Achilles Essay Research Paper WAR AND PEACEThe

Achilles Essay, Research Paper


The Iliad takes place during a fierce war between the Trojans and Achaians.

Almost the entire poem is devoted to the fighting, from an initial overview

of the forces to minute descriptions of combat. The descriptions of battle

wounds and death are shockingly accurate; reading them, we cannot help but

feel the bitterness of war. Since the two major characters–Hektor and

Achilleus–either die or have their death foreshadowed, a sense of futility

is also built into Homer’s chronicle. And yet, posed against the viciousness

is a sense of heroism and glory that adds a glamor to the fighting. Homer

both abhors war and glorifies it.

Against the conflicts taking place on the plain of Troy, the domestic scenes

within the city walls have a sweetness and sorrow. Along with the similes

that tell of peacetime efforts back home in Greece, these scenes serve as

contrast to the war, reminding us of what human values are destroyed by

fighting, as well as what is worth fighting for.


The concept of heroism and the honor that results from it is one of the major

currents running through the poem. Achilleus’ struggle revolves around his

belief in an honor system opposed to Agamemnon’s royal privilege. In a way,

his struggle is one of faith: can he continue to believe in the ideals for

which he has fought so valiantly and relentlessly? If not, what values can

he hold onto? His conflict is not just with Agamemnon. War itself threatens

the very code it supports. We see fighter after fighter enter the fray in

search of honor; fighter after fighter is slain before our eyes. These men

are certainly heroes: they are strong and courageous and larger than life.

But posed against the backdrop of war, is their struggle worth the sacrifice?


In the original Greek, “anger” is the word that opens the Iliad–Achilleus’

anger and the destruction it brought to the Achaians. One of the major

themes of the poem is thus Achilleus’ coming to terms with his anger. In a

broader sense, we can read this as man’s need to take responsibility for his

actions and emotions. Viewed this way, the Iliad is a poem of psychological

and emotional growth. Achilleus must learn to civilize his rage. The tragic

stake for this lesson is the death of his closest friend, Patroklos. Similar

to Achilleus’ anger is Agamemnon’s ate, the moral blindness that descends on

him and causes him impulsively to mistreat Achilleus. He, too, must learn

responsibility for his actions and apologize.


The gods and goddesses on Olympos, all-powerful and often ridiculous, are

contrasted to the mortals, so seriously engaged on earth. The immortals are

gigantic; they live forever and have nothing to fear. Beside them, humanity

seems small, yet at the same time it gains tragic stature. Though the

mortals are puny in comparison, there is something ennobling about their

struggle to find value and moral meaning in their lives, and something heroic

in the wholehearted way they engage in their pursuit. These men, whose lives

are so clearly bounded by time and the fates, play out their destiny with

fervor and depth of feeling. It is the gods, in fact, who often seem casual

and small-minded. The Iliad shows us a human world filled with struggle and

brutality, a world nevertheless in which mortals exercise will in the face of

divine intervention–to create their lives according to their own terms of

value, to suffer existence and discover its possible meaning.

Achilleus, the son of Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis, is the leader of the

Myrmidon contingent in the Trojan War. He is clearly the greatest of the

Achaian warriors, in the judgment of both friend and enemy. The very sight

of him on the battlefield is enough to send the Trojans fleeing in terror.

Part of this power comes from his divine connections (his mother, Thetis, is

a goddess), part from divine favor (at crucial points Hera and Athene look

out for him and help him). This may also be a way of telling us of the

enormous personal resources Achilleus has at his command.

Achilleus’ vast emotional and physical powers are not always at the service

of clearheadedness. Though his initial anger at Agamemnon is based on a

sense of moral justice, his rage transcends his sense of morality. His

emotions motivate him more than his thoughts, for he holds onto his fury even

after Agamemnon offers to return Briseis with an apology. At that point he

is no longer operating for a principle of fairness but is playing out his

anger and punishing his enemies. Unfortunately, his comrades must pay the

price of his passions. Not until his friend Patroklos has been sacrificed

does Achilleus realize he has held his position too long.

Yet he is a complex, vital man. There is little doubt that he is right in

taking a stand against Agamemnon’s arbitrary decisions. He is one of those

people who will fight to the death for what they believe in. Though his

anger is fierce and relentless, there is nevertheless something noble in it.

His sheer intensity demands respect. Because he is the one character

actually to undergo change, the Iliad is really his poem. He loses much

along the way but finally tempers his anger and reaches out in a gesture of

compassion and peace toward Priam. Achilleus is first in the line of great

Greek tragic heroes: his power makes him a hero, and his human blindness

makes him tragic.



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