“If I voyage back … my pride, my glory dies … but the life that’s left me will be long.”

So in book 8 of the Iliad, the Trojans finally began kicking some serious Greek butt. In book 9, the Greek response to this is … pure, blind, raging panic.

Maybe they’re not used to losing? Even Agamemnon, who until now seemed to have his entire being set on autopilot for “die, Trojans, die!” begins wondering of Zeus really meant all those promises of victory:

“… So come, follow my orders. Obey me, all you Argives.
Cut and run! Sail home to the fatherland we love!
We’ll never take the broad streets of Troy.”

Reader: “Who are you and what have you done with Agamemnon?”

The Greeks stare at their commander in stunned silence, too. Or maybe they’re just remembering that things didn’t go so well the last time Agamemnon suggested going home. (In Agamemnon’s defense, that story about the boy who cried wolf wouldn’t be written for several centuries yet.)

Anyway, Diomedes, who presumably doesn’t know Athena has left the battlefield, and that there’ll be no more glowy awesome war magic for him for the duration, is the first to tell Agamemnon that hell no, he’s not going anywhere, and he shames the others into agreeing. (More successful goading!)

Nestor chimes in as well, pointing out that maybe they made a small mistake in alienating Achilles back in book 1, because a guy like him would be pretty useful right about now. Agamemnon (or rather, the character with whom Homer replaced Agamemnon when the reader wasn’t looking) readily agrees, and sends an embassy of his best fighters to beg Achilles to come back, and to offer a fairly impressive list of gifts if he does.

Achilles is hanging out playing his lyre, and for some reason I respect him more for this than I respected Paris for rolling around with Helen when his men were fighting. (Okay, the slashers might claim that Achilles is engaged in pretty similar activities himself, but as far as I can tell, Patroclus is just there to handle the cooking.)

Achilles welcomes the Greeks–his friends, Odysseus and Ajax and others–and, no surprise here, Achilles says, sorry, still too angry at Agamemnon to even consider backing down. He says a bunch of other things, too, and I respect him more than I expected for them, too–for pointing out that, you know, he’s been doing all the heavy lifting for none of the glory; and, also, that his mother told him long ago that he could have fame or long life, and long life is beginning to sound pretty good.

He also says something you just know the Greeks have all been thinking:

Why must we battle Trojans,
men of Argos? Why did he muster an army, lead us here,
that son of Atreus? Why, why in the world if not
for Helen with her loose and lustrous hair?
Are they the only men who love their wives,
those sons of Atreus?

Achilles begins to lose me when he goes on to explain that even if he captured Briseis and forced her to his tent at spearpoint, he really, truly loved her, but otherwise, he has a point.

Of course, so does Achilles’ old charioteer, Phoenix when he points out that a) even the gods know how to change their minds (not that we’ve seen much evidence of this yet) and b) it’d probably be better to join the battle now rather than waiting until the Trojans are torching their ships, because at that point Achilles will have no choice but to fight, only by then probably all the shiny war gifts will no longer be on the table.

Achilles tells Patroclus to make Phoenix’s bed up in hopes this will give his visitors a hint that it’s Getting Late and they should Leave Already, and possibly also because this will stop Phoenix from talking good sense at him. He also talks a bit about maybe he’ll just gather up his men and sail for home in the morning. Which, to be fair, would be another way of avoiding the whole torched ships thing.

Odysseus and Ajax and the rest report back that Achilles is still a no-go. Once again, the men stare in stunned silence, and once again Diomedes breaks it, saying forget Achilles, so long as Agamemnon leads them, they can fight without him, right? Right!

Oddly enough, the men all roar their assent.

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