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BOOK IX: Agamemnon Sends Envoys to Achilles

Summary

Agamemnon is crushed by the Trojan victory and sheds tears. He then tries again to shame his Greek forces, hinting that they are cowards and telling them they should go home since victory seems far away. This time, however, the men do not follow his suggestion and rush to their ships; instead, spurred on by Diomedes, they become incensed at his words and state that they are determined to fight until the end, knowing that it is prophesied that Troy will eventually fall.

After Agamemnon is silent, Nestor addresses the king, stating that they really need the help of Achilles. He hints to Agamemnon that in his anger he has wronged the warrior. He then suggests that Agamemnon should dispatch an embassy to the leader of the Myrmidons and offer him gifts as an inducement to return to the battlefield. Knowing that he has behaved rashly towards Achilles and now needs his help, Agamemnon agrees to Nestor's suggestion. He pledges to return Briseis to Achilles and offer additional gifts, including the hand of one of his daughters in marriage and a large kingdom to rule.

Phoenix, Aias, and Odysseus are chosen as the emissaries. Laden with gifts, they arrive at the tent of Achilles, where they find him playing the lyre for Patroclos. After some initial social amenities, Odysseus presents Agamemnon's offer to the Greek hero. Achilles replies that he will not accept any gifts offered by the king, for his honor has been violated and cannot be restored. He explains that his love for and devotion to Briseis was like that of Menelaos for Helen, but Agamemnon dared to steal her away. Now he will not help the king and says he refuses to ever lift his spear against Hector again. Instead, he will sail to Phthia on the next day, taking with him all the possessions he has left.

In reply to the fiery speech of Achilles, Phoenix rebukes him, saying that even the gods yield to persuasion. He adds that although Ruin is strong and leads men astray, the spirits of Prayer can heal the wrong. Phoenix then reminds Achilles of their past together. He explains how he arrived in the court of Peleus, the father of Achilles, and began to tutor Achilles. He next tells the story of Meleager, who at first harbored anger and refused to help save his people when the enemy was at hand, much like Achilles is doing. In the end, however, Meleager realized the evil wrought by the enemy and acted in tome to save his home.


Achilles responds that he needs no lesson in honor from Phoenix and claims that Zeus already knows of his noble character. Since his mind has not been changed, he asks Phoenix to stay the night and return with him to Phthia the next day. The other emissaries are shocked that Phoenix agrees to the offer. They return to Agamemnon and report the ill-fated outcome of their mission. Agamemnon is shocked and disappointed to hear the news.

Realizing that Achilles has refused to return to the battlefield, Diomedes calls the Greeks to fight with a rousing speech. The assembled warriors replied with a shout of approval.

Notes

Through the entire narrative of the poem, the guilt of Agamemnon and the right of Achilles have been indicated by both mortals and gods; but Agamemnon has refused to admit his guilt. Now in this ninth book, Nestor dares to suggest directly to the king that he has wronged Achilles and should try to appease him so that he will return to the battlefield. Surprisingly, Agamemnon agrees with Nestor's suggestion, for he knows that he needs Achilles' prowess. He agrees to return Briseis and offer other gifts to Achilles as well.

The heart of the Agamemnon-Achilles story is in this book. Under Nestor's prodding, Agamemnon confesses that he has acted harshly towards Achilles and is willing to make amends, just as Zeus desires. When he admits that he was wrong before his own warriors and is willing to atone for his rashness, Agamemnon is making a huge and humbling sacrifice. Achilles, however, does not accept the king's offer, saying that his honor has been wounded too deeply. Even the persuasive words of Phoenix cannot change the hardened heart of Achilles, proving him to be even more stubborn and proud than Agamemnon. Zeus will certainly not be pleased by his stubbornness. He will see that the hero's wrath, that began in righteousness, has turned into an all- consuming force, blinding Achilles to reason and morality. As a result, Zeus will surely transfer the burden of guilt to the shoulders of Achilles.

A crisis in the fighting has humbled Agamemnon and made him see and admit the error of his earlier ways. Similarly, it will take a major personal crisis, the death of Patroclos, to awaken Achilles and make him overcome his desire for revenge. In the end, he will relent and return to the battlefield to aid the Greeks.

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