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The Iliad: Achilles' Rage Essay

1516 words - 6 pages

`Rage--Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles'

The first line of the Iliad describes a human emotion that leads to doom and destruction in Homer's poetic tale of the Trojan War. Achilles' rage is a major catalyst in the action in the Iliad. It is his rage that makes him both withdraw from and, later, rejoin the war with a fury. Why is Achilles enraged? Is his rage ignited solely by his human adversaries or do the gods destine him to the experience? Achilles' rage has many facets. His rage is a personal choice and, at times, is created by the gods.

The Iliad begins with the clash between Achilles and Agamemnon. Agamemnon has little, if any, respect for the gods. This is displayed by his irreverent behavior towards the priest, Chryses. Agamemnon refuses to release the princess even when the Achaean soldiers suggested "`Respect the priest, accept the shining ransom!' But it brought no joy to the heart of Agamemnon" (104). Achilles is, unlike Agamemnon, respectful of and revered by the gods. In order to expose the cause of Apollo's wrath against the Argive army, Achilles uses the prophet, Calchas. Achilles already knows why Apollo is angry, but decides the fact should be stated by someone other than himself. He knows that Agamemnon will become angry once the truth is revealed. I believe that in this instance he is trying to keep his rage in check by avoiding a direct confrontation with Agamemnon. Calchas also fears for his life because he also knows Agamemnon's fury is unyielding at times. However, with a great deal of encouragement from Achilles, Calchas "spoke out, bravely: `Beware-The god's enraged because Agamemnon spurned his priest'" (106). When the truth is exposed, Agamemnon becomes extremely angry and he and Achilles argue. The argument becomes so heated that Achilles is tempted to kill Agamemnon. Achilles questions himself, "Should he draw the long sharp sword slung at his hip, thrust through the ranks and kill Agamemnon now?--or check his rage and beat his fury down?" (108). Here, Hera has Athena intervene to keep Achilles from killing Agamemnon, which shows how the gods control Achilles' destiny. The argument between Achilles and Agamemnon clearly shows that the two men have different opinions about the power of the gods, what is holy or unholy, and what is proper treatment of other men. These differences are one source of Achilles' rage.

Achilles is also angry at having to fight another man's battle. The Trojan War is being fought because Paris stole Helen, Agamemnon's sister-in-law. In his argument with Agamemnon, Achilles points out "It wasn't Trojan spearmen who brought me here to fight. The Trojans never did me damage, not in the least" (107). Achilles' rage heightens in the argument and he declares "No, you colossal, shameless--we all followed you, to please you, to fight for you, to win your honor back from the Trojans---Menelaus and you, you dog-face!" (108)....

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