The subject of the first painting first is from Homer's Iliad, a work that, although little used in the Renaissance, enjoyed a revival in Neo-Classical art. Its central theme, set in the Trojan war, is the wrath of Achilles, caused by his argument with Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks. Agamemnon had won a priest's daughter as a prize. Calchis, a seer, advised him to give her up, which the king did, but only after taking Briseis, a slave-girl of Achilles. Here, Achilles is restrained by Minerva in the act of drawing his sword. Although he yielded to Agememnon, Achilles refused to take any further part in the fighting, leading to the events described by Homer in his epic.
The subject of the second painting is taken from Roman legend as told by Livy. Lars Porsena, king of Clusium, besieged Rome in an attempt to restore Tarquin the Proud to the throne. Mucius Scaevola penetrated the enemy camp in disguise, and killed the king's secretary, meaning to kill Porsena himself. Mucius was seized but, to show the Etruscans how little he cared for their threats, he thrust his hand into a brazier and let it burn. Porsena, astonished by his endurance, allowed him to go free, and it was from this that he received his nickname Scaevola, which meant 'left-handed'. During the Renaissance, the story was used to illustrate the virtues of constancy.