What does Odysseus learn from his conversation with Achilles?

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noahvox2 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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This depends on which conversation with Achilles you mean. Achilles and Odysseus have two major encounters/conversations.

In Book 9 of Homer's Iliad, Odysseus is part of the embassy sent by Agamemnon to persuade Achilles to return to battle. In this encounter, Odysseus learns that Achilles has no intention of coming back to the battle, despite all of the fabulous gifts that Agamemon is offering.

Odysseus also encounters the spirit of Achilles in Odyssey 11 when Odysseus travels to ends of the world and conjures up spirits from the underworld. In this encounter, Odysseus hears something very significant about life after death, namely that it is a miserable existence. Ian Johnston translates Achilles' famous comment to Odysseus as follows:

'Don't try to comfort me about my death,
glorious Odysseus. I'd rather live
working as a wage-labourer for hire
by some other man, one who had no land
and not much in the way of livelihood, [490]
than lord it over all the wasted dead.

Thus, from Achilles' perspective, it would be better to be the slave of a poor man on earth than to be king of the underworld.

This quotation was later used by John Milton in Paradise Lost, when he has Satan say, "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven."


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