The micronarrative of Meleager in Iliad 9
In book 9 of the Iliad Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoinix go to the tent of Achilles on behalf of Agamemnon in order to persuade him to rejoin the war. One way that Phoinix tries to persuade him is by telling him the story of a warrior of his generation, Meleager. In a wartime situation not unlike the one the Greeks are facing in the Iliad Meleager becomes angry and withdraws from battle. His comrades send envoy after envoy to offer him gifts and try to convince him to return to battle. First they send the elders, then the priests, then his father, his sisters, and his mother, but to no avail. Finally his nearest and dearest companions, his philoi, make the attempt to persuade him and fail. Meleager stays home with his wife Cleopatra until finally she sings a special kind of lament for the entire city that is about to be destroyed, and she moves him enough to convince him to return.
The superficial message of this story is that Meleager's stubborness caused him to return to battle too late, and as a result he did not get the gifts that were offered to him as compensation. But Phoinix is also trying to teach Achilles something about priorities. The people who come to entreat Meleager come in a very specific order. The elders, priests, father, sisters, mother, and companions come in what should be an ascending relationship of affection with Meleager, with his nearest and dearest companions at the top of that scale. The problem is that Meleager refuses even his philoi and instead his wife Cleopatra takes the top position, and ultimately it is she who convinces him to rejoin the battle.
The Meleager story is a fascinating one from the point of view of narrative structure. First there is the micronarrative of the Meleager story. This story is told by Phoinix, who is trying to influence Achilles' behavior in a macronarrative in which Achilles has withdrawn from battle and the Greeks are suffering. But there is an outer narrative that encompasses all of this and that is the Iliad as a whole. The poetry is able to transcend the immediate context and point ahead to the time when Achilles finally does rejoin battle. Like Meleager, in Iliad 9 Achilles is going to refuse those nearest and dearest to him his, his philoi, and all of their gifts. The one person who can convince him to return is Patroklos. In Iliad 16 Patroklos begs Achilles to rejoin battle and like Meleager's wife Cleopatra he sings a lament for the Greeks who are dying. Achilles begins to relent: he allows Patroklos to lead the Myrmidons into battle wearing his own armor. Patroklos goes in Achilles' place. In the ensuing battle Patroklos gets killed, and his death brings Achilles back into the fight.
We can make direct connections between the characters in the micronarrative of the Meleager story and the macronarrative of the Iliad as a whole. The names of the key figure in each narrative reveal everything. Cleopatra and Patroklos are formed from the same two parts (kleos 'glory' + pateres 'ancestors', making both names mean 'he/she who has the glory of the ancestors'). In Iliad 9 we have already seen that Achilles is choosing between kleos and nostos ['safe homecoming']. This micronarrative shows what the ultimate motivation andultimate reward is for Achilles' return to battle. We can see that this story, put into the mouth of Phoinix, conveys meaning for the Iliad as a whole and events that will happen much later than the embassy in Iliad 9. So even Phoinix's agenda are subsumed to the larger themes of the Iliad.