Home > Achilles, Iliad, The > The Inhumanity of Achilles

The Inhumanity of Achilles

Achilles rejects all ties to his fellow human beings in Book 9. It is here that Homer makes it clear he has gone past the point any mortal should go. The trio of Phoenix, Odysseus and Ajax attempt to get him to join the fight, but Achilles refuses all proposals.

There is nothing now that can persuade Achilles. He is his own entity. Achilles no longer cares for anything. He has achieved a certain sense of power simply by shrugging off all human responsibility, compassion, and any sense of duty to his fellow man.

To be sure, there is definitely an unmistakable power that can be obtained by following Achilles’ example. What can a teacher do to a student who no longer cares about school? What can a parent do to a child who doesn’t care about being punished? I use the word ‘inhuman’ to describe this attitude because it separates a person from the rest of the species and their interactions together. It is the ultimate elevation of self over all. Many times this attitude is lauded by poets and philosophers, but most of the time it shouldn’t be.

This is the attitude of Achilles, except played out on a much grander scale. Achilles has gotten a taste of this pseudo-superiority and will ride it out as far as it can go. But the problem with ‘power’ of this nature is that it turns the person wielding it into an uncaring automaton. In order to maintain it, all sense of humanity has to be let go. Phoenix pleads with him by appealing to their familial ties. Achilles refuses. Odysseus pleads with him by means of reason. Achilles refuses. Ajax pleads with him by appealing to honor. Achilles refuses.

What do you do with a person like that? What can you do? This separation from all sense of humanity and norms of civilization makes his upcoming emergence a truly frightening thing to behold in Book 19. It’s one thing to not have any cares or compassion for your fellow man and so withdraw yourself from society. It’s quite another thing to combine that uncaring, inhuman attitude and use it to act upon whatever bodily urges compel you. A man like Achilles, with no checks against his actions, may just as well destroy everything he sees.

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