Analyze the character of Achilles in the Iliad.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Achilles is a fascinating character to consider by the 21st century standards of what constitutes a hero. He is clearly presented as something of a superhero with amazing strength and as somebody enjoying divine favour, however his actions present him as being something of an anti-hero. He has a number of negative characteristics that prevent him from acting as a true hero should, and notably he is a victim to his own emotions of pride and rage. At one point, he even leaves the battlefield and prays that his comrades will face death at the hands of the Trojans, so overcome is he by his wounded pride and rage. Above all, what seems to motivate Achilles is a desire for glory so that he will achieve immortality as a result of his deeds, but, as the opening lines of the indicates, his deeds have achieved immortality for him, but also a certain notoriety as well:

Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.

Whatever views readers may have of war and of the noble heroes who fight in war, this epic poem focuses from its very first word on the "rage" which defines Achilles and the sense of his anger which he is unable to control. This anger is something that dominates him throughout the entire poem, and, as this quote makes clear, has singnificant ramifications in the form of "countless losses" and the loss of "so many sturdy souls" as great fighters are made into "feasts for the dogs and birds." Although the sympathies of the reader are perhaps engaged when Patroclus dies, and the grieving of Achilles is shown, this does not last for long as the way in which Achilles kills Hector and treats his body clearly questions his heroic status. The character of Achilles therefore is an extremely complex figure who can be used to explore what is meant by the word "hero" and whether having superhuman strength is enough in itself to be given that title.

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