The Mission of Odysseus in the “Iliad”: Has it always Failed?


DOI: 10.55804/jtsuSPEKALI-17-6

The view that Homer's creation of the “Iliad” was a gradual process of expansion over decades does not contradict the theory known in Homeric scholarship as Unitarianism. In the words of R. Gordeziani, a prominent representative of Unitarianism, "it is clear that the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” are not poems written ‘in one breath'. Perhaps the author created them gradually, in parts. [...] It is also possible that parts of the poems were not composed in their current order" [Gordeziani, 2002: 125]. Such well-known Homerists as G.P. Goold, A. Heubeck, M. Mueller, M.L. West, and others support the idea of achieving an unprecedentedly large size for the “Iliad” through a gradual process of expansion carried out by the same poet Homer (cf.: [Goold, 1977; Heubeck, 1977; Mueller, 1984: 159-176; West, 2011]). This, shall we say, recently reconstructed neo-Unitarian theory makes it possible to demonstrate in the 9th book of the “Iliad” the so-called oral and written stages of the expansion of the embassy scene; and accordingly to describe at least some of the main features of the development and enlargement of our “Iliad”, which according to some Homerists mentioned above probably took several decades (cf. [Mueller, 1984: 172]). But we still know almost nothing about the original or oral and shortest version of the embassy scene, which I believe was undoubtedly an integral part of the original "Iliad", or the so-called “Ur-Iliad” (for details [Khintibidze, 2012]). However, in almost every analytical conception of the 19th and 20th centuries (cf. [Leaf, 1886: 285-6; West, 2011: 55-8], as well as in the later approaches of Mueller and West, one can see the opposite approach to Book 9, as it is considered one of the last (Homeric) additions to the already completed “Iliad” [Mueller, 1984: 173-4; West, 2011: 53-4, 60]. If, on the other hand, you believe, as I do, that the basic structure of Book 9 originally belonged to the "Ur-Iliad", the question arises: did the embassy fail, as the poem says in the present version, or, on the contrary, did it succeed? Given the traditional portrayal of Odysseus as the perfect negotiator, I try to support that last point. In such a case, one might think that Homer could use a successful embassy to achieve a structural balance or symmetry of the first and last parts of the hypothetical “Ur-Iliad”. This means that at the beginning of the “Ur-Iliad” there could be a conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon and at the end reconciliation of the same heroes, but without the death of Patroclus (and thus Hector afterwards). I believe that my assumption is indirectly confirmed by the observation of D. Lohmann [Lohmann, 1970: 173-4], which, in turn, is acknowledged by M.W. Edwards [Edwards, 1991: 239]: “[D. Lohmann] points out that this assembly [in Book 19] presents the same themes as that in book 1, but reversed: regret for past actions, abandonment of anger, offer of gifts as reparation, and the return of Briseis. Both assemblies are called by Akhilleus, and in both he speaks first. The two scenes are also compared by [W.] Arend [Arend, 1933: 117-8]”. I also think that the structural symmetry in the “Ur-Iliad” may have been reinforced by Odysseus' two speeches at the beginning and end of the composition (see below). Such an exact symmetry in the current “Iliad” is perhaps achieved by Homer only between the first and last books of the poem (cf. [Bowra, 1930: 15-6; Whitman, 1958: 157-83]). It therefore seems to me possible that in his originally created version of the "Iliad" the poet used the same artistic technique of compositional framing of the whole work that was characteristic of oral poetry in general. So I believe that in the “Ur-Iliad” the reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon - from the current Book 19 - could take place right after the embassy - from the current Book 9 - since it was successful (more on this [Khintibidze, 2018]).

As C.H. Whitman argues, “[t]he acceptance of [Agamemnon’s and Odysseus’] compromise terms by Achilles would thus have aborted his heroic stature in the "Iliad"” [Whitman, 1958: 191-2]. According to G. Nagy, “[t]he triumph of the “Iliad”, however, is that Achilles becomes explicitly the “best of the Achaeans” without having destroyed Troy. Because of the “Iliad” tradition, it seems that the kleos [that is, fame] of Odysseus at Troy was preempted by the kleos of Achilles. […] The success of Odysseus in the Embassy would have entailed the failure of Achilles in his own epic” [Nagy, 1979: 41, 52]. According to M.L. West, “[a ...] mechanism is required to bring Achilles back into the battle […]. It may be simply that his quarrel with Agamemnon is ended: as the Achaeans’ military situation worsens, Agamemnon is forced to apologize to Achilles and pay him handsome compensation, whereupon he resumes his quest for glory, drives the Trojans back, and slays Hector. […] Here we see the I[ndo]-E[uropean] motif of the hero given the choice between fame and long life. […] Traditionally he opts for fame, and these lines [“Iliad”, 9:410-5, with the prophecy of Thetis] must originally have been composed for a passage in which Ach[illes] did that, in accord with his normal temper and with what happens in the event. P[oet] has used them in a novel way, in a context where Ach[illes] is disillusioned with the heroic life and attracted by its peaceful and comfortable antithesis” [West, 2011: 46, 224]. According to J. Griffin, “[w]e expected Achilles to accept the offerings of Agamemnon; so do the heroic characters of the poem. […] The refusal of Achilles to yield is the central fact in the creation of the “Iliad” from the traditional plot of the hero’s withdrawal and triumphant return. […] The envoys expected Achilles to accept Agamemnon’s offer. […] It is at this point that the plot of the “Iliad” changes its direction and its nature. From a simple story of an aggrieved hero forcing his king to reward and honor him […], Achilles’ refusal to accept the compensation, or to suggest terms which he would accept, turns events into a baffling position, in which neither Agamemnon nor Achilles knows what to do next. The compromise resolution is the substitution of Patroclus, which leads to tragedy for Achilles; [...] His refusal here is thus the hinge of the whole plot, and it is vital for the poem that it should be powerful and convincing” [Griffin, 1995: 25, 26, 109]. While the above reflections of the famous Homerists are indeed very fascinating and remarkable, none of them have really clarified what I consider fundamental to reconstructing the genesis of the “Iliad”: is there any trace in our present “Iliad” that Achilles in the “Ur-Iliad” accepted the conciliatory terms of Agamemnon conveyed to him by Odysseus? If so, it could mean that Odysseus' mission in the “Ur-Iliad” was a success, as the audience expected. The author of such an “Iliad” could be a young oral poet - Homer, still an inexperienced artist, at the beginning of his creative path, whose entire song could consist of the wrath of Achilles, provoked by Agamemnon and stopped by the efforts of Odysseus, who alone or with Achilles could be the protagonist. So I ask the above question again: is there evidence for my assumption in the current version of the “Iliad”? I think the answer should be positive. I am referring to the numerous instances of narrative inconsistencies and vague passages that 19th and 20th century analytical theory has identified in the text of the poem.

Therefore, much of the evidence I will refer to in this article was seen a long time ago. However, it was used to divide the “Iliad”, thereby belying the notion of a single authorship of the poem. Nevertheless, the neo-Unitarian theory mentioned above allows us to use this evidence in new way. The inconsistencies actually present in the text of the “Iliad” can no longer be denied, since this theory sees the contradictions between the parts of the poem and thus the narrative discontinuity as evidence for the various stages of the gradual expansion of the “Iliad”, which was carried out by Homer himself and is therefore not the result of the work of different authors. In particular, according to M. Mueller, Homer composes “[…] a major work at an intersection of two [oral and written] modes of textual production. […] But because Homer was not, by our standards, a very good editor of his text we can sketch the development of the “Iliad” through several phases” [Mueller, 1984: 172]. According to G.P. Goold, “the clues seem to indicate that Homer was writing down his text, and writing it down in such a laborious way that he preferred expansions and explanations to deletion and alteration” ([Goold, 1977: 17]; cf. [West, 2011: 11, ln. 14]). And according to M.L. West, “[…] the poet progressively amplified his work, not just by adding more at the end but by making insertions in parts already composed; […] the Oralists […] ignore numerous structural problems in the poem that call for answers. In most cases the answers are satisfactorily supplied by the hypothesis of authorial expansions” [West, 2011: V, 13]. In my article, for reasons of space, I will focus only on some inconsistencies within books 9 and 19 of the “Iliad”. However, they are of decisive importance for the justification of my thesis. First of all, this is the so-called misleading report of Odysseus to Agamemnon about the results of his embassy to Achilles (9:677-92). Odysseus' speech leads Agamemnon and the rest of the Achaeans to believe that Achilles will return home the next morning (690-5). In reality, after a conversation with Phoenix (434-619), Achilles changed his intention to return to his homeland (618-9), and later, after speaking to Aias (624-55), even decided his terms for returning to the battlefield (649-55). The controversial passage (677-92), which had raised questions since antiquity, has attracted even more attention since the 19th century and is discussed in our time from both an analytical and a Unitarian point of view. However, the theory of the gradual expansion - by Homer himself - of the “Iliad” makes it clear that this case is not proof of the correctness of the analytical procedure. This ambiguity need not be explained by assuming two [Mühll, 1952: 180-2, with bibl.] or even more [Page, 1959: 297 ff., with bibl.] authors, since it is very difficult to imagine that any interpolator - oral or written - within the same book would make such a gross mistake. In contrast, the traditional Unitarian treatment explains this vague passage as Homer's fully conscious desire to avoid further and poetically even more sinister misunderstandings (for a summary, including those of W. Schadewaldt, D. Lohmann, and others [Griffin, 1995: 145-6]). I think the most notable among these explanations is that of R. Scodel [Scodel, 1989], later supported by J. Griffin: "[t]he point is that the Achaeans in the following books must be fighting on in despair of his return, and so envisaging complete defeat and destruction; it would be poetically disastrous to make them confident that he will return to the fighting in the nick of time. [...] It is deftly blurred by the fact that Diomedes (702-3) speaks as if Achilles were still to be there in the Troad" ([Griffin, 1995: 146], cf. [West, 2011: 231, ln. 683], who actually supports this view).

However, I believe that the given solution to the problem raises additional questions that require answers. If Homer's goal in Odysseus' misleading report to Agamemnon is for the Achaeans to fight without Achilles and (therefore) be unaware of his eventual return, why does Diomedes vaguely but nonetheless assure them that Achilles will one day return (701-3); and if that is necessary, then why Diomedes and not Odysseus himself? Here is another question: this is Odysseus, traditionally known for his lies, and not Aias, whom Achilles told to inform the Achaeans of the terms of his return to the battlefield (649); so why is Aias silent when Odysseus lies to the Achaeans and even calls him to witness (688-9)? Furthermore, we see that Diomedes knows the real result of the embassy even though he was not present there (697-709, esp. 701-3)! On the part of the poet it would perhaps be more convincing if the encouraging words of Diomedes were put in Odysseus' or at least Aias' mouth. But it seems to me that this was impossible, because when Odysseus reported to Agamemnon (677-92) there was only one - the first - speech (308-429) of Achilles! And finally, the last and most important question: is the structuring of an episode like that of Book 9 typical of Homeric storytelling, when the mentioned poetic catastrophe becomes inevitable within the episode and the only artistic solution to avoid it is lies and conjecture on the part of Odysseus / Aias and Diomedes respectively?! I think it's obvious that the answer can only be no, and so the original question about Odysseus' misleading or incomplete account to Agamemnon remains unanswered: how is it that Homer has no artistic choice other than such inappropriate and primitive lies on Odysseus' part? And again, was it really a creative failure of one of the oral poets, or something else and more complex, in particular the inevitable result of Homeric expansions of the poem, and if so, was Odysseus' account always incomplete as it is now? In order to answer these questions we must reconstruct the various Homeric stages of development of the embassy scene. I think that the above lines (677-92) have preserved important information about the gradual expansion of the "Iliad", as they contain remnants of earlier stages of the poem's genesis. In particular, although the three envoys deal with Achilles in the current “Iliad”, the passage in question - in the light of Odysseus' account - reflects an earlier stage or version, when only Odysseus spoke to Achilles; and this is true, for the hero, no doubt, knows only Achilles' answer to his own speech. I therefore think it reasonable to assume that by the time or after the passage took this form, its text was already firmly fixed: it was written down and never subsequently altered. The further development of events, in my opinion, can be represented by the following reconstruction: in one of the later phases of his poem's development, Homer added the conversations of Phoenix-Achilles and Aias-Achilles to the dialogue between Odysseus and Achilles (see below). This made the report obsolete as it now contained the old misleading information about the actual outcome of the embassy (see above) and not just the wrong number of negotiators. Since these outdated lines are still present in the current “Iliad”, I can confirm my above assumption that the poet never deleted or even changed this passage (677-92). Apparently he only supplemented Odysseus' misleading report to Agamemnon with the encouraging words of Diomedes. This is best seen in lines 701-3, which, unlike Odysseus' report, reflect Achilles' responses to Phoenix and Aias. Here are the words of Diomedes: “No, let us leave Achilles be, to go or to stay. He will fight again when the heart in his breast urges him and god sets him to it” [Hammond, 1987: 181).

And what follows is the most important for my reflections in this article, since I will refer to the possible reason for Homer's decision to expand the embassy scene through the conversations of Phoenix-Achilles and Aias-Achilles. As quoted above, according to G. Nagy, one of the most prominent proponents of oral poetry theory, Odysseus' fame at Troy was actually overshadowed by that of Achilles because of the “Iliad” tradition. In this discourse, quite acceptable to me, I would only replace the “"Iliad" tradition” with the "innovation of Homer". Nagy doesn't really explain how and why the traditional protagonist of the Trojan cycle was eventually replaced by a hero whose lifespan was short enough to see the fall of Troy. Therefore I believe that Odysseus' traditional credibility as an unrivaled negotiator was seriously undermined by the fact that Phoenix and Aias, who had been silent in the previous version(s) of the embassy, ‘suddenly’ spoke and achieved even better results in the negotiation process with Achilles. However, a review of another well-known inconsistency in Book 9, the Phoenix passages (see below), clearly shows that the process described above of weakening the traditional authority of Odysseus in Homer's “Iliad” began even earlier, in a more archaic and therefore presumably oral version of the embassy scene, which by that time had already been fixed in writing. I believe that this oral and earliest version of the embassy to Achilles, discussed so far in this article and ever existing, involving only Odysseus and two heralds (see below), preceded the other, previously reconstructed above, which, in its turn, as has already been shown, probably precedes the one preserved in its present form in the current “Iliad”. In the opinion of most scholars, the late inclusion of Phoenix, Achilles' old tutor, in the embassy explains the well-known textual problem of the so-called dual forms in Book 9 [Khintibidze, 2016, with bibl.]. I believe that some of the earliest Homeric expansions, in the form of various insertions, particularly relating to Phoenix, were made by the poet in oral versions already recorded. Therefore, the traces of some of these insertions are still visible in the current “Iliad”. However, it is quite difficult to notice them, since there is no ambiguity either in the inserted passages themselves or in the lines immediately following or preceding them. But they are still visible by observing traces of later Homeric insertions. In turn, these later or new insertions were necessary to harmonize the early insertions with the distant passages / scenes originally created by Homer, since the contradictions mainly arose between these sections of the poem. It is these later or new insertions that are themselves visible, from which it can be concluded that an expansion of the oral, but already well-established and thus fixed in writing, version has taken place. This in turn means that the expansion process took place in one of the so-called written stages of development of the "Iliad". This leads me to believe that the insertions discussed above can be said to be of 'written' origin: one gets the impression that Homer was adapting a narrative that he or his assistants had already recorded in writing, since it became impossible to change it without leaving visible traces (cf. [West, 2011: 3]: "[t]he essential point is that he made insertions in parts of the poem that were already fixed; and fixed means written, because if they [i.e. the parts of the poem] were only fixed in his head they would naturally have moulded themselves round the insertions more pliably than they have done”).

So, here are three main hypothetical stages in the creation of the embassy scene. I believe that the short, orally recited traditional song, i.e. the "Ur-Iliad", in its actually unchanged form - since it was dictated or written down - is the first or earliest and original version of Homer's "Iliad". In such an "Iliad", the embassy to Achilles was successful and consisted only of Odysseus and two silent heralds (see below). During later further oral presentations, Homer created new passages with two other but still silent ambassadors, or Aias and Phoenix, with the latter being appointed head of the mission. After a short time, Homer himself or his assistant(s) inserted the above passages into the previously recorded "Ur-Iliad", i.e. the earliest and orally created short version of the poem, and then adapted the narrative with additional insertions to eliminate or 'explain' the inconsistencies that arose (cf. modern oral poets and their performances described by M. Parry and A.B. Lord [Parry, 1971; Lord, 1960]; cf. also [West, 2011]). I see this as the second version or stage in the process of creating the embassy scene, where I believe Odysseus’ mission was again successful, and so the "Iliad" remained relatively short. The expansions of the "Iliad", which M.L. West calls "tectonic and episodic", occurred, I observed, simultaneously in the third and final stage of the poem's growth, which lasted for decades and included many different phases (cf. [West, 2011: 58]: "[...] tectonic expansions: they significantly alter the architecture of the work, its structural logic and proportions. At the next level come what I will call episodic expansions, involving the insertion of one self-contained episode, which may extend over several hundred lines. To this category I assign the Achaean and Trojan Catalogues, [...]"). In my opinion, however, these processes began when Odysseus' initially successful mission according to Homer's creative and innovative plan failed right at the beginning of the first phase of this third stage of the poem's development. During another phase, Phoenix and Aias, who had been silent until then, conversed with Achilles and got even better results than Odysseus. The genesis of what I call the third version of the embassy, and actually the current "Iliad", was accompanied by a process of numerous presentations, when new passages/scenes/episodes were inserted into the previous oral version, then these oral additions were inserted into the already recorded previous oral version, the resulting contradictions were harmonized or clarified by new insertions, etc.

In the format of an article, it is impossible to specify the above in detail. Therefore, I will focus on a well-known passage (9:168-70), where Nestor advises Agamemnon to appoint Phoenix to lead the mission of reconciliation with Achilles. If we assume that Phoenix and Aias are an insertion into the second stage embassy scene (see above), then it is clear that of these three lines 168 was a Homeric insertion and 169 was partially altered while 170 remained unchanged. I believe that such a 'text editing technique' was already fully available in Homer's time. Thus the current passage (168-70) has probably replaced the previously recorded oral lines advising Agamemnon to send Odysseus and two heralds to Achilles. However, lines 168-70 still bear the stamp of interpolation, although they themselves show no sign of inconsistency with respect to any of the lines before or immediately after. The contradiction is that in the rest of the embassy scene, Odysseus is always the actual leader of the mission (cf.: Odysseus led the mission to Achilles' dwelling, 192; at the banquet with Achilles, the poet mentions only Odysseus as the owner sat opposite him, 218, and not Phoenix, but Odysseus conveyed the Agamemnon's message to Achilles, 224 ff.). Since it was not possible to change the entire embassy scene in which Odysseus was dominant and which was already written down, the contradiction indicated was resolved by further insertions and again in the second stage (cf.: Nestor winked knowingly at each of them, but mostly Odysseus - 179-81 to adjust 192; Odysseus understood Aias' sign to Phoenix and began negotiations with Achilles - 223 to adjust 218, 224 ff.). In one of the early phases of the third stage / version, when the embassy to Achilles failed (a tectonic expansion), Odysseus’ report to Agamemnon of the mission's failure (677-92) was inserted to adapt the narrative; or it replaced the previous one that the mission was successfully completed. This new report naturally contained lines 689-92 referring to Phoenix and Aias, who had remained silent in the negotiations with Achilles. In a later phase of the same third stage / version, episodic expansion occurred when the more successful Phoenix - Achilles (434-619) and Aias - Achilles (624-55) negotiations were inserted into the embassy scene. This led to a new adaptation through further insertions, namely Diomedes' encouraging speech (697-709). The contradiction caused by Aias' silence about Odysseus’ misleading report to Agamemnon remained unresolved. This is less noticeable, however, since the meeting of the Achaeans ends immediately after Diomedes’ speech. In conclusion, it can be stated that in the current “Iliad” both the inconsistencies caused by Homer's extensions and the poet's corrective insertions are still visible.

Thus, the inclusion of Aias and Phoenix in the delegation, and, moreover, the appointment of the latter as head of the embassy, already marked the decline of Odysseus as a character in the poem and the beginning of a process in which Achilles became the sole protagonist of the current “Iliad”. According to the well-known Homerist B. Louden, the (Homeric) addition to the embassy is Aias, and not Phoenix, as most Homerists believe [Louden, 2002: 75]; but only Aias, and not together with Phoenix. However, I believe that both Phoenix and Aias entered the embassy at the same time and the former was also appointed head of the mission. The trace of such an insertion or expansion is best seen in Book 9, lines 192-3 with dual forms (for more details [Khintibidze, 2016; 2023: 87]). I think this is also evident from another, no less well-known line 9:218, where at the banquet Achilles sat opposite Odysseus, and nothing is said of the presence or place of Aias or Phoenix at the table, as if they had no part in the feast at all. I believe Homer removes this ambiguity by inserting or, more likely, changing line 9:223 (see also above; cf. [M. West, 2011: 218-9, ln. 168; 220, ln. 223; 224, lns. 421-4, with bibl.], but cf. [Griffin, 1995: 101-2, lns. 223-4, with bibl.], who, following the traditional Unitarian approach, denies any inconsistency in this passage). Not long ago I noticed another trace of the insertion of Aias and Phoenix into the embassy, this time in the 19th book of the poem. In particular, in the scene of the reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles, Agamemnon says that it was Odysseus, and no other hero with him, who came to Achilles’ dwelling to convey a message from him (19:140-1). Accordingly, there were no other envoys in the “Ur-Iliad”: the embassy consisted exclusively of Odysseus and two silent heralds (for more details [Khintibidze, 2018]) and perhaps ended successfully; but Achilles' tragic error led to the death of Patroclus, his closest friend, ‘thanks to whom’ the poem's narrative line was developed further, allowing Homer to actually depict the entire Trojan War. Therefore, a successful embassy meant the reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon without the death of Patroclus. This also meant that Achilles had no reason to kill Hector. Therefore, the entire present “Iliad” from Book 10 to Book 19 and Book 20 onwards appears as a Homeric addition to the “Ur-Iliad”! As for the books preceding the 9th book of the current “Iliad”, almost everyone agrees that books 2-9 are a (Homeric) addition ([Mueller, 1984: 172-4]; cf. [West, 2011: 51-8]). But my observation above shows that Book 9 was already part of the “Ur-Iliad”, as it shows traces of at least three different stages of Homeric expansion. Also, the first and earliest ever suggests that the original protagonist must have been Odysseus, either alone or with Achilles. Moreover, much of Book 8, undoubtedly inseparable from Book 9 (cf. [Mueller, 1984: 173-4; West, 2011: 56, 60]), could also be part of the “Ur-Iliad”. Finally, I agree with West's reconstruction that Book 2, without the so-called Catalogues and some other parts, also belonged to the “Ur-Iliad” (cf. [West, 2011: 52, n. 6]), although almost everyone agrees to the contrary. In my opinion, the symmetry of the beginning and end of the narrative line in the “Ur-Iliad” (i.e. conflict – Book 1 and reconciliation – Book 19; etc.), so characteristic even of the current monumental “Iliad” (i.e. the symmetry between books 1 and 24), moreover, was introduced through two speeches by Odysseus. With his first speech at the beginning of the “Ur-Iliad” the hero convinced the Achaeans not to give up the war and not to leave Troad because of Agamemnon's error, as is the case in the current “Iliad” (2:284-332); and with his second speech at the end of the "Ur-Iliad" he probably did essentially the same thing, this time convincing Achilles not to give up the war and not to leave Troad because of another error by the same man (9:225-306).

So, the question arises again, but a different one this time: is there any evidence in our “Iliad” to support my above hypothesis that the original reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon took place while Patroclus was (still) alive? Again, I think the answer is affirmative. In Book 19, in the scene of the reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon discussed above, the well-known analyst D.L. Page did not see a sufficient depiction of the death of Patroclus and, again, did not find traces of Achilles' desire to take revenge and kill Hector immediately; or, as I call it, traces of the failure of the embassy in Book 9. According to Page, Achilles is acting as if no personal loss had happened to him (cf. [Page, 1959: 312-3]). Page's observation and reasoning may seem a bit unconventional to us now, but the analytical flair doesn't let him down. Indeed, in the long conciliatory conversation between Achilles and Agamemnon (19:56-153) neither Patroclus nor his death is mentioned! Also, Achilles never mentions in these lines that he will take revenge on Hector for killing Patroclus, although in the same 19th book, just a few lines earlier, Achilles' grief for his dead friend is actually presented in the entire passage (1-39)?! I hope it is obvious that such an inconsistency or incoherence cannot be explained by the peculiarities of oral poetry or - as Page believes - by the analytical theory of multiple authorship of the “Iliad”. It also seems inappropriate to me to consider this fragment from the standpoint of traditional Unitarian theory, which denies any such contradiction; in this case, it was as if Achilles didn't even have to mention the murdered Patroclus in his speech of reconciliation. But in this very speech Achilles finds it fitting to mention "so many Achaeans" who were slain by hostile hands (61-2), without naming his friend as if he were alive. Moreover, according to Achilles, his wrath is "profitable for Hector and the Trojans" (63); so Achilles mentions Hector, but not as the murderer of Patroclus, proud of his deeds, but as a person who benefited from a quarrel between the Achaean leaders. Finally, Achilles asks Agamemnon to let him fight the Trojans immediately to see if they still dare to spend the night near the Achaean ships (68-73). According to M.W. Edwards, “[t]he reference in 71-3 is to the Trojans’ acceptance of Hektor's counsel, [...] (18.310-3)” [Edwards, 1991: 242]. Thus the scholar overlooks that in Book 8 (489-565), the Trojans also followed Hector's advice and spent the night near the Achaean ships; therefore, in the absence of Book 18 (i.e. books 10-18 in general) in the “Ur-Iliad”, lines 70-3 could link Book 19 directly to the events of Book 8. The focus of my reflections, however, is the fact that in the closing lines (19:68-73) of Achilles’ speech there is again no word about the hero's wish to avenge Hector for the murder of Patroclus. Commenting on another passage, namely lines 19:56-73, Edwards asserts that at this point Achilles downplays the importance of Briseis to him, and this "implicitly remind[s] us of the force of his [i.e. Achilles’] love for Patroclus" [Edwards, 1991: 241). While this remark is noteworthy, I do not think it can replace or explain the fact that Achilles is silent about the death of his closest friend. All of this reflects the situation before the failed embassy (Book 8), but not the events that took place after or because of the failed embassy (book 9) and the assassination of Patroclus by Hector (Book 16). The foregoing and other details not mentioned here lead me to believe that Patroclus was (still) alive when this passage (19:56-153) was orally composed by Homer for his “Ur-Iliad” and therefore Odysseus' mission was a success.

One question remains: why didn't Homer adapt Achilles' speech (19:56-73 or even 146-53) with a corrective insertion? The answer may be that the poet subsequently made the necessary correction by adding new speech of Achilles (198-214), in which the hero indirectly mentions his murdered friend (209-14). With the same insertion, Homer also achieved a different goal, further weakening the traditional authority of Odysseus (see above), whose advice, as in Book 9, was again rejected by Achilles. This time Odysseus argued that the Achaeans should dine first and only then continue the war with the Trojans (155-71). But even these long speeches on the same subject (154-237, 270-5) cannot all be Homeric insertions into the "Ur-Iliad" (but cf.: [Leaf, 1888: 263-4; Page, 1959: 314]), since most of them probably originally belonged to it. As J.B. Hainsworth long ago discovered, an army's pre-battle meal is an integral part of the typical Homeric battle entry sequence ([Hainsworth, 1966]; cf. [Edwards, 1991: 253]); and so Achilles' rejection of Odysseus' advice, along with other lines, may be a Homeric insertion into it. Some of the possibly original lines considered above could also serve as the closing scene of the poem, as they contain a clear prospect of a continuation of the war after the Achaean dinner. This is most evident in the words of Achilles (275), who eventually compromised by giving the Achaeans a chance to eat before battle (270-5). What inspires me to this thesis are the closing lines of the current “Iliad”, with a common meal of the Trojans after Hector's funeral and a clear prospect of an early continuation of the war (24:799-803). If this is so in the final passage of our monumental “Iliad”, why should it not be so at the end of the short “Ur-Iliad”? After all, they were just two versions of the same Homeric poem! So I propose in these lines that only Achilles' rejection of Odysseus' advice, his mourning at Patroclus' death, and Odysseus' corresponding reply (19:198-237) were Homeric insertions into the Homeric “Ur-Iliad”.

My above assumption is fully compatible with observations by other Homerists. In particular, M.L. West tends to agree with L. Erhardt's opinion in his commentary on lines 19.198-241 - including lines 198-237, which I considered above to be a Homeric insertion - that these lines are an interpolation. The scholar refers to Erhardt’s argument that "242 makes more sense directly after 192-7 than in its present position. Ach[illes'] and Od[ysseus'] speeches cover the same ground as their previous ones in 145-83" ([West, 2011: 357]; cf. [Erhardt, 1894: 382]. Given West's general view of the "Iliad", it should be clear that he regards this passage as a Homeric insertion, but without discussing its possible cause(s). Moreover, West hardly comments on Achilles' two earlier speeches (56-73 and 146-53), the most important part of the reconciliation scene; indeed, he overlooks that Achilles never mentions the death of Patroclus - as a direct reason for the reconciliation - and shows no desire for revenge [West, 2011: 355-6]. This may be due to the scholar's opinion that “[t]he later rhapsodies, from P on [i.e. books 17-24], [...] contain […] references that connect with things in the secondary layer(s)" [West, 2011: 55]; or according to West with books 3-9, 12-15, because for him, books 11 and 16 together with books 1-2 are the primary layer (cf. [West, 2011: 54]. This means that, according to West, all of the original and main parts of Book 19, that is, minus the (Homeric) insertions, were composed and added to the poem when it already contained books 1-16, minus Book 10, known as the post-Homeric expansion; and also Book 9 (embassy) entered the poem after books 11 (wounding of three Achaean leaders) and 16 (Patroclus' death). Therefore, the fact that the undoubtedly original parts of the reconciliation scene in Book 19 reflect only Book 9 but not books 11-18 - and, more importantly, books 11 and 16 of the primary layer (see below) - contradicts the view of West and all other scholars who believe that Homer included Book 9 in the "Iliad" after books 11 and 16. This is perhaps why the missing reference to books 11-18 in lines like 19:56-73, 146-53 does not generally deserve special attention from West and other scholars with a similar approach to Book 9. But the evidence in Book 19 suggests otherwise: Book 19 is connected to Book 9 by its original passages and only passages such as lines 198-241, which many scholars and West himself consider to be (Homeric) inclusions, connect Book 19 to books 11-18. Other similar passages or (Homeric) insertions are probably lines 282-302 - Briseis’ lament for Patroclus (cf. [West, 2011: 358; Erhardt, 1894: 382; Leaf, 1888: 263-4]). Lines 326-37 - part of Achilles’ lament for Patroclus (314-37) - refer to Achilles' son Neoptolemus, etc. and are therefore considered a post-Homeric or rhapsodic interpolation [West, 2011: 359; Leaf, 1888: 263-4]). However, the entire lament of Achilles for Patroclus (314-37) is part of a larger passage (309-39) considered by West as “a counterweight to the lament of Briseis” [West, 2011: 359]. Since Briseis' lament (282-302) is accepted as an insertion (see above), it follows that its counterweight - namely 303-39, not 309-39 as West suggests - but minus rhapsodic lines 326-37, could also be inserted simultaneously with it or separately. In any case, at this point Achilles' lament appears extremely delayed and thus probably interpolated, since it had to be at the beginning of the reconciliation scene (see above) and only then, if necessary, again at the end. Thus, I believe that in the reconciliation episode itself, Homer originally composed lines 56-94 (95-133, the tale of Heracles' birth, is probably a (Homeric) insertion; cf. [Leaf, 1888: 264; West, 2011: 355]), 134-97, and 238- or 242-77 or -81; and later, after completing the tectonic changes in Book 9 and adding books 11-18 to the poem, the same poet made the necessary adjustments with additional corrective insertions in Book 19 (see above) to adapt it to the new development of the narrative or Odysseus' failed mission and the consequent assassination of Patroclus. As for the beginning of Book 19, lines 1-39 undoubtedly contain information about the death of Patroclus, as Achilles mourns the murdered friend when Thetis, his mother, gives him new armour, etc. But it is also clear that this passage is actually the end of the current Book 18 and that, therefore, these two parts were most likely created simultaneously by Homer and later inserted into the "Ur-Iliad" (cf. [Leaf, 1888: 263-4; West, 2011: 354], but cf. [Edwards, 1991: 235-9] with a remarkable observation by M. Nagler [Nagler, 1974: 141-3], which explains why the name of Thetis is not mentioned in line 3). Therefore, the presence of lines 1-39 in the current Book 19 cannot serve as evidence that this book originally contained information about the death of Patroclus before its expansion by Homer. The same is true of the last part of Book 19 (lines 340-423, where the death of Patroclus is mentioned again), added by Homer, most likely in preparation for the final expansion of the “Ur-Iliad” through books 20-24 (cf.: [Edwards, 1991: 283], [West, 2011: 360, lns. 404-18], [Leaf, 1888: 263-4]).

Another fact that ties Book 19 to the events of books 11-18 in the current “Iliad” is the mention of wounded Achaean leaders or Agamemnon, Diomedes and Odysseus. They were wounded in Book 11 (251-72, 369-78, 434-58 respectively) and reappeared in Book 14 (27 ff., 379-82) as unable to take part in the battle. But unlike the death of Patroclus and the mourning of Achilles, this connection is based on just a few lines (47-53, 77/9) at the beginning of Book 19. Since ancient times it has been believed that there is a clear contradiction between line 77 - Agamemnon, who was wounded in Book 11, now addresses the assembled from his sitting-place, not standing in the middle - and line 79, which actually follows it - even though Agamemnon is wounded, he is able to stand and speak in the same assembly; this is reflected in his call to listen to a standing man. I think that given the current context of Agamemnon's wounding, this passage (77-9) has finally been properly understood thanks to the interpretation found in the ancient Scholia of the "Iliad" (cf. [Edwards, 1991: 243-5]): “standing” in line 79 refers to Achilles and not to Agamemnon. It follows that in both lines (77, 79) of Book 19, when Agamemnon speaks, he cannot stand because of the wound in Book 11. In his commentary on lines 47-52, M.W. Edwards mentions that “[t]he wounds are forgotten the next day, when all three take part in the funeral games” [Edwards, 1991: 240]. But according to a more accurate calculation by M.L. West, the funeral games undoubtedly took place two days later and not the next day [West, 2011: 394]. In my opinion, perhaps this time in the epic composition is enough for the heroes to recover from their wounds, since they were not wounded in the 19th book, but earlier, in the 11th book (cf. [West, 2011: 401, ln. 290]). However, it seems to me that Homer still remembers in lines 23:884-97 that Agamemnon was injured more severely than the other two heroes. Therefore, unlike Odysseus and Diomedes, who took part in the funeral games of Patroclus, Achilles declares Agamemnon the winner without having taken part in the javelin-throwing contest; a fact which West overlooks in his commentary on these lines (cf. [West, 2011: 410, 400]). But even if the participation of Diomedes and Odysseus in the funeral games of Patroclus is a contradiction, it does not occur within the same episode and even within the same book where there is an event - or events - that do not correspond to it. Although Edwards, in his commentary on Book 19, notes a possible contradiction in Book 23, it seems to me that he overlooks an even greater contradiction with the wounds of Agamemnon and Odysseus occurring in the same Book 19 and even more so during the same conciliatory gathering. This refers to lines 19:249-55, according to which Agamemnon gets to his feet without any signs of injury, then makes a sacrifice and takes an oath, raising both hands, although one of his hands is injured (11:251-3; cf. [Edwards, 1991: 264-5]). West also does not comment on this fact [West, 2011: 358, lns. 249-50]. The same contradiction occurs, I believe, in lines 19:247-8, were Odysseus measured ten talents from Agamemnon's gold and himself brought it to the Achaean meeting place to give to Achilles. But a little earlier, in lines 47-50, Odysseus, leaning on a spear and limping because of the still painful wound, came to the same meeting with Diomedes and sat in front of the Achaeans. It seems to me that no matter how difficult or easy it was to measure and carry ten talents of gold for a badly wounded man, even one as strong as Odysseus, this is still a clear discrepancy as he could not actually walk. Edwards and West do not comment on this [Edwards, 1991: 264; West, 2011: 358]. In any case, I think 47-53 is a Homeric adaptation. And if so, then both lines 77/79 were originally composed to refer to Agamemnon: he did not stand in the middle of the meeting during his speech, but remained in his place - perhaps standing, not necessarily sitting (77); that he was indeed standing is evidenced by his own words to listen to a standing man. (79). Thus, it can be assumed that when 77/79 was recorded, the "Ur-Iliad" had not yet been expanded and Agamemnon was still intact.

All this leads me to the main conclusion of this article. Fragments from Book 19 (see above) containing information about the death of Patroclus (Book 16) and the wounding of three Achaean leaders (Book 11) and therefore connecting Book 19 to the events of books 11-18 of the “Iliad” are probably a Homeric adaptation: there was initially no gap between the current books 9 (possibly Odysseus' successful mission to Achilles) and 19 (the reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon with the help of Odysseus); when Homer composed the reconciliation scene for his “Ur-Iliad”, Odysseus' mission was still a success. Homer had yet to begin the unprecedented transformation of the traditional, short, orally circulated song of the angry hero's triumphant return to his king - with the help of his friend, the protagonist - into a monumental "Iliad" essentially depicting the entire Trojan War.[1]


[1]This article is an extended version of my paper with a slightly different title, read at the International Online Conference "The Ancient and Byzantine World in the Light of Interdisciplinary Research" - September 22-24, 2021 - at the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia.


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