Gateway to the Classics: The Iliad for Boys and Girls by Alfred J. Church
The Iliad for Boys and Girls by  Alfred J. Church

The Quarrel

T HE 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."


Athene Suppressing the Fury of Achilles

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.

Then the old man Nestor stood up and would have made peace between the two. "Listen to me," he said. "Great chiefs of old, with whom no one now alive would dare to fight, were used to listen to me. You, King Agamemnon, do not take away from the brave Achilles the gift that the Greeks gave him; and you Achilles, pay due respect to him who is the King of Kings in Greece."

So spoke Nestor, but he spoke in vain, for Agamemnon answered: "Peace is good; but this fellow would lord it over all. The gods have made him a great warrior, but they have not given him leave to set himself up above law and order. He must learn that there is one here better than he."

And Achilles cried: "You better than me! I were a slave and a coward if I owned it. What the Greeks gave me, let them take away if they will. But mark this: if you lay your hands on anything that is my own, that hour you will die."

Then the assembly was broken up. After a while Agamemnon said to the heralds: "Go now to the tent of Achilles, and fetch thence the girl Briseïs. And if he will not let her go, say that I will come with others to fetch her, and that it will be worse for him."

So the heralds went, but it was much against their will that they did this errand. And when they came to that part of the camp where Achilles and his people were, they found him sitting between his tent and his ship. And they stood in great fear and shame. But when he saw them he spoke kind words to them, for all that his heart was full of rage. "Draw near, heralds. 'Tis no fault of yours that you are come on such an errand."

Then he turned to Patroclus and said: "Fetch Briseïs from her tent and give her to the heralds. Let them be witnesses of this evil deed, that they may remember it in the day when he shall need my help and shall not have it."

So Patroclus brought out the girl and gave her to the heralds. And she went with them, much against her will, and often looking back. And when she was gone, Achilles left his companions and sat upon the sea-shore, weeping aloud and stretching out his hands to his mother Thetis, the daughter of the sea. She heard his voice where she sat in the depths by the side of her father, and rose from the sea, as a cloud rises, and came to him where he sat weeping, shaking him with her hand, and calling him by his name.

"Why do you weep, my son?" she said.

And he told her what had been done. And when he had finished the story, he said: "Now go to Olympus, to the palace of Zeus. You helped him once in the old time, when the other gods would have put him in chains, fetching the great giant with the hundred hands to sit by his side, so that no one dared to touch him. Remind him of these things, and ask him to help the Trojans, and to make the Greeks flee before them, so that Agamemnon may learn how foolish he has been."

His mother said: "Surely, my son, your lot is hard. Your life must be short, and it should be happy; but, as it seems to me, it is both short and sad. Truly I will go to Zeus, but not now; for he is gone with the other gods to a twelve days' feast. But when he comes back, then I will go to him and persuade him. Meanwhile do you sit still, and do not go forth to battle."

Meanwhile Ulysses was taking back the priest's daughter to her father. Very glad was he to see her again, and he prayed to his god that the plague among the Greeks might cease, and so it happened. But Achilles sat in his tent and fretted, for there was nothing that he liked so much as the cry of the battle.

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