Iliad: Book 19 | The Champion Arms for Battle

Dcn. Harrison Garlick and Adam Minihan discuss Book 19 of the Iliad: The Champion Arms for Battle!

Achilles prepares to enter the war!

  • Summary of Book 19
  • How does Odysseus try to broker peace?
  • What should we make of Briseis weeping over Patroclus?
  • Who is Ate, the goddess of ruin?

“You talk of food? I have no taste for food—what I really crave is slaughter and blood and the choking groans of men!” Achilles (19.254).

85.      What happens in book nineteen?


Thetis returns to Achilles with new armor crafted by Hephaestus (19.03). Achilles lets loose his war cry, and the Achaean army gathers around him (19.47). Achilles promises to cease his rage against Agamemnon and to rejoin the war (19.63). Agamemnon, in turn, blames the gods for his madness, as they blinded him and “stole his wits” (19.162). He pledges to Achilles all the treasures Odysseus promised him (19.168). Achilles accepts Agamemnon’s non-apology and calls the Achaeans to war (19.176). Odysseus counsels to allow the men to eat and rest, and that Agamemnon do three things: give the gifts to Achilles now, swear he’s never had sex with Briseis, and host Achilles at a feast (19.204). Agamemnon agrees (19.220), and Achilles begrudgingly agrees—but swears he will neither eat nor drink until he can wage war (19.249). He famously declares: “You talk of food? I have no taste for food—what I really crave is slaughter and blood and the choking groans of men!” (19.254).


The Achaeans follow the advice of Odysseus (19.281). Achilles refuses to eat, and Zeus sends Athena to place ambrosia “deep within his chest” to give him strength (19.412). With “unbearable grief” and “bursting with rage,” Achilles prepares to fight the Trojans (19.434). The narrative ends with one of Achilles’ horses, Roan Beauty, prophesying to Achilles about his death (19.483).


86.      Why does Odysseus push for the gifts to be given prior to returning to war?


In the last book, Achilles said he would “beat his anger down” and fight for the Argives (18.133). The thesis was presented, however, that it is more that Achilles shifts his rage to Hector than he truly forgives Agamemnon (Question 82). In book nineteen, we see Achilles’ anger continue fester. The more he stared at his new armor “the deeper his anger went” (19.19). To the Achaean army, Achilles largely repeats his commitment to relent in book eighteen, stating additionally, in part, “Now, by god, I call a halt to all my anger—it’s wrong to keep on raging, heart inflamed forever” (19.76). Here, he must only mean his rage against Agamemnon, for his rage and bloodlust continue to boil, as evident in his famous line: “You talk of food? I have no taste for food—what I really crave is slaughter and blood and the choking groans of men!” (19.254). By the time he arms for battle, he is again “bursting with rage” (19.434).


Odyssey’s push to address the issues between Achilles and Agamemnon prior to returning to war may be seen as a push toward true reconciliation (or, more realistically, a practical resolution). He knows, as do all the Achaeans, that Achilles’ rage makes him capricious. As such, his push to give the treasure, to give the oath about Briseis, and to feast all seemed aimed at capitalizing and securing this moment of peace and reunion. Stability between the two heroes is vital for an Achaean success. Between Achilles’ shift in rage and Agamemnon’s fatalistic non-apology, Odysseus seeks to find a reliable truce.


87.      What should we make of Briseis weeping over Patroclus?


After Briseis is released by Agamemnon, she comes upon the body of Patroclus (19.333). We learn, amongst other things, that Achilles killed her husband, and that Patroclus comforted her (19.348). The nature of his comfort, however, is notable, as Patroclus promised Briseis that she would become the wife of Achilles (19.351). The revelation is notable for two primary reasons. First, one may tether this insight to Patroclus’ mission in Troy to help Achilles quell his anger. In other words, Patroclus sees marriage as a way to help his friend temper his emotions and mature. Secondly, this leads into Thetis presenting Achilles with his two fates: to return to Troy, marry, and live a long life or fight and die in Troy to gain immortal glory. The question becomes whether, in Achilles’ mind, returning home meant marrying Briseis, and whether this revelation informs, in part, his rage against Agamemnon for taking her. Moreover, the choice of Thetis becomes less a speculative consideration and more a concrete life with Briseis he is forgoing for glory. One wonders whether her return to his tent will make him rethink his decision or whether his rage over the death of Patroclus will continue to outweigh all else. Finally, we should note the irony Homer presents in Patroclus, the one who had the mission of tempering Achilles’ rage, now serving as the source of that rage—a rage that is blinding him to his potential life with Briseis.[1]

[1] The life of Briseis as a slave somewhat foreshadows the future of life of Andromache.

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