The Iliad | Study Guide


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Book 9

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 9 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 9 | Summary



There is panic in the Achaean camp. Agamemnon fears they must sail home, but Diomedes argues against such cowardice. He still has faith in Zeus's promise of their victory. Nestor calms everyone and says it's time to approach Achilles. Agamemnon offers great treasure—the return of Briseis, future plunder, one of his daughters, and seven cities—to Achilles if he will fight again and acknowledge his authority. Three captains deliver his proposal: Great Ajax, Odysseus, and old Phoenix, who raised Achilles.

Odysseus appeals to Achilles's responsibility to help his fellow Achaeans. Achilles refuses the treasure and threatens to sail home. He doesn't want Agamemnon's payoff, "not if his gifts outnumbered all the grains of sand/and dust in the earth"—he wants to preserve his pride. Phoenix asks Achilles to forgive, telling a story of an angry prince who lost the honor of rich gifts because he waited too long to relent. However, Achilles doesn't want honor that way; Zeus has promised him honor enough if he stays. Ajax urges him to earn the love of his comrades and puts Achilles's loss in perspective. Achilles responds more warmly to Ajax, but he still will not fight until Hector burns the ships.

When Odysseus and Ajax deliver Achilles's message, the Achaeans are stunned. Finally, Diomedes says not to mind Achilles. They will sleep and Agamemnon will lead them bravely in the morning.


In Agamemnon's and Achilles's second interaction in the poem, this time through intermediaries, issues of pride and honor are again central. The turn that the war has taken forces Agamemnon to bend his pride enough to admit fault, but only as much as he has to. He claims "mad, blind I was," deflecting responsibility onto a disordered state of mind rather than a choice he made. And he is not exactly humbled. The wealth of prizes he offers to honor Achilles is contingent on Achilles submitting himself to Agamemnon as the greater king.

Achilles bends his pride even less. Even though Odysseus wisely leaves out Agamemnon's demand for Achilles to bow to him, Achilles apparently notices the lack of an apology. He doesn't trust Agamemnon to make good on his offer of rich prizes, and he doesn't want them anyway. He seems to have given up on prizes as a means of achieving honor, saying the only honor he needs is the fate that Zeus has decreed for him, the honor of a glorious death. Because he doesn't have long to live, prizes would be of little practical use; something of an echo of Agamemnon's refusal to take stock in future glories and prizes. A warrior's enjoyment of them is very brief.

Achilles's positive response to Ajax's appeal shows he values the respect of his comrades (although he doesn't seem too bothered that they're dying without him). But he just can't forgive the insult to his pride. Up to this point Achilles's anger has seemed fairly justified. However, he starts to lose the audience's sympathy when he turns down an extravagant (if not humble) offer of compensation and stubbornly holds onto his pride and anger. Achilles, more than other fighters, is described as and acts godlike. The pettiness of his reaction calls to mind the grudges of gods such as Hera and Poseidon.

The many speeches in Book 9 are demonstrations of the skill of oratory, or effective public speaking. The Greeks considered it to be as valuable as skill in battle. Phoenix references these two values when he says he raised Achilles to be "a man of words and a man of action." Odysseus's speech is the most formally structured, making a series of different appeals to try to change Achilles's mind. Each speech demonstrates some facet of oratorical skill.

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