The improvements of Achilles throughout the Iliad
There is a minor ambiguity in this title, which must be clarified for the purposes of this essay. The emphasis on an impression of the characters changing as you read more of the poem, may indicate the effect on a reader’s initial interpretation of the narrative. Initial reading of the Iliad and Paradise Lost is unlikely to reveal the subtleties of character development, the motivations behind their actions and the contexts in which the poets were creating their characters. A judgment based on the superficial content of these two poems would clearly not do justice to two of the most interesting characters in epic literature.
Similarly, the first time reader would probably not feel able to define their own opinions about Achilles and Satan after reading poems so dense with meaning just once. In the case of Satan the matter is more complicated because most readers would bring to the text a preconceived set of ideas concerning Satan and the image of him being simply the embodiment of all evil, as set out in Christian belief. Therefore I shall assume that the title refers to analysis of character progression in the narrative rather than the effect upon an initial reading of the poems.
The Iliad and Paradise Lost, it has been argued by C.S. Lewis , occupy two ends of the epic spectrum. Although the Iliad is set at the end of the Trojan War (an undeniably monumental event), its immediate subject matter is the action and the effects of the action of one man. Achilles’ wrath stimulates the war to the extent that the fall of Troy becomes inevitable after the death of Hektor, but in the process many heroic warriors are killed and the balance of power is shifted so that mediations on the values and ethics of human conduct are highlighted.
Paradise Lost, alternatively, deals with the human condition and its relation to the divine on the grandest scale possible. Satan’s quest against God provides the central focus of the poem, and it is his actions which drive the events in Paradise Lost and which makes his role adopt the heroic quality of Achilles’ in the Iliad. Hence, these two characters are central to either end of the great European epic tradition and their significance to Western literary values becomes paramount.
The insinuation in the title is that the reader will start by regarding Achilles as being morally wrong due to his refusal to fight after Agamemnon has ordered that Briseis be taken from him. Agamemnon is the leader of the conglomerate of Greek forces and is universally accepted to be so. It can be argued that coming from the House of Atreus and enjoying the favour of Zeus, his position should not be challenged insubordinately by Achilles. On a simple level, this position is quite clear; Achilles should acknowledge Agamemnon’s authority and acquiesce with his wishes, but the political implications of Achilles’ action are much greater than this.
Nestor, who can be seen to be an impartial and wise judge of affairs, stresses the importance of remaining loyal to his leader early in Book 1; “Nor, son of Peleus, think to match your strength with the king, since never equal with the rest is the portion of honour of the sceptred king to whom Zeus gives magnificence. Even though you are the stronger man, and the mother who bore you was immortal, yet is this man greater who is lord over more than you rule”. This is a plea from Nestor for the two great men to resolve their differences, for earlier in his speech he commented how Priam and the sons of Troy would be happy to see them quarrelling. Unity in time of war is essential even if it means the sacrifice of personal gains, a maxim which is as true today as it was on the Trojan battlefield.
However, if Achilles had continued to fight for the Achaian cause, the heroic code would have been broken by Agamemnon, for Briseis was awarded to Achilles for his bravery in battle, so Agamemnon should not take her from Achilles because of his own error in incurring the wrath of Apollo. This slight to Achilles’ honour is so great, that to simply accept it would also upset the status quo by denigrating his own stature as a hero. Agamemnon’s ignorance of the heroic code and his discourtesy towards Chryses causes the problem for he has a symbiotic relationship with Achilles whereby his political status has to be combined with Achilles’ martial prowess for the Achaian effort to be successful.
Nestor’s censure was not restricted to Achilles, for he also pleaded with Agamemnon to “not take the girl away but let her be, a prize as the sons of the Achaians gave her first”. The paradox of Agamemnon’s rule is such that his authority must be respected although his orders in the Iliad are often self-centred, and unwise; for example, the suggestion that they retreat in Book 2 and the test of his troops’ morale in Book 4.
This situation cannot be directly compared to a modern ethical dilemma because the structure of a modern army is such that insubordination is not tolerated in any fashion, i.e., the self has to commit to the combined effort (this applies to both Agamemnon and Achilles). Moreover, a modern war would not be fought for the motives of the Trojan War, i.e., the seduction of Helen by Paris. Achilles’ participation in the war is partly due to his quest for honour and fame and partly to help restore the honour of Agamemnon and his brother Menelaos (Helen’s husband before Paris).
He was not tied to the oath of Tyndareos and as he points out, he has no desire for revenge against the Trojans, for they have done nothing against him, so the disrespect of Agamemnon degrades his honour on two levels. For Achilles the problem of a loss of honour is more pressing than most as he is aware that his death is pending. He does not expect to ever see his father again and so the Trojan War is his last opportunity to gain the only immortality available to him – that of fame. With this knowledge the reader should consider what Achilles’ responsibilities towards the rank and file of the Greek army are.
The disrespect of Agamemnon makes it difficult for him to gain honour and fame, leaving his responsibility towards a conglomerate army of Greek states as an ethical problem for Achilles to deal with. It is this ethical dilemma that leads modern readers to see Achilles as being stubborn, sacrificing the lives of many warriors for his injured pride. Nestor is decidedly vituperative towards Achilles when he relates the battle of Book 11 to Patroklos; “Achilles, brave as he is, cares nothing for the Danaans nor pities them …Achilles will enjoy his own valour in loneliness” . But this statement was made after Agamemnon’s appeal to Achilles in Book 9. If the reader should feel sympathy for Achilles’ dilemma in Book 1, then opinion regarding Achilles probably reaches its nadir after Achilles’ rejection of the ambassadors.
The idea of Agamemnon weeping at the beginning of Book 9 is a tremendous Homeric image; “Agamemnon stood up before them, shedding tears, like a spring dark-running that down the face of a rock impassable drips its dim water”. Agamemnon’s acceptance that Achilles must be honoured is a considerable shift from his stubbornness of Book 1 and would indicate that with the restoration of honour to Achilles he will return to the battle. The Party of ambassadors which is sent to Achilles’ tent is a prestigious one which includes Odysseus, Aias and Phoinix and the gifts Agamemnon offers are truly great, including wealth and land, the marriage of his daughters, the honour of kings and most importantly Briseis whom Agamemnon swears he has not lain with.
Achilles greets the ambassadors with great hospitality, following the code that means he must grant his petitioners hospitality and security under his own roof. He is genuinely pleased to receive his friends but despite their pleas he refuses Agamemnon’s gifts; “all that you have said seems spoken after my own mind. Yet the heart in me swells up in anger when I remember the disgrace that he wrought upon me before the Argives”. He assures them that he will slay Hektor once the fighting reaches the Greek ships, leaving the reader to assume that Achilles’ ego is enjoying the supplication, knowing that his return to the battle at any point will bring him what he seeks; fame and honour. He seems quite prepared to sacrifice the lives of his comrades for his own gains.
This lack of pity is commented upon by Aias who observes that the just conduct of a true hero would be to honour those who honour him and accept the gifts as equivalent recompense for his lost honour in the same custom which demands a ‘blood price’ for a slain man; “Achilles has made savage the proud-hearted spirit within his body. He is hard, and does not remember that friends’ affection wherein we honoured him by the ships, far beyond all others”. Up to the point of the embassy, Achilles’ abstention from the battle can be reconciled against the conduct of Agamemnon, and the natural progression of the narrative would indicate that Achilles would accept the gifts in a heroic manner and return to the battle to save the Achaians from destruction.
However, Homer prolongs the dispute, making Achilles’ eventual return all the more poignant in the wake of Patroklos’ death and a low point for Achilles’ behaviour whereby his reintroduction into the heroic world involves more than simply the restoration of his honour. The selfish behaviour of Achilles can also be found in Satan’s character. He too has lost favour with his ruler (albeit more dramatically with a three day celestial battle and a nine day descent from heaven to hell) and embarks on a campaign of revenge, though his is a campaign of action rather than abstention.
That the reader should be initially attracted to the character of Satan is not surprising. That anyone should challenge God’s will is a tremendous prospect and one that evokes a sense of mischievous inquisitiveness, the equivalent attraction of watching a modern day horror movie which thrills us to suggest that the evil and grotesque can triumph. The magnificence with which Milton presents Satan is most apparent with his addresses to the legions of fallen angels in Books 1 and 2. The magnificence of Satan’s rhetoric is combined with a shared sense of injustice amongst his followers. Satan’s ability to raise the morale of his followers, to see glory where there was failure (“that strife / Was not inglorious, though th’ event was dire” ) and his commitment to the construction of Pandemonium and a quest against God is phrased in truly heroic language; “For since no deep within her gulf can hold / Immortal vigor, though oppressed and fall’n, / I give not Heaven for lost … we now return / To claim our just inheritance of old”.
Like Achilles, Satan desires a restoration of lost honour, although he and his rebels have an actual belief that God is morally wrong and therefore to submit to his rule would be cowardly and an injustice. Whether or not God’s rule is unquestionable by any being beneath him (i.e., all beings) is the pivotal question that determines the moral justification for Satan’s quest, but as William Empson commented, “Whether the rebels deserve blame for their initial doubt of God’s credentials, before God had supplied false evidence to encourage the doubt, is hard for us to tell; but once they have arrived at a conviction they are not to be blamed for having the courage to act upon it”. Empson compares the rebel’s renunciation of God’s divine right to the same radical choice that Milton made in renouncing Charles I’s.
It is impossible to assess the justice of the pre-creation heaven from which Satan was expelled. Without human affairs to preside over, the ethics and values of heaven at this time are even more difficult to compare to modern human conduct than that of the Trojan War. It could be argued that we are in no position to question Satan’s right to rebel and his reasons for doing it; however, the conclusions of the infernal debate in Book 2 do not shed favourable light on the intentions of the rebels as the rebels’ desire for justice in fact emerges into desire for self promotion and the establishment of a substitute heaven where divine values are substituted for infernal ones.
Satan emerges as a monarchist in Book 1; “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven” , and the arguments arising from the debate in Book 2 range from Moloch’s desire to demonstrate the power of the infernal forces in what would probably result in senseless destruction, to Memnon’s wish to create a society in hell whereby laws and values of good and evil can simply be made to suit their own needs, rivalling heaven in power. Both of these ideas are based in a selfish desire, which can be translated into relevant human terms concerning fair and just government. The eventual decision, suggested by Beelzebub and endorsed by Satan is to respect the impenetrability of heaven and to attack God’s will so that “Some advantageous act may be achieved / By sudden onset, either with Hell fire / To waste his whole creation” . Thus Satan’s quest has become one of pure destruction, talk of liberty and justice disappears to be replaced by mere revenge for “a sense of injur’d merit” .
This analysis of Satan’s motives is, however, only seen through the magnificence of Milton’s poetry, designed to give Satan all the grandeur that a quest against God must have. When no one volunteers to seek this new world of Man, Satan volunteers himself. Milton’s language and sense of scale elevates this event above base motivation to a truly heroic act; “Satan, whom now transcendent glory raised / Above his fellows, with monarchal pride / Conscious of highest worth, unmoved thus spake … I abroad / Through all the coasts of dark destruction seek / Deliverance for us all” . On a purely superficial level, the reader would not want Satan’s mission to progress, but such a completely awesome scene as this invites the reader to dare to consider what the effects of this mission will be. When Satan meets Sin at the gates of Hell the reader wants Satan to be released to seek Man. Whilst his particularly gruesome heroic quest may be abhorrent, it is also fascinating.
Once Satan is operating exclusively, the reader’s view of his quest inevitably changes. In Book 4 we begin to understand that his aims are cowardly in the sense that his true aim of attacking God is one he cannot bring himself to do, therefore the attack on Man is the revengeful act of a flawed hero, a hero unable to carry out his true aims of overturning the alleged tyranny of an almighty ruler. The absence of his presence in Books 6, 7 and 8 allows the reader an insight of his character through the (probably biased) eyes of Raphael. Whilst describing the war in heaven to Adam, Raphael relates one of Satan’s speeches in which he rallies his armies and reveals the underlying aim of their rebellion; “Found not worthy of liberty alone, / Too mean pretense, but what we more affect, / Honor, dominion, glory and renown” .
Although this statement cannot be taken at face value, for Satan is a master of propaganda and the story was related by a celestial angel, Milton uncovers for the reader Satan’s essential motivation that had been suspected earlier. Additionally, the reader has become acquainted with pre-Fall Man. Adam’s conduct and his mediations on God and the universe present a very favourable picture of God’s creation. When Satan is reintroduced in Book 9, the reader’s opinion of his quest has altered as the deceit of his attack upon such pure beings as Adam and Eve becomes appalling without the mask of his early magnificent speeches (an egotist such as Satan needs an audience to perform to). The destruction of human innocence is (of course) highly relevant today, in the 17th century and any time back to the Eden.
With Satan’s mission complete, the reader’s inquisitiveness has been satisfied and God’s demonstration of his power by turning the boasting Satan into a hissing serpent is more than welcome. C.M. Bowra acknowledged the change in Satan’s heroic status and the ideas about Milton’s theology that changed with it when he said: The puritan in him condemned Satan and all his ways, but the artist wanted a redoubtable antagonist to God and endowed Satan with heroic qualities of courage and endurance. It is true that in the later books of Paradise Lost Satan becomes less heroic, but the first impression of sublime grandeur is ineffaceable and quite alien to the theology preached elsewhere.
If it is the actions of Satan which lose him favour with the reader, then it is Achilles’ return to the battlefield that redeems his excessive pride demonstrated by the rejection of the embassy in Book 9 of the Iliad. The two most emotionally charged events in the Iliad are the mourning of Achilles over Patroklos and Priam’s supplication to Achilles for the return of Hektor’s body. The conduct of Achilles in both cases evokes sympathy from the reader as he realigns his ethical standpoint and reassimilates himself back into the Achaian army. His reasons for allowing Patroklos to enter the battle in his armour are pluralistic.
He appreciates Patroklos’ desire to help the Achaian effort, but he realises that Patroklos can win honour for himself; “But obey to the end this word I put upon your attention so that you can win, for me, great honour and glory”. In warning Patroklos not to advance too far he justly warns him about reverence for Apollo, but he also does not want Patroklos to diminish his own honour by lessening the importance of his abstention from the war.
After the death of Patroklos, Achilles’ desire for revenge on the part of his friend presides over his constant self-referral. The mourning of Patroklos is put into context by comparisons with lament for his father, whom he knows he will never see again and who will die in old age. The mourning for Patroklos is particularly poignant, as they are not blood related (as compared with Agamemnon’s premature grief for Menelaos in Book 3, as they are brothers). The death of his friend awakens emotions within Achilles that go beyond his quest for honour and fame, and before re-entering the battle he recognises the relative lack of importance of Agamemnon’s insult; “So it was here that the lord of men Agamemnon angered me.
Still, we will let all this be a thing of the past, and for all our sorrow beat down by force the anger deeply within us” . The reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles is genuinely warm-hearted, but Achilles is now consumed with a desire for revenge and is keen to enter the battle. As the narrative reaches a climax, so Achilles’ martial prowess comes to the fore, as he shows no mercy when dealing with the Trojan warriors. During his combat with Hektor, Achilles is described in animal terms and his treatment of Hektor’s corpse would not gain favour with the reader aware of the nobility of Hektor’s character.
If the Iliad were to end in Book 22 then Achilles’ character would only receive a partial redemption in the opinion of the reader. His conduct appears to have developed a conscience for the Achaian cause, but at the expense of mercy and respect for heroes favoured by the gods. The resolution provided in Books 23 and 24 enables Achilles to be seen off of the battlefield and allows him to display the heroic qualities expected of him. Achilles’ tactful judgment in presiding over Patroklos’ funeral games is an impressive demonstration of his leadership and social ability, but it is the meeting with Priam which restores harmony to the Iliad and favour to Achilles.
Priam’s supplication to Achilles for the return of Hektor’s body impresses Achilles because of the personal danger within which Priam places himself. Achilles’ greater appreciation of honour than mere personal gain means that Priam’s personal appeal gains favour with Achilles, as compared with Agamemnon’s absence from the embassy in Book 9. Both men are in grieving for those closest to them and both are facing imminent downfall with Achilles’ understanding of his looming death and the inevitable Fall of Troy. The problems that they share transcend the war in their mutual respect and empathy.
Priam also appeals to Achilles’ lament for his own father and the image of ageing Peleus evokes tenderness for Priam and consequently favour from the reader; “He took the old man’s hand and pushed him gently away, and the two remembered, as Priam sat huddled at the feet of Achilles and wept for manslaughtering Hektor and Achilles wept now for his own father, now again for Patroklos”. Achilles is in a very powerful position with Priam under his roof, but he acknowledges the correct conduct as a host by not informing Agamemnon of his guest’s presence and observing the code of hospitality as set out by Zeus.
The image of the two urns of Zeus is seen by Graham Zanker as being what Achilles offers “as the “theological explanation” of Peleus and Priam’s suffering [being] vitally important for the perspective it gives on the view of life that Achilles has now reached. It tells that the gods allot man either a mixture of good and evil fortune or bad fortune alone” . Achilles’ experiences in the Iliad have changed his views to the extent that his past indiscretions can be forgiven. The death of Patroklos can thus be seen as a positive force in shaping a respect for others in Achilles. As Zanker concludes; Achilles’ experience in the Iliad is unique amongst all the warriors, he alone can find companionship with Priam and his understanding of life and death may even be greater than the gods, whose immortality prevents them from seeing what he sees.
As in the Iliad, Paradise Lost achieves a sense of resolution, but one where the original protagonist has been relegated comprehensively to the role of anti-hero, leaving Adam and Eve to face a world of unknown pleasures and horrors. Both poems contain characters who transcend the ill-morality surrounding them: for Achilles it took death to appreciate life, and whilst Satan’s false quest may have fascinated temporarily, his favour with the reader is doomed with his selfish desire for destruction.
Bowra, C.M. Tradition and Design in the Iliad. London: Oxford University Press, 1930.
Empson, William. Milton’s God. London: Chatto & Windus, 1965.
Homer. Iliad. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951.
Lewis, C.S.. A Preface to Paradise Lost London: Oxford University Press, 1942.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: Longman, 1998.
Zanker, Graham. The Heart of Achilles. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1997.
Achilles as a Powerful Protagonist in the Iliad
Achilles, the swift, godlike warrior of Greek lore, is among the most complex of Homer’s epic characters. Achilles and his ill-fated tendon figure prominently in the Western archetypal notion of a tragic hero; however, the application of the term “hero” to the Achaean fighter is disputable. Homer creates in Achilles a character that challenges the audience to grapple with both positive and negative aspects of his personality. From the very first to the very last books of The Iliad, Achilles says and does things that can be interpreted in different ways depending on one’s overall view of his character. This ambiguity, while frustrating, seems to have been intentionally included by Homer in order to more forcefully engage the audience’s thoughts on themes such as honor, righteousness, and mortality that are at the core of the poem. Achilles, because he is left open to so much interpretation, emerges as a character representative of a broad range of human experience.
The Iliad begins, in true Homeric fashion, in medias res: specifically, in the middle of Achilles’ rage. Because of this rapid introduction, the reader or audiencemember forms an immediate opinion of Achilles. Such first reactions are crucial; the resulting attitude colors the reader’s perceptions of Achilles’ actions for the rest of the story. In the case of the opening scenes of The Iliad, the text contains bases for several different reader reactions. A favorable reaction might view Achilles as a challenger of tyrannical leaders, a voice for the little guy. After all, Achilles is objecting in part to Agamemnon’s concern for his own glory and personal satisfaction over concern for the lives of his troops. Plus, if Achilles were to give up his own hard-won trophy, it would just be exacerbating the unjustness of the prize distribution. Achilles rails against Agamemnon, “Staggering drunk, with your dog’s eyes, your fawn’s heart! Never once did you arm with the troops and go to battle… Safer by far you find, to foray all through camp, commandeering the prize of any man who speaks against you. King who devours his people (85, 264-270)!” Achilles is fighting not just for himself, but for the whole Achaean army, all of the King’s people. Thus his rage and withdrawal from battle can be viewed as a sort of nonviolent resistance in the face of despotism.
Achilles’s initial clash with Agamemnon, if examined from a different point of view, can also yield a negative attitude in the mind of the reader. The case can be made that both Agamemnon and Achilles in this situation act incredibly selfishly. They are both unnecessarily risking others’ lives in defense of their own honor, and quibbling over female chattel. Furthermore, beyond simply sulking and refusing to fight, Achilles asks his mother Thetis to appeal to Zeus to help the Trojans. In his rage against Agamemnon, Achilles has now actively sought the death of his fellow Achaeans — a damnable act, hardly inspiring sympathy. Based on this evidence, one could assume him to be an egocentric rageaholic. Indeed, sufficient evidence for the negative view of Achilles is to be found just in the first few pages of The Iliad.
After the introduction of Achilles in book one, the warrior’s appearances in the plot action become sparse. Not until book nine does he reappear in any significant form, after much bloodshed has already been sustained on the battlefield. The stretch of battles scenes leaves the reader ample time to stew over his or her initial attitude towards Achilles. Similarly, it leaves Achilles to stew in his rage towards Agamemnon. When Achilles reenters the action in book nine, the tables have turned slightly; he is now being plied with gifts in exchange for his return. By changing the circumstances in this way, Homer shows Achilles’s personality from a different perspective. People’s actions are often judged differently based on whether they have the upper hand or not, and this situation indicates how Achilles acts when he, for the most part, has the upper hand. Again, Achilles’s response to the embassy from Agamemnon can be viewed as supporting both positive and negative attitudes towards Achilles.
On the favorable side, the idea of asserting the rights of the common man once again appears. This time, on a fundamental level, Achilles questions why the troops are even fighting for Agamemnon. Their lives and homes had not been threatened by the Trojans. They are simply fighting to settle the personal scores of rulers. Achilles asks “Why must we battle Trojans, men of Argos?… Are they the only men alive who love their wives, those sons of Atreus (262, 409-414)?” It can be seen that Achilles feels that an injustice is being perpetrated, an injustice that he will no longer take part in. His familial sentiments can be considered touching; he views Briseis with spousal tenderness, even though she is his prize. Achilles’s moral stance is one that has been taken by soldiers throughout the ages, and it thus can inspire sympathy among the audience.
To take the negative view, one can return to the fact that Achilles now has the advantage, and as such, his actions should be judged against a higher standard. Agamemnon is now acquiescing to Achilles’s original wish and more. Achilles could accept the embassy with grace and honor, but instead he remains obstinate in his refusal. Not only is this obstinacy childish, it is also detrimental to the ranks of Achaean soldiers, who cannot face the Trojans without Achilles. Achilles’s rage at Agamemnon, which once was fairly specific in nature, has now become a thoughtless and all-encompassing emotion. His selfish pride is costing the lives of thousands of fellow warriors.
These attitudes of sympathy or disgust seem fairly straightforward. Yet both the argument in favor of the positive view of Achilles and that in favor of the negative view cannot be considered complete without taking into account some themes of ancient Greek culture. One such theme is that of honor. Honor is mentioned constantly throughout The Iliad; it was obviously of paramount importance to the men of ancient Greece. The original row between Agamemnon and Achilles had honor at its core: whoever lost his trophy woman would also lose a part of his honor and manliness. In this light, Achilles’s initial refusal to cooperate with Agamemnon seems somewhat more understandable. Achilles’s subsequent refusal to fight also seems more daring when it is considered that he is losing honor by not fighting.
Honor is linked with another Homeric theme, mortality, in Achilles’s speech explaining why he refuses the embassy. In most cases, and particularly for Achilles, honor and death go hand in hand. Achilles specifically knows that if he fights he will die, and that if he sails home he will live a long life. Choosing to sail seems the cowardly route, yet considering the historical context, the action would have been a bravely revolutionary one to take. Thus these social ideas of honor and mortality can be used to further blur the line between the positive and negative views of Achilles.
The circumstances under which Achilles finally reenters combat result in interesting perspectives on his character. His directions to Patroclus about not entering the city seem to show affectionate and genuine concern. Similarly, his severely anguished reaction upon hearing of his friend’s death reveals a deep personal attachment. These occurrences tend to endear Achilles to the reader by portraying him as a caring and sensitive human being. Even Achilles’s bloodlust towards Hector is understandable, given the magnitude of his grief over Patroclus’s death. The sympathetic view of Achilles sees him here as a reluctant warrior, compelled to avenge his dear friend’s murder.
In characteristic ambiguous fashion, the above events can all easily be interpreted negatively instead of positively. For example, when Achilles exhorts Patroclus to turn back before seizing the city, he focuses on the good of his own glory: “Even if Zeus the thundering lord of Hera lets you seize your glory, you must not burn for war against these Trojans, madmen lusting for battle — not without me — you will only make my glory that much less… (415, 102-106)” These wishes are a tad presumptuous, given that Achilles refuses to go into battle himself. Achilles’s extreme expression of grief and rage at Patroclus’s death can also inspire skepticism among readers; after all, he had to have realized earlier that there was a good chance of Patroclus being wounded or killed. His violence toward Hector’s body can be viewed as unreasonable and downright psychotic. Thus Achilles’s reentrance into war is conducive to a distinctly negative interpretation, as well as a positive one.
The reader reaches the last scenes of The Iliad with a deep but confused sense of Achilles’s character. From the very opening lines and on throughout the work, the actions and words of The Iliad‘s tragic hero are left wide open to interpretation. Because Achilles can be perceived in so many different ways depending on the reader’s perspective and understanding of the story, his character emerges as representation of all human tragedy. When Achilles and Priam gaze into each other’s eyes at the end of the poem, the reader wonders if Priam is also trying to divine the true motives behind the swift warrior’s behavior. In the end, by remaining an enigma, Achilles inspires the reader to ponder the very depths of human experience that The Iliad explores.
Achilles and Yu the Great: Comparing Similarities and Differences
Western Hero Achilles
Achilles was the son of Thetis, who was a daughter of the sea god called Nereus. The gods Zeus and Poseidon wanted to marry Thetis but the prophecy by Prometheus that the son of Thetis was going to be greater than his father deterred them from pursuing her. When Achilles was born, Thetis wanted her son to become immortal, and she took him to river Styx, which stood between the land of the living and that of the dead, where he washed him. However, while washing him, he was holding his heel, and thus water could not touch his entire body. Thus, he was not entirely protected. During his boyhood, his father sent him to Chiron who taught him how to fight and survive in war. Prophet Calchas prophesied that the Greeks would not succeed in conquering the city of Troy unless Achilles joins the war. Despite the protection from his mother, Achilles joined the war. During the Trojan war, his friend Patroclus was killed by Hector. He was furious about it, and he killed Hector. Later, Paris the prince of Troy wounded him and killed the hero (Arrowsmith, 1967).
Given that Achilles was the son of a goddess and born out of a prophecy, he had supernatural powers. His actions were guided by the gods of his people for the goodness and safety of his people. For instance, while hiding among women, he liked the armor and war weapons and thus could not hide any longer. He agreed to join the war and protect his people. The story of Achilles an important lesson; the chosen ones cannot run away from their destiny. Achilles’ mother did not like him joining the war, but since the gods had chosen him, he lived fighting for his people and died fighting (Slatkin, 1995).
Eastern Hero Da Yu-the Great
According to Clark (2008), Da Yu is considered one of the greatest legends in the Chinese history. He was considered a flood savior and a founder of the Chinese oldest dynasty. Yu was the son of Gun, who was given the responsibility of controlling floods of the Yellow River from destroying the fields and homes of the Chinese. It is believed that Gun stole magic soil from his god and he was executed. Three years after his death, it is believed that his preserved body was slit open and Yu was brought out. Yu’s father had spent nine years trying to control the floods, but he failed. As an adult, Yu wanted to accomplish his father’s quest to control floods. Four days after his wedding, he went away to find out the best means of controlling the floods. He took thirteen years to complete the project. He made a good irrigation system by creating canals and dredgers on the river banks that eased the floods and channeled the water into the fields.
As an Archetypal Hero, Yu did great works of preventing the floods through the sacrifice of his time (McNeal, 2012). His deeds can be related to the normal sacrifices made by different leaders in the current world. Yu sacrificed his time and spent thirteen years looking for a solution to the floods without returning home. Moreover, his story has a moral lesson of sacrifice for others. His story teaches us that we should not be selfish. Through his selflessness, he spent most of the time trying to better the lives of his people. Thus, we should always emulate Yu by helping others without considering the personal gains.
A Comparative Study on Achilles and the Egyptian Kings
Achilles and Egyptian Kings: Compare and Contrast
In the works “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer,” and “Achilles and Ajax playing dice,” both artists display the cultural norms of their respective cultures through religious, spiritual, and mythological depictions of characters in their societies. For Osiris, the artist of “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer,” an illustration of the common funerary rituals of Ancient Egypt depicts what happens after a person dies. This work walks the viewer through the lens of the Ancient Egyptian citizen giving offerings to the king, who has passed away. This work was used as an instructional guide on how to get to a positive side of the afterlife. As the spirit of the deceased passed through the temple given to him, he would see this scripted on the wall and understand how to make it to the next life.
The artists of both works are trying to convey a message to their viewers, even though the time period in which they worked differ. For “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer,” the message is instructional. For a viewer of “Achilles and Ajax playing dice,” the message to its viewer is to tell the myth of the characters portrayed in the work. Each work has a specific objective, and although it may seem obvious, the viewer must work to understand the meaning of the work. As seen in “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer,” the details of the work can complicate what the viewer takes from the work after viewing it. The work has detailed steps that could easily be confused. In “Achilles and Ajax playing dice,” one might speculate that the pair are friends, and others might say they are enemies. The nature of the game can be interpreted; some might say it to be one game, and others another.
Besides a message, the composition of a piece can bring it great success, or dismal failure. There is not a distinct equation on how to make a successful piece of art, but there are certainly aspects that could feasibly make it better. Among many variables that go into making a successful painting/sculpture, such as line, color, space, and scale, line plays the most important role in both of these works, affecting not only the path on which the viewer looks, but on the complete outlook of the work. In “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer,” line guides the viewer along the instructional path to the afterlife. The painting moves in a horizontal fashion, giving it flow and grace. The way in which the viewer’s eye moves can make or break the overall feelings towards the piece. If this work were to be scattered in, let’s say, an uneven oval, the piece would not work. Because the subjects of the painting have similar structure, posture, and purpose, the piece flows together, making viewing it easier. In Exekias’ work, line and also plays an important role. The spears that rest upon the shoulders of Achilles and Ajax and positioned in a manor that makes the subject of the piece clear. The table upon which they are playing their dice game is flanked by the spears and is also trapped by the intense gazes of both Achilles and Ajax. While there is not an obvious line from the eyes of Achilles and Ajax, they do, in fact, make an indirect line, causing the viewer to look where the characters are looking.
Again, there is not an absolute equation for success in art, but color, along with several other aspects, in both pieces, is another component that affects the viewer’s view of the work overall. Color gives light to the imagination. Color can inspire thoughts that would not have sprouted if the work were in black and white. Thinking about the piece after viewing it is easier if it is colorful. The depictions are far more vivid, sending newer ideas and purpose to the seemingly simple and basic composition of these works.
The impact that both pieces have also depends on the material and size. The Ancient Egyptian tomb-dwelling painting stands a little taller than 15″ while the Greek vase is 2′. If either one of these pieces were taller, the image would have a different significance to those who viewed it. Typically, works of this stature were more intimate, and while they may have been seen by the public, they were not necessarily used like a statue or painting standing six feet tall might have been used. The pieces are similar in that they are smaller, with intricate detail only seen from up close. From the inscriptions to the smallest patterns, these pieces need to be closely examined in order to get the full effect.
The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks differed culturally, but in their artwork, there were many similarities. Art has been used, and is continuing to be used, as an outlet for cultural and personal gain and loss. It can be used as self-expression, both with personal matters, and even political matters. These two societies paved the way for art, and even though they differ visually, the message is surprisingly similar. Through art, one can become human by diving into new cultures, and although the artists were not thinking about this at the time, artists continue to record the times through their own self-expression.
Analysis Of Beowulf As An Epic Hero In Comparison With Achilles
What is a hero? The term’s definition varies by what values one believes in. For example, a hero could be someone who is extremely brave and constantly defeats villains, or a hero could simply be someone who performs good deeds to help the little people. An epic hero, such as Beowulf, consists of both of these traits and many others that one would think of when asked for their definition. When compared to another epic hero, such as Achilles, one can see how their shared characteristics define Beowulf as a hero. Beowulf possesses three important characteristics of an epic hero: He is incredibly courageous, having great faith in fate, is a great warrior, and he is loyal to those around him.
Throughout much of the poem, Beowulf boasts about being the best and about how fate will unravel as it should. He is willing to put his life on the line and let fate do its job for the sake of others. When Beowulf meets Hrothgar, he says, “I have heard, too, that the monster’s scorn of men is so great that he needs no weapons and fears none. Nor will I”. “Fate will unwind as it must!”. Beowulf is obviously very sure of himself and his strength, as he is so bold with his choice of words. He also sounds confident that fate will favor him, as he does not seem to worry about what will happen to himself. Towards the end of the poem, just before his last battle, Beowulf again exemplifies courage and bravery when he says, “When he comes to me I mean to stand, not run from his shooting flames, stand till fate decides which of us wins.” Additionally, the idea of letting fate take its course is also shown once more in the last line. While Beowulf displays courage and confidence in fate, that does not automatically make him a hero.
Not only is courage a trait of heroes, but so is being a great warrior. Having exceptional strength is a quality almost all heroes have in common, and it is also something most heroes need to possess in order to accomplish their feats. For example, in the epic poem the Iliad, by Homer, Achilles was dipped into the river Styx, which gave him partial immortality and therefore superhuman strength. Achilles proved himself in countless battles and those contribute to his completion of the task of defeating the Trojans. This crucial characteristic of being a great warrior is one that makes him an epic hero. While it is unknown whether Beowulf’s strength is by supernatural means or not, it is shown repeatedly throughout the poem. For example, when he says, “They have seen my strength for themselves, have watched me rise from the darkness of war, dripping with my enemies’ blood. I drove five great giants into chains, chased all of that race from the earth.”, it is established that Beowulf is extraordinarily strong and that he has won many battles. While he is not humble about it, it is still a characteristic of the majority of heroes.
While the previous two traits are a necessity to being a hero, so is being loyal to those around you. Granted, Beowulf certainly was not humble about his feats, but he did stay true to those he was serving. When Beowulf first goes to Hrothgar to help defeat Grendel, he does so because of his loyalty to him for aiding Beowulf’s father in the past. Another example is shown in lines 608-611 when Beowulf says, “I am old, now, but I will fight again, seek fame still, if the dragon hiding in his tower dares to face me.” Beowulf takes it upon himself to fight the dragon himself out of his loyalty to his people. Like Beowulf, Achilles was not only a great warrior, but he was incredibly loyal to those closest to him. For example, his devoted friend Patroclus. Having grown up together, Patroclus fought in the Trojan War with Achilles as well. Once Patroclus was killed by Hector, Achilles swore revenge due to his loyalty to his friend.
To conclude, what exactly is a hero? As stated above, everyone has their own definition for the word, and each hero has his or her own set of traits and characteristics. Every epic hero throughout history has possessed at least a few of the traits mentioned, and when related to one like Achilles, Beowulf’s heroic traits are obvious. While he is missing the humility aspect, Beowulf is a hero because of his courage and faith in fate, his inhuman strength, and his loyalty to those around him.
- The Beowulf Poet, Beowulf. The Language of Literature, edited by Arthur N. Applebee, et. al, Mcdougal Littell, 2006, pp. 30-60 History.com Editors.
- “Achilles.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 Mar. 2011, https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/achilles.
- “Achilles (Akhilleus).” Achilles, Hero of the Trojan War, Demi-God of Great Power – Greek Gods, https://www.greek-gods.org/greek-heroes/achilles.php.
- Seton-Williams, M. V. Greek Legends and Stories. Barnes & Noble Books, 2000. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/achilles https://www.greek-gods.org/greek-heroes/achilles.php
Similarities and Differencrs Between Superman and Achilles
While Superman and Achilles are separated by centuries of literature, they remain deeply connected through shared fundamental characteristics. Both characters are distinguishable from other superheroes in their respective universes through their supernatural abilities, romantic relationships and weaknesses. This essay will only compare Superman, as portrayed in the DC Comics film Batman v. Superman, to Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. It will consider both heroes by analyzing their similarities and differences. Moreover, it will compare each character’s background, symbolism and romantic relationships.
Achilles status of a demi-god stems from his early childhood. This status was gained when his mother, Thetis, submerged Achilles into the river of Styx by one of his heels. This process made him invincible everywhere except his Achilles tendon. Likewise, Superman is also subject to a single weakness, kryptonite. As with Achilles, Superman’s mother went to great lengths to keep him safe but failed to address his vulnerability to kryptonite. Further, both of these weaknesses were exploited by weaker characters. In the case of Superman, that was Bruce Wayne, when he created a spear made from kryptonite. For Achilles, it was Paris who made a divine shot to his heel outside the gates of Troy.
Achilles and Superman differ in their reactions to an attack on their respective weaknesses. Superman, after impaling Lex Luthor’s genetically-engineered monster with a kryptonite-infused spear, is killed by the monster in the last moments as he tries to escape. However, in one of the last scenes of the film after his final burial, the rocks sitting on his coffin begin to levitate, suggesting to the viewer that he is still alive. Superman is also shown to be resurrected in Justice League (2017) by the Flash. In contrast to Superman, Achilles is mortally wounded from an attack on his heel. This contrast highlights Superman’s resiliency to death, reinforcing his ability to overcome even the most brutal attacks.
In Batman v. Superman, the horse is a recurring symbol of defeat. Wallace Keefe acts as a powerful symbol of the Trojan Horse when he accepts a bomb from Lex Luthor and transports it into the capitol, killing everyone except Superman. Like the Trojan Horse, Wallace presents an air of normalcy, but secretly harbors a weapon of attack. These stories differ in that the actual Trojan Horse was the final attack before defeat was declared. Whereas for Superman, the capitol bombing led to a self-imposed exile, not necessarily classified as a complete defeat. The story of the Trojan Horse also differs from Wallace Keefe in that this attack was against Achilles’ enemies, the Trojans; whereas Superman was the intended victim of the bombing, orchestrated by Lex Luthor.
Another feature that is shared between both superheroes is their suit. While Achilles and Superman both wear a different suit, each serves a similar purpose. ADD Patroclus took Achilles’ armor to inspire the Greek troops but was eventually killed by Hector. The Greek god Hephaestus is persuaded by Thetis to create new armor, which included the shield of Achilles. While this armor would normally provide protection against danger for other mortals, Achilles immortality renders the armor useless. In this sense, the armor remains an aesthetic feature of the character. Likewise, Superman’s skin-tight suit is widely recognized as symbolic as it does not provide additional protection. The design of Achilles suit is similar to other Greek soldiers, symbolizing his fraternity with these mortals. Whereas with Superman, the color and pattern scheme of his suit is unique among other superheroes in his universe. For both of these superheroes, the suit serves an aesthetic purpose and does not address their respective weaknesses.
Both Superman and Achilles maintained romantic relationships. These relationships differ with the gender of each character’s lover. Superman had a love interest with the opposite sex, Lois Lane; whereas Achilles connected with the same-sex, Patroclus. When Lois was kidnapped by Lex Luthor, Superman was devasted. Similarly, the loss of Patroclus had a parallel effect on Achilles. In the film, Superman becomes extremely emotional and irrational, claiming Bruce was the cause of his loss. Likewise, Achilles attacks everyone he assumed to be responsible, eventually killing Hector, Patroclus’s killer.
Both Lois Lane and Patroclus are of high importance to Superman and Achilles, respectively. Therefore, it is no surprise that the importance of these romantic lovers is taken advantage of by each superhero’s villains. In Achilles case, the gods intended to lure Achilles back to war. When Patroclus leads the Myrmidons into combat under the disguise of Achilles armor, he is attacked and stabbed by Hector. The death of Patroclus grabs Achilles attention, engaging him back in the Trojan War, which ultimately leads to his demise. In Batman v. Superman, Lex Luthor kidnaps Lois Lane and Martha Kent to bring Superman out of exile. This attempt is also successful when Superman returns in time to catch Lois Lane when she is pushed off the roof by Lex Luther.
Superman, as written in Batman v. Superman, and Achilles offer many similarities to be drawn. Both of these characters share extra-human abilities and similar weaknesses. Strong connections can also be made between the purpose of their suits and romantic interests. While they are introduced centuries apart, each character’s background, symbolism and romantic relationships allows for fundamental connections to be made.
Choosing Between Red and Green
Has the term ‘hero’ become too vague in modern times? Does its original meaning still stand today, the prestige of being labels as heroic? According to common parlance, almost anyone is a hero in some way. Is “saying that everyone is special another way of saying that no-one is.” It can be agreed upon that ‘heroism’ refers to sacrifice, selflessness, and courage, but to what extent does each attribute have be shown to earn the legendary status of ‘heroic’.
Classic hero stories such as Achilles and Gilgamesh, all have storylines that mirror that of Joseph Campbell’s structure of ‘The Hero’s Journey.’ They all feature some sort of person or character has voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way for the betterment of others. An accurate representation of the original meaning and attributes in which society regarded as heroic, is the first epic poem written, Beowulf.
Beowulf tells the story of a young Geatish warrior. who comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the King of the Danes, whose kingdom is being terrorized by a monster named Grendel. Long story short, Beowulf mortally wounded Grendel, which granted him victory, in which he then had to face Grendel’s’ mother who sought to avenge the son’s death.
Beowulf then beheads Grendel’s mother with an ancient sword, landed to him by Unferth, after almost dying himself. After ruling Geats for 50 years, he then ends up fighting a marauding dragon. Finding the dragon in its lair, Beowulf unsuspectedly kills the dragon, although receiving a mortal wound in the fight. He later dies, being buried back in his hometown, where he left from. Beowulf uses his supernatural strength and bravery to defeat all three of his advisories.
Whilst not matching the exact structure as Campbell’s ‘A Hero’s Journey,’ Beowulf features all the key stages. Campbell believed that every piece of hero-regarded fiction goes through 17 specific stages. These 17 stages can be further broken down into three distinct acts, departure, initiation, and the return. More simply, every film about a hero features a hero who sets out on a journey, faces a series of challenges, and then returns home after a triumphant victory.
In a more modern film, The Matrix, which is set in both 1999 and 2199 depending whose assumption of time is correct, we also see a very similar structure as to that of Beowulf, a mere 1200 years apart. The Matrix, is directed by the Wachowski Brothers, depicting a dystopian future in which all of humanity is trapped inside a simulated virtual reality called the Matrix. The Matrix was created by thought-capable machines, to control humans whilst using their bodies as an energy source. The main character, Thomas A Anderson is a man living two lives. By day, he is an average computer programmer, but by night, he is a computer hacker known as Neo.
Neo has always questioned his reality, but the truth is far beyond his imagination. Neo finds himself targeted by the police when he is contacted by Morpheus, a legendary computer hacker branded a terrorist by the government. Morpheus talks to Neo about the Matrix and the truth about the world he lives in and how he can save it. This is Neos “call to adventure.”
Hector and Achilles – Two Examples of Heroic Code
Warring forces: Achilles and Hector
“They ran beside these, one escaping, the other after him. It was a great man who fled, but far better he who pursued him.” (22.158-161) Achilles and Hector, the two great warriors of the Iliad were both very similar by being the heroes of their own story, each displaying traits that directly opposed another while also complementing each other. Achilles and Hector both were moral examples of the heroic code by displaying attributes such as pride, humanity, and heroism; however, only Hector exemplifies these traits in a way that proved him the true hero of the Iliad.
Pride is a common trait that many Trojans and Achaeans alike share, but its most significant impact lies on the fates of both Hector and Achilles themselves. Achilles’ pride, which gives him great strength also binds him. Achilles’ pride is wounded once Agamemnon takes Briseis away from him, and this causes him to withdraw from the war as well as ask his mother to persuade Zeus to “Hem the Greeks in between the fleet and the sea.” (Homer 1. 426) Achilles asks this hoping that people lose faith in Agamemnon so that he can have his petty revenge. This decision, however, takes many lives from the Greeks including Patroclus himself, Achilles’ best friend. Hector’s pride is what drives him to partake in the war, but also what ultimately takes him from his family. Hector’s pride is based on duty and others’ opinion of him and this can be seen when he reluctantly leaves his family for the war, all while saying, “I would die of shame to face the men of Troy/ And the Trojan women trailing their long robes /If I would shrink from battle now, a coward.” (Homer 6. 523-525) By this Hector means that despite his wishes, it is his pride that inhibits him from indulging himself and his family and is what propels him to battle. While pride both inhibits and strengthens both heroes of the Iliad, it is Achilles that is burdened the most by it and, Hector that is most liberated by it.
Humanity is a sparse quality to spot in a war setting, but the two heroes of the Iliad manage to possess it nonetheless. Achilles fights for glory and honor and to conquer. It is in numerous instances that Achilles is shown without a shred of humanity such as; when he mercilessly killed Laomedon who had just escaped slavery, of which Achilles himself had sold him into, or even when Briseis describes him killing her husband in front of her. Furthermore, the act that lacks the most significant amount of humanity is when Achilles drags Hector’s corpse face down by his ankles behind Achilles’ chariot for all of Ilion to see. However, one must remember that this act was inspired by the love Achilles had for Patroclus. By the humanity Achilles showed in mourning Patroclus’ death and crying for him when he laments, “My friend is dead/ Patroclus, my dearest friend of all. I loved him/ And I killed him” (Homer 18. 84-86) There is also great kindness Achilles shows in the act of politely returning Hector’s body to Priam. Hector’s humanity is shown through how he fights for his people; to protect them and maintain peace. Although, it is a little contradictory how Hector’s humanity propels him to fight to protect his loved ones even when it means leaving them behind. A crucial scene is when Hector visits his child while he is clad in battle armor. When Astyanax screams out in fright he understands his child immediately and takes off his helmet, prompting Astyanax to laugh in delight. This is important because; although, simply a child, the near-infant recognizes his father in an instant as the kind caring man who makes Astyanax feel secure in his presence, thus showing Hector’s gentle nature and unquestionable humanity. Achilles and Hector are no doubt not without their flaws, but the presence of their inherent humanity helps to balance their shortcomings; however, it is Hector that proves to be the more humane of the two, with an overwhelming portfolio of kind acts when addressed relatively to that of Achilles’.
Heroism is perhaps the foundation of the heroic code, for it is what a hero must no doubt possess in order to be considered a true hero, and Achilles and Hector are undoubtedly two individuals that embody this trait completely. When Achilles hears of Patroclus’ death any previous semblance of petty anger leaves him and he is imbued with only a passion for retribution that certainly conforms to what heroism is portrayed to be in Greek culture. Achilles displays his heroism when showing his fierce loyalty to Patroclus by avenging his death. Hector’s heroism is shown through the way he confronts his family, for even at the prospect escaping death and living with them, he bids farewell to his wife and young son to fight in the war, which is a true show of heroism. Even at times when his family begs for him back with compelling monologs, such as when his mother pleads, “Hector, my child, if I’ve ever soothed you/ With this breast, remember it now son, and/ Have pity on me. Don’t pit yourself/ Against that madman. Come inside the wall./ If Achilles kills you…/Dogs will eat your body by the Greek ships.” (Homer 22. 90-99) Hector pushes forwards with bravery that represents the heroic code in its whole. Hector and Achilles are both no less than heroes in the eyes of Greek literature, but it is Hector who is the ultimate embodiment of heroism, for even when terrified and staring at of death in the form of Achilles, he pushes onwards to confront his destiny in a true show of heroism.
Achilles and Hector, both with similar strengths and weaknesses, values, and warring natures both conform to the typical Greek heroic code but it is only Hector that remains the ultimate victor of the Iliad. It is true that it is Achilles who vanquished Hector; however, simple skill in combat is not what makes a hero. Pride, humanity, and heroism are the three key elements of the heroic code, both heroes possess them, yet only Hector is able to epitomize these three traits in a manner worthy of a hero.
What Thor and American Army Veterans Have in Common
Many would say that these are examples of our modern-day heroes. More than not, the individual that society characterizes as a hero must embody the morals that the society find to be most important. If we take America, for example, patriotism is a highly valued quality. Both Thor and an American Army soldier are exemplified as heroes because they are willing to die to defend the country that they love. That being said, the hero archetype has been integrated into society long before the blockbuster films.
Looking back further into history, Arjuna and Achilles are found. Arjuna is the embodiment of an Eastern hero while Achilles represents a Western hero. Though these characters are infinitely different from one another, they share the title of a hero. To analyze the highest values of a culture, one must first analyze their said heroes and their actions related to certain circumstances. These circumstances include how the hero deals with conflicts between himself, outside forces and nature.
First and foremost, a conflict within one’s self is a consistent theme within both Eastern and Western literature. A conflict within the self is characterized by an internal struggle that the hero must fight against to achieve what they seek. In the case of Achilles, he seeks fame and power but is constantly fighting against his pride. The Iliad paints an image of Achilles as being ruled by his emotions. He is extremely petulant when things do not go his way. He has a terrible temper and seeks vengeance of those who wrong him. That being said, Achilles also shows his loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for those that he loves. Arjuna is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. While Achilles is ruled primarily by his emotions, Arjuna seeks enlightenment. This quest for enlightenment requires that Arjuna be detached from the world. Grief, temptation, and earthly desires are all to be avoided or ignored to reach the detached state that he seeks. This struggle that Arjuna has within himself is depicted through his hesitance to fight against his family despite the urgings of Krishna. The two heroes both struggle internally to fulfil their duty. While Achilles uses his emotions to be a better warrior, Arjuna must might against his emotions to reach the detached state that he seeks. This allows one to infer that Western cultures value emotions as a humanistic quality that makes one who they are, and in some cases even works to their advantage. The Eastern culture, in contrast, values level headedness and composure.
Secondly, the heroes, Achilles and Arjuna, are faced with the conflict of an outside force. In the case of Achilles, he is faced with a conflict between King Agamemnon over a war prize. Rather than bowing to Agamemnon’s position of authority, Achilles simply refuses to fight against the Trojans. In Book I, Achilles is quoted saying: By this scepter I swear; When every last Greek desperately misses Achilles, Your remorse won’t do any good then, When Hector the man-killer swats you down like flies, And you will eat your heart out, Because you failed to honor the best Greek of them all. Rather than attempting to resolve the conflict, Achilles essentially prolongs it with his refusal to bend to Agamemnon’s will. In his quest, he directly goes against the established idea that kings are directly appointed by the gods. Arjuna, on the other hand, is faced with a conflict between himself and Krishna, a Hindu deity. Arjuna’s conflict is based on his empathetic nature which contrasts immensely to Achilles’ prideful nature. In chapter I of The Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna says to Krishna: It grieves me that as we intend to murder our relatives in our green for pleasures, kingdoms, we are fixed on doing evil! After speaking this, Krishna reveals himself in his most divine form. Out of respect for the deity, Arjuna then acts according to the knowledge that Krishna has bestowed upon him; thus, the conflict is resolved almost as quickly as it began. Through these examples, it can be inferred that Western cultures place value in one’s pursuit of their own duty or authority while Eastern culture value adherence to their belief system and conformation to authority. Western culture’s today still show a certain level of value in this idea. The pursuit of fame and the practice of protest seem to be much more present within the Western cultures than the East. The same can be said about the value that Eastern cultures put into their belief systems. While not practiced as much today, honor killings that take place in mostly Eastern countries show that dishonor to one’s religion is deemed a lesser evil that killing someone for going against said belief systems.
Last, but not least, heroes are often confronted with a conflict between themselves and nature, specifically death. Achilles sees death as an avenue to figuratively achieve immortality. He seeks to make a name for himself that will last after death. This personal quest of his seemingly becomes the entire meaning of his life. Achilles would rather die renowned, at a young age, than to live obscurely into old age. Achilles pursuit of this notoriety seems to only cultivate his behavior to further differentiate himself from society. While convential warriors bow to the whim of their superior, Achilles seems to regard himself as his own master due to the power and strength he possesses. Regarding Arjuna, while the warrior accepts his bestowed role as a warrior, he believes in the spiritual cycle of reincarnation. This cycle relies heavily on karmic system of reward and consequence. Therefore, it is in Arjuna’s best interest to obey the laws of his gods.
By analyzing these heroes, it can be inferred that Western society treats death as something to overcome in a sense. By leaving a legacy, the fame of a person will last long after their demise, thus, leaving death almost powerless. For the Eastern hero, death is seen as a natural cycle of life. It is nothing to be feared, but rather embraced. Due to the belief in the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, Easter society values living one’s life according to the established principles to achieve good standing with the gods. While Achilles and Arjuna possess vastly different values and temperament, these heroes possess the morale of the cultures that they represent. Heroes traditionally represent all the qualities that a culture sees as being valuable. Through Achilles’ and Arjuna’s actions in the face of conflict, an image of the society that they come from can be seen.
Can We Call Achilles a Hero? Ancient Character in Modern Perspective.
Homer’s The Iliad tells the ancient tale of the battles that took place during the Trojan War. It recounts the gods and their influence, the war among mortals, and the heroism displayed by many famous Greek names. One name in particular, Achilles, is honored in the Iliad as a man to be praised and admired for his deeds throughout this epic. Yet Achilles, although fulfilling all the ancient Greek requirements to be a hero, should not be considered a hero in the modern sense. His acts of corruption and selfishness told in the Iliad prove him to be a name that is not worthy of the hero’s title in today’s beliefs.
Our understanding of what qualifies a man to be an ancient Greek hero is defined in old epics such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid. They were descended from the gods, therefore granting superhuman – like abilities. They completed astounding feats on epic journeys that displayed their skills as a hero. Hercules was the strongest, Achilles was the greatest warrior, Odysseus was the most cunning, and so on. After their deaths, heroes lived on through kleos, or what the Greeks called “eternal glory”. In the Iliad, Achilles is given a choice to choose kleos, a short life with eternal glory, or immortality, and a long life without remembrance. By killing Hector as brutally as he did, he chooses, making him a hero worthy of kleos in the Greek’s view. A summary of the importance of this choice is stated in Gregory Nagy’s The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours: “Achilles will choose the glory of epic song, which is a thing of art, over his own life, which is a thing of nature. The thing of art is destined to last forever, while his own life, as a thing of nature, is destined for death.” Achilles is, in terms of remarkable heroic acts and abilities, the definition of a Greek hero. He made the right choices of that time’s mindset to ensure his legacy would last forever.
Now, the definition of a hero has vastly changed. Creating a legacy is no longer the most important thing a hero can do. Heroes are remembered by their acts for others, as opposed to acts for themselves or their ability to be extraordinary in battle or on journeys. Achilles may have been a hero to the Greeks, but it is important to remember that his heroism came from the romanticized idea of war and battle that the Greeks held. Every action or inaction preformed by Achilles can be traced to his undeniable thirst for everlasting honor and glory, rather than sentiment and realization of the right thing to do for his civilization. If Achilles were to be judged by today’s standards, he would not be a hero, he would be a criminal. “Looked at from one point of view, then, the insult-sensitive anger of the hero seems to serve and protect society by protecting the values, such as stable patrilineal families, that are at its core. Yet, at the same time, that anger is potentially destructive of the very society it seems to be protecting.” (Reeve 2). Achilles’ anger, though motivation for his actions in battle, is also motivation for his actions that condemn his heroism.
Many times in the Iliad, Achilles’ wrath is used as an almost a excuse for his conflicts on and off the battlefield. Sung by the Muses in the first stanza, his rage is stated to have cost many lives of others, not just enemies, but of his own men. “Rage: Sing: Goddess, Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls Of heroes into Hades’ dark, And left their bodies to rot as feasts For dogs and Birds, as Zeus’ will was done.” Achilles’ anger causes him to act unlike a hero, and this instance is not heroic even in ancient Greek standards. He kills Hector, denying him the proper burial and traditional honoring usually given to respected warriors. Yet, this is overlooked as the gods and goddesses sympathize with Achilles sadness and rage. A true hero, in today’s ideals, does not dishonor the traditions that a society holds to a high importance.
Another terrible act Achilles performs is the rape of the woman Briseis. He claims her as a prize of war, which was accepted at that time, and treats he as an object of his own. But he loves her because she is simply a part of his high honor and status. Achilles’ feelings toward his prize of war is alloyed with his love for honor and for himself. This calls his morals into question. His every actions in the Iliad, as said before, can be seen as coming from a greater desire to be honored and remembered. His morals and alignment are not explained as being true to anyone but himself, and can be inferred to be driven by personal gain. Even when Achilles is at his most vulnerable, weeping after the death of Patroclus, the death itself comes from Achilles’ absence on the battlefield after a disagreement with King Agamemnon. His moment that can be seen as humanizing is overlooked when it is clarified to have resulted from his own decisions. Achilles cause the events that lead to further pain and suffering for not only himself, but others. The moral implications and consequences in the Iliad is shown through Achilles. “The moral he is going to present is that anger, the cankered fruit of pride, is destructive and that it has devastating consequences, not merely for Achilles, the prideful man, full of wrath, but on countless other people, the innocent victims of Achilles’ sin.” (Pearce 1). The “hero” of the Iliad is, although godlike, said to have been human, and therefore susceptible to morality and immorality.
Homer’s idealized demigod may have won a place in history, but it is up to the values of the modern reader to determine whether Achilles is to be praised or condemned. The ancient stories that tell of old heroes can still be relevant in today’s society and ideals by showing the contrast between old and new interpretations of a hero. The concept of kleos, and eternal honor and glory, is not prominent in most public figures or what the average person would consider a hero. Today’s heroes focus on helping others, or using their famous name for good causes. Achilles, a hero in ancient times, is no longer famous in modern times for his heroism, but is instead a name that is remembered as being an important character in Greek myth and epics that shows us their cultural values and history.