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Describe Achilles State of Mind and Assess How He Was Influenced by Other Characters of the Epic?

By larkahatake Jan 12, 2011 1109 Words
Achilles possesses superhuman strength and has a close relationship with the gods; he has all the marks of a great warrior, and indeed is proved to be the mightiest man in the Achaean army. At the beginning his mind is calm and collected, he stands up justly for the men around him and shows understanding when confronting Agamemnon, however his deep-seated character flaws constantly hinder his ability to act with nobility and integrity constantly. He cannot control his arrogance or the rage that surges up when his pride is injured. This dislikable attribute of his causes him to abandoned his comrades and even pray that the Trojans will slaughter them, all because he has been insulted at the hands of his commander, Agamemnon. Like most Homeric characters, Achilles does not develop significantly over the course of the epic; his state of mind is constantly fluctuating between where his rage is being directed all through the book. Although the death of Patroclus prompts him to seek reconciliation with Agamemnon, it does not lessen his rage, but instead redirects it toward Hector. The event does not make Achilles a more deliberative or self-reflective character. Though his mind is filled with grief and despair over his friend’s death, this only helps fuel his bloodlust, wrath, and pride that continue to consume his mind throughout the epic. He mercilessly mauls his opponents, their bodies filling the river Xanthus, angering the god, which Achilles’ shamelessly takes no note to. He immorally desecrates the body of Hector, and savagely sacrifices twelve Trojan men at the funeral of Patroclus. He does not relent in this brutality until the final book of the epic, when King Priam, begging for the return of Hector’s desecrated corpse, appeals to Achilles’ memory of his father, Peleus. Yet it remains unclear whether a father’s heartbroken pleas really transformed Achilles, or whether this scene merely testifies to Achilles’ acceptance of the god’s words, as he had previously, before Priam’s arrival, been told by Zeus that his morning and defiling of Hectors body was enough.

Achilles has a strong sense of social order that in the beginning, manifests itself in his concern for the disorder in the Achaian camp; a deadly plague is destroying the soldiers, and Achilles wants to know the reason why. His king, Agamemnon, will not act, so Achilles decides to act: He calls for an assembly of the entire army. In doing this, Achilles upsets the order of protocol; only Agamemnon can decide to call an assembly, but Achilles does so to try to return order to the Achaian camp. He succeeds, partially. He finds out why the plague is killing hundreds of Achaian soldiers, but in the process, he creates disorder when it is revealed that Agamemnon is responsible for the deadly plague. Thus, Achilles' attempt to return order to the Achaian camp does little, ultimately, to establish order. Apollo lifts the plague, but after Achilles withdraws himself and his troops from the Achaian army, disorder still remains among the Achaians. Agamemnon, of course, is as guilty of creating the ensuing disorder as Achilles is, but Achilles seems petulant and argumentative. He is undermining the little harmony that does exist. In his argument that Agamemnon receives all the best war prizes and does nothing to earn them, Achilles forgets the valuable prizes that he has received. His rage even causes him to almost attempt to kill Agamemnon, but the goddess Athena saves him from this deed. It should be noted that Achilles does not leave the Achaian army without sufficient reason: Agamemnon demanded to have the maiden Briseis, Achilles' war prize, and Achilles saw this act as a parallel to Paris' kidnapping of Helen — he sees himself in the same position as Menelaos. Consequently, the quarrel between himself and Agamemnon is as righteous to him as is the war against the Trojans. But even after Agamemnon offers to return Briseis, along with numerous other gifts, Achilles remains angry, indicating that one of Achilles' major character flaws is his excessive pride. The gifts that Agamemnon offers do not compensate for the public affront, the public insult Achilles believes he has suffered. A concern for gifts, the reader realizes, is far less important to Achilles than his concern for a proper, honored place in the world. After all, Agamemnon had previously given gifts and then taken them back. He could do so again, so the promise of more gifts is possibly an empty promise.

This idea of social status is in keeping with the heroic code by which Achilles has lived, but in his isolation, he comes to question the idea of fighting for glory alone because "A man dies still if he has done nothing." The idea developing in Achilles' mind is that the concept of home (or family) and the individual are both important to society and to a heroic warrior. (Hektor is the embodiment of this view.) Some critics see these ideas slowly developing through Achilles' ability to relate to others on a personal basis, as he does with Patroklos, and as he does in his guest-host relationship with the ambassadors from Agamemnon.

However, it is only after Patroklos' death that these relationships and broader concepts of love begin to become significant for Achilles. Ironically, with the death of Patroklos, Achilles begins to see life and relationships with other people from a mortal point of view, and at the same time, he is drawing ever closer to the divine aspects of love. He has an obligation to avenge Patroklos' death, and he realizes his own shortcomings as Patroklos' protector. He also sees that his sitting by his ships is "a useless weight on the good land," something that is causing the deaths of many Achaian warriors. Unfortunately, however, Achilles is unable to see that the Achaians feel his withdrawal as keenly as he now feels the loss of Patroklos. It is Achilles' anger, whether he is sulking or whether he is violent, this state of mind is paramount throughout most of the epic. Achilles' violence closes with the death of Hektor and with Achilles' mutilation of Hektor's corpse. By now, under Zeus' firm hand, the gods have moved from their own state of disorder to order. When the gods see Achilles act without any sense of pity for Hektor or his family, they come back into Zeus' all-wise fold of authority. And eventually, through his mother, Thetis, even Achilles is finally persuaded to acquiesce to Zeus' will. In the end, Achilles is exhausted. His passions are spent, and he consents to give up Hektor's corpse.

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