A hero is distinguished as a character known for his bravery or noble qualities. Homer’s “The Iliad” consists of many heroes, but Achilles, the great warrior of Achaeans, can not be considered as one of these heroes. Although Achilles is a major factor in helping the Achaeans invade Troy, all his actions are either from anger or self interest. He may be the best fighter and the biggest influence on the invasion of Troy, but there is no bravery or nobility in his actions. Achilles has all the traits and stature to be a hero, but his intentions are nowhere near heroic. Everything he does comes from his anger towards Agamemnon and Hector. In order to defend his honor, Achilles refuses to fight and even gets the gods to help the Trojans. He makes the entire Achaean army suffer for his grudge against Agamemnon. The only reason Achilles comes to fight is to avenge his dead friend Patroklos. His anger results in a savage violence against his enemies. Achilles’ inability to control his emotions and think selflessly for the greater good prevents him from truly being a hero.
Achilles puts his honor and his own well being above the efforts to invade of Troy. Achilles is angered when Agamemnon takes away his prize, Briseis. When Agamemnon threatens to take Briseis away, Achilles says, “You threaten yourself to take my prize, for which I labored sorely?” (Homer 1.159-160) Achilles doesn’t love Briseis, but she is important because she symbolizes his honor. When she is taken away, Achilles’ honor is essentially being taken away. Achilles continues to respond to Agamemnon’s threat saying, “I think it’s better to head away in my beaked ships than to hang around here and pile up endless wealth for you, while I remain without honor!” (Homer 1.167-170) If Agamemnon can take the prize Achilles worked hard for, there is no point for Achilles to fight anymore. He cares about his honor more than the glory he would get from fighting. Achilles knows he is essential to winning the war and he still puts his honor over invading Troy.
When Agamemnon finally realizes that there is no hope without Achilles, he offers seven women, Briseis, a ship full of treasure and more. The Achaeans plead for him to come back to the fight, with no avail. Achilles replies, “But my heart seethes with anger whenever I think of that-how the son of Atreus treated me with indignity among the Argives as if I were some kind of man in flight, without status!” (Homer 9.631-634) Even with everything Agamemnon offers, Achilles still refuses to fight because of his hatred for Agamemnon. He believes that fighting for Agamemnon is not worth any amount of treasure. In addition to his hatred for Agamemnon, he does not want to risk his life. He says, “Death is the same reward for the man who does much and for him who does nothing. It is no advantage of me that I have suffered pains in my heart, ever risking my life in these contendings.” (Homer 9.313-316) At this point, Achilles’ mindset shifts from refusing to fight because of Agamemnon to refusing to fight so he doesn’t risk death. Achilles does not care about the glory or even the honor to an extent. Even though the Achaeans need him, he only thinks about his own well being. Achilles puts his own life above the lives of all the other Achaean soldiers.
Achilles makes the rest of the Achaeans suffer for his own selfishness and anger towards Agamemnon. In the first lines of “The Iliad”, Homer writes, “The rage sing, O goddess, of Achilles the son of Peleus, the destructive anger that brought ten-thousand pains to the Achaeans” (1.1-3). The opening lines immediately talk about the anger of Achilles and how it affected the Achaeans. The word “destructive” is significant because it specifies that his emotion is not channeled to fight against the Trojans, but instead is used to make the Achaeans suffer. After Achilles is dishonored, he says, “But you will not be able to ward off evil, though your sorrow is great, when many fall dead at the hands of man-killing Hector.” (Homer 1.235-236) Achilles knows that without him, many more Achaeans will die.
Even knowing this, he refuses to put aside his anger for Agamemnon, He wants the Achaeans to suffer for the actions of Agamemnon. Part of this is due to his immaturity when faced with adversity. When faced with a conflict, he is unable to think selflessly. Besides refusing to fight, Achilles tells Thetis to convince Zeus to punish Agamemnon. By doing this, Achilles also punishes the entire Achaean army. Achilles cries to his mother saying, “Seize his knees-to see if he might help the Trojans pen the Achaeans by the prows of their ships, their backs to the sea. May they die like dogs!” (Iliad 1.395-397) Achilles wants the Trojans to defeat the Achaeans and he has the gods intervene. Achilles’ connection to divinity makes him especially dangerous because of what he can do to impact the war. If Agamemnon angered any other warrior, the Achaeans would not have suffered as much. At the cost of the Achaean soldiers, he sends a message to Agamemnon.
The lives of the soldiers are meaningless to him and he only cares about punishing Agamemnon and regaining his honor. Even when Agamemnon offers treasures and begs Achilles to return to the fight, Achilles continues to punish Agamemnon and the Achaeans. In Book 16, Achilles finally allows Patroklos to use his armor to push the Trojans away from the ships. He says, “I thought I would hold onto my anger only until the war cry and battle should reach my own ships… But go ahead-you can dress in my glorious armor and lead the war-loving Myrmidons to battle.” (Homer 16.64-67) Achilles only offers to help the Achaeans because the war is starting to affect him. He has to allow Patroklos to use his armor, so that the Achaean ships are not destroyed. When Achilles decides to do this, he is acting out of self interest. Even when the Trojan army is pressuring the Achaeans, he does the bare minimum possible to keep the Trojans away from the ship.
Throughout “The Iliad”, Achilles is unable to control his anger, preventing him from being a heroic figure. Even with his conflict with Agamemnon, he unable to control his emotions. In Book 1, Homer writes, “While he pondered in his heart and in his spirit, he drew out the great sword from its scabbard, but Athena came from heaven-the goddess Hera of the white arms sent her” (1.190-193). Achilles is filled with so much rage that he considers killing Agamemnon. In this event, Achilles’ immaturity shows. He expresses his anger through violence when he is faced with adversity. The only reason he does not kill Agamemnon is because Athena stops him. Only divine intervention stop Achilles. In the moment, he does not think about the possible repercussions associated with his actions.
To become a hero, he must learn to control his anger and actions. When Patroklos dies, Achilles is blinded by his anger and need for revenge. In Book 19, Achilles says, “Down my throat, at least, neither drink nor food shall pass, for my companion lies dead in my tent” (19.193-194). He refuses to eat or drink anything until he kills Hector. The gods have to give him ambrosia. He has to be convinced to let the soldiers eat. Again, he does not consider anyone else in his actions. At this point, he doesn’t even care about his own life as long as he fulfills his goal. His thoughts and actions are irrational and destructive. In Book 21, Homer describes, “A sudden tumultuous wave stood up around Achilles, and the stream fell over his shield and drove him backward. He could not stand.”(21.242-244) Achilles only thinks about killing as many Trojans as possible to get to Hector. In his rage, he clog up the river with bodies. When the river gods warn him, he continues to slaughter the Trojans. He only stops when the river nearly drowns him. Again, the gods have to save him because his anger blinds him.
After the death of Patroklos, Achilles is depicted as a person with no consideration for human life or tradition. He savagely kills any Trojans in his path to Hector. When Lykaon begs for his life, Achilles exclaims “But now of all the Trojans no one whom the god has placed in my hands before Ilion will escape death” (Homer 21.105-107). Achilles wants to kill as many Trojans as possible and he blames all of them for the loss of his friend. Slaughtering people is his outlet to deal with the anger associated with the death of Patroklos. He does not hesitate to kill Lykaon. Achilles even stops to insult Lykaon saying, “Patroklos died, he who was much better than you. Don’t you see how I am more handsome than you, and taller?” (Homer 21.108-110) He doesn’t care about the lives of any of the Trojans.
Achilles’ savagery is shown in the writing style of Homer. Homer describes, “He stuck him in the stomach besides the navel and out pour all his guts to the ground.” (21.181-182) Homer purposely describes Achilles’ kills in gruesome detail. He paints a graphic image using the extremely descriptive executions. Homer even describes the specific body parts that are struck. After Achilles finally gets his revenge, he treats Hector’s body with disrespect. Homer writes, “The dust rose up from Hector’s head as he was dragged, and his dark hair spread out on either side, and all in the dust lay the head that before was so charming.” (22.386-388) Achilles wants to give Patroklos a proper burial, but by defiling Hector’s body, he prevents a proper burial. Throughout “The Iliad” a big deal is made out of the tradition of burial. The Achaeans and Trojans have a day set aside for burying the dead. With this in mind, defiling Hector’s body is a huge disrespect. Unlike a hero, Achilles has no human consideration during his rampage. He doesn’t follow the unwritten rules.
A hero must possess the stature and talents to truly be a hero, but there is more to a hero than just that. Heroes possess the maturity and patience to think through adversity and they make sacrifices for the sake of the community. Achilles possess the physical traits to be a great hero, but he lacks certain mental traits that prevent him from being a true hero. Through his immaturity, he lets emotions dictate his actions. His anger blinds him from rational thought which leads to internal and external conflicts. Achilles always thinks about his needs first over the needs of the collective. He prioritizes his honor and well being over the war. Overall, Achilles’ immaturity prevents him from truly being a hero.