Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 935
Thersites: obnoxious, insubordinate Achaian
Iris: messenger goddess sent by Zeus to warn Trojans of attack
Book Two opens with Zeus’ plan to aid Achilleus in his revenge. Zeus sends Agamemnon the message that the gods are now on the Achaian side, and that they will be victorious in their campaign against Troy. To convey the message, Zeus sends Dream in the form of Nestor.
Agamemnon wakes from his dream convinced that the Achaians will now defeat Troy. At the same time, Zeus sends his messenger Rumour among the armies to urge them on to battle. The armies are called together and Agamemnon tests them by telling them to give up and go home. To his surprise, the men are overjoyed and cheer loudly as they race to the ships that will take them home.
However, Hera is not pleased with this reaction, and she sends Athene down to urge the men back to the fight. Athene reminds Odysseus of the many men already dead, and how pointless their deaths will be if the cause is not won. Odysseus then takes Agamemnon’s scepter and urges the men back to the battle, egging them on with taunts of their weakness and cowardly nature. Eventually the prodding is rewarded, and the troops turn back. However, one warrior, Thersites, refuses to listen to Odysseus’ reasoning. He insults and taunts Agamemnon and argues for abandoning him in Troy. When Odysseus rebukes him and beats him with the scepter, all of the armies applaud. Thersites has no defenders.
Odysseus urges the armies to stay and fight, reminding them of the sign they received before taking on the cause. A snake devoured eight sparrow chicks and then the mother sparrow before turning to stone. Then Nestor addresses the assembly, reminding the men of the pledges they had made to the cause and of the lightning seen on the right side of the boats as they sailed to Troy, signifying victory. The men are convinced to stay.
Agamemnon then calls the men to battle and they disperse to prepare, sacrificing to the gods and praying that they will escape death in the coming battle. Athene circulates among the men raising their strength for the fight. The narrator then gives us a long list of the army divisions of the Achaians. Indicated here are the leader of each army, the land they are from, and how many ships they brought with them to Troy.
The messenger goddess Iris is sent to the Trojans to warn them of the Achaian attack. The Trojan army and its allies prepare for battle and exit the city gate to fight, led by Hektor. The chapter ends with a list of the army divisions fighting for Troy.
Discussion and Analysis
In Book Two we see two prominent examples of personification: Dream and Rumour. Zeus is said to send his “messengers” Dream and Rumour in order to accomplish some purpose. The reader can clearly see that the gods are not just aware of the actions of men, but are constantly manipulating them. When Zeus sends Dream in the form of Nestor, he consciously chooses the person that Agamemnon most respects and trusts. Zeus knows that this increases the possibility of Agamemnon believing and acting on the message. Similarly, Rumour is sent to disseminate a certain mood among the troops—to put an idea into their heads. However, while Dream succeeded in convincing Agamemnon of the message from Zeus, Rumour was apparently unsuccessful in spurring the army on to battle. As soon as they are given the opportunity, they are more than ready to abandon the cause.
A major conflict in this book is presented by Thersites. While Thersites comes across as being obnoxious and laughable, his arguments are not without merit. The Achaians have been waging war with Troy for nine years. In nine years they are no closer to retrieving Helen than they were when they arrived. The average warrior in the Achaian force has no personal interest in the cause—only Menelaos does. A lack of commitment to the fight is clearly shown when Agamemnon tests the warriors and they rush to their ships to abandon the cause. While it is obvious that Thersites is unpopular among the men, his outburst is still dangerous. Odysseus recognizes this and physically suppresses him with blows. It is important that the armies be united as they go to battle.
Although Agamemnon is completely convinced of victory in this next battle, we know that Zeus has set him up for failure. Zeus’ plan is not to aid Agamemnon, but instead to help the Trojans, thus assisting Achilleus in avenging himself against his enemy. Thersites, the troublemaker, is actually the only one who sees that Agamemnon has acted foolishly. He accuses Agamemnon of waging this war for his own selfish gain. Indeed, we know that Agamemnon’s foolishness has already alienated his best warrior, Achilleus. Without Achilleus and his army, the battle will be much more difficult for the Achaians. Thersites points to Agamemnon’s weakness as a ruler, which will become more evident as the epic continues.
In the epic catalog at the end of the chapter, the absence of Achilleus’ army is ominously noted. The narrator includes this long list to impress on his listeners the size and strength of the armies. Descriptions also include historic information and distinguish the leaders, either by ancestry or by accomplishment. Achilleus is named “by far the strongest,” and Aias the best without him. In this way, Homer impresses on the reader the enormity of the loss to the Achaian forces.
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