Iliad Additional Characters


Character Analysis

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...

(The entire section is 1088 words.)


(Epics for Students)

Son of the mortal Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis, Achilles is the best warrior at Troy. He leads the Myrmidons (from the Greek word for “ant,” as their ancestors were created by Zeus from ants after a plague had depopulated part of the kingdom of Achilles’ grandfather, Aeacus).

His mother dipped the baby Achilles in the River Styx, which made him invulnerable. But she forgot to dip the heel by which she held him, which left one place where a weapon could injure him: hence an “Achilles’ heel” is a weak or vulnerable spot.

Thetis knew that her son was destined either to go to Troy, where he would die gloriously as a young man, or to live a long (but dull) life ruling over his people at home. To keep him out of the army, Thetis sent Achilles away to another king’s court dressed as a woman, but Odysseus tracked him down there and convinced him to join the army in spite of his mother’s pleas. Knowing that his time is short, Achilles wants to make the most of it and is very sensitive to any suggestion that he is not the best, most respected man of his age—which leads to the conflict with Agamemnon that starts the poem.

Later Greek tradition held that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers as well as friends, not an uncommon practice in classical times. Bernard Knox suggests, in his introduction to Robert Fagles’s translation of the Iliad (1990), that “the text gives no warrant” for this assertion, but other critics disagree. There are a number of instances in the poem where Achilles’ words or actions indicate, though they do not necessarily prove the existence of, a level of attachment that is beyond mere friendship (e.g., XVIII.22ff., XIX.4-5, XIX.319-21, and XXIII.144ff.).

Knox is correct, however, to note that Achilles is godlike in more than just appearance. For most of the poem, Achilles behaves more like one of the gods—petulant, self-absorbed, touchy, and well-nigh implacable when angry—than his fellow human beings. His words to Hector, just before he kills him, “to hack your flesh away and eat it raw” (XXII.347) recall Hera’s attitude toward the Trojans, as described by Zeus, at the beginning of the poem (IV.35-36). It is only after Hector’s death that Achilles becomes human again, a transformation that is completed when Priam comes to ransom Hector’s body.

After killing Hector, Achilles and the Achaeans make headway against the Trojans once more. Achilles, however, does not live to see the city fall: he is killed by Paris (with the help of Apollo) shortly before the Achaeans resort to the “Trojan Horse” to gain access to the city by night.

See Achilles

See Achilles

Son of Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite, Aeneas is a minor character in the Iliad, where he is portrayed as a fighter to be reckoned with (especially in Books 5 and 20), and at least once is described (VI.75f.) as Hector’s equal in “both war and counsel,” though apparently not everyone agreed with that assessment (see XIII.460).

Legend had it that Aeneas was the only member of the Trojan royal family to survive the sack of the city (see XX.302), and that he and his companions sailed westward. The Romans eventually claimed him as the ancestor of their race and the founder of their nation, as described by Vergil in the Aeneid, an epic poem in Latin.

Son of Atreus, brother of Menelaus, and king of Mycenae, Agamemnon is in overall command of the Achaean forces at Troy. His position is emphasized in the original Greek by the fact that the epithet anax andrên (“lord of men”), which appears nearly 60 times in the Iliad, is for all intents and purposes used only in reference to Agamemnon (the five exceptions are all forced by the rules of the meter).

Homer portrays Agamemnon as a good fighter, a proud and passionate man, and a fair tactician, but somewhat vacillating and relatively easily discouraged. He does seem to harbor at least a little resentment of the fact that, while he is in command, it is Achilles who gets most of the glory (just as Achilles seems to resent the fact that he does all the work, yet Agamemnon gets most of the material spoils of war).

In the Greek myths, Agamemnon seems a driven man: he sacrifices one of his own daughters to Artemis to ensure a favorable wind for the army on its way to Troy, he insults the best fighter in his army and refuses to be reconciled until his forces stand on the brink of disaster, and, at least in some traditions, on his return home from the war, he allows himself to be treated almost like one of the gods. These are all characteristics of what the Greeks called hubris (“arrogance,” “overweening pride”) or Até (what we might now call “temporary insanity”), and they are Agamemnon’s chief failings in life.

The Greeks explained these personality defects by appealing to the curse that was supposed to be on the house of Pelops (Agamemnon’s grandfather), in retribution for a sacrilegious murder he committed while wooing his wife. The curse came home to rest on Agamemnon when he was murdered (according to Homer in the Odyssey, by Aegisthus, his cousin and the lover of Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra; according to Aeschylus in his play Agamemnon, by Clytemnestra herself) upon his return home from Troy. Agamemnon’s young son Orestes, too young to go to Troy, eventually avenged his father’s death by killing his mother and her lover, which forms the subject of the remaining two plays in Aeschylus’ tragic cycle, the Oresteia.

See Ajax

See Aeneas

Ajax (Oilean, the Lesser)
When this character is in company with Ajax the Greater (Telamonian Ajax), Homer will sometimes refer to the two of them as “Aiantes,” the plural form in Greek of the name “Ajax.” As this expression, though perhaps confusing, is more graceful than “the two Ajaxes,” it is often used by translators.

Son of Oileus and leader of the Locrians at Troy. Shipwrecked on his way home after the war, he boasts of having escaped the sea in spite of the gods and is drowned by the sea god Poseidon.

Ajax (Telamonian, the Greater)
When this character is in company with Ajax the Lesser Homer will sometimes refer to the two of them as “Aiantes,” the plural form in Greek of the name “Ajax.” As this expression, though perhaps confusing, is more graceful than “the two Ajaxes,” it is often used by translators.

Son of Telamon and grandson of Aeacus (who was also grandfather of Achilles), Telemonian Ajax was king of Salamis, an island off the coast of Attica and not far from Athens that would later be the site of a major naval battle between the Greeks and Persians under Xerxes in 480 BC. One of the bravest and strongest fighters at Troy, he is nevertheless portrayed by Homer as somewhat obstinate and rather plodding, as if all he knew was fighting and nothing else.

It should be noted, though, that he does all his own fighting without divine aid. Diomedes, Achilles, Odysseus, and the others are all helped by one or another of the gods at some time in the poem: it is only Telemonian Ajax who muddles along (and rather well at that) on his own merits.

At the funeral games after Achilles’s death, he and Odysseus competed for Achilles’s armor and weapons. When they were awarded to Odysseus, Telemonian Ajax sulked and, in a fit of madness, slaughtered a flock of sheep in the belief that they were his enemies. When he discovers what he had done, he falls on his sword, unable to live with the shame. His death forms the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles.

Ajax the Lesser
See Ajax (Oilean)

See Achilles

See Paris

Daughter of Eetion and wife of Hector; mother of Astyanax (also called “Scamandrius,” his real name; “Astyanax” is a Greek word that means “lord of the [lower] town,” and is more a princely title than a name). After Hector’s death, she marries the seer Helenus. When the city falls to the Achaeans, her son is killed and she is given as a prize to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus.

One of the elders of Troy and a counselor of King Priam. He is perhaps best known in the Iliad for having fathered many sons who turn up throughout the poem.

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love. According to Homer, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione; the poet Hesiod (who likely lived and wrote not long after Homer’s time), however, claims that she sprang from the foam (aphros in Greek) of the sea, as seen in Sandro Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus (circa 1485). She is married, though not faithful, to Hephaestus, god of fire and smithcraft. Among her many lovers was the god of war, Ares; another was the Trojan prince Anchises, the father of Aeneas. For this reason she favors the Trojans over the Achaeans in the Trojan war.

It could be said that Aphrodite is at least partially responsible for the war. Paris named her as the most beautiful of the goddesses, and the reward she promised him was the “right” to have the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife—Helen, who just happened to be married to another man. Menelaus was understandably upset when Paris ran off (or made off) with his wife, but such considerations did not apparently carry much weight with Aphrodite.

Nor should we expect them to. Aphrodite’s main concern is the physical attraction, and the actions that result from it, between lover and beloved: this is the source of her power, and it is, as with all the gods in their respective spheres of influence, the thing she cares about most of all. Other concerns are secondary, if indeed they are noticed at all. This is why, after rescuing Paris from the duel with Menelaus in Book 3, she sends him off to bed with Helen, and also why she gives Helen a good scare when she questions the goddess’ orders to go to her lover.

The son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother of Artemis, Apollo is the god of archery, prophecy, music (especially the lyre, the stringed instrument that Achilles plays in Book 9), medicine, light (sometimes, though not in Homer, Apollo is identified with the sun), and youth. Plagues and other diseases, and sometimes a peaceful death in old age, were often explained as being the result of arrows shot by Apollo (for men), or by his sister Artemis (for women). Although he also worked with Poseidon at building the walls of Troy and was cheated out of his proper payment, he supports the Trojan side in the war.

The son of Zeus and Hera, Ares is the god of war (or, more precisely, of warlike frenzy). He is more of a name in the Iliad than an actual character (as, for example, in the epithet “beloved of Ares”). When he actually does appear, however, Homer’s characterization of him is quite negative. This attitude seems to have been fairly common in Greek mythology.

Ares is portrayed as a bully, someone who delights in causing trouble for the sheer enjoyment of watching what he stirs up, and more of a braggart than a man of deeds. He is not well-liked even among the gods, all of whom laugh at him when he is wounded by Diomedes in Book 5. Even his own parents seem to think poorly of him.

Daughter of Zeus and Leto, twin sister of Apollo, Artemis is a virgin goddess of the hunt, the moon, and, in some traditions, of childbirth and young things. With her brother, she supports the Trojan side. Plagues and other diseases, and sometimes a peaceful death in old age, were often explained as being the result of arrows shot by Artemis (for women), or by her brother Apollo (for men).

The daughter of Zeus and Mêtis, whom Zeus (following in the tradition of his own father, Cronus) swallowed when it was revealed that she would someday bear a son who would be lord of heaven and thus usurp Zeus’ place. She was born, full-grown and in armor, from the head of Zeus after Hephaestus (or, in some traditions, Prometheus) split it open with an axe to relieve his headache.

Athena was revered as the patron goddess of Athens (where the temple known as the Parthenon was dedicated to her in her aspect as Athena Polias, protectress of the city), but also as a goddess of war, wisdom and cleverness (her mother’s name means “Scheme” or “Trick”), and crafts, especially weaving and spinning. She exploits her position as Zeus’s favorite daughter, and seems to be able to pacify him when no one else can. She favors the Achaean side in the war, and is especially devoted to Odysseus.

See Athena

See Agamemnon

See Agamemnon

The son of Thestor, Calchas is a highly respected seer or prophet accompanying the Achaean forces. In addition to being the one to provoke Agamemnon by telling him it is his fault that Apollo is angry with the army, Calchas is said to have been the prophet who foretold the necessity of sacrificing Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigeneia, to Artemis in return for a fair wind on the way to Troy.

Daughter of Priam and Hecuba, Apollo fell in love with her and gave her the gift of prophecy. When she rejected his advances, he gave her a companion “gift”: even though her prophecies are always true, no one ever believes her. After the fall of Troy, she is taken as a slave and concubine by Agamemnon, and is killed with him on his return to Mycenae.

A priest of Apollo, he comes to Agamemnon seeking to ransom his daughter, taken in a raid on their city. When Agamemnon refuses to accept the offered ransom, Chryses prays to Apollo, who inflicts a plague on the army as a punishment. Once the girl is returned safely, he again prays to Apollo, who lifts the plague.

Daughter of Tyndareus (who was also Helen’s adoptive father) and unfaithful wife of Agamemnon. She takes a lover, Agamemnon’s cousin and foster brother Aegisthus, during her husband’s absence and with him plots to murder Agamemnon on his return from Troy. In...

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