The Illiad: The Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon.

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

The Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon.

Thetis brings to her son the armour made by Vulcan. She preserves the body of his friend from corruption, and commands him to assemble the army, to declare his resentment at an end. Agamemnon and Achilles are solemnly reconciled: the speeches, presents, and ceremonies on that occasion. Achilles is with great difficulty persuaded to refrain from the battle till the troops have refreshed themselves, by the advice of Ulysses. The presents are conveyed to the tent of Achilles: where Briseis laments over the body of Patroclus. The hero obstinately refuses all repast, and gives himself up to lamentations for his friend. Minerva descends to strengthen him, by the order of Jupiter. He arms for the fight; his appearance described. He addresses himself to his horses, and reproaches them with the death of Patroclus. One of them is miraculously endued with voice, and inspired to prophesy his fate; but the hero, not astonished by that prodigy, rushes with fury to the combat.

The thirtieth day. The scene is on the sea-shore.

Now morn in saffron robe, from th' ocean stream
Ascending, light diffus'd o'er Gods and men;
As Thetis, to the ships returning, bore
The gift of Vulcan; there her son she found,
Who o'er Patroclus hung in bitter grief;
Around him mourn'd his comrades; in the midst
She stood, and clasp'd his hand, as thus she spoke:
"Leave we, my son, though deep our grief, the dead;
Here let him lie, since Heav'n hath doom'd his fall;
But thou these arms receive, by Vulcan sent,
Fairer than e'er on mortal breast were borne."
The arms before Achilles, as she spoke,
The Goddess laid; loud rang the wondrous work.
With awe the Myrmidons beheld; nor dar'd
Affront the sight: but as Achilles gaz'd,
More fiery burn'd his wrath; beneath his brows
His eyes like lightning flash'd; with fierce delight
He seiz'd the glorious gift: and when his soul
Had feasted on the miracle of art,
To Thetis thus his winged words address'd:
"Mother, the God hath giv'n me arms indeed,
Worthy a God, and such as mortal man
Could never forge; I go to arm me straight;
Yet fear I for Menoetius' noble son,
Lest in his spear-inflicted wounds the flies
May gender worms, and desecrate the dead,
And, life extinct, corruption reach his flesh."
Whom answer'd thus the silver-footed Queen:
"Let not such fears, my son, disturb thy mind:
I will myself the swarms of flies disperse,
That on the flesh of slaughter'd warriors prey:
And should he here remain a year complete,
Still should his flesh be firm and fresh as now:
But thou to council call the chiefs of Greece;
Against the monarch Agamemnon there,
The leader of the host, abjure thy wrath;
Then arm thee quickly, and put on thy might."
Her words with dauntless courage fill'd his breast.
She in Patroclus' nostrils, to preserve
His flesh, red nectar and ambrosia pour'd.
Along the ocean beach Achilles pass'd,
And loudly shouting, call'd on all the chiefs;
Then all who heretofore remain'd on board,
The steersmen, who the vessels' rudders hold,
The very stewards that serv'd the daily bread,
All to th' assembly throng'd, when reappear'd
Achilles, from the fight so long withdrawn.
Two noble chiefs, two ministers of Mars,
Ulysses sage, and valiant Diomed,
Appear'd, yet crippled by their grievous wounds,
Their halting steps supporting with their spears,
And on the foremost seats their places took.
Next follow'd Agamemnon, King of men,
He also wounded; for Antenor's son,
Coon, had stabb'd him in the stubborn fight.
When all the Greeks were closely throng'd around,
Up rose Achilles swift of foot, and said:
"Great son of Atreus, what hath been the gain
To thee or me, since heart-consuming strife
Hath fiercely rag'd between us, for a girl,
Who would to Heav'n had died by Dian's shafts
That day when from Lyrnessus' captur'd town
I bore her off? so had not many a Greek
Bitten the bloody dust, by hostile hands
Subdued, while I in anger stood aloof.
Great was the gain to Troy; but Greeks, methinks,
Will long retain the mem'ry of our feud.
Yet pass we that; and though our hearts be sore,
Still let us school our angry spirits down.
My wrath I here abjure; it is not meet
It burn for ever unappeas'd; do thou
Muster to battle straight the long-hair'd Greeks;
That, to the Trojans once again oppos'd,
I may make trial if beside the ships
They dare this night remain; but he, I ween,
Will gladly rest his limbs, who safe shall fly,
My spear escaping, from the battle-field."
He said: the well-greav'd Greeks rejoic'd to hear
His wrath abjur'd by Peleus' godlike son;
And from his seat, not standing in the midst,
Thus to th' assembly Agamemnon spoke:
"Friends, Grecian Heroes, Ministers of Mars,
When one stands up to speak, 'tis meet for all
To lend a patient ear, nor interrupt;
For e'en to practis'd speakers hard the task:
But, in this vast assembly, who can speak
That all may hear? the clearest voice must fail.
To Peleus' son, Achilles, I my mind
Will frankly open; ye among yourselves
Impart the words I speak, that all may know.
Oft hath this matter been by Greeks discuss'd,
And I their frequent censure have incurr'd:
Yet was not I the cause; but Jove, and Fate,
And gloomy Erinnys, who combin'd to throw
A strong delusion o'er my mind, that day
I robb'd Achilles of his lawful prize.
What could I do? a Goddess all o'er-rul'd,
Daughter of Jove, dread Ate, baleful pow'r,
Misleading all; with lightest step she moves,
Not on the earth, but o'er the heads of men,
With blighting touch; and many hath caus'd to err.
E'en Jove, the wisest deem'd of Gods and men,
In error she involv'd, when Juno's art
By female stratagem the God deceiv'd,
When in well-girdled Thebes Alcmena lay
In travail of the might of Hercules.
In boastful tone amid the Gods he spoke:
'Hear all ye Gods, and all ye Goddesses,
The words I speak, the promptings of my soul.
This day Lucina shall to light bring forth
A child, the future Lord of all around,
Of mortal men, who trace to me their blood.'
Whom answer'd Juno thus, with deep deceit:
'Thou dost but feign, nor wilt fulfil thy word:
Come now, Olympian, swear a solemn oath
That he shall be the Lord of all around,
Who on this day shall be of woman born,
Of mortal men, who trace to thee their blood.'
She said, and Jove, the snare unseeing, swore
A solemn oath; but found his error soon.
Down from Olympus' height she sped in haste
To Argos of Achaia; for the wife
Of Sthenelus, the son of Perseus, there,
She knew, was sev'n months pregnant of a son;
Whom, though untimely born, she brought to light,
Staying meanwhile Alcmena's labour-pangs,
To Saturn's son herself the tidings brought,
And thus address'd him: 'Jove, the lightning's Lord,
I bring thee news; this day a mighty man,
By thee ordain'd to be the Argives' King,
Is born, Eurystheus, son of Sthenelus,
The son of Perseus, issue of thy blood;
Well worthy he to be the Argives' King.'
She said: keen sorrow deeply pierc'd his soul;
Then Ate by the glossy locks he seiz'd
In mighty wrath; and swore a solemn oath,
That to Olympus and the starry Heav'n
She never should return, who all misleads.
His arm then whirling, from the starry Heav'n
He flung her down, to vex th' affairs of men.
Yet oft her fraud remember'd he with groans,
When by Eurystheus' hard commands he saw
Condemn'd to servile tasks his noble son.
So, oft as Hector of the glancing helm
Beside the ships the Greeks to slaughter gave,
Back to my mind my former error came.
I err'd, for Jove my judgment took away;
But friendly reconcilement now I seek,
And tender costly presents; then thyself
Uprouse thee, and excite the rest to arms.
While I prepare the gifts, whate'er of late[1]
The sage Ulysses promis'd in thy tent:
Or, if thou wilt, though eager for the fray,
Remain thou here awhile, till from my ship
My followers bring the gifts; that thou mayst see
I make my offerings with no niggard hand."
Whom answer'd thus Achilles swift of foot:
"Most mighty Agamemnon, King of men,
The gifts thou deem'st befitting, 'tis for thee
To give, or to withhold; but now at once
Prepare we for the battle; 'tis not meet
On trivial pretexts here to waste our time,
Or idly loiter; much remains to do:
Again be seen Achilles in the van,
Scatt'ring with brazen spear the Trojan ranks;
And ye, forget not man with man to fight."
To whom in answer sage Ulysses thus:
"Brave as thou art, Achilles, godlike chief,
Yet fasting lead not forth the sons of Greece
To fight the Trojans; for no little time
Will last the struggle, when the serried ranks
Are once engag'd in conflict, and the Gods
With equal courage either side inspire:
But bid them, by the ships, of food and wine
(Wherein are strength and courage) first partake;
For none throughout the day till set of sun,
Fasting from food, may bear the toils of war;
His spirit may still be eager for the fray;
Yet are his limbs by slow degrees weigh'd down,
Himself by thirst and hunger worn, his knees
Unable, as he moves, to bear his weight.
But he who, first with food and wine refresh'd,
All day maintains the combat with the foe,
His spirit retains unbroken, and his limbs
Unwearied, till both armies quit the field.
Disperse then now the crowd, and bid prepare
The morning meal; meantime to public view
Let Agamemnon, King of men, display
His costly gifts; that all the Greeks may see,
And that thy heart within thee melt with joy:
And there in full assembly let him swear
A solemn oath, that he hath ne'er approach'd
The fair Briseis' bed, nor held with her
Such intercourse as man with woman holds.
Be thou propitious, and accept his oath.
Then at a sumptuous banquet in his tent
Let him receive thee; that thine honour due
May nothing lack; and so, Atrides, thou
Shalt stand in sight of all men clear of blame;
For none can wonder that insulting speech
Should rouse the anger of a sceptred King."
To whom thus Agamemnon, King of men:
"Son of Laertes, I accept thy speech
With cordial welcome: all that thou hast said
Is well and wisely spoken; for the oath,
I am prepar'd, with willing mind, to swear;
Nor in the sight of Heav'n will be forsworn.
Let then Achilles here awhile remain,
Though eager for the fray; ye too remain,
Until the presents from my tent be brought,
And we our solemn compact ratify.
Then this command upon thyself I lay:
That thou the noblest youths of all the Greeks
Select, and bid them from my vessel bear
The gifts, which, to Achilles yesternight
We promis'd, and withal the women bring;
And let Talthybius through the host seek out
A boar, for sacrifice to Jove and Sol."
Whom answer'd thus Achilles swift of foot:
"Most mighty Agamemnon, King of men,
These matters to some future time were best
Deferr'd, some hour of respite from the fight,
Of rage less fiercely burning in my breast;
But slaughter'd now they lie, whom Priam's son,
Hector, hath slain, by Jove to vict'ry led.
Ye bid us take our food; if I might rule,
I would to battle lead the sons of Greece,
Unfed, and fasting; and at set of sun,
Our shame aveng'd, an ample feast prepare;
Till then, nor food nor drink shall pass my lips,
My comrade slain; who pierc'd with mortal wounds,
Turn'd tow'rd the doorway, lies within my tent,
His mourning friends around; while there he lies,
No thought have I for these or aught beside,
Save carnage, blood, and groans of dying men."
To whom Ulysses, sage in council, thus:
"O son of Peleus, noblest of the Greeks,
How far, Achilles, thou surpassest me
In deeds of arms, I know: but thou must yield
To me in counsel, for my years are more,
And my experience greater far than thine:
Then to my words incline a patient ear.
Men soonest weary of battle, where the sword
The bloodiest harvest reaps; the lightest crop
Of slaughter is where Jove inclines the scale,
Dispenser, at his will, of human wars.
The Greeks by fasting cannot mourn their dead;
For day by day successive numbers fall;
Where were the respite then from ceaseless fast?
Behoves us bury out of sight our dead,
Steeling our hearts, and weeping but a day;
And we, the rest, whom cruel war has spar'd,
Should first with food and wine recruit out strength;
Then, girding on our arms, the livelong day
Maintain the war, unwearied; then let none
Require a farther summons to the field;
(And woe to him who loit'ring by the ships
That summons hears;) but with united force
Against the Trojans wake the furious war."
He said, and call'd on noble Nestor's sons,
On Meges, Phyleus' son, Meriones,
Thoas, and Lycomedes, Creon's son,
And Melanippus; they together sought
The mighty monarch Agamemnon's tent.
Soon as the word was giv'n, the work was done;
Sev'n tripods brought they out, the promis'd gifts;
Twelve horses, twenty caldrons glitt'ring bright;
Sev'n women too, well skill'd in household cares,
With whom, the eighth, the fair Briseis came.
Ulysses led the way, and with him brought
Ten talents full of gold; th' attendant youths
The other presents bore, and in the midst
Display'd before th' assembly: then uprose
The monarch Agamemnon; by his side,
With voice of godlike pow'r, Talthybius stood,
Holding the victim: then Atrides drew
The dagger, ever hanging at his side,
Close by the scabbard of his mighty sword,
And from the victim's head the bristles shore.
With hands uplifted then to Jove he pray'd;
While all around the Greeks in silence stood,
List'ning, decorous, to the monarch's words,
As looking up to Heav'n he made his pray'r:
"Be witness, Jove, thou highest, first of Gods,
And Sun, and Earth, and ye who vengeance wreak
Beneath the earth on souls of men forsworn,
Furies! that never, or to love unchaste
Soliciting, or otherwise, my hand
Hath fair Briseis touch'd; but in my tent
Still pure and undefil'd hath she remain'd:
And if in this I be forsworn, may Heav'n
With all the plagues afflict me, due to those
Who sin by perjur'd oaths against the Gods."
Thus as he spoke, across the victim's throat
He drew the pitiless blade; Talthybius then
To hoary Ocean's depths the carcase threw,
Food for the fishes; then Achilles rose,
And thus before th' assembled Greeks he spoke:
"O Father Jove, how dost thou lead astray
Our human judgments! ne'er had Atreus' son
My bosom fill'd with wrath, nor from my arms,
To his own loss, against my will had torn
The girl I lov'd, but that the will of Jove
To death predestin'd many a valiant Greek.
Now to the meal; anon renew the war."
This said, th' assembly he dismiss'd in haste,
The crowd dispersing to their sev'ral ships;
Upon the gifts the warlike Myrmidons
Bestow'd their care, and bore them to the ships;
Of Peleus' godlike son; within the tent
They laid them down, and there the women plac'd,
While to the drove the followers led the steeds.
Briseis, fair as golden Venus, saw
Patroclus lying, pierc'd with mortal wounds,
Within the tent; and with a bitter cry,
She flung her down upon the corpse, and tore
Her breast, her delicate neck, and beauteous cheeks;
And, weeping, thus the lovely woman wail'd:
"Patroclus, dearly lov'd of this sad heart!
When last I left this tent, I left thee full
Of healthy life; returning now, I find
Only thy lifeless corpse, thou Prince of men!
So sorrow still, on sorrow heap'd, I bear.
The husband of my youth, to whom my sire
And honour'd mother gave me, I beheld
Slain with the sword before the city walls:
Three brothers, whom with me one mother bore,
My dearly lov'd ones, all were doom'd to death:
Nor wouldst thou, when Achilles swift of foot
My husband slew, and royal Mynes' town
In ruin laid, allow my tears to flow;
But thou wouldst make me (such was still thy speech)
The wedded wife of Peleus' godlike son:
Thou wouldst to Phthia bear me in thy ship,
And there, thyself, amid the Myrmidons,
Wouldst give my marriage feast; then, unconsol'd,
I weep thy death, my ever-gentle friend!"
Weeping, she spoke; the women join'd her wail:
Patroclus' death the pretext for their tears,
But each in secret wept her private griefs.
Around Achilles throng'd the elder men,
Urging to eat; but he, with groans, refus'd:
"I pray you, would you show your love, dear friends,
Ask me not now with food or drink to appease
Hunger or thirst; a load of bitter grief
Weighs heavy on my soul; till set of sun
Fasting will I remain, and still endure."
The other monarchs at his word withdrew:
The two Atridae, and Ulysses sage,
And Nestor and Idomeneus remain'd,
And aged Phoenix, to divert his grief;
But comfort none, save in the bloody jaws
Of battle would he take; by mem'ry stirr'd,
He heav'd a deep-drawn sigh, as thus he spoke:
"How oft hast thou, ill-fated, dearest friend,
Here in this tent with eager zeal prepar'd
The tempting meal, whene'er the sons of Greece
In haste would arm them for the bloody fray!
Now liest thou there, while I, for love of thee,
From food and drink, before me plac'd, refrain:
For ne'er shall I again such sorrow know,
Not though I heard of aged Peleus' death,
Who now in Phthia mourns, with tender tears,
His absent son; he on a foreign shore
Is warring in that hateful Helen's cause:
No, nor of his, who now in Scyros' isle
Is growing up, if yet indeed he live,
Young Neoptolemus, my godlike son.
My hope had been indeed, that here in Troy,
Far from the plains of Argos, I alone
Was doom'd to die; and that to Phthia thou,
Return'd in safety, mightst my son convey
From Scyros home, and show him all my wealth,
My spoils, my slaves, my lofty, spacious house.
For Peleus or to death, methinks, e'en now
Hath yielded, or not far from death remov'd,
Lives on in sorrow, bow'd by gloomy age,
Expecting day by day the messenger
Who bears the mournful tidings of my death."
Weeping, Achilles spoke; and with him wept
The Elders; each to fond remembrance mov'd
Of all that in his home himself had left.
The son of Saturn, pitying, saw their grief,
And Pallas thus with winged words address'd:
"My child, dost thou a hero's cause forsake,
Or does Achilles claim no more thy care,
Who sits in sorrow by the high-prow'd ships,
Mourning his comrade slain? the others all
Partake the meal, while he from food abstains:
Then haste thee, and, with hunger lest he faint,
Drop nectar and ambrosia on his breast."
His words fresh impulse gave to Pallas' zeal:
Down, like the long-wing'd falcon, shrill of voice,
Thro' the clear sky she swoop'd: and while the Greeks
Arm'd for the fight, Achilles she approach'd,
And nectar and ambrosia on his breast
Distill'd, lest hunger should his strength subdue;
Back to her mighty Father's ample house
Returning, as from out the ships they pour'd.
Thick as the snow-flakes that from Heav'n descend,
Before the sky-born Boreas' chilling blast;
So thick, outpouring from the ships, the stream
Of helmets polish'd bright, and bossy shields,
And breastplates firmly brac'd, and ashen spears:
Their brightness flash'd to Heav'n; and laugh'd the Earth
Beneath the brazen glare; loud rang the tramp
Of armed men: Achilles in the midst,
The godlike chief, in dazzling arms array'd.
His teeth were gnashing audibly; his eye
Blaz'd with, the light of fire; but in his heart
Was grief unbearable; with furious wrath
He burn'd against the Trojans, as he donn'd
The heav'nly gifts, the work of Vulcan's hand.
First on his legs the well-wrought greaves he fix'd,
Fasten'd with silver clasps; his breastplate next
Around his chest; and o'er his shoulders flung
His silver-studded sword, with blade of brass;
Then took his vast and weighty shield, whence gleam'd
A light refulgent as the full-orb'd moon;
Or as to seamen o'er the wave is borne
The watchfire's light, which, high among the hills,
Some shepherd kindles in his lonely fold:
As they, reluctant, by the stormy winds,
Far from their friends are o'er the waters driv'n;
So from Achilles' shield, bright, richly wrought,
The light was thrown. The weighty helm he rais'd,
And plac'd it on his head; the plumed helm
Shone like a star; and wav'd the hairs of gold.
Thick-set by Vulcan in the gleaming crest.
Then all the arms Achilles prov'd, to know
If well they fitted to his graceful limbs:
Like wings, they seem'd to lift him from the ground.
Last, from its case he drew his father's spear,
Long, pond'rous, tough; not one of all the Greeks,
None, save Achilles' self, could poise that spear;
The far-fam'd Pelian ash, which to his sire,
On Pelion's summit fell'd, to be the bane
Of mighty chiefs, the Centaur Chiron gave.
With care Automedon and Alcimus
The horses yok'd, with collars fair attach'd:
Plac'd in their mouths the bits, and pass'd the reins
Back to the well-built car: Automedon
Sprang on the car, with shining lash in hand:
Behind, Achilles came, array'd for war,
In arms all glitt'ring as the gorgeous sun,
And loudly to his father's steeds he call'd:
"Xanthus and Balius, noble progeny
Of swift Podarge, now in other sort
Back to the Grecian ranks in safety bear,
When he shall quit the field, your charioteer;
Nor leave him, as ye left Patroclus, slain."
To whom in answer from beneath the yoke
Xanthus, the noble horse, with glancing feet:
Bowing his head the while, till all his mane
Down from th' yokeband streaming, reach'd the ground;
By Juno, white-arm'd Queen, with speech endued:
"Yes, great Achilles, we this day again
Will bear thee safely; but thy day of doom
Is nigh at hand; nor we shall cause thy death,
But Heav'n's high will, and Fate's imperious pow'r.
By no default of ours, nor lack of speed,
The Trojans stripp'd Patroclus of his arms:
The mighty God, fair-hair'd Latona's son,
Achiev'd his death, and Hector's vict'ry gain'd.
Our speed of foot may vie with Zephyr's breeze,
Deem'd swiftest of the winds; but thou art doom'd
To die, by force combin'd of God and man."
He said; his farther speech the Furies stay'd.
To whom in wrath Achilles swift of foot;
"Xanthus, why thus predict my coming fate?
It ill beseems thee! well I know myself
That I am fated here in Troy to die,
Far from my home and parents; yet withal
I cease not, till these Trojans from the field
Before me fly." He said, and to the front,
His war-cry shouting, urg'd his fiery steeds.

L. 151. Chthizos, yesterday. But either the word must have a more extended signification than is usually given to it, or Homer must here have fallen into an error; for two complete nights and one day, that on which Patroclus met his death, had intervened since the visit of Ajax and Ulysses to the tent of Achilles. See also l. 215.

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