Iliad: The Quarrel

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

The Quarrel 

THE Greeks took the city of Chrysé and divided the spoils among the chiefs; to Agamemnon they gave a girl named Chryseïs, who was the daughter of the priest of Apollo, the god who was worshipped in the city. Then the priest came bringing much gold, with which he wished to buy back his daughter.

First of all he went to Agamemnon and his brother, then to the other chiefs, and begged them to take the gold and give him back the girl. "So," he said, "may the gods help you take the city of Troy, and bring you back safe to your homes."

All the other chiefs were willing, but Agamemnon cried, "Away with you, old man. Do not linger here now, and do not come again, or it will be the worse for you, though you are a priest. As for your daughter, I will carry her back with me when I have taken Troy."

So the old man went out in great fear and trouble, and he prayed to Apollo to help him. And Apollo heard him. Very angry was the god that his priest should suffer such things, and he came down from his palace on the top of the mountain Olympus. He came as night comes across the sky, and his arrows rattled terribly as he went. Then he began to shoot and his arrows carried death, first to the dogs and the mules, and then to the men. For nine days the people died, and on the tenth day Achilles called an assembly.

When the Greeks were gathered together he stood up in the middle and said: "Surely it would be better to go home than to stay here and die. Many are slain in battle, and still more are slain by the plague. Let us ask the prophets why it is that Apollo is angry with us."

Then Calchas the prophet stood up: "You wish to know why Apollo is angry. I will tell you, but first you must promise to stand by me, for King Agamemnon will be angry when he hears what I shall say."

 "Say on," cried Achilles; "no man shall harm you while I live, no, not Agamemnon himself."

Then Calchas said: "Apollo is angry because when his priest came to buy back his daughter, Agamemnon would not listen to him. Now you must send back the girl, taking no money for her, and with her a hundred beasts as a sacrifice."

Then King Agamemnon stood up in a rage and cried: "You always prophesy evil, ill prophet that you are. The girl I will send back, for I would not have the people die, but I will not go without my share of the spoil."

"You think too much of gain, King Agamemnon," said Achilles. "Surely you would not take from any man that which has been given him. Wait till Troy has been conquered, and then we will make up to you what has been lost three times over."

"Do not try to cheat me in this way," answered Agamemnon. "My share I will have at once. If the Greeks will give it to me, well and good; but if not, then I will take it from one of the chiefs, from you, Achilles, or from Ajax, or from Ulysses. But now let us see about the sending back of the girl."

Then Achilles was altogether carried away with rage and said: "Never was there a king so shameless and so greedy of gain. The Trojans never did harm to me or mine. I have been fighting against them for your sake and your brother's. And you sit in your tent at ease, but when the spoil is divided, then you have the lion's share. And now you will take the little that was given me. I will not stay here to be shamed and robbed. I will go home."

"Go," said Agamemnon, "and take your people with you. I have other chiefs as good as you, and ready to honour me, as you are not. But mark this: the girl Briseïs, who was given to you as your share of the spoil, I will take, if I have to come and fetch her myself. For you must learn that I am master here."

Achilles was mad with anger to hear this, and said to himself, "Now I will slay this villain where he sits," and he half drew his sword from its scabbard. But at that instant the goddess Athené stood behind him and seized him by his long yellow hair. And when he turned to see who had done this, he perceived the goddess—but no one else in the assembly could see her—and said: "Are you come to see this villain die?"

"Nay," she answered, "I am come to stay your rage. Queen Hera and I love you both. Draw not your sword, but say what you will. Some day he will pay you back three times and four times for all the wrong he shall do."

Achilles answered: "I will do as you bid; for he who hears the gods is heard by them." So he thrust back his sword into the scabbard, and Athené went back to Olympus.

Then he turned to Agamemnon and cried: "Drunkard with the eyes of a dog and the heart of a deer, hear what I tell you now. See this sceptre that I have in my hand. Once it was the branch of a tree; now a king carries it in his hand. As surely as it will never more shoot forth in leaves, so surely will the Greeks one day miss Achilles. And you, when you see your people falling by the swords of the Trojans, will be sorry that you have done this wrong to the bravest man in your army."

And he dashed the sceptre on the ground and sat down.

(1000 words)

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