Books 9-12BOOK 9 - The Embassy to Achilles
The Trojan success arouses consternation in Agamemnon, who consequently suggests, more seriously than in Book 2, that they should all return home. Diomedes forcefully rejects such a course of action, while Nestor, at a meeting of the council, suggests that Agamemnon was wrong to insult Achilles and that it might now be expedient to appease him, in order that he might come to their aid. Agamemnon accepts responsibility for his previous error, and describes in detail a list of all the gifts he is willing to give to Achilles in return for his laying aside his anger, a list which includes Briseis, the girl whose confiscation caused Achilles' initial resentment. An embassy comprised of those most likely to win him over (Odysseus, Ajax and Phoenix, an old man who tutored him in his youth) is selected to convey Agamemnon's offer to Achilles.
They find him singing, to the accompaniment of a lyre, tales of men's glory, while Patroclus sits by him. He is astonished to see them, jumps up and orders Patroclus to prepare wine. He himself roasts some meat and they set themselves to eating and drinking. After they have sated their appetites, Odysseus attempts to persuade Achilles to return to the fighting. He relates the trouble the Trojans find themselves in, reminds Achilles of his father's advice not to let his anger get the better of him, lists the gifts that Agamemnon is offering, asks him to feel pity and loyalty for his fellow fighters, and appeals to his desire for glory.
Achilles scornfully rebuffs Odysseus' attempt. As in Book 1, he calls into question the role of the hero within the Achaean army (but not per se), saying that if he is no longer given the glory that he deserves for his efforts, then there is no point in him fighting on. For the material possessions, by which that glory is conferred, are taken for the most part by Agamemnon, when he himself has not risked his own life. His confiscation of Briseis is the culmination and nadir of this tendency. Achilles expresses his desire to head for home the next morning and says that there is nothing that will make him change his mind, least of all Agamemnon's gifts, even if they were as numerous as the grains of sand or dust. For no amount of gifts can be seen to be equal to the price of his life. He knows the story of his two fates: that if he stays at Troy and fights, he will die young but his glory will live on, or if he heads home, he will grow old but will live in obscurity. However, the fact that Agamemnon is refusing to show him the honour and glory that are the corollary of staying and fighting, his choice is a simple one.
Next, Phoenix tries to persuade him. He calls to mind his own flight from his father's house and the way in which he was accepted by Peleus into his house. He recalls the care that he lavished upon the young Achilles as he grew up and how he came to consider him as his own son. He advises him to respect the daughters of Zeus, the Repents, who see to men's prosperity if they are called upon after the onset of Folly. He points out that although Achilles' anger and withdrawal after Agamemnon's insult were entirely justified at the time, the offer of countless gifts now means that Achilles would be in the wrong, were he to continue to remove himself from the war. Finally, he tells the story of Meleagros, who, like Achilles, was his people's leading warrior and who also withdrew from the fighting when he felt that he had been insulted. He too rejected bounteous gifts, but when he was eventually persuaded by his wife and succeeded in winning the day for his people, they did not give him the gifts, since they had been withdrawn by the time he entered the fray. Saying this, Phoenix begs Achilles to re-enter the fighting while the gifts are still being offered and while the Achaeans will still treat him like a god on his return.
Achilles responds by saying that he feels the need of no further honour from the Achaeans since he has the honour of Zeus. He chastises Phoenix for feeling love for Agamemnon and calls on him to stay with him and share in half his kingdom. He says that they will consider in the morning whether to sail home or stay at Troy.
Ajax is the last to attempt persuade him. He focuses on Achilles' pitilessness in not suppressing his anger and considering the love that his comrades feel for him. For, even a killer is forgiven by his victim's
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