Critically comment on the role of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. Why do you think he is Homer’s hero?

In Homer's Iliad, Achilles takes his anger too far, first against Agamemnon, then against Hector. However, in both cases he redeems himself. His great ability as a warrior combined with his sensitivity and melancholy give him both tragic depth and heroic stature.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Readers of the Iliad sometimes find Achilles an unattractive character: arrogant and selfish, obsessed with his personal honor but indifferent to the lives of his comrades. The attitude of Homer, however, seems to be both more detached and more accepting. Achilles is the great hero of the poem, and Homer does not question this status, although Homer, Patroclus, and other heroes may behave in a more admirable fashion.

Besides Achilles's skill as a warrior, Homer emphasizes his melancholy and his tragic destiny. He is aesthetically sensitive as well as being easily offended. When Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix arrive at the Myrmidon tents in book 9, they find Achilles "delighting his soul with a silver-toned lyre." Although Achilles says that Ajax's speech pleases him because they are both the same type of men—soldiers and fighters—it is clear that Achilles is intended to be a more complex and thoughtful figure than Ajax.

Achilles redeems himself twice in the Iliad, first when he returns to the war after the death of Patroclus, then when he shows sympathy for Priam and returns the body of Hector to him. Achilles is a deeply flawed character, often bitterly angry, but he is the primary hero of the Iliad not only because of his great abilities, but because he exhibits tragic depth and heroic stature.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial