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Achilles' Influence and Morality in "The Iliad" Essay

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From the first few lines of the Iliad, Achilles’ influence is evident; the poet describes “…Achilles’ rage, / Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks / Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls / Of heroes into Hades’ dark, / And left their bodies to rot as feats” (1.1-5). The extremity of the chaos described is suggestive of the level of power only a god would have, which immediately distinguishes Achilles from ordinary mortals. In the first book alone, Achilles is visited by Hera, Athena, and Thetis, and through Thetis is able to bring a message to Zeus himself, who respects his honor and grants his prayer. Epithets set Achilles apart: he is “godlike Achilles,” the “beloved of Zeus,” and the Greeks’ “most formidable hero” (1.8, 82,…show more content…
As he is about to kill Lycaon, Achilles explains the irony of his mortality: “Take a look at me. Do you see how huge I am, / How beautiful? I have a noble father, / My mother was a goddess, but I too / Am in death’s shadow” (21.114-17). Achilles perpetually struggles to define himself and to understand his place within both the Greek society and the realm of the gods. One of Achilles’ most godlike characteristics is his obsession with personal honor and seemingly coldhearted indifference towards the suffering of the Greeks, as revealed during his argument with Agamemnon: “When every last Greek desperately misses Achilles, / Your remorse won’t do any good then, / When Hector the man-killer swats you down like flies. / And you will eat your heart out / Because you failed to honor the best Greek of all” (1.255-59). However, Achilles does possess a more human, sensitive aspect to his personality that is rarely revealed. There are only two characters in the Iliad that Achilles seems to truly care for: Briseis and Patroclus. Achilles won Briseis in battle, but felt that she was much more than a mere war prize, as he tells Odysseus: “Every decent, sane man / Loves his woman and cares for her, as I did / Loved her from my heart. It doesn’t matter / That I won her with my spear” (9.349-52). Similarly, Achilles cares deeply for Patroclus, referring to him as “my noble friend” and “my Patroclus” (16.52,250). Agamemnon’s decision to take Briseis causes
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