Translation by Ian Johnston
The Quarrel by the Ships
[The invocation to the Muse; Agamemnon insults Apollo; Apollo sends the plague onto the army; the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon; Calchas indicates what must be done to appease Apollo; Agamemnon takes Briseis from Achilles; Achilles prays to Thetis for revenge; Achilles meets Thetis; Chryseis is returned to her father; Thetis visits Zeus; the gods converse about the matter on Olympus; the banquet of the gods]
Sing, Goddess, sing of the rage of , son of Zeus and , far from home, 
working the loom, sharing my bed. Go away.
If you want to get home safely, don't anger me."
The old man, afraid, obeyed his words, walked off in silence,
along the shore by the tumbling, crashing surf.
Some distance off, he prayed to Lord Apollo,
Leto's fair-haired child:
"God with the silver bow,
protector of Chryse, sacred Cilla, 40
mighty lord of ,
the wife I married. Chryseis is just as good
in her shape, physique, intelligence, or work.
Still, if it's best, I am prepared to give her back.
I want the people safe, not all killed off.
But then you all owe me another prize.
I won't be the only Argive left without a gift.
That would be entirely unfair to me.
You all can see my spoils are going elsewhere." 
At that point, swift-footed Achilles answered the king: 130
"Noble son of Atreus, most acquisitive of men,
how can brave Achaeans give you a prize now?
There are none left for us to pass around.
We've divided up what we allotted,
loot from captured towns we devastated.
For men to make a common pile again,
would be most unfair. Send the girl back now,
as the god demands. Should Zeus ever grant
we pillage Troy, a city rich in goods,
we'll give you three or four times as much." 140
Mighty Agamemnon then said in reply: 
"Achilles, you're a fine man, like a god.
But don't conceal what's in your heart.
You'll not trick me or win me with your words.
You intend to keep your prizes for yourself,
while the army takes my trophy from me.
Is that not why you bid me give back Chryseis?
Let Achaeans give me another prize,
equal in value, something I'll enjoy.
If not, then I'll take a prize myself by force, 150
something from you, or Ajax, or , 170
where heroes grow. Many shady mountains
and the roaring sea stand there between us.
But you, great shameless man, we came with you,
to please you, to win honour from the Trojans—
for you, dog face, and for Menelaus.
You don't consider this, don't think at all. 
You threaten now to confiscate the prize
I worked so hard for, gift from Achaea's sons.
When we Achaeans loot some well-built Trojan town,
my prizes never match the ones you get. 180
The major share of war's fury rests on me.
But when we hand around the battle spoils,
you get much larger trophies. Worn out in war,
I reach my ships with something fine but small.
So now I'll go back home to Phthia.
It's far better to return in my curved ships. 
I don't fancy staying here unvalued,
to pile up riches, treasures just for you."
To that, Agamemnon, king of men, shot back:
"Fly off home then, if that's your heart's desire. 190
I'll not beg you to remain on my account.
I have others around to honour me,
especially all-wise Zeus himself.
Of all the kings Zeus cherishes, you're the one
I hate the most. You always love strife,
war, and combat. So what if you're strong?
Some god gave you that. So scurry off home.
Take ships and friends. Go rule your Myrmidons. 
I don't like you or care about your rage.
But I'll make this threat: I'll take your prize, 200
fair-cheeked Briseis. I'll fetch her in person.
You'll see just how much I'm the better man.
And others will hate to speak to me as peers,
in public claiming full equality with me."
As Agamemnon spoke, Peleus' son, Achilles,
was overwhelmed with anguish, heart torn two ways,
debating in his shaggy chest what he should do:
Should he draw out the sharp sword on his thigh, 
incite the crowd, kill Atreus' son, or suppress his rage,
control his fury? As he argued in his mind and heart, 210
he slid his huge sword part way from its sheath.
At that moment, stood up, clear, sweet orator from , . 
But you, goddess, came and set him free,
by quickly calling up to high Olympus
that hundred-handed monster gods call Briareos,
and men all name Aigaion, a creature
whose strength was greater than his father's.
He sat down beside the son of Cronos, 450
exulting in his glory. The sacred gods, afraid,
stopped tying up Zeus. So sit down right by Zeus,
clasp his knee, remind him of all that,
so he'll want to help the Trojans somehow,
corner Achaeans by the sea, at their ships' prows,
and have them die, so that they'll enjoy their king, 
so the son of Atreus, wide-ruling Agamemnon,
himself may see his foolishness, dishonouring
Achilles, the best of the Achaeans."
Thetis, shedding tears, answered her son, Achilles: 460
"Oh my child, why did I rear you,
since I brought you up to so much pain?
Would you were safely by your ships dry-eyed.
Your life is fated to be short—you'll not live long.
Now, faced with a quick doom, you're in distress,
more so than any other man. At home,
I gave you a life marked by evil fate.
But I'll tell these things to thunder-loving Zeus.
I'll go myself to snow-topped mount Olympus, 
to see if he will undertake all this. 470
Meanwhile, you should sit by your swift ships,
angry at Achaeans. Take no part in war.
For yesterday Zeus went to Oceanus,
to banquet with the worthy Ethiopians.
The gods all journeyed with him. In twelve days,
when he returns and comes home to Olympus,
I'll go to Zeus' bronze-floored house and clasp his knee.
I think I'll get him to consent."
Then she went away, leaving Achilles there,
angry at heart for lovely girdled Briseis, 480
taken from him by force against his will.
Odysseus sailed to Chryse, bringing with him
the sacrificial animals as sacred offerings.
When they had sailed into deep anchorage,
they furled the sails and stowed them in the ship.
With forestays they soon set the mast down in its notch,
then rowed the ship in to its mooring place.
They threw out anchor stones, lashed stern cables,
and clambered out into the ocean surf.
They brought off the offerings to archer god Apollo. 490
Then Chryseis disembarked from the ocean ship.
Resourceful Odysseus led her to the altar, 
placed her in her beloved father's hands, then said:
"Chryses, I have been sent by Agamemnon,
ruler of men, to bring your daughter to you,
and then, on behalf of the Danaans,
to make an offering to lord Apollo—
all these sacrificial beasts—to placate the god,
who now inflicts such dismal evil on us."
As he spoke, he handed the girl over. 500
Chryses welcomed his daughter joyfully.
Around the well-constructed altar, they arranged
the splendid sacrifice. They washed their hands
and picked up the barley grain for sprinkling.
Raising his arms, Chryses prayed out loud on their behalf: 
"Hear me, god of the silver bow, protector
of Chryse, mighty lord of holy Cilla,
sacred Tenedos. You heard me earlier,
when I prayed to you. Just as you honoured me,
striking hard against Achaeans then, so now, 510
grant me what I pray for—remove disaster,
this wretched evil, from the Danaans."
So Chryses spoke. Phoebus Apollo heard him.
Once they had prayed and scattered barley grain,
they pulled back the heads of sacrificial beasts,
slit their throats, flayed them, sliced the thigh bones out,
and hid them in twin layers of fat, with raw meat on top 
Old Chryses burned them on split wood and poured on wine.
Young men beside him held out five-pronged forks.
Once the thighs were well burned, they sampled entrails, 520
then sliced up all the rest, skewered the meat on spits,
roasted it carefully, and drew off every piece.
That work complete, they then prepared a meal and ate.
No heart was left unsatisfied. All feasted equally.
And when the men had had their fill of food and drink,
young boys filled the mixing bowl with wine up to the brim, 
served the drink, pouring libations into every cup.
Then all day long the young Achaean lads played music,
singing to the god a lovely hymn of praise,
honouring in dance and song the god who shoots from far. 530
Hearing them, Apollo felt joy fill his heart. At sunset,
as dusk came on, at the ship's stern they went to sleep.
But when early born, rose-fingered Dawn appeared,
they set off, once more back to the wide Achaean army.
Far-shooting Apollo sent them favourable winds.
They raised the mast and then the sails. The wind blew, 
filling out the body of the sail—on both sides of the prow
the purple waves hissed loudly as the ship sped on its way,
its motion carving a pathway through the ocean swell.
When they reached the broad Achaean army, 540
they hauled the black ship high up on the sand,
pushed long props tight beneath it, then dispersed,
each man returning to his own huts and ships.
Meanwhile, Achilles, divinely born son of Peleus,
sat down in anger alongside his swift ships. Not once,
did he attend assembly where men acquire glory, 
or go to battle. But he pined away at heart,
remaining idle by his ships, yearning
for the hue and cry and clash of battle.
Twelve days later, the company of gods came back 550
together to Olympus, with Zeus in the lead.
Thetis did not forget the promise to her son.
She rose up through the ocean waves at day break,
then moved high up to great Olympus. She found Zeus,
wide-seeing son of Cronos, some distance from the rest,
seated on the highest peak of many-ridged Olympus.
She sat down right in front of him. With her left hand, 
she clutched his knees, with her right she cupped his chin,
in supplication to lord Zeus, son of Cronos:
"Father Zeus, if, among the deathless gods, 560
I've ever served you well in word or deed,
then grant my prayer will be fulfilled.
Bring honour to my son, who, of all men
will be fate's quickest victim. For just now,
Agamemnon, king of men, has shamed him.
He seized his prize, robbing him in person,
and kept it for himself. But honour him,
Zeus, all-wise Olympian. Give the Trojans
the upper hand, until Achaeans respect my son,
until they multiply his honours." 570 
Thetis finished. Cloud gatherer Zeus did not respond.
He sat a long time silent. Thetis held his knees,
clinging close, repeating her request once more:
"Promise me truly, nod your head, or deny me—
since there's nothing here for you to fear—
so I'll clearly see how among all gods
I enjoy the least respect."
Cloud gatherer Zeus, greatly troubled, said:
"A nasty business.
What you say will set Hera against me.
She provokes me so with her abuse. Even now, 580
in the assembly of immortal gods,
she's always insulting me, accusing me 
of favouring the Trojans in the war.
But go away for now, in case Hera catches on.
I'll take care of this, make sure it comes to pass.
Come, to convince you, I'll nod my head.
Among the gods that's the strongest pledge I make.
Once I nod my assent, nothing I say
can be revoked, denied, or unfulfilled."
Zeus, son of Cronos, nodded his dark brows. 590
The divine hair on the king of gods fell forward,
down over his immortal head, shaking Olympus 
to its very base. The conference over, the two parted.
Thetis plunged from bright Olympus back into the sea.
Zeus went in his house. With their father in the room,
the gods all stood up from their seats at once.
No one dared stay put as he came in—all rose together.
Zeus seated himself upon his throne. Looking at him,
Hera sensed he'd made some deal with Thetis,
silver-footed daughter of the old man of the sea. 600
At once she spoke up accusingly:
"Which god has been scheming with you, you crafty one? 
You always love to work on things in secret,
without involving me. You never want
to tell me openly what you intend."
The father of gods and men replied:
don't hope to understand my every plan.
Even for my own wife that's dangerous.
What's appropriate for you to hear about,
no one, god or man, will know before you. 610
But when I wish to hide my thoughts from gods,
don't you go digging after them,
or pestering me for every detail." 
Ox-eyed queen Hera then replied to Zeus:
"Most dread son of Cronos, what are you saying?
I have not been overzealous before now,
in questioning you or seeking answers.
Surely you're quite at liberty to plan
anything you wish. But now, in my mind,
I've got this dreadful fear that Thetis, 620
silver-footed daughter of the old man of the sea,
has won you over, for this morning early,
she sat down beside you and held your knee.
I think you surely nodded your agreement
to honour Achilles, killing many soldiers,
slaughtering them by the Achaean ships."
Zeus, the cloud gatherer, spoke out in response: 
"My dear lady, you're always fancying things.
Your attention picks up every detail.
But you can't do anything about it, 630
except push yourself still further from my heart,
making matters so much worse for you.
If things are as they are, then that's the way
I want them. So sit down and stay quiet.
Do as I say. If not, then all the gods
here on Olympus won't be any help,
when I reach out to set my hands on you,
for they're invincible."
Zeus finished speaking. Ox-eyed queen Hera sat down,
in fear, silently suppressing what her heart desired. 640
In Zeus' home the Olympian gods began to quarrel. 
Then that famous artisan, Hephaestus, concerned
about his mother, white-armed Hera, spoke to them:
"A troublesome matter this will prove—
unendurable—if you two start fighting
over mortal men like this, inciting gods to quarrel.
If we start bickering, we can't enjoy the meal,
our excellent banquet. So I'm urging mother,
though she's more than willing, to humour Zeus,
our dear father, so he won't get angry once again, 650
and so disturb the feast for us. For if Zeus,
the Olympian lord of lightning, was of a mind 
to hurl us from our seats, his strength's too great for us.
But if you talk to him with soothing words,
at once Olympian Zeus will treat us well."
Hephaestus spoke, then stood up, passed a double goblet
over to his dear mother, saying:
"Stay calm, mother, even though you are upset.
If not, then, as beloved as you are,
I may see you beaten up before my eyes, 660
with me incapable of helping out,
though the sight would make me most unhappy.
It's hard to take a stand opposing Zeus.
Once, when I was eager to assist you, 
Zeus seized me by the feet and threw me out,
down from heaven's heights. The entire day
I fell and then, right at sunset, dropped
on Lemnos, almost dead. After that fall,
men of Sintes helped me to recover."
As he spoke, the white-armed goddess Hera smiled. 670
She reached for her son's goblet. He poured the drink,
going from right to left, for all the other gods,
drawing off sweet nectar from the mixing bowl.
Then their laughter broke out irrepressibly,
as the sacred gods saw Hephaestus bustling around, 
concerned about the feast. All that day they dined,
until sunset. No one's heart went unsatisfied.
All feasted equally. They heard exquisite music,
from Apollo's lyre and the Muses' beautiful song
and counter-song. When the sun's bright light had set, 680
the gods all went to their own homes. Hephaestus,
the famous lame god, with his resourceful skill,
had made each god a place to live. Olympian Zeus,
god of lightning, went home to his own bed,
where he usually reclined whenever sweet sleep 
came over him. He went inside and then lay down,
with Hera of the golden throne stretched out beside him.
Translation by Ian Johnston, Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC. This document is in the public domain and may be used by anyone without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged.
[Last modified on December 28, 2003]
[Note that the line numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text]
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