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:
(The entire section is 1929 words.)