Homer: The Iliad

Book IX

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved

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BkIX:1-78 The Greeks meet in assembly

So, the Trojans kept watch while the Greeks were gripped by panic that accompanies freezing fear, and all their leaders despaired. Like the teeming sea in turmoil when Northerlies and Westerlies that blow from Thrace suddenly rise, piling the dark waves swiftly in crests; hurling seaweed on the shore, so the hearts of the Greeks were in turmoil in their breasts.

Agamemnon, stricken and in great distress, ordered the clear-voiced heralds to summon every man by name, and with little noise, and laboured at the same task himself. So they assembled and sat there deeply troubled, and Agamemnon rose to address them, groaning heavily, while tears ran down his face like dark spring-water streaking a sheer cliff: ‘My friends, you leaders and counsellors of the Greeks, Zeus, the mighty son of Cronos, has entangled me in sad delusion. The god is harsh, for he solemnly assured me I’d sack high-walled Ilium before I headed home; but now, with so many men lost, he reveals his cruel deceit, bidding me return disgraced to Argos. Such, it seems, is almighty Zeus’ pleasure, he who has toppled many a city, and will raze others yet, so great his power. So do now as I say, and all obey: fit out the ships and run for our native land; all hope of taking broad-paved Troy is gone.’

At his words, they all fell silent. They sat there speechless, a long time, deeply troubled, till at last Diomedes of the loud war-cry spoke: ‘Son of Atreus, I have the right, in this assembly, to oppose your royal folly: so refrain from anger. You decried my courage, first, to the Greeks, saying I was a coward and no warrior: the Achaeans heard it, both young and old. Yet while Zeus, the son of cunning Cronos, endowed you with the sceptre, so you might be honoured above all, he withheld his second gift, of courage, which is the greater source of power. Perverse king, do you truly think the Greeks such cowards and weaklings as you claim? If in your own heart you seek home, go, since the way is clear, your ships are on the shore, the whole fleet that followed you from Mycenae. But we other long-haired Achaeans will remain, till we sack Troy. Or let the rest of you run for your native land, yet Sthenelus and I, we two, will fight on till we conquer Ilium, for a god brought us here.’

At this, a great shout rose from the Achaeans, acclaiming the speech of Diomedes, horse-tamer. But Nestor, the charioteer, then stood to speak: ‘Son of Tydeus, you are mightiest in a fight, and best of your generation in debate. Not one of us dare ignore or contradict you, yet there is more to say. Young you may be, enough to be my youngest son, yet you are right, and your advice to the Argive kings is wise. Let me, who am so much older, speak the rest; and none must scorn my words, not even lord Agamemnon. For a lawless man, without hearth or clan, is he who would stir up bitter strife among his own people. Now we must yield to night’s darkness, and eat. Post groups of sentries along the ditch by the wall. That is the young men’s task. Agamemnon, our king, take the lead in holding a banquet for the most senior; that would be right and fitting. Your huts are full of the wine jars Achaean ships bring you, day after day, from Thrace. As king over all, hospitality is in your hands. And when all are gathered together, you must follow whoever gives the best advice. And we Greeks need the best and wisest counsel, with the enemy fires burning near our ships. Who could delight in that? What we do this night will save the army, or destroy it utterly.’

BkIX:79-161 Nestor proposes a reconciliation

They listened readily to his words, and obeyed. Armed sentries left, at the double, led by Nestor’s son Thrasymedes; by Ascalaphus and Ialmenus, sons of Ares; by Meriones, Aphareus, Deipyrus, and noble Lycomedes, son of Creon. These were the seven leaders, and each had a hundred men with long spears. They took up position midway between the ditch and wall, and there lit fires, and every man sat down to prepare his supper.

Meanwhile Agamemnon led the Greek counsellors to his hut, and had a heart-warming banquet served. They sat down to the good things served before them, and when they had satisfied hunger and thirst, aged Nestor whose advice had seemed most sound, began to expound his thoughts. With their interests at heart, he addressed the gathering: ‘Glorious Agamemnon, son of Atreus, king of men, with you my speech will start and end. You are lord of many, and Zeus has placed the sceptre in your hands and the rule of law, so you may advise your people. It is for you, above all others, to listen and then speak, and endorse whatever any may say that will profit us, since its execution depends on you. Let me say what I deem right, and I think there can be no better course than this, which I’ve long considered and still consider best, since the day when you, Zeus-born king, angered Achilles and took the girl Briseis from his hut, against our inclination. I tried earnestly to dissuade you, but you were swayed by your proud heart, and showed dishonour to a great man, whom the gods themselves esteem, by taking and keeping his prize. Even at this late hour let us reflect on how we might make amends, and placate him with generous gifts and pleasing words.’

‘Aged sire,’ Agamemnon, king of men, replied: ‘you are not wrong in showing me my blindness, and blind I was, I cannot deny. The man Zeus loves in his heart is worth an army: see how he honours Hector now and crushes us Greeks. And since I yielded blindly to a wretched passion, I am willing to make amends and compensate Achilles handsomely. Before you all, let me name the glorious gifts I’ll grant him: seven tripods, unmarked by the flames; ten talents of gold; twenty gleaming cauldrons, and twelve strong horses, prize-winners for their speed. A man with the wealth they have won for me would not lack gold and riches. And I will gift him seven women, skilled in fine needle-craft, whom I chose as spoil for their surpassing beauty, on the day when Achilles took Lesbos. And one shall be her whom I took from him, that daughter of Briseus. I shall give him my solemn oath that I never took her to bed, never slept with her, as men are wont to do with women. All these things shall straight away be his; and if the gods grant we sack this great city of Priam, let him enter when we Greeks divide the spoils, and load his ship with gold and bronze, and pick the twenty loveliest women after Argive Helen. And if we return to Achaean Argos, finest of lands, he shall be a son to me, and I’ll honour him like my dear son Orestes, who is reared there among its riches. Three daughters I have too, in my noble palace, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa. Let him lead whichever he wishes to Peleus’ house, without bride-price, and I will add a dowry, greater than any man yet gave with a daughter. Seven well-populated cities he shall have: Cardamyle, Enope, and grassy Hire; holy Pherae and Antheia with its deep meadows; lovely Aepeia, and vine-rich Pedasus. They are all near the sea, on our far border with sandy Pylos, and the men there own great flocks and herds. They will honour him with gifts like a god, acknowledging his sceptre, and will ensure his plans prosper. All this I will do, if he forgoes his anger. Let him give way and submit to me – of all the gods is not Hades, hard and unyielding, hated most by mortals for being so – for I claim sovereignty and seniority over him.’

BkIX:162-221 The embassy to Achilles

Nestor, the Gerenian horseman, replied: ‘Agamemnon, king of men, most glorious son of Atreus: the gifts you offer prince Achilles are fine indeed. Let us send a swift deputation now to his hut. Let those I choose, be ready. Phoenix, beloved of Zeus, shall take the lead, followed by mighty Ajax and noble Odysseus: the heralds Odius and Eurybates shall go with them. But first bring water for our hands and call for holy silence, so we may pray to Zeus, the son of Cronos, and beseech his pity.’

All there were satisfied with his words. Heralds came to pour water over their hands, while squires, tipping the first few drops into each cup for libation, filled brimming bowls of wine for them all. When they had poured libations and sated their thirst, the envoys left Agamemnon’s hut, Gerenian Nestor gazing at each, though at Odysseus mainly, while issuing copious instructions on how to sway Peleus’ peerless son.

So Ajax and Odysseus walked beside the echoing sea, with many a heartfelt prayer to the god, who surrounds the land and shakes it, that softening the proud heart of Aeacus’ grandson might prove an easy task. And reaching the Myrmidons’ huts and ships, they found him delighting in the clear-toned lyre, playing a finely ornamented instrument bridged with silver, part of the spoils when he razed Eetion’s city. He was singing with joy of the deeds of mighty warriors, while Patroclus, seated opposite, heard his song through in silence. The two envoys arrived, Odysseus leading, and Achilles leapt to his feet in surprise, lyre in hand, while Patroclus too quitted his seat when he saw them. Achilles greeted them, saying: ‘Welcome, dear friends indeed – your coming here speaks of some great need – angry I may be, but you two Greeks I love more than most.’

With this, noble Achilles led them to his hut and seated them on chairs with purple coverings, then turned to Patroclus, saying: ‘Bring a larger bowl, son of Menoetius, mix a stronger drink, and give them both wine, these men I love dearly, who are here now under my roof.’

Patroclus hastened to obey his dear comrade. He set out a great wooden board in the firelight, laying out a sheep’s carcass and a goat’s, and the chine of a great hog, rich with fat. Automedon held them, while Achilles jointed them, then cut and spitted the joints. Meanwhile godlike Patroclus stoked the fire. When it burnt down, and the flames retreated, he raked the embers, and set the spits above them resting on andirons, after sprinkling the meat with sacred salt. When it was roasted, he heaped it on platters, Patroclus bringing bread set it out on the table in fine baskets, while Achilles served each portion. Then he took a seat by the wall, opposite godlike Odysseus, and asked Patroclus, his friend, to sacrifice to the gods. Then, when burnt offerings had been thrown into the fire, they helped themselves to the good things set before them.

Bk IX:222-306 The offer to Achilles

When they were sated, Ajax let Phoenix know, and noble Odysseus seeing his nod, filled his cup with wine and drank to Achilles: ‘Your health, Achilles, there’s plenty of good food for us here to warm our hearts, as much as in Agamemnon’s hut. But feasting is not what occupies us, ward of Zeus, since we foresee sorrow and feel great fear. I doubt we can save the benched ships from destruction, unless you arm yourself with your great valour. The brave Trojans and their famed allies are bivouacked close to the ships and wall, around their many fires, and say they are strong enough to swoop on our black ships. And Zeus, Son of Cronos, shows them good omens, with lightning on the right, while Hector exulting in his strength, and filled with frenzy, fears neither man nor god, but trusts in that same Zeus, and rages wildly. He prays for the swift coming of bright dawn, so he can hew the ships’ ensigns from their tall sterns, and consume their hulls with fire, smoking us out, and slaughtering all the Greeks beside them. My mind is full of fear, lest the gods fulfil his threat, and we are fated to die at Troy far from the horse-pastures of Argos.

But up, if you will, even now, and save the sons of Achaea, whose strength the Trojan war-noise saps. Or regret it ever after, since harm once done can never be retrieved. Before too late, think how to ward this evil from the Greeks. Good friend, did not Peleus, your father, warn you, on the day he sent you from Phthia to join Agamemnon: “Athene and Hera will empower you, my son, if they so wish. You, set a curb on your proud spirit, a gentle heart is best; avoid the quarrels that sow mischief, and the Greeks both young and old will honour you the more.” Did he not say those words that you forget? Even now it is not too late to quell this bitter anger. Should you relent Agamemnon offers you noble gifts. Listen and I will say what Agamemnon promises: seven tripods, unmarked by the flames; ten talents of gold; twenty gleaming cauldrons, and twelve strong horses, prize-winners for their speed. A man with the wealth they have won for him would not lack gold and riches. And he will give seven women, skilled in fine needle-craft, whom he chose as spoil for their surpassing beauty, on the day when Achilles took Lesbos. And one shall be her whom he took from you, that daughter of Briseus. He shall give you his solemn oath that he never took her to bed, never slept with her, as men are wont, great prince, to do with women. All these things shall straight away be yours; and if the gods grant we sack this great city of Priam, enter when we Greeks divide the spoils, and load your ship with gold and bronze, and pick the twenty loveliest women after Argive Helen. And if we return to Achaean Argos, finest of lands, you shall be a son to him, and he’ll honour you like his dear son Orestes, who is reared there among its riches. Three daughters he has too, in his noble palace, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa. You shall lead whichever you wish to Peleus’ house, without bride-price, and he will add a dowry, greater than any man yet gave with a daughter. Seven well-populated cities you shall have; Cardamyle, Enope, and grassy Hire; holy Pherae and Antheia with its deep meadows; lovely Aepeia, and vine-rich Pedasus. They are all near the sea, on his far border with sandy Pylos, and the men there own great flocks and herds. They will honour you with gifts like a god, acknowledging your sceptre, and will ensure your plans prosper.

He will do all this for you, if you lay aside your anger. But if your hatred of him and his gifts is too great, yet take pity at least on the army of weary Greeks, who will honour you like a god, for the great glory you must surely win in their eyes. You could kill Hector now, as he came upon you in his wild rage: he claims there is none like him among we Danaans who sailed here.’

BkIX:307-429 Achilles’ answer

Then fleet-footed Achilles gave his answer: ‘Odysseus of the nimble wits, royal son of Laertes, I will tell you straight out how I feel, and how things must be, to save you sitting there beside me, dealing in endless talk. Hateful as Hades’ Gate, to me, is the man who thinks one thing and says another. So here is my decision. Neither Agamemnon nor any other Greek will change my mind, for it seems there is no gratitude for ceaseless battle with our enemies. He who fights his best and he who stays away earn the same reward, the coward and the brave man win like honour, death comes alike to the idler and to him who toils. No profit to me from my sufferings, endlessly risking my life in war. I am like the bird that brings every morsel she finds to her unfledged chicks, and goes hungry herself. I watched through many a sleepless night, and fought through many a blood-stained day, battling warriors for the sake of their women. Twelve island cities I captured by sea, and eleven throughout Troy’s fertile land, and took much fine treasure from each. All I gave to this Agamemnon, son of Atreus. He stayed behind by his swift ships, yet kept the lion’s share and gave out some tiny portion. What he gave as prizes to princes and generals they hold still, yet he takes mine from me alone of all the Greeks, he steals my woman, my heart’s darling. He can lie by her side and take his pleasure. Yet why do the Argives war with Troy? Why did Atreides gather an army and bring it here? Was it not because of fair-haired Helen? Are the sons of Atreus the only men on earth who love their women? Every sane and decent man loves his own and cherishes her, as I loved her with all my heart, though but a captive of my spear. Since he stole the prize from my hands, and cheats me, let him not try to win me now with his offers; he’ll not sway me, I know him too well.

Let him look to you, Odysseus, and the rest, if he wants to save the fleet from a fiery death. In my absence I see he has done much, built a wall and dug a fine broad stake-filled trench, yet still he can’t keep out man-killing Hector. As long as I fought with the Achaeans, Hector stayed close to the wall, not far from the Scaean Gate and the oak tree. He waited to fight me there in single combat, and barely escaped alive. But now, I do not wish to do battle with noble Hector. Tomorrow I sacrifice to Zeus and the other gods, then load and launch my ships. At break of dawn, if it interests you, you will see my fleet sail the teeming Hellespont, my crews straining at the oars. Then if the mighty Earth-shaker grants me a fair voyage, in three days I will reach Phthia’s deep soil. I left great wealth behind on this ill-starred voyage, I will take back even more, gold, and red bronze, grey iron and fair women, all that was mine by lot, all except my prize that Agamemnon, son of Atreus, stole in his arrogance.

Tell him openly all that I say, so the rest can take umbrage when he tries to cheat some other Greek, shameless as he is. Yet not shameless enough to look me in the face! I shall neither help by my advice or effort, so utterly has he cheated me and wronged me. He will not fool me with his words again, So much for him. Let him go swiftly to perdition, since Zeus the counsellor robs him of his wits.

As for his gifts they are hateful in my eyes, and not worth a hair. Even if he gave ten or twenty times what he has, and raised levies elsewhere, though it were all the wealth that flows to Orchomenus, or Egyptian Thebes, where the very houses are filled with treasure, and two hundred warriors with horse and chariot sally out from its hundred gates, not if he gave me as many gifts as the grains of sand or motes of dust, could he persuade me. First he must pay me fully in kind for this shame that stings my heart.

Achilles refuses the gifts of Agamemnon

‘Achilles refuses the gifts of Agamemnon’ - Workshop of Bernard Picart, 1710

Nor will I wed his daughter, though as lovely as golden Aphrodite, as skilled in handiwork as bright-eyed Athene, not even then. Let him choose another Greek, more princely than me, who suits him better. If the gods protect me and I reach home, Peleus himself will find me a wife. There are plenty of Greek girls in Phthia and Hellas, daughters of leaders, the defenders of cities: from those I can choose a loving wife. Often my warm heart longed to wed a girl there, some fitting bride, and enjoy what aged Peleus has won. For, all the fabled peacetime wealth of populous Ilium, before we Greeks arrived, and all the treasure in rocky Pytho, beyond Apollo’s marble threshold, is not worth life itself. Cattle and fine sheep may be taken; tripods and chestnut steeds won, but neither taking nor winning can recall a man’s spirit once the breath has left his lips. My mother, divine silver-footed Thetis, spoke the alternative fates open to me on my way to death. Remain here and fight at the siege of Troy, forgo all home-coming, yet win endless renown; or sail home to my native land, lose fame and glory, but live a long life, and be spared an early end.

I advise you too to sail home. There is no hope of you conquering lofty Ilium, for far-echoing Zeus holds it carefully in his hand, and its people are full of courage. Now go and, as privileged elders, give my reply to the leaders of the Greeks, so they can think out some better way to save the ships and the army with them, since the depth of my anger forces this refusal. Let Phoenix though remain, and spend the night here. Then, he can sail home with me and my fleet in the morning: if he wishes to that is, I shall not force him.’

BkIX:430-526 Phoenix tells his history

They were all silent at his words, stunned by his stern refusal. Finally the old charioteer Phoenix, fearing as he did for the Greek fleet, spoke tearfully: ‘If you do intend to sail, great Achilles, so great the anger that possesses you, and refuse to save the ships from a fiery end, how can I stay alone, dear child, without you? Peleus, that aged horseman, sent me with you, that day you went from Phthia to join Agamemnon. A child you were, ignorant of war’s evils and the assembly where men find fame. That was why he made me your guardian, to teach you how to speak and act. So I could not bear to stay here without you, not though a god should take away my years and give me that strength of youth I had when I left Hellas, land of lovely women, fleeing a quarrel with my father, Amyntor, son of Ormenus. He loved his fair-haired mistress, and neglected my mother his wife, who begged me to seduce her and turn her against the old man. I consented and did so, but my father soon knew, and cursed me, called on the avenging Furies to make sure he’d never take any son of mine on his lap. And the deathless ones, Hades, the Zeus of the Underworld, and dread Persephone, fulfilled his curse. Enraged I sought to put my father to the sword, but some god restrained me, filling me with fear of public shame, of being reviled as a parricide among Greeks. Still, I could not bear to live in my hostile father’s house, though friends and kin gathered round and begged me to stay, slaughtering fine sheep and sleek shambling cattle, roasting fat hogs over the flames, and pouring wine in plenty from the old man’s jars. Nine nights they kept watch, in turn, stoking the fires, one lit beneath the colonnade of the walled court, one in the porch in front of my bedroom doors. But in the tenth night’s darkness, I levered open the doors of my room, and leapt the courtyard fence, unseen by maids or guards. Then I fled far through wide Hellas, reaching fertile Phthia, mother of flocks, where King Peleus welcomed me, and showed me the love a father shows his beloved only son and heir, granting me wealth and a subject people, as King of the Dolopes on Phthia’s far border.

And, loving you with all my heart, I formed you as you are, divine Achilles: you would refuse to feast in the hall or eat till I set you on my knee, filling your mouth with savoury titbits, touching the cup to your lips. And, child that you were, you would spatter my chest with wine and soak my tunic. But I suffered much for you and took great trouble, believing the gods would no longer send me a son of my own. I treated you as my son, divine Achilles, in hope that you might save me from some wretched fate.

So, conquer your proud spirit, Achilles, and don’t be so hard-hearted. The gods themselves may be swayed, despite their greater power, excellence and honour. The erring and sinful man in supplication may turn them from their path of anger, with incense, blessed vows, libations and the smoke of sacrifice. Prayers are the daughters of almighty Zeus, wrinkled and halting they are, with downcast eyes, following in the steps of wilful Pride. But Pride is swift-footed and strong, and soon outruns them all, and scours before them over the earth bringing men down. Prayers follow on behind trying to heal the hurt. He who respects those daughters of Zeus as they pass by, they hear his prayers and bless him. But he who is stubborn and rebuffs them, they beg Zeus, son of Cronos, to overtake with Pride, so he is brought down, and made to pay in full. So, Achilles, see that you honour the daughters of Zeus, who sway all men of noble mind. If Agamemnon failed to offer you gifts or promise more, but persisted in his furious anger, I would not tell you to swallow your pride and help the Greeks, however great their need. But now he promptly offers many gifts, and promises others later, and sends these warriors, the pick of the army, dearest to you of all the Greeks, to persuade you. Do not scorn their embassy here, or their words, though none can blame you for feeling anger. For have we not heard of men of old, warriors of great renown, who were swayed by gifts and persuaded by words, when a like fury gripped them?

BkIX:527-605 The story of Meleager’s anger

Let me tell you, my friends, of one I recall, and of deeds of the past, the distant past. Once, the Curetes were fighting the stubborn Aetolians, with heavy losses on either side. The Aetolians were defending Calydon’s lovely city, the Curetes eager to capture and sack it, all because Artemis of the Golden Throne, angered that King Oeneus had failed to offer her first fruits of his rich orchards, brought evil to Calydon. Perhaps he forgot, and failed to notice, but, fatally blind, he sacrificed to the other gods and neglected that great daughter of Zeus alone. So, in her wrath, the child of Zeus and goddess of the hunt sent a fierce white-tusked wild boar against him, to waste his orchards, far and wide. It uprooted the trees and leveled them, branch and blossom.

It was Meleager who gathered huntsmen and hounds from a host of cities and killed the boar, so huge that it needed a mighty force to hunt it down, and not before many a man met his end. Yet even then the goddess stirred a quarrel over the shaggy carcass, between the Curetes, his uncles, and the brave Aetolians, regarding the head and hide.

As long as Meleager, beloved of Ares, was in the field, so long the Curetes suffered, and though they came in force were driven back from the walls. But when the anger that clouds the mind of men, even the wise, filled Meleager, a deep anger caused by his beloved mother, Althaea, he lay at home idle beside his wife. She was the lovely Cleopatra, child of slim-ankled Marpessa, Evenus’ child, and of Idas, the mightiest man on the face of the earth in those days, who raised his bow against Phoebus Apollo to keep Marpessa for his own. Her father and mother called Cleopatra, Alcyone, because the mother had mourned like the kingfisher with its plaintive call, when far-darting Apollo had snatched her child. Meleager lay there, nursing his anger, embittered by his mother’s curse. For he had killed an uncle, her brother, and she had knelt and beat on the fertile earth with her fists, and drowned her breast with tears, and called on Hades and dread Persephone to destroy her son. And the Fury that walks in the darkness of Erebus heard her, she of the pitiless heart.

The noise of the enemy soon reached the city gates. They were battering at the walls. So the Aetolian Elders sent their leading priests to beg Meleager’s help, promising him a mighty gift, the choice of fifty acres, half vineyard and half open farmland, from the fertile heart of the fair Calydonian plain. And the aged charioteer, King Oeneus, standing at the threshold of Meleager’s tall chamber, rattling the solid doors, beseeched his son, as his mother and sisters did too, though their strong pleas annoyed Meleager even more. Not even his dearest, most loyal friends could sway his heart. At last, when the Curetes were scaling the walls and setting fire to the great city, and his very room was under siege, his lovely wife beseeched him in tears, picturing all the suffering that comes to those whose city falls; the slaughter of the men, the houses wasted by fire, the fair women and children taken by strangers. Her list of evils stirred his heart, and he ran to don his shining armour. So, yielding to his conscience, he saved the Aetolians from disaster, though they gave him none of the gifts they had offered, despite their being saved.

Dear child, don’t be like-minded, or be led astray by a god. It will be harder work saving the ships once they are in flames. Stir yourself while gifts may be had and the Greeks will honour you like a god. Re-enter the war when the offer is gone, and though you may turn the tide of battle, they will show you far less honour.’

BkIX:606-655 Achilles remains adamant

Swift-footed Achilles replied: ‘Phoenix, my father, my aged lord, beloved of Zeus, I have no need of such honour. I am honoured by what Zeus ordains for me, to stay by the beaked ships while there is breath in my body, and life in my limbs. And I tell you this, and take it to heart: do not try to sway my mind with shows of grief, on behalf of that warrior son of Atreus. Take care not to love him, and so incur my hatred, I who love you: better for me if you anger him who angers me. Share my kingdom and my honour, and let these men carry my answer, while you rest here on a soft bed. At dawn we will decide whether to go or stay.’

With this he signaled to Patroclus, with a nod of his head, to spread a comfortable bed for Phoenix, so the others might take the hint and leave the hut. Ajax, godlike son of Telamon, then spoke: ‘Odysseus of many wiles, Zeus-born son of Laertes, we should go, since we achieve nothing by staying here. We must hasten to give the news to the Greeks, who no doubt await us, bad though it is. Achilles’ proud heart has raised him to such a pitch of fury he forgets, harsh man that he is, his comrades’ love, with which we in the fleet honoured him above all others. He shows no pity! Yet a man accepts blood-money even from his brother’s or his son’s killer, and the killer is not expelled from the land if he pays the price to the next of kin, whose pride and feelings are appeased by such compensation. Achilles, the gods have hardened and poisoned your heart, all because of a girl, while we offer you seven, the best there are by far, and a host of gifts besides. So be gracious and show respect for your house, since we represent the Danaans here, and are keen to remain your closest and dearest friends of all the Achaeans.’

Swift-footed Achilles quickly replied: ‘Zeus-born Ajax, son of Telamon, what you last said my own heart echoes, yet it swells with anger when I recall how the son of Atreus shamed me before the Argives, as though I were some wanderer without rights. You must go and give my answer. I will think no more of war and bloodshed, till noble Hector, Priam’s warrior son, comes here slaughtering Greeks and setting the fleet aflame, and reaches the huts and ships of my Myrmidons. Only here, by my hut, by my black ship, will Hector be stopped, however inspired he is in battle.’

BkIX:656-713 The embassy returns

At this, each guest took a two-handled cup and offered a libation then Odysseus led the way back along the lines. But Patroclus told his men and maidservants to spread a soft bed for Phoenix, swiftly, which they did, covering it with fleeces and rug and linen sheets. There the old man lay and waited for morning light. But Achilles slept in the innermost part of the sturdy hut, with a woman he brought from Lesbos at his side, lovely Diomede, daughter of Phorbas. And Patroclus lay opposite, with fair Iphis, whom noble Achilles assigned to him at the taking of lofty Scyrus, city of Enyeus.

Now, when the envoys returned to Agamemnon’s hut, the Achaean lords sprang to their feet and drank a toast to them from golden cups, then fired questions at them. The king was foremost: ‘Praiseworthy Odysseus, glory of the Greeks: tell me quickly. Does he choose to defend the ships from fire, or does he refuse, his heart still filled with anger?

Then noble long-suffering Odysseus replied: ‘Glorious son of Atreus, Agamemnon, king of men, the man has no thought of relenting, but fuels his anger, and wishes no part in you or your gifts. He suggests you take counsel with us Argives on how to save the Greek fleet and the army, while he threatens to launch his curved well-benched ships at dawn. He says he advises the rest to sail home, since you have no hope of conquering lofty Ilium, that far-echoing Zeus holds carefully in his hands, and whose people are full of courage. Those were his words, and Ajax here and these two heralds, both sober men, can confirm them. But we left old Phoenix resting there, as Achilles commanded, to travel home to his dear land at dawn, though only if he wishes, since Achilles will not force him.’

At his words, all fell silent, dismayed by his forceful speech, and a gloomy silence followed, until at length Diomedes spoke, he of the loud war-cry: ‘Glorious son of Atreus, Agamemnon, king of men, I wish now you had not deigned to plead with that peerless son of Peleus, nor offered him a host of gifts. He is never anything but proud, and now you encourage his pride. But we must let him be, whether he goes or stays. He will fight when his own conscience demands it, and a god rouses him. But listen and do as I say. Let us go and sleep, when our hunger and thirst are sated, since food and drink nurture strength and courage: but when rosy-fingered Dawn glows fair, swiftly deploy the chariots and men in front of the ships, then urge them forward, fighting yourself with the foremost.’

All the leaders expressed their approval of his words, thrilled by Diomedes, tamer of horses. Then they poured libations and each went to his hut, to lie down there and enjoy the gifts of sleep.