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 Repentance of Agamemnon

W HILE the Trojans made merry, being full of hope that they would soon be rid of their enemies, the Greeks, on the other hand, were full of trouble and fear. And not one of them was more sad at heart than King Agamemnon. After a while he called the heralds and told them to go round to the chiefs and bid them come to a council. "Bid them one by one," he said, "and do not proclaim the thing publicly, for I would not have the people know of it." So the chiefs came, and sat down each man in his seat. Not a word did they say, but looked sadly on the ground. At last King Agamemnon stood up and spoke: "O my friends, lords and rulers of the Greeks, truly Zeus seems to hate me. Once he promised me that I should take this city of Troy and return home in safety, but this promise he has not kept. I must go back to the place from which I came without honour, having lost many of those who came with me. But now, before we all perish, let us flee in our ships to our own land, for Troy we may not take."

And when the King had finished his speech the chiefs still sat saying not a word, for they were out of heart. But after a while, seeing that no one else would speak, brave Diomed stood up in his place and said: "O King, do not be angry, if I say that this talk of yours about fleeing in our ships to our own land is nothing but madness. It was but two days since that you called me a coward; whether this be true the Greeks, both young and old, know well. I will not say 'yes' or 'no.' But this I tell you. Zeus has given you to be first among the Greeks, and to be a king among kings. But courage he has not given you, and courage is the best gift of all, and without it all others are of no account. Now, if you are bent on going back, go; your ships are ready to be launched, and the way is short; but all the other Greeks will stay till they have taken the city of Troy. Aye, and if they also choose to go with you, still I will stay, I and Sthenĕlus here, my friend: yes; we two will stay, and we will fight till we make an end of the city, for the gods sent us hither, and we will not go back till we have done the thing for which we came."

Then old Nestor stood up in his place and said: "You are a brave man Diomed, and you speak words of wisdom. There is not a man here but knows that you have spoken the truth. And now, O King Agamemnon, do you seek counsel from the chiefs, and when they have spoken, follow that counsel which shall seem to you wisest and best. But first let them sit down to eat and to drink. Also set sentinels to keep watch along the trench lest our enemies should fall upon us unawares, for they have many watch-fires and a mighty host. Verily this night will either save us or make an end of us altogether."

So the King bade his men prepare a feast, and the chiefs sat down to eat and drink; and when they had had enough, Nestor rose up in his place and spoke: "O King, Zeus has made you lord over many nations, and put many things into your hand. Therefore you have the greater need of good counsel, and are the more bound to listen to wise words, even though they may not please you. It was an evil day, O King, when you sent the heralds to take away the damsel Briseïs from Achilles. The other chiefs did not consent to your deed. Yes, and I myself advised you not to do this thing; but you would not hear. Rather you followed your own pride and pleasure, and shamed the bravest of your followers, taking away from him the prize which he had won with his own hands. Do you, therefore, undo this evil deed, and make peace with this man whom you have wronged, speaking to him pleasant words and giving him noble gifts."

King Agamemnon stood up and said: "You have spoken true words, old sir. Truly I acted as a fool that day; I do not deny it. For not only is this Achilles a great warrior but he is dear to Zeus, and he that is dear to Zeus is worth more than whole armies of other men. See now how we are put to flight when he stands aside from the battle! This surely is the doing of Zeus. And now, as I did him wrong, so I will make him amends, giving him many times more than that which I took from him. Hear now the gifts which I will give him: seven kettles, standing on three feet, new, which the fire has never touched, ten talents of gold, and twenty bright caldrons, and twelve strong horses which have won many prizes for me by their swiftness. The man who had as much gold of his own as these twelve horses have won for me would not be a beggar. Also I will give him some women-slaves, skilled with their needle and in other work of the hands, who were my portion of the spoil, when we took the island of Lesbos. Yes, and I will send back to him the maiden Briseïs, whom I took from him. And when, by favour of the gods, we shall have taken the city of Troy, and shall divide the spoil, then let him come and choose for himself twenty women the most beautiful that there are in the city, after the Fair Helen, for none can be so beautiful as she. And I will give him yet more than this. When we get back to the land of Greece, then he shall be as a son to me, and I will honour him even as I honour my own son Orestes. Three daughters have I in my palace at home. Of these he shall have the one whom he shall choose for his wife, and shall take her to the house of his father Peleus. Nor shall he give any gifts, as a man is used to give when he seeks a maiden for his wife. He shall have my daughter without a price. And more than this, I will give her a great dowry, such as a king has never given before to his daughter. Seven fair cities will I give him, and with each city fields in which many herds of oxen and flocks of sheep are grazing, and vineyards out of which much wine is made. And the people of these cities shall honour him as their lord and master. All these things will I give him, only he will cease from his anger. Let him listen to our prayers, for of all things that are in the world there is but one that does not listen to prayers, and this one thing is Death. And this, verily is the cause why Death is hated of all men. Let him not therefore be as Death."

When Agamemnon had made an end of speaking, Nestor said to him: "The gifts which you are ready to give to the great Achilles are such as no man can find fault with. Let us, therefore, without delay, choose men who may go to his tent and offer them to him. Let Phœnix go first, for he is dear to the gods, and Achilles also honours him, for, indeed, Phœnix had the care of him when he was a child. And with him Ajax the Greater should go, and Ulysses also, and let two heralds go with them. And now let the heralds bring water and pour upon our hands, and let each keep silence, while we pray to Zeus that he may have mercy on us, and incline the heart of this man to listen to our entreaties."

Then the heralds brought water, and poured it upon the hands of the chiefs, and they filled the bowls with wine. And each man took his bowl and poured out a little on the ground, praying meanwhile to the gods. And when they had done this, they drank, and came out from the King's tent. And, before they went to their errand, old Nestor charged them what they should say. All of them he charged, but Ulysses most of all, because he was the best speaker of them all.

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