Iliad: The Embassy to Achilles (cont.)

This story is part of the Iliad unit. Story source: The Iliad retold by Alfred J. Church (1907).

The Embassy to Achilles (cont.)

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Achilles answered: "I will speak plainly, O Ulysses, and will set out clearly what I think is in my heart, and what I intend to do. It does not please me that you should sit there and coax me, one man saying one thing and another man saying another. Yes, I will speak both plainly and truly, for, as for the man who thinks one thing in his heart and says another with his tongue, he is hateful to me as death itself.

"Tell me now, what does it profit a man to be always fighting day after day? It is but thankless work, for the man that stays home has an equal share with the man who never leaves the battle, and men honour the coward even as they honour the brave, and death comes alike to the man that works and to the man who sits idle at home.

"Look now at me! What profit have I had of all that I have endured, putting my life in peril day after day? Even as a bird carries food to its nestlings till they are fledged, and never ceases to work for them, and herself is but ill fed, so it has been with me. Many nights have I been without sleep, and I have laboured many days. I took twelve cities to which I travelled in ships, and eleven to which I went by land, and from all I carried away much spoil.

"All this spoil I brought to King Agamemnon, and he, who all the time stayed safe in his tent, gave a few things to me and to others, but kept the greater part for himself. And then what did he do? He left to the other chiefs that which he had given to them, but what he had given to me that he took from me. Yes; he took Briseïs. Let him keep her, if he will. But let him not ask me any more to fight against the Trojans.

"There are other chiefs whom he has not wronged and shamed in this way; let him go to them and take counsel with them, how he may keep away the devouring fire from the ships. Many things he has done already; he has built a wall, and dug a ditch about it; can he not keep Hector from the ships with them?

"And yet in time past when I used to fight, this Hector dared not set his army in array far from the walls of Troy; nay, he scarce ventured to come outside the gates. Once indeed did he gather his courage together and stand up against me, to fight man with man, and then he barely escaped from my spear. But neither with him nor with any other of the sons of Troy will I fight again.

"To-morrow I will do sacrifice to Zeus and to the other gods, and I will store my ships with food and water, and launch them on the sea. Yes, early in the morning to-morrow, if you care to look, you will see my ships upon the sea, and my men rowing with all their might. And, if the god of the sea gives me good passage, on the third day I shall come to my own dear country, even to Phthia. There are the riches which I left behind me when I came to this land of Troy, and thither shall I carry such things, gold and silver and slaves, as King Agamemnon has not taken from me.

"But with him I will never take counsel again, nor will I stand by his side in battle. As for his gifts, I scorn them; aye, and were they twenty times as great, I would scorn them still. Not with all the wealth of Thebes which is in the land of Egypt would he persuade me, and than Thebes there is no wealthier city in all the world. A hundred gates it has, and through each gate two hundred warriors ride forth to battle with chariots and horses. And as for his daughter whom he would give me to be my wife, I would not marry her, no, not though she were as beautiful as Aphrodité herself, and as skilled in all the works of the needle as Athené. Let him choose for his son-in-law some chief of the Greeks who is better than I am.

"As for me, if the gods suffer me to reach my home, my father Peleus shall choose me a wife. Many maidens, daughters of kings, are there in Phthia and in Hellas, and not one among them who would scorn me if I came a-wooing. Often in time past I have thought to do this thing, to marry a wife, and to settle down in peace, and to enjoy the riches of the old man my father, and such things as I have gathered for myself.

"For long since my mother, Thetis of the sea, said to me, 'My son, there are two lots of life before you, and you may choose which you will. If you stay in this land and fight against Troy, then you must never go back to your own land, but will die in your youth. Only your name will live for ever; but if you will leave this land and go back to your home, then shall you live long, even to old age, but your name will be forgotten.'

"Once I thought fame was a better thing than life; but now my mind is changed, for indeed my fame is taken from me, seeing that King Agamemnon puts me to shame before all the people. And now I go away to my own land, and I counsel you to go also, for Troy you will never take. The city is dear to Zeus, and he puts courage into the hearts of the people. And take this answer back to the man who sent you: 'Find some other way of keeping Hector and the Trojans from the ships, for my help he shall not have.'

"But let Phoenix stay with me this night that he may go with me in my ship when I depart to-morrow. Nevertheless if he choose rather to stay, let him stay, for I would not take him by force."

And when Achilles had ended his speech all the chiefs sat silent, so vehement was he.

(1100 words)

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