HBC Section 1
January 26, 2009
Raging Achilles: Achilles’ Tragic Flaw
In the Iliad, Homer’s character Achilles embodies many of the characteristics of a hero including strength, quickness, leadership, and particularly, courage. During the Trojan War, Achilles battles courageously, destroying and killing every man in his path without any sign of fear or retreat. No Achaean questions his abilities nor do they doubt his bravery; they cite him as one of their greatest warriors without whom they would have lost the war. However, according to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Achilles does not exemplify a man with true courage at all due to one simple character flaw. Ironically, this acute flaw is mentioned in the first line of the Iliad: his spirited temper. According to Aristotle, a spirited temper prevents heroic men, like Achilles, from attaining a true courage because it alters the intentions behind their actions. Closer analysis of Achilles’ spirited temper and its consequences illustrates that by Aristotle’s definition, Achilles does not possess true courage, but merely a resemblance of it. Aristotle begins his argument by classifying a spirited temper as a quality similar to courage, claiming that anger propels a man to confront his fears. Aristotle states “nothing makes a man as ready to encounter dangers as a spirited temper” (3.8.1116b.27), implying that a courageous man must be spirited. However, despite these claims, Aristotle counters, stating that possessing a spirited temper does not necessarily mean one automatically acquires true courage. He asserts that while a spirited temper can provide a truly courageous man (one with noble intentions) with support, a spirited temper can also deter a man from being truly courageous by altering his motives and incentives. Since a spirited temper lends to anger and passion, these often replace reason and knowledge as the incentive behind the actions of courageous men,...