Several commentators have referred to Book 9 of Iliad as an oratory manual. For instance, the Greeks had considered oratory skills on equal rating as fighting tactics. To this end, taunting and longer battle speeches form integral component of what is required of a skilled warrior. Phoenix reminded Achilles on the importance of oratory skills which the latter needed to embrace. Moreover, Odysseus was highly regarded for his oratory skills, just like Achilles was for his excellent fighting tactics.
At the beginning of Book 9, Agamemnon crumbled due to the leadership burden. Even though Agamemnon appeared to be overbearing and weak in his speech, it is necessary to understand that he empathized for the Achaean’s troop’s lives. It is evident that Agamemnon wept till Diomedes acknowledged the chieftain’s loyalty and enthusiasm. This implied that the tears of the commander-in-chief portrayed a man who had honestly understood the consequences of his personal decisions. Just like Achilles, the commander-in-chief was also constrained by pride. In this regard, pride, as a code of behavior, formed an essential part of the relationships and interaction between Agamemnon and Achilles. It was rather disheartening to realize that the king drew Achilles to the battle on several occasions, but he did not offer him any apology. Even though the king offered magnificent gifts, these were merely reflections of the giver’s glory. Moreover, these gifts were offered with certain conditions to be fulfilled. For instance, the king offered the gifts to Achilles and ordered latter to surrender to him as well as his majesty. However, Odysseus delivered Agamemnon’s gifts to Achilles, but he ignored the king’s order to yield.
Indeed, Achilles was aware of the missing item from Agamemnon’s gift. To this end, he reacted to the terms that Agamemnon had set. Therefore, Achilles was not going to change his mind, because he had taken a firm position. This implied that no material wealth could make Achilles change his mind and return to the battle field. Achilles regarded his pride to be more than the king’s wealthy offers. However, Achilles’ weakness could be seen from the fact that he failed to weigh the value of his own personal life, as compared to the honor of a human being. Achilles stated that his life was more precious than the king’s wealthy offers. Moreover, Achilles referred to his mother’s prophecy, and told the embassy that he preferred a longer life to glory. However, he failed to do so by making value-judgment on the better option.
It can be argued that Achilles’ refusal to go back to the battle field would finally work to his own detriment. It is evident that Achilles had shut himself from one of his closest friends, Patroclus. It was likely that Achilles would eventually return to the battle field, especially after the death of his closest companion. Even though Achilles would refrain from fighting in the battle field, it was evident that situations could compel him to go back. However, it was quite unfortunate that too much suffering would have taken place by the time Achilles returned to the battle field.
Moreover, it was evident that Achilles’ pride and refusal to go back to the battle field brought more suffering to his comrades. In addition, he was not moved by the suffering of the soldiers. Even though this kind of self-absorption could be viewed as Achilles’ strength, it was also his strongest weakness. According to Achilles’ mother’s prophecy, bitterness could not be felt as a result of her son’s death, but because Achilles would not want to sacrifice one man, Patroclus. This was seen during Patroclus death that brought a different rage which originated from grief. It can also be argued that this kind of rage engulfed Achilles because he had realized that he was partly responsible for the death of Patroclus.
Odysseus, who was highly regarded as a great orator, made a first plea directed to Achilles. Odysseus’ speech to Achilles followed a classical oratory form, but in a shortened version. He carefully used his oratory skills to persuade Achilles to come to his views. Therefore, Odysseus began by complementing him and to make this great warrior receive his argument. Such opening remarks are referred to as exordium and the term is often used by classical rhetoric.
Odysseus went on to explain to Achilles the Achaeans’ serious military consequences, which were major threats to the great warrior. This kind of situational explanation is referred to as ‘narratio’. Odysseus skillfully presented the situation in a patriotic argument to convince Achilles to go back to the battlefield. He then followed his ‘narratio’ with ‘conformatio’, and the latter was used to prove his case. Odysseus’ proof composed of moral argument, because Achilles’ father had advised him to control and manage his temper. The second proof was based on material argument on many offers which Agamemnon gave to Achilles. Regarding the material argument, Odysseus left out Agamemnon’s pride and arrogance that he was superior to Achilles.
Eventually, Odysseus concluded by going back to his patriotic argument. In this regard, Odysseus advised Achilles that he could achieve personal glory and honor by liberating the Achaeans. However, Achilles responded swiftly without giving much thought to his personal reaction. To this end, it could be argued that this was a major turning point of this story. It is a pity that Achilles refused to yield to Agamemnon’s offers and demands since he had put his ‘injured’ pride above everything. As a result of Achilles’ pride, a moral balance began to go against him. Therefore, he required Agamemnon’s humility to satisfy him and to restore his ‘injured’ pride. Achilles perceived Agamemnon’s offers to be unwarranted and unreasonable demands. It was evident that Achilles’ pursuit for revenge began to overtake his proper reasoning and judgment. He began to develop low loyalty and respect for his closest comrades and soldiers. Moreover, Achilles’ chivalric honor code, which he had treasured for many years, was not spared. This situation was witnessed when Achilles openly questioned the whole heroic code-of-honor’s validity. This statement sounded rather ironical because such actions were barely expected of great warriors like Achilles. In fact, this was defining and challenging moment for a true fighter of strong passion. Indeed, such ironical twist could never be escaped by any audience or reader of this story.
However, some critics might tend to interpret this episode differently. Such critics could argue that Achilles’ refusal to accept Agamemnon’s offers were based on both moral and psychological grounds. Focusing on the two reasons for the rejection, Achilles did not need to accept the gifts offered to him by Agamemnon. Achilles strongly believed that he would die immediately after the reconciliation was done. Moreover, he knew that Agamemnon could hardly spare his personal life. For instance, if Agamemnon had taken away an offer before, on Achilles’ war-prize, ‘briseis’, then it was clear that nothing would possibly stop the king from carrying out the same act once more. Such ill-motive could stop Achilles from accepting Agamemnon’s offers. Even though the king was superior to Achilles, he could not be forced to accept an offer that seemed to be morally and psychologically wrong. It is also clear that the king could exercise his powers at the expense of his juniors. This implied that Achilles’ life could be barely spared by Agamemnon.
Achilles’ refusal to accept Agamemnon’s offer could be partly linked to Patroclus’ death and this had attracted divergent views from different critics. Some critics argue whether such refusal to accept the offer was morally right or wrong; Achilles’ decision to reject an honorable statement put him in a liable position to the death of his warrior companion, Patroclus. If Achilles had accepted the king’s offer, his warrior companion’s life would have been spared. It can as well be argued that this is the act of selfishness because a warrior is always expected to be loyal. Moreover, revenge to one’s superior does not constitute a core mission of a warrior’s duty and obligation.
The speeches in Book 9 followed the Greek’s classical oratory patterns. It is evident that Odysseus has presented his argument, based on reason. Consequently, Phoenix followed by moral argument. Eventually, Aias concluded by emotional argument. Aias concentrated more on Achilles’ discernible effects.
In conclusion, Nestor gave a speech to Agamemnon in Book 9, where he presented the older soldier’s views to the king. The older soldier argued that while the king had authority to make decisions, it was also necessary to listen to the advice of his subjects. This statement was later echoed by many critics. Regarding this, it was argued that Agamemnon’s ‘madness’ made him take Achilles’ briseis, which was contrary to Hamlet’s views (Act V), when the latter apologized to Laertes because of killing Polonius. Hamlet pointed out that his personal ‘madness’ drove him to killing Polonius, thus, freeing himself of his action’s responsibility; Agamemnon acted just the same way. Even though Achilles felt that his pride had been interfered with, there was no need to revenge against his king. He needed to control his anger to spare the life of his closest comrades at the battle. This would mean accepting the offers from Agamemnon and yielding to his demands as a sign of loyalty to the military service.