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Erik

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PostSubject: The Rage of Achilles   Sun Aug 23, 2015 1:19 pm

"Sing, O goddess, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another. "

- Homer, The Iliad

What, according to you, is the significance of this introduction in The Iliad?

Why is the rage of Achilles so central to the story?


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PostSubject: Re: The Rage of Achilles   Sun Aug 23, 2015 1:19 pm

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Anger, Strife, Alienation, and Reconciliation

The main theme of the Iliad is stated in the first line, as Homer asks the Muse to sing of the "wrath of Achilles." This wrath, all its permutations, transformations, influences, and consequences, makes up the themes of the Iliad. In essence, the wrath of Achilles allows Homer to present and develop, within the cultural framework of heroic honor (see Critical Essay 1), the ideas of strife, alienation, and reconciliation.

The wrath of Achilles is provoked by Achilles' sense of honor as a result of eris or discord, which leads to the warrior's alienation from the Greeks and eventually from human society. Second, the wrath of Achilles sets him up in clear contrast to his great Trojan counterpart in the story — Hektor. Finally, the assuaging of Achilles' wrath leads to the reconciliation and reintegration of the warrior, first into his own community and second into the larger community of all humanity. When considering these three basic ideas that result from the wrath of Achilles, readers can see a grand design in the work that centers not so much on war as on the growth and development of an individual character.

Achilles wrath is initiated by his sense of honor. Honor for the Greeks, and specifically heroes, as readers have seen, existed on different levels. First, arete: the pursuit of excellence. Second, nobility: on the personal level, men had to treat each other properly; personal regard and honor from one's peers was essential to the proper functioning of society. Third, valor: obtained by a warrior for his accomplishments in battle. Fourth, and finally, the Greeks could obtain everlasting fame and glory for their accomplishments in life. The wrath of Achilles is based on each of these concepts.

Underlying the idea of honor is another Greek concept — strife, personified by the goddess Eris. For the Greeks, life was based on the idea of strife and turmoil. To try to avoid strife was to avoid life. A good life could be achieved by reconciling the factors that produced strife. However, war, nature, personality — everything — contained elements of strife that may not be completely reconcilable. This more elemental strife could lead to evil. Both types of strife are involved in Achilles' anger.

In a most significant way, Achilles' life begins with an attempt to avoid strife. His parents, the goddess Thetis and the mortal Peleus, invite all the gods to their wedding except Eris (strife). Eris, however, like the evil witch in fairy tales, attends anyway and tosses out the golden apple marked, "For the Fairest." Thus, strife enters at the wedding of Achilles' parents and sets in motion the events that will ultimately lead to the Trojan War.

On a more personal level, Achilles himself is an embodiment of stressful opposites. One parent is mortal; one a goddess. Consequently, he knows both mortality and immortality. He knows he must die, but he also has a sense of the eternal. He knows that if he avoids the war he can live a long life, but that if he fights, he will die young. He knows that glory and eternal fame can be his only through early death in war while long life can be secured only by giving up the ultimate glory a Greek seeks. At first, Achilles attempts to avoid the Trojan War by pretending to be a woman; but, as in a number of instances, his attempts to avoid an action lead directly to that action.

In the Iliad, Achilles' initial anger is a direct result of an act that Achilles perceives to be an attack on his personal honor. Agamemnon takes Briseis from Achilles. In response, Achilles withdraws from the war, producing greater strife, both personally and within the larger context of the war. Achilles cannot reconcile his desire to fight honorably with his companions with his justifiable, but increasingly petulant, anger at Agamemnon. Moreover, Achilles' withdrawal produces the real strife of war, as the Trojans, emboldened by the absence of Achilles, attack the Greeks and their ships with increasing ferocity and success.

As a result of his inner conflict, his alienation from his society, and his inability to resolve this conflict, Achilles sends his companion Patroklos into battle as an alter ego. Patroklos even wears the armor of Achilles so that the Trojans will believe that Achilles has returned to battle. Patroklos is killed, and the turmoil within Achilles is magnified. Achilles sent Patroklos into battle instead of going himself; now he bears responsibility for the death of his friend. Also, now the Trojans are so empowered that they appear poised to win the conflict with the Greeks.

At this point, Achilles resolves the strife that led to his initial wrath but also begins the even greater wrath that results in the death of Hektor and almost takes Achilles beyond the bounds of humanity. Achilles is torn by his own responsibilities in the death of Patroklos and his hatred of the Trojans, specifically Hektor, who actually killed Patroklos. In the last five books of the Iliad, this conflict is transformed into the superhuman rage that Achilles displays as a warrior. After killing Hektor, Achilles allows his rage to move beyond death to desecration as he mutilates, time and again, the corpse of Hektor. At this point, Achilles is on the threshold of complete alienation from human feelings. Only through the recognition of his own kinship with both the living and the dead is he able to finally resolve the conflict and strife that has motivated his rage.

Reconciliation ends the wrath of Achilles and makes him more than a warrior hero. Achilles' anger occurs in two great waves. The first wave, his withdrawal from battle because of conflict with Agamemnon, ends when Achilles accepts Agamemnon's offer and reaches agreement concerning Briseis. Achilles' second wave of anger is over the death of Patroklos and ends when Achilles returns Hektor's body to Priam.

In both these instances, Achilles' wrath has alienated him from those around him. In the first case, he becomes alienated from the other Achaians, his companions in battle; in the second, from humanity in general. In each case, Achilles achieves a reconciliation that allows him to be reintegrated into both his the heroic community and the larger community of humanity. Even so, Achilles remains a hero who is not easily understood. He becomes accepted, and even admired, but never quite comprehendible in the way Hektor is. Through the process of reconciliation, Achilles becomes a memorable literary hero like Oedipus or Beowulf or Hamlet: heroic and noble, but still somehow apart from others, somehow different.

Through reconciliation, Achilles achieves a tragic dimension. If Achilles does not return to the battle, his anger would be nothing more than petulant selfishness. His return, and knowing that he will die in the war, makes him not only a hero but also a hero touched with tragedy. If Achilles does not return Hektor's body to the distraught Priam, then his wrath concerning Patroklos and toward Hektor's corpse would be nothing more than the rage of mindless vengeance. His kindness toward Priam, recognizing his own kinship with the dead and defeated, makes him not only a tragic hero but also an existential one.

The fact that Achilles does recognize his kinship with those he has killed is what raises the Iliad to the level of existential tragedy. This recognition of kinship by Achilles begins in Book XXII. Before he kills Lykaon, Achilles says, "Come friend, you too must die." Most commentators have seen this scene as a sublime moment in the poem in which Achilles asserts the inevitability of death and suggests a kinship between Lykaon, Patroklos, himself, and all the other warriors who have died or will die in battle. This recognition of death is similar to the recognition by Meursault, in The Stranger, that his execution, his death, is the bond that connects him to all humanity. Like Meursault, Achilles is an estranged person, and his acceptance of the inevitability of death is his ultimate assertion of a common bond with all humanity.

This notion of accepting death reaches its zenith when Achilles returns the body of Hektor to Priam. During the last few books of the Iliad, Achilles becomes more and more aware of his own impending death. Even as he rages against Hektor's corpse, he sees his own demise foreshadowed. At the funeral games he rejoins his fellow Achaians. And with Priam, he rejoins the circle of humanity.

That words such as alienation, existential, and tragedy can be used to describe the Iliad demonstrates the greatness of Homer's achievement. The ideas that underlie the Iliad are the ideas that underlie all great literature. Interestingly, the first great hero of Western Literature is also the first modern hero of Western Literature.

The Individual and Society

The contrast between Achilles and Hektor that weaves its way throughout the Iliad is really Homer's means of developing the conflict between individual values versus societal values. Achilles embodies the individual, alienated from his society, operating within the framework of his own code of pride and honor. He tends to represent passion and emotion. Like so many great epic heroes, he is ultimately not understandable. In contrast, Hektor, the great Trojan hero, is more human. He tends to exemplify reason over passion. He has a wife and son. He fights to save his city even though he knows the basis for the quarrel (Paris/Helen) is not worthy of the resulting destruction. Even in war, Hektor demonstrates more human qualities than Achilles. He hesitates; he gives ground; he is wounded; in the moment of crisis, he runs. Readers see more of themselves in Hektor, the family man who cares about his commitments. Achilles, the estranged loner, lies outside the reader's comprehension.

Homer develops his comparison between the value systems of these two warriors. However, no simple explanation is possible. Achilles defeats Hektor, but Hektor is more understandable, and, in most cases, more admirable. Neither one "wins" in the sense that the ideas embodied in his character predominate at the end of the poem. In fact, the ideals and values of both characters are criticized and extolled. If the contrasting values of the individual versus society produce meaning, it is that both are necessary for a fully functioning community.

In terms of values, Hektor clearly upholds the norms of society. Book VI is justly famous for its presentation of Hektor with those close to him — his mother, Hekuba; his wife, Andromache; and his son, Astyanax. In this book there exists a tenderness and intimacy of feeling that occurs nowhere else in the Iliad. Society depends on the bonds of love and family, and Hektor encompasses and fights for those bonds. Andromache seems to urge Hektor to leave the battle, but fleeing destroys the values of the society even more surely than fighting and losing does.

In contrast, Achilles has only Briseis, a prize of war. She is a slave/concubine, and while she evinces emotion toward Achilles and Patroklos, there is no real relationship between them. Achilles withdraws from battle because of Briseis, but only because he feels cheated of booty. Achilles is the individual, acting on the basis of a personal code, with little concern for how his actions may affect the greater community. Achilles follows his personal feelings without regard for the consequences on the community at large; Hektor sees his actions within the context of the overall community.

In terms of motive, Hektor is once again more understandable. Hektor is motivated by responsibility and obligation. He may want to remain in the city with Andromache and Astyanax, but he knows his obligation is on the battlefield. He impresses the same obligation on Paris. Hektor runs from Achilles, but a sense of obligation, spurred by Athena, makes him turn. Hektor, the societal hero, makes decisions based on reason, and, in fact, his reason and sense of duty can overcome the emotions of fear and panic.

Achilles, in contrast, withdraws from battle over a slight. He returns for revenge. His motivations seem to be superficial, based on booty and more deeply on idiosyncrasy. The individual hero fights for his own reasons that others may not understand. When Achilles determines to fight, the outcome for himself and for others is secondary to his goal. Achilles even argues against eating before the battle, so single-minded is he after the death of Patroklos. Hektor's steadfastness in the face of fear is admirable; but overall, the maniacal manner of Achilles is more impressive and effective.

Finally, Hektor is more human. He questions himself in battle. He is not invincible, as his battle with Aias shows. He longs for peace, and he desperately fears the towering rage of Achilles. In simple terms he is a human hero with human faults. Achilles, in many ways, lacks ordinary human feelings. He remains on the sidelines when his friends beg him to return. In battle he is superhuman with no care for his own safety. He fears ignominious death from the River God but not death. Achilles' only human feelings are revealed when he returns Hektor's body to Priam.

In the end, this contrast between Hektor and Achilles shows the contrast between the values of the individual and the values of society. By the end of the Trojan War, both Hektor and Achilles are dead. Neither warrior by himself embodies the values that result in ultimate success. Perhaps those values inhere that most crafty warrior, Odysseus, who has a more perfect blending of individual skill and human emotion. In the Iliad, we may say that Hektor would make a better neighbor but Achilles a better soldier. Homer shows the need for both.

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PostSubject: Re: The Rage of Achilles   Sun Aug 23, 2015 1:20 pm

Quote :
Wrath—one of the most famous first words in all of world literature. The word sets the pace, the tone, the content of the Iliad, shaping the plot of all there is to come.


Wrath—Sing, Goddess, the wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and the birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.
(Iliad, 1.1-8; trans. Robert Fagles with some changes)
The first word is menis. It is not just “anger” as the magisterial translation of Richmond Lattimore has rendered it. It is sustained anger, almost godlike in its intensity and singularity. Thus, Robert Fagles’ “rage” more clearly fits the bill. Yet I prefer the terminology of “wrath.” It reminds me of the wrath of God, which it approximates, that it is headed toward, and almost achieves, but never fully so, since Achilles is still only human. Yet it is a rage that in its legendary greatness cannot be replicated by any other human—it is the most godlike rage a human can achieve. Thus, I prefer wrath.

The wrath of Achilles defines him, and the entire plot of the Iliad unwinds from its vicissitudes. Achilles’ wrath is singular, flattening him as a character, making him nearly unidimensional (Achilles does have his other moments in which we see another side barely break through), but its focus and unidimensionality make him an unbeatable warrior. His monolithic quality makes him wrath’s embodiment; or, put another way, literally transfigures him into wrath. He becomes, as it were, a mortal god, defined by a singular characteristic, much like Ares is the personification of war, or Athena, wisdom or cunning. Unbeatable in combat, yet ultimately mortal. It is his greatest trait, and his ultimate doom, bringing down everyone with him into Hades.

This wrath motivates the story. The plot unfolds based upon the direction that Achilles points his wrath. As the introductory stanza indicates, he points it first to his own side, Agamemnon, the son of Atreus. He is the king of Mycenae (Mykenai), and the king of kings, the leader of all the Achaeans in this war. When he took the captive Briseis from Achilles, Achilles turned his wrath toward Agamemnon, refusing to fight. And, without this force of nature, wrath incarnate, fighting, the Trojans, led by their Tamer of Forces, Hector, began to push the Achaeans back to their ships. Hector, like all of the Trojans, is really the "Breaker of Horses" but I like to consider this in the aspect of taming wild forces, bringing them into civilized society, which Troy itself represents, in contrast to the wild force and fury of unattached Achilles.

Hector is a much more interesting character in my opinion than Achilles. Hector clearly is the second greatest warrior in the Iliad, but unlike Achilles who is unidimensionally wrathful, Hector is multidimensional. He is Hector, the prince of Troy, the beloved son of old King Priam, devoted husband to Andromache, a father with a young child, and responsible for the safety of the entire city of Troy. They all depend upon his strength, his courage, and his leadership. He is universally beloved, and considered universally kind. Fighting for a cause that he does not believe in—the folly of judgment of Paris, his younger brother—he is now forced to defend all those he loves, and fights to the death to do it.

If there is any other shaper of events in the Iliad, it is the judgment of Paris. Well known from the overall story of the Trojan War, it only plays a small part in the Iliad itself, which focuses on a small segment of the larger story. Only partially alluded to in the Iliad, three very powerful goddesses—Hera, the queen of the gods, Athena, and Aphrodite—asked Paris, the most beautiful of men, to judge the fairest. He chose Aphrodite. In the story of the involvement of the gods in the Iliad, Aphrodite always sides with the Trojans—as does, most notably, Apollo. Hera and Athena consistently support the Achaeans. The judgment of Paris explains this—Paris chose beauty and lust before wisdom or cunning, unlike cunning Odysseus who is favored by Athena. He chose this instead of respecting family responsibilities. In short, the most beautiful man chose the most beautiful woman (Helen, queen of Sparta, wife of Menelaos), who in turn may have chose him as well. Both are favored by Aphrodite, in fact. Both ignore family responsibilities respected in that society. Both ultimately like the wrath of Achilles, bring down so many souls to the house of death on both the Achaean and Trojan sides, giving the wrath of Achilles a place to roam, leading to the destruction of Troy.

Yet Paris lacks the courage to take responsibility for his actions. He cannot beat Menelaos in one-on-one combat, as happens in the Iliad. He cannot save Troy from his own actions. Only Hector can, but Hector cannot escape Achilles’ wrath should it ever turn directly with intense focus towards him. Once Hector, the Tamer of Forces, is gone, Troy will be doomed. In fact, it is in his attractively textured multidimensionality as a character that one finds his own undoing. With all the web of responsibilities to his family and to his city resting on his shoulders, he cannot possibly maintain the singular, almost adolescent and yet divine wrathful focus of the unattached Achilles.

Indeed, once Achilles equivocates, allowing his beloved Patroclus into battle, wearing Achilles’ own armor, Patroclus dies by the hand of Hector. It is this act that finally turns Achilles’ wrath from Agamemnon, the Lord of Men, to Hector, the Tamer of Forces. It is this act that transfigures Achilles’ adolescent wrath against Agamemnon to godlike wrath, complete with a fiery nimbus and a divine roar (with the aid of Athena), against Hector. This might explain why this takes place in the tenth year. Achilles nearly divine wrath had not been fully awakened by his enemy. Now no force can stop him, not even the Tamer of Forces.

Hector, realizing he had mistaken Patroclus for Achilles, knows what is coming, is driven back, waits for Achilles, and, in the end, loses his nerve. Eventually forced to take a stand, he fights Achilles. But he is no match for godlike wrath, so intense that almost nothing can abate it. Achilles, as wrath personified, kills Hector, presaging the destruction of Troy itself, dragging his body and leaving it unburied, an insult unbearable to Hector’s family, the Trojans, and even the gods. The gods, recognizing the heroic greatness of Hector, keep his body undefiled. Indeed, Achilles wrath is not abated until King Priam, in the most touching scene in the Iliad (and much of all ancient literature), sneaks into the Achaean camp, into Achilles’ tent, and the great king begs for his son’s body from the man who killed him. Now ends the wrath of Achilles, now ends the Iliad.

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PostSubject: Re: The Rage of Achilles   Sun Aug 23, 2015 1:22 pm






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PostSubject: Re: The Rage of Achilles   Sun Aug 23, 2015 1:23 pm


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