The Iliad "He Serves Me Most, Who Serves His Country Best"

Simone Weil

"He Serves Me Most, Who Serves His Country Best"

Context: Temporarily beaten by the Trojans, as Jupiter wills, the Greeks petition Achilles to return to the fighting to help them. But Achilles, still angry over the staining of his honor by Agamemnon, who demanded the girl Briseis as his prize, refuses to rejoin the fighting to help his fellows-in-arms. Agamemnon, when he is told of Achilles' refusal, is quite disturbed by the seriousness of his situation and, with the help of other Greek leaders, awakens the warriors, lest they be surprised during the night by an attack from the Trojans. Nestor, an aged and wise Greek king, is one who goes about the camp helping Agamemnon alert the Greek forces. He wakens, among others, Diomed, who says that such activity during the night ill fits the advanced age of Nestor, who ought to be allowed to rest. But Nestor replies to Diomed that the situation is so grave that despair has overtaken the Greek camp, that everyone, including such an old man as himself, must be alert and active; but Nestor also tells Diomed he may take over waking the others:

My friend, (he answered,) generous is thy care;
These toils, my subjects and my sons might bear;
Their loyal thoughts and pious loves conspire
To ease a sovereign and relieve a sire:
But now the last despair surrounds our host;
No hour must pass, no moment must be lost;
Each single Greek, in this conclusive strife,
Stands on the sharpest edge of death or life:
Yet, if my years thy kind regard engage,
Employ thy youth as I employ my age;
Succeed to these my cares, and rouse the rest;
He serves me most, who serves his country best.