SUCH was the quarrel, dear son, between Agamemnon, King of men, and great Achilles. Ah, because of that quarrel many brave men and great captains whom I remember went down to their deaths!
But Agamemnon before long relented and he sent three envoys to make friendship between himself and Achilles. The envoys were Odysseus and Aias and the old man Phoinix who had been a foster-father to Achilles. Now when these three went into his hut they found Achilles sitting with a lyre in his hands, singing to the music he made. His song was of what Thetis, his goddess-mother, had told him concerning his own fate--how, if he remained in the war against Troy, he should win for himself imperishable renown but would soon lose his life, and how, if he left the war, his years in his own land should be long, although no great renown would be his. Patroklos, his dear friend, listened to what Achilles sang. And Achilles sang of what royal state would be his if he gave up the war against the Trojans and went back to his fathers halls--old Peleus would welcome him, and he would seek a bride three him from amongst the loveliest of the Greek maidens. "In three days," he sang, "can Poseidon, God of the Sea, bring me to my own land and to my fathers royal castle."
"Well dost thou sing, Achilles," said Odysseus to him, "and pleasant would it be to hear thy song if our hearts were not filled up with great griefs. But have not nine years passed away since we came here to make war on Troy? And now are not our ships timbers rotted and their tacklings loosed, and do not many of our warriors think in their hearts how their wives and children have long been waiting for their return? And still the walls of Troy rise up before us as high and as unconquerable as ever! No wonder our hearts are filled up with griefs. And now Achilles, the greatest of our heroes, and the Myrmidons, the best of our warriors, have left us and gone out of the fight."
"Even to-day did great Hector turn back our battalions that were led by Agamemnon and Aias and Diomedes, driving us to the wall that we have built around our ships. Behind that wall we halted and called one to the other to find out who had escaped and who had fallen in the onslaught Hector made. Only when he had driven us behind our wall did Hector turn back his chariot and draw off his men."
"BUT Hector has not gone through the gates of the City. Look now, Achilles! His chariots remain on the plain. Lo now, his watch-fires! A thousand fires thou canst see and beside each sits fifty warriors with their horses loose beside their chariots champing barley. Eagerly they wait for the light of the dawn when they will come against us again, hoping this time to overthrow the wall we have builded, and come to our ships and burn them with fire, and so destroy all hope of our return."
"We are all stricken with grief and fear. Even Agamemnon weeps. We have seen him standing before us like unto a dark fountain breaking from some beetling cliff. How else could he but weep tears? To-morrow it may be he shall have to bid the host draw the ships to the water and dePart from the coast of Troy. Then will his name forever be dishonoured because of defeat and the loss of so many warriors."
"Deemst thou I grieve for Agamemnons griefs, Odysseus?" said Achilles. "But although thou dost speak of Agamemnon thou art welcome, thou and thy companions. Even in my wrath you three are dear to me."
He brought them within the hut and bade a feast be prepared for them. To Odysseus, Aias and Phoinix wine cups were handed. And when they had feasted and drunk wine, Odysseus turned to where Achilles sat on his bench in the light of the fire, and said:
"Know, Achilles, that we three are here as envoys from King Agamemnon. He would make a friendship with thee again. He has injured and he has offended thee, but all that a man can do he will do to make amends. The maiden Briseis he will let go back. Many gifts will he give thee too, Achilles. He will give thee seven tripods, and twenty cauldrons, and ten talents of gold. Yes, and besides, twelve royal horses, each one of which has triumphed in some race. He who possesses these horses will never lack for wealth as long as prizes are to be won by swiftness. And harken to what more Agamemnon bade us say to thee. If we win Troy he will let thee load your ship with spoil of the city--with gold and bronze and precious stuffs. And thereafter, if we win to our homes he will treat thee as his own
So Odysseus spoke and then Aias said, "Think, Achilles, and abandon now thy wrath. If Agamemnon be hateful to thee and if thou despiseth his gifts, think upon thy friends and thy companions and have pity upon them. Even for our sakes, Achilles, arise now and go into battle and stay the onslaught of the terrible Hector."
Achilles did not answer. His lions eyes were fixed upon those who had spoken and his look did not change at all for all that was said.
Then the old man Phoinix who had nurtured him went over to him. He could not speak, for tears had burst from him. But at last, holding Achilles hands, he said:
"In thy fathers house did I not rear thee to greatness--even thee, most noble Achilles. With me and with none other wouldst thou go into the feasthall, and, as a child, thou wouldst stay at my knee and eat the morsel I gave, and drink from the cup that I put to thy lips. I reared thee, and I suffered and toiled much that thou mightst have strength and skill and quickness. Be thou merciful in thy heart, Achilles. Be not wrathful any more. Cast aside thine anger now and save the host. Come now. The gifts Agamemnon would give thee are very great, and no king nor prince could despise them. But if without gifts thou wouldst enter the battle, then above all heroes the host would honour thee."
Achilles answered Phoinix gently and said, "The honour the host would bestow upon me I have no need of, for I am honoured in the judgment of Zeus, the greatest of the gods, and while breath remains with me that honour cannot pass away. But do thou, Phoinix, stay with me, and many things I shall bestow upon thee, even the half of my kingdom. Ah, but urge me not to help Agamemnon, for if thou dost I shall look upon thee as a friend to Agamemnon, and I shall hate thee, my foster-father, as I hate him."
THEN to Odysseus, Achilles spoke and said, "Son of Laertes, wisest of men, harken now to what I shall say to thee. Here I should have stayed and won that imperishable renown that my goddess-mother told me of, even at the cost of my young life if Agamemnon had not aroused the wrath that now possesses me. Know that my soul is implacable towards him. How often did I watch out sleepless nights, how often did I spend my days in bloody battle for the sake of Agamemnons and his brothers cause! Why are we here if not because of lovely Helen? And yet one whom I cherished as Menelaus cherished Helen has been taken from me by order of this King! He would let her go her way now! But no, I do not desire to see Briseis ever again, for everything that comes from Agamemnons hand is hateful to me. Hateful are all the gifts he would bestow upon me, and him and his treasures I hold at a straws worth. I have chosen. Tomorrow I shall have my Myrmidons draw my ships out to the sea, and I shall dePart from Troy for my own land."
Said Aias, "Have the gods, Achilles, put into your breast a spirit implacable and proud above all mens spirits?"
"Yea, Aias," said Achilles. "My spirit cannot contain my wrath. Agamemnon has treated me, not as a leader of armies who won many battles for him, but as a vile sojourner in his camp. Go now and declare my will to him. Never again shall I take thought of his war."
So he spoke, and each man took up a two-handled cup and poured out wine as an offering to the gods. Then Odysseus and Aias in sadness left the hut. But Phoinix remained, and for him Patroklos, the dear friend of Achilles, spread a couch of fleeces and rugs.
Odysseus and Aias went along the shore of the sea and by the line of the ships and they came to where Agamemnon was with the greatest of the warriors of the host. Odysseus told them that by no means would Achilles join in the battle, and they all were made silent with grief. Then Diomedes, the great horseman, rose up and said, "Let Achilles stay or go, fight or not fight, as it pleases him. But it is for us who have made a vow to take Priams city, to fight on. Let us take food and rest now, and to-morrow let us go against Hectors host, and you, Agamemnon, take the foremost place in the battle."
So Diomedes spoke and the warriors applauded what he said, and they all poured out libations of wine to the gods, and thereafter they went to their huts and slept. But for Agamemnon, the King, there was no sleep that night. Before his eyes was the blaze of Hectors thousand watch-fires and in his ears were the sound of pipes and flutes that made war-music for the Trojan host encamped upon the plain.