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.

16 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 6

  1. Katharyn Hill

    The comparison made in Book 11, lines 101-121 does compare the two on a warrior level and how they handle and deal with their captives/victims. Achilles and Agamemnon are fierce warriors and Homer showed this by using the same victims for both of them: “Before this Achilleus had caught [Isos and Antiphos] at the knees of Ida, and bound them in pliant willows as they watched by their sheep, and released them for ransom” (11.104-11.106). Agamemnon “struck Isos with the thrown spear in the chest above the nipple and hit Antiphos by the ear with the sword and hurled him from his horses, and in eager haste he stripped off from these their glorious armor which he knew” (11.108-11.111). In the past, we have generally seen Agamemnon not take an active role in battles unlike Achilles who is noble and is ready to step to the front line so I find Homers comparison of the two very interesting. I think the comparison is used to show at what level Achilles and Agamemnon go when they come into contact with Isos and Antiphos. Achilles merely captured them then released them for ransom, not causing any significant harm to the two. But then directly after reading that, we read what Agamemnon does to them and is even compared to a lion: “and as a lion seizes the innocent young of the running deer, and easily crunches and breaks them caught in the strong teeth when he has invaded their lair, and rips out the soft heart from them” (11.113-11.115). Agamemnon ends it by stripping away their armor, or symbolically stripping away their last bit of honor as a warrior, and shows no respect at all. The comparison is less of a tradition comparison to show similarities between two things/people, but in this case, to show how drastically different Achilles and Agamemnon are.
    I find Agamemnon to be a foil to Achilles more so than a villain or a father-figure. In Book 11, we see the different ways Achilles and Agamemnon handle captives but also in the war itself, we see Achilles being a fairly consistent character who will step forward and fight compared to Agamemnon who rarely gets actively involved in the front lines of battle, but instead shrinks back and watches while letting his soldiers get slaughtered.

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    1. Neko Ramos

      I totally agree with you Katharyn, as far as labeling Agamemnon as a “foil”. The definition of a foil is just simply a character in a fictional story who is in contrast with the protagonist of the story, in order to highlight the important qualities of the protagonist. The either are extremely different or extremely similar. In this case, Agamemnon is extremely different, than Achilles in the Iliad. Although in the beginning of the Iliad, we realize that the whole Iliad story will be about the “Wrath of Achilles”, when Achilles comes back into the Iliad in book 9, he is no longer driven by anger, but yet is cool, calm, and confident in his mindset; simply playing his Lyre.

      “When they reached the ships and tents of the Myrmidons, they found Achilles playing on a lyre, fair, of cunning workmanship, and its cross-bar was of silver. It was part of the spoils which he had taken when he sacked the city of Eetion, and he was now diverting himself with it and singing the feats of heroes. He was alone with Patroclus, who sat opposite to him and said nothing, waiting till he should cease singing. Ulysses and Ajax now came in- Ulysses leading the way -and stood before him. Achilles sprang from his seat with the lyre still in his hand, and Patroclus, when he saw the strangers, rose also. Achilles then greeted them saying, “All hail and welcome- you must come upon some great matter, you, who for all my anger are still dearest to me of the Achaeans.” (book 9.185-200) This is a perfect example as to how Achilles mindset and attitude has changed when he returned in book 9.

      Agamemnon still remains as the more arrogant and angry character in comparison to Achilles, and the example is shown in the way they treat their enemies; “And in eager haste he stripped off from these their glorious armour which he knew; he had seen these two before by the fast ships when Achilles of the swift feet had caught them in from ida.”(book 11,lines 110-115). Also, citing your previous quote from the text, “and released them for ransom”, this is strong representation of Achilles compassion, so i agree that these two characters have two different motives and two different hearts.

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    2. Camille Leeds

      Katharyn,

      I found your post to be quite interesting, with some surprising insights, in a good way. I especially thought that your idea that the fact that both Achilleus and Agamemnon fought Isos and Antiphos shows they are both fierce warriors was interesting.
      However, one part of your post confused me. You said that we had not seen Agamemnon take an active role in battles while Achilleus is noble and is ready to step to the front line. I thought this was confusing because Achilleus has not fought at all in the entire Iliad, so how do we know he is noble?
      I do think that Agamemnon and Achilleus are foils for each other, especially in this particular scene. Continued with this description of Achilleus ransoming rather than killing the two sons of Priam, we have always seen Achilleus to be rather merciful and respectful to the Trojans. We saw this when he gave Andromache’s father proper funeral rites after killing him, and by ransoming Andromache’s mother, as well.
      I think that this scene shows Agamemnon to be displaying one leadership quality, namely, making the hard decisions. He seems to have a take no prisoners policy, while several of the other Greeks are very different: his brother, Menelaos, almost spared one man, and Diomedes didn’t fight Glaukos after discovering that their grandfathers were friends. However, Agamemnon is very determined to defeat Troy, sack it, exact a penalty for the kidnapping of Helen, and leave.
      Maybe that is one reason why Agamemnon is leader of the Greeks and not Achilleus. Agamemnon is very set on getting the job done, while Achilleus is only set on gaining glory. He has no stake in the affair otherwise.

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      1. Brittany Matthews

        Camille Leeds,
        I also view Agamemnon as being more active in the Trojan War than Achilleus, at least in the first half of the Iliad. Agamemnon has killed many warriors and has already had an aristeia in book XI. Achilleus on the other hand, has not killed or even fought in the war yet.

        One of our group members, Katharyn Hill, claimed that Agamemnon takes a passive role when it comes to war and Achilleus is noble. You responded, “I thought this was confusing because Achilleus has not fought at all in the entire Iliad, so how do we know he is noble?” I believe that we all can assume he is noble because he is described and acknowledged multiple times in the text by many warriors as a very courageous, strong, and important fighter. I however do not believe that we can assume Agamemnon is passive when it comes to war. Although Achilleus claimed that the Achaians brought Agamemnon gifts from the cities that they sacked while he simply waited beside their ships (9.330-333), Agamemnon has been very active in trying to sack Troy from what we have read so far.

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    3. Natalie Smith

      I agree that Agamemnon is Achilleus’ foil. He’s not really a father figure because he doesn’t guide Achilleus at all, and he’s not the villain because it doesn’t seem like there’s any true villain in this poem. I like your point about how Agamemnon strips them of their armor, therefor stripping them of their honor. He truly embodies Achilleus’ foil because he killed the men while Achilleus let them live. Also, Agamemnon refuses to admit he’s wrong and put away his pride, while Achilleus will put away his pride once he gets an apology. While childish, he is still more willing than Agamemnon to put away his pride. I really like all of your points.

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    4. Danielle Wood

      Katharyn, I agree they are more like foils to one another than anything. I don’t see Agamemnon as a villain because it doesn’t feel like this story has a villain. Both sides fight for their own reasons and neither of the sides are painted in a darker light than the other. The two offset each other’s differences where one offers mercy, the other chooses to kill. However, circumstance might have been a driving factor rather than just judgement. They seem to be more desperate to win the war at this point, killing any man they come across to reach their victory. Still, this comparison does show Achilleus as merciful while it shows Agamemnon as the mighty and fierce warrior.

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      1. Natalie Smith

        Danielle,

        I like how you tied together how the warring sides mirror Achileus and Agamemnon. Neither is truly a villain, yet neither is completely in the right. I like your thought that circumstance is the driving factor. Because he’s not fighting, we have no way of knowing whether or not Achilleus would do something similar if he had Agamemnon’s desperation to win the war.

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  2. Neko Ramos

    I would also like to clarify for myself, as a reader and developing fan of the Iliad. i really became interested in the beginning stages of Achilles and Agamemnon’s relationship. They began fighting for the same team, but initially still having differing objectives. Agamemnon was always the warrior that let anger drive him and he never really listened and took heed to Achille’s point of view. He was willing to take the things the Achilles called his own, all at the expense of making up for what he had lost himself. In book 1 we see Agamemnon looking pass Achilles real intentions, Achilles: “You are steeped in insolence and lust of gain. With what heart can any of the Achaeans do your bidding, either on foray or in open fighting? I came not warring here for any ill the Trojans had done me. I have no quarrel with them. They have not raided my cattle nor my horses, nor cut down my harvests on the rich plains of Phthia; for between me and them there is a great space, both mountain and sounding sea. We have followed you, Sir Insolence! for your pleasure, not ours- to gain satisfaction from the Trojans for your shameless self and for Menelaus. You forget this, and threaten to rob me of the prize for which I have toiled, and which the sons of the Achaeans have given me. Never when the Achaeans sack any rich city of the Trojans do I receive so good a prize as you do, though it is my hands that do the better part of the fighting. When the sharing comes, your share is far the largest, and I, forsooth, must go back to my ships, take what I can get and be thankful, when my labour of fighting is done. Now, therefore, I shall go back to Phthia; it will be much better for me to return home with my ships, for I will not stay here dishonoured to gather gold and substance for you.” Here Achilles is being humble and trying to offer up his assistance for Agamemnon, but Agamemnon follows right back with statements of defense. Agamemnon; “Fly if you will, I shall make you no prayers to stay you. I have others here who will do me honour, and above all Jove, the lord of counsel. There is no king here so hateful to me as you are, for you are ever quarrelsome and ill affected. What though you be brave? Was it not heaven that made you so? Go home, then, with your ships and comrades to lord it over the Myrmidons. I care neither for you nor for your anger; and thus will I do: since Phoebus Apollo is taking Chryseis from me, I shall send her with my ship and my followers, but I shall come to your tent and take your own prize Briseis, that you may learn how much stronger I am than you are, and that another may fear to set himself up as equal or comparable with me.”

    I believe that Agamemnon serves a great role in the wrath of Achilles because he ultimately took Briseis from him and he could not defend himself nor his women, because he was warned by Zeus to refrain from revenge.

    Reply
    1. Camille Leeds

      Neko,

      I find it interesting and somewhat confusing that in this passage you believe that Achilleus is acting humbly. Could you give more detail about that? To me, it seems that Achilleus is basically just rebuking Agamemnon for threatening to take Briseis, and he himself is threatening to remove himself from the battle. He even tells Agamemnon that he is “steeped in insolence and lust of gain” which to me is not humble at all.
      I do think that it is a good idea to go back to the beginning of book 1 and reflect on it in comparison with book 11. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that Achilleus is a reliable source for information about Agamemnon. I might be wrong, but as far as I can remember, Achilleus is the only one who has said that Agamemnon takes the greater share of the spoils, in books 1 and 9, but even if he did, Nestor said in Book 12 that that is fine (12.702-704). Additionally, Achilleus is the best fighter, and he clearly knows that. Maybe he thinks that he is as entitled to as many spoils as Agamemnon because of that. I think it is interesting that Agamemnon chose Achilleus in the first place to take a girl from. I believe it was a way of asserting his authority over Achilleus, to remind him who was supposed to be in charge.
      It’s a lot of speculation, but I think it is something to think about.

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  3. Emily Berg

    Neko,

    Thank you for defining the term “foil” so well. It helped me in deciding my opinion on the question. I agree with those of you who say that Agamemnon is the “foil” to Achilles. Although we see Agamemnon’s aristeia throughout most of book 11, Achilles remains in my opinion as the dominant hero. In fact, most of Agamemnon’s actions throughout book 11, and in general, are somewhat comical to me because he over does everything. For example, there is an entire paragraph about Agamemnon’s appearance in the beginning of book 11 stating, “And Atreus’ son…Mykenai” (11.15-46). To me, this depiction is excessive and over the top. I understand the necessity to describe the details of the garments within the work as a whole, but the length of Agamemnon’s description is superfluous. Within the description of Agamemnon, Homer writes, “And toward the opening at the throat there were rearing up three serpents of cobalt on either side, like rainbows” (11.25-26). Although this is a minor detail, the mention of rainbows within the description of war armor caused me to view the armor as less legitimate.

    The scenes depicting Agamemnon fighting and killing many men also seem a bit excessive to me. Majority of book 11 is descriptions of Agamemnon killing men and outperforming everyone else. An example of this is demonstrated when Homer writes, “First Agamemnon drove on, and killed a man, Bienor, shepherd of the people, himself, then his companion Oileus, lasher of horses;who, springing down from behind his horses, stood forth to face him, but Agamemnon stabbed straight at his face as he came on in fury with the sharp spear” (11.91-95). Similar to the description of his armor, the scenes of Agamemnon fighting are lengthy, vivid scenes that we have never seen before.

    The main reason I believe that Agamemnon is the “foil” character to Achilles is because he (Agamemnon) conveys no nonchalance or modesty within his heroism. That is not to say that Achilles does either, for he knows he is the best, but Homer does not write lengthy, excessive paragraphs within the same book about Achilles. Everything Agamemnon has done thus far in the work as a whole is so over the top and dramatic, including the amount of gifts he presented to Achilles, his appearance in armor, his performance in war etc. The fact that Homer feels the need to dramaticize every depiction of Agamemnon shows that Agamemnon lacks the natural heroism that Achilles possesses.

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  4. Emily Berg

    Camille,

    I love that you bring up the surprising fact that Agamemnon chose to steal a girl from Achilles. I think that action supports my post above, which is that all of Agamemnon’s actions are over the top. He never performs modest, logical behavior, but instead goes to great lengths and ultimately, creates a lot of drama. To me, these are not characteristics a natural hero possesses, they are characteristics a wannabe hero demonstrates.

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  5. Aliyah Barbee

    I think the purpose of the comparison is to show how Agamemnon and Achilles are indeed similar. You might even say they are two sides of the same coin. Agamemnon seems like an older Achilles, hardened by the many wars and battles he has been in, so he lacks the amount of passion that Achilles possesses. Still they share a number of personality traits such as unsurmountable strength and unwavering selfishness. That is the reason why they butt heads so often because they are too similar and refuse to give in to the other’s demands. I don’t really see Agamemnon as a father figure to Achilles because Achilles doesn’t really respect Agamemnon.

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  6. Aliyah Barbee

    I think maybe you guys are looking at this too one dimensionally. Most of you agree that Agamemnon must be Achilles foil because you don’t view him as a villain or a father figure. Personally, I think he is a little bit of all three. Achilles doesn’t see Agamemnon as a father figure but that doesn’t stop Agamemnon from scolding Achilles numerous times like a father would. It’s sort of like Agamemnon is giving him a dose of tough love. Agamemnon definitely has his moments of being a villain, like when Menelaus was going to spare Adrestos’ life but Agamemnon convinced him to kill him instead. That was very manipulative and something good people don’t do, even in times of war. So Agamemnon might not be the villain of the story but he definitely has his moments. Lastly, Achilles and Agamemnon can be foils of each other at times, such as Achilles ability to show extreme compassion where Agamemnon can show extreme maliciousness.

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  7. Celina Gauthier

    Hi Danielle:
    I absolutely love how you point out that a villain does not exist in this Epic. It is a good reminder to all of us that honor and glory are of great importance to these men. They are battling because they have this unwavering sense of valor. I also agree that Agammemnon is a foil to Achilles. Book 11 clearly depicts Agammemnon’s skills as a warrior. It helps the audience understand what type of combatant Agammemnon is. Agammemnon is not merciful. For example, in Book 11, line 131, “‘Take us alive, son of Atreus, and take appropriate ransom. In the house of Antimachos the treasures lie piled in abundance, bronze is there, and gold, and difficultly wrought iron, and our father would make you glad with abundant repayment were he to hear we were alive by the ships of the Achaians.’ Thus these two cried out upon the king, lamenting and in pitiful phrase, but they heard the voice that was without pity: ‘If in truth you are the sons of wise Antimachos, that man who once came among the Trojans assembled advised them that Menealos, who came as envoy with godlike Odysseus, should be murdered on the spot nor let go back to the Achaians, so now your mutilation shall punish the shame of your father.’”

    The above quote reminds us of Agammemnon’s unforgiving nature. However, I also found it interesting that Homer chose to refer to Agammemnon as king when he describes to whom Peisandros and Hippolochos make their pleas. Was it to remind the audience of Agammemnon’s perspective? Agammemnon is a king who is leading hundreds of men in battle. He is also a king that has a personal grievance with Paris and his kinsmen. In his mind, Paris treated his brother Menealos shabbily. In order for his brother to regain his honor, Paris must die. In his mind, he and his brother have a score to settle and if the Trojans want a war, he is more than happy to oblige.

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  8. Celina Gauthier

    Hi Camille:

    I am equally as confused as you are about who is right or wrong in this contesting of wills that Agammemnon and Achilleus are having. In Book 11, Agammemnon is a strong warrior and leader. I am unsure of what everyone else felt, but I perceived that Zeus was actually shielding Hektor from Agammemnon when in 11.186 Zeus states, “ ‘ Go on your way , swift Iris of the the golden wings with a message: as long as he beholds Agammemnon, shepherd of the people, raging among the champions and cutting down the ranged fighters, so long let him hold back and urge on the rest of his people to fight against the enemy through this strong encounter. But when, either struck with a spear or flying arrow, he springs up behind his horses, then I guarantee power to Hektor…’” I am also reminded of how Helen describes him in Book 3, line 178, “That man is Atreus’s son Agammemnon, widely powerful, at the same time a good king and a strong spearfighter…”

    Then, I go back to Book 1. Agammemnon seems selfish and uncaring about his fellow compatriots when Apollo was plaguing them. Also, Achilleus made a very valid point. In 1.127, Achilleus states, “ ‘No, for the present give the girl back to the god; we Achains thrice and four times will repay you, if ever Zeus gives into our hands the strong-walled citadel of Troy to be plundered.’” Nevertheless, Agammemnon acts conceited and treats Achilleus with disdain for requesting that he give Chryse back. Then again, Achilleus could care more about his fellow compatriots. In 12, he is sitting back and allowing all of them to die because Agammemnon hurt his pride…

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  9. Brittany Matthews

    I believe that it is illogical to compare and judge Achilleus and Agamemnon based on how they treated Isos and Antiphos because both encounters have different contexts. Achilleus captured these two sons of Priam at Ida and released them for ransom (11.104-106). This was before the Trojan War, so why would Achilleus kill the brothers? He would not receive any type of reward for doing so. On the other hand, Agamemnon has the perfect excuse for killing Isos and Antiphos. In war, warriors are supposed to kill their enemies. Agamemnon killed the brothers as an enemy but when they were captured by Achilleus, he was not their enemy.
    I believe that Agamemnon can be seen as a villain to Achilleus (not of the story), a foil, and a father-figure to many of the Achaians. Agamemnon is a villain to Achilleus because he took his prize in book I. Agamemnon is a foil to Achilleus because the two are compared and contrasted in various books when it comes to attributes such as kingliness, anger, and valor. Agamemnon can be seen as a father-figure to many of the Achaians because they acknowledge him as the preeminent king over all of the others.

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