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Analysis of Achilles' character in the Iliad


Achilles in the Iliad is portrayed as a complex hero driven by intense emotions, particularly rage and pride. His skills as a warrior are unmatched, but his impulsiveness and desire for personal glory often lead to reckless decisions. Despite his flaws, Achilles' moments of vulnerability and loyalty, especially towards Patroclus, highlight his multifaceted nature.

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How would you explain Achilles' character in the Iliad?

Achilles is renowned as the demi-god character who is beautiful and brave. However, in spite of his god-like status, he seems to spend his time acting more as a child than a man. He withdraws from battle over a disagreement with the leader of the Greek forces, Agamemnon, and then only is tempted back to fight when Hector kills his dear friend, Patroclus. The epic fight that he has with Hector is revealing in lots of ways as it presents us with a complex character who is consumed by revenge. After killing Hector, Achilles refuses to give up his body for proper burial and allows the Greek forces to mistreat it, and then, adding insult to injury, he attaches the corpse to the back of his chariot and drives back to Greek lines, with the noble head of Hector being dragged in the dust:

So he triumphed

and now he was bent on outrage, on shaming noble Hector.

Piercing the tendons ankle to heel behind both feet,

he knotted straps of rawhide through them both,

lashed them to his chariot, left the head to drag

and mounting the car, hoisting the famous arms aboard,

he whipped his team to a run and breakneck on they flew,

holding nothing back.

Thus, when we consider arete, a chief concept denoting honour, Achilles seems to gain arete through his desire to revenge Patroclus but at the same time he loses it through his defilement of Hector's body, making his presentation as a "hero" problematic at best.

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What can be inferred about Achilles' character and philosophy from the Iliad?

I think that I notice the dualistic conception of intense anger and striving for arete.  Homer's characterization of Achilles allows the reader to see someone capable of the highest of glory along with the most intense expression of wrath.  Both are on display when Achilles battles Hektor.  On one level, there can be a certain level of marvel at Achilles' prowess in the battle with his formidable adversary.  Yet, as he is fighting, the undercurrent of anger felt towards Patrocles' death is present.  It is almost as if the intensity of his emotion is channeled into a focused exercise of greatness.  Such a depiction is rare because the obvious depiction of anger and wrath is that it is all encompassing of the character, leaving no room for anything in way of a focused and discipline demeanor.  However, in Achilles depiction, there are moments where one can see both.

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What can be inferred about Achilles' character and philosophy from the Iliad?

To me, there are two major aspects of Achilles' character that stand out in The Iliad.  They are his self-centeredness and his obsession with (mostly his own) honor.

Both of these can be seen in the famous story line where he sulks in his tent.  To Achilles, his honor is more important than anything else.  When Briseis is taken away from him by Agamemnon, Achilles will not fight.  It doesn't matter to him that he is the greatest warrior and that it would really help his comrades if he would fight.  He will not because he feels his own honor has been insulted.  He only comes to fight when his friend Patroklos is killed.

By doing this, he shows that all he really cares about is himself and his honor.

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Analyze Achilles' character in the Iliad.

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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