The Iliad By Homer Summary and Analysis Book IX

Summary

The routed Achaian army is completely demoralized. At an assembly of troops that night, even proud King Agamemnon bursts into tears. He says that the war is lost, and he suggests sailing home. His dejected soldiers receive this speech in silence, but Diomedes leaps to his feet, reminding the king of his responsibilities and reminding the troops of their heroic heritage. They can all return home, he says, but he, Diomedes, will remain alone, if necessary, to continue fighting, for it is fated that Troy will eventually fall. This brave declaration restores the confidence of the army and, on the recommendation of Nestor, guards are posted at the wall and the troops disperse to their tents for dinner and sleep.

At a meeting of the council, old Nestor takes the floor and reminds Agamemnon that the absence of Achilles is causing the present distress of the army. The king admits that he was unwise to have insulted the great warrior. He decides to offer many valuable gifts, as well as the return of Briseis, if Achilles will rejoin the army. Emissaries are therefore sent to the tent of the sulking hero with this message.

Achilles welcomes Telamonian Aias (Ajax) and Odysseus with great honor, but he refuses to accept the terms offered by Agamemnon. He cannot be bought or sold, he says, and nothing, even if it were all the wealth of Egypt, could erase Agamemnon's public insult. Therefore, he will not join in the battle, and in the morning, he and his men will sail for home. He is adamant in his decision.

Back in the Achaian camp, Agamemnon listens with great sorrow to the report of what happened in Achilles' tent. Finally, Diomedes rises and tells the assembled warriors that it was an error to try to appeal to someone as conceited and headstrong as Achilles. He advises them to make whatever preparations are possible to defend the ships against the Trojans the next morning. All agree, and after making libations to the gods, they retire to their quarters.

Analysis

More than one commentator has referred to Book IX as a short manual of oratory. The Greeks considered oratory as a skill on the same level as fighting ability. The long, taunting battle speeches are an integral part of what a warrior should know. Phoenix reminds Achilles of how important oratorical skill is, and Odysseus is as highly regarded for his speaking as Achilles is for his fighting.

Odysseus, the great orator, makes the initial plea to Achilles. His speech follows the form of classical oratory, though in a shortened form. He begins by complimenting Achilles and attempting to make the great warrior receptive to the argument. The classical rhetoricians called these opening remarks the exordium.

Next, Odysseus explains the serious military situation of the Achaians to Achilles. This explanation of the situation was known as the narratio. In presenting the situation, Odysseus presents the patriotic argument for Achilles' returning to the battle.

Odysseus follows the narratio with the conformatio, or proof for his case. His proof consists of the moral argument — that Achilles' father, Peleus, had told his son to control his temper — and the material argument — the many rewards that Agamemnon has offered. Odysseus wisely leaves out Agamemnon's arrogant statement that he is Achilles' superior.

Finally, Odysseus reaches his conclusion by returning to the patriotic argument. He tells Achilles that he can achieve personal honor and glory by saving the Achaians.

Achilles response is swift and at first does not seem well thought-out. This event is one of the major turning points in the story. Until now, it was possible to sympathize with Achilles because Agamemnon had clearly been in the wrong; but with Achilles' refusal to accept the honorable terms offered to him, he puts his injured pride above all other considerations, and the moral balance begins to fall against him. Nothing will satisfy Achilles now except the complete humbling of Agamemnon, an unreasonable and unwarranted demand. Achilles' desire for revenge has begun to overwhelm his better judgement, his loyalty to his friends, and the very code of chivalric honor that he claims to hold so dear. In fact, Achilles openly questions the validity of the entire heroic code of honor. Indeed, this is a defining moment for Achilles, as he is a man of great passion and is a true fighter. The irony is inescapable.

Some critics interpret this episode differently, however. They believe that Achilles' reasons for refusing the offer are psychologically and morally valid because he does not need the gifts that Agamemnon offers to him. He knows that he will die shortly after the reconciliation is effected; and most importantly, he knows that if Agamemnon took away a gift earlier on a whim (Achilles' war prize, Briseis), then nothing will stop him from doing the same thing again.

Whichever view is accepted, the death of Patroklos (Achilles' warrior-companion) follows directly from this incident, and whether ultimately right or wrong, Achilles has freely chosen not to accept an honorable settlement, and thus he is responsible for what follows — that is, the death of Patroklos.

The other speeches in Book IX also follow the patterns of Greek classical oratory. Odysseus presents the argument from reason. Phoenix follows with the moral argument. Finally, Aias concludes with the emotional argument. Only Aias has any discernible effect on Achilles.

Finally, in Nestor's speech to Agamemnon early in Book IX, the old soldier argues that while a King must make decisions, he also must listen to advice. Nestor's words are echoed a few hundred years later when Creon in Sophocles' Antigone says that a good King will heed advice, which he immediately fails to do and so is brought low. Further, Agamemnon's much-discussed lines, in which he says that his madness, or até, (also translated as "delusion" or "ruin") caused him to take Briseis from Achilles, is parallel to the reasoning of Hamlet in Act V when he apologizes to Laertes for killing Polonius. Hamlet says that his "madness" caused him to kill Polonius, thereby absolving himself of responsibility for his actions much the same way Agamemnon does.

Glossary

embassy a mission, especially one undertaken by an ambassador. The warriors in Book IX are symbolic ambassadors from Agamemnon to Achilles.

oratory oratory, the art of speaking, was one of the classical areas of learning for ancient Greeks. A classical oratory consisted of prescribed sections: exordium, narratio, and conformatio. (See the Analysis on Book IX for a discussion of these terms.)

Phoenix tutor and friend of Achilles.

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