Thursday, June 2, 2011

Executive Compensation: The Early Days, or, But Who's Counting?

The action of the Iliad begins when Agamemnon takes offense at Achilles's presumption and seizes the latter's slave girl, Bryseis, in return for the priest's daughter he must give back to placate Apollo. Agamemnon is already unhappy with Achilles for calling the meeting that has led up to the announcement that Chryseis must go back home; however the quarrel ignites when Achilles disputes Agamemnon's demand for compensation from the army:

"You must prepare for, however,
a prize of honor for me, and at once,
that I may not be left without my portion--
I, of all Argives. It is not fitting so."

Here "prize" seems to bear a naval sense, as indicating a spoil of war. Within a very few lines, tempers are to the point only Athena's intervention prevents Achilles from taking a sword to Agamemnon.

By Book IX, the Greeks, without Achilles, are in a bad way, and Agamemnon prepares to send offers to compensate Achilles and bring him back into the fight. The compensation up front will include gold, cooking implements, and horses, but also

"... seven women, deft
in household handicraft--women of Lesbos
I chose when he himself took Lesbos town,
as they outshone all womankind for beauty."

Now granting that the gold, tripods, cauldrons, and horses might have been brought from Argos, I wonder by what accounting the women of Lesbos don't count as "prizes of honor." Yet Achilles apart, the board, taking this to consist of leaders of the army, say Odysseus, Diomedes, the Ajaxes, Menelaus, Nestor, and Idomeneus, doesn't raise objections. Clearly Agamemnon's "reality distortion field" was in the same class as Steve Jobs's.

(The translation is Robert Fitzgerald's.)

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