Achilles as the Hero of Homer’s Iliad
When Homer lived, the stature of a hero was measured by the yardstick of fighting ability. In Homer's Iliad, the character of Achilles represents the epitome of the Greek 'heroic code'. Only Achilles fights for pure heroics, while the characters of Diomedes and Hector provide good contrasts.
"Prowess on the battlefield was ranked supreme, high above any considerations of morality"(Martin 26). Nestor, for example, tells Agamemnon and Achilles that he has known much "better men than them" meaning men who are better at fighting. Achilles refuses Lycaon clemency because Patroclus. who is dead. was a much better man than he is by far i.e. a much better fighter. Achilles urges Hector to show his "worth" and fight like a man: "worth" means simply ability to fight.
By this criterion Achilles ranks second to none. He is an immensely talented fighter and he considers himself a "prince among men". It is a reflection of his ability that the action speeds up rapidly on his return to the battle after Book 16 and Patroclus' death. Two thirds of the epic arc slow and tedious: on Achilles' return the last third is fast and moves most speedily. Achilles' unstoppable battle madness surpasses without doubt that of the other heroes in the lliad. He is brave, vicious and powerful. He splits the Trojans and drives them back without difficulty at all.
Moreover, his bravery is not restricted to humans. He is angry with Apollo for deceiving him and his battle with the river god Xanthus ends in more success than Diomedes' attempts against the gods in Book 5 (although he admittedly has much divine support).
The heroic code was recognised as a desire to excel. For the heroes 'excellent' was the norm. It was not enough to do well or simply to assist other to excellence: one had to shine. Thus Nestor tells of how Peleus instructed Achilles to excel , to aim to outshine all other fighters. Diomedes suggests to Sthenelus that they should attack Aeneas with the hope of 'covering ourselves in glory': they want to eclipse all of their companions in arms.
This desire is more apparent in Achilles than in anyone else. He will not let even Patroclus. his loved friend. diminish his glory. He warns Patroclus not to be too successful while wearing his armour. In the York Notes is a useful description of how Achilles' motivation for fighting is a pure and simple embodiment of the heroic code. In all of the other heroes it is complicated or diminished by their characters in some way: in Agamemnon , for example, it is inseparably linked to a desire for revenge and to reclaim what is his: in Diomedes it is moderated and restrained: in Odysseus and Nestor it is amenable to practical and political considerations: in Aias it is largely unconscious to the extent that it is comic brute force: in Paris it is set aside for a desire for pleasure: and in Hector it is complicated by the needs of others.
Thus Achilles is the...