Achilleus’ hands are a prevalent image in Homer’s Iliad. By focusing on Achilleus’ hands, we as the audience, gain insight on not only the character of Achilleus but also the customs of the society in which he lived. Much of this insight is not directly conveyed to the reader but a deeper look into the reasoning behind why the hands were focused on will reveal the insight mentioned before. In many cases Achilleus’ hands are a direct representation of himself and whatever happens to Achilleus is shown through his hands.
Often the actions to the hands themselves are discrete and are often symbolically related to the actions that are placed upon Achilleus. Nonetheless his hands provide a greater understanding of why the things that happen to Achilleus actually occur. For example, we learn the true extent of Achilleus’ love for Patroklos when the author focuses on the hands of Achilleus as they touch the body of Patroklos. The manner in which he touches the body shows a great expression of love for his fallen comrade. Achilleus and Patroklos always had a strong relationship, which extended beyond the normal warrior-companion relationships of the time.
These two men shared a very strong emotional bond and we never really see any expression of these feelings until after Patroklos has fallen in battle. One of the ways we see the expression of love for Patroklos is through Achilleus’ hands. We see the hands of Achilleus again while Achilleus is mourning for Patroklos and Antilochus holds Achilleus’ hands. The hands were focused upon in this instance because in the Greek culture it is considered “perfect mourning” if one person commits suicide for the deceased person.
So Antilochus sits there in fear that Achilleus “might cut his throat”. This scene gives us further insight as to the beliefs of the Greeks at this period in history. We see that suicide can be considered acceptable under the proper circumstances. This ritualistic suicide is no longer accepted in today’s society but it plays an important factor in providing us with valuable information about Greek culture. Lastly, Achilleus would often return to camp with his hands stained with blood. This image of blood is used to remind us, the reader, of the extreme violence and horror of this war.
When Achilleus cleaned himself his hands were also clean which symbolized Achilleus as a normal person with feelings like everyone else. Once he entered battle and blood was split on his hands then Achilleus makes a small transformation into a brutal bloodthirsty warrior. In conclusion, Achilleus’ hands are an important theme to the Iliad. Homer probably used Achilleus’ hands to provide not only dramatic effect to the plot but to give the audience a little insight as to why things happened the way they did or to show how good or bad a situation really was.
Whenever Achilleus underwent a transition from role to role his hands also changed. When Achilleus went from citizen to warrior his hands became drenched in blood. When Achilleus went from warrior to lover his hand went from the hands of a savage to hands that caressed. Achilleus’ hands had a great presence in the story and if it had no been for this image I believe the story would not be as effective on describing the depths of Achilleus as it is now.