The World's Famous Orations/Volume 1/His Reply to the Envoys
HIS REPLY TO THE ENVOYS
Date of Homer's birth and death unknown, but 800 to 900 B.C. the period usually accepted. Of the seven cities contending for the honor of having been his birthplace, Smyrna possesses the best evidence. Many critics contend that the poems bearing Homer's fame were written by various persons in different ages, but it is probable that at least the Iliad, or a considerable part of it, was the product of a single mind.
Heaven-sprung son of Laertes, Odysseus of many wiles, in openness must I now declare unto you my saying, even as I am minded and as the fulfilment thereof shall be, that ye may not sit before me and coax this way and that. For hateful to me, even as the gates of hell, is he that hideth one thing in his heart and uttereth another: but I will speak what me seemeth best. Not me, I ween, nor the other Danaans, shall Agamemnon, son of Atreus, persuade, seeing we were to have no thank for battling with the foeman ever without respite. He that abideth at home hath equal share with him that fightest his best, and in like honor are held both the coward and the brave; death cometh alike to the untoiling and to him that hath toiled long.
Neither have I any profit for that I endured tribulation of soul, ever staking my life in fight. Even as a hen bringeth her unfledged chickens each morsel as she winneth it, and with herself it goeth hard, even so I was wont to watch out many a sleepless night and pass through many bloody days of battle, warring with folk for their women's sake. Twelve cities of men have I laid waste from shipboard, and from land eleven, I do you to wit, throughout deep-soiled Troy-land; out of all these took I many goodly treasures, and would bring and give them all to Agamemnon, son of Atreus, and he staying behind amid the fleet ships would take them and portion out some few but keep the most. Now, some he gave to be meeds of honor to the princes and the kings, and theirs are left untouched; only from me of all the Achaians took he my darling lady and keepeth her—let him sleep beside her and take his joy.But why must the Argives make war on the Trojans? Why hath Atreides gathered his host and led them hither? Is it not for lovely-haired Helen's sake? Do then the sons of Atreus alone of mortal men love their wives? Surely, whatsoever man is good and sound of mind and loveth his own and cherisheth her, even as I, too, loved mine with all my heart, tho but the captive of my spear. But now that he hath taken
Nay, Odysseus, let him take counsel with thee and all the princes to ward from the ships the consuming fire. Verily without mine aid he hath wrought many things, and built a wall and dug a foss about it wide and deep, and set a palisade therein; yet even so can he not stay murderous Hector's might. But so long as I was fighting amid the Achaians, Hector had no mind to array his battle far from the wall, but scarce came unto the Skaian gates and to the oak tree; there once he awaited me alone and scarce escaped my onset. But now, seeing I have no mind to fight with noble Hector, I will to-morrow do sacrifice to Zeus and all the gods, and store well my ships when I have launched them on the salt seas. Then shalt thou see, if thou wilt and hast any care therefor, my ships sailing at break of day over Hellespont, the fishes' home, and my men right eager at the oar: and if the great Shaker of the earth grant me good journey, on the third day should I reach deep-soiled Phthia. There are my great possessions that I left when I came hither to my hurt: and yet more gold and ruddy bronze shall I bring from hence, and fair-girdled women and gray iron, all at least that were mine by lot; only my meed of honor hath he that gave it me taken back in his despitefulness, even Lord Agamemnon, son of Atreus.
To him declare ye everything even as I charge you, openly, that all the Achaians likewise may have indignation, if happily he hopeth to beguile yet some other Danaan, for that he is ever clothed in shamelessness. Verily not in my face would he dare to look, tho he have the front of a dog. Neither will I devise counsel with him nor any enterprise, for utterly he hath deceived me and done wickedly; but never again shall he beguile me with fair speech. Let this suffice him. Let him begone in peace; Zeus, the lord of counsel, hath taken away his wits. Hateful to me are his gifts, and I hold him at a straw's worth. Not even if he gave me ten times, yea twenty, all that now is his, and all that may come to him otherwhence, even all the revenue of Orchomenos or Egyptian Thebes where the treasure-houses are stored fullest—Thebes of the hundred gates, whence sally forth two hundred warriors through each with horses and chariots—nay, nor gifts in number as sand or dust: not even so shall Agamemnon persuade my soul till he have paid me back at the bitter despite.
And the daughter of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, will I not wed, not were she rival of golden Aphrodite for fairness and for handiwork matched bright-eyed Athene—not even then will I wed her; let him choose him of the Achaians another that is his peer and is more royal than I. For if the gods indeed preserve me and I come unto my home, then will Peleus himself marrv me a wife. Many Achaian maidens are there throughout Hellas and Phthia, daughters of princes that rule their cities; whomsoever of these I wish will I make my dear lady. Very often was my high soul moved to take me there a wedded wife, a helpmeet for me, and have joy of the possessions that the old man Peleus possesseth.
For not of like worth with life hold I even all the wealth that men say was possessed of the well-peopled city of Ilios in days of peace gone by, before the sons of the Achaians came; neither all the treasure that the stone threshold of the archer Phoebus Apollo encompasseth in rocky Pytho. For kine and goodly flocks are to be had for the harrying, and tripods and chestnut horses for the purchasing; but to bring back man's life neither harrying nor earning availeth when once it hath passed the barrier of his lips. For thus my goddess mother telleth me, Thetis, the silver-footed, that twain fates are bearing me to the issue of death. If I abide here and besiege the Trojan's city, then my returning home is taken from me, but my fame shall be imperishable; but if I go home to my dear native land, my high fame is taken from me, but my life shall endure long while, neither shall the issue of death soon reach me.
Moreover, I would counsel you all to set sail homeward, seeing ye shall never reach your goal of steep Ilios; of a surety, far-soeing Zeus holdeth his hand over her and her folk are of good courage. So go your way and tell my answer to the princes of the Achaians, even as is the office of elders, that they may devise in their hearts some other better counsel such as shall save them their ships and the host of the Achaians amid the hollow ships; since this counsel availeth them naught that they have now devised by reason of my fierce wrath. But let Phoenix now abide with us and lay him to rest, that he may follow with me on my ships to our dear native land to-morrow, if he will; for I will not take him perforce.
- Addressed more particularly to Odysseus, one of the envoys, than to Phoinix and Ajax, the others. These envoys had been sent by Agamemnon to plead with Achilles for his return to action in the war against Troy. The Lang. Leaf and Myers translation. Printed by arrangement with Macmillan & Co. of London.