The Iliad Book I
Having watched Wes Callihan’s introduction, I dove right into Book I with help from The Space Between Literature guide.
I’m familiar enough with the Iliad to know that the epic will twist and turn on the decisions of the great warrior, Achilleus. Homer wastes no time telling us that we are here to bear witness to the devastation wrought by his righteous(?) rage. Yet I can’t shake the idea that his decision is not the first cause. That honor belongs to Agamemnon.
He is a rock.
Agamemnon should never have rejected Chryses’s respectful request for the return of a beloved daughter. Acting in pride, he set in motion the events of all fateful future decisions. We’re told the request “displeased his heart”. One might be inclined to admire him for following the old pulser’s impulse. That is until this position is clarified as preferring Chryseis to his own wife. This seems…less honorable. In the aftermath of Apollo’s wrath, we hear the fullness of Agamemnon’s reasoning. The greatest king among the Achaians demands honor and thus will not suffer short spoils.
Progressing through Book I characters acknowledge the need for such tribute, yet Agamemnon’s honor needn’t have caused such strife. Chryses supplicates mercy from Agamemnon in admirable fashion. He pleads the case of a loving father. What’s more, he is willing to esteem Agamemnon with a ransom of “gifts beyond count”. Chryses does not seek to exploit the favor of Apollo with threats; he offers a blessing upon the Achaians, acknowledging their just grievance. Chryses goes above and beyond a simple ransom in an act of respect and humility to Atreus’s son.
In favor of acquiescing to Chryses’s request, you find, well, everyone. “Then all the rest of the Achaians cried out in favor that the priest be respected and the shining ransom be taken.”(Emphasis mine) No doubt many of them, after nine long years, welcomed a blessing from Apollo’s adored acolyte. Others may have seen his humble approach not only honoring Agamemnon but honoring them all. Whatever their reason all Achaians, save one, were of a single accord. There are times when one must stand alone in opposition to friend and foe alike; however, finding one’s self in such a position prudence suggests careful contemplation. It was no so for Agamemnon, who took counsel with only himself.
He is an island.
Agamemnon doubled down on his foolishness by persisting in insistence for honor rather than bearing the burden of his strategic folly. Beginning with his rejection of Chryses’s equitable offer, the Achaians’ greatest king ends by insulting and injuring their greatest warrior. Agamemnon should have granted Chryses’s request. Failure to do so is the impetus for all the rage and recompense that follows. Achilleus is sent sulking, shielded in his armor. Now hiding in his room, a safe womb, robbed of one to touch and be touched, he is a rock. He is an island.
Thoughts? Comments? Lyrics?
Lattimore, Richmond. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.
The Space Between (Iliad Guide): http://tinyurl.com/IliadSpaceBetween
Old Western Culture: https://romanroadsmedia.com/old-western-culture/