The Contention Between Achilles and Agamemnon: From the First Book of the "Iliad" of Homer -- Translated

O GODDESS ! sing the wrath of Peleus’ son,
Achilles ; sing the deadly wrath that brought
Woes numberless upon the Greeks, and swept
To Hades many a valiant soul, and gave
Their limbs a prey to dogs and birds of air, —
For so had Jove appointed,—from the time
When the two chiefs, Atrides, king of men,
And great Achilles, parted first as foes.
Which of the gods put strife between the chiefs.
That they should thus contend ? Latona’s son
And Jove’s. Incensed against the king he bade
A deadly pestilence appear among
The army, and the men were perishing.
For Atreus’ son with insult had received
Chryses the priest, who to the Grecian fleet
Came to redeem his daughter, offering
Uncounted ransom. In his hand he bore
The fillets of Apollo, archer-god,
Upon the golden sceptre, and he suod
To all the Greeks, but chiefly to the sons
Of Atreus, the two leaders of the host: —
“Ye sons of Atreus, and ye other chiefs,
Well-greaved Achaians, may the gods who dwell
Upon Olympus give you to overthrow
The city of Priam, and in safety reach
Your homes ; but give me my beloved child,
And take her ransom, honoring him who sends
His arrows far, Apollo, son of Jove.”
Then all the other Greeks, applauding, bade
Revere the priest and take the liberal gifts
He offered, but the counsel did not please
Atrides Agamemnon ; he dismissed
The priest with scorn, and added threatening words: —
“ Old man, let me not find thee loitering here,
Beside the roomy ships, or coming back
Hereafter, lest the fillet thou dost bear
And sceptre of thy gods protect thee not.
This maiden I release not till old age
Shall overtake her in my Argive home,
bar from her native country, where her hand
Shall throw the shuttle and shall dress my couch.
Go, chafe me not, if thou wouldst safely go.”
He spake ; the aged man in fear obeyed
The mandate, and in silence walked apart,
Along the many-sounding ocean-side,
And fervently he prayed the monarch-god,
Apollo, golden-haired Latona’s son : —
“ Hear me, thou bearer of the silver bow,
Who guardest Chrysa, and the holy isle
Of Cilia, and art lord in Tenedos,
O Smintheus ! if I ever helped to deck
Thy glorious temple, if I ever burned
Upon thy altar the fat thighs of goats
And bullocks, grant my prayer, and let thy shafts
Avenge upon the Greeks the tears I shed.”
So spake he supplicating, and to him
Phœbus Apollo hearkened. Down he came,
Down from the summits of the Olympian mount,
Wrathful in heart ; his shoulders bore the bow
And hollow quiver ; there the arrows rang
Upon the shoulders of the angry god,
As on he moved. He came as comes the night,
And, seated from the ships aloof, sent forth
An arrow; terrible was heard the clang
Of that resplendent bow. At first he smote
The mules and the swift dogs, and then on man
He turned the deadly arrow. All around
Glared ever more the frequent funeral piles.
Nine days already had his shafts been showered
Among the host, and now, upon the tenth,
Achilles called the people of the camp
To council. Juno, of the snow-white arms,
Had moved his mind to this, for she beheld
With sorrow that the men were perishing.
And when the assembly met and now was full,
Stood swift Achilles in the midst and said :
“To me it seems, Atrides, that 't were well,
Since now our aim is baffled, to return
Homeward, if death o’ertake us not; for war
And pestilence at once destroy the Greeks.
But let us first consult some seer or priest,
Or dream-interpreter, — for even dreams
Are sent by Jove, — and ask him by what cause
Phoebus Apollo has been angered thus;
If by neglected vows or hecatombs,
And whether savor of fat bulls and goats
May move the god to stay the pestilence.”
He spoke, and took again his seat ; and next
Rose Calchas, son of Thestor, and the chief
Of augurs, one to whom were known things past
And present and to come. He, through the art
Of divination, which Apollo gave,
Had guided Ilionward the ships of Greece.
With words well ordered warily he spoke: —
“ Achilles, loved of Jove, thou biddest me
Explain the wrath of Phoebus, monarch-god,
Who sends afar his arrows. Willingly
Will I make known the cause ; but covenant thou,
And swear to stand prepared, by word and hand,
To bring me succor. For my mind misgives
That he who rules the Argives, and to whom
The Achaian race are subject, will be wroth.
A sovereign is too strong for humbler men,
And though he keep his choler down awhile,
It rankles, till he sate it, in his heart.
And now consider ; wilt thou hold me safe ?”
Achilles, the swift-footed, answered thus :
“ Fear nothing, but speak boldly out whate er
Thou knowest, and declare the will of Heaven.
For by Apollo, dear to Jove, whom thou,
Calchas, dost pray to, when thou givest forth
The sacred oracles to men of Greece,
No man, while yet I live, and see the light
Of day, shall lay a violent hand on thee
Among our roomy ships; no man of all
The Grecian armies, though thou name the name
Of Agamemnon, whose high boast it is
To stand in power and rank above them all.”
Encouraged thus, the blameless seer went on :
“ 'T is not neglected vows or hecatombs
That move him, but the insult shown his priest,
Whom Agamemnon spurned, when he refused
To set his daughter free, and to receive
Her ransom. Therefore sends the archer-god
These woes upon us, and will send them still,
Nor ever will withdraw his heavy hand
From our destruction, till the dark-eyed maid
Freely, and without ransom, be restored
To her beloved father, and with her
A sacred hecatomb to Chrysa sent.
So may we haply pacify the god.”
Thus having said, the augur took his seat.
And then the hero-son of Atreus rose,
Wide-ruling Agamemnon, greatly chafed.
His gloomy heart was full of wrath, his eyes
Sparkled like fire ; he fixed a menacing look
Full on the augur Calchas, and began : —
“ Prophet of evil ! never hadst thou yet
A cheerful word for me. To mark the signs
Of coming mischief is thy great delight.
Good dost thou ne’er foretell nor bring to pass.
And now thou pratest, in thine auguries,
Before the Greeks, how that the archer-god
Afflicts us thus, because I would not take
The costly ransom offered to redeem
The virgin child of Chryses. ’T was my choice
To keep her with me, for I prize her more
Than Clytemnestra, bride of my young years,
And deem her not less nobly graced than she,
In form and feature, mind and pleasing arts.
Yet will I give her back, if that be best.
For gladly would I see my people saved
From this destruction. Let meet recompense,
Meantime, be ready, that I be not left,
Alone of all the Greeks, without my prize.
That were not seemly. All of you perceive
That now my share of spoil has passed from me.”
To him the great Achilles, swift of foot,
Replied : “ Renowned Atrides, greediest
Of men, where wilt thou that our noble Greeks
Find other spoil for thee, since none is set
Apart, a common store ? The trophies brought
From towns which we have sacked have all been shared
Among us, and we could not without shame
Bid every warrior bring his portion back.
Yield then the maiden to the god, and we,
The Achaians, freely will appoint for thee
Threefold and fourfold recompense, when Jove
Gives up to sack this well-defended Troy.”
Then the king Agamemnon answered thus : —
“ Nay, use no craft, all valiant as thou art,
Godlike Achilles ; thou hast not the power
To circumvent or to persuade me thus.
Think’st thou that, while thou keepest safe thy prize,
I shall sit idly down deprived of mine?
Thou bid’st me give the maiden back. ’T is well
If to my hands the noble Greeks shall bring
The worth of what I lose, and in a shape
That pleases me. Else will I come myself,
And seize and bear away thy prize, or that
Of Ajax or Ulysses, leaving him
From whom I take his share to rage at will.
Another time we will confer of this.
Now come, and forth into the great salt sea
Launch a black ship, and muster on the deck
Men skilled to row, and put a hecatomb
On board, and let the fair-cheeked maid embark,
Chryseis. Send a prince to bear command,
Ajax, Idomeneus, or the divine
Ulysses; — or thyself, Pelides, thou
Most terrible of men, that with due rites
Thou soothe the anger of the archer-god.”
Achilles the swift-footed, with stern look,
Thus answered: “Ha, thou mailed in impudence
And bent on lucre ! Who of all the Greeks
Can willingly obey thee, on the march,
Or bravely battling with the enemy?
I came not to this war because of wrong
Done to me by the valiant sons of Troy.
No feud had I with them ; they never took
My beeves or horses ; nor, in Phthia’s realm,
Deep-soiled and populous, spoiled my harvest fields.
For many a shadowy mount between us lies,
And waters of the wide-resounding sea.
Man unabashed ! we follow thee that thou
Mayst glory in avenging upon Troy
The grudge of Mcnelaus and thy own,
Thou shameless one ! and yet thou hast for this
Nor thanks nor care. Thou threatenest now to take
From me the prize for which I bore long toils
In battle ; and the Greeks decreed it mine.
I never take an equal share with thee
Of booty when the Grecian host has sacked
Some populous Trojan town. My hands perform
The harder labors of the field in all
The tumult of the fight; but when the spoil
Is shared, the largest part is ever thine,
While I, content with little, seek my ships,
Weary with combat. I shall now go home
To Phthia ; better were it to be there
With my beaked ships ; and here where I am held
In little honor thou wilt fail, I think,
To gather, in large measure, spoil and wealth.”
Him answered Agamemnon, king of men :
“ Desert, then, if thou wilt; I ask thee not
To stay for me ; there will be others left
To do me honor yet, and best of all,
The all-providing Jove is with me still.
Thee I detest the most of all the men
Ordained by him to govern ; thy delight
Is in contention, war, and bloody frays.
If thou art brave, some deity, no doubt,
Hath thus endowed thee. Hence, then, to thy home,
With all thy ships and men ; there domineer
Over thy Myrmidons ; I heed thee not,
Nor care I for thy fury. Thus, in turn,
I threaten thee, since Phœbus takes away
Chryseis. I will send her in my ship,
And with my friends, and coming to thy tent
Will bear away the fair-cheeked maid, thy prize,
Briseis, that thou learn how far I stand
Above thee, and that other chiefs may fear
To measure strength with me and brave my power.”
The rage of Peleus’ son, as thus he spoke,
Grew fiercer ; in that shaggy breast his heart
Took counsel, whether from his thigh to draw
The trenchant sword, and, thrusting back the rest,
Smite down Atrides, or subdue his wrath
And master his own spirit. While he thus
Debated with himself, and half unsheathed
The ponderous blade, Pallas Athene came,
Sent from on high by Juno, the white-armed,
Who loved both warriors and watched over both.
Behind Pelides, where he stood, she came,
And plucked his yellow hair. The hero turned
In wonder, and at once he knew the look
Of Pallas and the awful-gleaming eye,
And thus accosted her with winged words :—
“ Why com’st thou hither, daughter of the god
Who bears the ægis ? Art thou here to see
The insolence of Agamemnon, son
Of Atreus ? Let me tell thee what I deem
Will be the event. That man may lose his life,
And quickly too, for arrogance like this.”
Then thus the goddess, blue-eyed Pallas, spoke ;_
“ I came from heaven to pacify thy wrath,
If thou wilt heed my counsel. I am sent
By Juno the white-armed, to whom ye both
Are dear, who ever watches o’er you both.
Refrain from violence ; let not thy hand
Unsheathe the sword, but utter with thy tongue
Reproaches, as occasion may arise,
For I declare what time shall bring to pass;
Threefold amends shall yet be offered thee,
In gifts of princely cost, for this day’s wrong.
Now calm thy angry spirit, and obey.”
Achilles, the swift-footed, answered thus : —
“ O goddess, be the word thou bring’st obeyed,
However just my anger, for to him
Who hearkens to the gods, the gods give ear.”
So speaking, on the silver hilt he stayed
His strong right hand, and back into its sheath
Thrust his good sword, obeying. She, meantime,
Returned to heaven, where ægis-bearing Jove
Dwells with the other gods. And now again
Pelides, with opprobrious words, bespoke
The son of Atreus, venting thus his wrath : —
“ Wine-bibber, with the forehead of a dog
And a deer’s heart! Thou never yet hast dared
To arm thyself for battle with the rest,
Nor join the other chiefs prepared to lie
In ambush, — such thy craven fear of death.
Better it suits thee, ’midst the mighty host
Of Greeks, to rob some warrior of his prize,
Who dares withstand thee. King thou art, and yet
Devourer of thy people. Thou dost rule
A spiritless race, else this day’s insolence,
Atrides, were thy last. And now I say,
And bind my saying with a mighty oath :
By this my sceptre, which can never bear
A leaf or twig, since first it left its stem
Among the mountains, — for the steel had pared
Its boughs and bark away, to sprout no more,—
And now the Achaian judges bear it,— they
Who guard the laws received from Jupiter,—
Such is my oath, —the time shall come when all
The Greeks shall long to see Achilles back,
While multitudes are perishing by the hand
Of Hector, the man-queller ; thou, meanwhile,
Though thou lament, shalt have no power to help,
And thou shalt rage against thyself to think
That thou hast scorned the bravest of the Greeks.”
As thus he spoke, Pelides to the ground
Flung the gold-studded wand, and took his seat.
Fiercely Atrides raged ; but now uprose
Nestor, the master of persuasive speech,
The clear-toned Pylian orator, whose tongue
Dropped words more sweet than honey. He had seen
Two generations that grew up and lived
With him on sacred Pylos pass away,
And now he ruled the third. With prudent words
He thus addressed the assembly of the chiefs : —
“Ye gods! what new misfortunes threaten Greece!
How Priam would exult and Priam’s sons,
And how would all the Trojan race rejoice,
Were they to know how furiously ye strive,—
Ye who in council and in fight surpass
The other Greeks. Now hearken to my words :
Ye both are younger than myself, for I
Have lived with braver men than you, and yet
They held me not in light esteem. Such men
I never saw, nor shall I see again, —
Men like Pirithoüs and like Druas, lord
Of nations, Cæneus and Exadius,
And the great Polypheme, and Theseus, son
Of Ægeus, likest to the immortal gods.
Strongest ot all the earth-born race were they,
And with the strongest of their time they fought,—
With Centaurs, the wild dwellers of the hills,
And fearfully destroyed them. With these men
Did I hold converse, coming to their camp
From Pylos in a distant land. They sent
To bid me join the war, and by their side
I fought my best, but no man living now
On the wide earth would dare to fight with them.
Great as they were, they listened to my words
And took my counsel. Hearken also ye,
And let my words persuade you for the best.
Thou, powerful as thou art, take not from him
The maiden ; suffer him to keep the prize
Decreed him by the sons of Greece ; and thou,
Pelides, strive no longer with the king,
Since never yet did Jove to sceptred prince
Grant eminence and honor like to his.
Atrides, calm thine anger. It is I
Who now implore thee to lay by thy wrath
Against Achilles, who, in this fierce war,
Is the great bulwark of the Grecian host.”
To him the sovereign Agamemnon said:
“ The things which thou hast uttered, aged chief,
Are fitly spoken ; but this man would stand
Above all others ; he aspires to be
The master, over all to domineer,
And to direct in all things ; yet, I think,
There may be one who will not suffer this.
For if by favor of the immortal gods
He was made brave, have they for such a cause
Given him the liberty of insolent speech ? ”
Hereat the great Achilles, breaking in
Answered: “Yea, well might I deserve the name
Of coward and of wretch, should I submit
In all things to thy bidding. Such commands
Lay thou on others, not on me, nor think
I shall obey thee longer. This I say,
And bear it well in mind : I shall not lift
My hand to keep the maiden whom ye gave
And now take from me ; but whatever else
May be on board that swift black ship of mine,
Beware thou carry not away the least
Without my leave. Come, make the trial now,
That these may see thy black blood bathe my spear.”
Then, rising from that strife of words, the twain
Dissolved the assembly at the Grecian fleet.