The Quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles by Alfred John Church

The Greeks sacked the city of Chryse, where was a temple of Apollo, and a priest that served the temple. And when they divided the spoil, they gave to King Agamemnon with other gifts, the priest’s daughter, Chryseïs. Thereupon there came to the camp Chryses, the priest, wishing to ransom his daughter. Much gold he brought with him, and on his staff of gold he carried the holy garland, that men might reverence him the more. He went to all the chiefs, and to the sons of Atreus first of all, saying,— “Loose, I pray you, my dear daughter, and take the ransom for her; so may the gods that dwell in Olympus grant you to take the city of Troy, and to have safe return to your homes.”

Then all the others spake him fair, and would have done what he wished. Only Agamemnon would not have it so.

“Get thee out, graybeard!” he cried in great wrath. “Let me not find thee lingering now by the ships, neither coming hither again, or it shall be the worse for thee, for all thy priesthood. And as for thy daughter, I shall carry her away to Argos, when I shall have taken this city of Troy.”

Then the old man went out hastily in great fear and trouble. And he walked in his sorrow by the shore of the sounding sea, and prayed to his god Apollo.

“Hear me, god of the silver bow! If I have built thee a temple, and offered thee fat of many bullocks and rams, hear me, and avenge my tears on the Greeks with thine arrows!”

And Apollo heard him. Wroth was he that men had so dishonored his priest, and he came down from the top of Olympus, where he dwelt. Dreadful was the rattle of his arrows as he went, and his coming was as the night when it cometh over the sky. Then he shot the arrows of death, first on the dogs and the mules, and then on the men; and soon all along the shore rolled the black smoke from the piles of wood on which they burnt the bodies of the dead.

For nine days the shafts of the god went throughout the host; but on the tenth day Achilles called the people to an assembly. So Juno bade him, for she loved the Greeks, and grieved to see them die. When they were gathered together he stood up among them, and spake to Agamemnon:—

“Surely it were better to return home, than that we should all perish here by war or plague. But come, let us ask some prophet or priest or dreamer of dreams why it is that Apollo is so wroth with us.”

Then stood up Calchas, best of seers, who knew what had been, and what was, and what was to come, and spake:—

“Achilles, thou biddest me tell the people why Apollo is wroth with them. Lo! I will tell thee, but thou must first swear to stand by me, for I know that what I shall say will anger King Agamemnon, and it goes ill with common men when kings are angry.”

“Speak out, thou wise man!” cried Achilles; “for I swear by Apollo that while I live no one shall lay hands on thee, no, not Agamemnon’s self, though he be sovereign lord of the Greeks.”

Then the blameless seer took heart, and spake: “It is not for vow or offering that Apollo is wroth; it is for his servant the priest, for he came to ransom his daughter, but Agamemnon scorned him, and would not let the maiden go. Now, then, ye must send her back to Chryse without ransom, and with her a hundred beasts for sacrifice, so that the plague may be stayed.”

Then Agamemnon stood up in a fury, his eyes blazing like fire.

“Never,” he cried, “hast thou spoken good concerning me, ill prophet that thou art, and now thou tellest me to give up this maiden! I will do it, for I would not that the people should perish. Only take care, ye Greeks, that there be a share of the spoil for me, for it would ill beseem the lord of all the host that he alone should be without his share.”

“Nay, my lord Agamemnon,” cried Achilles, “thou art too eager for gain. We have no treasures out of which we may make up thy loss, for what we got out of the towns we have either sold or divided; nor would it be fitting that the people should give back what has been given to them. Give up the maiden, then, without conditions, and when we shall have taken this city of Troy, we will repay thee three and four fold.”

“Nay, great Achilles,” said Agamemnon, “thou shalt not cheat me thus. If the Greeks will give me such a share as I should have, well and good. But if not, I will take one for myself, whether it be from thee or from Ajax or from Ulysses; for my share I will have. But of this hereafter. Now let us see that this maiden be sent back. Let them get ready a ship, and put her herein, and with her a hundred victims, and let some chief go with the ship, and see that all things be rightly done.”

Then cried Achilles, and his face was as black as a thunder-storm: “Surely thou art altogether shameless and greedy, and, in truth, an ill ruler of men. No quarrel have I with the Trojans. They never harried oxen or sheep of mine in fertile Phthia, for many murky mountains lie between, and a great breadth of roaring sea. But I have been fighting in thy cause, and that of thy brother Menelaus. Naught carest thou for that. Thou leavest me to fight, and sittest in thy tent at ease. But when the spoil is divided, thine is always the lion’s share. Small, indeed, is my part,—‘a little thing, but dear.’ And this, forsooth, thou wilt take away! Now am I resolved to go home. I have no mind to heap up goods and gold for thee, and be myself dishonored.”

And King Agamemnon answered, “Go, and thy Myrmidons with thee! I have other chieftains as good as thou art, and ready, as thou art not, to pay me due respect; and Zeus, the god of council, is with me. I hate thee, for thou always lovest war and strife. And as for the matter of the spoil, know that I will take thy share, the girl Briseïs, and fetch her myself, if need be, that all may know that I am sovereign lord here in the host of the Greeks.”

Then Achilles was mad with anger, and he thought in his heart, “Shall I arise and slay this caitiff, or shall I keep down the wrath in my breast?” And as he thought he laid his hand on his sword-hilt, and had half-drawn his sword from the scabbard, when lo! the goddess Athene stood behind him (for Juno, who loved both this chieftain and that, had sent her), and caught him by the long locks of his yellow hair. But Achilles marveled much to feel the mighty grasp, and turned and looked, and knew the goddess, but no one else in the assembly might see her. Terrible was the flash of his eyes as he cried, “Art thou come, child of Zeus, to see the insolence of Agamemnon? Of a truth, I think that he will perish for his folly.”

But Athene said, “Nay, but I am come from heaven to abate thy wrath, if thou wilt hear me; white-armed Juno sent me, for she loveth and cherisheth you both alike. Draw not thy sword; but use bitter words, even as thou wilt. Of a truth, I tell thee that for this insolence of to-day he will bring thee hereafter splendid gifts, threefold and fourfold for all that he may take away. Only refrain thyself and do my bidding.”

Then Achilles answered, “I will abide by thy command for all my wrath, for the man who hearkens to the immortal gods is also heard of them.” And as he spake he laid his heavy hand upon the hilt, and thrust back the sword into the scabbard, and Athene went her way to Olympus.

Then he turned him to King Agamemnon, and spake again, for his anger was not spent. “Drunkard, with the eyes of a dog and the heart of a deer! never fighting in the front of the battle, nor daring to lie in the ambush! ’Tis a race of dastards that thou rulest, or this had been thy last wrong. But this I tell thee, and confirm my words with a mighty oath—by this sceptre do I swear. Once it was the branch of a tree, but now the sons of the Greeks bear it in their hands, even they who maintain the laws of Zeus; as surely as it shall never again have bark, or leaves, or shoot, so surely shall the Greeks one day miss Achilles, when they fall in heaps before the dreadful Hector; and thou shalt eat thy heart for rage, to think that thou hast wronged the bravest of thy host.”

And as he spake he dashed the sceptre, all embossed with studs of gold, upon the ground, and sat down. And on the other side Agamemnon sat in furious anger. Then Nestor rose, an old man of a hundred years and more, and counseled peace. Let them listen, he said, to his counsel. Great chiefs in the old days, with whom no man now alive would dare to fight, had listened. Let not Agamemnon take away from the bravest of the Greeks the prize of war; let not Achilles, though he was mightier in battle than all other men, contend with Agamemnon, who was sovereign lord of all the hosts of Greece. But he spake in vain. For Agamemnon answered,—

“Nestor, thou speakest well, and peace is good. But this fellow would lord it over all; yet there are some, methinks, who will not obey him. For if the immortal Gods have made him a great warrior, do they therefore grant him leave to speak lawless words? Verily he must be taught that there is one here, at least, who is better than he.”

And Achilles said, “I were a slave and a coward if I owned thee as my lord. Not so; play the master over others, but think not to master me. As for the prize which the Greeks gave me, let them do as they will. They gave it; let them take it away. But if thou darest to touch aught that is mine own, that hour thy life-blood shall redden on my spear.”

Then the assembly was dismissed. Chryseïs was sent to her home with due offerings to the god, the wise Ulysses going with her. And all the people purified themselves, and offered offerings to the Gods; and the sweet savor went up to heaven in the wreathing smoke.

But King Agamemnon would not go back from his purpose. So he called to him the heralds, Talthybius and Eurybates, and said,—

“Heralds, go to the tents of Achilles, and fetch the maiden Briseïs. But if he will not let her go, say that I will come myself with many others to fetch her; so will it be the worse for him.”

Sorely against their will the heralds went. Along the seashore they walked, till they came to where, amidst the Myrmidons, were the tents of Achilles. There they found him, sitting between his tent and his ship. He did not rejoice to see them, and they stood in great terror and shame. But he knew in his heart wherefore they had come, and cried aloud, “Come near, ye heralds, messengers of Gods and men. ’Tis no fault of yours that ye are come on such an errand.”

Then he turned to Patroclus (now Patroclus was his dearest friend) and said,—

“Bring the maiden from her tent, and let the heralds lead her away. But let them be witnesses, before gods and men, and before this evil-minded king, against the day when he shall have sore need of me to save his hosts from destruction. Fool that he is, who knoweth not to look back and to look forward, that his people may be safe!”

Then Patroclus brought forth the maiden from her tent, and gave her to the heralds. And they led her away; but it was sorely against her will that she went. But Achilles went apart from his comrades, and sat upon the seashore, falling into a great passion of tears, and stretching out his hands with loud prayer to his mother, Thetis, daughter of the sea. She heard him where she sat in the depths by her father, the old god of the sea, and rose from the gray sea, as a vapor rises, and came to where he was weeping, and stroked him with her hand, and called him by his name.

“What ails thee, my son?” she said.

Then he told her the story of his wrong, and when he had ended he said,—

“Go, I pray thee, to the top of Olympus, to the palace of Zeus. Often have I heard thee in my father’s hall boast how, long ago, thou didst help him when the other gods would have bound him, fetching Briareus of the hundred hands, who sat by him in his strength, so that the Gods feared to touch him. Go now, and call these things to his mind, and pray him that he help the sons of Troy, and give them victory in the battle, so that the Greeks, as they flee before them, may have joy of this king of theirs, who has done such wrong to the bravest of his host.”

And his mother answered him, “Surely thine is an evil lot, my son. This life is short, and it should of right be without tears and full of joy; but now it seems to me to be both short and sad. But I will go as thou sayest to Olympus, to the palace of Zeus; but not now, for he has gone, and the other Gods with him, to a twelve days’ feast with the pious Ethiopians. But when he cometh back I will entreat and persuade him. And do thou sit still, nor go forth to battle.”

Meanwhile Ulysses drew near to Chryse with the holy offerings. And when they were come within the haven, they furled the sail, and laid it in the ship, and lowered the mast, and rowed the ship to her moorings. They cast out the anchor stones, and made fast the cables from the stern. After that they landed, taking with them the offerings and the maid Chryseïs. To the altar they brought the maid, and gave her into the arms of her father, and the wise Ulysses said, “See now; Agamemnon, King of men, sends back thy daughter, and with her a hundred beasts for sacrifice, that we may appease the god who hath smitten the Greeks in his wrath.”

Then the priest received his daughter right gladly, and when they had ranged the beasts about the altar, and poured out the water of purification, and taken up handfuls of bruised barley, then the priest prayed, “Hear me, God of the silver bow! If before thou didst hearken to my prayer, and grievously afflict the Greeks, so hear me now, and stay this plague which is come upon them.”

So prayed he, and the god gave ear.

Then they cast the barley on the heads of the cattle, and slew them, and flayed them, and they cut out the thigh-bones and wrapped them up in folds of fat, and laid raw morsels on them. These the priest burned on fagots, pouring on sparkling wine; and the young men stood by, having the five-pronged forks in their hands. And when the thighs were consumed, then they cut up the rest, and broiled the pieces carefully on spits. This being done, they made their meal, nor did any one lack his share. And when the meal was ended, then they poured a little wine into the cups to serve for libations to the Gods. After that they sat till sunset, singing a hymn to the Archer God, and making merry; and he heard their voice and was pleased.

When the sun went down, they slept beside the stern-cables; and when the dawn appeared, then they embarked, raising the mast and spreading the sail; and Apollo sent them a favoring wind, and the dark blue wave hissed about the stem of the ship as she went: so they came to the camp of the Greeks.

But all the time Achilles sat in wrath beside his ships; he went not to the war, nor yet to the assembly, but sat fretting in his heart, because he longed for the cry of the battle.

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