Achilles: God or Beast?

2 February 2017

Title Joel Abudarham World Views-Ancient Greek Civilization Marie Michelle Wilband “He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god. ” -Aristotle Tuesday October 2nd, 2012 Achilles is the main character, and, without doubt, the most complex character in Homer’s famous poem, The Iliad. Son of the goddess nymph Thetis and the king of the Myrmidons, Peleus, Achilles is a semi-god, known throughout and beyond Greece for his strength and fighting abilities.

Stories on the epic hero Achilles are numerous, like the legend of Prometheus’, the fore thinker, prophecy regarding the birth of Thetis’ son, or the legend of Achilles bathing in the Styx River. However, Achilles name was made immortal with the tale of the Trojan War in Homer’s Iliad. In fact, the major theme in Homer’s poem is the uncontrollable rage and wrath of Achilles. In the following character analysis, I will examine Achilles’ personal traits and behavior, and express whether the character has gone through changes at the end of the poem.Leading his nation the Myrmidons, Achilles and the rest of the Greek army are laying siege on the city of Troy and parked on its shore. Inside the Greek camp, there is no doubt that the semi-god Achilles is the greatest warrior. No other king or hero can pretend to be a greater hero than Achilles.

Achilles: God or Beast? Essay Example

His excellence in the battlefield and his godly strength, his arete, is recognized by the Greeks, the Trojans and even the Olympian gods.Achilles possesses superhuman strength and abilities, and share a close relationship with the gods. This makes him what Greeks call ‘epic hero’ and these abilities are his arete. However, Achilles many flaws have a central part in the poem. In the beginning, we realize that Achilles has a strong sense of social order and is an important figure in the Greek camp. In fact, as a deadly plague sent by Apollo is decimating the Greeks, Achilles is the first to take the initiative to discover the reason behind god Apollo’s anger.Secondly, we also realize that Achilles doesn’t follow the hierarchal order set in the Greek camp: By calling an assembly and ordering to Agamemnon, leader of the Achaean army, to give back Chrysies in order to appease Apollo’s wrath, Achilles upsets the order of the Greek protocol and insults Agamemnon.

At first, Agamemnon isn’t reluctant to give up his war prize and slave. Finally, Agamemnon accepts but demands Briseis in exchange, Achilles’ own prize. Achilles is forced to accept, and is for the first time in the tale of The Iliad overtaken by his wild fury and rage (he attempted to kill Agamemnon, but Athena stopped him).For Achilles, the loss of Briseis is comparable to the kidnapping of Helen (the cause of the Trojan War); this means that the quarrel between him and Agamemnon is equally righteous to the conquest of Troy. However, what really angers Achilles is consequence for his reputation: Just like Agamemnon, the loss of a war prize can affect the arete and the reputation of ‘great and epic hero’. In fact, ones arete were measured by the war prizes brought back home. Achilles decides to withdraw from the war with his men, and stand by the boats near the shore.

At this point, his anger towards Agamemnon has not dissipated and some major flaws come out of Achilles. In fact, his pride forces him not to join the battle and even pray to Zeus for the Trojans to win and slaughter his fellow Greeks. In addition, we witness his lack of nobility and human integrity; human integration attributes are essential in Homer’s tale. By withdrawing from the battle, Achilles is awaiting for the admiration of the Greek soldiers and is fuelled and obsessed by his personal glory (“A man dies still if he has done nothing”).By praying for the death of the Achaean army, Achilles doesn’t only chose personal glory over the common good, but he loses his human integrity and identity and acts like a god. This pretentious, arrogant and self-sufficient behavior is called in ancient Greek civilization ‘Hubris’. ‘Hubris’, considered as the only sin for ancient Greeks, is trying to break the holy and sacred order of the cosmos.

For Achilles, his arete consists of attaining his maximum potential, a potential he believes to be grater than a simple mortal; therefore he acts as a god.By thinking he is a god, Achilles attains ‘Hubris’, and the consequence for the act of ‘Hubris’ is ‘Nemesis’. Achilles’ Nemesis, a deep and hard pain, is the death of one of the few men he shared compassion and true friendship. At the battlefield, Patroclus has been killed by the Trojan prince Hector. Achilles’ nemesis, the death of Patroclus, is a significant pain for Achilles because he realizes that he is responsible for his friend’s death. In addition, Achilles’ nemesis reminds him of a fundamental truth: He is not a god. Achilles realizes that he is dependent on the men who surround him, and he accepts his own death.

In fact, by heading back to the war and deciding to revenge his friend’s memory by killing Hector, Achilles faces his own death. However, his rage and anger remain; in fact it is only transferred from Agamemnon to Hector and the Trojans. So, Achilles heads back to the battlefield and his strength is now greater than before, causing the gods to intervene in the war because “he (Achilles) will raze the wall against the will of fate” according to Zeus. Achilles mission is to slaughter Patroclus’ killer, prince Hector. After a game of ‘hide and seek’, Hector decides to confront Achilles in a duel.In his nobility, Hector swears that if he is victorious, Achilles’ body will be treated with respect and given back to the Greeks, but Achilles categorically refuses, another example of his lack of nobility. After the duel and the death of Hector, the lifeless body of the prince of Troy is atrociously dragged by Achilles’ chariot to the Greek camp, where the corpse will be stabbed multiple times and left unburied for days.

However, even after Hector’s death, Achilles wrath isn’t quite quenched; he now punishes and slaughters ruthlessly hundreds of Trojans (for example during the burial of Patroclus).With his son still not mourned, Priam, the elder king of Troy, decides to enter secretly Achilles’ tent and beg him with a ransom his son’s corpse. For the first time, Achilles acts with compassion towards an enemy, one of his few acts of nobility. He recognizes Priam’s courage to adventure himself in the heart of the Achaean camp and his own tent, and understands Priam’s sadness and grief, after Priam appeals to Achilles’ father, Peleus. It is unclear whether Priam’s cries and plea have transformed Achilles, or whether this scene testifies Achilles capacity for grief.

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