Sing of the wrath, my goddess, of Peleus’ son Achilles,
doomed and destructive, which gave the Achaeans numberless sorrows,
sending so many robust souls down to the house of Hades,
spirits of heroes, but bodies abandoned as meat for the dogs and
flesh for the birds, and the will of God was all but accomplished
right at the outset of strife, at the moment they clashed, when the conflict
7 parted Atrides, master of men, from godlike Achilles.
Which of the gods had brought them together to wage such a quarrel?
Leto and Zeus’s son Apollo: enraged at the king, he
stirred up a plague through the army; and people all over were dying,
all because Atreus’ son had dishonored the priest of Apollo,
Chryses, who’d come to the swift Greek ships to buy back his daughter,
13 bearing a boundless ransom, and holding a golden scepter
tied with the banner of far-shooting archer Apollo—he pled with
all the Achaeans, but most of all he beseeched the Atridae,
both of the sons of Atreus, marshals of men and the people:
“Sons of Atreus, and you other Achaeans with strong greaves,
truly, may all of the gods who dwell on Olympus give you
19 Priam’s city to plunder, and then safe passage homewards;
but, may you let my child go free, and accept this ransom,
honoring Zeus’s son, the far-shooting archer Apollo.”
Then all the other Achaeans cried out with shouts of approval,
out of respect for the priest, and to reap the magnificent ransom;
but, unmoved in his heart, the king Agamemnon Atrides
25 harshly dismissed him, and speaking with powerful words, he commanded:
“Don’t let me find you again, old man, by the hollow vessels—
lingering here today, or returning again tomorrow—
or else the scepter and banner of god will no longer protect you.
As for the girl, I will never set her free until old age
comes to her, back in my house in Argos, far from her homeland,
31 working away at the loom, and sharing my bed beside me.
Leave us, and try not to vex me, so you may return in safety.”
Thus he spoke; and the old man feared him, obeyed his commandment,
silently walking away by the shore of the rumbling ocean.
Then, going farther away from them, over and over the old man
prayed to the Lord Apollo, whom fair-haired Leto gave birth to:
37 “Hear me, god of the silver bow, who keeps watch around Chryse,
sacrosanct Cilla, and Tenedos, where you reign with power:
Smintheus, if I ever built you a roof on your beautiful temple,
or if I ever have burned you the slivers of rich fat thighs of
bulls and of goats, then you can accomplish for me this one prayer:
make the Danaans pay for each of my tears with your arrows.”
43 Thus he spoke in his prayer; and Phoebus Apollo had heard him.
Down from the heights of Olympus he came, with rage in his heart, his
bow in his hand, and a covered quiver slung on his shoulder,
arrows behind him clattering as he departed with fury,
plummeting forth, and the raging god came down like nightfall.
Out by the ships he descended, and kneeling, let fly an arrow—
49 with it, a terrible clang pealed out from the bow of silver.
First he fell on the mules and the circling dogs; but thereafter,
launching a piercing shaft at the Greeks themselves, he struck them.
Piles and piles of bodies were burning on funeral pyres.
Nine days long did the arrows of god rain down on the army;
then on the tenth, Achilles called all of the ranks to a muster—
55 white-armed Hera had put the idea in his mind, for the goddess
pitied the Danaans, after she saw that so many were dying.
Once they had all been assembled, and all were together in one place,
nimble-footed Achilles stood up among them to speak out:
“Son of Atreus, now that we’ve lost our ground, I suppose that
we should return to our homes, if at least we should ever escape death,
61 that is, if warfare and pestilence both are to vanquish Achaeans.
No, but come on: let us ask a diviner, or else some priest, or
even a dream interpreter, since our dreams are from Zeus too—
someone who’ll tell us why Phoebus Apollo is furious with us,
whether he blames us because of a vow, or a sacrifice maybe;
or, if the savory smokes of our lambs and billygoats reach him,
67 whether the god would be willing to possibly ward off our ruin.”
So he asserted, and sat back down. But arising among them,
Calchas the son of Thestor, by far the best of the augurs,
he who had known what is, what would be, and what had once been,
he who had led the Achaeans to Ilium in their warships
using the art of foresight which Phoebus Apollo had given—
73 keeping the good of the Argives in mind, he began to address them:
“O Achilles, beloved of Zeus, you compel me to answer
as to the wrath of the Lord Apollo, the far-shooting archer.
So I shall tell you. But listen—you have to swear to protect me,
you must be ready to come to my aid with your words and your hands both,
yes, for I fear I will anger a man with enormous power,
79 lord over all of the Argives, and all the Achaeans obey him.
For, when a king is enraged at a subject, is he not stronger?
Even if, somehow, he swallows his anger at least for the first day,
still he will harbor resentment deep in his chest ’til it bursts out.
Think it over, Achilles, and tell me if you will defend me.”
Nimble-footed Achilles responded at once to the seer:
85 “Courage! Whatever you know, you can say what the god has shown you.
Now by Apollo, beloved of Zeus, to whom you, O Calchas,
pray when the will of the gods is revealed to the Danaans through you:
no one, as long as I live on the earth and my eyes see the daylight,
no one will lay heavy hands on you here by the hollow vessels,
none of the Danaans, even if you were to name Agamemnon,
91 who can now claim that he is the greatest of all the Achaeans.”
Therefore the innocent seer took courage and spoke to the Argives:
“Not for a sacrifice, nor for a vow, does Apollo blame us.
Rather, he blames us because of the priest Agamemnon dishonored—
he wouldn’t free his daughter, nor would he take his ransom.
That’s why the far-shooting archer has given us grief, and he still will;
97 nor will he drive this shameful destruction away from the Argives
’til we have given the bright-eyed girl to her loving father,
free, without ransom, and driven a hundred sacred oxen
over to Chryse; and having appeased him, perhaps we’ll persuade him.”
So he asserted, and sat back down. But among them arose the
hero Atrides, ruler of far-flung realms Agamemnon,
103 burning with outrage, his dark heart filled to the brim with fury,
both of his glowering eyes ablaze like a raging bonfire—
setting his glare on Calchas at first, he lashed out against him:
“Seer of evil! You’ve never once spoken of anything good, yet
evil is dear to your heart when you make your predictions and forecasts—
never a word that profits, and no good ever accomplished.
109 Now, with the Danaans gathered in council, you prophesy once more,
telling them now that the far-shooting archer has given us all grief
just because I kept the girl, and not the magnificent ransom.
Yes, it is true that I want her, to have her at home in my household;
true, I would rather have her than even my own Clytemnestra,
my dear wife—for Chryseis, the girl, is no lesser than she is,
115 neither in body nor bearing, in mind nor handiwork either.
Still, I am willing to give her back, if that would be better.
I want my people to live on in safety, rather than perish.
Get me a prize to replace her at once, though, so I’m not the only
Argive who goes unrewarded by honor, for that would be shameful.
All of you see it, that my prize goes to another purpose.”
121 Brilliant Achilles, fast on his feet, replied to Atrides:
“Glorious son of Atreus, greedy for spoils above all men,
how will the great-hearted Argives give you another reward now?
We know of no shared hoard of our treasures laid up in some stockpile—
what we have plundered from cities has all been divided among us;
it’s a disgrace to the men, if you make them return what they’ve gotten.
127 Send the girl back to the god for the moment, and then the Achaeans,
three, maybe four times over, will pay you back on the day Zeus
gives us the strong-walled city of Troy to be sacked and plundered.”
Then, in response to him, Lord Agamemnon addressed the assembly:
“No, no, no—as brave as you are, O godlike Achilles,
do not deceive me: you cannot mislead me, you cannot persuade me.
133 What do you want? Would you keep a prize for yourself, while I’m left
sitting without one? And are you ordering me to concede her?
No—if the great-hearted Argives will give me a prize for my efforts,
as I see fit for a worthy replacement, then so it shall be; but,
if they do not, then I’ll have to go out myself and take one—
your prize perhaps, or possibly Ajax’ or that of Odysseus,
139 stolen away. But whoever I come to will not be happy.
Still, nevermind it for now; we can all reconsider it later.
Come, let us heave a swift black ship to the brilliant ocean,
gather some oarsmen, and carry a sacrifice onto the vessel,
bringing aboard Chryseis as well, with her beautiful cheekbones.
And, let a sensible captain assume the command of the ship’s crew,
145 whether it’s Ajax, Idomeneus, or if it’s brilliant Odysseus,
or even you, Pelides, most terrifying of all men—
you could perform the rites, and appease the archer for us.”
Nimble-footed Achilles responded in kind with a dark glance:
“O what insolence cloaks you, your mind so greedy for profit!
How can the Greeks, any one of them, readily follow your orders,
151 whether to go on a voyage, or battle your enemies boldly?
I didn’t come here to battle because of the Trojan spearmen—
I have no quarrel with them, for they’ve never done me damage.
They’ve never driven my cattle away, nor stolen my horses;
nor have they come into Phthia, where heroes are nursed by the rich soil,
ever to ruin my crops; for there’s much in the distance between us—
157 shadowy mountains loom, and the bellowing ocean surges.
You, though, we followed, O mighty impudence—earning your favor,
winning your honor, and Menelaus’s, back from the Trojans—
dog-faced ingrate! And what do you care? Or have you forgotten?
Now after all that we’ve done, you threaten to take my warprize,
all that I’ve worked so hard for, my gift from the sons of Achaea.
163 True, my reward never equals yours whenever the Argives
capture and ransack a well-manned outpost of Troy for its treasures;
yet it is my hands bearing the brunt of the violent combat.
Oh, but when it comes time for dividing the plunder among us,
yours is the greater reward by far; while exhausted from fighting,
I come back to the ships with a small, but precious, trinket.
169 Now I return to Phthia—we’re much better off if we go back
home in our curved-beaked ships; and I do not intend to continue
here in dishonor, amassing your wealth and winning your spoils.”
Then in response, Agamemnon, master of men, retorted:
“Go on and run, if your heart so compels you—desert us, but I won’t
beg you to stay here on my account. There are plenty of others
175 here who will honor me, most of all Zeus with his wisest counsel.
You, out of all of the kings who are nurtured by God, are the most vile.
Conflict has always been dear to your heart, and warfare and combat.
If you’re so strong, it is only a gift that a god has given.
Go back home with your ships and take your compatriots with you,
Go back home with your ships and take your compatriots with you,
lord it over your Myrmidons—I care nothing for you now,
181 nor does your anger concern me. But still, I will give you a warning:
even as Phoebus Apollo is taking away my Chryseis,
as I am sending her back on a ship of mine with my own men,
so I will take your Briseis away, with her beautiful cheekbones,
going myself to your tent to seize your prize—and you’ll truly
know how much greater I am than you, and the next man too will
187 fear to talk back as my equal and openly act as my rival.”
Thus he spoke; and anguish came over the son of Peleus—
deep in his rugged chest, his heart was divided, debating
whether to draw his long sharp sword from the side of his thigh now,
thrust through the ranks of Achaeans and slay the son of Atreus,
or he could swallow his bile and suppress his raging spirit.
193 As he was mulling it over within his mind and spirit,
pulling his great blade out of its sheath, Athena descended
down from the heavens; for Hera the white-armed goddess had sent her,
equally loving them both in her heart, and concerned for them likewise.
Standing behind him, she grasped the golden hair of Pelides,
only appearing to him, so that none of the others could see her.
199 Startled, Achilles turned round with amazement—he knew in an instant,
Pallas Athena, with terrible glimmering eyes, stood before him.
Facing her then to address her, he sent winged words to the goddess:
“Why have you come here, daughter of Zeus who wields the aegis?
Is it to witness the brashness of Atreus’ son Agamemnon?
This I will tell you, and mark my words, I believe it will happen:
205 someday soon he will lose his life for his arrogant insults!”
Then in return, the gray-eyed goddess Athena responded:
“I have come down here to curb your wrath, if you’ll only obey me—
down from the heavens, for Hera the white-armed goddess has sent me,
equally loving you both in her heart, and concerned for you likewise.
Come, put an end to the fighting, and take your hand from the blade, too.
211 Strike him down with your words instead, just as much as you want to.
This I will tell you in turn, and you mark my words, it will happen:
someday, three times as many magnificent gifts will be yours, to
pay for this brashness. But now you have to hold back, and obey us.”
Nimble-footed Achilles responded at once to the goddess:
“Yes, we must always abide by the word of you both, my goddess—
217 no matter how much anger we have in our heart, it’s the best way.
Men who obey the gods, will be heard by the gods in their prayers.”
Keeping his heavy hand on the silver hilt as he answered,
now he returned the great blade to its sheath, and did not disobey the
word of Athena. But she had already gone back to Olympus,
dwelling of Zeus who wields the aegis, to be with the deities.
223 Then yet again, with his brutal words, the son of Peleus
laid into Atreus’ son, and his bile was still unabated:
“Drunken sack of wine, with the eyes of a dog, and a deer’s heart.
Not even once have you armed for war alongside your soldiers,
nor have you gone on an ambush beside the Achaean chieftains.
Courage is not in your spirit; you’ve seen your death in such ventures.
229 Better by far if you range through the sprawling host of Achaeans,
seizing the gifts away from the men who speak out against you.
King who devours his people—you reign over worthless nothings!
Otherwise, son of Atreus, this would have been your last outrage.
This I will tell you—I’ll swear by a powerful oath upon it,
yes, by this staff, which will never again grow leaves or branches
235 now that it’s gone from the trunk from which it was cut in the mountains,
nor will it ever sprout and blossom again, for the bronze has
stripped it of leaves and bark, and today the sons of Achaea
bear it in hand when they pass down judgments, those who uphold the
customs of God—and this is the powerful oath I have sworn by: