Analysis of the Iliad Book 2: lines 90-117 The theme of revenge is traditionally understood to be central to the Iliad. The idea of revenge drives the main story, with Achilles’ rage functioning as the initial conflict-setting aspect, both emotionally and from the point of view of the story’s plot. Because Achilles’ rage must be understood by the audience or reader to be not only an emotional state, but an emotional state which reflects his reaction to something which justifies it, the characterization of Achilles’ enemy, Agamemnon is as important as the characterization of the poem’s main character. In certain, specific lines of the poem, Agamemnon’s character is portrayed in startlingly bold language an imagery, allowing the reader to fully grasp his status as a demigod. Throughout the poem, Agamemnon’s character in the Iliad is developed and revealed to the reader by his station in society (and the cosmos), his actions, and the words and actions of those around him.
For example, in Book 2: lines 90-117, a dramatic confrontation is staged, with Agamemnon’s rising as a suitable and strong enough adversary for Achilles. Agamemnon is characterized in these lines primarily by his gestures alone. Knowing that Agamemnon is a warlord, hero, and King, the reader anxiously awaits his appearance to see just how he will conduct himself. Will he behave more like a mortal or a God? Since the reader has been told that Agamemnon is a “warlord” and Achilles is a “God,” one suspects Agamemnon will act more like a man than a God.
This proves to be true. When Agamemnon rises as leader: “Up stood Lord Agamemnon,/Holding a staff./Hephaestus had crafted this staff” (Homer 107-110) the reader realizes that he brandishes an item as a totem rather then possessing godlike abilities himself. He, in effect, reveals himself as a divinely appointed King. The staff is descended from the Gods: “Zeus in turn gave it to quicksilver Hermes/ And Hermes to Pelops, the charioteer.
/Pelops handed it on to Atreus,/ And when Atreus died he left it to Thyestes” (Homer, 110-115). The staff signifies Agamemnon as the heir to the will of the Gods but not as a God himself. Nevertheless, the insight conveyed by the staff which rests on the character development of Achilles’ adversary, informs the reader that Agamemnon is no less prideful, and no less determined than the hero of the poem.
The disposition of the staff, “Thyestes left it for Agamemnon to bear/ And rule over the islands and all of Argos” (Homer, 115-117), leaves no room for doubt that Agamemnon views himself as a Divinely assigned King. Agamemnon is characterized by his station in society (as are all the characters of the poem) most notably because he is a King born to a King and the distinction of royalty means more in classical Greek culture than merely political or economic power. In ancient times, Kings were thought of as heros and in epic poems and in myth, the classical Gods often showed a far greater interest in royalty than in commoners. The hierarchical nature of classical Greek society establishes a number of important aspects of Agamemnon’s characterization before he even takes a single action or speaks a single word. For example, the opening lines of the poem: “Begin with the clash between Agamemnon- The Greek warlord — and godlike Achilles.
/Which of the immortals set these two/At each other’s throats?” (Homer 1) indicates emphatically that the clash between Achilles and Agamemnon is of cosmic importance and that the Gods have played a role in leading them to conflict. So, immediately, before ever “meeting” Agamemnon, the reader understands that he is something more than a regular human being: he is a near demi-God, a warlord, a hero, and a King. By his brandishing of the staff, it is obvious he vies himself less as a God than a man motivated by human impulses. ReferencesHomer. Iliad.
(1997). Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.