Book 9 - Summary, Themes, Motifs and Symbols

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Summary

Agamemnon reacts to this Trojan threat with characteristic despair. He repeats his suggestion of Book 2, that the Achaians should sail home, but this time the danger is real and he is in earnest. His suggestion meets with a characteristically forceful response from Diomedes. At a meeting of the council Nestor tactfully blames Agamemnon for his folly in insulting Achilleus, and suggests an attempt to win him over with gifts and persuasion. Agamemnon accepts his responsibility and lists the spectacular range of gifts which Achlleus will recieve from him if he abandons his anger. An embassy is selected to convey his offer to Achilleus - Odysseus, Aias and the old man Phoinix, who stands in a special relation to Achilleus, as his tutor from the earliest years. Each member of the embassy speaks to Achilleus, and Achilleus replies to each, three long speeches (Odysseus, Achilleus, hoinix) are followed by three much shorter (Achilleus, Aias, Achilleus).

Odysseus begins, with a carefully presented moral and material appeal. He sets out the great extent of the danger facing the Achaians, reminds Achilleus of his father's instruction to control his anger and keep away from quarrels, lists the gifts that Agamemnon is offering, and ends with an appeal to Achilleus' sense of pity and loyalty to his comrades, and to his desire for glory ('Now you could kill Hektor'). It is a powerful case, and the 'heroic-code' - the set of individual and social values revealed in the Iliad which ordinarily govern a hero's responses, either urging or prohibiting action - would normally determine its acceptance.

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Summary continued

It is made explicity clear by Phoinix in his speech that Achlleus' maintenance of his anger is right and justified up to the offer of compensation and the sending of the embassy, but wrong and preverse thereafter: and Phoinix as an old man, may be taken (like Nestor) as an authority. Odysseus' presentation of the case is characteristically subtle and comprehensive (that is why he was chosen for the embassy), but its centrepiece is the unparalled magnificence of Agamemnon's offer of material and honorific compensation (the strength and importance of this offer is underlined by the full-scale repition of Agamemnon's catalogue of gifts). The function of gifts and treasure in Homeric society has both moral and material significance - value and honour are inseperable, and the same Greek word is used for both, and also for 'recompense' or 'reparation'. Gifts increase a man's possesions, and they also recognise or exalt his status. Agamemnon's offer to Achilleus, then, represents massive recompense, a huge increase in material possesions, and unambiguous recognition of Achilleus' cliam to the highest honour. The offer fully meets the requirements. So did Chryses' offer of ransom at the very beginning (the ransom was 'unlimited' and 'splendid'), and so will Priam's ransom for Hektor's body at the very end (Achilleus himself calls out to the dead Patroklos, 'Do not be angry with me, Patroklos, if you learn, even where you are in Hades, that I have released godlike Hektor to his dear father, as it was unworthy ransom he gave me'.

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Summary continued

Phoinix and Aias in their turn take up and amplify the moral and emotional elements of Odysseus' appeal, and Phoinix, as is proper for an old man, add theological and historical arguements. Phoinix' is by far the longer speech (in fact the longest in the Iliad), and the approaches his object by circuitous paths - autobiography, allegory, and analogy. Phoinix's account of his own youth and his reception into Peleus' household, with the special relation that grew between him and the young Achilleus, serves to draw attention to the obligations between son and father, and so reinforces and expands Odysseus' reference to Peleus' advice, which Achilleus is forgetting: and Phoinix doubles the force of this appeal by exploring his own role as a sort of surrogate father to Achilleus. The emotive force of 'remember your father' will be yet more powerfully (and successfully) used by Priam when he meets Achilleus in Book 24. The allegory of the 'Repents', daughters of Zeus, gives a theological context to the request that Achilleus should control his passion and accept Agamemnon's offer of reparation: and the elaborate historical paradigm of Meleagros, made closely parallel to Achilleus' own situation and its future development, warns of the honour that would be lost if the gifts are refused.

Aias is brief and brusque. How can Achilleus put 'one girl' above loyaly to comrades and the appeals of his closest friends? 

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Summary continued

His plain man's irritation at a preverse sense of value anticipates that of Diomedes when the news is brought to the rest of the Achaians: and his insistence on Achilleus' lack of pity foreshadows the sae accusation in Patroklos' fatally successful appeal to Achilleus in Book 16. Pitlessness is the quality which characterises Achilleus from now until the final meeting with Priam.

The case is strong, and powerfully argued, but Achilleus refuses. His great speech of refusal, given in answer to Odysseus' appeal, rises to a magnificent impassioned rhetoric unequalled in the Iliad. It is sometimes said that in his speech Achilleus questions, or even rejects, the whole heroic code - or at least that part of it which drives a hero to expose his life to constant risk in the acquisition of honour and the pursuit of glory. This is not so. The main spurs to Achilleus' refusal are pride and a deep, unrelenting fury which swells to exclude judegment and all else - as Achilleus himself knows and frankly admits to Aias. That part of Achilleus' refusal which rests on rational arguement is an intensification of his position in Book 1. It does not question or reject the code by which Achilleus has always livem but rather complains that Agamemnon has stultified the pursuit of the heroic ideal, by making it impossible, even by the most heroic exertions, to win the honour which would make those exertions worthwhile. It is Agamemnon who has broken the rules. 

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Summary continued

If there is no appropriate honour or glory, there is no point in inviting death. And Achilleus' case is sharper than any other's, because he know for certain that he will die if he continues fighting (hence the introduction here of Achilleus' 'two faes' - a short life with glory, or a long life without - preparing for the choice that Achilleus makes in Book 18, after the death of Patroklos). The regular heroic question sets risk of death against certainty of honour. For Achilleus, Agamemnon has devalued the equation so that certain death is set against no guarentee of honour. Why then should Achilleus give away his life?

In answer to Odysseus, Achilleus declares his intention of leaving for home in the morning. This absolute position is modified in response to Phoinix (he will decide in the morning whether to go or stay) and again in response to Aias - now Achilleus will fight, but only when Hektor reached the Myrmidons' ships and huts. The next concession which Achilleus will make, in response to Patroklos' appeal at the start of Book 16, will mean Patroklos' death. Then Achilleus must return to battle, but what motivates him then is no 'professional' heroism but sharply personal fury, hatred, and urge for revenge - so hat quarrel, the gifts, and his own death mean nothing to him. There is an ironic reversal then of his arguement in Book 1, 'It was not the spearmen of Troy who caused me to come here and fight - I have no quarrel with them'.

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Theme of Glory of War

"So the Achaian spirits were troubled in their breasts"

This shows us that war is tiring and men need to work hard in battle in order to win glory in battle.

"the rest of the Achaians will stay here until we sack Troy"

This shows us that soldiers woul be fighting until the end before they are dead in order to achieve great things.

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Theme of Impermanence of human life

"I have two fates that would carry me to the end of my death"

This can be interpreted as Achilleus knows that no matter what he does, he will still die but in different circumstances.

"Yet a man will accept recompense for his dead brother"

This shows us that death can happen at any time and may come as a shock to others.

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Theme of interaction between fate and freewill

"says that I have two fates"

This means that each fate is always the same, however, in the case of Achilleus, he has a choice of two fates.

"Honours by the will of Zeus"

This shows us that each fate is controlled by Zeus and the mortals do not have a choce about it. Instead they would have to accept their fate that they were given in the first place.

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Theme of Pride

"Zeus the counsellor has robbed his wits"

This means that Agamemnon's pride has destroyed him, which means that this is an example to every leader about the dangers of pride.

"He can take himself to ruin at his own place"

Being proud of yourself has its disadvantages can lead to diasters in your empire and your tactics in battle.

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Theme of Anger

"do not upset my heart with your tears"

This shows the audience that Achilleus is still angry with the way that Agamemnon has treated him earlier on.

"his hearts passion to savegry"

This shows us that Aias is angry with the way that Achilleus is treating his attitude towards battle over oner girl.

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Theme of the Role of Women

"women skilled in excellent handicraft"

This gives us that impression that women are meant to be kept under control and they are only good at wool making.

"he can become my son-in-law"

This shows us that women were also used through marriages in order to make important and powerful alliances.

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Motif of Fire

"made he fire into a great blaze"

This shows us that the Greeks have had experience in fire making and it is a great comfort to them. In Greek mythology, fire was given to them by the titan Prometheus.

"thres the gods shares into the fire"

This shows us that in order to keep the gods happy and on their side, they need to burn sacrifices in order to recieve their share.

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Symbols of the Achaian ships

"the ships of the Myrmidons"

This shows us that the shipd are there for protection and they are the possessions of some of the greatest fighters in Greek history.

"back there by the fast ships he had never left"

This shows us that important leaders of a vast army would take advantage of the protection of the Achaian ships.

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