The Iliad
Homer
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano

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Book 9-10
Summary

Summary: Book 9

The Trojans are ready to push the Achaeans to return to their ships, and the Achaean troops are brokenhearted and siting in their camp. Agamemnon stands before them, and he weeps while saying that the war is a failure. He suggests a disgraceful return to Greece. Diomedes objects, declaring that he will remain and fight even if he does so alone. He tries to improve the morale of the soldiers by pointing out that Troy’s fate is to fall. Nestor says that they should persevere too, and he suggests that there be a reconciliation with Achilles. Agamemnon perceives that this is a wise idea, and he opts to offer Achilles many gifts on the condition that he go back to the Achaean lines. The king selects men that are among Achaeans’ best, including the Great Ajax, Odysseus, and Phoenix, to present the proposal to Achilles.  

The embassy comes upon Achilles, who is playing the lyre, in his tent. He is in the company of Patroclus, his dear friend. Agamemnon’s offer is presented by Odysseus. It is immediately rejected by Achilles. He declares his intention to go back to Phthia, his homeland. He wants to live a long and prosaic life rather than a short and glorious one as he will have if he remains where he is. Achilles says that he is willing to take Phoenix. Phoenix assisted in rearing him in Phtia. Phoenix wants to stay, however, and he emotionally begins a long plea with Achilles to stay. He alludes to an ancient story, that of Meleager, a warrior who refused to fight when in a rage. The story shows the importance of responding to pleads coming from desperate friends. However, Achilles chooses to remain firm. He still feels insulted by Agamemnon. The embassy is forced to return unsuccessful. Despair overtakes the army again.

Summary: Book 10

That night, the Greek commanders sleep soundly with the exceptions of Menelaus and Agamemnon. Eventually, they wake and get the others up. On the Trojan side of the fortifications, they meet together on open ground, to plan what they will do next. Nestor believes that they should send a spy for infiltration of the Trojan ranks. Diomedes promptly volunteers to fill this role. He requests support, and Odysseus offers his help. Diomedes and Odysseus arm themselves and leave for the Trojan camp. A heron that Athena has sent calls out. It is on their right-hand side. They pray to Athena, asking for protection.

The Trojans come up with their own acts of reconnaissance in the meantime. Hector wants to find out if the Achaeans have an escape planned. He chooses Dolon, a man who is very quick but unattractive, to be his scout. He promises to give him Achilles’ chariot and horses as a reward after the fall of the Achaeans. Dolon sets out on his way, and he quickly comes across Odysseus and Diomedes. He is interrogated by the two men. In an effort to save his life, he tells them about the Trojans’ positions, as well as those of their allies. He tells them that the newly arrived Thracians are currently in a vulnerable position. Dolon is then killed by Diomedes. His armor is stripped from him.  

Odysseus and Diomedes then make their way to the Thracian camp. It is there that they kill a king, Rhesus, and twelve soldiers. They also take the king’s chariot and horses. Athena gives them a warning about an angry god that could wake the other soldiers. Odysseus and Diomedes ride the chariot they have stolen back to the Achaean camp. Nestor and other Greeks have been worried that their comrades could be dead, and they give him a warm greeting.

Analysis

While the episodes in Books 9 and 10 occur within the same night and therefore create a break from the fighting, there is minimal continuity between them. It is early in the evening when the mission to Achilles’ tent takes place, while it is very late and during the third watch (and therefore at around 3 a.m.) when the mission across the Trojan line takes place. It seems like the Greeks’ desperation, as well as the obstinate attitude of Achilles that disturbs the commander’s sleep, is the only real connection.  This lack of continuity, however, does not prevent there being some symmetry between the two parts of the night. A proposal by Nester to dispatch an expeditionary force to give fresh information to the Achaeans is yielded by a meeting of the Achaean command in each instance. Odysseus participates in both of the expeditions. While the mission toward Troy leads to success, the one to Achilles’ tent fails.

While Achilles is full of rage and he is unwilling to admit that he might be overreacting to Agamemnon’s insulting behavior, Agamemnon is more levelheaded. We see this in the way he approaches the Achaean dilemma by taking heed of Nestor’s advice to become reconciled with Achilles. “Mad, blind I was! / Not even I deny it,” he declares, acknowledging that he was at fault in the dispute (9.138-139). However, Even though Agamemnon seems to want to resume his friendship with Achilles, he fails to provide an apology of any kind. While he admits that he has been “lost in [his] own inhuman rage,” he hopes to purchase Achilles’ renewed loyalty rather than work alongside him to create a sense of mutual understanding (9.143). Achilles isn’t actively hoping for an apology, and he doesn’t want wondrous gifts as a type of recompense. He believes that the outrage he has suffered deserves restitution, specifically restoration of the glory and honor he has earned.

It may seem superficial for Agamemnon to offer bountiful gifts to Achilles. However, we must remember that the ancients saw material possessions as indicators of one’s personal honor. This was especially the case when they were won in battle or awarded by kings. Agamemnon’s offerings are generous, and he believes that they will “honor [Achilles] like a god.” He still wants Achilles to accept a lower status than that of Agamemnon (9.185). “Let him bow down to me! I am the greater king,” he declares. This illustrates that while Agamemnon might be more pragmatic, he equals Achilles in self-centeredness (9.192).

One of the most emotionally relevant scenes in The Iliad is that of the embassy to Achilles. Homer is able to achieve its effect primarily by way of an exchange of narratives. This exchange throws light on Achilles’ upbringing. Additionally, it hints at what will be his ultimate fate beyond the end of the epic. The ostensible reason each side is presenting their stories is to persuade the other, but they are used by Homer to better humanize the character of Achilles, and to provide a look into his past and future. While the epic’s thematic concerns are defined by the pride and rage of Achilles, these characteristics also lead to Achilles’ absence from the majority of the poem’s action. Consequently, Homer lacks much opportunity to properly delineate the character of the hero. The pressures faced by Achilles in Phthia are revealed in the embassy scene. This scene also illuminates the dilemma that he is now dealing with, showing his inner struggles. This helps to make him a more compelling character.

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