The Iliad, Book I

Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII
Book VIII Book IX Book X Book XI Book XII Book XIII Book XIV Book XV 
Book XVI Book XVII Book XVIII Book XIX Book XX Book XXI Book XXII

Achilles withdraws from the fighting

In the tenth and final year of the Greeks’ siege of Troy, a significant series of events happened which changed the course of the war: Agamemnon and Achilles quarrelled and, as a result, Achilles in anger withdrew himself and his men, the Myrmidons, from the fighting.

The reason for the quarrel was as follows: after a Greek raid into the surrounding countryside where local girls had been seized as part of the plunder to be distributed, Chryseis, daughter of Chryses, priest of Apollo, was given to Agamemnon. Shortly afterwards Chryses brought a huge ransom to the Greeks to recover his daughter, at the same time wishing them success in capturing Troy and returning home safely. The rest of the Greeks, led by Achilles, wanted Agamemnon to take the ransom and release Chryseis to her father but he refused.

Chryses attempting to ransom his daughter Chryseis from Agamemnon, Apulian red-figure crater, c. 360–350 BC. Louvre.

After listening to Chryses’ prayers for revenge, Apollo sent a plague on the Greeks in the form of shooting arrows at and killing many of their livestock and men. This lasted for nine days. On the tenth day Achilles called an assembly, at the suggestion of Hera who was concerned at the number of Greeks being killed. Achilles suggested they consult a prophet to find out why Apollo was angry with them. Calchas, the chief prophet of the Greeks, after being assured no harm would come to him for revealing the truth, told them Apollo was angry because Agamemnon had insulted his priest when he did not release Chryseis; to appease Apollo the Greeks must return Chryseis without ransom and send animal offerings to be sacrificed to the god by his priest.

Unwillingly Agamemnon agreed but demanded to be given in recompense another girl, one given from one of the other Greek leaders. Achilles was angry at Agamemnon’s threat to take another man’s girl, saying Agamemnon always took the lion’s share of the plunder but it was he, Achilles, who took the brunt of the responsibility and danger when fighting; he threatened to return home with his men. Agamemnon said he would return Chryseis but would take instead Briseis, the girl given to Achilles. As Achilles was intending to draw his sword and kill Agamemnon, he was stopped by Athena sent by Hera; she said he would have his recompense for his humiliation in the future.

Achilles’ surrender of Briseis to Agamemnon, Roman fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, 1st c. AD. Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Achilles told Agamemnon he would be withdrawing from the fighting because of the lack of respect shown to him and the Greeks would miss him in the future when the Trojans gained the upper hand through their great warrior, Hector. Nestor, king of Pylos, advised Agamemnon not to take Briseis and Achilles not to go against the leader of the Greeks but neither would listen to him and the assembly dispersed.

Odysseus set off in a ship and returned Chryseis to her father and sacrificed the cattle he had taken to appease Apollo. Chryses prayed to Apollo to remove the plague from the Greeks and, after offering the god the thigh bones, they all feasted on the rest of the meat and danced and sang hymns to Apollo, who then withdrew the plague. Agamemnon ordered the army to purify itself by bathing and sacrificed bulls and goats to Apollo. He also sent two men, Talthybius and Eurybates, to fetch Briseis from Achilles’ hut. Achilles handed her over as his quarrel was not with these men and then prayed to his mother, Thetis, as he felt dishonoured and disrespected.

Odysseus returns Chryseis to her father, painting by Claude Lorrain, 1644.

He asked Thetis to ask Zeus to intervene by helping the Trojans, reminding him of the help she had once given him when he was imprisoned by some of the other gods. Thetis regretted the short life and misery allocated to Achilles by fate and confirmed he should stay out of the fighting, saying she would speak to Zeus in twelve days time when he and the other gods returned from feasting with the Ethiopians.

On his return, Thetis told Zeus how Agamemnon had dishonoured Achilles and asked for honour for her son by giving the Trojans the upper hand in the fighting and for the Greeks to start losing. Zeus replied that Hera would be angry if he favoured the Trojans but he would do so nevertheless. Hera had seen Zeus and Thetis together and told Zeus she suspected they had been plotting to give the Trojans the upper hand. Zeus told her not to interfere with his decisions and she sat down in silence. Hephaestus, their son, advised Hera to restore the peace and not incur Zeus’ anger. All the gods then feasted through the night until morning.

Overview Book II