The Complex Character of Achilles in Homer's "The Iliad"

Categories: Achilles


In the realm of ancient epic poetry, Homer's "The Iliad" stands as a timeless narrative that delves into the intricate facets of human character. At the heart of this epic is Achilles, a figure whose complexity defies the conventional archetype of a hero. While celebrated as a formidable warrior, Achilles' portrayal is marked by an emotional depth that manifests in the form of rage, pride, and, ultimately, a transformative journey. This essay seeks to unravel the layers of Achilles' character, exploring the motivations behind his actions and the evolution of his emotional landscape throughout the epic.

Achilles' Initial Absence: A Manifestation of Anger

At the commencement of "The Iliad," Achilles, the celebrated Greek hero, notably refrains from active participation in the Trojan War, a strategic choice driven by an intense and consuming anger towards his commander, Agamemnon. According to Fenno (2008), Athena, the goddess of wisdom, intervenes, urging Achilles to withhold his wrath and avoid the battlefield while harboring resentment against Agamemnon (para.

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6). Lombardo (2009) further asserts that Achilles, in an act of defiance and rebellion, purposefully withdraws from the war solely to spite his commanding officer, Agamemnon (p. 1790). This initial refusal to engage in battle serves as a profound manifestation of the powerful influence that Achilles' anger holds over his actions.

Rage Reignited: Patroclus' Tragic Demise

The tragic death of Achilles' confidant and companion, Patroclus, serves as a poignant catalyst, reigniting the dormant flames of his rage and compelling him to reenter the war. Fenno (2008) emphasizes the prophecy that Hector, the Trojan prince, would only cease fighting on the day Achilles returns to the battlefield, a return spurred by the heart-wrenching demise of Patroclus (para.

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7). Lombardo (2009) suggests that Achilles' earlier withdrawal had severe consequences for the Achaeans, particularly himself, possibly inducing a profound sense of guilt over his friend's death in battle (p. 170). The resurgence of his rage becomes a poignant means for Achilles to confront the repercussions of his earlier actions and seek redemption.

Vengeance Unleashed: The Confrontation with Hector

Upon rejoining the battle, Achilles directs his wrath towards Hector, the Trojan warrior responsible for Patroclus' death, driven by a fervent desire for vengeance. Lombardo (2009) vividly recounts the intense confrontation where Achilles, refusing to negotiate with Hector, expresses deep-seated hatred and proceeds to desecrate his body after death (p. 248, 252). This unrelenting rage persists even after the funeral of Patroclus, as evidenced by Achilles dragging Hector's lifeless corpse around Patroclus' tomb three times, an act symbolic of his unremitting pursuit of vengeance (p. 255). Achilles' actions during this phase exemplify the overpowering nature of his vengeful emotions and the extent to which he is consumed by his desire for retribution.

Achilles' Transformation: The Poignant Meeting with King Priam

It is only when King Priam, the grieving father of Hector, implores Achilles for the return of his son's lifeless body that a profound transformation occurs within Achilles. Lombardo (2009) artfully depicts the emotionally charged scene where Achilles, moved by the sight of the sorrow-stricken king and reminded of his own father, Peleus, experiences a moment of shared sorrow (pp. 170-171). In a remarkable display of empathy, Achilles relinquishes his anger and permits the proper burial of Hector. This pivotal encounter signifies the culmination of Achilles' emotional journey, marking a departure from his previously unyielding and wrathful demeanor. It is in this moment of compassion that Achilles reveals a softer, more humane side of his character.


In conclusion, Achilles, the central character of Homer's "The Iliad," transcends the conventional heroic mold through his complex and evolving nature. His initial anger-driven withdrawal from battle, subsequent reentry fueled by the death of Patroclus, and relentless pursuit of vengeance against Hector showcase the intricacies of his character. However, it is the emotionally charged encounter with King Priam that unveils Achilles' capacity for empathy and transformation. Despite his formidable temper, Achilles ultimately exhibits a softer side, highlighting the depth and richness of his character in Homer's timeless epic.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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The Complex Character of Achilles in Homer's "The Iliad". (2017, Feb 11). Retrieved from

The Complex Character of Achilles in Homer's "The Iliad" essay
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