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BOOK II: The Debate of the Achaeans

Summary

Having determined to aid the dishonored Achilles, Zeus formulates a plan of action. He dispatches a false dream to Agamemnon, telling the king that the defeat of the Trojans can now be his. The king accepts the dream as truth, reports the vision to the Greek Elders, and makes plans to attack the Trojan forces.

In the meantime, Agamemnon has devised a bit of trickery of his own in order to test the loyalty of his forces. When his men assemble, he talks to them about their homeland and families, telling them that they are free to go. The memories cause the troops to react. They hasten to their ships and prepare to sail for home, eager to see their families again after nine years of fighting. Hera and Athena, seeing what is happening to the Greek forces, decide to intervene.

Athena goes to Odysseus, the most persuasive of the Greeks, and reminds him of the cause for which the war was begun -- the restoration of Helen. She tells him that he must urge the Greeks to fight until the victory is secure. Odysseus agrees and goes to motivate the troops. Passing through the ranks, he exhorts or shames them into action. Inspired once again, the Greeks desert their plans to sail home and begin to clamor for battle.

As the Greek soldiers assemble, an ugly man named Thersites heaps abuse on Agamemnon, accusing him of wanting riches and glory at the expense of his men. Odysseus contradicts Thersites and defends the king. He then tells the Greek warriors that it would be a disgrace to give up and go home empty-handed. He also reminds him that Calchas has prophesied the end of Troy in the tenth year of battle and says it would be foolish to give up when the tenth year as at hand. The soldiers roar their approval of Odysseus' words.

Nestor then rises to speak. Assuming a graver tone, he reminds the Greek soldiers of the oaths they had taken to fight until the end. He also recalls the favorable sign sent from Zeus as they sailed towards the battle. Finally, he talks about the fact that the Trojans are still holding Helen as captive, and they must continue to fight to win her back. Nestor then suggests that a sacrifice be offered to Zeus before the soldiers prepare for battle, and Agamemnon follows the advice.


The second half of Book II gives a lengthy catalogue of the Greek and Trojan troops and their ships. Before the battle against the Trojans begins, Agamemnon reviews his forces. The Boeotians are led by Peneleos, Leitos, Arcesilaos, Prothoenor, and Clonios. Those from Aspledon and Minyeian Orchomenos command thirty ships and are led by Ascalaphos and Ialmenos, son of Ares. The Phoenicians, with their forty ships, are led by Schedios and Epistrophos, the sons of Iphitos Naubolides. The Locrians are led by Aias, King Oileus' son. The Abantes from Euboia command forty ships and are led by Elephenor Calchodontiades, a descendant of Ares. The Athenians command fifty ships and are led by Menestheus Peteos' son. Those from Argos and Tiryn command eighty ships and are led by Diomedes and Sthenelos. The Myceneans have one hundred ships and are led by King Agamemnon. The soldiers from Lacedaimon command sixty ships and are led by Menelaos. Those from Pylos command ninety ships and are led by Gerenian Nestor. The soldiers from Arcadia command sixty ships and are led by Prince Agapenor, Ancaios' son. Those from Dulichion and Echinai, two islands, command forty ships and are led by Meges Phyleides.

The Cephallenians command twelve ships and are led by Odysseus. The Aitolians command forty ships and are led by Andraimon's son. The Cretans, with their eighty ships, are led by Idomeneus. The Rhodians command nine ships and are led by Tlepolemos. Those from Syme command three ships and are led by Nireus, while those from Nisyros command thirty ships.

The Myrmidons, Hellenes, and Achaeans are led by Achilles and command fifty ships. Those from Phylace and Pyrasos command forty ships and are led by Protesilaos. The soldiers from Pherai have eleven ships and are led by Eumelos, the beloved son of Ademetos. The men from Methone are leaderless, but control seven ships. Those from Ithome and Oichalia command thirty ships and are led by Podaleirios and Machaon. Their squadron was thirty ships. The soldiers from Argissa have forty ships and are led by Polypoites, the son of Peirithos and the grandson of Zeus. The Erienes and Peraiboi have forty ships and are led by Prothos.

After completing the long list of Greek forces, Homer turns his attention to the Trojans. Hector Priamides, the leader of the Trojans, learns about the upcoming Greek attack and directs his best soldiers and spearmen to assemble their troops. As the Trojans march through the city gate to the battlefield, Homer reviews them. The Dardanians are led by Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite and the second in command. Those from Zeleia are led by Pandaros, who received his bow from Apollo himself. Those from Adresteia are led by Adrestos and Amphios. The soldiers from Percote, Praction, Sestos, Abydos, and Arisbe are led by Asios Hyrtacos' son. Hippothoos leads the bands of Pelasgian spearmen, while Peiroos and Acamas lead the Thracians. Euphemos leads the Ciconian spearmen, and Pyraichmes leads the Paeonians with their curving bows. The Paphlagonians are led by Pylaimenes. The Alizones are led by Odios and Epistrophos. The Mysians are led by Mesthles and Antiphos. Nastes leads the Carians, and Glaucus leads the Lycians.

Notes

Book II explores the unstable situation in the Greek camp, as dramatized by the folly of Agamemnon's test and the subsequent flight of his army. The temperamental and inept leadership of the king is contrasted to the sage advice and guidance of the mature Nestor, who manages to save the day by rallying the Greek forces. The self-possessed and capable Odysseus also encourages the troops.

The events that take place in Book II begin to carry out the grand design of Zeus. He sends an erroneous vision to Agamemnon, indicating to the king that Troy will soon fall and giving him false hope. He also stirs up disharmony amongst Agamemnon's men for the benefit of Achilles. It is obvious that the divine will control much of what takes place amongst the mortals in the book. Although Zeus has the power to control and stop Hera and Athena, he does not interfere, for their wishes go hand in hand with his design. Because of their interference, the Greeks will be recalled to battle, which Zeus wants to occur.

Although Achilles has withdrawn to his ships and will no longer participate in the Greek fighting, his importance is still felt. Part of the reason that the Greek soldiers want to flee towards home is that they are fearful of fighting without Achilles' help. Thersites also reminds Agamemnon, as he heaps abuse on him, that he has dishonored Achilles.

The catalogue of ships and leaders begins with another invocation to the Muse, followed by a long and tedious listing, which is sometimes omitted from the book. The catalogue has often been discussed by commentators, both ancient and modern, who argue whether it was part of the original text. They also debate whether it is fiction or a true historical record. In addition, they question if the listing of leaders and ships refers to the Greek forces at the beginning of the war or after the nine years of fighting that is referenced within the Book. Most believe that if it were a reference to the current forces, the order would be different, for Achilles and Agamemnon are not listed first, and yet they have emerged as the major leaders of the fighting. Some commentators believe that the catalogue was written before The Iliad and that Homer merely incorporated it into his work.

It is important to notice that the catalogue lists the Greek forces in more detail and in greater number than the Trojan forces. This serves to emphasize the fact that the Greek world was extensive, spanning from the Boeotians in central Greece, to the Peloponneseans in the south, to the islands in the Aegean Sea. Their manpower was massive, and they controlled more than one thousand ships, which are listed. They are, therefore, fighting to retain their power and strength in the Mediterranean world.

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