Despite the grand scope of Homers epics–which present warfare, heroism, adventure and divinity as forces that shape human destiny The Iliad may be seen as an account of the circumstances that irrevocably alter the life of one man: Achilles, greatest of warriors. Through the course of the poem, Achilles goes through many ordeals that change his character immensely.
From the initial callousness and stubborn temper of Achilles to the eventual humanization of Achilles in his interaction with the grieving father of Hector, whom Achilles himself slew, The Iliad can be seen to chronicle the maturation of the Greek hero during the terrible battles of the Trojan War. Achilles is a hero in the epic sense. He is complete with flaws and bad qualities that round out the character, but has passions and convictions that any reader can relate to. Throughout the course of the Iliad, Homer creates the character of Achilles to be a Homeric hero, and also, a modern day hero.
To understand a Homeric hero one must know a little about the Homeric code. The Homeric code is a trend throughout Homers myths and Greek society in which the individual prefers having a short, but glorious life as opposed to a long, normal life. An important fact about heroes is that they are individuals that are revered in their society and are seen as protectors of their society. That is why Heracles, Jason and the Argonauts, and Theseus were looked upon as great heroes. They saved society from monsters and evil in their quests, and had little regard for their own safety.
Achilles story follows this plot line quite well. At the beginning of the epic, the falling out, Achilles is not concerned for the fate of the Greeks, but for himself and his grudge with Agamemnon, My honors never equal yours, whenever we sack some wealthy Trojan stronghold-my arms bear the brunt of the raw, savage fighting, true, but when it comes to dividing up the plunder the lions share is yours, and back I go (Iliad I, 193. ). This shows a very narrow-minded, selfish Achilles and this is, indeed what we are supposed to think of him at the beginning of the epic.
He is self-possessed and worried about personal possessions. However, the argument that Achilles presents at the beginning of the poem is very rational and heartfelt and it is surprising that it took ten years for it finally to get mentioned. I dont think this argument is heroic, but I do believe it raises some really excellent points. Achilles sheds light on the fact that all the Greeks are at Troy to fight over the pride and honor of Agamemnons brother. He is also brave enough to stand up to the king and call him greedy and selfish. I praise Achilles for this.
Also I believe that he is making an incredible sacrifice, he made the decision to settle the dispute so Apollo would stop the killing of the Achaean army. Though this decision costs Achilles greatly, he acted as the best man, though still lacking in the Homeric codes definition of a hero. In the subsequent books Achilles shows more of his not so desirable qualities, and it is in these qualities that Achilles must develop. Homer describes the plot of Achilles to avenge his disgrace at the hand of Agamemnon. He has his mother, the goddess Thetis, ask Zeus to punish the Achaeans on behalf of her and Achilles.
Zeus reluctantly agrees to this, and Achilles succeeds in having the whole of his people subjected to a brutal and costly war to get his revenge’ on Agamemnon. As the Trojan War presses forward, taking countless lives of both Trojan and Achaean alike, Achilles stands by and watches, unwilling to participate in the battle even when an apology from Agamemnon and pleading from his comrades is presented to him. He replies in this fashion I will say it outright.
That seems best to me. Will Agamemnon win me over? Not for all the world, nor will all the rest of Achaeas armies (Iliad IX, 380. Achilles continues to refrain from directly engaging in the fight until his best friend, Patroclus, is killed in battle by the mighty Hector. Achilles is devastated by the loss of his friend, and he vows to avenge this atrocity himself. This is the beginning of Achilles transformation into the Homeric hero. Although Achilles knows that he is fated to be killed in battle, he puts aside his pride and chooses to temporarily forget about his previous feud with Agamemnon that has, up until now, prevented him from participating in the war.
He joins the fighting with a deadly and vengeful mindset that plays a major factor in the outcome of the war. Today, this lust for revenge might be considered a glaring character flaw. However, this passion for retribution undoubtedly conforms to the heroic code of Greek society. Achilles returns to the battlefield and upon finding Hector, Achilles savagely slays the man with a spear into his throat. Achilles then allows the dead body of Hector to be mutilated by the sharp spears of his fellow soldiers. Achilles then proceeds to strap the carcass to his chariot and drags the body along, an ultimate act of disrespect and hatred.
Achilles is over the edge; the death of Patroclus has brought out the rage that can only be quenched with the blood of Hector. Achilles is in the same sense both utterly un-human and the essence of humanity in these actions. His treatment of the noble warrior Hector goes beyond the bounds of normal war customs at the time to quite barbaric levels. Achilles, it seems, draws satisfaction from the defiled corpse of his enemy. Yet, all of this hatred is derived from the very human emotions of sadness, grief, and especially love.
It is my belief that these actions are undeniably consistent with the heroic warrior code of the Greeks, which puts tremendous value on valiance in battle and merciless retribution. I cant even recall the number of times we saw someone beg for their life, only to be cut down. This is, what I believe to be, heroism in ancient Greece. Mercy is for the weak, and mercy is for those that give into feeble human emotions. We can see the realization of Achilles heroism at this point in the book. But I dont think that the modern reader can call Achilles a hero yet.
I think even the Greeks realized, to a point, that even the most valiant and stonehearted soldier must have a human side, which definitely must object to the savage and brutal killing that is ubiquitous in war. I believe that Greeks can also applaud this side of people, as we do today, but it is not what makes a hero a hero. We dont get to see the hero by todays standards until later in the book. When Achilles decides to return Hectors body to his father, Priam, so that it might be honorably buried, he is violating the unfeeling and uncompassionate Homeric, heroic code to which he earlier tried so hard to conform.
He decided to act upon the nobler human quality of pity and sympathy and anothers loss, even when the loss is that of a hated enemy. Truly, in this scenario, Priam had to simply draw on the common bond through which all humans feel linked, for no amount of rational thought would have swayed Achilles to make this compromise of principle. After the last book, the reader is left with an image of Achilles that is hard not to respect. Achilles graciously puts away his anger and welcomes the father of the enemy, showing his hospitality.
Then Achilles mourns with Priam, returns the corpse of Hector, and offers the king relief from fighting so the people can properly bury Hector. This is a very mature Achilles we see here. Odysseus character is very similar to Achilles. Odysseus also starts out as an extraordinary character; his amiable qualities of physical strength, mental power and wit, as well as his less admirable characteristic of arrogance all make up his heroic character. It may seem, to some, that Odysseus doesnt change much throughout this epic. He is, heroic at the beginning of the epic, and doesnt need to grow to reach that crest.
But, throughout the novel, his characteristics allow him to grow from an arrogant hero to a humble survivor, appreciative of the goal he worked so hard to achieve. Odysseus possesses amiable characteristics from the first time we encounter him in The Iliad that already allow him to be associated with the stature of a hero. The first of these characteristics is his physical prowess. His strength is definitely superior to that of normal humans, and is an obvious characteristic of a hero. While Odysseus possesses the heroic quality of physical strength, other amiable characteristics add to his heroic character.
Another aspect of Odysseus strength is his ability to withstand hardships. He is shipwrecked, starved and weather beaten, but Odysseus always remains strong, like a hero should. Odysseus mental power is a likable characteristic that adds to his heroic qualities. This is a heroic quality because instead of succumbing to temptation, he kept his ultimate goal in sight. However, Odysseus greatest heroic quality was his wit. Odysseus wit is a heroic characteristic comparable to that of the gods themselves. It is also his greatest asset as a hero.
Odysseus uses his cunning ideas and insuperable intelligence to overcome the many obstacles presented to him. Although Odysseus is a hero, he is still mortal. He is therefore subject to the same human emotions as everyone else. While Odysseus has many amiable heroic characteristics, his arrogance was less admirable. He was sometimes arrogant and boastful of his achievements. His pride, though sometimes a driving force to victory, was often more detrimental than good. Throughout the epic we see Odysseus gradually change from the sacker of Troy, a hero in every sense of the word, to a really nice guy.
Not only does he become a nice guy, but the reader can really sympathize with him, I mean the guy just wants to get home. There is no defining moment in the epic in which Odysseus finally gets it but it is a slow gradual change towards humility; we finally get to see the change when he finally gets to Ithaca. Upon arrival Odysseus is forced to stay with a lowly, yet loyal, sheepherder to obtain a truthful story of the condition of his kingdom and the suitors. He never brags to the suitors, or the sheepherder about his exploits and is able to enter his house, his real identity known only to his son.
He takes the punishment of Antinous and the other suitors and, in effect, swallows his pride, enabling him to determine who is to be punished. Odysseus has finally learned, through experience, that he should use his wit as his greatest tool as a hero. This final lesson that Odysseus learns is what makes this man someone to envy. Since The Iliad we have heard of his wit, and strength, but it is from The Odyssey that we get to see this man grow up. Odysseus has been taught humility, which is a hard lesson to be learned by anyone that has been so gifted mentally and physically.