Achilleus' Hateful Man (Iliad 9.312), Odysseus or Agamemnon?

Bruce Louden

University of Texas, El Paso

In a well known ambiguity in one of the most important scenes in the entire Iliad, when Odysseus conveys Agamemnon's offer intended to end the quarrel, Achilleus responds by saying "as hateful to me as the gates of Hades is the man who hides one thing in his thoughts, but says another."  Since antiquity, commentators have been of two opinions, some arguing that Achilleus means Odysseus, others that he targets Agamemnon.  By considering the poem's larger themes, adducing significant parallels from books 1 and 19, and especially paying attention to the Iliad's specific pattern of employment for the word ekhthros, "hateful," we can resolve the ambiguities.

Since the poem's central theme is undeniably the eris between Achilleus and Agamemnon, and Achilleus is now in his tent as a result of that bitter quarrel, it stands to follow that he is more likely lashing out at his estranged king, than at an embassy under Zeus' protection.  Indeed, as Heiden points out ("Hidden Thoughts, Open Speech: Some Reflections on Discourse Analysis in Recent Homeric Studies," 2002: 433), if Achilleus here targets Odysseus, after earlier greeting the embassy warmly, he then fits his own definition of ekhthros, a man who hides one thing in his heart but says another. 

Two recurring patterns reinforce the reading that Achilleus targets Agamemnon.  In books 1 and 19 Agamemnon also dispatches delegations to Achilleus' tent, forming parallels with book 9.  In each case Achilleus clearly recognizes that the delegation is performing a task on behalf of Agamemnon (as he explicitly states at 1.333-40).  Achilleus recognizes that the embassy in book 9 is sent by Agamemnon, and that Odysseus, who serves as an embassador throughout the Iliad's present and retrospective narratives, conveys not his own views, but Agamemnon's.  Achilleus' adjective, ekhthros, also constitutes relevant evidence which has been oddly neglected.  In the entire Iliad the adjective only occurs three times (9.312, 9.378, 16.77), each instance serving as part of a very specific pattern of employment.  In each case it is line initial; in each case it is Achilleus who articulates the word.  In both of the other passages (9.378, 16.77) there is no ambiguity: Achilleus uses the adjective ekhthros to refer to Agamemnon.  I suggest, then, that the Iliad has carefully restricted use of the word to refer to the eris between Achilleus and Agamemnon, to express Achilleus' animosity toward Agamemnon, and no other.

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