Achilles in The Iliad: A Character Analysis

Categories: Achilles

Throughout Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, the character of Achilles remains a study in unwavering obstinacy. His portrayal as an individual marked by arrogance, impatience, unforgiving nature, vengefulness, and extreme stubbornness creates a complex dynamic within the larger conflict between the Achaeans and the Trojans. This steadfastness blurs the moral lines between the two sides, leaving observers perplexed as to which faction truly embodies good or evil. While Achilles does exhibit a moment of unselfishness towards the end of the narrative, this act is overshadowed by the persistent fury that defines his character, reinforcing his status as an unchanging and selfish man.

The Wrath of Achilles Unleashed

The narrative unfolds with a pivotal moment where Achilles, offended by Agamemnon, chooses to abandon the Achaean cause and petition his divine mother, Thetis, for assistance. Instead of channeling his prowess as a warrior for the collective good, Achilles, in a fit of anger, implores Thetis to influence Zeus to favor the Trojan side.

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This act not only halts his direct involvement in the battle but also reveals the extent of his pride and arrogance, clouding rational thinking and leading him to seek the suffering of his own people.

Zeus, yielding to Thetis' plea, orchestrates events that force the Achaeans into a defensive retreat. Despite the escalating losses suffered by his compatriots, Achilles remains unmoved by pleas from Agamemnon and rejects any material enticements, emphasizing his prioritization of personal grievances over the greater good. His refusal to comprehend the dire situation exposes the depth of his vengeful mindset, a trait that defines Achilles from the outset of The Iliad.

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As the Achaeans face adversity, Achilles stands resolute in his decision to withdraw, further isolating himself from the camaraderie of his fellow warriors. This alienation marks a turning point as Ajax, a respected comrade, voices the collective disillusionment with Achilles, highlighting the detrimental impact of his unyielding nature on the unity among the Achaeans. Ajax's condemnation emphasizes Achilles' transformation from a revered figure to a "hard ruthless man," alienating himself from the very men who once esteemed him highly. The crucial reminder from Ajax, urging Achilles to embrace human kindness, underscores the paradox of a mortal man possessing god-like qualities but lacking the basic virtues of compassion and empathy.

The intersection of mortals and immortals in Achilles' lineage adds a layer of complexity to his character. Despite being the son of the goddess Thetis, Achilles' behavior reflects a disconcerting parallel with the erratic actions of the gods themselves. The essay posits that Achilles' actions are no more irrational than those of the gods, positioning him as both a product and a victim of divine influence, reinforcing the cyclical nature of vengeful behavior that persists until his tragic demise.

The Turning Point: Patroclus' Death

The narrative's pivotal turning point occurs with the death of Achilles' close friend, Patroclus, at the hands of Hector. Hector's mocking of Achilles' orders adds a layer of irony, as it becomes evident that Achilles, in his refusal to fight Agamemnon's war, indirectly contributes to Patroclus' demise. The tragedy compels Achilles to set aside his differences with Agamemnon and reenter the battle, revealing a momentary departure from his entrenched stance.

However, this departure is short-lived, as Achilles' response to Hector's death showcases the depth of his unbridled fury. The brutal treatment of Hector's body, including dragging it behind his chariot, not only underscores Achilles' triumph but also highlights his lack of humanity and respect for the sanctity of life. The stark contrast between Achilles and Hector, particularly in their attitudes toward family and love, further underscores Achilles' uncompassionate nature.

As the narrative progresses, Achilles' unyielding nature remains a defining trait, shaping the course of events and contributing to the tragic outcome. The death of Patroclus forces Achilles to confront the consequences of his obstinacy, yet even in the face of this profound loss, his inherent fury persists. The essay contends that the ensuing actions of Achilles, particularly his treatment of Hector's body, reveal a character deeply entrenched in his vengeful disposition, unable to transcend the primal instincts that govern his actions.

Achilles' Tragic End and the Illusion of Compassion

The culmination of Achilles' character arc occurs with his own death on the battlefield. Despite a feeble attempt to show compassion for Hector's father, Priam, Achilles' actions are driven more by divine mandates than genuine empathy. The essay contends that had Achilles made such a decision independently, it might have elicited sympathy. However, the narrative paints a bleak picture of a man propelled by base instincts of greed, lust, anger, and revenge.

While the concluding act may suggest a semblance of character development, the essay argues that Homer's attempt to depict maturity and growth in Achilles falls short. Instead, what remains is a shattered individual who opts for a heroic death on the battlefield over a life of domesticity and contentment. Achilles' final act of compassion, dictated by divine intervention, serves as a somber reminder of the enduring themes of human behavior—themes that resonate across the annals of history.

Conclusion: Achilles' Legacy of Fury

In conclusion, Homer's The Iliad paints a vivid portrait of Achilles as a man entrenched in unyielding fury. Despite moments of apparent selflessness, Achilles' character remains marred by arrogance, vengefulness, and an inability to transcend personal grievances for the greater good. The essay posits that Achilles, though a formidable warrior, fails to undergo meaningful character development, ultimately succumbing to the cyclical nature of divine influence and human frailties.

While The Iliad offers insights into the mentality of individuals driven by primal instincts, it also serves as a timeless reflection on the enduring themes of greed, lust, anger, and revenge that persist in human history. Achilles, as a tragic figure, leaves behind a legacy defined by unbridled fury, challenging readers to contemplate the complexities of human nature and the consequences of unchecked pride and obstinacy.

Expanding further on the ramifications of Achilles' unyielding nature, it becomes evident that his character serves as a cautionary tale. The essay explores how Achilles' choices not only impact his own fate but also reverberate through the larger tapestry of the Achaean-Trojan conflict. His refusal to evolve beyond his initial fury perpetuates a cycle of violence and vengeance, influencing the trajectories of those around him and shaping the broader narrative of The Iliad.

Additionally, a nuanced analysis of Achilles' interactions with other characters sheds light on the intricacies of human relationships and the consequences of uncompromising pride. The essay delves into the psychology of Achilles' interactions with Ajax, Patroclus, and Hector, unraveling the layers of complexity that define these pivotal relationships. Through this exploration, the narrative nuances surrounding Achilles' character gain depth, offering a richer understanding of the forces that drive him towards his tragic end.

Ultimately, the legacy of Achilles extends beyond the pages of The Iliad, permeating cultural and literary landscapes. The essay examines how Achilles' character archetype influences subsequent works of literature and serves as a template for exploring the darker facets of human nature. By contextualizing Achilles within the broader canon of epic literature, the analysis broadens its scope, establishing connections between ancient narratives and contemporary reflections on the human condition.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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Achilles in The Iliad: A Character Analysis. (2016, Jun 30). Retrieved from

Achilles in The Iliad: A Character Analysis essay
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