Homeric Conversation

  Beck, Deborah. 2005. Homeric Conversation. Hellenic Studies Series 14. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BeckD.Homeric_Conversation.2005.

Chapter 5. Group Contexts I—Assemblies

As with any multi-party conversation, formulaic speech conclusions describing the reaction of the group—as distinct from the reaction of the addressee—regularly occur. However, this kind of speech concluding language occurs more frequently in assemblies than it does in more informal contexts, and the content is more specific. Indeed, conversation analysis work on conversation in institutional settings has shown that these exchanges tend to entail “procedures {191|192} that are particular to specific institutional contexts.” [2] For example, we regularly hear in an assembly that a speaker stands up to make his remarks, and when he is finished speaking, he sits down again. Then another speaker stands up and makes the next speech. [3] Outside of assemblies, on the other hand, the physical behavior or location of the speaker is rarely described by the narrator during an ongoing conversational sequence. In fact, formulaic speech conclusions that describe in specific terms [4] how an individual or group responds to the previous speech in the middle of an ongoing conversation characterize formal group settings of all sorts. In informal settings, on the other hand, separate language to describe how the hearer(s) respond to a speech is rarer, particularly in conversations between two individuals. When such language does appear, it tends to describe a general response like approval or obedience, and/or to fall at the end of the conversation rather than in the middle. [5] So, as a formal, “institutional” kind of group conversation, assembly is characterized partly by the convention that a would-be speaker stands to begin his turn and sits down to end it.

For example, between speeches in an assembly we often find the following formulaic sequence:

ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο· τοῖσι δ’ ἀνέστη

[next speaker’s name, either in a single verse or with some kind of descriptive elaboration that may run to several verses]

ὅ σφιν ἐϋφρονέων ἀγορήσατο καὶ μετέειπεν

He spoke thus and sat down again, and among them stood up

[next speaker’s name and description]

The full-verse speech introduction ὅ σφιν ἐϋφρονέων ἀγορήσατο καὶ μετέειπεν is found with four of the six occurrences of Ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο· τοῖσι δ’ ἀνέστη. [
9] In between these two verses, a speaker is always named, but the amount of information given about that speaker varies. At a minimum, we learn the speaker’s name and his patronymic or other descriptive information, as when Nestor speaks in an assembly at Iliad 2.76-78: [10]

ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο, τοῖσι δ’ ἀνέστη
Νέστωρ, ὅς ῥα Πύλοιο ἄναξ ἦν ἠμαθόεντος,
ὅ σφιν ἐϋφρονέων ἀγορήσατο καὶ μετέειπεν·

He spoke thus, and sat down again, and among them rose up
Nestor, he who ruled as a king in sandy Pylos.
He in kind intention toward all spoke out and addressed them: {193|194}

The length of the identifying passage varies, however, depending on various contextual and aesthetic factors that I will discuss in more detail below. The importance of sitting as one aspect of appropriate behavior in assembly clearly emerges later on in this assembly scene from Iliad 2, after Odysseus heads the Greek army off from their eager rush to launch their ships for home. Here the narrator characterizes Thersites as a misbehaving speaker partly by his failure to sit down when everyone else has been seated (211-214).

Turn sequences for speeches in assemblies take many different forms. Often there are several different kinds of sequences within a given assembly. Some of these sequences are also found in one-on-one conversations, such as the alternating A-B-A-B structure itself (in Iliad 1 between Achilles and Agamemnon, for example). We also find sequences in assemblies in which the identity of one participant changes while the basic alternating turn structure continues, such as A-B, B-C or A-B, C-A (both of which also appear in Iliad 1). Several assemblies—as well as other formal group contexts (on which see Chapter 6)—open with a series of successive speeches by individuals to the group who has assembled. The assembly of Greeks and Trojans in Iliad 3, for instance, consists entirely of speeches to the group by various individuals. This kind of sequence does not appear in individual contexts, of course, since it is structurally impossible where there are just two speakers. It is also absent from more informal group discussions that do not display the specific formal conventions associated with assemblies: in these informal discussions, at most two speakers address a group in succession before an individual replies to one of the speakers. This extended “A speaks to group, B speaks to group, C speaks to group” sequence is restricted to formal contexts—assemblies, athletic games, and laments—where the procedures and aims of the conversation have very specific conventions governing them that are connected to the particular type of context. Indeed, conversation analysis has shown that “talk for an overhearing audience” characterizes institutional settings. [11]

Assembly Patterns vs. Other Kinds of Deliberative Groups: Iliad 9


This speech arouses further consternation among the Greeks in the assembly, who sit silent and dismayed until at length Diomedes responds to Agamemnon’s proposal. [14]

ὣς ἔφαθ’, οἳ δ’ ἄρα πάντες ἀκὴν ἐγένοντο σιωπῇ.
δὴν δ’ ἄνεῳ ἦσαν τετιηότες υἷες Ἀχαιῶν·
ὀψὲ δὲ δὴ μετέειπε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Διομήδης·
“Ἀτρεΐδη σοὶ πρῶτα μαχήσομαι ἀφραδέοντι,
ἣ θέμις ἐστὶν, ἄναξ, ἀγορῇ· σὺ δὲ μή τι χολωθῇς.” {195|196}

So he spoke, and all of them stayed stricken to silence.
For some time the sons of the Achaians said nothing in sorrow;
but at long last Diomedes of the great war cry addressed them:
“Son of Atreus: I will be first to fight with your folly,
as is my right, lord, in this assembly; then do not be angered.”


The speech frame between Agamemnon’s initial turn in the assembly and Diomedes’ reply consists of two full-verse formulas (29 and 31) and one verse that appears twice, both times in Iliad 9 (30). This passage allows us to imagine several different ways to make the transition from Agamemnon’s speech to Diomedes’ that provide varying amounts of length and emphasis to this moment in the episode. The simplest and briefest way to get from Agamemnon’s words to Diomedes’ answer would be the single verse formula τοῖσι δὲ καὶ μετέειπε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Διομήδης (and Diomedes of the great war cry addressed them). A slightly more drawn-out version could pair this verse with the formulaic speech conclusion “they were stricken to silence” (9.29). A more emphatic but still entirely formulaic speech frame here could be achieved with 9.29 followed directly by 9.31. This would not only mention the silence of the audience after Agamemnon finished speaking (29), but would also draw their silence out by delaying the next speech until a certain amount of time had passed without anyone taking the next turn (31). In the passage as printed by modern editors, however, verse 30 literally extends the period of silence in the narrative—and emphasizes the reason for it—by saying why the Greeks were silent. Thus, the speech frame in 9.29-31 emphasizes the depths of the Greeks’ emotions by describing it at length. This sets off both the gravity of the situation and the speech of Diomedes, when he does eventually give it.

Diomedes speaks at some length when he criticizes Agamemnon’s suggestion (32-49). Now the Greeks shout their acclaim for Diomedes’ proposal (50-51), whereupon Nestor rises to take the next turn (52). While agreeing with the content of Diomedes’ speech, Nestor tells him that he is too young to bring his argument to fruition (53-59). Then he directs the Greeks to eat the evening meal and take up their stations for night guard duty (60-78). This disposition meets with the approval of the group: ὣς ἔφαθ’, οἳ δ’ ἄρα τοῦ μάλα μὲν κλύον ἠδ ἐπίθοντο (So he spoke, and they listened hard to him, and obeyed him, 79) and the assembly ends.

So, this set of three speeches displays most of the typical features of assembly scenes as well as emphatic elaborations on some of them. The {196|197} assembly is convened in the usual manner, with herald, seated group, and standing leader Agamemnon giving the first speech. Following this opening speech, the narrator follows a typical pattern for group conversations of all sorts by describing the group’s reaction to the speech they have just heard, but at more length and in more detail than usual. All the language in this elaboration appears elsewhere in the Iliad. Diomedes addresses his response to Agamemnon in particular rather than to the group at large. After he speaks, once again the group reaction is described, but this time it is a positive and not a negative response. Finally, Nestor ends the assembly first by replying to Diomedes directly and then giving instructions based on his age and authority. A formulaic speech concluding verse states that the group obeyed these instructions, and the assembly ends. Two of three participants stand up to mark themselves as the taker of the next turn; all speeches are followed by a description of how the assembled Greeks responded to what the speaker said.


Next, Agamemnon consults a council of Greek leaders (89-178). The men whom he summons are called γέροντας (elders, 89), even though Nestor is the only one in the group who is really old. Traditionally, of course, old men are the source of wise council, which probably explains the use of the word here to describe men who for the most part are of fighting age. The council, unlike an assembly, takes place after a feast in which all the participants in the council take part (89-92). Moreover, the first person to speak is the oldest and most authoritative person present (Nestor), not the person who convened the council (Agamemnon). [15] Although the social environment and composition of the council differ from an assembly, the passage that begins Nestor’s first speech to the council shows some similarities to what we have seen in assemblies.

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ πόσιος καὶ ἐδητύος ἐξ ἔρον ἕντο,
τοῖς ὁ γέρων πάμπρωτος ὑφαίνειν ἤρχετο μῆτιν
Νέστωρ, οὗ καὶ πρόσθεν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή·
ὅ σφιν ἐϋφρονέων ἀγορήσατο καὶ μετέειπεν·
“Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγάμεμνον …”

But when they had put away their desire for eating and drinking,
the aged man began to weave his counsel before them {197|198}
first, Nestor, whose advice had shown best before this.
He in kind intention toward all spoke out and addressed them:
“Son of Atreus, most lordly and king of men, Agamemnon …”


9.92 is formulaic, often effecting a transition from feasting to conversation. [
16] The introduction of Nestor looks very similar to the introduction of a first assembly speaker, with some interesting differences: 93 briefly mentions the first speaker; 94 describes and names this person at slightly more length; and 95 is a formulaic reply introduction that is common in assembly scenes. [17] Although the structure here closely resembles common speech frame structures in assemblies (mention speaker / provide some details about speaker / reply introductory verse), the content of the description of the speaker differs compared to what we have seen in an assembly scene. Nestor is described in verses 93-94 in terms of the advice he had given to the Greeks on previous occasions. This passage, indeed, forms an instructive contrast with the previously quoted speech frame for Nestor from Iliad 2, where Nestor speaks in an assembly in response to a previous speech (2.76-78).

ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο, τοῖσι δ’ ἀνέστη
Νέστωρ, ὅς ῥα Πύλοιο ἄναξ ἦν ἠμαθόεντος,
ὅ σφιν ἐϋφρονέων ἀγορήσατο καὶ μετέειπεν·

He [Agamemnon] spoke thus, and sat down again, and among them rose up
Nestor, he who ruled as a king in sandy Pylos.
He in kind intention toward all stood forth and addressed them

This description of Nestor focuses on his kingship—on his authority, in other words—and not on the quality of his advice. In the council, moreover, in contrast to the assembly, there is no reference to Nestor sitting or standing. This reinforces the idea that sitting and standing in connection with speaking is restricted to the formal, institutional nature of the assembly.


When the visitors arrive, Achilles welcomes them with food and drink, and all share a sacrificial meal (185-221). When the group has taken its fill (222, the same formulaic verse that preceded the council at 9.92), Odysseus makes the first appeal of the embassy (225-306). [21] A common reply formula introduces the long response of Achilles (307), in which he rejects not only the offer, but perhaps the entire code of values on which the offer is based (308-429). [22] Clearly, at least on this first attempt, the embassy has failed entirely. Just as the Greeks at the assembly that opens Book 9 were aghast when they heard that Agamemnon wanted to return home (9.29-31), the delegation from Agamemnon to Achilles sits quiet and appalled after hearing Achilles’ response to their message.

ὣς ἔφαθ’, οἳ δ’ ἄρα πάντες ἀκὴν ἐγένοντο σιωπῇ
μῦθον ἀγασσάμενοι· μάλα γὰρ κρατερῶς ἀπέειπεν·
ὀψὲ δὲ δὴ μετέειπε γέρων ἱππηλάτα Φοῖνιξ
δάκρυ’ ἀναπρήσας· περὶ γὰρ δίε νηυσὶν Ἀχαιῶν·

So he spoke, and all of them stayed stricken to silence
in amazement at his words. He had spoken to them very strongly.
But at long last Phoinix the aged horseman spoke out
in a stormburst of tears, and fearing for the ships of the Achaians:


Here, as in the assembly earlier in Book 9, an additional verse follows the formula “they were all silent” that describes the emotions of the silent {200|201} listeners. The embassy is amazed (ἀγασσάμενοι, 431), while the group at the assembly was grief-stricken (τετιηότες, 9.30). The basic structure, though, is the same: A gave a speech; listening group was silent because they felt/were [emotion]; finally, B replied. Our passage, like 9.30, lengthens the related typical structure “A gave a speech / listening group was silent / finally, B replied.” By doing so, it calls the attention of the audience of the poem to the effect of the speech on the listeners. Furthermore, in 433, our passage contains a second additional verse after the “finally B replied” formula that describes the emotions of B. This is a particularly interesting elaboration from the structural standpoint, because it is rare for anything to intervene between a formulaic speech introduction and the speech itself. When an audience heard the reply introductory formula in 432, that would set up a strong expectation of hearing the beginning of a speech in the next verse. When they heard yet more description of the speaker instead, that surprising departure from the normal structures of speech frames would strongly draw their attention to this pathetic description of Achilles’ old friend Phoenix, afraid and in tears, as he begs Achilles to pity his struggling comrades.

Phoenix, the next speaker, fails just as much as Odysseus does. Once again, a common reply formula introduces Achilles’ response (606). He tells Phoenix that he ought to hate Agamemnon and invites Phoenix to spend the night if he wants to (607-619). After he finishes speaking, he nods to Patroclus to make up Phoenix’ bed as a signal for the others to leave (620-622). At this point Ajax briefly attempts to persuade Achilles, but he too fails. A common reply formula introduces Achilles’ answer (643), in which he gives a message for Agamemnon that he will not return to the fighting unless Hector reaches the Greek ships (644-655). Now the business of the embassy has been concluded: each member of the delegation has presented Agamemnon’s offer to Achilles, and each has failed to persuade him to accept it. He refuses each man in a manner consistent both with the relationship he has to each and with the content of the specific appeal he is refusing. Finally, Achilles has given the delegation a message to take back to Agamemnon. And so, they leave (656-657).

Informal Group Conversation

Finally, when the embassy returns to the Greek camp, the Greeks are eager to ask about the success of the mission. This conversation displays none of the various formal characteristics that we have seen in connection with the assembly, the council, and the embassy. It is simply a conversation in which there are more than two participants. When Agamemnon asks what happened on the embassy (673-675), Odysseus relays the message that Achilles has given him (677-692). A common reply formula introduces his speech (676). Once again, the Greeks fall silent with dismay at a piece of bad news; as in the assembly that began Book 9, it is Diomedes who finally breaks their silence.

All the descriptive language here focuses on the grief and distress of the listeners rather than on the feelings of the next speaker. [
25] Diomedes criticizes Agamemnon for sending the embassy in the first place and advises that the Greeks go to bed but be ready to fight at dawn (697-709). This proposal meets with the group’s approval (710), and they retire for the night. In this conversation, although several people are present and make speeches, there are no references to any of the accompaniments of formal group conversations (heralds or the posture of the speaker when he makes his remarks). Hence, this exchange should be considered simply a group of people talking rather than as one of the more formal types of group conversation. [26]

In Iliad 9, which as a whole lacks any single or successive speeches, we have seen four different kinds of group conversations. The assembly is the most formal of these, since there are specific procedures not only for mustering an assembly but also for the marking of new turns while the assembly is in progress. A council is a more informal, smaller group summoned by a leader to give him advice. Although the turn structure of the speeches in a council scene may be the same as in a one-on-one conversation, the speech frames make it clear that the group who is present has a necessary if silent role to play in the scene. An embassy, in which a group of people and heralds formally takes a message from one person to another, is marked as formal by the presence of the heralds. In the last scene in book 9, although three different people speak, there are no formal markings of any kind, and we should view this sequence simply as a conversation in which more than two people participate.

In any kind of group scene, whether formal or informal, the narrator often tells us how the listeners respond to a particular speech. In contrast to a conversation between two people, where the next speaker is always the same as the listener, in a group context the next speech alone is often not enough to tell us clearly how the audience responded to a speech. As we have seen, all of these group scenes feature such descriptions. Several of the listener responses that appear in Book 9 include silence, and follow the general pattern “A spoke; the group was silent; finally, B responded.” Within {203|204} this general pattern, different variations occur that distinguish each period of silence from the others and give each silent group its own individuality. Against the background of the typical patterns that characterize these different kinds of group conversations, we will now look at the structure, function, and effects of variations from these patterns.

Variations on Typical Assembly Patterns: Iliad 1 and 19

The famous pair of assemblies in Iliad 1 and Iliad 19 both display unusual features of length and of turn structure, although they are unusual in different ways that are suited to their respective contexts. Both of these scenes exploit typical features of assembly scenes in order to depict the central concern of both assemblies, namely the disastrous conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles. Through the individual words and phrases that appear in regular formulaic verses and the contexts in which common turn structures appear (or fail to appear when we might expect to see them), Achilles is consistently depicted as the more sympathetic and less blameworthy of the two parties. Moreover, the development of the quarrel and its resolution in the context of assemblies forcefully emphasizes the considerable impact their disagreement has on the Greeks as a group. The specific nature and effect of the departures from common patterns in these two scenes will be the subject of the remainder of this chapter. {204|205}

Iliad 1

The Greek assembly called by Achilles to discuss the plague they are experiencing is the first conversation of any real length in the Iliad. It introduces the audience to Agamemnon and Achilles, or at least to their characters as portrayed in this telling of the story. In addition, the speeches and events in this assembly bring forward many of the key motifs that will recur throughout the poem. Both the order of turns in this episode and the formulaic speech frames between turns display unusual patterns for an assembly. Not only is this the longest assembly scene in the Homeric epics in terms of both the number of verses and the number of turns, but the bulk of it consists of a one-on-one conversation between Agamemnon and {206|207} Achilles. The assembly contains a total of 13 speeches, not counting the three speeches between Achilles and Athena. Of these, six speeches—nearly half—are between Agamemnon and Achilles. Although an alternating A-B-A-B sequence often forms a part of an assembly, nowhere else does an assembly serve essentially as a public forum for a showdown between two individuals. This unusual turn sequence in a formal, public context strongly emphasize both the personal conflict that lies behind this quarrel and the terrible effect it has on the Greeks as a whole. In other words, the combination of the turn sequence (characteristic of informal conversation) and the public context of this assembly juxtaposes private and public just as the quarrel itself does.

Opening: First of all, a chart of the sequence of turns and speakers in this assembly may prove useful as a prelude and framework for the following discussion. Underlines mark significant shifts in the tone or sequence of the conversation.

turn speaker addressee notes on speech framing language
1 Achilles group  
2 Calchas group  
3 Calchas Calchas  
4 Calchas Achilles  
5 Agamemnon Calchas first speech by Agamemnon; preceded by speech frame describing his anger
6 Achilles Agamemnon unique vocative for Agamemnon
7 Agamemnon Achilles  
8 Achilles Agamemnon unique vocative
9 Agamemnon Achilles  
10 Achilles Athena interlude between Achilles and Athena begins
11 Athena Achilles  
12 Achilles Athena  
13 Achilles Agamemnon return to Achilles and Agamemnon; unique vocative; after speech, Achilles throws down σκῆπτρον
14 Nestor group  
15 Agamemnon Nestor  
16 Achilles Agamemnon Achilles interrupts {208|209}

Before Agamemnon enters the conversation at the fifth turn, no participants in the assembly are angry and no unusual speech framing language appears. Achilles stands, as is usual for the initial speaker in an assembly, thereby beginning both the assembly and his own turn as a speaker. Achilles’ first speech is couched as a speech to the whole camp, although when he starts talking, he directly addresses Agamemnon in particular.

τοῖσι δ’ ἀνιστάμενος μετέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς·
“Ἀτρεΐδη -…”

Achilleus of the swift feet stood up among them and spoke forth:
“Son of Atreus …”


Although Calchas is worried initially (74-83), and his first speech is preceded by a multi-verse passage that describes him (69-72), no one is angry or upset in the first four turns of the conversation and the speech frames are correspondingly formulaic and regular throughout. This generally calm tone changes when Agamemnon begins to take part in the conversation.

Crescendo Calchas’ news infuriates Agamemnon, who now speaks for the first time. Before his speech here, the formulaic speech conclusion “X sat down, Y stood up” prefaces a description of Agamemnon as the next speaker. A speech introduction for him follows this description. The same formulaic pattern precedes Calchas’ first speech. Whereas the earlier descriptive passage explained Calchas’ mantic qualifications and accomplishments, this one describes the anger of Agamemnon (description indented for clarity).

ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο· τοῖσι δ’ ἀνέστη
ἥρως Ἀτρεΐδης εὐρὺ κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων
ἀχνύμενος· μένεος δὲ μέγα φρένες ἀμφιμέλαιναι
πίμπλαντ’, ὄσσε δέ οἱ πυρὶ λαμπετόωντι ἐΐκτην·
Κάλχαντα πρώτιστα κάκ’ ὀσσόμενος προσέειπε·
“μάντι κακῶν οὐ πώ ποτέ μοι τὸ κρήγυον εἶπας …”

He spoke thus and sat down again, and among them stood up
Atreus’ son the hero wide-ruling Agamemnon
raging, the heart within filled black to the brim with anger
from beneath, but his two eyes showed like fire in their blazing.
First of all he eyed Kalchas bitterly and spoke to him:
“Seer of evil: never yet have you told me a good thing …”

1.101-106 {209|210}

The picture of Agamemnon in verses 103-104 focuses on his anger, which is portrayed at some length in strong and vivid language. Normally, in contrast, a personal description in this kind of formulaic context represents consistent aspects of the character’s personality in a sort of elongated version of an epithet, rather than depicting his or her emotions at this particular moment of speaking (analogous to a context-specific participle). Hence, both the length of the description and the specific language it contains contribute to the emphasis it confers on this speech and on Agamemnon as he makes it.

Agamemnon does not appear angry at the opening of his reply. The reply introduction (τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων [then in answer again spoke powerful Agamemnon], 130) could include μεγ’ ὀχθησας (deeply disturbed) but does not. Moreover, Agamemnon addresses Achilles at the beginning of his speech as ἀγαθός (good, 131) and as θεοείκελ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ (godlike Achilleus, 131). However, he accuses Achilles of deception (κλέπτε νόῳ [strive to cheat], 132) in a dismissive and presumptuous manner. Agamemnon states without apology that he will take someone else’s prize if one is not given to him voluntarily, thereby reminding Achilles and the rest of the Greeks that he has the social standing among them to enforce his will in a way that Achilles does not (135-139). Finally, he gives orders that preparations be made for the return of Chryseis to her father (140-147).

Thus, this first pair of speeches involving Achilles and Agamemnon (turns 5 and 6,122-147) shows both heroes feeling somewhat angry, or occasionally angry. The speech frames reinforce the language of the speeches themselves in depicting the two as disagreeing, but not yet entirely or irresistibly overcome with bad feeling. Agamemnon, unlike Achilles, has indeed shown great anger (103-120), but toward Calchas rather than Achilles. This pair establishes the beginning of an A-B-A-B structure. The appearance of an extended A-B-A-B turn sequence within a group conversational context, like the escalation of angry language in the speech frames and vocatives, occurs gradually rather than abruptly: at no point are normal rules of turn-taking violated. Instead, Agamemnon and Achilles simply take over the preponderance of the turns in a social context where this is not normally what happens. This pattern, as we will see, is in marked contrast to the assembly in Book 19, which achieves its effects by entirely avoiding one-on-one conversational sequences where {211|212} an audience would expect them rather than by putting them into a context where they would not normally occur.

Achilles’ next speech marks a noticeable increase in the tension between him and Agamemnon. Several factors contribute to this. First, the reply introduction for his reply to Agamemnon’s assertion of his right to take another man’s prize is τὸν δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπόδρα ἰδὼν προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς (Then looking darkly at him Achilleus of the swift feet spoke, 148). [45] The full-verse vocative that begins this speech (149) bears no resemblance to the courteous full-verse vocatives that are normally used for Agamemnon by other characters. Indeed, it makes no pretense of being anything but abusive. [46]

ὤ μοι, ἀναιδείην ἐπιειμένε, κερδαλεόφρον

O wrapped in shamelessness, with your mind forever on profit

This address begins with the interjection ὤ μοι (translated here simply as “O”), which in a full-verse vocative may give a tone of angry grief to abuse. [
47] ἀναιδείην (shamelessness) is unambiguously disapproving; κερδαλεόφρον (with your mind forever on profit) is a more clearly negative but only slightly more frequently attested relative of φιλοκτεανώτατε (eagerest for gain of all men). [48] When compared to Achilles’ previous vocative for Agamemnon, this one clearly shows the increase in his displeasure. He expresses the same idea of “out for gain” as in his previous address with a more clearly derogatory word. To strengthen the tone of disapproval, he adds the interjection ὤ μοι (generally associated with grief or disapproval, or both) and the unambiguously critical ἀναιδείην. On its own, Achilles’ address here clearly indicates that he is angry with Agamemnon. If we consider the verse alongside his preceding full-verse vocative for Agamemnon, the change in tone gives additional depth and {212|213} shape to the scene as a whole. This progression in the language of Achilles’ vocatives for Agamemnon also demonstrates his unique skill as a manipulator of language.

The speech itself, like the reply introduction and full-verse vocative that begin it, shows a noticeable increase in Achilles’ anger. On the most basic level, it is much longer than Achilles’ previous speech, and longer than any speech he has uttered thus far in the poem. He reminds Agamemnon that he did not come to Troy because he had any personal grievance against the Trojans (150-157), but rather for the sake of Agamemnon’s τιμή (158-159). He very effectively neutralizes the normally positive associations of this word by positioning it between two clearly and emphatically negative vocatives for Agamemnon:

ἀλλὰ σοί, ὦ μέγ’ ἀναιδές, ἅμ’ ἑσπόμεθ’ ὄφρα σὺ χαίρῃς,
τιμὴν ἀρνύμενοι Μενελάῳ σοί τε, κυνῶπα,
πρὸς Τρώων·

but for your sake,
o great shamelessness, we followed, to do you favour,
you with the dog’s eyes, to win your honour and Menelaos’
from the Trojans.


ὦ μέγ’ ἀναιδές (o great shamelessness, 158) repeats the root in ἀναιδείην (149), with which Achilles abused Agamemnon in his previous speech. κυνῶπα (you with the dog’s eyes, 159), which appears only here in extant Greek literature, has the same meaning as κυνῶπις (bitch [my translation]), a word used in the Homeric epics to refer particularly to shameless women. [
49] Abusive as these expressions are, only here in the speech does Achilles attack Agamemnon personally. For the remainder of his remarks, he shows his displeasure without such attacks: he bemoans the possible seizure of his hard-won prize (160-168) and threatens to return home rather than remain without honor at Troy (169-171).

Climax: Now the turn structure becomes slightly irregular in such a way as to emphasize Achilles’ anger. He has the last speech in the sequence of three turns with Athena (turn 12, 216-218), and then he takes the turn to reply to Agamemnon (turn 13, 225-244) that was left hanging when Athena appeared after turn 9. Although he is taking a turn that is rightly his, because there are two conversations going on at once, he has two turns in succession. This is just one of several ways in which the scene as a whole and Achilles’ anger in particular come to a peak at this point. The speech introduction and full-verse vocative that begin Achilles’ delayed reply to Agamemnon show that if anything, Achilles is angrier than ever following the intervention of Athena. For this speech, the introduction, opening vocative, and conclusion combine {214|215} to produce the most intense, vivid, and highly developed portrait of the rage of Achilles to be found in the assembly in Book 1.

Moreover, the description of Agamemnon’s anger appears before a reply, where a single verse reply formula or the “X sat down, Y stood up and spoke” sequence is the most common way to make a transition from one speech to the next. So, the description of the strength of Agamemnon’s anger stands out more than it would after a passage of narrative. In contrast, the two-verse introduction to Achilles’ speech follows a passage of narrative. Contextual factors, such as the need to clarify the identity of both speaker and addressee given the disrupted turn structure, partly explain the expansion here. However, narrative clarity cannot fully explain the use of two verses instead of one, because a single verse containing the names of both Achilles and Agamemnon can be constructed along the lines of attested Homeric verses.

*δὴ τότ’ ἄρ’ Ἀτρεΐδην προσεφώνεε δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς·

Then great Achilles spoke a word to the son of Atreus {215|216}

This would be comparable to both Iliad 9.201 (αἶψα δὲ Πάτροκλον προσεφώνεεν ἐγγὺς ἐόντα [at once he called over to Patroklos who was not far from him], where Achilles is the unnamed speaker) and Odyssey 8.381 (δὴ τότ’ ἄρ’ Ἀλκίνοον προσεφώνεε δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς [Then great Odysseus spoke a word to Alkinoös]). Thus, although this couplet stands out less than the description of the angry Agamemnon, it nevertheless effectively uses length to draw the attention of the audience to Achilles’ anger.

Like the passage preceding the speech, Achilles’ own words show that he is now angrier at Agamemnon than he has been at any time before. Although the oath that forms the central section of his speech is nominally addressed to the whole group, his initial vocative is not to “Agamemnon and the other Greeks,” for which a formulaic full-verse vocative is available. The formula Ἀτρεΐδη τε καὶ ἄλλοι ἀριστῆες Παναχαιοί [son of Atreus, and you other great men of all the Achaians] appears three times in the Iliad, [53] once used by Achilles himself. Achilles’ real anger here is with Agamemnon alone, and the opening of his speech declaring his refusal to fight shows this.

οἰνοβαρές, κυνὸς ὄμματ’ ἔχων, κραδίην δ’ ἐλάφοιο

You wine sack, with a dog’s eyes, with a deer’s heart


This language abuses Agamemnon’s manliness and courage in the strongest language of any of the three abusive full-verse vocatives that Achilles has employed in his confrontation with the king. οἰνοβαρές (wine sack) is another rare word used only here in the Iliad. [
54] It is not obvious whether the insult is simply that Agamemnon is a drunk or whether it implies some additional slur, although the literal meaning is clear. [55] The phrase κυνὸς ὄμματ’ ἔχων (with a dog’s eyes) develops the same idea as the insult at 159 (κυνῶπα), but at greater length. This is similar to the evolution of the ambiguous φιλοκτεανώτατε (most eager for profit, 122) to the more obviously negative κερδαλεόφρον (with your mind forever on profit, 149) from the first to the second vocative that Achilles uses for Agamemnon. Moreover, it shows Achilles using length for additional emphasis in a manner that evokes the technique of the narrator. Only here is the word ἔλαφος (deer) applied to a person—elsewhere it refers {216|217} only to a literal deer, and it appears primarily in similes. [56] Achilles is able to use vocatives inventively to demonstrate his deep displeasure and disgust with Agamemnon. His ability to do this, and to create different vocatives of increasing ferocity and abusiveness, clearly demonstrate the exceptional language ability of his character.

Moreover, the σκῆπτρον figures in the narrator’s description of Achilles immediately after his speech. Achilles does not merely sit down, as several characters have already done when they finished speaking. Instead, he expresses the depth of his disgust with the whole proceeding by first throwing the σκῆπτρον to the ground and then sitting down.

ὣς φάτο Πηλεΐδης, ποτὶ δὲ σκῆπτρον βάλε γαίῃ
χρυσείοις ἥλοισι πεπαρμένον, ἕξετο δ’ αὐτός·
Ἀτρεΐδης δ’ ἑτέρωθεν ἐμήνιε· τοῖσι δὲ Νέστωρ
ἡδυεπὴς ἀνόρουσε, λιγὺς Πυλίων ἀγορητής …

Thus spoke Peleus’ son and dashed to the ground the sceptre
studded with golden nails, and sat down again. But Atreides {217|218}
raged still on the other side, and between them Nestor
the fair-spoken rose up, the lucid speaker of Pylos …


This passage also mentions Agamemnon, using the rare verb μηνίω to describe his anger. [
59] This portrait of the two angry men at once, rather than one at a time as heretofore, gives extra vividness and point to the strong emotions of Agamemnon and Achilles just before Nestor intervenes. A much less emphatic, and hence less effective, passage can be imagined here which would achieve the same narrative result (that is, “Achilles sat down, and Nestor got up”):

1.245-247 as it stands adds detail and emphasis to the essentially formulaic idea of “X spoke and sat down, and Y got up to speak.”

Various types of crescendos—of turn structure and of language—build to a climax as Achilles swears his oath. The turn structure itself has two speeches by Achilles in a row, although they are not “successive” in that they are not part of the same conversation; both the introduction and conclusion to the speech are longer and more elaborate than what is available from formulaic language; Achilles uses a more strongly abusive vocative for Agamemnon than any of the ones that he uses in other speeches in this assembly; and he gives further prominence and vividness to his speech by describing and swearing by the σκῆπτρον that he afterwards throws to the ground. All these effects work together to create an effective climax here. Throughout the crescendo leading to this moment, the structure and language of the conversation suggests that although both Agamemnon and Achilles are angry, Agamemnon is the more unjustified of the two in his behavior.

Just as Achilles disrupts the turn sequence, the language in this verse departs from normal patterns. First, and most obvious, ὑποβλήδην (interrupting) is a hapax legomenon. In addition to the unique word ὑποβλήδην, the very common verb ἠμείβετο (took an answering turn) appears extremely rarely in this position in the verse. Normally, as we saw in the Introduction, it is found in the formula ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα (then took an answering turn) which usually appears in the second half of the first foot through the first half of the third foot of a dactylic hexameter. The use of a formula for the speaker that begins at the bucolic diaeresis, which is rare in the context of speech introductions although common elsewhere, is related to this peculiar placement of the verb of answering. Of course δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς is a perfectly normal and regular Homeric formula, [62] but its function here as the entire noun-epithet formula in a speech introductory verse is anomalous. Finally, Achilles does not address Agamemnon at all, although he has always done so (if with increasing hostility) in his previous speeches. Instead, he refers to Agamemnon simply with second-person pronouns (e.g. σοί [you]; 294, 296, 299). Taken together, these unusual features of the turn sequence and speech introduction, as well as Achilles’ own omission of a vocative “introduction” for his speech, show a man who is not only angry, but now also alienated from the very conventions of speech in the Homeric epics. Similarly, in the speech itself, Achilles refuses {219|220} to accept or obey further orders from Agamemnon (293-296), removing himself from the social structure that governs the Greeks as a group. Achilles’ rejection of the usual conventions of conversation parallels and reinforces the end of the assembly [63] and Achilles’ alienation from his fellow Greeks. He now physically marks out this alienation by physically leaving the Greek camp, an action that drives the events in the remainder of the Iliad.

This conversation between Achilles and Agamemnon, although it takes place in the formal public context of an assembly, displays many of the patterns of an extended conversation between two individuals. Normally, assembly scenes do not include long interchanges between just two characters, so the very existence of such a conversation here attracts attention and interest. It emphasizes the private aspects of this quarrel, while the assembly context reminds us of the significant ramifications for the Greeks that the quarrel will have. This represents a surprising, pointed, and effective juxtaposition of two different typical patterns that do not normally appear together to create a specific effect for a particular context. Before Agamemnon enters the conversation, the speeches and surrounding languages are all calm. Agamemnon, however, is angry as soon as he begins to speak, and after that, Achilles becomes angry also. The manipulation of speech-related formulas and of turn sequences during the rest of the conversation very effectively depicts the increasing anger of Achilles, his unusually skilled use of the conventional naming patterns used by Homeric characters in order to abuse Agamemnon, and the insulting disregard that Agamemnon shows toward him. Comparing the representations of Agamemnon and Achilles suggests that although both are angry and at fault, Agamemnon is more to blame for his anger than Achilles is for his.

Book 19, too, casts more blame on Agamemnon than on Achilles for the consequences of their quarrel, and it does this partly by its manipulation of conversation-related patterns. However, it strives for different effects, and accordingly handles typical conversational patterns differently. The picture of Agamemnon and of Achilles that emerges in the assembly of reconciliation in Book 19 can and should be appreciated on its own, but it gains a deeper resonance as well as a larger role in shaping the overall story if it is compared to the assembly in Book 1. {220|221}

Iliad 19

Achilles begins the assembly by directly addressing Agamemnon (Ἀτρεΐδη, 56), in contrast to his final speech in the assembly in Book 1 when he was so angry and distraught that he did not address Agamemnon by name. He expresses regret for their conflict and the pain it has caused (59-66) and declares in so many words that he is no longer angry (νῦν δ’ ἤτοι μὲν ἐγὼ παύω χόλον [now I am making an end of my anger, 67]). The Greeks respond to his speech with joy, but Agamemnon does not directly acknowledge Achilles in any way.

ὣς ἔφαθ’, οἱ δ’ ἐχάρησαν ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοὶ
μῆνιν ἀπειπόντος μεγαθύμου Πηλεΐονος.
τοῖσι δὲ καὶ μετέειπε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμ̣έμνων
αὐτόθεν ἐξ ἕδρης, οὐδ’ ἐν μέσσοισιν ἀναστάς·
“ὦ φίλοι ἥρωες Δαναοί, θεράποντες Ἄρηος …”

He spoke, and the strong-greaved Achaians were pleasured to hear him {221|222}
and how the great-hearted son of Peleus unsaid his anger.
Now among them spoke forth the lord of men Agamemnon
from the place where he was sitting, and did not stand up among them:
“Fighting men and friends, o Danaans, henchmen of Ares …”


19.75, in adding enjambment with 74, features the thematically important word μῆνις (anger) in the verse-initial position to specify that the Greeks rejoiced because Achilles forswore his wrath. Yet 19.74 alone would achieve the same basic effect, namely “X spoke, and the Y’s were happy.” It is clear from Achilles’ speech that the Greeks must be happy because he has renounced his quarrel with Agamemnon and returned to them. The additional verse stating this fact between Achilles’ speech and Agamemnon’s answer does not clarify the situation, but rather emphasizes what Achilles’ feelings now are, particularly in light of the strong verse-initial position of the word μῆνις.

The next two verses (76-77) are a long-standing crux in the text and Agamemnon’s demeanor as he delivers his speech is the subject of some disagreement, starting from the scholiasts and continuing on to the present day. The important question is, what is the position from which Agamemnon delivers his speech? I will suggest that if one accepts the reading of 19.76-77 as given above (which is what modern editors have done), the conventions of proper behavior in assembly, the bad personal relations between Agamemnon and Achilles, and the blame that is ascribed to Agamemnon for his behavior throughout this assembly explain quite clearly what has generally been seen as a problematic and difficult passage.

This apparently inexplicable behavior becomes intelligible, and in fact quite consistent with Agamemnon’s character and the negative attitude that the narrator takes toward him, if we take into account typical assembly patterns and Agamemnon’s behavior to Achilles. While Agamemnon’s wound would give him an excuse for remaining seated, it seems probable that if he wished to, it would not be beyond his powers to rise to his feet and lean on his spear for support (if necessary) while speaking, since he was able to walk to the place of assembly (51-53). Given the importance of standing while speaking in an assembly, physical discomfort alone does not seem adequate to explain this lapse. [68] As for the idea that Agamemnon stands, but not in the center of the group, this seems improbable in light of the formulas that describe assembly behavior. The typical pattern, as we have seen, is that a speaker stands up, makes his speech, and sits down again. Moving into the center of the assembly space is not a regular element in this conversational type. Hence, it would be very surprising if the narrator were to try to make a point here by departing from an aspect of the assembly setting that is not firmly established as a typical part of such a scene. Indeed, if the narrator were to attempt such an effect, the audience would not have the means to understand it. Standing per se, not standing in a particular spot, marks someone as a speaker in an assembly. Therefore someone who is behaving unlike a usual assembly speaker would sit. This is what the Greek seems to say, in fact, if the reader is not feeling hounded by problems of interpretation to try to avoid such a conclusion. From the standpoint of formulas and the immediate context, then, the most plausible reading of 19.76-77 is that Agamemnon remains seated in his place while making his speech of apology. {223|224}

Finally, after this lengthy story, Agamemnon does address Achilles after a fashion (139-144). That is to say, he uses second person singular verb forms in reference to an unnamed person who must be Achilles, but he never addresses Achilles by name.

“ἀλλ’ ὄρσευ πόλεμόνδε, καὶ ἄλλους ὄρνυθι λαούς.
δῶρα δ’ ἐγὼν ὅδε πάντα παρασχέμεν, ὅσσά τοι ἐλθὼν
χθιζὸς ἐνὶ κλισίῃσιν ὑπέσχετο δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς.
εἰ δ’ ἐθέλεις, ἐπίμεινον ἐπειγόμενός περ Ἄρηος,
δῶρα δέ τοι θεράποντες ἐμῆς παρὰ νηὸς ἑλόντες
οἴσουσ’, ὄφρα ἴδηαι ὅ τοι μενοεικέα δώσω.”

Rise up, then, to the fighting and rouse the rest of the people.
Here am I, to give you all those gifts, as many
as brilliant Odysseus yesterday went to your shelter and promised.
Or if you will, hold back, though you lean hard into the battle, {224|225}
while my followers take the gifts from my ship and bring them
to you, so that you may see what I give to comfort your spirit.”

In this passage, the bulk of Agamemnon’s references to Achilles are imperative verb forms (ὄρσευ ‘rise up’, ὄρνυθι ‘rouse’, and ἐπίμεινον ‘hold back’). One is an indicative verb (ἐθέλεις ‘you will’); two are dative pronouns (τοι ‘[to] you, your’). None are personal references of any kind. [
70] Agamemnon’s speaking style here seems like a very minimal tip to a server in a restaurant: by giving the bare minimum, one makes it clear that the small size of the token of respect is deliberate rather than an oversight. Given that Agamemnon consistently ignores Achilles in his speech, he may remain seated while uttering it for the same reason: his failure to stand up when speaking provides a non-verbal analogue for his studied avoidance of Achilles. [71] Thus, Agamemnon avoids Achilles by addressing the Greeks as a group and by not addressing Achilles himself by name, and he downplays the importance of the occasion (and thus of Achilles’ anger towards him) by choosing to remain seated while making a speech in an assembly. His wound gives him a plausible excuse for doing so, but not a sufficient one. Formulas and typical patterns for assembly speakers in the Homeric epics strongly suggest that what Agamemnon does here is to sit rather than to stand in the same spot that he had been sitting. If we view 19.76-77 against the background of the typical assembly, we need resort neither to emendation nor to involved explanations to be able to understand the verses. They make cogent sense as they are.

However, an interesting contrast does emerge between the two characters who use both expressions, namely Nestor and Agamemnon. Agamemnon uses ὦ φίλοι, Ἀργείων ἡγήτορες ἠδὲ μέδοντες once in a scene explicitly said to be an assembly (9.17). However, in Book 11 (11.276), Ἀργείων ἡγήτορες ἠδὲ μέδοντες begins a speech urging the Greeks to protect the ships during one of the most desperate moments in the battle. When Agamemnon calls the Greeks ἥρωες Δαναοί, θεράποντες Ἀρῆος, on the other hand, he is either urging them to leave the battle entirely and go home (2.110) or in our passage, he is speaking in a council whose purpose is to reconcile him and Achilles. In other words, he uses these two vocatives with at best indifferent relevance to the context in which he is speaking. Nestor, who unlike Agamemnon is a skilled speaker, [74] uses his words to better effect. When he emphasizes the wise counsel of the Greeks by addressing them as ὦ φίλοι, Ἀργείων ἡγήτορες ἠδὲ μέδοντες (friends, who are leaders of the Argives and keep their counsel), he is speaking in the assembly at which Agamemnon’s dream is discussed (2.79) or asking about the results of the night foray of Odysseus and Diomedes (10.533). If he calls the Greeks warriors, he means what he says: at 6.67, he urges the Greeks to fight in such stirring language that the Trojans nearly retreat behind the city walls in fear (6.72-74).

Returning now to the assembly, when Achilles answers Agamemnon’s ill-worded apology, he begins his remarks with the regular, honorific full-verse vocative that he so conspicuously refused to utter in Book 1. Moreover, his promise to return to the fighting is introduced with τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς (Then in answer to him spoke Achilleus {226|227} of the swift feet, 145), which could include a participle expressing anger or displeasure but does not. Achilles addresses Agamemnon as Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε, ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνον at 146 (son of Atreus, most lordly and king of men, Agamemnon). Then he briefly says that he is uninterested in the offered gifts and simply wishes to return to the fighting (147-153).

Odysseus rather than Agamemnon replies to this proposal. He gives directions for how Agamemnon is to appease Achilles, telling him to swear an oath that he never slept with Briseis and to give Achilles a festive meal (156-183). Now Agamemnon answers Odysseus as the previous speaker, directly and politely addressing him, which he did not do in the case of Achilles:

τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπεν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων
“χαίρω σεῦ, Λαερτιάδη, τὸν μῦθον ἀκούσας …”

Then in turn the lord of men Agamemnon answered him:
“Hearing what you have said, son of Laertes, I am pleased with you …”


In the body of Agamemnon’s speech, he agrees to Odysseus’ proposal and refers to Achilles, but in the third person and with an imperative (αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς / μιμνέτω [Let Achilleus / stay here], 188-189). He avoids Achilles in another way by making it Odysseus’ job to select the prizes for Achilles (192-195).


The formal assembly has several characteristics that distinguish it from other, less formal modes of group conversation. The assembly is summoned by heralds. Speakers mark their turns by standing up when they start to talk and sitting down when they finish. This performs the pragmatic function of maintaining an orderly turn sequence. In addition, this prescribed behavioral component of speaking gives a more formal air to the assembly that is lacking in descriptions of related but less formal modes of group conversation such as councils. Turn structures of the speeches themselves are fluid and encompass {228|229} a wide range of alternatives, some of which are found in other conversational contexts and some of which are restricted to assemblies. All of these features are consistent with linguistic work on conversations in institutional settings.

This basic pattern applies to the Greek assemblies in the Iliad. Trojan assemblies are rare and do not follow the same kinds of patterns as Greek ones do. There is only one assembly in the Odyssey, where the assembly is not a commonly represented way of conducting public business. Two Greek assemblies in the Iliad, both with crucial importance for the story as a whole, display unusual features of both length and turn structure. By using the assembly form in particular to set off the beginning and the (ostensible) end of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, the narrator effectively demonstrates the significance of this quarrel not only for Achilles and Agamemnon, but also for all the men whom they lead.

The specific effects created differ in the two assemblies. In Book 1, the origin of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, the public forum of an assembly becomes essentially a showdown between two individuals, insofar as the majority of the turns in a long assembly take the form of a one-on-one conversation. Normally, assemblies include a wider range of participants and avoid prolonged exchanges between just two people. This confrontation steadily escalates, leading up to a climactic speech by Achilles in which he refuses to fight any more on behalf of the Greeks. Close examination of the speech frames in this conversation demonstrates that although the narrator depicts both characters as at fault for their anger, Agamemnon is consistently described in such a way as to make him more at fault. This directs the sympathy of the audience toward Achilles. Achilles himself demonstrates unique command of the typical forms of speech among Homeric heroes—and plays an important role in creating the escalation that shapes the scene—when he invents a series of unique abusive vocatives for Agamemnon that become more and more creative and more and more abusive.

In Book 19, typical conversation patterns are manipulated in a different way to create a different effect. There are no exchanges in which a speaker answers the same person who spoke to him. In particular, Agamemnon refuses to address Achilles throughout the assembly in which he and Achilles are supposedly reconciled. Achilles, in contrast, repeatedly gives Agamemnon the respectful full-verse vocative that he refused to use in Book 1. This, too, directs the audience’s sympathy toward Achilles, again through a subtle manipulation of the typical patterns of conversation and of assembly in particular. By taking account such these patterns when we interpret this assembly, we can make sense of a crux that has troubled commentators since Hellenistic times. {229|}


[ back ] 1. Mackie 1996:10. See Edwards 1992:311 for a list and very brief overview of important discussions to date of the assembly as a type scene. None of the references mentioned by Edwards agree on the exact elements of which a type scene consists. I have found the most useful treatments of the assembly type to be Arend 1933:116-121, Lord 1960:146-147, and Mackie 1996:21-27, all of which contributed to the typology that I describe here.

[ back ] 2. Drew and Heritage 1992:22. Here they define an “institutional setting” as one in which “some core goal, task, or identity” motivates some or all of the participants; what is considered a legitimate contribution is limited by the context; and there are particular procedures that are characteristic of the institution in question. All of these attributes fit the different kinds of activities discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. <br />Gumperz (in Gumperz and Hymes 1972) offers a similar way of conceptualizing contexts like assembly under the name “speech event”: “members of all societies recognize certain communicative routines which they view as distinct wholes, separate from other types of discourse, characterized by special rules of speech and nonverbal behavior and often distinguishable by clearly recognizable opening and closing sequences . . . these units often carry special names” (17).

[ back ] 3. See Arend 1933:116 and 119 and Mackie 1996:24-25 on standing formulas in an assembly type-scene.

[ back ] 4. That is to say, not simply “obeyed” or “approved” or “fell silent,” but some particular action that the hearer(s) did upon hearing a given speech. Formulaic language to describe listener response in laments and games will be discussed in Chapter 6.

[ back ] 5. Appendix IV provides a complete list of formulaic speech conclusions.

[ back ] 6. Hutchby and Wooffitt 1998:38 discuss the active engagement of participants in organizing conversational sequences; see passim for the specific techniques speakers use to do this. Drew and Heritage 1992:27 note that non-speaking participants in institutional conversations have a more prominent role in governing the orderly sequence of turns than they do in non-institutional contexts.

[ back ] 7. Levinson 1992:70 considers the combination of speech with action in particular patterns to be one characteristic of a ritual.

[ back ] 8. Adapted from Lattimore. He always renders “stood forth” for ἀγορήσατο in this verse. In fact, as my examination of the conventions of assembly will show, this translation is only accurate in the context of an assembly scene, where speaking and standing are in fact equivalent.

[ back ] 9. Two verses together at Iliad 1.68/73, 2.76/78, 7.365/67, and Odyssey 2.224/28; ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο· τοῖσι δ’ ἀνέστη without ὅ σφιν ἐϋφρονέων ἀγορήσατο καὶ μετέειπεν at Iliad 1.101, 7.354.

[ back ] 10. These verses are part of a longer passage athetized by Aristarchus (2.76-83).

[ back ] 11. Drew and Heritage 1992:27.

[ back ] 12. Lohmann 1970: Chapter V provides a detailed study of the content and structure of speeches in Book 9 as an illustration both of principles of ring composition and of the unity of the Iliad (213). My analysis, in contrast, focuses primarily on the sequence and framing of the speeches rather than on their content.

[ back ] 13. κηρύκεσσι λιγυφθόγγοισι appears five times in this position in the verse, always with a form of the verb κελεύω (order) at the end of it (Iliad 2.50, 442; 9.10; 23.39; Odyssey 2.6). Mackie 1996:23 notes that this formula is never used to describe Trojan assemblies.

[ back ] 14. Zenodotus wrote a couplet for 23-31, cutting off the last part of Agamemnon’s speech and providing a more regular speech frame between his remarks and Diomedes’ response: ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο θυμὸν ἀχεύων / τοῖσι δ’ ἀνιστάμενος μετέφη κρατερὸς Διομήδης (having spoken thus, he sat down, grieving in his spirit / and strong Diomedes stood up and spoke among them). This reading has not been accepted by modern editors.

[ back ] 15. Both of these elements, council linked to feast and Nestor as first speaker, also appear when Agamemnon consults a group of leaders in Iliad 2. See Mackie 1996:26-27 for a useful description of the council type.

[ back ] 16. 21x in the Homeric poems (7x Iliad, 14x Odyssey).

[ back ] 17. The formula, though common in assembly scenes, is not restricted to them. Krarup 1941:236 notes that the formula regularly appears in both assemblies and groups.

[ back ] 18. The verse that appears here, ὣς φάτο, τοῖσι δὲ πᾶσιν ἑαδότα μῦθον ἔειπεν (so he spoke, and the word he spoke was pleasing to all of them), is repeated but not formulaic according to my definition: it appears at Odyssey 18.422 in addition to this passage. However, there is a formulaic verse ὣς ἔφατ’ [X], τοῖσιν δ’ ἐπιήνδανε μῦθος (so X spoke, and his word pleased all the rest of them, 7x Odyssey). So, the idea here occurs regularly even if the specific language is infrequent.

[ back ] 19. Here again, the association of a listening group with institutional contexts is useful (Drew and Hutchinson 1992:27).

[ back ] 20. This discussion will not touch on the controversy about the dual verb forms in this scene. I will be concerned below with who speaks, and in what order.

[ back ] 21. Edwards 1987:90 provides a short but helpful overview of the three different speakers in this scene and how their respective characters are reflected in their speeches.

[ back ] 22. Analyzing the contents of this speech is not my concern here. For such an analysis, see Martin 1989:146-205, with bibliography.

[ back ] 23. We can imagine a less drawn out version of the same type in which one person presented the message of the embassy, and received one reply in response.

[ back ] 24. 694 was omitted by Zenodotus and athetized by Aristophanes and Aristarchus. Nevertheless it is printed in the major modern editions of the Iliad (although with editorial disclaimers of various kinds in van Thiel and West).

[ back ] 25. Contrast 9.430-433, which describes the emotions of both the listeners as a group and specifically of Phoenix, the next speaker.

[ back ] 26. Donlan 1979:64, in contrast, describes this conversation as a βουλή (council), but for the reasons I have given above, I disagree with this assertion.

[ back ] 27. Mackie 1996 passim, especially 21-26.

[ back ] 28. See Nagler 1974:119-130 on the conventions of “convening” in the Odyssey.

[ back ] 29. West in Heubeck et al. 1990a:128.

[ back ] 30. See Kullmann 1960:91-93 for a concise and useful discussion of the traditions related to the character of Agamemnon. I am particularly indebted to this discussion for the idea that Agamemnon’s fate does not change over the course of the Iliad even though he has many appearances in it.

[ back ] 31. Also in the Cypria, although the relationship of the two disputes is unclear (Kullmann 1960:92).

[ back ] 32. I find Whitman’s reading of Agamemnon’s character particularly effective in being both acute and sympathetic to the character’s flaws and shortcomings (1958 passim, especially 161-164).

[ back ] 33. Donlan 1979 treats this question, much more successfully for Iliad 1 than for the reconciliation in Iliad 19. He frames the problem underlying the quarrel partly in terms of the relationship between position authority (possessed by Agamemnon) and standing authority (of Achilles).

[ back ] 34. E.g. Bowra 1930:15-19. Redfield 1994:12-15 offers an interpretation of Achilles’ character that focuses on how its shortcomings interact badly with the character of Agamemnon.

[ back ] 35. Whitman (supra note 32); Griffin 1980:70-71.

[ back ] 36. Nagy 1979:227.

[ back ] 37. Page 1966:313-314 offers a particularly enthusiastic statement of this position.

[ back ] 38. Lohmann 1970:173-174 discusses the points of thematic and narrative similarity among the four assemblies in Iliad 1, 2, 9 and 19, where he asserts that the first and last and the second and third, respectively, form ringed pairs within this progression.

[ back ] 39. For a detailed discussion of these vocatives, see Friedrich 2002.

[ back ] 40. Combellack 1948:211 notes that only here in all the speeches in this assembly does anyone use the σκῆπτρον, and Achilles asks for it to be handed to him.

[ back ] 41. Donlan 1979:57-59 casts this quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon as a clash over authority, which is certainly an important aspect of their disagreement.

[ back ] 42. Compare its appearance at Iliad 1.73 followed by a vocative address to Achilles alone in 74.

[ back ] 43. Friedrich 2002 is excellent on the appropriateness of the language in the three unique vocatives Achilles uses for Agamemnon in this scene and how they contribute to the sense of escalation in the conversation between the two.

[ back ] 44. Adapted from Lattimore.

[ back ] 45. For an analysis of escalation in the speeches themselves, see Lohmann 1970:131-133.

[ back ] 46. Friedrich 2002:3 attributes “indignation” to this verse.

[ back ] 47. E.g. in Agamemnon’s rebuke of Diomedes in Book 4, which begins ὤ μοι, Τυδέος υἱὲ δαΐφρονος ἱπποδάμοιο (Ah me, son of Tydeus, that daring breaker of horses, 370), on which see Chapter 4 (17-19); see also Menelaus’ abuse of the Greeks at Iliad 7.96: ὤ μοι, ἀπειλητῆρες, Ἀχαιίδες, οὐκέτ’ Ἀχαιοί (Ah me! You brave in words, you women, not men, of Achaia!).

[ back ] 48. LSJ defines it as “greedy of gain” in the Iliad and “crafty” in the much later author Oppian (2nd c. CE), although Kirk 1985 ad loc. interprets it as “crafty” rather than “avaricious” (while noting the existence of both meanings). Leaf 1971 ad loc. says “greedy, or perhaps crafty.” Holoka 1983:2n2 argues in favor of “greedy” rather than “crafty” and gives a useful overview of opinions on the meaning of these epithets. This range of interpretations suggests that the audience is meant to understand both meanings simultaneously, which would be consistent with Achilles’ exceptional rhetorical skill.

[ back ] 49. The unique κυνῶπα may be due to the need to coin a male version of the word κυνῶπις (whose various Homeric occurrences are cited, with the name of the woman modified, in LSJ), but it seems likely that the word would nevertheless gain additional power as an insult by its clear connection to a female form of abuse.

[ back ] 50. Kirk 1985 ad 172-177 describes him, quite aptly, as “both sarcastic and complacent.”

[ back ] 51. See Pope 1960:121 for a brief discussion of Athena’s participation in Achilles’ mental processes at this point. Interestingly, he connects her actions here to her deception of Hector in Book 22, arguing that in both cases she acts as an externalized representation of a man’s inner thoughts.

[ back ] 52. For the word’s rarity, see LSJ; on its dubious meaning, see Chantraine 1990.

[ back ] 53. 7.327, 7.385, 23.236 (where the speaker is Achilles).

[ back ] 54. For a list of the unusually high number of words used only by Achilles, see the appendix in Griffin 1986 (57); see also Martin 1989, Chapter 4.

[ back ] 55. See Friedrich 2002:5-6 on the appropriateness of οἰνοβαρές as a term of abuse for Agamemnon.

[ back ] 56. This may be seen as another example of Achilles’ ability to use language in the same way that the narrator does, particularly if considered in combination with the very interesting and attractive suggestion of de Jong 1985 that the characters of Homeric epic do not know about the similes (263).

[ back ] 57. Repeatedly using the future indicative (ἵξεται, 240; δυνήσεαι, 241; ἀμύξεις, 243) to show that this is not a possible but a definite event.

[ back ] 58. Kirk 1985 ad 234-39.

[ back ] 59. Translated by Lattimore as “raged,” this verb has the same root as the first word of the Iliad (μῆνις, “anger, wrath”). The simple verb appears eight times in the Homeric epics, but according to Cunliffe is used only here of outward display of anger. Nagy 1979:73-74 notes that μῆνις, when applied to mortals rather than gods, is restricted to Achilles’ anger toward Agamemnon.

[ back ] 60. This passage is an invention of mine cobbled together from phrases that appear in 1.247-248.

[ back ] 61. Adapted from Lattimore.

[ back ] 62. 34x alone, 55x including its appearances as part of the longer formula ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς (brilliant swift-footed Achilleus).

[ back ] 63. Marked in a different way by the dual verb ἀνστήτην (stood up, 305), parallel to the beginning of the assembly with the verse τοῖσι δ’ ἀνιστάμενος προσέφη ποδὰς ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς [Achilleus of the swift feet stood up among them and spoke forth], 1.58). The dual form at 305 emphasizes that although this scene is ostensibly a group assembly, in fact only two people are really involved.

[ back ] 64. Taplin 1992:206 notes this and suggests that “he [Agamemnon] is more interested in the picture he presents to the laos as a whole than to Achilleus.”

[ back ] 65. Here I differ from Donlan 1979, who says that in this assembly, “all the sore points in the Quarrel are smoothed over” (62).

[ back ] 66. Bolling 1925:185-186 is almost alone among modern interpreters Zenodotus in condemning the verse as I have given it.

[ back ] 67. For a list of them see Edwards 1991:243. This view also appears in a bT scholion.

[ back ] 68. This is the position of Arend 1933, who notes (118) that Agamemnon is capable of conducting an expiatory sacrifice in spite of his wound.

[ back ] 69. Indeed, Goffman 1981:199 asserts that someone who has made a mistake or a faux pas of this sort offers both reparations for the material harm that one’s behavior has caused [here, the goods offered to Achilles] and “ritualistic acts” that repair the “expressive implications” of one’s misbehavior [an apology]. Agamemnon shirks responsibility for both of these kinds of corrective action.

[ back ] 70. As Lohmann notes (1970:76n133), this passage is the only time in the assembly that Agamemnon speaks directly to Achilles, indeed the only time he does so in the entire Iliad after 1.187. On the other hand, Achilles consistently uses the honorific vocative for Agamemnon. In fact, as Lohmann goes on to say, Agamemnon never addresses Achilles in the poem after this point—Achilles addresses him twice in Book 23 without receiving an answer.

[ back ] 71. Austin 1975 (126 and 272n37) has a similar overall view of Agamemnon’s behavior and defends 19.77 as printed by Allen. While Achilles recognizes his own responsibility, Austin writes, Agamemnon “offers only an ersatz apology which attempts to camouflage more than it reveals” (126). In the accompanying endnote, Austin continues, “I, for one, would be sorry to lose the line since it harmonizes so well with the self-pitying and paranoid character of Agamemnon as shown through the poem, and particularly here in his speech of flagrant self-exculpation” (272).

[ back ] 72. Iliad 2.79, 9.17, 10.533, 11.276, 11.587, 17.248, 22.378, 23.457.

[ back ] 73. Iliad 2.110, 6.67, 15.733, 19.78.

[ back ] 74. Martin 1989:101-119 discusses the speaking styles of these two characters in detail.

[ back ] 75. Whallon 1961:105 interprets this use of the “full reverential title” for Agamemnon in light of his indifference to anything but resuming the battle. Friedrich 2002 views Achilles’ vocatives for Agamemnon in Book 19 in the context of the unusual ones in Book 1: “the resumption of the typical formula for the address signals that Achilleus’ quarrel with Agamemnon is over” (5).

[ back ] 76. The individual words that make up this verse are the subject of some disagreement in the MSS., but there is certainly a full-verse vocative here, which is the main point at issue.

[ back ] 77. This is the reading of Allen’s i family and of one other MS.

[ back ] 78. We may remember at this point that Agamemnon tells Achilles in Book 1 (186) that Agamemnon himself is the stronger of the two.

[ back ] 79. Lohmann 1970:76n133 notes the contrast between Achilles’ consistent direct address to Agamemnon and Agamemnon’s consistent avoidance of Achilles, which he describes as a “circle” (Zirkel) effect.