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In Book 2 of the Iliad I feel Homer answers the question of what, not who, is keeping the army together. Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Nestor all give compelling speeches trying to command the Achaean army not to give up and go home. After fighting the Trojans for nine years the Achaean armies are “desperate for home” (2.340) as Odysseus explains, so it makes sense that when given the command the soldiers are eager to head home for their loved ones. It is only after all three respected men speak that the army is finally convinced that staying and winning the war out weighed the humiliation of coming home empty handed. This is why I feel the fear of humiliation is keeping the army together rather than one leader.

After taking the scepter from Agamemnon Odysseus, explains that to have order within the army, power needs to be consolidated. He then proclaims that the person holding the scepter should have the power, I believe he is trying to show the armies that even though Agamemnon told you to go home there is still one leader here, himself, who believes you should stay and because he is holding the scepter you need to listen to him. In order to assert the power of the scepter he then makes a fool of one solider who always disrespect his commanders and the king and hits him across the back. After he shows that there is still a strong ruler in place he then goes on to make his claim as to why the men should stay. Similar to Nestor and Agamemnon, Odysseus explains how embarrassing it would be for the Achaean men to go home empty handed from the war, and anyone who was so quick to abandon their leader should not even call himself a man. After all of this he can see that the men are starting to come around but their morale was still low, in order to convince them even further he begins to tell them the story of the snake and the sparrow and to explain to the men that it will take ten years to sack Troy and win the war.

After Odysseus finishes his speech, the morale of the soldiers has definitely shifted and their energy is high. As Nestor begins his speech you can see that he is not amused by this untamed energy and the beginning of his speech is intended to refocus the army. He compares the soldiers to children because of their ability to change moods so quickly and reminds them that they need to be prepared to fight like men not boys. Nestor always finds a way to emphasize the role age plays in the war and it is not different in this speech. He believes his age makes him wiser than any of these men so he is quick to point out when being young effects them in a negative way. He stresses that they need to be strong but also serious, they need to be committed to the plan and not let their opinions wavier with their moods, like children. Nestor also tries to persuade the men to stay with the fear of humiliation but in a different way then Odysseus. He suggests that Agamemnon divide the troops ups so that you could see exactly who failed because they were cowardly and who failed because it was in the fate of the gods. His speech construed that being “inept in battle” (2.438) was just as humiliating as going home empty handed.

Agamemnon’s speech for the most part was just riding on the coattails of Odysseus’ and Nestor’s speeches. Which is how I feel Agamemnon lives his life, a mediocre man who surrounds himself with the best people, which in turn makes him look much better than he actually is. In his speech he basically says if you were not convinced by the words of Nestor or Odysseus then you are a coward, he calls for all the men who were inspired to prepare for battle. He doesn’t give any original claim for the men to keep fighting. He has this terrible plan that he is going to test the soldiers by saying they can go home and then when it back fires he lets other people clean up the mess, without really helping. After all three men spoke the army finally felt that “battle thrilled them more than the journey home, than sailing hollow ships to their dear native land” (2.538). Agamemnon’s inability to lead effectively in this situation I believe is why it takes the persuasiveness of three honored men to convince the army that they should stay and fight, and that the fear of humiliation was larger than any one speech by itself.

-Amber MacKay

20 Responses to “What is keeping the Achaeans together?”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Amber,

    This is an important topic. Surely morale is ebbing after ten years of war, no matter how successful it might have been up until this point. And Agamemnon’s test seems on the surface like a disaster. However, the text indicates that he expected trouble (2.88-89), as he stationed his captains at key points ahead of time. So maybe we should give him a little more credit that we might at first glance. I think you are right to suggest, though, that he is gradually losing the troops. He seems to have totally lost them by the time Diomedes has shown his prowess (9.19-57).

    I like the point about Odysseus holding the scepter (and using it to beat Thersites) and about Nestor’s proposed reorganization of the army’s units. Both of these seem to change the morale and composition of the army in key ways.

    I think you are right to suggest that Nestor’s speech flows from Odysseus’ speech. Odysseus raises morale from the dead but Nestor needs to focus that energy productively.

    Odysseus appears at many key diplomatic junctures: taking Chryseis back to Chryses; the embassy to Achilles; and so forth. But why is Nestor not more prominent, given his age and his purported wisdom? Why is Nestor not sent on the embassy to Achilles in Book 9? Does Achilles find him annoying? Otherwise it would make sense for him, as a leader, to be there. It’s a strange omission.

    KH

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