Sunday, March 24, 2013

TFBT: Agamemnon's Ungracious Apology

The “Iliad” starts with an argument. 
Homer asks the Muse about the “strife” within the first six lines.  King Agamemnon, leader of the Achaeans, Argives and Danaans besieging ancient Troy, insulted Achilles; the greatest warrior of the age.  This moment in the story gave birth to the Wrath of Achilles; “disastrous anger” which became the primary theme of the Iliad and lead to
 countless pains for the Achaeans  and many steadfast lives it drove down to Hades, heroes’ lives, but their bodies it made prizes for dogs  and for all birds”.

Eighteen chapters later Agamemnon realizes he made a big mistake.  I’d like to offer here a little insight into what Gregory Nagy refers to as Agamemnon’s “ungracious” apology.  I use the translation by A. T. Murray 1:76-138

[76]. And among them spake the king of men, Agamemnon, even from the place where he sat, not standing forth in their midst:

This is getting off to a bad start.  He won’t even stand to address the crowd and Achilles as tradition dictates.  He follows this up with vague comments on the difficulty of publics speaking, then;

Full often have the Achaeans spoken unto me this word, and were ever fain to chide me; howbeit it is not I that am at fault, but Zeus and Fate and Erinys, that walketh in darkness, seeing that in the midst of the place of gathering they cast upon my soul fierce blindness on that day, when of mine own arrogance I took from Achilles his prize. [90] "But what could I do? It is God that bringeth all things to their issue. Eldest daughter of Zeus is Ate that blindeth all

In other words, “Everyone is blaming me, but it’s not my fault.  The gods made me do it.”  In particular Agamemnon is blaming the goddess Ate.  In an old reference I can’t find anymore I read “ate” defined as “temptation”.  The author probably meant that in our pride we are tempted to do something stupid.  Hubris tempts us to folly.  Pride comes before the fall. 

“she blinded Zeus, albeit men say that he is the greatest among men…

I kind of wonder who Agamemnon was looking at as he spoke this line.  Achilles was the greatest among men.  Nagy wrote an entire book about this “Best of the Achaeans”.  Agamemnon then describes how Zeus got into a lot of trouble because of his women, sort of like Achilles did.  The woman in Zeus’ case was his wife, Hera:

Olympian, swear me now a mighty oath that in very truth that man shall be lord of all them that dwell round about, whoso this day shall fall between a woman's feet, even one of those men who are of the blood of thy stock.’ So spake she; howbeit Zeus in no wise marked her craftiness, but sware a great oath, and therewithal was blinded sore.

Zeus swears a rash oath just like Achilles did in I:28 “But I will speak out to you, and will swear thereto a mighty oath:” namely that he was going to go sulk in his tent until they were all dying around him.  The consequence of which was the death of his best friend Patroclus.   The consequence of Zeus oath was  he beheld his dear son in unseemly travail beneath Eurystheus' tasks.” Agamemnon continues

 [134] "Even so I also, what time great Hector of the flashing helm was making havoc of the Argives at the sterns of the ships, could not forget Ate, of whom at the first I was made blind. Howbeit seeing I was blinded, and Zeus robbed me of my wits, fain am I to make amends and to give requital past counting

Finally after refusing to stand and address the insulted Achilles, after whining that it wasn’t his fault, after a round about story comparing his and Achilles situation to that of  Eurystheus and Heracles, after implying that Achilles was a big a fool as Zeus had been once upon a time, after implying that the suffering of Heracles was due to the foolishness of Zeus and by that logic the death of Patroclus was Achilles fault, he finally makes his ungracious apology and promises gifts.


No comments:

Post a Comment