The Iliad is a work read in many junior highs and high schools to start students off in their readings of classic literature. Not only is it one of the first major pieces written chronologically and therefore a good place to start, but it can also be read many times over and almost become an entirely new work each time you read it. Many a historian as well as literary critic has taken to tearing apart this work of Homer in order to make it fit whatever theory they want to prove. I will use my limited knowledge as a student to show that Achilles in not the heartless warrior that most readers take his as, but a warrior that fights for noble causes with honor and pride, with maybe a few bad calls in the heat of battle.
In our discussions in class, several students took the side of Hector as being the better person when comparing to Achilles. On the surface I can see why almost anyone would do that. The story of the Iliad starts off with the lines:
Rage: Sing; Goddess, Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
incalculable pain, pitched countless souls of heroes into Hades’ dark, and left their bodies
to rot as feasts for dogs and birds, as Zues’ will was done. Begin with the clash between
Agamemnon – The Greek warlord – and the godlike Achilles. (Homer 176). Lines such as those don’t give you a very good first impression of Achilles, and although most youth have heard some story of the great warrior Achilles, this is most people’s first reading of this magnitude about him. Most note that Hector is a true family man. In book VI of “The Iliad,” Homer gives you a brief story of how he is a loving husband, father and son. Yet at the same time about how he must go into war because it is the right thing to do. “Yes, Andromache, I worry about all this myself, but my shame before the Trojans and their wives, with their long robes trailing, would be too terrible if I hung back from battle like a coward. And my heart won’t let me.” (Homer 198). On that same note they quote lines that make Achilles look like a raging animal with no morals to speak of, such as when Achilles tells Hector, just before he kills him: “Don’t whine to me about your parents, you dog! I wish my stomach would let me cut off your flesh in strips and eat it raw for what you have done to me.” (Homer 251). But let us try and look at some of the underlying reasons as to why Achilles would act like this and put everything into better context.
When you look at how people act and react to certain situations in their life, it is often hard to understand why they may do things the way they do without knowing a little bit about their childhood. Like many a children in these early years of Greek society, Achilles was not brought up in a modern societies normal family as in being raised by his father and mother with siblings and other close relatives close at hand. Achilles mother, Thetis, wants to make Achilles immortal. What mother wouldn’t if they had the chance? But Thetis, being a goddess, has a better chance than most at doing this. Some accounts say that she dipped her son in the river Styx by the heel, thereby unknowingly leaving his heel vulnerable, since it was not actually in the water. But some accounts say that Thetis used the method of placing him in the fire by night and anointing him with ambrosia during the day (Mackie). During this attempt, Achilles’ father, Peleus, walks in to see his son in the fire and screams with anguish. Thetis throws her son down and disappears, not to be seen again. “The immersion of Achilles in fire therefore is a very significant moment in his life in that it signals the end of a `normal' childhood (i.e. living in a house with his parents), and the beginning of a more remote and unusual existence (in a cave on a mountain with a centaur and his wife)” (Mackie). This raising by a centaur and his wife, along with their values and belief system, may give the young Achilles a different viewpoint on some...
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