Part two of an analysis of the passage from Homer’s Iliad where Iris and Achilles have a discussion and Achilles decides to finally join the fighting.
The most interesting part of the discussion between Iris and Achilles was the way in which Iris was actually able to get Achilles to change his mind about entering battle. Iris first brought to Achilles’ attention why Hektor wanted Patroklos’ body so badly. Iris claimed that, “Hektor rages to haul it away … to cut the head from the soft neck and set it on a sharp stake.” This should have been a very compelling reason for Achilles to return to battle. After all, Patroklos was Achilles beloved companion. The reason that Patroklos went out was because Achilles would not. The great guilt that Achilles was feeling should have been growing heavier with the thought that Patroklos’ body was being threatened with defilement by Hektor. Iris used this guilt to push Achilles into battle. “Let shame come into your heart, lest Patroklos become sport for the dogs of Troy to worry, your shame, if the body goes from here with defilement upon it.” With this statement Iris placed the blame for whatever may happen to Patroklos’ body entirely upon Achilles. Shame was one of the few emotions that was powerful enough to sway even the most terrifying of all men.
Once Achilles had decided to enter the battle Iris told him, “go to the ditch, and show yourself as you are to the Trojans, if perhaps the Trojans might be frightened, and give way from their attack.” We were again able to add to our mental image of Achilles in battle. Even the sight of an unarmed Achilles provoked enough terror in the eyes of the Trojans to cause a momentary retreat. Just the sight of unarmed Achilles was so terrifying that it made his enemies run in fear. We must try to imagine the fear that would arise from encountering Achilles in battle. That sort of terror seems outside the breadth of our imagination.
Iris then described the scene that Achilles would be encountering when he finally entered the battle. Iris claimed that, “there is little breathing space in the fightings.” The battle was taking place on the plain outside of Troy, and this brought to light how large the actual battle was. If a fight on a plain had little breathing room, it would have to be an enormous battle. With a battle of this magnitude, it seemed unlikely that one person could turn the tides, but time after time we heard about how the presence of Achilles in battle would ensure the Achaeans’ victory. This was just another fact that we had to add to our mental picture of Achilles in battle.