Achilles and the heroic code

Essay by subarux January 2004

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Is Achilles heroic? The question is difficult to answer even if one gathers all possible bits of information about the acts that Achilles performed throughout the poem. A hero is someone who is a man that shows courage and who is also admired by many people. Yes, in some instances Achilles was courageous, but in others, my opinion is that he wasn't. Not only does a hero possess the unique qualities of courage and not only is he a likeable person, he also is selfless, putting the best interests of others in front of his very own. At certain points throughout the poem, Achilles appears to be in a selfish mode and he does and suggests things that are geared toward his own benefit. So, the question of Achilles' heroism still lingers. Is he or isn't he? After I take a closer look at the Iliad and Achilles' actions, then, I will conclude.

In the very first book of the Iliad, Book I (pp.12-13; ll.378-431), Achilles called on his mother, who was goddess of the sea, for her help. Achilles was upset because Agamemnon had taken away Briseis, his war prize, who was given to him by the Greek soldiers. He went to the sea and his mother Thetis arose as Achilles told her about how Agamemnon had dishonored him by stripping him of his girl. He then asked Thetis to call upon Zeus and ask Zeus to let the Trojans win the battle against the Greeks so that the Trojans would realize how vital he was to the success of the army and they would all come back to him and restore the recognition which he felt was taken away form him when Briseis was taken from him. The gesture was not at all heroic. Without a...