The Iliad By Homer Summary and Analysis Book XIX

Summary

After receiving his new armor, Achilles calls for an assembly of the Achaian army. Then he announces that his quarrel with King Agamemnon is ended and that he is ready to return to war. This speech is applauded with great joy by all the troops. Agamemnon rises and welcomes Achilles back to the army. He says that at the time of their disagreement, he had been blinded and robbed of his wits by Zeus. He states that in compensation to Achilles, he will return Briseis to him, as well as shower upon him many other presents.

Achilles accepts the offer, but clearly he is more eager to attack the Trojans than he is to collect gifts. He demands that the army go into action at once. Odysseus sympathizes with Achilles' zeal, but he points out that the troops are tired and hungry and that they need some time to renew themselves before fighting again. Achilles agrees to wait. He announces that the troops may eat if they wish, but he himself is going to fast until Patroklos is avenged.

When the Achaian troops are once more ready to fight, Achilles puts on his splendid new armor, and then, mounting his chariot, he prepares to lead the army. But first, he reproaches his horses for allowing Patroklos to be killed. One of the horses answers, saying that Patroklos' death was not their fault, but that it was caused by Apollo and Destiny. The horse then prophesies the eventual death of Achilles on the battlefield. Achilles answers that he already knows about his doom, but that nothing will prevent him from avenging Patroklos. With this, Achilles shouts his mighty war cry and gallops into battle.

Throughout the Iliad, Achilles has been a creature of extremes — a man of absolute feelings and absolute reactions. Now that he is finally reconciled with Agamemnon, his passion to avenge Patroklos becomes as intense and impatient as was his former, selfish desire for the satisfaction of his honor. No longer concerned with such human "trivialities" as eating or resting, Achilles is transformed into a kind of cosmic figure, an archetypal hero sweeping through all opposition, divine and human, to achieve his ends.

Analysis

The reconciliation that ends the first wrath of Achilles and the actions that initiate the second both occur in Book XIX. The book is made up of two main sections: the reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles, and Achilles' preparation for battle.

The reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles brings closure to the incident that began the Iliad. In a sense, Achilles rejoins the ranks of the Achaians, and Agamemnon once again becomes the undisputed leader of the Greek forces. That Agamemnon has difficulty apologizing to Achilles is obvious from his attitude, speech, and ideas. For example, he never calls Achilles directly by name, and he tries to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. He essentially says, "The devil made me do it," as an explanation for his decision to take Briseis. The actual word Agamemnon uses is not "devil" but até (Ruin in the Fagles translation). Até is often translated as "delusion" rather than "ruin" and was a Greek all-purpose excuse for irrational acts. Moreover, blaming one's actions on an outside force is similar to the recurring image in the Iliad of gods speaking directly to humans to influence their actions. This idea adds some substantiation to the psychological notion that the gods, in this case até, represent a part of the human mind. Therefore Agamemnon is perhaps blaming his irrationality on a voice that led him astray.

One other interesting facet of the Greek council of reconciliation is the mild dispute between Odysseus and Achilles over food. Achilles rejects the suggestion that the Greeks should feast before the battle. He says, "I have no taste for food." Odysseus responds with the very practical idea that an army must have nourishment to fight. In history, battles have frequently been decided in favor of the side that was properly fed and therefore able to be sustained on the field. In terms of characters in the Iliad, Odysseus is the logical one to appreciate the idea that soldiers need to eat and refresh themselves before battle. Some commentators have questioned the dramatic purpose of this conversation and the delay in the narrative that it produces. Nonetheless, the discussion points out the distinction between the wrathful warrior, Achilles, and the practical tactician, Odysseus. Eventually, Achilles dies in battle while Odysseus makes his long but successful journey home.

In the next section of Book XIX, Achilles arms for battle. As Achilles puts on his armor, Homer describes the scene with images that accentuate the idea of loneliness. The shine on the armor is compared to the light of the moon at sea or a watchfire at a sheepfold on a mountain slope. Achilles, even in reconciliation, is a man apart from others.

Finally, as Achilles prepares his horses and chariot for battle, his horse, Roan Beauty, responds to the warrior's encouragement by reminding its master that Achilles will soon die in battle himself. The horse's speech is totally unexpected and one of the few supernatural moments in the poem, aside from the frequent interventions of the gods. Some commentators analyze this passage as Achilles talking to himself. The speech of the horses foreshadows the impending death of Achilles and intensifies his own fatalistic feelings. The fact that Homer uses the horses for the purpose of foreshadowing allows Homer to step outside the narrative momentarily and make what is almost an authorial comment on the significance of Achilles' decision to fight. The horse's speech is followed by the war cry of Achilles and the second wrath begins.

Glossary

ambrosia the food of the gods.

Furies avenging spirits, often used as symbols of a destructive, guilty conscience, especially in matters involving wrongs within a family. The Furies typically exacted vengeance when no human agent was available to do so.

Ruin (Ate) Ruin or Ate is a personified goddess who represents "delusion" or "madness" and the destruction that can result. Ruin is used by Agamemnon to explain his inexplicable actions toward Achilles.

tactician epithet frequently used with Odysseus to emphasize his intellectual and practical abilities.

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