320)”A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.” Is really such a powerful line, I think it’s one of my favorites thus far in The Iliad. I also find it interesting that a man such as Achilleus who seems to take lives without a thought says during this speech, “For as I detest the doorways of Death. “(9.312)When this line and the previous one are taken together, it really emphasizes how Achilleus has grown and is perhaps is just beginning to understand death as permanent regardless of the legacy he leaves behind.

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    2. Jace Austin

      Good point Matt,I had similar ideas of Achilles having ideals of what it means to consider living without Glory as when he speaks to Odysseus he mentions having a wife with contentness as though him being ordinary would be something that he views as realistic and Achille’s ego is so strong and he is very stubborn if not Patroklos had died I think Achilles would have chosen to opt from battle and live humbly in Phthia.Achilles states “If the glorious
      shaker of the earth should grant us a favouring passage on the third day thereafter we might raise generous Phthia. I have many possessions there that I left behind when I came here on this desperate venture, and from here there is more gold, and red bronze,and fair-girdled women, and grey iron I will take back” And here Achilles seems almost nostalgic,and regretful of the entire idea of fighting in war which I think is very important that the stealing of Briseis from him catalyzed all of those feelings in Odysseus.

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    3. Omolade Aderinkola

      Great line Matt.
      I can say that Achilles is learning much more about the importance of his life since the beginning of the book. (9.318-9.320)”Fate is the same for the man that holds back, the same if he fights hard.””We are all held in a single honour, the brave with the weaklings.””A man dies if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.”Achilles has since realize overtime that the importance that death sees no one as exempt. Every man holds the same fate, whether they fight in the front of the line, or stands aside at the back, they will all have the same fatality; death. That’s one thing they can’t escape. And so Agamemnon can offer as many gifts and proposals to Achilles, but if a man dies he is held in the same honour as the others. Achilles made reference that he’s rather live a long simple life, than to live a short glorious life he’s destined to have if he stays to fight the battle.

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  4. Matt Braley

    Robert,
    I agree that Achilleus and Agamemnon Have never gotten along. It interesting but understandable why Achilleus refused all the gifts. Achilleus is sick of being used by Agamemnon (9.312-313) “I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another.” Achilleus is tired of fighting Agamemnon’s battles. He seems to want to be happy rather than to have glory. (9.341-343)”Since any who is a good man, and careful, loves her who is his own and cares for her, even as I now loved this one from my heart, though it was my spear that one her.” Achilleus is saying he is done he wants to go home to his wife and care for her even though he won her in battle. Its interesting to see him grow to not crave glory and want love instead.

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    1. Brianna Belske

      In response to your post Matt I disagree that Achilleus has grown to not crave glory I feel like it has more to do with dying without honor for he needs Agamemnon to come tell him in person that he is sorry and really does need him in the war. So I see Achilleus still wants the glory but doesn’t see that he is going to get it so he will leave the shores of Troy, however I do agree that Achilleus is tired of doing Agamemnon’s will. But I feel that if Agamemnon came to him in person and apologized and admitted he was wrong he’d agree to going back into the war. I do however agree that he indeed love Briseus and cares for her. But my question if he really loves Briseus why hasn’t he tried to get her back already? So does he really love her or does it more have to do with Agamemnon taking her from him that now he is packing his ships to leave to infuriate Agamemnon into coming to him himself to apologize and admit defeat so Achilkehs can regain his honor.

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      1. Emmy Sheldon

        I think you both bring up some great points. As I was reading all of these responses I started to wonder about Achilleus and what glory means to him. I would argue that he hasn’t stopped craving glory all together but he has realized that there is just no glory in this war anymore. As far as Briseus, I think Achilleus see’s her as another thing that this war has ruined. I think as far as he is concerned when Agamemnon took her, that was it and she was no longer his. In lines 9.398-400 “And the great desire in my heart drives me rather in that place to take a wedded wife in marriage, the bride of my fancy, to enjoy with her possessions won by aged Peleus.” Achilleus’ attitude is that he just wants to go home and start again, leave the war behind and live in peace.

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    2. Maddy Lee

      I think it’s also interesting to look at the speech Achilleus gives. Particularly when he says “Was it not for the sake of lovely-haired Helen?” 9.359. This, to me, brings up the recollection that Menelaus does not get to fight often, little do we hear of him during s battle. Agamemnon does not let him dual with Hektor. If he should die, what would the war mean to the Greek men? Would they just leave, or is too much invested in the war? They are fighting for Menelaos and his honor, and especially Helen. Part of Achilleus is questioning the meaning of the war.

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  5. Omolade Aderinkola

    In the past, Book 1, Achilles was much more proud of his achievements as a hero. He was quick to defeat and feud. Not that he isn’t proud of his triumphs, it just seems as though he has “matured” in a sense that he wont be taken for granted from Agamemnon any longer. Agamemnon’s pompous and overly confident attitude has gotten Achilles to a point in life where he could humbly say, he no longer needs to fight to uphold his heroism, and for all of his credit and success to be taken from him to Agamemnon, he’s finally content with the success he has already lived and is not taking the gifts, offerings, and handouts that Agamemnon thinks will bring him back. Because in the end, they will all die, champion or not. Not to mention Agamemnon never formally apologized to Achilles, and has basically said Achilles will still never be on his level.

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