Study Guide

The Iliad Book 9

By Homer

Book 9

  • Meanwhile, in the Achaian camp, everyone is in a panic.
  • Agamemnon makes a defeatist speech to the other leaders, saying that they're now going to be forced to head home in shame.
  • Diomedes challenges Agamemnon. He says, "You insulted me, saying I'm not as good as my dad— and everyone knows how I showed you! No way am I going home on your crew. Me and Sthenelaos are going to keep fighting even if it's only the two of us."
  • Nestor stands up and makes a speech agreeing with Diomedes. Then he turns to more practical matters, saying they should serve the men dinner.
  • While everyone eats, Agamemnon hosts a private gathering for his commanders.
  • There, Nestor proposes that they ask Achilleus for help.
  • Agamemnon agrees. He says that he was not in his right mind when he insulted Achilleus in front of everyone else. (For those of you who have read Shakespeare's Hamlet, this might remind you of Hamlet's excuse to Laertes for driving his sister Ophelia to suicide.)
  • Agamemnon lists a whole bunch of awesome stuff he plans to give to Achilleus if he will come back and fight for the Achaians. And we mean awesome stuff—including, but not limited to, Briseis back unharmed (that is, with a guarantee that he never slept with her), lots of plunder from Troy, seven captive women, and seven cities to rule. Oh yeah, and marriage with one of Agamemnon's daughters.
  • To deliver this offer, Nestor now picks out some of the most esteemed Achaian warriors: Aias, Odysseus, and Phoinix. He also sends along the two heralds, Eurybates and Odios.
  • After everyone prays for success, these guys head off.
  • When they get to Achilleus's tent, they find the great warrior singing, playing the lyre, and hanging out with his best buddy Patroklos.
  • Achilleus welcomes them warmly, and cooks and serves them dinner.
  • When they've all finished eating, Odysseus makes the offer. He tells Achilleus how bad things are going for the Achaians. Then he reminds him how his father Peleus must have instructed him to be good to his friends and rein in his fearsome temper.
  • Then he recites Agamemnon's offer word-for-word.
  • When he's done with that, he throws in a special message: "If all that stuff doesn't convince you, at least think of us, your friends. Plus, you can kill Hektor and win great glory."
  • Achilleus's lengthy response expresses in no uncertain terms his absolute refusal of this offer and contempt for Agamemnon. In fact, he announces his intention to sail home the very next day.
  • Achilleus argues that no price Agamemnon can offer is worth his own life. Achilleus reveals that he is thinking about this because of a prophecy his mother told him: if he stays in Troy, he will have a short but glorious life, but, if he goes home, he will have a long life without glory.
  • The great warrior has made up his mind to take the second option. He encourages the other Achaians to sail home as well. Actually, he tells Phoinix to stay with him in his tent so they can leave together first thing in the morning.
  • Phoinix is astonished at this offer and says he can't accept it.
  • Then he tells a long story about his own origins and connection to Achilleus.
  • It turns out that, back in the day, Phoinix's father had taken a mistress, and his mother was having none of it. She pleaded with Phoinix to sleep with the mistress to wean her off her taste for older men. (Sorry, but it's there in the Greek!)
  • Phoinix agreed. Unfortunately, Phoinix's father didn't take it well. This started some serious tension in the household, prompting Phoinix to run away from home—and the country.
  • Phoinix stopped running when he came to the house of Peleus, Achilleus's father. Peleus took him in and treated him as one of his own sons. In this way, Phoinix became a sort of mentor to the young Achilleus, whom he came to regard as his own son.
  • Okay, Phoinix, you're probably saying, get to the point already! Don't worry, he does—and it's much as you'd expect. He tells Achilleus that he didn't go through all the trouble of raising him just to have him freak out on him now.
  • He tells him not to be so inflexible, and reminds him that even the gods change their minds when they hear the prayers of mortals.
  • Then Phoinix tells another long story. This time there is an obvious moral.
  • Many years ago, the town of the hero Meleagros was being besieged by a rival tribe. The thing is, Meleagros wouldn't help out his fellow citizens.
  • Why? Well, first of all, Meleagros was in a fight with his mom, who had cursed him and prayed for his death. (Meleagros killed her brother, so she has some reason to be mad at him.) Secondly, he was just lying around all day in bed with his wife, Cleopatra. (Not the famous one.)
  • Anyway, Meleagros's fellow citizens tried their darndest to get him to help them, even offering him lots of treasure if he did. But Meleagros kept refusing.
  • It wasn't till the enemies were on the point of capturing the town that Cleopatra finally got up the gumption to tell Meleagros to take action. This time he listened, and promptly snatched his city from the jaws of defeat.
  • The only thing is, when he had finished, the citizens refused to give him any of the stuff they had offered him earlier—all because he'd acted like such a jerk.
  • As you've probably guessed by now, Phoinix thinks Achilleus should take the treasure now while the offer's still good—you never know what might happen in the future.
  • But Achilleus still refuses to help the Achaians in battle. Then he repeats his request that Phoinix spend the night in his tent—though now he softens his earlier threat and says he'll think about sailing away in the morning.
  • The other warriors take this as their cue to leave. First, though, Aias criticizes Achilleus for being so inflexible. He says that even parents whose children have been murdered have let their anger go when they were paid appropriate amends.
  • But Achilleus is simply hell-bent on hurting the Achaians any way he can. He says that he will not start fighting until Hektor and the Trojans start burning his very own ships.
  • At this point, Odysseus, Aias, and the heralds leave, but Phoinix stays with Achilleus as he requested.
  • When the others get back to the council and tell everyone what happened, everyone is dumbstruck.
  • Finally, though, Diomedes speaks up. Basically, he says, "Forget Achilleus. We can do fine without him." He criticizes Agamemnon for making his offer—which only wound up inflating Achilleus's ego even more.
  • Then Diomedes says he expects to see Agamemnon fighting in the front lines tomorrow.

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