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Achilles: The Tragic Hero Essay

1178 words - 5 pages

When researching heroes of classic literature it is impossible to ignore Achilles from The Iliad by Homer. Starting from the time that his mother Thetis dipped him in the River Styx, making his body practically invincible, it was obvious that the Greeks had a hero in the making (Achilles, 173). His physical strength and persistence to extinguish the Trojan society is untouched by any other figure in mythology (Achilles, 173). In The Iliad Achilles is not only a hero, but a tragic hero who experiences a downfall and realizes that it is a direct result of his actions. Along with this basic definition of what it means to be a tragic hero, there are also three notable characteristics. Tragic heroes exhibit “fatal ignorance”, are “prompted by will or circumstance”, and are involved in a “binding obligation” (Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, 1126). These three aspects can be synthesized into the idea that tragic heroes make one or more errors, resulting from ignorance or a personal impediment and are obligated to live out their error(s) in the form of a downfall. Achilles in The Iliad by Homer is a tragic hero because he exhibits “fatal ignorance”, is “prompted by will or circumstance”, and is involved in a “binding obligation” throughout the entire poem.

Achilles is a tragic hero because he displays ignorance towards his surroundings in The Iliad. At the beginning of the epic, “Achilles is presented with not one but two fates: to die gloriously at Troy or to live anonymously at home” (Harris, 262). With this decision Achilles decides to join the Greek forces and go to war against Troy. This, of course, guarantees his pre-mature death and proves how illogical and unstable his mind was during this time, for he ignores the consequences of going to war and lets self-pride take control. Another example of Achilles demonstrating ignorance in The Iliad is when he goes on a hunger strike before fighting Hector (Homer, 285). Achilles states, “‘I beg you, if any of you my dear comrades will listen, do not ask me to touch food or drink, for I am in deep sorrow’” (Homer, 285). His ignorance in this situation makes him so ill prepared for a battle the following day that Athena has to drop nectar and ambrosia into his breast in order to prevent him from starving (Homer, 285). In support of this idea is critic of classical writings, Bernard Knox. Knox states that “he [Achilles] sees the death of Patroclus as the fatal consequence of his quarrel with Agamemnon” (Knox). Knox’s statement defends how Achilles makes several errors due to a fatal ignorance, therefore making him a tragic hero.

When making decisions in The Iliad, Achilles is often prompted by his own will or a specific circumstance. Of course, making impulse decisions based on personal feelings can lead to ramifications in the future. A prime example of this is when Achilles says, “‘I have no desire myself to live and remain among men, unless I may kill Hector first with my...

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