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The Character Of Achilles In Homer's Illiad

2041 words - 8 pages

For centuries now, the character of Achilleus, the great Achaean warrior, has been a subject of major debate among those studying Homer's classic epic The Iliad. Ironically, though there is very little physical description of Achilleus in The Iliad, he is perhaps the most thoroughly developed character in the epic. It seems as though Achilleus has a tendency to make a very strong impression on the reader, and often a bad one at that. Those who dislike Achilleus in particular attack his overpowering sense of personal pride, or hubris, in Greek terminology, as demonstrated fully in his actions thought the epic. However, those who sympathize with him are able to see the character's nobility, even despite his stubborn tendencies. He is not excessively vain, or arrogant - simply a man with wounded ego. His loyalty to his friend ultimately prevails. Idealistically speaking then, a reader need not demonize Achilleus for his hubris, but rather recognize that his positive qualities outweigh the negative, and that any character flaws one may find merely serve the purpose of making him more human.

Those who enjoy playing deconstructionist and picking apart Achilleus' character start quite logically with his pride, the most outwardly apparent and detrimental of his personality traits. From the opening lines of the epic, the reader is made aware of a power struggle between Achilleus and the great Achaean king Agamemnon. Eventually, enraged and humiliated, Achilleus takes his troops out of the war entirely. Many admire Achilleus for his strength of character in this protest, and see him as justified at this point, especially when taking into consideration how overwhelmingly important the idea of honor was to the Greeks. A line is definitely crossed, however, when Achilleus prays to his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, to ask Zeus to bring defeat to his own side. Zeus obliges, and the Achaean forces are slaughtered left and right. Then, when Agamemnon realizes his mistake and apologizes, saying "I was mad, I myself will not deny it" (9.116) and makes a genuine plea to Achilleus to save the Achaean troops, Achilleus does not listen. Agamemnon offers him land, gold, Briseis returned, and his own daughter's hand in marriage, and Achilleus still refuses to help. He is content to continue nursing his wounded ego as his friends are being killed by the thousands. Even as the war rages on, and Achilleus actually wants to reenter the battle, his obstinate pride refuses to let him do so unless his own safety is threatened by the fighting. As he recounts, "Still I said I would not give over my anger until that time came / when the fighting with all it clamor came to my own ships" (16.62-3). Even arguing that a reader cannot understand Achilleus because of cultural differences does not justify him at this point.

The manner in which Achilleus deals with this particular situation also brings to light another of his character flaws- a definite tendency towards...

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