Though he was misled, and though he bungled the initial execution, Agamemnon’s Achaian call to battle was a right pursuit. His threats to deserters were justified. And his supplication to Zeus appropriate.
It would be easy write-off Book II as of little consequence when contemplating the actions taken. Nearly half the book is dedicated to a running list of ships and their rolls of warfaring Achaians. Like the genealogies of scripture, they are so easily glossed over. Yet, I suspect like those genealogies they are far more important than they seem.
Furthermore, the action that does takes place before this appears to be driven by a decision made without the will to make it. Zeus and Hera act of their own volition. But the decisions of Athene, Odysseus, and Agamemnon look as though they are made under compulsion.
Closer inspection reveals that to be false. Athene, we are told, did not disobey Hera, insinuating that she could have. Odysseus similarly made a decision knowing full well it was the grey-eyed goddess who spoke to him. And while Agamemnon’s decision, which thrust the action forward, seems to be manipulated by Zeus, “believing things in his heart that were not to be accomplished,” it is not. Belief is not decision and Agamemnon councils multiple times before his choice to cast the die.
In Book I Agamemnon was in error in no small part because he ignored the council and rebuke of those around him. Interestingly, the lone voice speaking against him in Book II, Thersites, levels many of the same accusations as Achilleus in Book I. He portrays the Achaian leader as selfish and ungrateful. He even goes so far as to poke the fresh wound of Achilleus’s dishonorable discharge. And yet where Achilleus words resound, these accusations ring hollow.
Men of greater standing: Odysseus and Nestor, counter Thersites with counsel that binds them to the task at hand. Both remind the assembly, and by extension Agamemnon, of the oaths and commitments that led them all here and fetters them to stay and fight until Ilion is sacked and Helen returned. Odysseus expands this argument of honor by insisting that they have already tarried too long in this land to respectfully return short of victory.
Both respected men then remind the gathered that Zeus has twice previously assured their victory. Nestor claims his favor from their first setting out from Argos. Odysseus points out that not only has it been prophesied that they would be victorious but that triumph would come in this ninth year.
Agamemnon’s belief is bolstered by the precedent of divine favor which validates his recent vision. He encouraged by trusted council appealing to what’s required of him. Agamemnon, not devoid of will yet bound by norms, is compelled to rouse the Achaian attack. Honor demands it. Respect seals it. And the gods have spoken.
Questions? Comments? Limericks ?
Lattimore, Richmond. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.
The Space Between (Iliad Guide): http://tinyurl.com/IliadSpaceBetween