The Iliad, Book IX

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 Refuses to Return to the Fighting

The Greeks’ morale was very low and so Agamemnon called an assembly suggesting that they all return home as he felt Zeus had deceived them when he promised they would capture Troy. Diomedes opposed this proposal saying Agamemnon could leave if he wished but the rest of the Greeks would fight on until they conquered Troy. Nestor advised Agamemnon should post guards along the ditch and then invite his senior advisors to a feast and take the best advice offered. All agreed.

Achilles cedes Briseis to Agamemnon, Roman fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, 1st c. AD.

After they had eaten, Nestor advised that Agamemnon should apologise to Achilles whom he had dishonoured by taking Briseis, an action all the other Greeks opposed. Agamemnon admitted he regretted his behaviour towards Achilles and was willing to apologise, return to him Briseis, whom he had not slept with, and give him other gifts in compensation together with his choice of plunder once they had captured Troy; after the war he would also give him one of his daughters in marriage and ownership of seven towns in Pylos.

In return Achilles had to return to the fighting. Phoenix, Ajax and Odysseus were sent as a deputation to Achilles to convey Agamemnon’s message. Achilles and Patroclus welcomed them and offered them food and drink, after which Odysseus appealed to Achilles, saying Zeus was on the side of the Greeks, giving them favourable omens; the Trojans were encamped next to their defensive ditch and ships; Hector was on the offensive; Achilles was their only hope of being saved from disaster; Odysseus told Achilles of the compensation offered by Agamemnon and pleaded with him to put aside his anger, and, even if he could not do this, at least to pity the Greeks; he could cover himself in glory by killing Hector.

The embassy to Achilles, Attic red-figure hydria, c. 480 BC. Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Berlin.

Achilles refused to return to the fighting; it was unfair that those who fought bravely and those who did not fight at all received equal respect; Agamemnon kept the lion’s share of all the plunder he had won and the rest of the Greek leaders had kept the little given to them; Achilles alone had had his taken away; they were here at Troy fighting to get back Helen; Menelaus and Agamemnon were not the only ones to love their woman; he had loved Briseis and Agamemnon had taken her; he had no desire to fight Hector, who had not dared approach the camp while he himself was still fighting; on the next day he intended to sail home with his Myrmidons; Agamemnon had cheated him once; he would not get the opportunity to do so again and there was not sufficient plunder in the world to make him change his mind; there was no greater gift than life: Thetis had told him that, if he stayed in Troy he would die; he was therefore going home to enjoy a long life, and he advised that the rest of the Greeks did the same.

Phoenix tried to dissuade Achilles, reminding him of their history together: how Achilles’ father, Peleus, had welcomed Phoenix and treated him like a son after Phoenix had left his own home after a quarrel with his own father; how he had entrusted Achilles into his care when he left for Troy; he was devoted to Achilles and thought of him as a son; he begged him in the name of the Litae, the goddesses of supplication, to lay aside his pride; he told him the story of Meleager who, when the Curetes were at war with the Aetolians, had withdrawn from the fighting through anger with his mother. The Aetolians were losing and they and his family begged Meleager to return to the fighting. Eventually, swayed by the prayers of his wife, Meleager did return to the fighting and saved his countrymen from disaster although he did not receive the gifts they had promised him.

Achilles and Ajax playing the board game petteia, black-figure oinochoe, c. 530 BC, Capitoline Museum. (c) Marie-Lan Nguyen

Achilles should take the gifts he had been offered and save the Greeks and he would receive great glory and respect. Achilles told Phoenix not to side with Agamemnon, to stay the night with him and he would decide whether to return home or not on the next morning and Phoenix could decide whether or not to accompany him. Ajax appealed to Achilles in the name of friendship and not be unreasonable. Achilles replied that he could not get over the way he had been publicly humiliated by Agamemnon; he would only return to the fighting if Hector and the Trojans threatened his ships.

Phoenix stayed and Odysseus and Ajax returned to tell Agamemnon Achilles’ decision. The Greek leaders were surprised and speechless until Diomedes said that pleading with Achilles had been a waste of time as he was so arrogant; the next morning Agamemnon himself should lead the Greeks into battle. Everyone retired to bed.

Book VIII Book X