Differences in Heroes in The Iliad
“What a worthless, burnt-out coward I’d be called
If I would submit to you and all your orders,
Whatever you blurt out. Fling them at others,
Don’t give me commands !
Never again, I trust, will Achilles yield to you –
My hands will never do battle for that girl,
Neither with you, King, nor any man Alive.”(p 111)
With these wrathful words of Achilles to his commander Agamemnon, so begins the sequence of events in The Iliad that ultimately pits Achilles the runner against Hector, breaker of horses. Although these men were already enemies, Achilles being an Achaean and Hector being a Trojan, it is truly Achilles’ rage that makes the rivalry personal. These two men, from opposite sides of the battle lines, are both strong, brave, and heroic, but also possess a myriad of conflicting character traits. It is these differences that aid both men in their independent pursuits for honor and the implementation of their separate destinies.
Achilles is half-divine because he is the son of the goddess Thetis and a mortal, Peleus. He is by far the greatest warrior in the Trojan war and is considered to be “worth an entire army” (p.134). The very sight of him throws fear into the hearts of, otherwise courageous warriors. A true man of war, Agamemnon calls him, “ the most violent man alive” (p 107). With his fierce nature and taste for war also comes his prideful ways. When this delicate pride is damaged by the public disgracing Agamemnon brings upon him by taking his war prize, he selfishly decides to withdraw from battle. Achilles goes to his divine mother for the malicious reason of asking
Her to beg Zeus for help in getting reprisal on Agamemnon. He pleads with her :
“… now, go and sit beside [Zeus], grasp his knees…
persuade him, somehow, to help the Trojan cause,
to pin Achaeans back against their ships,
trap them round the bay and mow them down.
So all can reap the benefits of their king –
So even mighty Atrides can see how mad he was
To disgrace Achilles, the best of the Achaeans !” (p 114)
This decision of prideful betrayal brings many casualties to the Achaean army. Once Agamemnon apologetically offers Achilles many valuable gifts along with the return of his war prize, Achilles refuses. In this rejection, Achilles is putting his own animosity toward Agamemnon above the needs of his fellow Achaeans. His friend Phoenix tells him to think of his diminishing honor, but Achilles answers, “…what do I need with honor such as that ?/ … It degrades you to curry favor with [Agamemnon],/ and I will hate you for it, I who love you./ It does you proud to stand by me, my friend,/ to attack the man who attacks me…”(p 147). Not only does Achilles reject honor, but he egotistically asks his father figure, Phoenix, to give up his in order to take his side.
Achilles’ insolent pride backfires on him when he becomes ultimately responsible for the death of his best friend Patroclus. Although Achilles...