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Act I, Scene 3 Summary
Addressing Nestor, Ulysses, Diomedes, Menelaus and some others, Agamemnon says that the Greek hopes had been belied, and that they had been unable to achieve what they had hoped to achieve - after a seven-year long siege, Troy’s walls were still standing. Their every action had been thwarted, he notes but then adds that all these were nothing but Jove’s delaying trials to test their constancy.
Nestor then expounds what the Greek general has just said. He says that the true proof of men lies in the reproof of chance. When the sea is smooth, many trivial, toy-like boats dared to sail alongside large ships. But once the North Wind began to blow, and enraged the sea goddess Thetis, then the strong boat cuts through the liquid mountains like Pegasus, the flying horse. But the cheeky little boat that had attempted to vie with greatness, either flees to the safety of the harbor or is swallowed by the sea. Nestor adds that this was fortunate way of telling real bravery from the mere show of it.
Ulysses then beseeches Agamemnon to hear what he has to say. Agamemnon bids Ulysses, the Prince of Ithaca to speak, and he says that he is as confident that no triviality or insignificance would drop from his lips as he is sure of not hearing music, wit and oracle from the foul jaws of Thersites.
Ulysses launches into his ‘degree’ speech. He says but for the neglect of single rule and unity, Troy would have fallen and Hector killed. He points to the many empty Greek tents on the plain that should have actually been like buzzing hives. He says that when high rank, order of precedence and hierarchy are overshadowed, the unworthy appears worthwhile. He then proceeds to erect a theory of value upon an assertion. He says that the heavens, the planets and the earth, which is at the center, observe the order of precedence, priority and place, the steady continuance of motion, season, office, custom, rule and principles of order, and therefore the sun can travel fast and without being checked. But when the planets drift towards evil, disorder ensues and plagues, mutinies, earthquakes, high winds, and frightening events occur and the course of nature is changed. Likewise, when hierarchy is shaken, the enterprise itself grows sick. How could communities, academic ranks in schools, guilds and societies, the prerogatives of age, and inheritance be maintained in their authentic places but by respecting hierarchy, he asks adding that when hierarchy is dispensed with, discord follows.
Ulysses tells Agamemnon that this is the chaos that occurs when hierarchies are stifled, and adds that this disregard of degree causes retrogression, not progress. Alluding to the Greek camp, he says that in such a situation, the general would be disdained by the one below him, he by the next in line and so on. So every step backward is justified by a precedent - and each successive level grows to an envious fever that would begrudge the superiority of others.
Finally, he says that it was this fever that kept Troy going, not her own military strength. He believes Troy stood in the weakness of the Greeks and not in her own strength. The Greeks are sick and therefore, the Trojans are strong. Nestor accedes that Ulysses has wisely discovered the fever that has sickened he power of the Greeks. Accepting that the nature of the sickness had been found, Agamemnon asks Ulysses about the remedy.