During ancient times, kings used battles to extend their kingdoms. The stories told of ancient battles mention kings and heroes as the central pillars of conquest in a battle of kingdoms. Indeed, this explains why cities of old were high-walled. The Trojan War is an ancient battle featuring the Trojans and Achaeans (Greek forces). As it was customary in every battle, soldiers of the winning army took spoils, including gold and animals. During the Trojan War, the Achaeans laid siege on the town allied to the Trojans and took divided the spoils. King Agamemnon, who commanded the Achaean army, took a woman by the name Chryseis, while Achilleus, the great Greek warrior took a concubine by the name Briseis. Unfortunately, Chryseis was the daughter of Chryses, a priest of the god Apollo. The development, therefore, made the Achaean army face the wrath of Apollo to the point of agreeing that the king should set Achilleus free to return to her father. In anger and displeasure with the decision, the king decided to take Achilleus' war prize, Briseis, in exchange for Achilleus. Indeed, this unwise move set the stage for a bitter confrontation between Agamemnon and Achilleus to the point where the latter withdrew from the Trojan War with his group of warriors, Myrmidons.
Therefore, the conflict between King Agamemnon and Achilleus was based on the former's decision to take the latter's war prize. Being a king and the commander of the Achaean army, Agamemnon believes he should have a replacement of Chryseis, and he chooses Briseis. The king seems to think this is the only way to avoid the humiliation that may damage his honor among the Greek forces. As far as Achilleus is concerned, Briseis is his war prize just as Chryseis was the king's war prize. As such, he is not convinced that the king has a right to take Briseis just because he has been asked to free Chryseis so she can return to her father, Chryses. Therefore, he interprets the decision of the king as an insult to his status and honor. When King Agamemnon actually takes Briseis from Achilleus’s tent, the Greek warrior withdraws together with his warriors from the Trojan War, exposing the Achaean army to defeat by the Trojans. Seeking to repair the damage, Nestor advises the king to make amends with Achilleus to which the king agrees and lists the gifts that he would give the war hero should he forego his anger towards him.
Indeed, King Agamemnon promises his adversary Achilleus many gifts, and Nestor dispatches messengers to the warriors tend to deliver the offer. Even though Nestor dispatches five messengers (three warriors and two heralds), it is the warriors- Odysseus, Phoenix, and Aias, who deliver the news of the king's offer. Of the three messengers, it is Odysseus that narrates to Achilleus word-for-word of what King Agamemnon promised to give him should he choose to forgo is anger and rejoin the Trojan War. According to Odysseus, the king would give Achilleus 'seven tripods that have never yet been on fire, and ten talents of gold; twenty iron cauldrons, and twelve strong horses that have won races and carried off prizes” (Homer par. 9). Additionally, the king would make Achilleus rich both in land and gold, give him seven excellent workmen, Lesbians that the king had chosen for himself, and return Briseis, whom he has never touched “after the manner of men and women” (Homer par. 9). According to Odysseus, Achilleus would receive these things from the king immediately. Going by the standards of the time, such gifts were enough to make anybody reconsider their decision.
Furthermore, Odysseus told Achilleus that after the Achaean army captures the city of Priam, he would be free to share in the spoils and load his ship with gold and bronze to his liking. Furthermore, he can take twenty Trojan women as a war prize, and after reaching Achaean Argos, he can take the wealthiest of all lands, and become the king's son-in-law to be nurtured with abundance as the king's dear son Orestes. The king would also give him seven well-established cities, including Cardamyle, Enope, and Hire, where the dwellers would honor him with gifts worthy of a god and obey his ordinances. Odysseus told Achilleus that the king would do all that for him if only he, Achilleus, would forego his anger towards the king.
After listening to the three men, whom he values and respects, Achilleus, however, rejects the king’s offer. Instead, Achilleus gives a lengthy response in which he categorically states his refusal to the king's offer and his contempt for the king. In this response, he tells the three messengers of the king that he intends to sail back home, arguing there is no offer that Agamemnon can make that is worth his life. It is then that he relates his refusal to a prophecy from his mother stating that if he stayed in Troy his life would be glorious and short, but if he went home his life would be long without any glory. Achilleus chose the latter option and advised the three messengers to forsake the king and the war and head home. He welcomes Phoenix to stay with him, but Phoenix ignores the offer. What this response reveals is that Achilleus is not ready to consider the offer from the king or the passionate pleas of those dearest to him. In fact, the offer only intensifies his anger towards the king for dishonoring him by taking his concubine.
At selected points in the Greek poem by Homer, the use of the Greek language helps to contextualize conversations. For example, the king’s offer to Achilleus captures some terminologies that help place the story in the Greek context. In responding to Nestor’s suggestion to make amends with the angered great warriors, King Agamemnon talks about giving Achilleus ten talents of gold, 12 strong horses, 20 iron cauldrons, seven tripods, and Lesbians among others (Homer Book IX par. 9). When talking to Achilleus, Odysseus repeats these terminologies word-for-word. The cities of Cardamyle, Enope, and Hire that the king promises to give Achilleus also help to contextualize the story into the Greek setting (Homer Book IX par. 9). Speaking to the assembly, King Agamemnon makes a statement that mentions some terminologies that contextualize the story into the Greek setting, including gifts, tent, ratify, oath, and sacrifice (Homer Book XIX par. 14). The use of words resembling Greek terminology is significant in making the story more relevant to the war exploits of the Greek in the ancient world. Even though some terminologies cannot place the exact place of the story, some like the names of cities, are specific to Greek.
The response that Achilleus gives the three messengers sent by the king to deliver his apology in the form of gifts is significant in several ways. Firstly, it shows Achilleus's displeasure with the actions of the king, both the decision to take his woman and to attempt to appease him with gifts. Secondly, it shows that while Agamemnon was a king and the commander of the Achaean army, he was not all-powerful to command Achilleus. Thirdly, it reveals that, indeed, Achilleus was a valuable warrior in the Achaean army. Collectively, these realities show how the king's attempt to bribe Achilleus with gifts only worked to intensify the latter's anger and contempt towards the former.
Even though Achilleus decided to rejoin the Trojan War, siding with the Achaean army, he was not about to make peace with King Agamemnon. During the assembly, Agamemnon apologized to Achilleus, blaming his sheer madness for taking Briseis, and promised to make good on his offer to Achilleus. However, Achilleus was not about to soothe the king’s guilty conscience when he replied by telling the king “Son of Atreus, king of men Agamemnon, you can give such gifts as you think proper, or you can withhold them: it is in your own hands” (Homer Book XIX par. 12) With such a response, it is unlikely that Achilleus was going to forget the dishonor that the king showed him in the present of the Achaean forces. Probably, the king had interpreted Achilleus's return to the battlefield to mean that he had chosen to forego his anger. The truth for his return, however, was to revenge for the death of his dear friend Patroklos at the hands of the Trojans. From everything that happens from the moment King Agamemnon decides to take Briseis from Achilleus to the moment that Achilleus returns to the battlefield to avenge for his friend, it is clear that the conflict between the two men is not about to come to an end.
In conclusion, Briseis and Chryseis were just war prizes that Achilleus and King Agamemnon had taken, respectively, after taking siege of a town allied to the Trojans. Indeed, this practice was customary in ancient times, where, after killing men and destroying a city, soldiers would divide spoils, including women and gold and everything else of value. However, when the wrath of Apollo demands that the king gives up on his prize, he decides to take the prize of the Greek war hero, setting the stage of a confrontation that would jeopardize the chances of the Achaean army winning the Trojan War. Even after promising to give Achilleus many valuable gifts, including returning Briseis, the war hero is not ready to forgive the king. The story shows that honor was a great treasure for soldiers in the Greek army and any dishonor was likely to result in a protracted conflict between parties.
- Homer. “The Iliad.” Mit.edu, n.d. http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.19.xix.html. Accessed 3 Nov. 2018.
Questions and Responses
- Why does Agamemnon think that he has the right to take Achilleus’ war prize (geras)? Why is it so important to him to take Achilleus' prize? What is his reasoning?
Firstly, Agamemnon is angry because he is the only one asked to return his war prize even though Achilleus also got himself Briseis (geras) as a war prize. Being the commander of the Greek forces, Agamemnon believes he should have a replacement. Therefore, taking Briseis from the Greek war hero is important for Agamemnon as it is the only way to cover the humiliation that befell him after being asked to surrender Chryseis. In this sense, Agamemnon seems to reason that losing his war prize equals losing his honor among the Greek forces.
- Why does Achilleus think that Agamemnon does not have the right to take his prize? Why is it so important to Achilleus to possess his prize? What is his reasoning?
However, Achilleus is not ready to allow his commander to take his war prize, just yet. The Greek war hero opposes the decision made by Agamemnon on the ground that Briseis was his reward for fighting in the Trojan War even as Chryseis was Agamemnon’s reward. Just because the gods have required the commander to give Chryseis back to his father Chryses is no justification for him to take Briseis as a replacement. Like the greatest war hero, Achilleus believes possessing Briseis gives him honor and status among the Greek forces. In this sense, Achilleus sees losing Briseis as an attack on his honor and status.
- What, exactly, is an honor (timē)? What is the connection between honor and value? What is the connection between value and war prizes? How is the value of a hero related to his hierarchical status and being?
Honor is respect that an individual earns on account of their position, status, or accomplishments. The connection between honor and value comes in the sense that honor allocates value. In other words, once something or an individual is honored, they become valued by society in general or obtain value in society. The connection between value and war prizes comes in the sense that war prizes are a form of rewards and it is only those with value in an army, either due to their position or accomplishment, can take such rewards. The value of a hero is related to their hierarchical status and being on account of what they have done in the past, are doing presently, or can do in the future. For example, with the status of the greatest war hero in the Greek army, Achilleus has incredible value to the army as well as to the nation for his ability to affect the Trojan War and other conflicts to their favor.
- Are the values of Achilleus fundamentally different from the values of Agamemnon? Or are their values fundamentally the same? In what sense are their positions the same? In what sense are their positions different?
The values that guide Achilleus are not fundamentally different from those of his commander Agamemnon. To some degree, both men share common values. The point of similarity is the fact that both men have huge egos that need constant pampering, and this ego is the reason that they take women captive after destroying a city. Definitely, this is why they took Briseis and Chryseis after destroying a town allied to Troy. Again, it is their egos that make them angry when their war prizes are taken away. In essence, their anger is not necessarily based on the fact that they are losing the women, but that their honor and status are being threatened and insulted. Eventually, Agamemnon with the status of the commander decides to take Briseis (Achilleus' war prize), and Achilleus with the status of the greatest Greek war hero decides to withdraw from the Trojan War.
The only point that the value system of both men differs is when they are fighting for their honor. One (Agamemnon) is willing to become dishonorable by taking another’s war prize, while the other (Achilleus) chooses to walk away rather than suffer dishonor.
- Does Agamemnon admit that he is wrong in Book 9? Why does he send an embassy to Achilleus’ ships? Does he apologize to Achilleus? Does he ask anyone to apologize to Achilleus? Or, is Agamemnon’s position in Book 9 consistent with his position in Book 1?
Facing defeat in the hands of the Trojans, the Achaean forces retreat to their camp heartbroken. It is then that Agamemnon acknowledges the failure of their war effort and his role in it when he drove Achilleus away by taking his war prize concubine. The king contemplates returning to Greece disgracefully and communicates the same to his men. However, his men are not about to follow this line of thought and trace the origin of their apparent weaknesses and how to resolve them. With sorrow and shame, the king replies to Nestor, ‘Sir, you have reproved my folly justly. I was wrong.” Upon admitting that he wrong, the king agrees with Nestor’s idea of approaching Achilleus for help, and he lays down a plan of how he intends to make amends. As a sign that he was sorry, Agamemnon talks of all the things he would do for the Greek war hero if he were to return his services to the Greek army and take the City of Troy. The king states, “I will make amends, and will give him great gifts by way of atonement.” These gifts include seven tripods that have never been placed on fire; ten talents of gold; twelve strong horses that have been prized for winning races; twenty iron cauldrons; seven excellent workers; and lesbians of surpassing beauty. Furthermore, the king agreed to return Briseis, whom he has never touched after the manner of men and women, and also allow him to take 20 Trojan women in case they siege the City of Troy. The king would also give Achilleus the freedom to take the best of lands after they reach Achaean Argos and even make him his son-in-law to be nurtured in abundance like his own son Orestes. The king would also give one of his three daughters- Chrysothemis, Laodice, and lphianassa- to the Greek war hero freely. To cap it all, the king would give Achilleus seven cities, including Cardamyle, Enope, and Hire, which are well-established with “grass, holy Pherae and the rich meadows of Anthea, Aepea also, and the vine-clad slopes of Pedasus, all near the sea, and on the borders of sandy Pylos.” The king was adamant that “All this will I do if he will now forgo his anger.” Nestor picks out Aias, Odysseus, and Phoenix, as the most esteemed Achaian warriors to deliver the king’s offer to Achilleus. Nestor sends along the two heralds, Eurybates and Odios to accompany the warriors.
- What does Nestor advise Agamemnon to offer to Achilleus? What does Agamemnon actually offer? (See prior bulleted question.) What does Odysseus tell Achilleus that Agamemnon is offering Achilleus, and why? What does Phoenix tell Achilleus Agamemnon is offering Achilleus, and why? What does Aias tell Achilleus Agamemnon is offering Achilleus, and why?
When the Greek camp decides to make peace with Achilleus, Nestor tells King Agamemnon concerning the great Greek war hero, “Let us think how we may appease him, both with presents and fair speeches that may conciliate him.” Indeed, the king offers Achilleus a number of gifts, including ten talents of gold, twelve strong horses, and seven tripods that have never been placed on fire among others, as well as promises of twenty Trojan women and the position of a son-in-law, as highlighted in the previous chapter.
Odysseus tells Achilleus of all that King Agamemnon would do for him word-for-word if only he forgave the king for taking his war prize, Briseis. According to Odysseus, the king would give Achilleus “seven tripods that have never yet been on fire, and ten talents of gold; twenty iron cauldrons, and twelve strong horses that have won races and carried off prizes.” Additionally, the king would make Achilleus rich both in land and gold, give him seven excellent workmen, Lesbians that the king had chosen for himself, and return Briseus, whom he has never touched “after the manner of men and women.” According to Odysseus, these things would Achilleus receive from the king immediately. However, after the Greek forces capture the city of Priam, Achilles can share in the spoils and load his ship with gold and bronze to his liking. Furthermore, he can take twenty Trojan women as a war prize, and after reaching Achaean Argos, he can take the wealthiest of all lands, and become the king’s son-in-law to be nurtured with abundance as the king’s own dear son Orestes. The king would also give him seven well-established cities, including Cardamyle, Enope, and Hire, where the dwellers would honor him with gifts worthy of a god and obey his ordinances. Odysseus told Achilleus that the king would do all that for him if only he, Achilleus, would forego his anger towards the king.
Even though Phoenix does not go into details of what King Agamemnon would give Achilles as does Odysseus, he makes a passionate plea to the great Greek war hero upon realizing that the anger he bears would stand in the way of Greek salvation against the Trojans. Phoenix tells Achilles that the king is “Giving much now, and more hereafter.” After realizing that Achilles was not about to forgo his anger towards King Agamemnon, Aias did not bother to tell the Greek war hero of the many gifts the king had promised him if he returned. Instead, Aias tells Achilles “… the gods have put a wicked unforgiving spirit in your heart, and this, all about one single girl, whereas we now offer you the seven best we have and much else into the bargain.”
- Why does Achilleus refuse the offers presented by Odysseus, Phoenix, and Aias in Book 9? What does Achilleus' response tell you about Achilleus and his relationship to those whom he calls the 'dearest of all the Achaians'?
Even after listening to the promises of King Agamemnon as delivered by Odysseus and the pleadings of Phoenix and Aias, Achilles is adamant that he will not rejoin the battle against the Trojans. In fact, he gives a lengthy response in which he categorically states his refusal to the king’s offer and his contempt for the king. In this response, he tells the three messengers of the king that he intends to sail back home, arguing there is no offer that Agamemnon can make that is worth his life. It is then that he relates his refusal to a prophecy from his mother stating that if he stayed in Troy his life would be glorious and short, but if he went home, his life would be long without any glory. Achilles chose the latter option and advised the three messengers to forsake the king and the war and head home. He welcomes Phoenix to stay with him, but Phoenix ignores the offer.
What this response reveals about Achilles is that his ego is too much to consider the passionate pleas of those dearest to him. Somehow, this kind of response tells of the deep hurt to his honor and status that King Agamemnon did him after taking Briseis from him.
- Why does Achilleus decide in Book 18 to return to battle? Is Achilleus admitting that he is wrong when he withdrew from battle? In what sense has Achilleus' position changed in relation to his position in Book 1?
[bookmark: 96]After learning of the beating that the Achaians were receiving in the battlefield, Achilles fears for the worst. It is then that he recalls his mother’s prophecy that the best of the Myrmidons would perish, which he took to mean Patroklos, his dear friend. So after learning that Patroklos has been killed he tells his mother “I will go; I will pursue Hector who has slain him whom I loved so dearly.” To some extent, Achilles seems to regret picking a fight with King Agamemnon, and this is seen when he takes a perspective that differs from his convictions in Book 1. As he mourns his friends, he tells his mother, “Even so has Agamemnon angered me. And yet- so be it, for it is over; I will force my soul into subjection as I needs must.”
- What, specifically, does Agamemnon say that he offers to Achilleus in Book 19 at the assembly? What Greek words does he use? What is Achilleus' response to Agamemnon's offer? What is the meaning and significance of Achilleus' response to Agamemnon, and in what sense does it show that the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilleus has not been resolved?
After Agamemnon accepts Achilleus’s apology, he also offers his sincere apologies, arguing that it was out of sheer madness that he had taken Achilleus’s concubine. It is then that he promises to give Achilleus everything he had promised were he to forego his anger. In this light, he commands his men to “bring from my tents the gifts that I promised yesterday to Achilles.” Some of the Greek words that the king uses in this occasion include gifts, tent, ratify, oath, and sacrifice. Showing more concern for fighting for the fallen Greek soldiers, Achilles is less concerned about the king’s offer. He tells King Agamemnon, “Son of Atreus, king of men Agamemnon, you can give such gifts as you think proper, or you can withhold them: it is in your own hands.”
This response signifies that even though Achilles has chosen to rejoin the battle against the Trojans, he is not ready yet to forgive King Agamemnon for his actions. In a sense, Achilles' behavior towards the king when he says “you can give such gifts as you think proper, or you can withhold them” is an indication that he was here to revenge for his friend Patroklos and the other slain Greeks and not necessarily to help the king win the battle.