Archive for the ‘Achilles’ Category

The Amorality of Achilles

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

By the end of The Iliad, Homer shows us the dark depths of depravity that humans can achieve. His hero Achilles has become as evil as he can possibly be. By the time we get to Book 22, Achilles has slaughtered countless men (including Lycaon, who helplessly pleaded at his feet for his life to be spared), fought against a river, and desecrated Hector’s body by dragging it through the dirt in front of his family and refusing to let him be buried. Any sense of compassion or pity for his fellow man has long since been eschewed.

Homer gives us, in gripping detail, the classic struggle of mankind: Himself. We as a species are capable of the utmost horror simply by detaching ourselves from our humanity. When we become nothing more than intelligent beasts, nothing more than calculating copulators, nothing more than what the most strident materialist claims us to be… we are no longer humans, we are nightmares.

Anyone who lived through the brutal inhumanity of the 20th century should have no need for this to be explained. And yet it is a sad and telling truth that now more than ever do we need to heed Homer’s message.

When we separate ourselves from our souls by ignoring that we are persons, there is nothing that we are not capable of. The history of man is rife with example after example of this. There is nothing that can stop or even persuade a man (or men) that no longer have any moral tether to their own actions. Dostoevsky similarly put it this way: “Without God, all things are permitted”. Homer would have agreed.


The Inhumanity of Achilles

January 1, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

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Men and Fate

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Halfway through Book 9 of the Iliad, Achilles gets a choice that not many (perhaps none) have ever become privy to. Achilles is set up in his camp, still refusing to fight, when Phoenix, Odysseus, and Ajax come to try and persuade him to help his friends and family by joining the battle.

Ultimately their plans are unsuccessful. Perhaps Achilles’ rage is so great that nothing will lead him back into the fray, or perhaps a stunning prophecy from his mother has something to do with it. Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, had apparently earlier told him exactly how he will die. More specifically, she told him exactly how he will die depending on which path he chooses. Recounts Achilles:

… Two fates bear me on to the day of death.

If I hold out here and lay siege to Troy,

my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.

If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,

my pride, my glory dies…

true, but the life that’s left me will be long,

the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.

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The Pride of Achilles

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I don’t think that Achilles went overboard when he first left the fighting. Agamemnon took his prize and left him with nothing. Achilles was rightly upset by this. Agamemnon was free to take whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. To fight for such a man is less than meaningless.

Leaving the battle is fine. It’s what Achilles does next that puts him over the line.

Achilles asks his mother, the goddess Thetis, to go to Olympus and persuade Zeus to cause the Achaeans (his allies) to start losing the war. The reason he wants his own side to lose is because he wants Agamemnon to realize how much he needs him – Achilles wants to hear Agamemnon beg him to come back.

Now this is ridiculous. This same tactic is something I used to think about doing as a ten year old whenever I was upset about not getting my way. I fantasized that maybe if I ran away or something, then everybody would start missing me and finally realize how wonderful I was.

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Agamemnon, lord of men

October 22, 2010 1 comment

The Iliad is a poem about the rage of Achilles and his degeneration into inhumanity (more on this later). It’s interesting to note then, that what sets Achilles down this path is a classic struggle between the ruled (Achilles) and the ruler (Agamemnon).

To set the stage, the Achaeans, led by Agamemnon, have sacked a city near Troy. One of the places in that city was a shrine to the god Apollo. After the battle, the Achaeans took the loot from the city and divided it up between them. The most prized possession from the attack was the daughter of the temple priest, Chryseis. And since Agamemnon was the ruler, he took her as his own.

Shortly after, Chryseis’ father begs Agamemnon to return her, but Agamemnon refuses. Being a priest of Apollo, Chryseis’ father implores the god for revenge. Apollo obliges, and afflicts the Achaeans with plague, forcing Agamemnon to return her.

Okay, fine. Agamemnon had to give her back. He lost out, but it was for the good of his people (they were dying of plague). Agamemnon lord of men doesn’t stop there, however. He thinks it’s not fair that he lost his prize, so he makes Achilles give up his own prize so that Agamemnon won’t be empty-handed (as it turns out, Achilles prize was a woman named Briseis). Understandably, Achilles feels this is a bit unfair. That’s actually an understatement. Achilles thinks it’s an outrage.

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