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Book 19

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 19 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 19 | Summary

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Summary

The next morning Thetis delivers Achilles's new armor, gives him strength, and promises to keep Patroclus's body from decaying. Calling his Myrmidons and the commanders of the army together, Achilles foreswears his rage toward Agamemnon and intends to immediately go into battle. Agamemnon also speaks, again blaming the gods and madness for his actions but promising Achilles the formerly offered treasures and return of Briseis.

Completely indifferent to treasure, Achilles is eager to start fighting immediately. But Odysseus insists the army needs food to fight. Agamemnon quickly delivers the promised treasures. Although he will not eat, Athena fuels Achilles for battle with the food and drink of the gods, ambrosia and nectar. He dons his new armor and boards his chariot, chiding his immortal horses to keep him alive. Given voice by Hera, one horse replies that they will save him once more, but they cannot fight Achilles's fate that is coming soon. Achilles isn't moved—he has already chosen his fate.

Analysis

The conflict that has driven the story to this point is resolved as Achilles reconciles with Agamemnon. However, the resolution is not due to any character growth on Achilles's part—he has only changed the target of his rage from Agamemnon to Hector. He continues to disregard the needs of his own army. Instead, he is trying to impose his method of mourning on everyone else. As Odysseus points out, if soldiers were always fasting to mourn their fallen comrades, they would never be able to fuel themselves for the next day's battle. They have to be able to move on to fight and win glory.

Eating represents a degree of acceptance that life goes on even after the most tragic events. It is an idea that will play a significant role in Book 24 as well. Achilles's rejection of food is a rejection of life and a fatalistic acceptance of his fated death. To sustain him through battle, the gods grant him the privilege of living off their own food and drink, again emphasizing his nature as a demigod, being half mortal and half god.

Even as he pledges to reward Achilles for returning to the battle, Agamemnon continues to deflect responsibility for his actions. He blames his actions on the goddess Ruin, a translation of the Greek Atê. This word has a range of meanings, from the afflictions of "delusion," "madness," and "infatuation," to their consequences "disaster," "doom," and "ruin." Ancient Greeks viewed these strong feelings as being from the gods rather than features of human nature that might be subject to human control. Even Achilles blames his anger on "the blinding frenzies" the gods send to mortals. However, from a modern perspective Agamemnon's decision seems less like "madness" and more like selfishness.

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