XII ODYSSEUS PLEADS WITH ACHILLES

                                 XII

 

‘Because of the quarrel between King Agamemnon and Achilles many brave men and great captains went down to their deaths!’

‘But before long Agamemnon relented and he sent three messengers to end the hostility between himself and Achilles. The messengers were Odysseus, Aias and the old man Phoinix who had been a foster-father to Achilles. When these three went into his hut they found Achilles sitting with a lyre in his hands, singing to the music he had composed. His song was about what Thetis, his goddess-mother, had told him concerning his own fate and how, if he remained in the war against Troy, he would achieve great renown but would soon lose his life, and how, if he left the war, he would live for a long time but be forgotten at last. Patroklos, his dear friend, listened to what Achilles sang. Achilles sang about what kingdom he would have if he gave up the war against the Trojans and went back to his father’s halls. Old Peleus would welcome him, and would seek a bride for him from amongst the loveliest of the Greek maidens. “In three days,” he sang, “can Poseidon, God of the Sea, bring me to my own land and to my father’s royal castle.”‘

‘”You sing well Achilles,” Odysseus said to him, “and it would be pleasant to hear your song if our hearts were not filled with sadness. Nine years have passed since we came here to make war on Troy and many of our warriors think in their hearts how their wives and children have waiting so long for their return. And still the walls of Troy rise up before us as high and as unconquerable as ever! No wonder our hearts are filled with grief. And now Achilles, the greatest of our heroes, and the Myrmidons, the best of our warriors, have left the fight.”‘

‘”Even today the great Hector turned back our battalions that were led by Agamemnon and Aias and Diomedes, driving us to the wall that we have built around our ships. We halted behind that wall and called each other to find out who had escaped and who had fallen in the attack Hector made. Only when he had driven us behind our wall did Hector turn his chariot back and take away his men.”‘

But Hector has not gone through the gates of the City. Look now, Achilles! His chariots remain on the plain. See now, his watch-fires! You can see a thousand fires and beside each sits fifty warriors with their horses beside their chariots. They eagerly wait for the light of the dawn when they will come against us again, hoping this time to overthrow the wall we have built, and come to our ships and burn them, and so destroy all hope of our return.”‘

‘”We are all stricken with grief and fear. Even Agamemnon weeps. What else could he do but weep tears? Tomorrow he may have to take his army and board the ships and depart from the coast of Troy. Then his name will forever be dishonoured because of defeat and the loss of so many warriors.”‘

‘”Do you think I care about Agamemnon’s problems, Odysseus?” said Achilles. “But even though you talk about Agamemnon, you and your companions are welcome. Even in my anger you three are still dear to me.”‘

‘He brought them into the hut and ordered a feast be prepared for them. Wine cups were handed to Odysseus, Aias and Phoinix. When they had feasted and drunk wine, Odysseus turned to where Achilles sat on his bench in the light of the fire, and said,'” Achilles, we are here as messengers from King Agamemnon. He wants to be friends with you again. He has offended and insulted you, but he will do everything he can to make it up to you. He will let the maiden Briseis come back. Also he will give you many gifts, Achilles. If we defeat Troy he will let you load your ship with treasure from the city—with gold and bronze and precious things. Then, if we return home he will treat you as his own royal son and will give you seven cities to rule over. If you want to marry there are three daughters in his hall—three of the fairest maidens of the Greeks—and the one you choose he will give for your wife, Chrysothemis, or Laodike, or Iphianassa.”‘

‘Then Aias said, “Think, Achilles, and stop being so angry. If you still hate Agamemnon and if you don’t like his gifts, think about your friends and companions and have pity on them. Even for our sakes, Achilles, come now and go into battle and stop the attack of the terrible Hector.”‘

‘Achilles did not answer. His lion’s eyes were fixed on those who had spoken and his look did not change at all for all that was said.’

‘Then the old man Phoinix who had brought him up went over to him. He could not speak, for tears had burst from him. But at last, holding Achilles’ hands, he said, ‘”I brought you up to be great Achilles. With me and with no other would you go into the feast hall, and, as a child, you would stay by my side and eat the food I gave, and drink from the cup that I put to your lips. I brought you up, and I suffered and worked so that you would have strength and skill and quickness. Show some mercy, Achilles. Don’t be angry anymore. Put aside your feelings and save the army. Come now. The gifts Agamemnon would give you are very great, and no king nor prince would not want them. But if you don’t want the gifts then at least the army would honor you above all others.”‘

‘Achilles answered Phoinix gently and said, “The honour the army would give me I have no need of, for I am honoured by Zeus, the greatest of the gods, and while I still live that honour remains. But, Phoinix, stay with me, and I shall give you many things even the half of my kingdom. However do not urge me to help Agamemnon, because if you do I shall look upon you as a friend to Agamemnon, and I shall hate you, my foster-father, as I hate him.”‘

Then Achilles spoke to Odysseus, saying, “Son of Laertes, wisest of men, listen now to what I say to you. I should have stayed here and won the renown that my goddess-mother told me of, even at the cost of my young life if Agamemnon had not aroused the rage that now possesses me. I cannot forgive him. How often did I spend my days in bloody battle for the sake of Agamemnon’s and his brother’s cause! Why are we here if not because of the lovely Helen? And yet one whom I loved as Menelaus loved Helen has been taken from me by order of this King! He would let her go now! But no, I do not want to see Briseis ever again, for everything that comes from Agamemnon’s hand is hateful to me. All the gifts he would give me are hateful, and he and his treasures have no value to me. I have chosen. Tomorrow I shall have my Myrmidons take my ships out to sea, and I shall depart from Troy for my own land.”‘

‘ Aias said, “Have the gods, Achilles, put into your chest an unforgiving heart?”‘

‘”Yes, Aias,” said Achilles. “My spirit cannot contain my anger. Agamemnon has treated me, not as a leader of armies who won many battles for him, but as a lowly dog in his camp. Go now and tell him what I said. I shall never again think about his war.”‘

‘As he spoke, each man picked up a cup and poured out wine as an offering to the gods. Then Odysseus and Aias left the hut sadly. But Phoinix remained, and for him Patroklos, the dear friend of Achilles, spread a couch of fleeces and rugs.’

‘Odysseus and Aias went along the shore of the sea and by the line of the ships and they came to where Agamemnon was with the greatest of the warriors of the army. Odysseus told them that Achilles would not join in the battle, and they were all silent with grief. Then Diomedes, the great horseman, stood up and said, “Let Achilles stay or go, fight or not fight, as it pleases him. But it is for us who have made a vow to take Priam’s city, to fight on. Let us take food and rest now, and tomorrow let us go against Hector’s army, and you, Agamemnon, take the leading place in the battle.”‘

‘The warriors applauded what Diomedes said, and they all poured out offerings of wine to the gods, and then they went to their huts and slept. But for Agamemnon, the King, there was no sleep that night. Before his eyes was the blaze of Hector’s thousand watch-fires and in his ears were the sound of pipes and flutes that made war music for the Trojan army camped upon the plain.’