Achilles became the most renowned of all the heroes who fought against Troy in the years the fighting went on. Faced with him, wearing the flashing armour that was the gift of Zeus and standing in the chariot drawn by the immortal horses, the Trojan soldiers would flee back to the gate of their city. Many smaller cities and towns around Troy were taken with the help of Achilles.
‘There was a quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon because of two maidens taken captive from some of these cities. One of the maidens was called Chryseis and the other Briseis. Chryseis was given to Agamemnon and Briseis to Achilles.
‘The father of Chryseis was a priest of Apollo, and when the maiden, his daughter, was not given back to him, he went and prayed to the god to avenge him. Apollo listened to his prayer, and straightway the god left his mountain peak with his bow of silver in his hands. He stood behind the ships and shot his arrows into the army. The clanging of his silver bow was terrible. He killed the animals of the camp first, the dogs and the mules and the horses, and then he killed the men, and those whom his arrows hit were stricken by the plague.
‘The warriors began to die, and every day more died by the plague than were killed by the spears and swords and arrows of the Trojans. Now a council was summoned and the chiefs debated what was to be done to save the army. At the council there was a oracle named Kalchas.He stood up and declared that he knew the cause of the plague, and he knew too how the remainder of the army might be saved from it.
‘It was because of the anger of Apollo, Kalchas said and that anger could only be ended by Agamemnon sending back to his father, the priest of Apollo, the maiden Chryseis.
Agamemnon was furious. “You see only evil,” he said to Kalchas, “You have never seen anything good for me. I greatly prize Chryseis, the maiden given to me. Yet rather than see my people die I shall let her be taken from me. But I will tell you all this. Some other prize must be given to me that the whole army will know that Agamemnon is not insulted.”‘
‘Then Achilles said, “Agamemnon, of all the Kings you are the greediest. The best of us struggle and battle so that you can come and take what prize may please you. Stop being so greedy. Let this maiden go back to her father and afterwards we will give you some other prize.”‘
‘ Agamemnon said, “The council here must promise to give some compensation.”‘
‘”Still you speak of compensation, Agamemnon,” answered Achilles. “No one gains more than you gain. I had no quarrel with the men of Troy, and yet I have come here, and my hands bear the burden of the war.”‘
‘”You who are captains must give me compensation,” said Agamemnon, “or else I shall go to the tent of Achilles and take away the maiden given to him, Briseis of the Fair Cheeks.”‘
‘”I am tired of making war for you,” answered Achilles. “Though I am always in the battle little of the reward comes to my tent. Now I will depart to my own land, to Phthia, for I do not want to stay here and be dishonoured by you.”‘
‘”Go,” said Agamemnon, “if you want to, go. But do not think that there aren’t any captains and heroes here who can make war without you. Go with your Myrmidons. We shall never ask your help. And so that everyone will know I am greater than you, Achilles, I shall go to your tent and take away the maiden Briseis.”‘
‘When he heard Agamemnon’s speech the heart within Achilles’ chest was divided, and he did not know whether he should remain still and silent in his anger, or, thrusting the council aside, go up to Agamemnon and kill him with the sword. His hand was upon the sword hilt when an immortal appeared to him; the goddess Athene. No one in the company but Achilles was aware of her presence. “Do not draw not the sword on Agamemnon,” she said, “for you are both equally dear to the gods.” Then Achilles drew back and thrust his heavy sword into its sheath again. But although he put the sword back it did not stop him from speaking angry and bitter words. He threw down on the ground the staff that had been put into his hands as a sign that he was to be listened to in the council. “I swear that longing for Achilles’ help shall come to the army of Agamemnon, but that no Achilles shall come to their help. I swear that I shall let Hector triumph over you.”‘
‘Then the council broke up and Achilles with Patroklos, his dear friend, went back to their tent. A ship was launched and the maiden Chryseis was put aboard and Odysseus was placed in command. The ship set out for Chryse. There on the beach they found the priest of Apollo, and Odysseus placed his daughter in the old man’s arms. They made sacrifice to Apollo, and then the plague came to an end.
‘But the messengers of the King came to Achilles’ tent, and they took Briseis of the Fair Cheeks and led her away. Achilles, in bitter anger, sat by the sea, hard in his determination not to help Agamemnon’s men, no matter what defeat great Hector had over them.’