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Pride and Honor

Book 9 of Homer’s Iliad is all about the Achaean leaders sending and envoy of three people to bring the mighty Achilles back to the fight. When the Greeks get so desperate, the chief counsel consisting of:  “Agamemnon, Nestor, King Idomeneus, the Great and Little Ajax, Tydeus’ son Diomedes, Odysseus” (2.481-483) came up with the plan encourage proud Achilles and the Myrmidons back to the war. The three people chosen to take this mission are:” first old Phoenix – Zeus loves the man, so let him lead the way. Then giant Ajax and tactful royal Odysseus (9. 201-203)” Once they reach the Myrmidon camp where Achilles’ tent is, Peleus’ son welcomes each warrior with open arms saying” here beneath my roof are the men I love the most. (9.247)” Going through each individual speech it is clear that the main themes are love and hate, plus pride and honor. Achilles has anger directed toward Agamemnon, and has love for the trophy he won.

All three men give speeches trying to appeal to some part of Achilles, first up is the “great tactician” Odysseus (9.373) who tries to appeal to Achilles by relaying all of the things that Agamemnon promised if he would return to the war. If Achilles returned to the war, Agamemnon promised him twenty women second only in beauty to Helen, all of the gold he wanted once Troy was sacked, and a marriage to one of Agamemnon’s three daughters (9. 340-350). The only part of Agamemnon’s promise that Odysseus leaves out is “Let him submit to me. Only the God of Death submits to no one… Let him bow down to me! I am the greater king.”(9.190-192) Achilles’ acknowledgement of the offer was him saying that he “hates the man like the very Gates of Death who says one thing but another in his heart. (9. 378-379)” The son of Peleus also addressed Agamemnon’s promise to him regarding the spoils from the war by saying that he has already concurred and pillaged “twelve cities of men… and I have dragged off piles of splendid plunder, and always gave it to Agamemnon who has waited in the shadows getting the lion’s share” (9. 400-403)

Achilles says that he “has no desire to battle glorious Hector and he says that “while he was fighting on Achaea’s lines Hector had little lust to charge beyond his walls.”(9.425-430) Pride is such a strong motivation for Achilles and that is the biggest reason why he rejects Odysseus speech. Agamemnon took his honor from him in the form of Briseis, whom Achilles “loved with all of this heart, though he won her like a trophy with his spear.”(9.415-416)” All I won as plunder. All but my prize of honor…he who gave that prize has snatched it back again.”(9. 447-449)

Second to speak to Achilles was Phoenix, who was like a father to Achilles. Phoenix tries to pull at the heart strings of him, “The spirit inside you overpowered by anger!”(9. 530)  Since Phoenix has been around since he was born, Phoenix says to Achilles” I made you what you are- strong as the gods, Achilles I loved you from the heart.”(9.597-598) He also tells Achilles that having too much pride or honor is not good for a mortal,” It is wrong to have such an iron, ruthless heart. Even the gods themselves can bend and change and theirs is the greater power, honor, strength” (9.602-604)  Old Phoenix ends his speech to Achilles by saying that once you make the decision not to help his fellow Greeks he can go back from that, “Harder to save the warships once they’re up in flames. Now- goes out and fight, the Achaeans all will honor you like a god!”(9.732-734) Achilles’ answer the Phoenix’s heartfelt speech was to deny him like Odysseus but for a different reason. He claims that he does not need the honor of men when he already is loved by Zeus,” Stop confusing my fixed resolve with this, weeping and wailing”(9.741) Because he values the old man,  he asks Phoenix to stay with him so they can decide whether to sail home the next day.

The last to try and convince Achilles to reconsider was Great or Telemonian Ajax, who goes with straight forward approach. He tries to him mad by saying … he’s made his own proud spirit so wild in his chest, so savage, not a thought for his comrades’ love.”(9.768-769) “the -gods have planted a cruel, relentless fury in your chest! All for a girl – … put some human kindness in your heart” (9.780-782) Achilles rebuttal to that was all about the rage he felt and still feels because Agamemnon took what was rightfully his- Briseis.( 9.790) When the envoy returns to the Achaean forces, Odysseus reports to Agamemnon and the chiefs that “He’s still burning with anger, more than ever, with Diomedes offering that because Achilles is so rooted in his pride and anger that he will only return to battle when he is ready.

For Achilles and most of the Achaean the motivations for war where changing, no longer was the war about reclaiming Helen, it was about bringing Troy to its knees.  But motivation for Achilles was never about bringing back Helen; it was about finding glory in war, the great leveler. (9. 535) But after Agamemnon spurned him, Achilles became angry and refused to continue to fight because of his honor and pride. Thus making pride, honor and love the most important things to Achilles.

20 Responses to “Pride and Honor”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Emily,

    I like the way you sort through the three speeches. Brieanah also wrote on Odysseus’ speech, so her paper in particular might be a nice counterpart to yours.

    The embassy is a crucial part of the Iliad. Agamemnon himself admits that Achilles is “worth an entire army” (9.140). They have to get him back into the fold. It makes sense to send Odysseus and Phoenix. But why Ajax? I think this is a good question, although part of the answer may just be that Achilles clearly likes him (e.g., 9.238, 9.245, 9.786-789).

    Good eye to note that Odysseus leaves out a crucial component of Agamemnon’s speech; I think this is important. I don’t remember if we talked about that in class or not, but it’s worth discussing, regardless. I think it is worth noting that Odysseus admits that the Greeks are afraid (9.277); that is surely telling, if only rhetorically.

    Re: Phoenix, in some sense Achilles seems to abandon the idea of human glory (9.739-741), as you note. And yet he does not seem to abandon it as such (9.497-501); though he admits that no wealth is worth his life (9.498), glory may be a different thing. But he knows he must die to win immortal glory, and it is far from clear in the Odyssey (11.555-559) that he does not ultimately regret his decision, to say nothing of his grief later over Patroclus.

    Ajax in some ways seems to come the closest to convincing Achilles, warrior to warrior. And yet it is not enough. And not only that, but, as you note, Odysseus reports that Achilles is angrier than before the embassy (9.828)! But does the embassy in fact fail? Can it do otherwise?

    KH

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