Achilles and Odysseus

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Despite the grand scope of Homer's epics--which present warfare, heroism, adventure and divinity as forces that shape human destiny—The Iliad may be seen as an account of the circumstances that irrevocably alter the life of one man: Achilles, greatest of warriors. Through the course of the poem, Achilles goes through many ordeals that change his character immensely. From the initial callousness and stubborn temper of Achilles to the eventual ‘humanization' of Achilles in his interaction with the grieving father of Hector, whom Achilles himself slew, The Iliad can be seen to chronicle the maturation of the Greek hero during the terrible battles of the Trojan War. Achilles is a hero in the epic sense. He is complete with flaws and bad qualities that round out the character, but has passions and convictions that any reader can relate to. Throughout the course of the Iliad, Homer creates the character of Achilles to be a Homeric hero, and also, a modern day hero.

To understand a "Homeric hero" one must know a little about the Homeric code. The Homeric code is a trend throughout Homer's myths and Greek society in which the individual prefers having a short, but glorious life as opposed to a long, normal life. An important fact about heroes is that they are individuals that are revered in their society and are seen as protectors of their society. That is why Heracles, Jason and the Argonauts, and Theseus were looked upon as great heroes. They saved society from monsters and evil in their quests, and had little regard for their own safety. Achilles' story follows this plot line quite well. At the beginning of the epic, the falling out, Achilles is not concerned for the fate of the Greeks, but for himself and his grudge with Agamemnon, "My honors never equal yours, whenever we sack some wealthy Trojan stronghold-my arms bear the brunt of the raw, savage fighting, true, but when it comes to dividing up the plunder the lion's share is yours, and back I go (Iliad I, 193.)…." This shows a very narrow-minded, selfish Achilles and this is, indeed what we are supposed to think of him at the beginning of the epic. He is self-possessed and worried about personal possessions. However, the argument that Achilles presents at the beginning of the poem is very rational and heartfelt and it is surprising that it took ten years for it finally to get mentioned. I don't think this argument is "heroic," but I do believe it raises some really excellent points. Achilles sheds light on the fact that all the Greeks are at Troy to fight over the pride and honor of Agamemnon's brother. He is also brave enough to stand up to the king and call him greedy and selfish. I praise Achilles for this. Also I believe that he is making an incredible sacrifice, he made the decision to settle the dispute so Apollo would stop the killing of the Achaean army. Though this decision costs Achilles greatly, he acted as the best man, though still lacking in the Homeric code's definition of a hero. In the subsequent books Achilles shows more of his not so desirable qualities, and it is in these qualities that Achilles must develop. Homer describes the plot of Achilles to avenge his disgrace at the hand of Agamemnon. He has his mother, the goddess Thetis, ask Zeus to punish the Achaeans on behalf of her and Achilles. Zeus reluctantly agrees to this, and Achilles succeeds in having the whole of his people subjected to a brutal and costly war to get his ‘revenge' on Agamemnon. As the Trojan War presses forward, taking countless lives of both Trojan and Achaean alike, Achilles stands by and watches, unwilling to participate in the battle even when an apology from Agamemnon and pleading from his comrades is presented to him. He replies in this fashion "I will say it outright. That seems best to me. Will Agamemnon win me over? Not for all the world, nor will all the rest of Achaea's armies (Iliad IX, 380.)." Achilles continues to refrain from directly engaging in the...
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