The Failure of Agamemnon's Embassy in The Illiad

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Words: 1565 |

Pages: 3.5|

8 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 1565|Pages: 3.5|8 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Throughout the Iliad, conflict commonly arise between characters regardless of whether they are allies, close friends, or enemies; many of these conflicts arise due to issues involving pride, power, glory, and honor. In Book Nine of the Iliad, Agamemnon's embassy utilizes logos and ethos in order to convince Achilles to rejoin the Greeks in battle. These arguments ultimately fail due to Achilles's characterization as someone who cannot be 'bought'. Rather, he is motivated by his sense of honor and pride, which leads to his making stubborn decisions.

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After deciding to make amends with Achilles by offering him great rewards, Agamemnon sends Phoenix, Ajax, and Odysseus to Achilles in hopes of convincing him to help the Greeks defeat the Trojans. Each man takes a turn in reasoning with the son of Peleus; Odysseus presents a logical argument, and Phoenix and Ajax each follow with an emotional plea.

Odysseus is first to plea to Achilles, beginning by complimenting Achilles and explaining how the Greeks are close to defeat. He then relays Agamemnon's offer word for word, listing off the extensive amount of prizes Achilles would gain if he were to accept their offer. Odysseus employs logic to present his argument, as he makes it clear that the rewards Achilles will receive from rejoining the battle would be more beneficial than his decision to return home. Odysseus also adds a patriotic element to his argument, stating that even if Achilles cannot forgive Agamemnon personally, he should return in order to end the suffering of his fellow Greeks; the Greek army cannot win without Achilles, therefore it would only be logical for him to rejoin in order to increase their chance of victory. Odysseus also quotes Peleus, Achilles' father, who had warned his son to control his 'proud spirit' and that a 'friendly heart is far better' (Homer 167). By referring to the older man's words, Odysseus is again using a logical appeal, emphasizing that letting go of his grudge will help him achieve god-like honor and glory by saving the Greeks from defeat.

Phoenix is next to address to Achilles, bursting into tears as he makes his plea. His appeal is an emotional one, as Phoenix has a more personal relationship with Achilles, who he helped raise as a child. He first arises emotions by reflecting on how much he cares for Achilles who is like a son to him. Phoenix's reflection on his troubled past with his family is made to emphasize that Achilles must make smart choices and show that he values the people that he loves. Phoenix also retells a story of a man who was in a situation similar to Achilles and made decisions that ended disastrously; Phoenix urges Achilles to not make these same mistakes. The passion in his speech attempts to provoke Achilles to address his morals and if his anger is worth harming the ones he loves. He remarks "...I tried to make you my child, Achilles, so you would save me from ruin. But you have to master your proud spirit. It's not right for you to have a pitiless heart.." (Homer 173). This is the second time a father figure character has mentioned Achilles's 'proud spirit', something that is seen as a flaw in his character.

Finally, Ajax makes his appeal, which is much shorter and angrier than the previous men's. Ajax criticizes Achilles's decision to reject their offer, seeing it as cruel and petty, and urges Achilles to 'show some generosity and some respect' (Homer 177). Ajax utilizes an emotion appeal, as he wants Achilles to sympathize with the Greeks and realize that by not joining them in battle he is abandoning his friends, who he claims to care for dearly. Ajax condemns Achilles for being so inflexible, stating that even people whose children have been murdered are willing to forgive once they have been properly compensated. Like Phoenix, Ajax feels that Achilles should not be so cold-hearted and instead do what is beneficial for everyone as a whole.

However, all three of their arguments fail due to Achilles's unrelenting stubbornness. By refusing to accept the honorable terms offered to him, he puts his damaged pride above all other considerations; Achilles' desire for revenge has begun to overwhelm his better judgement and his loyalty to his friends. Nothing will satisfy Achilles except the complete humbling of Agamemnon, an unreasonable demand. There is also the extreme irony of the situation; if Achilles rejoin the battle, he will die there, thus making the gifts offered for his return pointless, but if he does not join the fight then he loses the honor and glory that comes with war.

There is also an issue with Agamemnon's offering itself. Despite Agamemnon's desperation to create a truce with Achilles, he never makes a definite apology. Although he is able to admit to being wrong in insulting Achilles and taking his 'prize', he chooses to attempt to buy back Achilles’s loyalty rather than actually repair their relationship. Agamemnon is extremely generous in his offerings, which are seem more like a tribute to a god than a man, yet he wants Achilles to accept that he is of lower status than Agamemnon. After listing the long list of reparations he is willing to give, he still remarks that “[Achilles] should submit to me inasmuch as I am more of a king” (Homer 164), illustrating that Agamemnon, although less stubborn, is just as prideful as Achilles. Odysseus strategically leaves out Agamemnon's comment in his repetition of the speech, as Odysseus knows that the statement would only further hurt Achilles’s pride. Achilles does not want the empty 'gifts' as a form of compensation; he wants acknowledgement that he is greater than, or at the very least equal to, Agamemnon and deserves just as much respect. Achilles is fully aware that the Greeks need him—now more than ever—yet his pride will not let him turn back.

There are two elements that define Achilles as a character: his pride and his rage, which are closely related. He is primarily driven by a thirst for glory and honor, and he is willing to sabotage the fate of the entire Greek army and endanger the lives of those who are closest to him to get vengeance against those who he feels have wronged him. He cannot, or does not, control his pride or the rage that occurs when that pride has been injured. He abandons his comrades and shows little concern for their inevitable deaths, all because he has been slighted at the hands of Agamemnon, and will not even consider changing his mind. All three men mention Achilles 'proud spirit' and advise him to act against rather than allow it to control him. However due to his stubbornness Achilles ignores this advice, choosing to continue to hold a grudge instead. Phoenix remarks that 'even the gods can bend' (Homer 173), yet Achilles still holds firm on his position. Achilles is constantly referred as being god-like and clearly has an arrogant sense of self-worth, which contributes to his need to have others see him as glorious. Diomedes states that it was useless to try to appeal to someone as strong-willed and conceited as Achilles; it is clear that the only person who can change Achilles's mind is in fact himself. If not even the finest luxuries (land, women, and wealth) can satisfy him, then nothing can; there is no buying Achilles's loyalty.

Each of Achilles's responses to the arguments presented provides more characterization for him. For Odysseus, he indulges in a long explanation of why he is unwilling to forgive Agamemnon, questioning why he even got involved in the first place and that nothing in the world could make up for the disrespect he has been dealt (Homer 168-172). For Phoenix, he claims that honor in war is not the type of honor he wants, and that if Phoenix cared about him then he wouldn't be pleading on Agamemnon's behalf (Homer 176). For Ajax, he states that although he appreciates their reasoning, he feels that Agamemnon treated him like dirt, "as if [Achilles] were some worthless tramp" (Homer 177). These responses cause Achilles to come across as childishly stubborn rather than the brave warrior he is meant to be. His reasoning is petty, shown by him telling Phoenix that if he is a friend of Agamemnon's then he is no longer Achilles friend, and that he (Phoenix) should hate Agamemnon because Achilles does. His remarks to Phoenix highlight his immaturity; instead of focusing on the war and what is best to end it as quickly as possible, he instead focuses on himself and what he thinks is important. Thus, he diminishes his status as a hero—although he might have superior fighting skills than anyone else on the battlefield, he does not have the attitude of a great heroic man.

Thus despite the use of logos and ethos, Agamemnon's embassy was not able to convince Achilles to return to the battlefield with them, due to his relentless stubbornness that is invoked by his strong sense of pride. Achilles's unwillingness to let go of his ego serves has his motivation for turning his back on his friends, and no amount of gifts will be able to serve as condolences.

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Homer, Stanley Lombardo, and Sheila Murnaghan. "Book Nine." Iliad. 160-79. Print.

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The Failure of Agamemnon’s Embassy in the Illiad. (2018, May 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
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