The Iliad, Book 9

Book 9 of “The Iliad” features an embassy to Achilles, sent by the Greek commander Agamemnon to convince Achilles to return to the battle against Troy. The embassy consists of three warriors — Odysseus, the Greeks’ most skilled orator, Phoenix, who raised Achilles and still looks on him like a son, ans Ajax, the greatest Greek warrior other than Achilles.

Odysseus relates a promise from Agamemnon of vast treasure should he return to battle. Achilles says no, what Agamemnon gives he caneasily take away, he refuses to accept the bribe and the rules of a game Agamemnon controls. Phoenix then pleads with him to honor their relationship, be the good and faithful son, but Achilles again says no, says Phoenix is more concerned about returning honor to Agamemnon than preserving Achilles’ honor. Finally Ajax expresses disgust, syas the embassy should leave because Achilles has forsaken the honor his fellow soldiers have given him. That speech, far shorter than the others, is the only one that gets close to a concession from Achilles, who says he now won’t go back home but will pnly fight if the Trojans reach his own ships.

Several times during the embassy, Achilles states that the same fate of Death awaits both the brave man and the coward. His words all but reject the code of honor on which his warrior society is built. He also speaks of two fates from which he can choose — either stay and fight to win everlasting glory while dying in battle, or go home and lead a long, uneventful life. He is one of few, if not the only, classical Greek figure to be given such a choice.

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