Essential Passages by Character: Achilles
Essential Passage 1: Book IX
Why, pray, must the Argives needs fight the Trojans? What made the son of Atreus gather the host and bring them? Was it not for the sake of Helen? Are the sons of Atreus the only men in the world who love their wives? Any man of common right feeling will love and cherish her who is his own, as I this woman, with my whole heart, though she was but a fruitling of my spear. Agamemnon has taken her from me; he has played me false; I know him; let him tempt me no further, for he shall not move me. Let him look to you, Ulysses, and to the other princes to save his ships from burning. He has done much without me already. He has built a wall; he has dug a trench deep and wide all round it, and he has planted it within with stakes; but even so he stays not the murderous might of Hector. So long as I fought among the Achaeans Hector suffered not the battle to range far from the city walls; he would come to the Scaean gates and to the oak tree, but no further. Once he stayed to meet me and hardly did he escape my onset; now, however, since I am in no mood to fight him, I will to-morrow offer sacrifice to Jove and to all the gods; I will draw my ships into the water and then victual them duly; to-morrow morning, if you care to look, you will see my ships on the Hellespont, and my men rowing out to sea with might and main. If great Neptune vouchsafes me a fair passage, in three days I shall be in Phthia.
The war is not going well for the Achaians. In a panic, Agamemnon suggests that they retreat to their ships and give up the fight. Nestor, the wise old counselor, disagrees and comes up with a different plan. He bravely points out that this stage of the war has been brought about by the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, with the former being the biggest offender. Nestor suggests that an envoy go to Achilles and beg him to rejoin the fight, while returning Briseis to Achilles. Agamemnon agrees and the envoy led by Odysseus goes to Achilles. Achilles, however, is still adamant about his refusal to fight. He sees the entire war as ridiculous, simply the result of Agamemnon’s wounded pride. Despite the fact that Achilles himself is now acting out of his own wounded pride, he will not return to fight Hector. He rejects Agamemnon’s apology and remains in his own camp. The envoy thus returns to the Achaian encampment and breaks the news to Agamemnon.
Essential Passage 2: Book IX
“My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive but my name will live forever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me. To the rest of you, then, I say, ‘Go home, for you will not take Ilius.’ Jove has held his hand over her to protect her, and her people have taken heart. Go, therefore, as in duty bound, and tell the princes of the Achaeans the message that I have sent them; tell them to find some other plan for the saving of their ships and people, for so long as my displeasure lasts, the one that they have now hit upon may not be. As for Phoenix, let him sleep here that he may sail with me in the morning if he so will. But I will not take him by force.”
Achilles, in a rage over Agamemnon’s taking of Briseis, the girl he won as a war prize, has left the battle, along with his followers and his friend Patroclos. An envoy has been deputized by Agamemnon to return Briseis to Achilles and to beg him to return to the battle which they are quickly losing. Agamemnon, as well as the other leaders, know that only Achilles can beat the Trojan warrior Hector, thus ending the war. Achilles, in his pride, eventually refuses, but he speculates on the cause of the war. He no longer sees it as a worthy endeavor, resulting in the jealousy and pride of Menelaus over the abduction of his wife Helen by the Trojan prince Paris. He remembers the words of his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, who warned him that if he went to the war, he would not survive, except as a legend told for a thousand generations. However, if he remained at home, he would live, but his name would be forgotten. Placing his honor above his life, Achilles agrees to go, but now his honor has been offended by Agamemnon. Thus he refuses to fight, seeing no honor in this war that is worth his life, and sends the envoy back to the camp.
Essential Passage 3: Book XXIV
…Fear, O Achilles, the wrath of heaven; think on your own father and have compassion upon me, who am the more...
(The entire section is 1929 words.)
Essential Passages by Theme: Wrath
Essential Passage 1: Book I
SING, O GODDESS, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.
Homer begins his tale with an invocation to the gods, specifically the Muse. He points to the fact that it is the anger of Achilles that has brought so much grief on the Achaeans, rather than the war with the Trojans over the abducted Helen. At this point, the ninth year of the Trojan War, tragedy breaks out. A quarrel erupts between Achilles, the leading hero of the Achaean army, and Agamemnon, whose brother Menelaus brought all of them together to reclaim his wife Helen from Paris, prince of Troy. Agamemnon has lost his war prize, the daughter of the priest, Chryses, whom he captured during the battle of Thebes. Hearing the grief of Chryses over his daughter, and seeing the rich ransom that he is willing to pay, the Achaeans agree that Agamemnon should indeed return Chryseis to her father. In humiliation at this loss, Agamemnon takes Briseis, Achilles war prize to replace his own. Because of this, Achilles’ wrath breaks out and the two camps of the Achaeans are split, even as they fight together against the Trojans.
Essential Passage 2: Book IX
My good friend, when your father Peleus sent you from Phthia to Agamemnon, did he not charge you saying, "Son, Minerva and Juno will make you strong if they choose, but check your high temper, for the better part is in goodwill. Eschew vain quarrelling, and the Achaeans old and young will respect you more for doing so." These were his words, but you have forgotten them. Even now, however, be appeased, and put away your anger from you.
As the war continues, the Achaeans are losing the battle. In a conference of the leaders, it is finally confessed that they need Achilles, who left the fighting early due to his quarrel with Agamemnon. Accepting the situation reluctantly, Agamemnon agrees to return to Achilles the girl Briseis, along with a humble request that Achilles return to fight alongside of his countrymen. The envoy sent to Achilles to make this appeal is led by Odysseus. However, Achilles is adamant that he will not return. Faced with Achilles’ pride, Odysseus reminds him of the words his father told him when he went off to join Agamemnon. His father, Peleus, warned him of giving way to his wrath, because maintaining the goodwill of those with whom one fights is of greater worth than whatever conflict might arise. Odysseus appeals further to Achilles’ pride, stating that the Achaeans will regain their respect for him if he puts away his wrath and return to the conflict. Odysseus accuses Achilles of purposefully forgetting his father’s warning and has clung to his pride instead.
Essential Passage 3: Book XIX
When the Achaeans were got together Achilles rose and said, “Son of Atreus, surely it would have been better alike for both you and me, when we two were in such high anger about Briseis, surely it would have been better had Diana's arrow slain her at the ships on the day...
(The entire section is 1427 words.)