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Book 9 Notes from The Iliad

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The Iliad Book 9

The Trojans keep their watch during the night but the Greeks are restless because panic has set upon them "as crosswinds chop the sea where the fish swarm." Book 9, line 4 Agamemnon attempts to muster his troops and raise the morale calling Zeus a harsh and cruel god. He tries to convince the armies that they should retreat to Greece, but this time he is in earnest. Diomedes stands to oppose this plan. He calls Agamemnon a coward and alleges that, although he was blessed with the right to rule, he was slighted in terms of courage. Diomedes maintains that the Greek armies should remain at Troy because they arrived with the blessing of a god. Nestor rises and explains to Diomedes that although men will listen to him because he is so strong, they will be more likely to take him seriously because of his advanced age and wisdom. Nestor advises the Greeks to eat their evening meal and post sentries so that most of the army may sleep and get some rest. Everyone agrees to this advice and Agamemnon gathers the war chiefs for discussion.

Topic Tracking: Nature Imagery 6

Nestor is the first to speak at this council. He praises Agamemnon's lineage and character but then he criticizes him for angering and alienating Achilles. Nestor advises that they should send an embassy to Achilles and try to win him over. Agamemnon rises in consent:

"That's no lie, old man - a full account you give
Of all my acts of madness. Mad, blind I was!"
Book 9, lines 147-148

Agamemnon maintains that his blindness was an act of the gods. He plans to set things right with Achilles by giving him a great amount of treasure and returning Briseis, with whom he will swear he never slept. He also proposes that Achilles marry his daughter as a formal truce between the two men. Even though he plans to remit all of this, Agamemnon doubts that Achilles will relent:

"Let him submit to me! Only the god of death
Is so relentless, Death submits to no one -
So mortals hate him most of all the gods."
Book 9, lines 189-191

Nestor says that the gifts are ample and appropriate. Nestor names the men who should go to Achilles.

Ajax Telamon and Odysseus go to Achilles with two heralds. When they arrive at the camp of the Myrmidons, they find Patroclus finishing a meal and watching Achilles perform with the lyre. They make a sacrifice and share the meal with the two men. Odysseus relates the tale of the battle so far and the offering of Agamemnon, guaranteeing the treasure and Briseis himself. Achilles stands and explains that he hates that man like "the very gates of death, who says one thing but hides another in his heart." Book 9, lines 378-379. He asks if the sons of Atreus are the only men who love their wives and reveals how much he adores Briseis. He also says that he plans to leave for Greece as soon as he has sacrificed. He calls Agamemnon rich, stupid and shameless and refuses the offer of the king's daughter, saying he can get his own wife. Achilles reveals the prophecy given to him by his mother, Thetis:

"Two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy
My journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
My pride, my glory dies...
True, but the life that's left me will be long,
The stroke of death will not come on me quickly."
Book 9, lines 499-505

This is Achilles' fundamental problem: to die young with glory or live a long, but simple, life. Phoenix is shocked at this decision and tells Achilles a long tale about his life and his curse to never have his own son. For this reason he has adopted Achilles. He tells the story of Meleager and Cleopatra. Meleager would not fight for his friends and family because of his wife, Cleopatra. Finally, he comes to their aid and saves them, but it is too late because, although they have their lives, their city and possessions have been taken. Phoenix promises Achilles that the Greeks will honor him like a god.

Achilles tells Phoenix that he does not need this honor because Zeus already gives it to him Ajax rises and calls to Odysseus in disbelief because all of this is "for a girl". Achilles fills with rage. Odysseus returns to Agamemnon and relays what Achilles has said. Diomedes says that they should ignore him because he will fight when a "god fires his blood." (Book 9, line 858)

Topic Tracking: Rage 6

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