When Homer lived, the stature of a hero was measured by the yardstick of fighting ability. In Homer's Iliad, the character of Achilles represents the epitome of the Greek 'heroic code'. Only Achilles fights for pure heroics, while the characters of Diomedes and Hector provide good contrasts.
"Prowess on the battlefield was ranked supreme, high above any considerations of morality"(Martin 26). Nestor, for example, tells Agamemnon and Achilles that he has known much "better men than them" meaning men who are better at fighting. Achilles refuses Lycaon clemency because Patroclus. who is dead. was a much better man than he is by far i.e. a much better fighter. Achilles urges Hector to show his "worth" and fight like a man: "worth" means simply ability to fight.
By this criterion Achilles ranks second to none. He is an immensely talented fighter and he considers himself a "prince among men". It is a reflection of his ability that the action speeds up rapidly on his return to the battle after Book 16 and Patroclus' death. Two thirds of the epic arc slow and tedious: on Achilles' return the last third is fast and moves most speedily. Achilles' unstoppable battle madness surpasses without doubt that of the other heroes in the lliad. He is brave, vicious and powerful. He splits the Trojans and drives them back without difficulty at all.
Moreover, his bravery is not restricted to humans. He is angry with Apollo for deceiving him and his battle with the river god Xanthus ends in more success than Diomedes' attempts against the gods in Book 5 (although he admittedly has much divine support).
The heroic code was recognised as a desire to excel. For the heroes 'excellent' was ...
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Finkelberg, Margalit. "Odysseus and the genus 'hero' ." Greece and Rome v. 42 (Apr. '95) p. 1-14.
Goodrich, Norma. Myths of the hero. New York: Orion Press, 1962.
Homer: Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
Martin, Richard. The Language of Heroes: Speech and Performance in the Iliad. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.
Parry, Adam M. The Language of Achilles and Other Papers. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.
Schein, Seth L. The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer's Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Shive, David M. Naming Achilles. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Van Nortwick, Thomas. Somewhere I have travelled: the hero's journey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Whitman, Cedric H. Homer and the Heroic Tradition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958.
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