Last Updated on April 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1034
In the ninth year, Chryseis, a priest’s daughter, is among the spoils of war one day, and Agamemnon takes her for himself. After a month, her father, who serves Apollo, comes with treasure to offer the Greeks for her ransom. However, instead of kneeling and begging for her return, he conducts himself proudly and tells the Greeks they took her unlawfully. Agamemnon is enraged and refuses to return her. He threatens the priest and turns him away with contempt. That night, a plague begins in the camp. It rages for nine days, killing many. Everyone suspects that a god has caused the plague, and Thetis confirms this suspicion when Achilles asks her.
On the tenth day of the plague, Achilles calls the entire camp together in the agora. He urges the Greeks to find out what god has caused the plague. Pretending this is Agamemnon’s idea, he has the chief Greek priest, Calchas, summoned to them. Fearfully, Calchas tells them that Apollo is offended because of the way Agamemnon treated the priest who serves him. The cure is for Agamemnon to return Chryseis without ransom and make prayers and sacrifices to Apollo. Furious again, Agamemnon reminds the Greeks that he is their leader. Yet, as Achilles reminds him, they are free men, kings and princes in their own right, and Agamemnon has a responsibility to them. Confronting Agamemnon only makes him angrier. He and Achilles exchange threats, and he demands Achilles kneel, which the young man refuses to do, implying that Agamemnon should kneel instead. Agamemnon’s revenge is to insist on taking Briseis, still officially Achilles’s prize of war, in order to insult and dishonor Achilles. In response, Achilles nearly kills Agamemnon but restrains himself, instead telling Agamemnon that he will no longer fight for the Greeks.
After returning to their camp, Achilles rages that he will kill Agamemnon. Achilles’s chariot driver comes and tells them that men are coming to take Briseis. Though Patroclus urges him to do something to protect Briseis, Achilles declares there is nothing he can do and goes to speak with his mother. Going to Briseis’s tent, Patroclus tells her what has happened. He is heartbroken and furious, feeling that he wants to shatter the world.
Two of Agamemnon’s heralds come to take Briseis. Patroclus is forced to go to fetch her, and the heralds drag her away. Achilles refuses to do anything. Consumed with rage, Patroclus realizes that this is not the man he knew. He needs to save Briseis himself, and the only way to do so is to offer Agamemnon something that is worth more.
In Agamemnon’s tent, Patroclus slits his wrist, swearing on the blood flowing from it that he will tell the truth. Explaining the situation to Agamemnon, he says that Achilles is using Briseis to undermine Agamemnon’s authority. Agamemnon is already pushing the limits of what is acceptable by taking Achilles’s war prize. If he rapes her, as they all know he intends to do, it will be an outrageous insult to Achilles, and the army will turn against him. Achilles has calculated all this, Patroclus tells Agamemnon. Agamemnon agrees to treat Briseis with honor and offers to return her to Achilles if Achilles comes to him and kneels to ask his pardon.
At Achilles’s tent, Patroclus tells Achilles what he did. Achilles is angry at Patroclus for choosing Briseis’s safety over his honor, but neither can stay angry at the other for long. Patroclus hopes that they can all begin healing. But Achilles tells him that he has made another decision, one Patroclus may condemn.
Ranting about Agamemnon’s theft of his honor, Achilles explains that he will refuse to fight, in spite of any consequences for the Greeks. When he met with his mother, they decided that Thetis should call upon Zeus to make the Greeks lose repeatedly so that it becomes obvious to everyone that Achilles is vital to victory. He is determined, he tells Patroclus, that Agamemnon must beg him to fight before he will do so, even if the Greeks all die.
Patroclus goes to see Briseis, but Agamemnon is there too. He tells Patroclus that he is treating Briseis well. All Achilles has to do for Agamemnon to return her and honor him is apologize. In Briseis’s language, Patroclus tells her that he does not know how long it will be until Achilles will yield. In the morning, the army marches off to battle without Achilles and his troops.
This section shows how the war has shaped and hardened Achilles, to Patroclus’s horror. Achilles’s cunning but heartless political calculation, to let Agamemnon rape Briseis so that Achilles can gain power, makes clear to Patroclus how much Achilles has changed, how a “cold mask of stone” has “slipped down over the boy [he] knew.” The callousness he sees in Achilles awakens an apocalyptic rage in Patroclus, making him wish for “earthquakes, eruptions, floods” to destroy the world. At the end of chapter 26, it at first seems that these wounds may be healed, but it is too late. Achilles has become someone who will not only allow a woman under his protection to be raped for political purposes, but will also let an entire army die before he yields his pride. Though it has not yet killed him, the war has stolen the person Patroclus knew and loved.
Patroclus emerges in these chapters as a person who can show great courage when someone he cares about is threatened. As a child, he was condemned for cowardice, and even as an adult he does not want to fight, which was typically judged as cowardly in ancient Greek culture. However, he has the courage to march into the Greek general’s tent, slit his own wrist, and confront Agamemnon with hard political truths, all at the risk of enraging the most dangerous soldier in the army with this betrayal. He does all this to save his beloved friend from a horrible fate. While Achilles has become merciless over the years of the war, Patroclus has found his strength in caring for others.
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