A Comparative Analysis of Odysseus and Achilles

2 February 2017

The Trojan War was more than a series of battles between opposing forces, it was the climax of an age of heroes. The retrieval of Helen brought together many of the mythological characters of that time onto a single stage. Of the thousands of brave men who fought at Ilion, two men stood above the masses, sharing the title of hero. They were born in the line of those on Mt. Olympus, favored by the gods. Excelling in courage and skill, adored by those who followed them into battle, the actions of Achilles and Odysseus achieved a high place in Greek mythology.

Through analysis we see that Odysseus and Achilles were close variations upon the same theme. The similarities between Odysseus and Achilles begin as they set sail for Ilion. Receiving prophecies of the war leading to unfavorable circumstances, both men attempted to avoid recruitment. Prior to the Trojan War an oracular prophecy foretold of Odysseus being delayed greatly in returning home if he chose to participate. Odysseus feigns madness to avoid the war to no avail. Achilles faces similar circumstances.

A Comparative Analysis of Odysseus and Achilles Essay Example

Thetis, Achilles’ mother, had previously received a prophecy that he would either live a short and glorious life or a long uneventful life. Fearing that the Trojan War would lead him to glory, and thus death, she tried unsuccessfully to hide him. Glory, the very thing that Thetis sought to avoid, eventually pulled Achilles into battle. Kleos is commonly translated as “fame” or “glory,” but these words do not encompass its true meaning. Kleos plays an enduring role in the interactions of Greek patriarchs; it transcends an individual and is passed on to successive generations.

Having fathers of fame, both Odysseus and Achilles feel that they must maintain the kleos of their lines and build upon it. Achilles and Odysseus share a similar lineage. Numerous times Odysseus is refered to as “Son of Laertes in the line of Zeus…. ” Achilles achieves is semi-divine status through his immortal mother, Thetis. Both heroes were the sons of famous warriors, Laertes being one of Argonauts, and Peleus having traveled with Heracles against Amazons, among their other exploits.

Both fathers would have been expected to raise their sons to be wise in the ways of war, and to show all the characteristics of a great Greek military leader. We also see that the mothers of both men are very concerned for them, possibly more than expected. Thetis tries to hide Achilles when he is being recruited by the Acheans, and also goes to Hephaestus to have him a new suit of armor made. Anticlea, the mother of Odysseus, literally worries herself to death when her son does not return home from the war. Odysseus and Achilles also feature a common relationship with their sons.

In the afterlife, Odysseus questions his mother of the fates of his son and father (Odyssey 11. 173). Only a few lines later Achilles asks the same question of Odysseus (Odyssey 11. 515-517). Presumed dead, Odysseus appears to lack the kleos that would be passed on to Telemachus, a force that might empower him to take control of the House of Odysseus. Neoptolemus, on the other hand, is fully aware of the fame his father achieved and with this knowledge he joins the battle at Troy. Another twist in the father-son relationship exists in the armaments of Odysseus and Achilles.

Achilles uses a spear given to him by father which no other man had the skill to wield. Odysseus had a bow that no other man could string, save only his son. Strength, along with appearance, is clearly a trait of both Achilles and Odysseus. Achilles’ strength is so great he is known as the best Achean fighter. The strength of Odysseus shines during his swim to Scheria. On many occasions Athena gives Odysseus a “godlike” appearance, while Achilles achieves this through his demigod birth. Achilles and Odysseus are both determined and steadfast in their decisions.

We see Odysseus’ determination to find his way home throughout the Odyssey. Achilles determination shows when he withdraws from the battle in Book 1 of the Iliad, even with generous offering of riches as compensation for his lost prize Briseis. He also is determined to kill Hector, no matter what the cost. Another similarity between Odysseus and Achilles is how their motivations changed from The Iliad to The Odyssey. When Odysseys speaks to Achilles in the afterlife, Achilles has had a drastic change of heart in his motivation for living.

He states “I’d rather be a hired hand back up on earth, Slaving away for some poor dirt farmer, Than lord it over all these withered dead. ” (Odyssey 11. 511-513). This stands in stark contrast to the search for fame that leads him to glory in The Iliad. Odysseus also has a change of heart. Initially journeying to Troy in the search of fame and riches, his motivations change as his return grows ever more difficult. Though he has the offer of fame and wealth with Circe and Calypso, Odysseus now values his return to home over material wealth.

Contrast between Achilles and Odysseus comes in the form of their heroic traits. While Achilles represents physical strength and prowess as the greatest fighter in the Achean army, Odysseus triumphs in his quick wit and cunning. This brains-over-brawn tactic indicates a greater sense of maturity on the part of Odysseus. Achilles reinforces this point with his child-like stubbornness in Book 1 of the Iliad. After Patroclus is killed, Achilles determined to begin an assault on the Trojans, but it is the wise Odysseus that persuades him to allow the men to eat and rest before returning to battle.

Throughout the Greek mythology we see common traits passed on through generations, and with this in mind it may be inferred that Neoptolemus shares the same mindset of Achilles. In Sophocles’ Philoctetes there is a sharp contrast between how Odysseus and Neoptolemus want to go about gaining the bow of Heracles. While Odysseus prefers to use cunning, the son of Achilles desires a more honorable method. We also see these dispositions reflected at Troy, whereas Achilles prefers frontal combat verses Odyssesus’ use of the Trojan Horse.

The interactions of Odysseus and Achilles seem to follow a trend that is characterized by Odysseus giving advice that Achilles does not initially follow. In Book 9 of the Iliad, Odysseus is sent to persuade Achilles to fight, but it is only after Patroclus’ death that Achilles returns. Again in Book 19 we find Odysseus persuading Achilles to allow the men to eat, and while he does allow this, Achilles himself will not eat until Athena feeds him nectar and ambrosia (Iliad 19. 369).

When Odysseus speaks with Achilles in the afterlife, he advises him not to lament his own death, as he now rules the dead with might (Odyssey 11. 508). Achilles once more refuses this advice. Two closely related characters, Achilles and Odysseus set out with high hopes of glory and fame only to endure much suffering and loss. Although their journeys begin with kleos, struggle has taught them the value of nostos. This is a common trend among the Heroic traditions. Heroes are defined by their tribulations; Achilles and Odysseus face many of these, but as we have see tribulations are only one of the many things they share.

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