Monday | More on The Iliad


Top of mind: More From The Iliad

On Saturday, I posted something inspired by something I read in The Iliad. It focuses on an exchange between Agamemnon and Achilles, which takes place very early in Book One of the text.

What happens is this: Agamemnon has used his power and authority to benefit him but make life dangerous and extremely difficult for all the other Greeks who have come to Troy to fight the war. A group of important Greeks (the upper management of the Greek Army) has gathered to discuss this and try to come up with a plan to change things.

Agamemnon is like the CEO of this group, and he refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Achilles essentially says, "Dude, you're being unreasonable. Can you calm down and help us come up with a solution here?"

The effect of these words is to make Agamemnon even more unreasonable. Agamemnon insults and threatens Achilles. This produces something in Achilles that Lacanians call a body event- a strong reaction in the body that compels the body to act. (Anyone who has ever lost their temper has experienced a type of body event.) Achilles gets ready to pull out his sword and fight Agamemnon, and since Achilles is Achilles, if he fights Agamemnon, he is likely to kill Agamemnon.

At this moment, Athena (the goddess of wisdom and strategy) uses her power to stop time and appear to Achilles. She talks to him about what he is about to do by using words and convinces Achilles to use words rather than use his sword to deal with Agamemnon.

I'd paraphrase what Athena says this way: You know Agamemnon is being unreasonable and that this will cause the Greeks to suffer. You also know that one of the reasons Agamemnon is powerful is because he has people like you fighting for and supporting him. Why don't you see what would happen if you withheld your support? Of course, Agamemnon's arrogance will initially influence him, but he won't care. But if you give it time, you know it will become apparent to him and everyone else how much he needs you. This means he will need to get off his high horse and come to you and ask you to help him. Won't that be satisfying?

There is so much I like about this scene! In the story, Agamemnon is jouissance, Athena is the signifier/speech, and Achilles is caught between them. It shows how speech can affect jouissance and the body, dramatizes the battle between jouissance and the signifier, and is very relatable! (Who has not had to deal with an unreasonable person who only becomes more unreasonable when you attempt to reason with them?)


Reading this section of The Iliad has had a subjective effect on me.

There have been a few times since I read it where I started to feel like I might lose my temper, and in those moments, a few words from the text have come to mind.

Athena stood behind Achilles, son of Peleus, and grabbed him by his chestnut hair.

These words help me not give in to the jouissance of lashing out in anger.

This is a personal example of how the signifier (i.e., words, speech, writing) can affect the body.

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