Iliad Questions and Answers
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Why does a conflict take place between Agamemnon and Achilles in the Iliad?

The conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles occurs over a woman named Briseis. Both Agamemnon and Achilles are awarded a woman as a trophy of war, but when Agamemnon is forced to release his captive, Chryseis, he decides that he is entitled to Achilles's captive, Briseis. Achilles is offended by Agamemnon's decision, and Achilles then decides to refrain from fighting for Agamemnon.

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The quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles which forms the principal subject of the first half of the Iliad was caused by Agamemnon taking Achilles's concubine Briseis. Agamemnon was forced to give up his own concubine Chryseis at the behest of Apollo, and his assumption that he could simply take Briseis instead so outraged Achilles that he withdrew to the ships and stopped fighting for Agamemnon.

Achilles declares that he loved Briseis, but it appears that he is more concerned with the insult to his honor than the actual loss of the girl. The precise status of the client kings who fought for the High King of Mycenae is a matter of dispute. They were semi-independent but clearly also owed some allegiance to Agamemnon. Agamemnon himself says that he is "more kingly" (the Greek word is "βασιλευτερος") than Achilles and that therefore Achilles should submit to him. This seems to have angered Achilles so much that even after Agamemnon sends an embassy, in book 9, with fabulous gifts (including many more concubines), Achilles still refuses to be reconciled.

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This conflict emerges at the beginning of the poem and is crucial to the advancement the plot. It also marks an interesting parallel to the cause of the Trojan War itself: a dispute over Helen between Menelaus and Paris. After the Greeks sack a city allied with Troy, Agamemnon and Achilles each make off with a young woman. When Agamemnon is forced to give up his "prize," a girl named Chryseis, he determines to take Briseis, who has been awarded to Achilles. Achilles angrily protests and orders his men not to fight with the Greeks. He seeks the support of Zeus, who aids the Trojans. They meet with great success, thus showing the importance of Achilles to the Greek cause. The disagreement, then, is really about honor. Agamemnon profoundly insults Achilles by taking Briseis from him, and since Achilles never really acknowledged Agamemnon's authority, he revolts. Even when Agamemnon agrees to return Briseis along with some gifts, Achilles...

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