Swift Achilles

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Swift Achilles

There was once a time of great warriors, heroes that fought for their honor and the honor of their people. This was the time of Homer’s Iliad when the great armies of the Achaeans charged Ilium, the Trojan Citadel. Although this ten-year epic battle, called the Trojan War, was supposedly fought over Helen, “the face that launched a thousand ships1,” the true heart of the Iliad is the characterization of the Homeric hero. These men possessed seemingly superhuman strength and courage, they fought and risked their lives for their people and their comrades in arms, and many of them were descendants of the gods themselves. Among the Achaeans, there emerged one man above all others in greatness. The son of the goddess Thetis, it was swift Achilles who defeated Hector, the mighty Trojan prince.

When trying to classify a man as a “Homeric hero” or to decide which from a group is the greatest hero, there are certain characteristics that must be evaluated. In this process, it is also imperative to remove from consideration the ideals and characteristics that are used to judge people in the present. It is important to remember “what Homer counts as goodness is not the sort of thing that we might most readily think of as such.” (T. Irwin, Classical Thought, pp. 7-8)2. For example, the fact that Agamemnon, Achilles, and just about every other male character from the Iliad treat women like property should not come into play when deciding the level of their greatness. Although such an attitude towards women is despicable today, it was accepted in their time and therefore must be overlooked. So, the characteristics that must be examined are, in no particular order, defending and honoring your comrades, respecting the unwritten rules of Homeric battle, and pure strength on the battlefield.

Achilles earns the title “greatest of the Achaeans” by gathering points in all of these categories. When Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend and comrade, is slain by Hector in Book XVI, Achilles vows, “I shall not bury you [Patroclus], no, not till I drag back here / the gear and head of Hector, who slaughtered you…” (Homer, The Iliad, 18.
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