The Iliad - Book 9 - The embassy to Achilles
- Reading time: about 55 minutes
- The purpose of Book 9--the embassy to Achilles
- Homer is faced with the difficulty of keeping Achilles before us, although Achilles has withdrawn. He needs to give Achilles the opportunity to speak.
- The Achaeans at their lowest point.
- Agamemnon is ready to call it quits, but Diomedes opposes Agamemnon and tries to rally the troops by saying that even if they go, he will stay and fight. He reminds everyone that Troy is destined to fall. Diomedes is successful in bringing new spirit to the troops.
- Similarly, Nestor opposes Agamemnon's despair and criticizes Agamemnon's treatment of Achilles. But Nestor, ever the diplomat, finds a way to blunt some of Agamemnon's rough edges and tactlessness. Surprisingly, Agamemnon admits his errors and declares he will return Briseis to Achilles.
- In addition to Briseis, Agamemnon will
give Achilles a treasure trove of gifts.
- The mission to Achilles and
- Odysseus is the one sent to repeat
Agamemnon's offer to Achilles.
- Achilles immediately rejects all the
- Read carefully what Odysseus says to Achilles:
- 310 Odysseus recalls Peleus' words to Achilles: "Hold in check that proud, fiery spirit of yours inside your chest."
- 380-395. Examine Achilles' response carefully. How different the view of life here is from what we have seem from Diomedes and Hector. Remember Hector's hope for his child: "May he be like me, first in glory among the Trojans." Remember Diomedes's desire to "win himself great glory." (5.3) Where is that desire for glory now? Achilles rejects that view: "One and the same lot for the man who hangs back and the man who battles hard. The same honor waits for the coward and the brave." He even rejects the natural superiority of the ruler over all others. He sees the Trojans and Achaeans as equals and sharers in common desires.
- 490-500: Achilles continues his radical reappraisal of what is valued in life: "I say no wealth is worth my life." He seems to repudiate the heroic values, but Bernard Knox in the intro gives another way of interpreting these lines: since glory has already been taken away by Agamemnon, there is really no choice any more (50).
- Reflect on Achilles' response to the embassy. [Discuss Il 09-What is the value of life?]
- Phoenix is the second negotiator. Phoenix says that Achilles should accept the offer now because if he waits, he may have to give up his anger later but get nothing in exchange then.
- Ajax makes the final speech. He is exasperated by Achilles. He says to Odysseus: Let's go (780). Mueller points out that these are the words of a plain soldier, so we see here how far Achilles has strayed from the acceptable norm.
- Achilles gives in a bit, if imperceptably (787-800). He will not go home but will remain until the Trojans reach the ships.
- So we see here after this embassy that Achilles has chosen his course, despite a just offer from all the Achaeans.
- So, how do you regard this angry man? You now have two portraits--one of Hector at home and now of Achilles here in his camp. How does this book bring nuance to your judgment of Achilles as a tragic figure? [Discuss Il 09-Fine points]
- We will not see Achilles again until Book 16.