Why Does Achilles Refuse to Fight?

Achilles refuses to fight for the Achaeans because Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief, insulted his honor. He took Achilles’ war prize to replace his own. Achilles does not fight for his woman but wishes that the Greeks suffer so that Agamemnon realizes he shouldn’t have started the conflict with Achilles.

The reader learns about the reason of Achilles’ idleness in Book 1. Agamemnon has to return his war prize, Chryseis, to her father. Otherwise, Apollo will not stop the plague that has been killing the Greeks for many days. Agamemnon reluctantly agrees but takes Achilles’ war prize, Briseis, to compose himself. Achilles does not object. He makes a decision that shifts the entire course of war: he decides to withdraw his people from the battlefield.  

This act of revenge entailed multiple deaths from the Achaean side. But it was just what he wanted. Achilles says, “hereafter they shall look fondly for Achilles and shall not find him.” He wants Agamemnon to see his mistake when the Achaeans suffer significant losses. “In the day of your distress, when your men fall dying… you shall not know how to help them, and shall rend your heart with rage for the hour when you offered insult to the bravest of the Achaeans.”  

More than once, the Achaeans asked the hero to return, but he remained steadfast. When his best friend, Patroclus, is killed in action, Achilles steps back into the ranks. Then he wants to revenge for his death and settles the conflict with Agamemnon.

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