Essay on The Character of Achilles in Homer's Illiad

Essay on The Character of Achilles in Homer's Illiad

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For centuries now, the character of Achilleus, the great Achaean warrior, has been a subject of major debate among those studying Homer's classic epic The Iliad. Ironically, though there is very little physical description of Achilleus in The Iliad, he is perhaps the most thoroughly developed character in the epic. It seems as though Achilleus has a tendency to make a very strong impression on the reader, and often a bad one at that. Those who dislike Achilleus in particular attack his overpowering sense of personal pride, or hubris, in Greek terminology, as demonstrated fully in his actions thought the epic. However, those who sympathize with him are able to see the character's nobility, even despite his stubborn tendencies. He is not excessively vain, or arrogant - simply a man with wounded ego. His loyalty to his friend ultimately prevails. Idealistically speaking then, a reader need not demonize Achilleus for his hubris, but rather recognize that his positive qualities outweigh the negative, and that any character flaws one may find merely serve the purpose of making him more human.

Those who enjoy playing deconstructionist and picking apart Achilleus' character start quite logically with his pride, the most outwardly apparent and detrimental of his personality traits. From the opening lines of the epic, the reader is made aware of a power struggle between Achilleus and the great Achaean king Agamemnon. Eventually, enraged and humiliated, Achilleus takes his troops out of the war entirely. Many admire Achilleus for his strength of character in this protest, and see him as justified at this point, especially when taking into consideration how overwhelmingly important the idea of honor was to the Greeks. A line is definitely...


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...ore compassionate, strong human being, and is psychologically able to face whatever may come next in his life.

Thus, only one issue surrounding Achilleus as a character is left open to question, and it has far more to do with the reader than with the warrior. After seeing this portrayal of Achilleus as a truly dynamic human character who progressively becomes easier and easier to relate to, and watching him struggle to find himself and figure out his place in the grand scheme of things, why on Earth would one still not like him? Is it merely a matter of cultural difference? Is Achilleus' display of hubris throughout most of the epic just too intense for a modern American reader to understand? Despite Achilleus' ego, it seems completely illogical to dislike a character who captures so beautifully the many different aspects, good and bad, of human nature as a whole.

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