HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 10 Cherry Fan
The End of Wrath
The folk were gathered in the place of assembly; for there a strife had arisen, and two men were striving
about the blood-price of a slain man; the one avowed to pay all, declaring his cause to the people, but
the other refused to accept anything; and each wanted to refer the issue to an arbiter. Moreover, the
folk were cheering both, showing favour to this side and to that. And heralds held back the folk, and the
elders were sitting upon polished stone in the sacred circle, holding in their hands the staves of the loud-
voiced heralds. Therewith then would they spring up and give judgement, each in turn. And in the midst
lay two talents of gold, to be given to whoever among them should utter the most righteous judgement.
The beginning of the Iliad is the story of a conflict and its genesis. It’s not the Trojan War as a whole, but
rather a conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon. Agamemnon’s actions in refusing to return Chryseis,
the daughter of the priest of Apollo, and then in returning her and singling out Achilles’ prize Briseis as
his recompense drive the “best of the Achaeans” into the anger that forms the principal theme of the
epic. His anger leads Achilles to withdraw from the war.
In our course we aren’t reading every book of the Iliad. But we are focusing in on several books that
reveal events critical to the principal theme. Already in book 1 several of the characters, including
Achilles, Agamemnon, and Nestor, suggest ways out of the impasse. But it isn’t until book 9 that
Agamemnon again tries to assuage Achilles. He admits his mistake and sends an embassy to Achilles to
try to woo him back. The embassy consists of Odysseus, the wiliest of the Argives, Phoenix, an old family
friend of Achilles, and Ajax, Achilles’ cousin and a man very close to him.
The passage from book 18 quoted in the overview has recently been cited by scholars as perhaps the
most important programmatic passage in the Iliad. It describes a scene on the new shield of Achilles that
is being engraved by Hephaestus. Two men gather before the people to contend over recompense for
the death of a man. What scholars have suggested is that the scene is an allegory for the Iliad as a whole.
Agamemnon would obviously be the man who “avows” to pay all. He claims the ability to provide
adequate recompense to Achilles, but he is rejected. For this reason, “elders” “spring up” throughout
the poem seeking to give a “judgement”, that is, a means by which the impasse can be resolved. The
challenge to decide the war by means of a man-to-man duel in book 3 is one such possibility that goes
amuck. The man whose death needs compensation is Achilles, but Achilles is also the man who refuses
compensation. (A fuller treatment of the Iliad might show how the shield as a whole, with its scenes
from cities at war and at peace is also an allegory for the Iliad as a whole, this time seen as a
commentary on the descriptiveness of war.)
In book 9 the three men on embassy for Agamemnon likewise attempt to give judgement, that is, to
make a speech that will persuade Achilles to accept compensation. Ostensibly the compensation is
simply for Agamemnon’s insult and for the loss of Briseis, but everyone knows that if/when Achilles
Page 1 of 8 HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 10 Cherry Fan
rejoins the battle, he brings himself closer to his own death. That is his fate. So the compensation that is
sought is really Achilles’ life.
With the need for Achilles to rejoin the battle realized, the Argive leaders gather and manage to prevail
upon Agamemnon to admit his mistake and try to make it up to Achilles. Nestor puts the matter to
“You yielded to your pride (thumos), and upon a man most mighty, whom the very immortals honoured,
you put dishonour; for you took away and keep his prize (geras).”
Nestor recalls all those elements that dominate the debates of book 1, emotions, honour, and its
measure, geras. Agamemnon accepts his rebuke and puts together what he thinks will be a persuasive
package for Achilles:
“Three daughters have I in my well built hall, Chrysothemis, and Laodice, and Iphianassa;… Let him
yield – Hades is not to be soothed, neither overcome, so that he is most hated by mortals of all gods. And
let him yield to me, since I am more kingly, and I claim to be his elder in years.”
Agamemnon wants, among other things, a marriage alliance. Here it is interesting to note that in the
post-Homeric tradition, Laodice is called “Electra” and Iphianassa is called “Iphigenia”: Electra will help
her brother Orestes take vengeance on their mother for killing Agamemnon, and Iphigeneia has been
sacrificed to Artemis in order to allow the fleet to sail from Aulis. So the idea from the Cypria of
Agamemnon offering Achilles his daughter, which is used as a pretext for Iphigenia to be sent to Aulis for
her to be sacrificed, does have its origins in Homer.
More importantly, it seems clear that despite his admitting to a mistake, Agamemnon is not willing to
concede any of his prestige, his timê, to Achilles. He still claims higher status both in age and as a king.
He also does not condescend to go to Achilles himself, to bow before him as a suppliant, to renounce his
authority to act again as he acted before. For Achilles, that means that nothing has changed.
Odysseus’ speech to Achilles is paradoxical. Despite Odysseus’ enormous cleverness with words, he puts
Agamemnon claims as badly as they could be put:
“Yet stop even now, and give up your bitter wrath. To you Agamemnon offers worthy gifts, so you will
cease from your anger.”
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There seems to have been an understanding between Phoenix and Ajax about how to approach Achilles,
but Odysseus cuts in to take the lead (224-5). Odysseus sees things simply in terms of the gifts, the same
calculus that dominated book 1. It isn't surprising that Achilles rejects his approach:
"There is small thanks, it seems, for warring against the enemy ever without respite. Like portion has he
that hangs back, and he that fights his best, and in one honour are held both the coward and the brave;
death comes alike to the idle ma and to him that works a lot. Neither have I any profit since I suffered
woes at heart, ever staking my life in fight."
Achilles' response makes clear the shift in his reasoning. He is no longer concerned with the honour that
comes from humans, since death acts as a great equalizer and nullifies all of that. He needs something
else to justify staking his life. This passage supports the use of indicial scene from the Shield of
Hephaestus. Achilles is now negotiating his own death (cf. 9.403-9).
"For my mother the goddess, silver-footed Thetis, tells me that twofold fates are bearing me toward the
doom of death; if I abide here and war about the city of the Trojans, then lost is my home-return, but my
renown (kleos) shall be imperishable. But if I return home to my dear native land, lost then is my glorious
renown, yet shall my life long endure, neither shall the doom of death come soon upon me.
Achilles introduces a new basis for negotiation, his own fame or renown (kleos). He knows that he is
negotiating his death. But who has the ability to give Achilles renown? Here we can see a sort of
assimilation of the hero and the poet. It is the poet who gives renown, and in a way Achilles himself is
going to compose the terms under which he returns to battle.
Phoenix and the Story of Meleager
Phoenix came with Achilles from his home in Phthia. Achilles is a sort of surrogate son for him. He knows
that Odysseus' plea, based on geras, has failed. So he knows that he must base his speech on his own
character, as someone whom Achilles should trust. He has also seen a crack in Achilles' position, that
Achilles is seeking renown, so he proceeds to tell the story of another hero, Meleager, and to use this
myth as another persuasive tool.
Phoenix was born and was raised in Hellas, the area that eventually would give its name to all the
Greeks, the "Hellenes". But his own story involves a very peculiar motif, in a way a variant of the
Oedipus model. In this one, Phoenix's father is desirous of a slave woman, and Phoenix's mother is
jealous. Her surprising (to us, at any rate) solution is to have the son seduce the slave woman and see to
it that she loses her appreciation for the father (9.445-55). The father's reaction is to curse Phoenix with
childlessness (so Phoenix can have Achilles as a surrogate son), and rather than kill his father, Phoenix
leaves him and Hellas behind and goes to Phthia.
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The story of Meleager that Phoenix tells (9.527-600) is another one of the great stories of Greek myth
that has been woven into the Iliad, like the story of Bellerophon in book 6. Both Meleager and
Bellerophon were extremely popular with vase painters and storytellers in the generations after, and
presumably before, Homer. Meleager is the central figure in what is called the Claydonian Boar Hunt.
Like the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts (cf. Odyssey 12.70) or the battle against the Centaurs (Iliad
1.265-8) or even the Trojan war itself, the Claydonian Boar Hunt brought together many heroes in a
The actual story of the hunt is recounted in only a couple lines: "But the boar did Meleager, son of
Oeneus, slay, when he had gathered huntsmen and hounds out of many cities" (0.544-5). Homer seems
aware what a huge event this was already in mythology. He doesn't need to have Phoenix retell it.
What's more important is that after the boar was killed, a fight broke out about who should get its hide
as a price. (Homer does not tell us why the fight broke out, but other sources say that Meleager gave the
hide to a woman, Atalanta; the fight broke out when the men became jealous of her. But this detail is
not important to Phoenix's story. Perhaps Homer had another reason for the fight.) In the fight, it
appears that Meleager killed a couple of his uncles, his mother's brothers, as a result of which she
cursed him. Like Phoenix himself, who had been cursed by his father, Meleager reacts by getting angry
himself and, like Achilles, withdrawing from a war with the neighbouring Curetes.
The parallels between Achilles and Meleager get closest here: Meleager withdrew from battle until the
Curetes were almost at his own house. When he finally rejoined the battle, because of his wife's appeals,
he got little recognition (i.e. timê). Phoenix sees that Achilles may also get little recognition if he waits
too long. He therefore sees Achilles' reentry as inevitable and tries to use his own intimacy with the hero
and his folksy storytelling to persuade him.
Achilles of course will have none of it. He sees through Phoenix's storytelling and decides that his
argument is actually the same as Odysseus', an appeal to the timê that results from the accumulation of
"In no way have I need of this honour: honour have I been, I deem, by the apportionment (alsé) of Zeus,
which shall be mine amid the beaked ships so long as the breath remains in my breast and my knees are
Achilles is aware that, by birth, he has more timê from the gods than he could ever win among humans.
He does not actually address the issue of renown.
The last member of the embassy is Ajax. The skills with which Homer shapes his characters becomes
clear. After the glib Odysseus and the