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Discussion - Homer, The Iliad > Iliad through Book 9

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Everyman | 5284 comments Sorry I'm late posting -- just got back from a long day off island, exhausting, but at least on the ferry ride over I got to re-read Book 9, and on the ferry ride back, Book 10. And boy, did I find things to talk about!

This is the thread for Book 9, which I know Bill has been champing at the bit waiting to get to. And I bet everybody has something to say about the embassy to Achilles. It's a pivotal and very important book, but I'll save that for further posts. For now, have at it!


message 2: by Bill (last edited Feb 01, 2012 07:20AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Yes, that bit is getting very uncomfortable -- hence the champing. :-)

I think Book IX is one of the high points, if not THE high point of the Iliad, and one of the peaks of Western literature.

In rereading Book IX, I was struck by the fact that Achilles has a choice. Glory and CERTAIN EARLY DEATH – or an uneventful but long life. By enlisting with the expeditionary force, he opts for the latter.

It is very difficult for a modern sensibility to understand this choice. When I try, I imagine myself at 16 being told that I could have a career that would produce literature of greater artistic value than Shakespeare’s, be recognized in my lifetime, have the money of Bill Gates and the women of a Warren Beatty – BUT I’d die at 35 -- OR I’d live to 85 -- have a decent job, a marriage and kids but no recognition.

I don’t know what I would have done at 16. At 16, I know I’d have been tempted. 35 to a 16 year old is very, very old, more than he’s lived already.

But when you make that pact – it’s almost like a pact with the devil – the assumption is you’ll get every last lastt bit of what’s coming to you. You’re trading your life for it. You want full value. It's not a matter of being reasonable or having perspective. Your trading your life.

In rereading Book IX, I was also aware that Achilles outburst was NOT just a response to Agamemnon’s single gesture of taking back Briseis. It had been building up, as Achilles saw, time and time again, he (Achilles) was glorious in battle but he did not get a proportional share of the honor, of time What was he trading his life for if not to be honored for his outsized accomplishments. Achilles had taken 12 cities by sea and 11 by land. When Agamemnon took Briseis, that was the last straw.

The insult was so deep, so humiliating, that the only recompense possible at this point is for Agamemnon to be equally humiliated. For one thing, Achilles has considerable treasure and his father’s kingdom. Further, all the treasure has limited meaning. It is a sign of honor, yes, but it’s not as though he was ever returning with his Myrmidons to the home of his father Peleus.

Agamemnon doesn’t offer the one thing Achilles wants.

Achilles says “…neither/do I think the son Atreus, Agamemnon will persuade me;/nor the rest of the Danaans, since there was not gratitude given/for fighting incessantly forever against your enemies.” (Lattimore). I interpret this to mean that no one stood by Achilles in council against Agamemnon. If he was valued, they should how shown it then, when they might have had something to lose.

Achilles continues “But say that I have stormed from my ships twelve cities/ of men, and by land eleven more through the generous Troad./From all those we took forth treasures goodly and numerous/and we would bring 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,”

Not only was Agamemnon greedy and selfish – the general charge really, not cowardice – “…from me alone of all the Achaians/he has taken and keeps the bride of my heart.” Obviously, Achilles feelings for Briseis are complex – he loves her (“do only the sons of Atreus love their wives?” – that’s from memory (Lattimore)) but it is not enough for him to accept what he perceives as dishonor (That’s not an unknown feeling. I was reminded of, “I could not love thee, dear, so much/Loved I not honour more. Richard Lovelace, “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”).

FINALLY, I REALIZED THAT ACHILLES DOES NOT REFUSE EVER TO FIGHT -- – and I think people miss that point. He is just not looking for more gifts. It’s not about gifts “not if he gave me gifts as many as the sand or the dust is,/not even so would Agamemnon have his way with my spirit/until he had made good to me all this/heartrending insolence”

What is interesting, I think, is that no one asks the obvious question, “How would he do that, Achilles?” I would have thought Odysseus, might. It is may be something Homer doesn’t want to explore because if this is resolved now, there goes the story.

I suspect what Achilles is saying is that, unless Agamemnon humiliate himself, behave in a way that will cause him to feel the burning, piercing shame that Achilles has experienced, that he not merely excuse himself because he was blinded by ate and pay the fine.

But I don't think Agamemnon's publicly supplicating Achilles was thinkable for Agamemnon.

_____

Do the Danaans have a claim on Achilles because they were part of the same expedition? I don’t know that they do. Perhaps they might have if they had supported Achilles against Agamemnon, perhaps.

Do they have the right to ask for his life? They are not asking Achilles to RISK his life. If he stays and is SUCCESSFUL, it means he will CERTAINLY DIE.

We're used to wars being fought for "causes." There's no great cause, winning back Helen. The rest is only plunder.

Achilles seems to understand this and, I find it odd, no one else does.

The more I read The Iliad, the less I like Agamemnon who is no more than a mediocrity -- taken OVERALL, he absolutely has his moments,and is not a coward -- and the more I like the Trojans.

I think a proper ending would be Achilles going over to the Trojan side with his Myrmidons, winnning the war for them, marrying one of Priam's daughters, getting Briseis back as well (they all seemed to have harems so it shouldn't be a problem)and sending the Greeks back home. Do we think that will happen. Will Cordelia survive? :-)

Enough for the moment. I need to sleep too. :-)


Juliette | 98 comments Bill wrote: "I think a proper ending would be Achilles going over to the Trojan side with his Myrmidons, winnning the war for them, marrying one of Priam's daughters, getting Briseis back as well (they all seemed to have harems so it shouldn't be a problem)and sending the Greeks back home...."

I have been turning that around in my head since chapter 3. We've been comparing this war to American Football and street gangs. I know nothing of street gang philosophy, but in American Football if some Prima Donna doesn't feel appreciated ($$$) then they go off and play for a team that will, and many times for the big rival team. I have been wondering for a while if there is anything in society of that time that keeps Achilles from doing just that.


message 4: by Bill (last edited Feb 01, 2012 09:59AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments I think the drama of Achilles is more poignant and more profound. He doesn't need the money, he's a king and a king's son. I think Achilles problem is greater, it's not just Agamemnon perhaps -- but I think his shock is in finding a world that won't make good on its promises. His choice is to go home to Phthia (say that three times quickly) and live a normal life.

Achilles needs another universe, not another team.

My feeling about a "proper" ending was just my growing personal disgust with the mediocrity that is Agamemnon. He's really an excellent of the Peter principle -- promoted to the level of his incompetence. A good soldier, perhaps even a good commander of a small group, he's simply the wrong person to be leading this large contingent. He doesn't lack bravery in one sense, but he lacks brains and he lacks heart. Twice he has sent everyone home -- and twice he had to be stopped, first by Odysseus and then more immediately by Diomedes, who remembers the insult he received from him.


Silver | 576 comments Juliette wrote: "Bill wrote: "I think a proper ending would be Achilles going over to the Trojan side with his Myrmidons, winnning the war for them, marrying one of Priam's daughters, getting Briseis back as well (..."

I think that is a question of both Honor and the Gods. The gods want Greece to win the war. If Achilles decided to take it upon himself to join up with the Trojan's I think they would have something to say about it and no doubt Athena, or perhaps his mother or some other embassy would be sent down to whisper in his ear and convince, cajole, or threaten him against making so a move.

But also to change teams so to speak would make him a traitor to his own countrymen as a Greek, and thus he would be viewed as being among the lowest of the low, to sell out by going to fight for the other side. In addition to the fact that while Agamemnon may not be one of his favorite people to put it mildly, that does not change the fact that Pairs broke the sacred law of the guest/host relationship and that needs to be answered for. Regardless of where are sympathies may lie the Trojans are not in the right here, thus I do not think Achilles would support their part.

Also I think that Achilles believes that forcing Agamemnon to admit he is wrong, and plead with Achilles to return to the war, and be forced to have go grovel before him and admit how much he needs Achilles and that he cannot win without him, would be a greater humiliation than to simply defeat him in battle.


message 6: by Bill (last edited Feb 01, 2012 12:01PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Silver,

I didn't mean that seriously, about Achilles marrying one of Priam's daughters. I was just expressing my disgust with Agamemnon in particular and trying to be funny. Please let's not get off on that.

My greater point was that Achilles is willing to fight -- but not for gifts because for him to be fully himself, for him to be truly honored, Agamemnon must recognize him for who he is, not try to buy him as a strategic move. Agamemnon must humble and humiliate himself -- and recognize that Achilles, despite leading a smaller contingent, is truly a "greater" man than he is.

Achilles is trading HIS LIFE for honor -- and he will not be shortchanged.

I don't blame him.

What is so wonderful about Achilles -- and I said this in a spoiler in Book VIII, is the true greatness of his heart. We see him singing with Patroklos learning against him. What an exceptional picture. The last thing we expected was to see Achilles with a lyre, singing. He loves Patroklos -- as we'll certainly see. He loves Phoinix. And he loves Briseis (exclusive love simply isn't an idea in "The Iliad").

When Achilles speaks he is both charming, plain-spoken and open-hearted in greeting those he loves best. He is pretty sure he won't be persuaded by gifts and says exactly that. He will be persuaded when Agamemnon "makes good" for his "heartrending insolence."

It's no longer just about Briseis - it's about the fact that Agamemnon had the unmitigated gall to take her from him. He can return Briseis -- but how does he make good on the fact that he took her in the first place? It is the ACT of TAKING, not merely the girl, that is at issue.

Again, no one asks what it will require to bring Achilles back. I think it would be something like Agamemnon supplicating Achilles as Thetis did Zeus. Agamemnon would never be looked at the same way again, despite his wealth, or even his prowess in battle (if not his leadership.) The general acknowledgment of Achilles as the greatest of the Greeks would be complete.

And he wants this, because he is, in the context of The Iliad the greatest of the Achaians -- and he will accept nothing less. It is what he is trading his life for. He has a very attractive alternative, to be a king's son and king, living in Phthia.


message 7: by Silver (last edited Feb 01, 2012 01:01PM) (new)

Silver | 576 comments Bill wrote: "Silver,

I didn't mean that seriously, about Achilles marrying one of Priam's daughters. I was just expressing my disgust with Agamemnon in particular and trying to be funny. Please let's not get ..."


My remarks were addressed more towrds Juliette's comments.


Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Gotcha. :-)


Thomas | 2153 comments At the end of this book, Diomedes calls Achilles "agenor" (ἀγήνωρ), arrogant, or haughty. He says to Agamemnon:

I wish you had not begged Peleus's son
and offered him all those gifts. Haughty (agenor) before,
now you have caused him to grow even more so.


What is interesting is that "agenor" is the same term used to describe Thersites at 2.276. Achilles has no loyalty to anyone at this point. The Greeks can go sit and spin for all he cares. If he can't have it his way, he'll just go home, as Thersites advised.

Achilles says a strange thing at 9.23:

Consider a bird that brings her unfledged young
all that her beak can catch. She receives no thanks.
So I have kept watch many sleepless nights
and spent as many days in bloody strife
against men who fight to protect their women.


Does a mother bird expect thanks from her unfledged young? Of course not. It's her duty! But Achilles has no sense of duty, except to himself. He will fight if Hector and the Trojans reach his ships. Aside from that, he wants compensation. (And what sort of compensation would that be, I wonder? He rejects everything on the table. Does Agamemnon need to grovel at his feet?)


message 10: by Bill (last edited Feb 01, 2012 02:29PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Thomas -- yes, that is quite true. But Achilles is neither the mother nor the leader of the Achaians. I read the line differently. He is being expected to act as though he were the mother - and that it is absurd to ask him behave toward them as though he were.

My position is pretty much outlined above in 2 and 6. We must remember Achilles is not being asked to risk his life -- but to die because if he stays that is prophecy, which no one questions and which does come true (if not in The Iliad . He owes these people nothing. NOTHING. It's the other way around. They owe him. He was not one of the suitors. He signed on for time for which he was ABSOLUTELY giving up his life. He has taken 12 cities by ship and 11 by land. He has not been given a distribution equal to his accomplishments. Achilles' anger has been building up. It began with Agamemnon's unjust distribution of goods and it ended with taking back Briseis.

And ABSOLUTELY Agamemnon has to make that good. Achilles makes it clear that NO amount of gifts will do that. First, Agamemnon must make good his "heartrending" insolence."

It's no longer just about Briseis - it's about the fact that Agamemnon had the unmitigated gall to take her from him. He can return Briseis -- but how does he make good on the fact that he took her in the first place? In a sense, Achilles is no better off than he was before. He could have the girl back -- untouched which suggest Agamemnon how dicey this was. It is the ACT of TAKING, not merely the girl, that is at issue, the "heartrending insolence."

How does one make good on "heartrending insolence?"

No one asks what it will require to bring Achilles back, which I find odd. Perhaps no one can imagine Agamemnon doing what is necessary.

I do think it would be something like Agamemnon humiliating himself, supplicating Achilles perhaps as Thetis did Zeus. Agamemnon would never be looked at the same way again, he would be thoroughly humbled, despite his wealth, or even his prowess in battle (if not his leadership.) There would be general acknowledgment of Achilles as the greatest of the Greeks.

And Achilles wants this, because he is, in the context of The Iliad the greatest of the Achaians -- and he will accept nothing less than appropriate honour in exchange for a short life. It is what he is trading his life for. He has a very attractive alternative, to be a king's son and king, living in Phthia. It's not like he's going to have to work two jobs to meet the rent.

But does Achilles owe something to the rest of the Greeks? They think so. But they did not support him when he stood up to Agamemnon -- and initially he was protesting that any of their prizes be taken. But he was forced to bear the brunt of it alone.

That is when they lost his loyalty. And remember they are asking for his death. Again, if he wins glory at Troy, he has a very short life.

Further, what's at stake here? Menelaus' wife who, frankly, does not seem to be having too hard a time of it. And then beyond that the investment of 9+ years in the siege. Well, he's been there 9+ years also. There isn't a "cause" here. Priam is not Hitler. He's not even Kaiser Wilhelm.

And if Achilles is wanted -- then all the other Greeks need to do is force Agamemnon to give him satisfaction. All Agamemnon needs to do, perhaps, is get on his knees in counsel -- and provide the prizes he originally offered.

It is not Achilles who fails the Greeks. It is the Greeks who fail Achilles.


Silver | 576 comments Bill wrote: That is when they lost his loyalty. And remember they are asking for his death. Again, if he wins glory at Troy, he has a very short life.."

If Achilles did not want the glory, and if in fact his life meant so much to him, he has the option to pack up and go home. But he is choosing to stick around for a reason. Because he wants to take the full advantage of the situation of forcing them to come and beg and grovel before him.

He wants the glory or he would not have continued to hang around. He doesn't want to leave, because he doesn't want to give up his opportunity to have that glory. But at the same time such promised glory is not enough for him. He wants Agamemnon humiliated on account of his own wounded pride.

Agamemnon was originally in the wrong, but now Achilles is milking the situation for all its worth.
He doesn't have to sit there and fight there war for him, if he was so grievously wronged, and if he owes them nothing and cares not for the war, but of course
if he quits the war, than he will loose his opportunity for victorious glory and praise, in addition to not having satisfied his vengeance against Agamemnon. He is there to serve his own needs and is loyal only unto himself.

And while in retrospect one might think that he is justified in such thinking and action, that does not make it noble or admirable behavior.


Adelle | 2127 comments Wow, Bill, excellent posts! You laid out and supported your position very, very well.


Rosemary Zimmermann | 223 comments I spent a lot of time thinking about Achilles' choice between glory and a long life. At first I thought about how none of us is really given that choice. We all aim for both and often succeed at neither. I wondered whether having the chance at that conscious choice would be a gift or a curse. It certainly would be an extraordinarily difficult choice for most of us- clearly including Achilles.

I then wondered whether there isn't some level on which we are given that choice. We've all had moments that we could have risked a lot on some dream, and either taken the risk or stepped back from it. Personally, I generally try to seize my chances, but there are two moments in my life that I went with the more "prudent" decision, and both are decisions I regret (happily I've learned this lesson early in life!)

Then I thought about what choice I would make, given Achilles' choice. On the whole, I think I'd pick the glory. Life is the only thing we really have, and I'm young, so maybe I don't have the right perspective. But I'm going to die no matter what I do. No matter how glorious or how banal, I am going to die. To me, choosing long life instead of the glory seems to be putting the issue aside. I'll have to come to terms with it one way or another. I think it'd be easier to come to terms with my own death if I knew I was leaving something lasting behind.

We know that ultimately that's the choice Achilles makes, but I really loved seeing his thought process laid bare like this in Book 9. I don't like the man at all, but he was quite human here, and it touched me.

Though I do think he is an ass, and I tend to agree with everything Silver says on the issue, but that's neither here nor there!


Everyman | 5284 comments Bill wrote: "I think the drama of Achilles is more poignant and more profound. He doesn't need the money, he's a king and a king's son. "

I think it goes deeper than that. Up to now he has played by the rules of his society, has played hard and fair, and been rewarded. Now he finds that what he won fair and square, what he worked hard for, what his society says is his and belongs to him, can be taken away from him on a whim. The only point for him of fighting (he made this clear) was for the booty and the glory which followed it, and if it can be taken at a whim, what's the point anymore?

The fascination is that he is questioning the whole structure of his society, the whole ethos or mores that underlie everything he believed in. I think his anger is as much for the loss belief in the whole fairness and rightness of the system he was reared in and believed in as it is at Agamemnon personally. Agamemnon, I think, just represents that, represents the loss of his world view and his core values.


Everyman | 5284 comments Bill wrote: "My greater point was that Achilles is willing to fight -- but not for gifts..."

Up to now, he has been fighting an offensive war, taking the fight to the enemy for the purpose of gain and glory.

Now he is saying, I won't fight an offensive war any more, but I will fight a defensive war. If Hector and the Trojans bring the war to the edge of my camp and my ships, I will fight to defend myself and my property and my people. But we will not put our lives on the line any longer in an offensive war to seek goods and glory, because if those can be taken at a whim, what's the point?


message 16: by Bill (last edited Feb 01, 2012 06:18PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Silver wrote He doesn't have to sit there and fight there war for him, if he was so grievously wronged, and if he owes them nothing and cares not for the war, but of course
if he quits the war, than he will loose his opportunity for victorious glory and praise, in addition to not having satisfied his vengeance against Agamemnon. He is there to serve his own needs and is loyal only unto himself.


And your point? These people all speak Greek. There is no such thing as Hellas and these are not Hellenes. He not a member of national army. The share a language. His participation in the expedition was for glory based on accomplishment. He was cheated out of it first by Agamemnon's selfishness and then by his (Agamemnon's) anger.

And by the other Greeks. They could have stood by him. Agamemnon troops (I don't think) would have been sufficient if they all opposed him.

In a way, the Greeks have all cheated him out of his honor.

And WHY would he go home? Why should he not exact vengeance against the cheats? He asked his mother to beg Zeus to interfere, and he nodded his head. Both Athena in the council and his mother told him to wait.

What I object to is the notion that this is some group to which he owes loyalty, that he has a responsibility to them when they have not shown loyalty to him.

I don't think Achilles is an ass. I leave that honor for Agamemnon. I also would remind that Achilles does not ultimately choose honor other a long life. His choice is the acting out of enormous grief.

And it is Agamemnon who will not accept responsibility by humbling himself.


message 17: by Bill (last edited Feb 01, 2012 08:08PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Everyman,

While I agree with everything you said, I think that's what I said too. :-)

The lines immediate following what you quoted of mine are "I think Achilles problem is greater, it's not just Agamemnon perhaps -- but I think his shock is in finding a world that won't make good on its promises....Achilles needs another universe, not another team."

Yes, I agree, that's where the profundity lies. Achilles finds himself in a world without ultimately without justice, where achievement isn't rewarded with time as he was led to believe. So in that world, why fight?

And the irony is that when he returns to the fight, it's no longer about glory really, it's about revenge. He is acting out of profound grief. And the rage associated with it. There is no amount of destruction that can repair his world.

In the end Achilles is even cheated out of his choice.

Zorba, teach me to dance. :-)


Everyman | 5284 comments The nature of the gifts offered to Achilles is interesting. Basically, he is offered the benefits of great military prowess (more booty than he could ever expect to get by normal fighting), beautiful women, and political power.

These are the same things that Paris was offered as bribes in the Judgment of Paris: military prowess, the most beautiful woman in the world, or political power.

Some scholars think this suggests that Homer was aware of the legend of the Judgment and is echoing it here.

My own view is that it's more likely that these are naturally the three things that would be most important to a Greek (or Trojan) prince, so that naturally those are the three things that would be offered independently to Paris and to Achilles.

But still, it's an interesting coincidence, and I could be wrong and it could be an echo of the Judgment.


message 19: by Patrice (last edited Feb 01, 2012 08:21PM) (new)

Patrice | 4135 comments Bill wrote: "Yes, that bit is getting very uncomfortable -- hence the champing. :-)

I think Book IX is one of the high points, if not THE high point of the Iliad, and one of the peaks of Western literature.

I..."


I agree with it all, well said.

I like the idea of his going to the Trojan side but then he'd be a traitor and his reputation would be shot. He'd be the Greek Benedict Arnold and no one loves a traitor, much less gives them time.

When I was listening to this book today, and i agree it's wonderful, the way I interpreted Achilles answer was "what do you take me for? a fool?" He knows he's going to die, what good will all the bribes be? He says as much, that when your life gone what does property matter? Agamemmnon, it seemed to me, was trying to manipulate him but how could he be tempted?
No thing matters once you're dead. And yes, he wanted payback. He wanted Agamemmon to grovel, and he did. The stuff didn't count for anything, he'd never get a chance to use any of it. Vengence is what he wanted.
It's what we all want when we've been wronged. But should we take it? That is the question.


Patrice | 4135 comments Silver wrote: "Juliette wrote: "Bill wrote: "I think a proper ending would be Achilles going over to the Trojan side with his Myrmidons, winnning the war for them, marrying one of Priam's daughters, getting Brise..."

Just read this Silver. We think alike!


Everyman | 5284 comments Patrice wrote: "I like the idea of his going to the Trojan side but then he'd be a traitor and his reputation would be shot."

I can't see his doing that. Homer makes clear that his anger was at Agamemnon, not at the Greeks generally. When the emissaries come to take Briseis away, he greets them cordially; when the embassy comes in Book 9 he sits them down and gives them a good meal. Why would he go to the other side and fight Odysseus and Ajax and all the other Greeks? He would have no reason to.


Patrice | 4135 comments Bill wrote: "Thomas -- yes, that is quite true. But Achilles is neither the mother nor the leader of the Achaians. I read the line differently. He is being expected to act as though he were the mother - and tha..."

Hmmm, I read it as 'pride before the fall" i agree, Agamemnon can't make it good because the damage has been done. he has been publicly humuliated. Vengeance would feel good but it won't make what happened right. That feels very human to me.


Everyman | 5284 comments I was interested, BTW, to see how he greeted the Embassy. The first thing he did was to feed them. This is the classic guest-host obligation; his respect for this tradition remains in full force. He was a gracious host, first taking care of giving them food, and only then asking them what they came for.


Patrice | 4135 comments Everyman wrote: "Bill wrote: "I think the drama of Achilles is more poignant and more profound. He doesn't need the money, he's a king and a king's son. "

I think it goes deeper than that. Up to now he has played..."


Rosemary wrote: "I spent a lot of time thinking about Achilles' choice between glory and a long life. At first I thought about how none of us is really given that choice. We all aim for both and often succeed at ..."

I thought that many people have similar choices. Every person who joins the military is deciding to put his life on the line for mostly altruistic reasons. Duty, love of country, etc. When people do play professional sports they risk their health for glory, and money. I think, in the end, we all have the choice to play it safe with our lives or take those chances. Do we gamble with our lives? do we go for broke? Some will choose to become writers or composers or artists knowing full well that chances are they will not achieve the glory and accomplishment and acclaim they seek. But others will get their CPA and find security. And the world most often does not reward the risk takers. But how many CPA's live their entire lives wishing they had taken the chance?

Then, what about criminals? lol They rob the bank, do the drug deal, etc. It's all or nothing for them.


Patrice | 4135 comments We are listening to this on a road trip and my husband got so hungry after listening to the decriptions of the feasts of roasting meat that he insisted on having a hamburger, something he never eats! The meat eating does seem to go along with all of the slaughter of both men and animal!


Silver | 576 comments Patrice wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Bill wrote: "I think the drama of Achilles is more poignant and more profound. He doesn't need the money, he's a king and a king's son. "

I think it goes deeper than that. Up to ..."


Though I suppose there is a slight different in knowing for an absolute fact you are going to die vs putting yourself in a position in which you may possibly die. While death is virtually always an option, Achilles knows that survival is not if he goes for glory in the war.

I think people who take those chances and put themselves in those positions do so with a supposition that they will live, be successful, even if some part of their mind they are aware of the risk they are taking, I do not think they go into with the assumption that such will be the outcome.


Patrice | 4135 comments Yes, that's true. Except for kamakazee fighters or suicide bombers. Those guys are better examples.


Thomas | 2153 comments Everyman wrote: "The fascination is that he is questioning the whole structure of his society, the whole ethos or mores that underlie everything he believed in. I think his anger is as much for the loss belief in the whole fairness and rightness of the system he was reared in and believed in as it is at Agamemnon personally. Agamemnon, I think, just represents that, represents the loss of his world view and his core values. "

This sounds quite right to me, but isn't atonement through ransom also part of the system he was reared in?

I think his anger is neither inappropriate nor unjustified, but his refusal to accept Agamemnon's apology (which is tendered in terms of booty and time) is more difficult to understand. His grief is warranted, but it's also overblown and immature. He doesn't see anything beyond his own anger, and Phoenix warns him about what happens to people like this. Of course he doesn't listen. He can't.


Silver | 576 comments Thomas wrote: "I think his anger is neither inappropriate nor unjustified, but his refusal to accept Agamemnon's apology (which is tendered in terms of booty and time) is more difficult to understand. His grief is warranted, but it's also overblown and immature. He doesn't see anything beyond his own anger, and Phoenix warns him about what happens to people like this. Of course he doesn't listen. He can't. "

Yes exactly!

It seems to me that he wants that which cannot be given, that the insult should be undone. But the fact is that it happened, right or wrong, and Achilles choice is to either accept that fact, or pack up and go home. He does not have to shake Agamemnon's hand and become his best buddy, or even forgive him necessarily, but if he is going to stick around, expecting them to come before him to make amends and beg him to return to the war than he is going to have to be willing to accept what form of compensation they have it within their power to actually give him. Instead of demanding the impossible.


Juliette | 98 comments Thomas wrote: "I think his anger is neither inappropriate nor unjustified, but his refusal to accept Agamemnon's apology (which is tendered in terms of booty and time) is more difficult to understand. His grief is warranted, but it's also overblown and immature. He doesn't see anything beyond his own anger, and Phoenix warns him about what happens to people like this. Of course he doesn't listen. He can't. ..."

I don't know, personally, if the person who wronged me doesn't come to me and apologize in person, I'm apt to get pissier. Come to my face an apologize for what you did, don't send a whole bunch of people that I like. Sending a group like that is cowardly in my opinion and I wouldn't have wanted it either. It's just skeevy and I got the chills reading it too, it's almost like Agamemnon is insulting Achilles AGAIN by not bothering to do it himself.

(Unless of course there's something about Greek culture and apologies that I don't know about)


Silver | 576 comments Juliette wrote: don't know, personally, if the person who wronged me doesn't come to me and apologize in person, I'm apt to get pissier. Come to my face an apologize for what you did, don't send a whole bunch of people that I like. Sending a group like that is cowardly in my opinion and I wouldn't have wanted it either. It's just skeevy and I got the chills reading it too, it's almost like Agamemnon is insulting Achilles AGAIN by not bothering to do it himself."

The very fact that he does offer to return Briseis is from where I stand essentially an admittance of guilt on his behalf, and there is not much more he can do than that. He cannot change the fact that he took her in the first place, that is past history, what happened, happened. So it seems a bit unreasonable of Achilles behalf that the return of her is not good enough. He cannot undo the fact that he did it, so all that is left is to try and restore her again.

And taking into consideration that it is about more than just Briseis herself. Everyone at some point in time in their life has to come to terms with the fact that they are living in an unjust and unfair world. That is just the painful truth of the matter. For better or worse that is the world we (as mankind of any day and age) live in. Now one does not have to altogether accept that fact and can choose to make choices in their own lives and how they choose to live to try to change things, but one cannot expect the impossible, and simply sulking about it, is not going to achieve much either. Agamemnon is never going to change who he is or become a different and better person. The world itself is not going to change, and all wrongs are not going to be made right no matter how long Achilles decides to sit on his heels and fester in his own anger and sense of injustice.


message 32: by Bill (last edited Feb 02, 2012 10:04AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Thomas, Silver,

Thomas, wrote "I think his anger is neither inappropriate nor unjustified, but his refusal to accept Agamemnon's apology (which is tendered in terms of booty and time) is more difficult to understand. His grief is warranted..."

Again, I agree it is more difficult to understand at first but I believe it is understandable. I think you're right that it can't be undone. But I think it absolutely can be recompensed by the humiliation of Agamemnon, something that diminishes him and is painful to him -- rather than merely a fine he can afford to pay.

In fact, in terms of criminal justice, the analogy works well -- Agamemnon needs to do hard time. He can't get away with fines or public service.

I think the "jail time" here is humiliation. He needs to be humbled. His position in the eyes of the Greeks needs to be lessened. He needs to admit that Achilles is the greater man.

This is the kind of penance popes have demanded of kings. It's not out of the realm of human experience (although we're a long way from popes).

In fact, since he is ASKING ACHILLES TO DIE -- because if Achilles stays and fights he will have a short life -- I think the humiliation is a RELATIVELY small price to pay.

Thomas, this seems well within the possible.

I see why it's an enormous psychological problem for Agamemnon given his character.

I don't see that it's a problem for a group of other Greeks to force him to it.

There is a strong concern that leadership degenerate into anarchy -- clearly that's the only reason why Nestor has argued against killing Agamemnon. But that reason only goes so far.

Achilles who is young is coming to grips with the limitation of what life might offer -- and as benefits the greatest of the Greek heroes -- it comes with enormous psychological pain. The grief is as outsize as his swiftness, prowess and strength in battle. It is, ahem, epic. He is humanity writ large.

IF Agamemnon supplicated Achilles in a way that did damage to himself, real damage in the eyes of his fellow Greeks, not just a fine -- then (we can't know) but I believe he would be recompensed for the humiliation.

Again, it is the Greeks who owe Achilles, he owes them nothing.


Silver | 576 comments Bill wrote: "In fact, since he is ASKING ACHILLES TO DIE -- because if Achilles stays and fights he will have a short life -- I think the humiliation is a RELATIVELY small price to pay."

The thing is I just do not see it in those terms. I do not truly see it as the Greeks are asking Achilles to die, but rather that Achilles has already volunteered to give his life for the glory. Achilles has already decided he wants to be there that he wants to fight, and give his life because he wants the glorious victory that will be given in return for the sacrifice. If he had not already decided this is what he wants for himself than he would not still be there.

But since he has no personal stake in the war itself, and cares not for the cause they are fighting for, and has no loyalty to the Greeks, but is there purely on grounds of his own self-interest, he figures why not take full advantage of the position. He knows the Greeks need him more than he needs them. It is not a matter of him agreeing to give his life for the Greeks, he is going to give his life for the glory. But while he is at it, he can sit back and have Agamemnon properly humiliated before him. So he can have his own personal revenge satisfied and have his glory.


Thomas | 2153 comments Juliette wrote: "I don't know, personally, if the person who wronged me doesn't come to me and apologize in person, I'm apt to get pissier. Come to my face an apologize for what you did, don't send a whole bunch of people that I like. Sending a group like that is cowardly in my opinion and I wouldn't have wanted it either"

Good point. Achilles doesn't say specifically what would satisfy him, but it's clear that it isn't the quality of the compensation that is insufficient, it's the way that it's offered.

I think one of the reasons that compensation is so difficult here is that Achilles and Agamemnon are operating from different status systems. Agamemnon's power ultimately devolves from Zeus -- Ag wields the scepter of Pelops, a hereditary power accepted by all the Argives. Achilles, on the other hand, has earned his status through his own ability, on the battlefield. He could potentially lose this status, or see it diminished, by losing a fight on the battlefield (or in some other sort of contest.)

But Agamemnon can't surrender his power because it is inherited from Zeus himself. It's a fixed status -- he can't give up a part of this status in payment for the insult to Achilles, and Achilles can't take it away from him. None of the kings in attendance suggest that Agamemnon abase himself or engage in a losing contest with Achilles because it isn't befitting the holder of the scepter -- he can only offer compensation in the traditional ways, which he does. Maybe this is why Achilles doesn't say exactly what would be acceptable compensation for him -- he wants something that he knows Agamemnon cannot give.


Thomas | 2153 comments Bill wrote: "This is the kind of penance popes have demanded of kings. It's not out of the realm of human experience (although we're a long way from popes)..."

But here I think we have the king demanding penance from the pope... sure, it's POSSIBLE, but it strikes me as ridiculous.


Erika | 29 comments Silver wrote: "But since he has no personal stake in the war itself, and cares not for the cause they are fighting for, and has no loyalty to the Greeks, but is there purely on grounds of his own self-interest, he figures why not take full advantage of the position..."

I tend to agree, but I need a little clarification, if anyone can help. I'm not clear (or can't remember) if the Greeks at large (or Ag.) know of Achilles fate before he tells them in 9.411-16.

It seems to me, that if they don't know about Thetis' prophecy they aren't really asking Achilles to die. But if the prophecy is common knowledge, well then...

I also can't find where Thetis tells Achilles directly that he will die young with glory or live a long life without glory. I could only find, in book one, where Achilles says to Thetis, "Since, my mother, you bore me to be a man with a short life...", which is a little different as it sounds like he was fated to die young anyway.


Silver | 576 comments Erika wrote: "Silver wrote: "But since he has no personal stake in the war itself, and cares not for the cause they are fighting for, and has no loyalty to the Greeks, but is there purely on grounds of his own s..."

You bring up some good points. I admit I have not had time to go back and reread so I have just been going off Bill's cue so to speak on that point. But I will have to go back over it and double check that question. For depending on who knows what and when, could quite change things.


message 38: by Bill (last edited Feb 02, 2012 03:22PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Thomas wrote, None of the kings in attendance suggest that Agamemnon abase himself or engage in a losing contest with Achilles because it isn't befitting the holder of the scepter -- he can only offer compensation in the traditional ways, which he does.

Honestly, I don't think much about the scepter and what it might or might not mean with regard to what Agamemnon could do is clear in The Iliad. There is not much detail. It's never addressed.

Silver says For depending on who knows what and when, could quite change things.

I don't think so. It might suggest that the embassy was more of a reasonable attempt that it was. But the fact is everyone would have known when they were told. They could have reported back to Agamemnon with more information.

Frankly, I think that everyone knew it because no one was surprised by it. Traditions later than the Iliad make it clear it was generally known -- but whether those traditions are useful in looking at The Iliad, I don't know.

The question about Achilles is what his relationship is to the other loose confederation of Greeks -- and whether he owes any loyalty to them. I don't see why he should. He is not one of those who swore the oath -- he wasn't a potential suitor. He signed on for time which was never distributed in proportion to his accomplishments. And on top of this he was humiliated in a way far more than I think we can conceive.

There's no moral imperative or greater good at work here. This is a raiding party trying to plunder a rich city and which has already plundered many largely because they're in neighborhood or allies of Troy. This isn't a country. The word lacking in The Iliad is "Hellas".

I see no reason why Achilles shouldn't be enraged. I see no reason why he should curb it.

The arguments that he should grow up and act like an adult seem to be expecting him to care about a social good in the absence of a society where one would do that. These aren't countrymen in a serious war. This is just a few steps up from cattle-raiding (to which Nestor alludes.)

Achilles never accepts honor as a reason in the fight again, at least so far as I remember. Agamemnon, in war sparked by stealing his brother's wife, creates a disaster by stealing Achilles' woman. Achilles anger threatens the Greeks. And yet -- I'll be vague -- it is also his outsize anger and hurt which results in saving the Greeks -- not a desire for honor. It is an another irony.

My very old OCD suggests he is almost barbaric, from a different civilization, which is an interesting comment, particularly if his roots are in a very different legend. It pointed out that is opposed to strongly opposed to lying which is not typical of Greeks of that time. Less charmingly, (view spoiler) I find the notion he is a character from a very old or foreign narrative perhaps some explanatory. He may be more primitive, more direct, more emotional, and grander.

And Achilles is also the greatest of the heroes nevertheless in Greek terms, conventionally thought so -- even if "hero", a Greek word and conception, doesn't match up to our contemporary ideas of one.


Thomas | 2153 comments Bill wrote: "Honestly, I don't think much about the scepter and what it might or might not mean with regard to what Agamemnon could do is clear in The Iliad. There is not much detail. IIt's never addressed.
"


It's addressed in Book 2:

The prince Agamemnon
rose with the scepter Hephaestus had once made.
Hephaestus gave it to Cronus' son Zeus,
and Zeus to the Argus-slaying messenger,
Hermes, who gave it to horse-master Pelops,
and Pelops passed it on to his son Atreus.
Atreus left it to his brother Thyestes,
who left it for Agamemnon to hold,
ruler of all Argos and countless isles.
2.100

When Odysseus is rallying the troops later in the same book, he says

Did we not all hear what he said in council?
If he is angered he will punish offenders.
The power of Zeus-descended kings is great,
and his glory stems from Zeus, who loves him.
...All the Achaeans here cannot be kings.
That would bring chaos. There must be one chief,
one king, who must be the man Cronus' son put
in charge of scepter and laws so he could rule.
2.194-205

In Book 9 Nestor is quite explicit about why his allegiance lies with Agamemnon:

I speak first but obey you, who have so many
under your rule, and Zeus entrusted to you
the scepter and laws, so that you may lead.
9.97

It's really quite clear why Agamemnon is the commander of the Greek army and where his power comes from. He is not worthy of this power, but Zeus is not fair or particularly wise himself. In any case it seems very unlikely to me that a man in this position could ever supplicate himself before his lesser. In the Homeric world, I would say it's impossible.


message 40: by Bill (last edited Feb 02, 2012 08:52PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Thomas,

Thank you for the detail on the scepter.

I think you're right, also that

In any case it seems very unlikely to me that a man in this position could ever supplicate himself before his lesser. In the Homeric world, I would say it's impossible.

Impossible for Agamemnon, personally, in particular.

And it also lends credence to your argument that Achilles, when he asks Agamemnon to make good with something other than booty, is asking the impossible rather than personal humiliation.

Increasingly, I think I'm going to have to give way on that because the question never asked is "what does he need to do?"

But even so, I don't see why Achilles should be expected to accept what he doesn't find adequate recompense. Again, this isn't a national war, it's a raid (a really long raid). He's been failed by the other kings.

And the OCD notion that he's a figure from another culture or from an earlier one is tantalizing.

I think the Greeks owe Achilles, he doesn't owe them. And he's the one, in this circumstance, who gets to set the price -- or no price.


message 41: by Erika (last edited Feb 02, 2012 05:25PM) (new)

Erika | 29 comments Bill wrote: "Frankly, I think that everyone knew it because no one was surprised by it."

I'm not sure that they were not surprised by it. They were certainly shocked into silence when he finished his speech (9.411-31) "So he spoke and all of them stayed stricken to silence in amazement at his words. He had spoken to them very strongly." (And the nearly same reaction when Odysseus relates the abridged version of Achilles answer to Agamemnon (minus the prophecy) at 9.693-4).

He explained to them that the cost of going back would be his life, why would he do anything less than what he did: demand the impossible?

If Agamemnon knew he was asking Achilles to die why would he offer him loads and loads of worldly goods, estates, and women? He can only expect that Achilles will help bring the Greeks victory and live to enjoy the spoils. To offer riches while knowing Achilles would die seems an obvious insult.

If Achilles knows his fate and Agamemnon doesn't it sets Agamemnon up to lose either way. The cards still seem to be stacked against him. By the gods? It seems this is still all part of Zeus' deal with Thetis (but I've only read as far as the group so I don't know what happens later).

Diomedes alludes to Achilles fate when he says at the end of the chapter, "He will fight again, whenever the time comes that the heart in his body urges him to, and the god drives him."(9.702-3)


message 42: by Bill (last edited Feb 02, 2012 05:34PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments The shocked silence was that Achilles so strongly refused to return to the fight. They thought the booty was astounding and sufficient.

Achilles signed on in the first place knowing the cost would be his life. He was not unwilling to die. But in the face of Agamemnon's treatment, he is no longer willing.

What is difficult to assimilate is the depth of the insult and the fact that Achilles attitude to his choice has changed -- that no amount of booty is sufficient.

Agamemnon's behavior -- which is suggested by Nestor -- is explicable in that he doesn't understand just how profound the hurt to Achilles was -- and that he know looks different at things.


Thomas | 2153 comments Bill wrote: "And the OCD notion that he's a figure from another culture or from an earlier one is tantalizing."

This is interesting indeed. It might be possible to chart a progression in the forms of justice from Achilles' direct retribution approach to the ransom/poine system of Agamemnon to the trial system of the classical era (as seen in Aeschylus.) Maybe? Maybe not. But either way I think the root of the problem is that Achilles and Agamemnon operate on different levels -- Agamemnon from a hierarchical standpoint, and Achilles from a personal sense of honor. They aren't mutually exclusive in every way, but they prescribe very different ways of resolving conflict.


message 44: by Bill (last edited Feb 02, 2012 09:14PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments I don't disagree that's one of the layers of what's going on here. I do think the resolution of rage, or how one deals with it, is an issue for both literary and historical Greece.

It's interesting for us because on the one hand is the more primitive individual (living so closely to his emotions) and on the other modern (rewards for performance not inherited position.)

The profundity lies, for me, in the depiction of the heart of Achilles and his struggle which is ultimately reality. Agamemnon fades into the background and Achilles is magnificently alone in the world with his griefs. He is who we are without veneer.


Patrice | 4135 comments Thomas wrote: "At the end of this book, Diomedes calls Achilles "agenor" (ἀγήνωρ), arrogant, or haughty. He says to Agamemnon:

I wish you had not begged Peleus's son
and offered him all those gifts. Haughty ..."


That is so interesting Thomas, the use of the same word. Especially when we had a hard time understanding that character, Theristes? This is my seond or third reading and I'm constantly amazed by how structured the poem is. It's impossible to see that on a first reading.

As a break from the Iliad we have been listening to the recordings of Jackie Kennedy's interview after the assasination. She discusses John Kennedy's temperment and political abilities and I can't help being reminded of the Iliad. She describes how furious she'd get at his political enemies. How she would not even look at them, how she'd hold a grudge. But her husband never did. She said that he admitted that during a "battle" he'd feel hate for his opponent but then it would be gone. that today's friend is tomorrow's enemy and vice versa and that it was important to always always leave an opening for future conciliation.
My feeling is that this is the pov of the poem. Yes, we all understand fury, wrath, etc. But the older wiser heads advise moderation.
And just a couple of hundred years later, Socrates explained that hurting another person is really hurting yourself, most people just don't realize it.
Of course he was killed. lol But with a clear conscience!


message 46: by Patrice (last edited Feb 03, 2012 03:51AM) (new)

Patrice | 4135 comments Bill wrote: "Thomas -- yes, that is quite true. But Achilles is neither the mother nor the leader of the Achaians. I read the line differently. He is being expected to act as though he were the mother - and tha..."

I don't have the book in front of me and I'll quote it when i find it but in that line where he says that he has nothing against the Trojans, he says that he joined the fight out of loyalty to the Atreides. Ultimately it was an act of friendship. As you said he's already pretty darn rich. I think there is nothing more stinging that doing for a friend and being betrayed. That's his real anger. And thats why all of the bribes can't possibly work. he's been betrayed. They used him and they want to use him again and he's not having any part of that.

However, it if were truly time that he wanted. If that is the moral compass that is guiding him. It really shouldn't matter a bit what Agamemnon does or says. He would then be fighting for his own reasons, for what he thinks is right. What difference does it make what Agamemnon does or says? Yes, that's human weakness, but look what has happened? Agamemnon is more in charge of his behavior than he is. Spite has taken over his life rather than noble goals that would gain what matters to him.


Patrice | 4135 comments Bill wrote: "Silver wrote He doesn't have to sit there and fight there war for him, if he was so grievously wronged, and if he owes them nothing and cares not for the war, but of course
if he quits the war, th..."


Isn't this situation an echo of the original?
Paris was a guest friend of Menaleus and stole his wife. The betrayal of the friendship, and coming between a man and his woman, started the war.
Now Agamemnon, a friend and ally to Achilles has betrayed that friendship and come between his woman and himself. They were all friends until their women were taken from them. And nothing but destruction follows.

Moral of the story? Never get between a man and his woman, ie don't commit adultery!


Patrice | 4135 comments Bill wrote: "Everyman,

While I agree with everything you said, I think that's what I said too. :-)

The lines immediate following what you quoted of mine are "I think Achilles problem is greater, it's not just..."


Ooooh! there's that word "justice". What exactly is it???? The advantage of the stronger? Or something else?


Patrice | 4135 comments Everyman wrote: "Patrice wrote: "I like the idea of his going to the Trojan side but then he'd be a traitor and his reputation would be shot."

I can't see his doing that. Homer makes clear that his anger was at A..."


Of course you're right and Bill was tongue in cheek, which is sometimes hard to read on line.

But like Bill, I'm sort of partial to the Trojans so it had an emotiona appeal.


Patrice | 4135 comments Thomas wrote: "Everyman wrote: "The fascination is that he is questioning the whole structure of his society, the whole ethos or mores that underlie everything he believed in. I think his anger is as much for the..."

Yes, I agree with this. I think it's important to remember his age. It takes decades of living to understand.


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