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By Homer, Peter Green
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California
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Wrath, goddess, sing of Achilles Peleus's son's
calamitous wrath, which hit the Achaians with countless ills—
many the valiant souls it saw off down to Hades,
souls of heroes, their selves left as carrion for dogs
and all birds of prey, and the plan of Zeus was fulfilled—
from the first moment those two men parted in fury,
Atreus's son, king of men, and the godlike Achilles.
Which of the gods was it brought them into contention?
Leto's and Zeus's son: for he, enraged by the king,
spread a foul plague through the army, and men were dying,
all because Chryses his priest had been dishonored
by Atreus's son. Chryses came to the Achaians' swift ships
to win his daughter's release, bringing ransom past counting,
in his hands the laurel wreaths of the deadly archer Apollo
on a golden staff, and made his plea to all the Achaians,
but first to the two sons of Atreus, the host's field marshals:
"Atreus's sons, and you other well-greaved Achaeans,
may the gods who have their homes on Olympos grant you
to sack Priam's city, and win a safe homecoming!
But release my dear daughter, accept the ransom I offer,
show respect for Zeus's son, Apollo, the deadly archer."
Then all the other Achaians spoke up in agreement—
to respect the priest, to accept his splendid ransom.
Yet Atreus's son Agamemnon's angry heart remained untouched.
Brusquely he turned him away with words of harsh dismissal:
"Don't let me find you still here, old man, by the hollow ships,
either loitering now or making your way back later,
lest your staff and the god's wreath afford you no protection!
Her I shall not release—no, sooner will old age reach her
in our house, in Argos, far away from her native country,
working to and fro at the loom and sharing my bed. Now go—
and do not provoke me, if you want to depart in safety."
So he spoke: the old man was scared and obeyed his words.
Silent along the shore of the thunderous sea he went;
but once well away, long and deeply the old man prayed
to Apollo his lord, the child of fair-haired Leto:
"Hear me, you of the silver bow, protector of Chryse
and holy Killa, who rule with might over Tenedos—
Smintheus, if ever for you I roofed a pleasing precinct,
if ever I burned for you the fat-rich thighbones
of bulls or goats, now grant me this my desire:
use your arrows to make the Danaäns pay for my tears."
Thus he spoke in prayer, and Phoibos Apollo heard him.
Down from the peaks of Olympos he hastened, enraged at heart,
carrying on his shoulders his bow and lidded quiver,
arrows rattling loud on his shoulders as in his rage
he strode on his way: he came as nightfall comes.
Away from the ships he sat, and let fly an arrow:
fearful the twang of his silver bow. To begin with
it was the mules he aimed at, and the swift dogs; but later
he made the troops the targets of his sharp shafts
and struck: day in, day out the clustering corpse fires flared.
Nine days throughout the army the god's shafts sped: on the tenth
Achilles summoned the troops to the place of assembly,
for white-armed Here, the goddess, had put this in his mind
since she pitied the Danaäns as she saw them dying.
So when they had gathered and were all assembled together,
swift-footed Achilles stood up and spoke among them:
"Son of Atreus, I think we shall now be driven into retreat
and forced back home, even should we escape with our lives,
if indeed war and plague together are to crush the Achaians!
Come, then, let us find and question some priest or diviner,
or even a reader of dreams, since a dream too is from Zeus,
who might explain to us Phoibos Apollo's deep anger—
Is it a missed vow that riles him? Were some oxen not sacrificed?—
Maybe, catching the savor of lambs and unblemished goats,
he'll be willing to give us relief, call off this onslaught."
This said, he sat down, and there next stood up among them
Kalchas, Thestor's son, of the seers by far the finest:
he knew events present and future as well as from the past,
and had brought the Achaians' fleet safe to landfall by Ilion
through the diviner's art he had from Phoibos Apollo.
He, with friendly intent, now spoke before the assembly:
"Ah, Achilles, dear to Zeus, you bid me explain the reason
for the wrath of my lord Apollo, the deadly archer.
Then tell you I shall. But you must agree, and swear,
to be my willing protector with word and with hand,
since I think I shall anger a man who holds powerful rule
over the Argives, to whom the Achaians owe allegiance.
For a king has the upper hand when enraged by a commoner,
since though he may swallow his wrath that day, yet he still
nurses resentment thereafter, in his heart of hearts,
until he fulfils it. Tell me then: will you protect me?"
Then swift-footed Achilles spoke to him thus in answer:
"Have no fear, reveal any oracle that you know of,
for—by Apollo dear to Zeus, to whom you, Kalchas,
pray when you make plain his oracles to the Danaäns—
no man, while I still live and have sight upon this earth,
shall lay heavy hands on you beside the hollow ships,
of all the Danaäns, not even if it's Agamemnon you mean,
who claims to be far the noblest of all the Achaians."
At this the blameless diviner was emboldened, and spoke out:
"It's for no missed vow or rich sacrifice that he faults us,
but because of the priest whom Agamemnon dishonored,
refusing to free his daughter, to accept ransom for her: hence
those griefs that the deadly archer's inflicted, and will inflict:
No way will he free the Danaäns from this loathsome havoc
until we give back to her father the quick-eyed girl, unbought,
unransomed, and take to Chryse a rich holy sacrifice:
this is the only way we might appease and persuade him."
This said, he sat down again, and there stood up among them
Atreus's heroic son, wide-ruling Agamemnon,
bitterly troubled, his black heart brimming over
with rage, while his eyes had the semblance of blazing fire.
Kalchas he first addressed, with a look of hatred:
"Prophet of doom, not once have you told me anything pleasing—
what's always dear to your heart is to prophesy disaster:
nothing good have you ever foretold or brought to pass!5
Now here you come peddling your claims to the Danaän assembly,
alleging the deadly archer has laid these griefs upon them
because I was unwilling to accept a bounteous ransom
for this girl, Chryses' daughter, since I'd rather keep her
with me at home. Indeed, I prefer her to Klytaimnestra,
my wedded wife, whose equal she is in all ways,
being as good-looking, as tall, as clever, as accomplished.
Yet even so I'll return her, if that should be best:
I want to have my troops safe, not facing destruction!
But you must find me a prize, at once, so I'm not
the only Argive left prizeless. That would not be seemly—
for you see this, all of you, that my prize is going elsewhere."
Then to him replied swift-footed godlike Achilles:
"Most glorious son of Atreus, of all men the most covetous,
how can the great-hearted Achaians produce you a prize?
We know of no common stock of goods in store—
what we took when we sacked the cities has been shared out,
and to recall it now from the men would be most improper.
You must give up this girl to the god, and we, the Achaians,
will repay you threefold and fourfold, if Zeus ever grants
that we storm and sack the strong-walled citadel of Troy."
Answering him then lord Agamemnon declared:
"Fine warrior you may be, godlike Achilles, but don't
play tricks on me: you'll not outwit or persuade me.
Do you plan to keep your own prize, but leave me sitting here
without one, since you tell me to give the girl back again?
Either I get a new prize from the great-hearted Achaians—
chosen to satisfy me, something of equal value—
or, if they give me nothing, I shall come in person and take
your prize, or Aias's, or carry off that of Odysseus,
and he'll have cause for resentment, the man I come to!
These matters, though, we can deal with at a later time.
For now, let us haul down a black ship to the bright sea,
and assemble a crew of oarsmen, place oxen on board
for sacrifice, together with Chryses' fair-cheeked daughter
herself; and let one man, a counsellor, go as captain—
Aias, or Idomeneus, or noble Odysseus,
Or you, son of Peleus, of all men the most fearsome,
to make sacrifice for the appeasement of the deadly archer."
Eyeing him angrily, swift-footed Achilles declared:
"You clotheshorse for shamelessness, mind obsessed with profit,
how could any Achaian be prompt to obey your orders
to march to war or with might face men in battle?
I did not come here on account of Troy's spearmen: why
should I fight them? In no way have they ever wronged me.
Never have they driven off my cattle or my horses;
Never in rich-soiled Phthie, the nurse of heroes, did they
lay waste the harvest, since great distance lies between us—
shadowy mountains and echoing sea. But you,
you shameless hulk, we accompanied here for your pleasure,
to win honor for Menelaös and for you, you dog-face,
from the Trojans. But none of these things you heed or care for—
and now you even threaten to rob me of the prize
to get which I suffered much, and the Achaians' sons gave it me.
Never do I rate a prize to match yours when the Achaians
lay waste some populous citadel of the Trojans, though mine
are the hands that bear the brunt of furious battle;
and when the time comes for sharing, then your prize
is by far the greater, while I, with some smaller thing
for my share, trudge back to the ships, still combat-weary.
But now I'm returning to Phthie: that's better by far,
going home with my curved vessels. I'm not minded
to stay here without honor, amassing you wealth and plenty."
Then the lord of men, Agamemnon, made answer to him:
"Run away, if your heart so bids you. Far be it from me
to beg you to stay here for my sake. With me are many others
who will treat me with honor—Zeus the Counsellor above all.
Most hateful you are to me of Zeus's royal nurslings:
quarrels are what you love most, and wars and battles.
That great strength of yours, I'd guess, was some god's gift.
Take off homeward now with your ships and your comrades,
lord it over the Myrmidons—for you I care nothing,
I take no heed of your anger. And this is my threat to you:
Since Chryseïs is taken from me by Phoibos Apollo,
her, with a ship of my own and my own companions,
I shall send back—but the fair-cheeked Briseïs, your prize,
I'll come to your hut myself, and take, that you may know well
how much stronger I am than you—and that others may fear
to address me as an equal, to confront me face to face."
So he spoke, and pain seized Peleus's son, the heart
in his shaggy breast was divided, torn this way and that:
should he draw the sharp sword from beside his thigh,
break up the crowd, and kill the son of Atreus,
or swallow his bitter gall, restrain his passion?
While he still was debating this in mind and spirit,
his great sword half-drawn from its scabbard, Athene came down
from the heavens, dispatched by the white-armed goddess Here,
who loved and cared for them both alike in her heart.
Standing behind him, she grasped Peleus's son's fair hair—
appearing to him alone: of the others no one saw her—
and Achilles turned round in amazement, instantly recognized
Pallas Athene, the terrible radiance of her eyes,
and uttering winged words, he thus addressed her:
"Why have you come this time, child of Zeus the aegis-bearer?
To witness the arrogant gall of Atreus's son Agamemnon?
For this I will tell you, and I think it will come about:
Through his insolent conduct he may well soon lose his life."
To him then spoke in answer the goddess, grey-eyed Athene:
"I have come here to check your rage—if you'll listen to me—
down from high heaven, sent by the goddess, white-armed Here,
who loves and cares for you both alike in her heart.
Come now, leave off your strife, take your hand from your sword:
abuse him with words alone regarding what will happen,
for thus I declare, and it will certainly come about:
one day three times as many fine gifts will be offered you
on account of this insult. So restrain yourself, and obey us."
Then in answer to her swift-footed Achilles declared:
"Needs must, goddess, respect the words of you both,
however angry at heart one may be. It is better so—
and those who comply with the gods are listened to in return."
With that, on the silver hilt he set his heavy hand,
thrust the great sword back in its scabbard, nor disregarded
Athene's words; but she had already left for Olympos,
home of Zeus of the aegis, to rejoin the other gods.
So Peleus's son once again with words of strong contempt
addressed the son of Atreus, his anger not yet ended:
"You wine-sodden wretch, dog-faced, deer-hearted, not once
have you dared to arm yourself for battle with your troops,
or joined in an ambush with the Achaian chieftains!
Oh no, such things spell death to you. Better by far
to range here through the broad camp of the Achaians
and take back the gifts of whoever speaks out against you!
A king that feeds off his commons, who rules mere nonentities!
Otherwise, son of Atreus, this new outrage would be your last.
This, though, I will tell you, and swear a great oath besides:
By this staff—which never again will put out leaves or shoots
since the day it first left its tree stump in the mountains,
nor will it flourish afresh, since the bronze has stripped it
of leaves and bark, and now those sons of the Achaians
who render judgments, who safeguard the ordinances of Zeus,
carry it in their hands—this will be my great oath for you:
One day the need for Achilles will hit the Achaians' sons,
every man jack of them—then, for all your grief, you'll not
be able to help them, when many at the hands of Hector,
killer of men, fall dying; you'll eat out the heart within you,
incensed that you failed to honor the best of the Achaians."
So spoke the son of Peleus, then dashed to the ground the staff
studded with golden nails, and himself sat down.
Across from him Atreus's son still raged. Then Nestor,
smooth phrasemaker, arose, the Pylians' lucid spokesman,
a man from whose tongue the speech flowed sweeter than honey.
In his lifetime already two generations of mortals
had passed away—those raised with him—and their offspring,
in sacred Pylos, and now he was king over the third.
He, with friendly intent, now spoke before the assembly:
"Ah me, great grief indeed now besets the land of Achaia!
Priam would surely rejoice, and the sons of Priam,
and all the rest of the Trojans would be happy at heart
if they learned about this quarrel between the pair of you,
who in counsel surpass all the Danaäns, and in fighting.
Now listen to me. You both are younger than I am,
there was a time when I consorted with far better men
than you—and they never wrote me off as a lightweight!
Such men have I not seen since, nor shall see again
as Peirithoös, or Dryas, the shepherd of his people,
or Kaineus or Exadios, or godlike Polyphemos,
or Theseus, Aigeus's son, an equal of the immortals.
Strongest were these of all men nurtured by earth;
strongest themselves, and fought against the strongest,
the mountain-laired beast-men,6 and fearsomely they destroyed them.
I joined these men's company when I'd come from Pylos,
a long trek from a distant land; it was they who invited me.
Single-handed I fought, but against such men as these
no mortal of those on earth today could do battle.
They listened to my advice, were persuaded by my words.
So do you both be persuaded: persuasion is better.
You, great man though you are, do not take away his girl,
but let her be, as the prize the Achaians' sons first gave him.
And you, son of Peleus, do not seek to challenge a king
by main force, since it is no ordinary honor
that's the lot of a sceptered king, to whom Zeus gives the glory.
Strong though you are, with a goddess for your mother,
yet this man is the greater, since he rules more subjects.
Son of Atreus, control your rage. I do beseech you,
check your anger against Achilles, who is a great
bulwark for all the Achaians against war's disasters."
Then in answer to him spoke the lord Agamemnon:
"Yes, all that you say, old sir, is right and proper.
But this man has it in mind to be above all others,
He wants to dominate all, be lord over all, give orders
to all—yet there's one man, I think, will not obey him.
If the gods who live forever have made him a spearman,
is that now an excuse for his insults to run wild—?"
Cutting in on his words then, noble Achilles responded:
"I'd surely be called a coward and a worthless fellow
if over every matter I yield to you, do as you say!
Tell others to act thus, but don't give me such orders,
for I think I'm no longer minded to obey you.
One other thing I will tell you, and do you lay it to heart:
I shan't fight with my hands for the girl, no, neither
against you nor anyone else: you gave her, you'll take her.
But of everything else that is mine by my swift black ship
not one piece shall you carry off against my pleasure!
Go on, then, try it, so that these men here too may learn
how quickly your black blood will gush out round my spear point."
Excerpted from The Iliad by Homer, Peter Green. Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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