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Top of Mind

I've been reading The Iliad. I just finished book one (of 24), and there is a scene in it that I keep thinking about.

Setting the stage:

The story starts after the Greeks and the Trojans have been at war for nine years. The Greeks have not been able to get past Troy's walls, but they have done a number on the surrounding cities and villages, killing lots of men and taking women as "trophies" (i.e., slaves). One of these women was taken by Agamemnon is named Chryseis, and she is the daughter of a priest of Apollo.

Chryseis's father comes to the Greeks and offers them a huge ransom to get his daughter back. All the Greeks want to take the ransom, but Agamemnon refuses it and talks a ton of smack to the man offering it. This is a mistake because Agamemnon has just talked smack to a guy who does lots of sacrificing to Apollo, and that means Apollo really likes this guy.

The priest calls up (prays to) Apollo, tells him what went down, and asks Apollo to intervene. Apollo then goes to town on the Greeks sending a lot of plagues their way.

The Scene:

The important/powerful. Greeks get together to discuss this. They all blame Agamemnon for refusing the ransom and talking smack to a guy who is a priest to the god that is known to send plagues on those who have pissed him off. Everyone tells Agamemnon he should give Chryseis back and make a big sacrifice to Apollo as a way of saying, "My bad."

Agamemnon is really mad about this.

Achilles, who is not scared of Agamemnon, calls out Agamemnon for being too proud to take the ransom and for shooting off his mouth.

Agamemnon tells Achilles that he will give back Chryseis, but he will take the woman whom Achilles has been "given." It is here that the text caught my attention. It states,

and in his in most heart inside his hairy chest was split in two, as he considered whether he should draw the sharp sword that was hanging by his thigh, and rouse the men, and slaughter Agamemnon --or curb his anger and restrain his impulse. And as he pondered in his mind, he started to draw the mighty blade out form its sheath but then Athena swooped down from the sky. She had been sent forth by the white-armed goddess Hera, who loved both men. Athena stood behind Achilles, son of Peleus, and grabbed him by his chestnut hair. She was invisible to everyone but him.

Athena is the goddess of wisdom and strategy. She tells him to use words rather than his sword to solve this problem.

Achilles listens to Athena and tells Agamemnon that he will not fight for him anymore. He says that his absence will make Agamemnon weak and that he will lose a lot in the fight to come. Achilles' point is: If you would not have been such an asshole, I would keep helping you, but because you chose to be such an insufferable dickhead, you're going to learn how hard things can be without me.


This scene interests me because it shows the tension between jouissance, what would feel satisfying, and submission to the signifier (i.e., the Law of castration).

Achilles wants to kick Agamemnon's ass, and it would feel good to do that. Be that as it may, he submits to Athena (i.e., wisdom, strategy) to get something more satisfying later.

Of course, things don't work out very well for Achilles later on after he can't continue to say "no!" to his jouissance and join in the fighting.

It has been a long time since I've read The Iliad, and when I did, I did not know a thing about Lacan or psychoanalysis. Reading it now as a Lacanian, with a Lacanian set of concepts to think with, is extremely rewarding.

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