Homer’s classical poem Iliad is about Achilles the hero. After offending Achilles, Agamemnon sends envoys to take gifts to him in order to beseech him to fight again. Achilles is thus depicted as a man prone to anger. His stubbornness lays bare his heroic exploits open to scrutiny. In the process the readers are forced to examine his qualities to determine his heroism. In other words, we question whether heroes should be quick to anger, stubborn or highly emotional. Especially, when such qualities can put into jeopardy their quest or mission. In Iliad Homer definitely portrays Achilles as a man capable of jeopardizing his destiny by being emotional. However, one can argue that Homer intended to humanize Achilles by making him susceptible to human emotions. Especially, since Homer depicted him as partly immortal and partly human.
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Michelle Zebra in “Modalities of Tragic Doubt in Homer's Iliad” argues that Achilles was heroic because he had choices. In that, Achilles new his fate before embarking on his quest and gods favored him. This means that Achilles could have changed the outcome by choosing a long and uneventful life. Despite having a goddess for a mother Achilles, however, had flaws. This is in contrast to Homer’s depiction of Achilles. In that Homer’s depiction of Achilles is man who despite his flaws went on to gain fame and admiration by the classical Greek society. Although, Achilles id still regarded as hero up to date, the modern societies have different standards for judging heroes than those used by the classical Greek societies. Michelle Zebra is quick to point out that Achilles had a goddess for a mother. As such, he enjoyed considerable protection from powerful forces, a luxury that other warriors lacked. This means that Achilles was in a better position to perform extraordinary feats. In classical Greek literature, heroes were assigned characteristics that seemed to separate them from the rest of human beings. They were often depicted as having royal heritage, being partially human and partially god and being noble. In addition, heroes had capabilities to perform inhuman feats while fighting to restore their honor. Despite these admirable qualities they also had to have flaws which made them vulnerable and weak. Therefore, through their quest they often suffered physically, emotionally as well as mentally. According to Michelle Zebra this, therefore, placed them a notch above the ordinary humans.
Dean Miller in the book “The Epic Hero” defines a hero as a person who acts honorably and treats his fellow human beings with kindness. In comparison to Homer’s epic hero this definition of heroism can be argued to rule out Achilles as a hero. Homer depicts his hero as merciless and in pursuit of personal glory. According to Homer, Achilles’ main motivation in his actions is to be forever remembered by the society. In contrast to the selfless nature of heroism Dean Miller tries to depict. Homers epic hero Achilles had his heel as his weakest point. But by modern standards Achilles had many flaws. Homer describes his anger as capable of making him commit valiant acts. Achilles was also a very proud and emotional man, his pride made him forsake his troops until he was appeased. In Iliad, Achilles is portrayed as a man who would rather die than fail to achieve fame. According to Dean Miller, heroes are humble individuals who are motivated by the need to help the weak in the society. This view is contrary to Homer’s depiction of Achilles. Michelle Zebra on the other hand, still considered Achilles a hero since he chooses a path that he knew would inevitably lead to his death. Michelle, therefore, chooses to ignore the qualities that would have written off Achilles as a hero. Achilles’ can be described as an arrogant man who was driven by fame to become a warrior.
In Greek classical heroic feats becomerecognized after the heroes are long dead. In other words, men choose to put their lives on line so that they would be famed after their death. The deaths also had to occur in very dramatic ways to ensure that their feats would be retold many generations later as in the case of Achilles. He like the heroes of his generation was a spectacular warrior admired by his troops and the Greek society. His abilities in the battles were greatly aided by his half god nature. However, such qualities were considered standard for classical Greek heroes. This means that although the society idolized their heroes they were not at par with the rest of their troops. Additionally, they had the help of gods and goddesses who would always intervene. This made the heroes invincible not only to their fellow men but also to other rival immortal beings. One’s learned his or her fate before starting their quest. This, therefore, gave them a choice of living a long and uneventful live or dying young and heroic. Achilles had a choice to change his fate and live a long life rather than become heroic and die young. But long and uneventful life was less appealing, than being worshipped on one’s demise.
According to Silvester (2002) classical Greek society, had very different standards of judging their heroes in comparison to the modern societies. In this society it was okay to violently decapitate enemies in anger. In addition, such acts as kidnapping ones enemies, goddess and plundering the spoils of war was perceived as part of heroism. As shown in Homer’s Iliad, Greek heroes were driven by their quest for fame and excellent reputation. Ethics, therefore, were overlooked in quest for heroism and fame. This contravenes the qualities that heroes are expected to exhibit in the modern world.
Achilles after his death achieved a reputation as one of the greatest warriors in the classical Greek society. Homer depicts Achilles as a perfect warrior, who fought like a beast. This implies that he was merciless to his enemies in the battlefield. Achilles knew that his only road to glory was through killing as many enemies as he could find. Achilles’ lack of mercy made him famous after killing many enemies. His quest to gain fame and glory for many generations to come became true, since up to date he is considered as the most heroic Greek warrior of his era. Achilles’ greed for glory leads to the death of his best friend Patroclus. To Silvester and Dean Miller, this is betrayal, a quality today that would have anyone written off as a hero. Additionally, by losing Patroclus, Achilles becomes lonely and shuns the rest of the society. Loneliness makes Achilles hate the entire society. He prays for the death of his enemies. We can argue that Achilles’ loneliness is a result of his mortal/immortal nature. This means that he cannot fit in as a god or as a human being. Achilles also does to conform to the Greek society norms and values, implying that his skewed sense of justice only makes sense to the gods and not his soldiers. The hero is also a defiant man, since he defies the society as well as the gods. In other words, his actions are no longer for the benefit of the weak in his society, but to gain him fame.
Achilles has been described in Iliad as a man capable of jeopardizing his actions through his anger. Although, one can argue that Homer’s depiction of Achilles was intended to humanize him, Achilles lacks the qualities of Dean’s heroism as he is susceptible to human emotions and ambition in fulfilling his duties, especially taking into consideration that Homers depicted Achilles as partially god and partly human. This gives him power over the rest of the human kind, thus, eliminating him from being judged in similar standards as his men. Dean, on the other hand, argues that heroes are normal people who perform extraordinary feats. They do so to help their fellow humans and not to gain fame. Through such depictions Achilles is ruled out as a hero. Homer forces his audiences to examine the qualities of the epic heroes in light of their era. In classical Greek literature, heroes were assigned characteristics that seemed to separate them from the rest of human beings. At the same time they were judged by the same standards as their fellow humans.
Klonoski view of the epic heroes mirrors that of Homer. In his works, therefore, Achilles is a revered hero of the Greek society. This is because Achilles had the choice to change his fate. That is, Achilles could have chosen a longer uneventful life instead of a short heroic life. Klonoski’s perception, therefore, is that by choosing a tragic life Achilles standout from the rest of the society. In Iliad, Homer informs his audiences that Achilles chose fame over longer life. His actions are also depicted as to have been directed towards protecting his people. Therefore, despite mercilessly killing his enemies, his actions were committed in good faith. Klonoski’s standards of judging Achilles are similar to those of the classic Greek society whereby, heroes are assigned characteristics that separate them from the rest of human beings. In this period, heroes were the people with royal heritage, partially human and partially god. In addition, heroes had capabilities to perform inhuman feats while fighting to restore justice in the society. Their capability to take extreme measures to save their society is seen as necessary quality for heroism.
The concept of epic heroes is revisited in book “The Beast of the Achaeans”. According to Gregory Nagy , one of the qualities that made one a hero in Archaic Greek was lack of mercy when dealing with the enemies. The society went to war not only to defeat their enemies but also to plunder their wealth. Achilles was known for taking the wealth of his defeated enemies. In this era, therefore, warriors were motivated to fight for wealth and fame. This concept of heroism differs from today’s perception, whereby taking the wealth of defeated enemies is considered immoral. Additionally, treating one’s enemy mercilessly is also frown upon. But, in classic Greek taking the wealth and treating the enemy without mercy won the wars.
A similar view is also held by Katie Silvester in her work "The Would in War Literature: An Image of Heroism." Heroism in her work is the quality of one being selfless, kind and merciful to others. Homer, on the other hand, assigns Achilles qualities that make him merciless, unkind and a glory seeker. This makes his actions motivated by personal gains.
Achilles was a man prone to anger and his stubbornness endangered his quest. In Iliad Homer portrays Achilles as a man capable of changing his own destiny by choosing a different life.
Homer’s epic hero Achilles is depicted as a merciless man and in pursuit of personal glory. According to Homer, Achilles’ main motivation in his actions is to be forever remembered by the society. In contrast, today’s heroes are selfless people as depicted by Dean Miller. In this context, heroes are regarded as the ordinary people who perform extraordinary feats for the benefit of others. They do so to help their fellow humans and not to gain fame. Through such depictions, Achilles is ruled out as a hero by modern standards. On the other hand, Katie Silvester agrees with this concept of heroism. According to her, heroism is the quality of one being selfless, kind and merciful to others. In this era however, warriors were motivated to fight for wealth and fame. This concept of heroism differs from today’s perception, whereby taking the wealth of defeated enemies is considered immoral. Achilles lost his friend because of his greed and quest to be famous. Achilles was also ostracized by the other warriors. This means that despite achieving fame he died very lonely.