Achilles Essay, Research Paper
The concept of heroism is a central theme in Greek mythology. Achilles, the main character in Homer’s The Iliad, accurately depicts the concept of a tragic hero. Throughout his many experiences during the Trojan War, he reflects heroic qualities, and earns his name as the purest, the highest and “the best of the Achaians.” Similar to Achilles, Socrates demonstrates several heroic characteristics, in Plato’s work The Trial and Death of Socrates. Through his trial, apology and death, Socrates shows that his heroism and his commitment to his society are genuine.
The Iliad confirms that a warrior lives and dies in the pursuit of honor and glory. Achilles place as a hero depended upon the understanding of his place in society, and performing with the expectations society had for him. He freely accepted the natural pattern of a hero, consisting of a hero’s suffering and a hero’s death. In Greek mythology there is no concrete concept of afterlife, so winning and glory then becomes the way to a meaningful life. To Homeric Greeks, death symbolized the loss of all things that were good, but there was one thing that would have been worse for Achilles: dying without glory.
As a result, becoming a hero means to either kill or be killed in the pursuit for honor and glory. In order to conform to the ideals of society, Achilles becomes a tragic figure, and ultimately dies to uphold his heroic ideals. Achilles consistently reflects his overwhelming tragic flaw of pride, throughout The Iliad. His choice to not fight for the Achaians resulted in his and Patroklus’ death. Achilles freely accepted this fate. Although, his decision to kill Hector and to mutilate his body drastically opposes heroic ideals. Socrates views are in complete opposition with those of Achilles. Socrates accepts the community’s unjust actions. He believed that, “acting unjustly, returning injustice, and harming someone in self defense is never right.” This belief is completely foreign to Achilles view of the world, because the majority of his actions in The Iliad are centered on his pride, anger and revenge.
Similarly, The Iliad and the Trial and Death of Socrates both have heroic characters that stray from the norms of society. Achilles and Socrates examine and question the prevalent ideas in their own societies. Achilles was a complex warrior who often ignored the cultural norms of society because he saw through their fallacies, particularly in the contradictory heroic code. In the beginning of the Iliad, Achilles questions King Agamemnon’s involvement of the plague. This inquiry lead to his ultimate rebellion against the King and all social norms.
Achilles’ actions were uncommon because honor within the community was vital to Homer’s concept of a hero. The hero’s whole world revolved around his relationship to his family and the city. If this personal honor awarded to him by the community was compromised, he felt life had lost its meaning. For example, Achilles felt he had lost his honor when Agamemnon takes Briseis away from him. Later, he even refuses Agamemnon’s gifts to compensate for his previous actions because he feels it will be even more detrimental to his honor. Achilles also centers many of his actions around his utter fear of disgrace. Although, he breaks the heroic code of society by threatening to kill Agamemnon, and by showing disrespect for his superiors. For the main part, Achilles’ actions revolve around his pursuit for honor and glory, and for his sense of loyalty to the community and to the society in which he lives. He is even forewarned by his mother that if he kills Hector his “fate will stand ready.” When he hears this he made little out of death and danger, and possessed a much greater fear that he would have to live the remainder of his life as a coward. Achilles said, “May I die straightway when I have penalized the wrongdoer so that I may not remain here the laughingstock beside the beaked ship, a burden to the earth.” Achilles demonstrates how he freely accepts his future in order to uphold his honor and glory, and conforms to the ideals of the community.
Like Achilles, Socrates also strives for glory and honor, and sought the respect of his community. But as a philosopher, he introduced many foreign thoughts and ideologies that were not accepted by all members of his society. After his trial, when he was sentenced to death, Socrates did not abandon the community of Athens. Instead he further displayed his loyalty, by turning down Krito’s offer to escape from the prison. He refuses to flee the place he has called home for so many years. Socrates showed his love for his community by staying in a city that had condemned him to death.
In the Iliad, the concept of a hero is extremely inconsistent. Heroism is seasonal, showing that a hero comes into his prime much like flowers in the spring, only to be cut down once and for all in the end. Achilles has many accomplishments and downfalls throughout the Iliad, and is very inconsistent in his heroism. He questions and undermines Agamemnon’s authority, but also stands up for the injustices affecting his community. Also, he is very animalistic when he mutilates Hector’s body, but is later compassionate when he returns the body to Priam. In contrast to Achilles’ inconsistencies, Socrates has a more constant representation of heroic ideals. His ideals are more consistent because he does not change his belief system, and always remains faithful and supportive to Athens. Even though his outlandish philosophical views are in opposition to the ideals of society, Socrates consistently upholds the laws of the land in which he lives.
Homer’s concept of a hero is evident is his description of Achilles. Achilles is often referred to as superior to others, and serves as the best warrior in the Greek army. He is described as the “swiftest warrior,” having no rivals in running. In addition to his supreme valor, he was the youngest and most beautiful warrior. Throughout the Iliad, Achilles is depicted as the swiftest, the most beautiful, the youngest and most complex warrior that fights in Troy. Unlike Achilles, Socrates’ heroic characteristics are not heavily centered around his physical attributes, but rather his philosophical ideologies. Socrates had revolutionary ideas about religion, human nature, and the afterlife. His heroism was not awarded because of his physical accomplishments, but rather his introduction of new ideas and freethinking, along with his esteemed loyalty to the community.
The concept of heroism is a central theme in both The Iliad and The Trial and Death of Socrates. Achilles on the one hand fights more brilliantly and more effectively than any other warrior. On the other hand, he is beyond the knowledge that all heroes posses; that their life is conditioned and determined by their own mortality. Achilles is self conscious and articulate about his choice of having imperishable glory over a long life with no glory at all. Socrates, an unprecedented philosopher, and creator of new ideas also has heroic characteristics. His development of new ideas shows his ability to stray away from the social norms of society. Even though he moves away from some of society’s social standards, he always remains loyal to his city and his community, while taking responsibility for his actions at all times. Both Socrates and Achilles, although displaying somewhat varying heroic qualities, were notable heroic figures in their own communities.