AP Lit & Comp 6th hour
2 November 2012
The Character of Achilles
Achilles is the main character in Homer’s The Iliad translated by Robert Fagles. The Iliad is the story of the battle of Troy, in which Greek heroes fight and die, with much interference from the various gods and goddesses. The story ends when Achilles gives Hector’s body back to King Priam and Hector is buried. Homer uses a number of different literary devices to illustrate Achilles’ character development, such as his actions, what other characters say about him, and his appearance. Throughout this epic poem, Achilles must deal with his conflict of free will versus fate.
Achilles’ first encounter with his ongoing conflict occurs in Book 1 when he is deciding whether or not to kill Agamemnon for insulting him (84). Athena almost immediately arrives and says, “Down from the skies I come to check your rage if only you will yield,” thus implying that Achilles has a choice (84). He can either obey Athena’s orders and earn more treasures in the end or he can go against her orders and suffer the consequences. In the end, Achilles determines that it’s not a smart idea to go against godly orders and submits. Other characters do not have choices like Achilles does. In Book 3, Aphrodite rescues Paris from Menelaus and puts him in the bedroom. Then she goes to Helen and orders her to go to bed with Paris. When Helen protests, Aphrodite becomes irritated and threatens her. This shows that Helen doesn’t have a choice, nor do the other characters, with the exception of Achilles. Also, in Book 20, Zeus says, “If Achilles fights the Trojans—unopposed by us—not for a moment will they hold his breakneck force. Even before now they’d shake to see him coming. Now, with his rage inflamed for his friend’s death, I fear he’ll raze the walls against the will of fate.” (504). Zeus’ statement shows that Achilles is, in some ways, above fate and will destroy the Greek concept of fate unless someone interferes with his plans.
Unfortunately, although Achilles is able to have free will in some aspects, fate still triumphs over him in others. In Book 9, Achilles tells Odysseus, Phoenix, and Ajax what his mother has told him his fate will be. According to Thetis, Achilles can either choose to go home without glory and live to a ripe old age or he can stay to conquer Troy and earn everlasting glory, but he will not leave Troy alive (265). Consequently, Achilles is presented with two fates; however, unlike others, he is able to choose whichever fate he wants. At this point in the story, Achilles is actually considering going home; thus he is choosing to die old, but without undying glory. This completely changes in Book 18 when Achilles learns that Patroclus has been killed by Hector. Now, Achilles will stop at nothing to get his revenge on Hector; therefore he is now choosing the fate in which he will never return home, but he gets eternal glory. Achilles’ new choice of fate is emphasized in Book 19 when Hera gives his horse the ability to speak. Roan Beauty says, “Yes! We will save your life—this time too—master, mighty Achilles! But the day of death already hovers near, and we are not to blame but a great god is and the strong force of fate…Our team could race with the rush of the West Wind, the strongest, swiftest blast on earth, men say—still you are doomed to die by force, Achilles, cut down by a deathless god and mortal man!” (501-502). Yet another way in which Achilles is bound by fate appears in Book 22 when he is chasing Hector around Troy. Homer writes, “But once they reached the springs for the fourth time, then Father Zeus held out his sacred golden scales: in them he placed the two fates of death that lays men low—one for Achilles, one for Hector breaker of horses—and gripping the beam mid-haft the Father raised it high and down went Hector’s day of doom, dragging him down to the strong House of Death—and the god Apollo left him.” (548)....