It all comes down to fate, whatever a person does or decides there are always consequences. They can be good or bad, I wish for the former but as we all know that depends on the individual. Sometimes it’s a small thing and in other circumstances it is big, so huge it changes the course of events. Why is it fate? We are all destined to certain actions and decisions. We may deviate from the path at some time but somehow the lines of destiny reassert themselves. And so Agamemnon sealed his fate and those of his allies when he chose to take Briseis from Akhilleus.
Right from the beginning of the story, the reader learns two crucial points: one, it is the tenth year of the war, the Greek army has been making regular raids; and two, Agamemnon’s decision leads to disaster. It was during one of the raids a girl was taken, a daughter of Apollo’s priest Chryses, and kept by Agamemnon. He refused to return her after many pleas and a very angry Apollo sets a plague through the camp, killing many Akhaians. Kalkhas was consulted and said the only way the god would be appeased was to return the priest’s daughter and a sacred offering made to the town. Akhilleus hearing the seer’s prediction sets off with other leaders and confronts Agamemnon:
‘…give the girl back now, as the god demands, and we will compensate you three, four times over, if Zeus ever allows us to sack this Trojan town with its fine walls.’
Iliad, Book 1, Lines 126-129
Agamemnon, using his superiority and arrogance as king of all the allied troops, goes on a tirade and then takes Briseis from Akhilleus as compensation for returning Chryseis. Blinded by fury, Akhilleus would have killed Agamemnon if it wasn’t for Athene who stopped him. She convinces him to walk away but not before Akhilleus insults the king. He then withdraws his men from the war. It was a mistake that cost the Greek army many lives and called into question Agamemnon’s leadership.
Both Zeus and Poseidon wanted to marry Thetis, Akhilleus’ mother but a prophecy declared if any one of the gods had sex with her, the son would be more powerful than the father. And so she was married off to Peleus, King of Phithia, who was one of warriors who joined Jason on his voyage for the Golden Fleece. Definitely no slouch! Thetis didn’t hang around after Akhilleus’ birth but before she left made him immortal. There are two stories: one that she dipped him in the river Styx and the second was she put him in a fire to destroy the mortal essence inherited by his father. In any case his immortality wasn’t complete as his father rescued his son from the fire before the process was finished and the more famous of the two, Thetis held him by the heel thus not completely immersed in the water.
The character of Akhilleus comes across as conceited, hot-tempered and a swagger full of self-importance. In a way, to be the warrior he was and which all men aspired to be, this attitude was needed on the battlefield. Lack of confidence and uncertainty would have got him killed. He did not doubt his ability to fight and kill, even Hektor would not engage Akhilleus in a duel.
Akhilleus speaks to the embassy who tries to encourage him back into the war:
‘Why, in the days when I took the field with the Greeks, nothing would have induced Hektor to start a fight any distance at all from the town walls. He’d come no farther than the Scaean gate and the oak tree…’
Iliad, Book 9, Lines 352-355
He is boastful, telling the others of the many successful raids he has led and of Trojans and their allies he has killed. Yet in spite of these flaws, he was regarded as the greatest warrior of his time by his equals and comrades. Even Alexander the Great endeavoured to be as good if not better than him. The Greeks would have lost the war if it wasn’t for the death of Patroklos. Hektor sealed his fate that day when he killed Akhilleus friend/lover.
After many readings of the story, I am still not sure whether I like the character of Akhilleus. In today’s military he would not last a day with his insubordination, yet I can’t help admire the quality of his character that stood up to Agamemnon and told him what he thought.
Thank you for visiting and reading. As always, I look forward to your comments.