The Embassy of Achilles

I am prone to taking about a hundred breaks per book in this epic, however Book 9: The Embassy of Achilles, actually really grabbed my attention for some reason.  There were a lot of little moments that really made these characters very real to me in a way that they really were not before.  I will start at the beginning of this one and explain some of the notes I made as I go through:

1.  First of all, Diomedes is still awesome.  When Agamemnon says that it’s time to pack up and go home, Diomedes just says “no.”  Even if the rest of the Argives “go running back to the land they love,/ then the two of us, I and Sthenelus here/ will fight our way to the fixed doom of Troy” (Book 9, Lines 54-56).I’m not certain why Diomedes’ dedication to this war is so strong, as it was started entirely over Paris taking Agamemnon’s wife, but the fact that it is so strong just amazes me.

2. *heavy sigh* Agamamnon.  This guy.  He just… can’t make me feel anything positive for him.  Let us not forget that the entire reason Achilles refuses to fight is because Agamemnon shamed him in front of the troops and took his trophy (the woman Briseus’ daughter).  After eight books (two days?) of killing and gory, detailed slaughter, it occurs to him that he may have been in the wrong.  So he makes a big show of a listing off all of the gifts he intends to give Achilles to make up for his big oops (this list is fifty lines long and includes the woman he took from him in the first place, as well as seven others and twenty Trojan women once they win the war).  The then proceeds to send Phoenix, Ajax, and Odysseus to go do this for him.  Agamemnon sends three of his chiefs and two nameless others to do this for him.  For him.  He rebukes Achilles for his pride, and then refuses to swallow his own for the sake of his war and his men.  Aggy.  What are you doing.

Yes, this made me mad, but it was supposed to.  Agamemnon is a prideful man and it would have been totally out of character for him to put himself aside for the sake of anything, just as it would be out of character for Achilles to accept any of the gifts that he is offered and fight.  While it is frustrating to see such failure in the context of the story, it is awesome for me to see such consistent characterization.

3. There is a moment when these men approach Achilles in front of his ship.  Achilles is sitting out in front of a fire playing the lyre “lifting his spirits” and “singing the famous deeds of fighting heroes” while his friend Patroclus sits along across from him, quietly listening, thinking.  This scene has a weird calm to it that I enjoy seeing placed smack after some gory battle scenes in which the Argives start to lose.  They have an intense battle waging just beyond the ships, and Achilles appears to be elsewhere, somewhere in the realm of battles past.  It’s like a short break scene that you see in war movies that adds some comfort to the movie and I like it.  It just kind of showed that there was more to Achilles tan his temper.  But this does not last for long.  He cuts his song short and stands up, leaving the song unresolved to meet with the men who have come to see him.

4.  Phoenix: Now, this is a character I have noticed some debate about. There are some who think that he was not part of the original tale due to Achilles’ way of speaking in the original Greek.  Phoenix and his speeches (which take up the majority of this book) may have been added at a later time in order to make the attempt at swaying Achilles a lot more personal.  Phoenix considers to Achilles to be like his son, and Achilles acknowledges this and treats Phoenix as an honored guest in spite of his reasons for coming to see him.  He even offers to take Phoenix home (as he plans to sail away the next day), though he makes it clear that this is only if he wants it, as he will not make Phoenix do something he does not want to do.  I could do an entire report about Phoenix’s speeches alone, and maybe I will another day, but as of now, I will leave it at this: I do enjoy the addition of Phoenix to this book.  It would have been easier, in my opinion, for Achilles to turn down the pleas of men who he does not seem to have any particular care for.  It really speaks to the amount of pride this man has for him to turn down the man who is like a father to him.

5.  “Why did he muster an army, lead us here,/ that son of Atreus?  Why, why in the world if not/ for Helen with her loose and lustrous hair?“ (Book 9, Lines 410-412)

This, guys.  All of this.  I mentioned earlier the reason Achilles refused to fight.  I have found myself wondering about this thing the whole time I’ve been reading this.  Yes.  I get that it was pretty customary to have multiple women, some of whom were trophies, but let’s talk about this question for a minute.  Agamemnon started a war for his wife, who is probably the ultimate of trophies and frankly, his love, so why does he go about taking the trophies of others?  Well, as my good friend Cani would say, “A man’s got needs, Brig.  ZEUS-LIKE NEEDS.”  This is probably true.  But Achilles continues, asking if the sons of Atreus are the only men who love their wives, and goes on to explain that even though he won that woman like a trophy, he loved her with all his heart. Now, there’s no telling how much of this is Achilles hamming it up to make Agamemnon look bad, but I suspect that due to the fact that the woman was weeping when she was forced to leave Achilles, there is some truth in this.

And Achilles is still willing to forgo the offer to have this woman back because, basically, Agamemnon has just tried to buy him off with something he loves and some money.  A cheap tactic and Achilles recognizes it, and it is further marred by the fact that Agamemnon is not here.  He’s back having a feast with the other chiefs.

Yes.  Achilles is being unreasonable, but such is the way of a man who fancies himself a god, isn’t it?  I enjoyed reading in the introduction a small section on “heroes.“  These the classified as the sons and daughters of the gods and mortals.  These are individuals whose egos rival those of the gods, and they are very like the gods in every way but one: the heroes can die.  Every hero is destined to come to terms with this mortality and face their mistakes as well as their fate.  Helen has done this before the epic has even started, but Achilles has a long way to go yet.

6.  There is something I like a lot about the next part.  This is the part where Ajax makes an appeal and Achilles responds warmly and as a friend, “‘after my own heart, or mostly so’” (Book 9, line 788).  He understands the Argives’ plight, and maybe even sympathizes with it, but he still cannot forgive Agamemnon’s arrogance.  There’s just this barrier between Achilles and his ability to get past this event, and even though he may not be trying very hard to break down that barrier, I’d like to think he gave it a half-assed shot and just couldn’t do it.


5 thoughts on “The Embassy of Achilles

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