Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Achilles (uh-KIH-leez), the son of Peleus and the Nereid Thetis, prince of the Myrmidons, and mightiest of the Achaian warriors at the siege of Troy. At his birth, his mother had dipped him in the Styx, so that all parts of his body are invulnerable to hurt except the heel by which she held him. A young man of great beauty, strength, courage, and skill in battle, he nevertheless possesses two tragic flaws, an imperious will and a strong sense of vanity. Enraged because King Agamemnon orders him to surrender the maid Briseis, whom Achilles had taken as his own prize of war, he quarrels bitterly with the commander of the Greek forces and withdraws from the battlefield. When the Trojan host attacks, driving the Greeks back toward their ships, Achilles remains sulking in his tent. So great is his wrath that he refuses to heed all entreaties that he come to the aid of the hard-pressed Greeks. When the Trojans begin to burn the Greek ships, he allows his friend Patroclus, dressed in the armor of Achilles, to lead the warlike Myrmidons against the attackers. Patroclus is killed by Hector, the Trojan leader, under the walls of the city. Seeing in the death of his friend the enormity of his own inaction, Achilles puts on a new suit of armor made for him by Hephaestus and engages the Trojans in fierce combat. Merciless in his anger and grief, he kills Hector and on successive days drags the body of the vanquished hero behind his chariot while King Priam, Hector’s father, looks on from the walls of the city. When the sorrowing king visits the tent of Achilles at night and begs for the body of his son, Achilles relents and permits Priam to conduct funeral rites for Hector for a period of nine days. In a later battle before the walls of Troy, an arrow shot by Paris, King Priam’s son, strikes Achilles in the heel and causes his death.
Hector (HEHK-tur), the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. As the commander of the Trojan forces, he is the greatest and most human of the heroes, an ideal figure in every respect: a skilled horseman, a brave soldier, an able leader, a man devoted to his family and his city, and the master of his emotions under every circumstance. His courage in battle, his courtesy in conference, his submission to the gods, and his sad fate at the hands of vengeful Achilles provide an admirable contrast to the actions of the blustering, cunning, cruel, and rapacious Greeks.
Andromache (an-DROM-uh-kee), the devoted wife of Hector and the mother of Astyanax. After the fall of Troy, she was taken into captivity by Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. Still later, according to The Aeneid, she married Helenus, the brother of Hector, and ruled with him in Pyrrhus.
Astyanax (as-TI-eh-naks), the young son of Hector and Andromache. During the sack of Troy, Neoptolemus killed the child by hurling him over the city wall.
Agamemnon (ag-eh-MEHM-non), the king of Mycenae and the older brother of King Menelaus, husband of the lovely Helen, whose infidelity brought about the Trojan War. Courageous and cunning but often rash and arrogant, as in his treatment of Achilles, he is the commander of the Greeks in the war. He stands as a symbol of the capable leader, without the heroic qualities of the more dramatic warriors who fight under his command. He is killed by his wife Clytemnestra after his return from Troy.
Menelaus (meh-nuh-LAY-uhs), the king of Sparta and husband of beautiful but faithless Helen, who is seduced and abducted by Paris, the prince of Troy, in fulfillment of a promise made by Aphrodite. He stands more as a symbol than as a man, a victim of the gods and an outraged husband who avenges with brave deeds the wrong done to his honor. At the end of the war, he takes Helen back to Sparta with him. In the Odyssey, she is shown presiding over his royal palace.
Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta and, for nineteen years after her abduction, the consort of Paris. Being confined within the walls of Troy, in the company of doting elders, she plays a minor part in the story. Because she is the victim of Aphrodite’s promise to Paris, she does not suffer greatly for her actions. Her attempts at reconciliation unwittingly aid the Greek cause in the capture of Troy.
Paris, the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. Called to judge a dispute among Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena, he awarded the prize, the golden apple of discord, to Aphrodite, who in turn promised him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife. Although his love for Helen, the bride he stole from her husband, has become proud devotion to a principle, Paris nevertheless places himself in jeopardy as a champion of the Trojan cause and offers to meet King Menelaus, the injured husband, in single combat. Aphrodite, fearful for the safety of her favorite, watches over him and saves him from harm. An arrow from his bow strikes Achilles in the heel and kills the Achaian warrior. One story...
(The entire section is 2177 words.)
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Achilles is the son of Peleus, King of the Myrmidons, and Thetis the sea goddess; he and his fellow Myrmidons come to Troy as part of the Greek force led by King Agamemnon. Achilles embodies the characteristics of the Homeric Hero, particularly in his apparent lack of character and control and his lust for fame. He is therefore a balance—superhumanly powerful thanks to a relationship with the gods and his mother’s precautions taken when he was a baby, but morally and intellectually flawed. His attitude will be his death after the Iliad ends.
Achilles can’t control his pride or the rage that overtakes him when that pride is threatened; in short, he’s a big, incredibly strong spoiled brat. At one point he even abandons his men and prays that the Trojans will slaughter them because Agamemnon has insulted him. Because of that pride, like many other Homeric heroes, Achilles is driven primarily by an insatiable desire for glory. His spoiled, lazy nature might prefer to live a long, easy life, but he knows that his preordained fate (symbolized by his “Achilles Heel”) will force him to choose between comfort and fame. His ego wins out, and he is willing to sacrifice everything so his name will become part of Greek history.
Achilles doesn’t develop significantly over the course of the epic. Although the death of Patroclus guilts him into reconciling with Agamemnon, his rage doesn’t die, but is redirected toward Hector, the Trojan hero. Such a lateral emotional move doesn’t mark any kind of change, just a transfer of the same anger, pride and hatred that has driven Achilles all along. He doesn’t learn from Patroclus’ death. He brutalizes his opponents, takes on the river Xanthus in a bold, almost suicidal campaign, desecrates Hector’s body after death, and horrifically sacrifices twelve Trojan soldiers at the funeral of Patroclus. Achilles’ rage doesn’t subside until Troy’s King Priam, pleading for the return of Hector’s body, appeals to Achilles’ memory of his father Peleus. However, even in this moment it remains uncertain whether Priam’s actions really transform Achilles or whether this scene merely testifies to Achilles’ capacity for grief and acquaintance with anguish, which were already proven in his intense mourning of Patroclus.
Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army, is the son of Atreus and the brother of Menelaos, the King of Sparta, and commander-in-chief of the Greek army. He resembles Achilles in that he is prideful and prone to anger; even more so than Achilles, Agamemnon gives way to arrogance. He demands that...
(The entire section is 1088 words.)