Difference In Heroes

– The Iliad Essay, Research Paper

Difference in Heroes (The Iliad)

Dana Fleming EH 220 – Nunnally Essay #1- 10/7/99 The Differences in Heroes “What a worthless, burnt-out coward I’d be called If I would submit to you and all your orders, Whatever you blurt out. Fling them at others, Don’t give me commands ! Never again, I trust, will Achilles yield to you – My hands will never do battle for that girl, Neither with you, King, nor any man Alive.”(p 111) With these wrathful words of Achilles to his commander Agamemnon, so begins the sequence of events in The Iliad that ultimately pits Achilles the runner against Hector, breaker of horses. Although these men were already enemies, Achilles being an Achaean and Hector being a Trojan, it is truly Achilles’ rage that makes the rivalry personal. These two men, from opposite sides of the battle lines, are both strong, brave, and heroic, but also possess a myriad of conflicting character traits. It is these differences that aid both men in their independent pursuits for honor and the implementation of their separate destinies. Achilles is half-divine because he is the son of the goddess Thetis and a mortal, Peleus. He is by far the greatest warrior in the Trojan war and is considered to be “worth an entire army” (p.134). The very sight of him throws fear into the hearts of, otherwise courageous warriors. A true man of war, Agamemnon calls him, “ the most violent man alive” (p 107). With his fierce nature and taste for war also comes his prideful ways. When this delicate pride is damaged by the public disgracing Agamemnon brings upon him by taking his war prize, he selfishly decides to withdraw from battle. Achilles goes to his divine mother for the malicious reason of asking Her to beg Zeus for help in getting reprisal on Agamemnon. He pleads with her : “… now, go and sit beside [Zeus], grasp his knees… persuade him, somehow, to help the Trojan cause, to pin Achaeans back against their ships, trap them round the bay and mow them down. So all can reap the benefits of their king – So even mighty Atrides can see how mad he was To disgrace Achilles, the best of the Achaeans !” (p 114) This decision of prideful betrayal brings many casualties to the Achaean army. Once Agamemnon apologetically offers Achilles many valuable gifts along with the return of his war prize, Achilles refuses. In this rejection, Achilles is putting his own animosity toward Agamemnon above the needs of his fellow Achaeans. His friend Phoenix tells him to think of his diminishing honor, but Achilles answers, “…what do I need with honor such as that ?/ … It degrades you to curry favor with [Agamemnon],/ and I will hate you for it, I who love you./ It does you proud to stand by me, my friend,/ to attack the man who attacks me…”(p 147). Not only does Achilles reject honor, but he egotistically asks his father figure, Phoenix, to give up his in order to take his side. Achilles’ insolent pride backfires on him when he becomes ultimately responsible for the death of his best friend Patroclus. Although Achilles still refuses to fight, he allows Patroclus to where his armor into battle. The sight of what the Trojans think is Achilles terrorizes them at first, but Apollo pushes him down and knocks off Patroclus’ armor. Hector sees the injured imposter on the ground and delivers a fatal wound. Only now, out of personal grief, does Achilles return to the battle. Achilles groans to Thetis, “My spirit rebels- I’ve lost the will to live,/ to take my stand in the world of men- unless,/ before all else, Hector’s battered down by my spear/ and gasps away his life, the blood-price for Patroclus…” (p.163). After he murders Hector, Achilles lets his rageful emotions rule him once again and he totally disgraces the breathless carcass of his enemy. He does this despite the fact that Hector pleaded with him to return his body to his family. While Achilles may be presented the hero of The Iliad, he clearly has many anti-heroic qualities such as arrogance, self-centerdness, and inconsistency. Hector, son of Hecuba and Priam, is a man more comfortable with peace, yet he is still very brave in battle and honorable in his convictions. This great Trojan warrior is always conscious of his responsibilities to his family and to his people. When Hector returns home to get his facile brother Paris, his mother offers him some wine, but he responds, “Don’t offer me mellow wine, mother, not now-/ you’d sap my limbs, I’d lose my nerve for war./ And I’d be ashamed to pour a glistening cup to Zeus/ with unwashed hands” (p 124). Hector is shown as very courageous and noble, but once he is faced with Achilles, this fearlessness decays. This metamorphosis from gallant warrior to cowardice is ultimately the result of his own actions. With the killing of Patroclus, the only warrior who is any real match to Hector is brought back to the battle. At first, Hector holds his determination to face Achilles, even though his family and troops warn him that this is a very unwise decision. When cautioned of Troy’s certain doom if they continue in the battlefields by Polydamas, a Trojan leader, Hector replies with his helmet flashing, “ If it really was Achilles who reared beside the ships,/ all the worse for him- if he wants his fill of war./ I for one will never run from his grim assault,/ I’ll stand up to the man-…” (p168). This all changes once Hector sees the rage-filled Achilles racing towards him. “ Hector looked up, saw him, started to tremble,/ nerve gone, he could hold his ground no longer,/ he left the gates behind and away he fled in fear-…”(p 180). The picture of Hector we are left with is that of one fooled by the gods to face his fears and then gruesomely defeated by his nemesis. And so we are left with two heroes, both concerned with honor, yet consumed in two very contrasted pursuits of it. The almost god-like Achilles in a self-centered pursuit, seeks honor only on his own terms. When his pride is hurt, he irrationally turns his back on the traditional idea of honor and abandons those who need him the most. The noble Hector pursues honor not only for himself, but also for his family and city. Only when he is faced with imminent doom does he flee and let his selfish emotions rule him. Achilles more courageous than the loyal Hector, Hector more noble than the prideful Achilles, but in the end, both are honorable heroes in their own light.


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