What is the significance of Achilles in the Iliad?

Expert Answers

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

Achilles is a central character in the Iliad and the Greek's greatest warrior. Significantly, he is the given the choice between living a long and peaceful life at home or achieving heroic fame as a solider but at the price of dying young. He chooses fame and an early death,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Achilles is a central character in the Iliad and the Greek's greatest warrior. Significantly, he is the given the choice between living a long and peaceful life at home or achieving heroic fame as a solider but at the price of dying young. He chooses fame and an early death, which fulfills his destiny and reflects the values of the warrior side of his culture.

A significant event in Achilles' life is his refusal to fight at the height of the Trojan war. He gets angry and feels insulted when Agamemnon pulls rank and takes Briseis for himself, a woman the Greeks have captured and Achilles has claimed as his own prize. Therefore, he sulks in his tent while his friend Patroclus fights in his armor. When Hector kills Patroclus, of course thinking he is Achilles, Achilles sees the folly of his ways and heads out to fight. He kills Hector, dragging his body dishonorably around and around the walls of Troy on the back of his chariot. He does, however, allow Hector an honorable burial.

The impetuous, spoiled, proud Achilles adds spice to the drama of the Iliad and represents the warrior ethic, both good and bad. Even his shield is significant, a poignant reminder of the peace and prosperity the soldiers are fighting to defend that shows there is more to Greek life than battles and death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Achilles occupies a central role of importance in the epic poem.  Consider the opening lines of the work as evidence of this:

Sing, O Goddess, the Anger of Achilles son of Peleus that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.

It is here that the first inclination of Achilles' importance is evident. Achilles' skill at warfighting allows him to transcend what others can do on the battlefield.  Achilles is the embodiment of the Classical warrior, whose arete, or greatness, on the battlefield is the determination for success or failure.  He fights for the Greeks against the Trojans and his desire to be regarded as the best to ever take the battlefield.  He recognizes that his participation in the war against the Trojans is a way to cement this legacy.

Posted on