In all their battles, the booty won by the Greeks from the enemy had been divided among the chiefs and soldiers, and on one occasion female slaves were given to Agamemnon and Achilles. These girls were not born slaves, but were captives of war reduced to slavery, as was then the custom; for, while the men and boys were always killed, the women and girls were forced to be the servants of the victors.
Now, it happened that the slave given to Agamemnon was the daughter of a priest of Apollo. He was very sorry when he heard she had fallen into the hands of the Greeks, and sent a message to Agamemnon, offering to give him a large sum of money if he would only set her free.
Agamemnon would not accept the money, and sent a rude message to the priest, who, in anger, asked Apollo to avenge this insult by sending a plague upon the Greeks. The god heard and granted this prayer, and soon all the soldiers in the Greek camp were suffering from a terrible disease, of which many of them died.
As no remedy could relieve the sufferers, the Greek leaders consulted an oracle, to find out how the plague might be stopped. Then they learned that Apollo was angry with Agamemnon because he had refused to give up his slave, and that the Greeks would continue to suffer until he made up his mind to give her back to her father.
Thus forced to give her up to save his men from further suffering and even from death, Agamemnon angrily said he would take Achilles’ slave instead, and he had her brought to wait upon him in his tent.
Achilles, who wanted to save the Greeks from the plague, allowed the maiden to depart, warning Agamemnon, however, that he would no longer fight for a chief who could be so selfish and unjust. As soon as the girl had gone, therefore, he laid aside his fine armor; and although he heard the call for battle, and the din of fighting, he staid quietly within his tent.
While Achilles sat thus sulking day after day, his companions were bravely fighting. In spite of their bravery, however, the Trojans were gaining the advantage; for, now that Achilles was no longer there to fill their hearts with terror, they fought with new courage.
The Greeks, missing the bright young leader who always led them into the midst of the fray, were gradually driven back by the Trojans, who pressed eagerly forward, and even began to set fire to some of the Greek ships.
Achilles’ friend, Patroclus, who was fighting at the head of the Greeks, now saw that the Trojans, unless they were checked, would soon destroy the whole army, and he rushed into Achilles’ tent to beg him to come and help them once more.
His entreaties were vain. Achilles refused to move a step; but he consented at last to let Patroclus wear his armor, and, thus disguised, make a last attempt to rally the Greeks and drive back the Trojans.