The Achaeans, sensing defeat, are panicked and despondent. Agamemnon summons a meeting of the armies and tearfully declares the war a failure, stating that Zeus has “entangled me in madness.” He tells the Achaeans that it is time to sail home. Diomedes rises up before the men and criticizes Agamemnon, telling him that he may sail if he wishes, but that he will stay and fight the Trojans. He says that Troy is fated to fall, and the men roar with assent. Nestor agrees with Diomedes, tells the soldiers to take their meal, and calls a meeting of the captains to devise a plan.
Agamemnon slightly diminishes his honor by suggesting that the Achaeans abandon the war. Diomedes’ refusal to leave is met with much heartier approval from the troops. Similarly, Agamemnon uses the will of the gods as an excuse for his failures. However, he has no idea of the true nature or extent of Zeus’ plan.
At the meeting of captains, Nestor proposes that Agamemnon make peace with Achilles in order to bring him back into battle. Agamemnon agrees with Nestor, stating again that Zeus seized him with madness to make him quarrel with Achilles. Agamemnon sets aside a massive treasure for Achilles, including the return of Briseis and marriage to one of Agamemnon’s daughters once the war ends. Odysseus, Great Ajax, and the elderly Phoenix are chosen as the men to offer Agamemnon’s peace proposal to Achilles.
As Agamemnon is the most powerful of the Achaean kings, he can offer a very powerful reward, but it is uncertain that Achilles will accept. In addition, Agamemnon claims again that Zeus is responsible for his quarrel with Achilles. The reader already knows the actions of the gods, so Agamemnon’s justification seems somewhat flimsy.
Agamemnon’s emissaries reach Achilles’ camp, where they find Achilles playing the lyre and singing. Achilles’ friend Patroclus is at his side, and the two men welcome the embassy. Achilles provides food and drink for the men. Odysseus speaks first, asking for Achilles’ help and listing the treasures offered by Agamemnon. Achilles rejects the offer immediately. Claiming that death is the same for everyone, Achilles says that there is no point in battling with the Trojans. He curses Agamemnon and his treasures.
Achilles here is portrayed as a good host and a man of culture (at least in comparison to his comrades). Achilles questions the fundamental reason of fighting the war, at least temporarily rejecting the idea that soldiers can attain greater honor in combat. From Achilles’ perspective, all death is the same, so it does not matter how it comes.
Achilles tells the embassy that his mother Thetis told him of two possible fates: either Achilles can die at Troy and win everlasting glory, or he can return to his homeland and live a long but unremarkable life. Remarking that “no wealth is worth my life,” he tells the captains to sail home, saying that he will do the same tomorrow morning. He welcomes his old friend Phoenix to remain with him if he’d like to sail home.
Achilles’ fate is unusual, insofar as he seems to have two options between which he can choose. His fate is fixed, but there is still room for him to make a decision. Achilles sees clearly that if he accepts Agamemnon’s treasure he will die fighting against Troy, and afterward Agamemnon’s treasure will be of no use to him.
Phoenix attempts to convince Achilles not to sail home. He recalls Achilles’ father Peleus sending Achilles off to battle. Phoenix also tells a story of conflict with his own father, recounting that his exile led him to Phthia, where he helped raise Achilles. Recalling these emotional memories, he urges Achilles to “beat down your mounting fury!” Finally, Phoenix tells an old story of the warrior Meleager, a man who out of anger refused to fight for his city. Eventually he was convinced to fight, but received no treasure for his efforts. Achilles sill rejects the offer, and asks Phoenix to support him instead of doing Agamemnon’s errands.
Phoenix appeals to Achilles’ emotions, recounting stories of his youth in an attempt to make Achilles forget his pride. However, Phoenix’s memories and his moralistic tale of Meleager are ineffective, as the choice that faces Achilles is too stark. If he yields to Agamemnon’s embassy, he believes he will seal his fate for a price that is not worth it.
Achilles moves to adjourn the meeting, but Great Ajax speaks his turn. He tells Achilles that his anger has made him too proud, and finally appeals to the respect the other soldiers will have for him if he relents. Achilles is somewhat softened by his speech. He says that he will not sail tomorrow, but he will still refrain from combat until the fighting reaches his own ships. The embassy departs.
Great Ajax’ entreaty to Achilles is the most effective of the three speeches. It speaks to the point closest to Achilles’ heart, which is the question of glory, a trait that can only be conferred through the opinions of other men. The more other men respect Achilles, the more his honor will grow.
The embassy returns to Agamemnon’s camp. The embassy gives Agamemnon the news of Achilles’ refusal. The soldiers are dispirited by the news. Diomedes says that Achilles is very proud, and that he will fight when the time comes. He says that Achaeans will be able to fight on without him if they prepare themselves. The meeting ends and the men sleep.
The failure of the embassy reflects Achilles’ position as an individual hero within the Achaean army. Diomedes suggests that Achilles will fight simply because it is his nature as a warrior, and that he can’t hold back in anger forever.