Anger is a brief lunacy. -Horace The Iliad, an epic poem written by Homer, portrays rage and vengeful human behavior. In his work, Homer introduces Achilles, an invincible and stubborn warrior. He has no match on the battlefield and is considered one of the greatest Greek fighters in the Trojan War (Sparknotes). Quick to offend, he is enraged when the King of Mycenae and leader of the Greek army, Agamemnon, speaks ill of him in front of the Achaen troops and demands Achilles prize, Briseis, in exchange for his own, Chry ses. Incensed at the presumptuousness and selfishness of Agamemnon, he withdraws from the Greek camp andthe battle, refusing to fight further.
Feeling betrayed, his honor compromised and his character disrespected, Achilles the larger-than-life hero seeks the advice of his mother, the sea goddess Thetis. During their meeting, Achilles sulks and broods over his losses, proving after all that godlike warriors are only men prone to their own human adversities. Emphasizing this theme of rage, the poem opens, Rage, Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus son Achilles... From the events to follow in the Iliad we are able to conclude that all men are subject to rage when their honor, loyalty and earned status are imperiled. Rage, with a furious intensity, clouds over Achilles like a storm. Despite his comrades in arms, Achilles, acting in vengeance, refuses to battle, and it is rage that makes it so that Achilles would rather see friends wounded than be slighted by Agamemnon (Book rags).
Achilles relies on Thetis many times for advice and divine assistance. Acting helpless, he succumbs to his human afflictions and lets her work out his problem for him, he weeps and implores his noble mother But you, mother, if you have any power at all, protect your son! (Iliad, I, 467-468). Achilles, his only vulnerable spot in his heel, is reduced to moping to his mother and begs her to plead with Zeus for his own pitied sake. Even after th Greeks send an entourage to Achilles requesting his return to battle in exchange for treasure and an unharmed Briseis, Achilles refuses because his pride and honor have been tarnished. Godlike Achilles despite his great stature is reduced to the distresses of human emotions.
Achilles tendency to immaturity progresses to a variety of inappropriate and potentially dangerous and destructive behaviors. His reliance on his mother, inability to exert self-control, and his resort to violence are an easy solution to any perceived problems. Throughout the Iliad Achilles behaves in a spiteful manner. He is stubborn and unreasonable, sullen and resentful when he cannot have his way and takes advantage of his strength when challenged. Achilles, in book one, loses a battle with Agamemnon and cannot retaliate. Instead he retreats in frustration and self-pity and cries Mother, you gave me life...
so at least Olympian Zeus, thundering up on high, should give me honor, but now he gives me nothing... Agamemnon... seizes and keeps my prize (Iliad, I, 416-419). He again seeks his mother divine intervention when his armor is lost to Hector, How canI go to war The Trojans have my gear. And my dear mother told me I must not arm for battle, not till I see her coming back with my own eyes... (Iliad, XVII, 218-220).
Thetis enlists Hephaestus, the gods metal-smith, to forge for Achilles a new armor. His inability to exert self-control is another unattractive trait portrayed by Achilles. Determined to avenge the death of Patroclus, his close friend and companion, he ignores his mother s sound advice. But now, for the moment, let me seize great glory! he demands (Iliad, XVIII, 144). Warning Thetis, Don t try to hold me back from the fighting, mother, love me as you do. You can t persuade me now (Iliad, 149-150).
Later when he attempts to force the Achaen army to attack the Trojans immediately, he insists I, by god, I d drive our Arrives into battle now, starving, famished and only then... lay ona handsome feast... (Iliad, XIX, 246-247). Odysseus, wisest of the Achaean heroes, responds by reminding him that the soldiers need to eat Remember food and drink-so all the more fiercely we can fight our enemies, nonstop, no mercy... (Iliad, XIX, 274-275). Consistently, Achilles chooses violence to rationality in response to any challenge.
He stiffens at Agamemnon s threat to take Briseis from him. Provoked, he responds by withdrawing his sword from its sheath and prepares to murder his own king. Only the divine intervention of Athena holds him back, Don t lay hand to sword. Lash him with threats of the price that he will face... Hold back now (Iliad, I, 246-251). Achilles also responds to the death of Patroclus (killed in battle by Hector, Prince of Troy) with violence.
He declares to the Trojans, Here in front of your flaming pyre I ll cut the throats of a dozen sons of Troy in all their shining glory, venting my rage on them for your destruction! (Iliad, XVIII, 392-394). He then threatens to lash the corpse of Hector behind the car for dragging and haul him three times round the dead Patroclus tomb... (Iliad, XXIV, 17-19). Achilles knows that he must ultimately die in the heat of battle and gain great fame for doing so. He eventually returns to fight on the side of the Achaeans, but not because of anything Agamemnon offers to him in order to get him to return to the fighting. His best friend and "soul-mate", Patroclus, is slain at the hands of the mighty Hector.
Achilles is distraught by this devastating loss and goes to wreak his own havoc with the life ofHector to gain revenge. He manages to eventually kill many Trojans and then finally after chasing Hector several times around the city of Troy, slays him and desecrates his body by dragging him as some sort of artifice to relieve his stored up hate, anger, and fear. Hector, only breaths from death begs Achilles not to desecrate his body. Achilles responds Beg no more, you fawning dog... Would to god my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw... The dogs and birds will rend you-blood and bone! (Iliad, XXII, 407-417).
King Priam of Troy, Hector's bereaved father, eventually comes to Achilles' camp in peace after learning and weeping over his son's death. He comes to Achilles and begs him to return the body of his son. Achilles response is perhaps one of the most intimate and "human" aspects of the epic, he agrees to the King's wishes and seems himself saddened, somber, and humbled by the ultimate devastation. Before returning the corpse of Hector, he orders to his serving-women Bathe and anoint the body-bear it aside first. Priam must not see his son (Iliad, XXIV, 682-683). He then has the women dress the body in a braided battle-shirt and handsome battle-cape taken from the ransom offered for Hector s corpse.
Apologizing to Patroclus for this action he pleads Feel no anger a tme... I let this father have Prince Hector back. He gave me worthy ransom and you shall have your share from me, as always, your fitting lordly share (Iliad, XXIV, 695-699). Achilles then allows the Trojans twelve days of peace in order to give the slain Hector a full burial with royal honors. Achilles demeanor throughout the Iliad can be described as a struggle between his spiteful and childlike behavior and the rationality of a powerful and unmatched hero.
Often times he seems unable to function without the care of his mother, needing her attention and affection. He is stubborn and sullen and reacts to the slightest of frustrations by either sulking or becoming enraged. Periodically he acts like a mischievous child who cannot command himself, and becomes distressed when his actions appear to be uncontrollable. Also, he is prone to unmanageable rage which in turn leads to violence and death. As ancient as the Iliad is, modern society can still identify with most of the actions taken by Achilles. While the death of a friend is expected to bring grief and thoughts of revenge, Achilles takes it one step too far when he befouls the corpse ofHector.
In addition to his rage being untamed and beast like, he is also prone to incessant tantrums directed at his mother for her help, a quality that is irritating considering not only is he a grown man but also almost completely invincible. Above all Achilles proves once and again that despite his godlike attributes, he is first and foremost a mere mortal.