mwh wrote:Does Achilles really have “foreknowledge of his impending death if he goes back into battle”? What he says Thetis told him is not what she had in fact told him in bk.1, and we have to register the discrepancy. (No use saying Well maybe she told him on a different occasion.) He’s making it up, to suit the occasion (much as Homer himself does). It’s in his rhetorical interest to play up the risk to him involved in rejoining the fighting, to present his choice as between dying and living—which we know doesn’t jibe with Thetis’ revelation of his fate. His purporting to opt for living (at the cost of glory) demonstrates just how angry he is.
Reading the speech of Achilles we register what you call a discrepancy by noting the irony, and the imagination fills in the narrative. It should be easy to accept since the unnarrated episode fills in a natural curiosity as to what Achilles has been doing this whole time - well, he had another visit paid to him by Thetis.
We should register that the earlier pleas of Thetis to Zeus and the promises of Athena to Achilles were being fulfilled. The Achaeans are hemmed up by their ships, Achilles is being repayed as Athena promised and is being honoured as Thetis wished and there is a great longing for Achilles as he himself said there would be. The new development, the revelation of two fates, is necessary to understand why he doesn't accept the repayment. Zeus has declared that Patroclus must die, and to this end Achilles is allowed to give full expression to his anger. As Pandarus was the agent of Athena who had him, who didn't bring any one of his eleven chariots to Troy the pasture of horses because he thought they wouldn't get anything to eat, to foolishly try to shoot an arrow to break the truce, so in the same manner it is the very attribute about Achilles being such an intense guy that allows him to accept the other path he thinks he has before him.
The rhetorical force of the statement is great but it is silly to assume that because the speech is impassioned, the facts are fabricated. The magnificence of the rhetoric is appropriate to the significance of the subject. The revelation of the two paths Achilles has before him is not some isolated fact, but is integral to the whole speech, and the idea that a man has a choice to make on his own is so different from what the poet has been treating us with up to this point, particulary when Homer three times explicitly depicts three heroes debating one of two courses of action (diandicha mermerixen) which were settled by the intervention of gods, that it is unfathomable that Homer now has Achillies make it up just to "play up the risks".
The irony of the episode, and the motives of fate and glory have a parallel in the activities of Hector. He had the women pray against Diomedes already when it was rather unnecessary, seeing as Athena had ceased her lively involvement by then. We see he develops a hope to slay Diomedes, and that desire for glory, so evident and near desperate in the terms he sets out for his duel, materializes as the reckless behaviour Odysseus reports to Achilles. (The exchange of armour between Diomedes and Glaucos isn't then after all so innocent, as one can so readily imagine the desire of Hector's to strip his Trojan golden armour - and I will continue to insist that the contrast between the glorious gold and the bronze, bronze that the realist dryly notes is more appropraite to fighting battles, underscores that desire for glory.) Hector also seems to be making a choice - to fight outside the city walls, and he also shares a certain premonition of the future when he reveals to his wife that Troy will be destroyed. And of course the remarks of Helen to Hector about becoming the theme of songs is echoed by Achilles when he is found playing his lyre.
The choice the poet made not to narrate the new development has the poetic force of fittingly engaging the reader to consider what is very personal, free will, or one's relationship to the gods and fate. Throughout the poem, the poet accustoms the audience to behold the ever-present agency of the gods, and using the technique of "not saying everything" to do so is immediately apparent from the beginning, when Agamemnon rises furiously against Kalkas. Other instances of a more textual sort occur throughout the poem, as when after the Trojans have mustered for battle, Homer narrates the agency of Hera, having her complain about her sweating horses: he does not narrate it before and this has the effect of making us alert to the agency of the gods at all times. When Aphrodite is with Paris and Helen in his room, a sudden desire comes over Paris for Helen; we are not told that Aphrodite sprinkled love potion over him, but we are to understand her immediate agency - it's a minor occurence but nevertheless acustoms the audience to fill in the blanks. During the duel between Menelaus and Paris, Menelaus prays to Zeus, but Paris says it was with Athena's help that he overcame him; a trivial discrepancy but it forces the audience to consider the intricate agencies of the gods. When the duel between Aias and Hector is put to an end, we are to understand that the heralds, angels of Zeus, were of one mind to put the matter to an end by the agency of Zeus - it's not narrated but it's the natural presumption. In the ninth book the technique is used in a two fold complementary manner: The audience is aware that the poet did not narrate Thetis telling Achilles the news; but on the other hand, the audience will find that the ninth book lacks any narration of the gods all together, a feature unique to this book; we are not told what the gods are doing on Olympus, we are not told how Zeus nods his head in reply to prayers and libations. The contrast is unmistakably intended, and the crashing of Homeric formulas - another instance is reported earlier up the thread - complements the circumstances Achilles is dealing with.
I'm getting ahead of myself, but I want to remark on the remark Achilles makes to the dying Hector. I want to suggest that this is a statement of faith, and it does not betray a "rhetorical exaggeration". Perhaps at that point Achilles realizes that he never had a choice, fulfilling the will of Zeus and fate, and acknowledges his full submission to something greater than mortal man. Moreover, in killing Patroclus perhaps the purpose of Zeus was not to entice Achilles just to kill Hector and so forth - but the killing of Patroclus itself is part of the higher scheme of things, Zeus' grand plan, and hence why it is necessary that Achilles should continue to nurture his wrath and why the option of the two fold fate is very real. Afterall, who is Zeus to fulfill the entreaty of Thetis for her sake alone, or Hera's or anyone else's? The significance of the death of Patroclus cannot be understated - the fight for his stripped corpse is in the Iliad the only description of the hoplite formation.