A Characterization Of Achilles Essay, Research Paper
Anger is a brief lunacy. -Horace The Iliad, an epic poem written by Homer, portrays rage and vengeful humanbehavior. In his work, Homer introduces Achilles, an invincible and stubborn warrior. Hehas no match on the battlefield and is considered one of the greatest Greek fighters in theTrojan War (Sparknotes). Quick to offend, he is enraged when the King of Mycenae andleader of the Greek army, Agamemnon, speaks ill of him in front of the Achaen troopsand demands Achilles prize, Briseis, in exchange for his own, Chryses. Incensed at thepresumptuousness and selfishness of Agamemnon, he withdraws from the Greek camp andthe battle, refusing to fight further . Feeling betrayed, his honor compromised and hischaracter disrespected, Achilles the larger-than-life hero seeks the advice of his mother,the sea goddess Thetis. During their meeting, Achilles sulks and broods over his losses,proving after all that godlike warriors are only men prone to their own human adversities. Emphasizing this theme of rage, the poem opens, Rage, Goddess, sing the rage ofPeleus son Achilles… From the events to follow in the Iliad we are able to concludethat all men are subject to rage when their honor, loyalty and earned status are imperiled. Rage, with a furious intensity, clouds over Achilles like a storm. Despite his comrades inarms, Achilles, acting in vengeance, refuses to battle, and it is rage that makes it so thatAchilles would rather see friends wounded than be slighted by Agamemnon (Bookrags). Achilles relies on Thetis many times for advice and divine assistance. Acting helpless, hesuccumbs to his human afflictions and lets her work out his problem for him , he weepsand implores his noble mother But you, mother, if you have any power at all, protectyour son! (Iliad, I, 467-468). Achilles, his only vulnerable spot in his heel, is reduced tomoping to his mother and begs her to plead with Zeus for his own pitied sake. Even afterthe Greeks send an entourage to Achilles requesting his return to battle in exchange fortreasure and an unharmed Briseis, Achilles refuses because his pride and honor have beentarnished. Godlike Achilles despite his great stature is reduced to the distresses of humanemotions. Achilles tendency to immaturity progresses to a variety of inappropriate andpotentially dangerous and destructive behaviors. His reliance on his mother, inability toexert self-control, and his resort to violence are an easy solution to any perceivedproblems. Throughout the Iliad Achilles behaves in a spiteful manner. He is stubborn andunreasonable, sullen and resentful when he cannot have his way and takes advantage of hisstrength when challenged. Achilles, in book one, loses a battle with Agamemnon andcannot retaliate. Instead he retreats in frustration and self-pity and cries Mother, yougave me life…so at least Olympian Zeus, thundering up on high, should give me honor, butnow he gives me nothing…Agamemnon…seizes and keeps my prize (Iliad, I, 416-419). He again seeks his mother divine intervention when his armor is lost to Hector, How canI go to war? The Trojans have my gear. And my dear mother told me I must not arm forbattle, not till I see her coming back with my own eyes… (Iliad, XVII, 218-220). Thetisenlists Hephaestus, the gods metal-smith, to forge for Achilles a new armor. His inability to exert self-control is another unattractive trait portrayed by Achilles. Determined to avenge the death of Patroclus, his close friend and companion, he ignoreshis mother s sound advice. But now, for the moment, let me seize great glory! hedemands (Iliad, XVIII, 144). Warning Thetis, Don t try to hold me back from thefighting, mother, love me as you do. You can t persuade me now (Iliad, 149-150). Laterwhen he attempts to force the Achaen army to attack the Trojans immediately, he insists I, by god, I d drive our Argives into battle now, starving, famished and only then…lay ona handsome feast… (Iliad, XIX, 246-247). Odysseus, wisest of the Achaean heroes,responds by reminding him that the soldiers need to eat Remember food and drink–so all
the more fiercely we can fight our enemies, nonstop, no mercy… (Iliad, XIX, 274-275). Consistently, Achilles chooses violence to rationality in response to any challenge. He stiffens at Agamemnon s threat to take Briseis from him. Provoked, he responds bywithdrawing his sword from its sheath and prepares to murder his own king. Only thedivine intervention of Athena holds him back, Don t lay hand to sword. Lash him withthreats of the price that he will face…Hold back now (Iliad, I, 246-251). Achilles alsoresponds to the death of Patroclus (killed in battle by Hector, Prince of Troy) withviolence. He declares to the Trojans, Here in front of your flaming pyre I ll cut thethroats of a dozen sons of Troy in all their shining glory, venting my rage on them for yourdestruction! (Iliad, XVIII, 392-394). He then threatens to lash the corpse of Hectorbehind the car for dragging and haul him three times round the dead Patroclus tomb… (Iliad, XXIV, 17-19). Achilles knows that he must ultimately die in the heat of battle and gain great famefor doing so. He eventually returns to fight on the side of the Achaeans, but not becauseof anything Agamemnon offers to him in order to get him to return to the fighting. Hisbest friend and “soul-mate”, Patroclus, is slain at the hands of the mighty Hector. Achillesis distraught by this devastating loss and goes to wreak his own havoc with the life ofHector to gain revenge. He manages to eventually kill many Trojans and then finally afterchasing Hector several times around the city of Troy, slays him and desecrates his body bydragging him as some sort of artifice to relieve his stored up hate, anger, and fear. Hector,only breaths from death begs Achilles not to desecrate his body. Achilles responds Begno more, you fawning dog…Would to god my rage, my fury would drive me now to hackyour flesh away and eat you raw…The dogs and birds will rend you–blood and bone! (Iliad, XXII, 407-417). King Priam of Troy, Hector’s bereaved father, eventually comes to Achilles’ campin peace after learning and weeping over his son’s death. He comes to Achilles and begshim to return the body of his son. Achilles response is perhaps one of the most intimateand “human” aspects of the epic, he agrees to the King’s wishes and seems himselfsaddened, somber, and humbled by the ultimate devastation. Before returning the corpseof Hector, he orders to his serving-women Bathe and anoint the body-bear it aside first. Priam must not see his son (Iliad, XXIV, 682-683). He then has the women dress thebody in a braided battle-shirt and handsome battle-cape taken from the ransom offered forHector s corpse. Apologizing to Patroclus for this action he pleads Feel no anger atme…I let this father have Prince Hector back. He gave me worthy ransom and you shallhave your share from me, as always, your fitting lordly share (Iliad, XXIV, 695-699). Achilles then allows the Trojans twelve days of peace in order to give the slain Hector afull burial with royal honors. Achilles demeanor throughout the Iliad can be described as a struggle between hisspiteful and childlike behavior and the rationality of a powerful and unmatched hero. Often times he seems unable to function without the care of his mother, needing herattention and affection. He is stubborn and sullen and reacts to the slightest of frustrationsby either sulking or becoming enraged. Periodically he acts like a mischievous child whocannot command himself, and becomes distressed when his actions appear to beuncontrollable. Also, he is prone to unmanageable rage which in turn leads to violenceand death. As ancient as the Iliad is, modern society can still identify with most of theactions taken by Achilles. While the death of a friend is expected to bring grief andthoughts of revenge, Achilles takes it one step too far when he befouls the corpse ofHector. In addition to his rage being untamed and beast like, he is also prone to incessanttantrums directed at his mother for her help, a quality that is irritating considering not onlyis he a grown man but also almost completely invincible. Above all Achilles proves onceand again that despite his godlike attributes, he is first and foremost a mere mortal.