Essay Exam #2 (8) An Epic Hero Named Achilles


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Essay Exam #2

(8) An Epic Hero Named Achilles

Achilles was an epic hero in Greek mythology. Mostly known from Homer's Iliad, he was a half-immortal, great warrior who fought in the Trojan War. Achilles' parents were Thetis, a Greek goddess, and Peleus who was the king of the Myrmidons. One interesting point which makes this character an epic hero, is a situation which occurs after his birth. His mother (Thetis) wanted to make him immortal by putting him into the river Styx, however she held him by his heel, and most Achilles' body was immortal (besides his vulnerable heel).

In Homer's Iliad, Achilles takes part in the Trojan Wars along with his troops, and all the Greeks against Troy. As the story goes, Agamemnon the king of Mycenae, and brother of Menelaus, decides to go to war with Troy because one of the Trojan princes (Paris) dishonored Menelaus and took his wife (Helen) back to Troy. As Agamemnon recruits his troops and all the kings from the states of Greece which he had conquered, he asks for Achilles to go with him. Achilles went to Troy leading fifty ships of Myrmidons. During the war he is dishonored by Agamemnon because of an incident with a girl he loved (Briseis), and decided not to fight, nor let his troops fight for the Greeks forces anymore. Later on in the story as the Greeks were being pushed back from the Trojan Forces, Patroclus ( Achilles' friend) led the Myrmidon troops in the battle and succeeded to push the Trojans back again. During that battle, Achilles was at his camp and Patroclus fought against the other Trojan prince (Hector) and died on Hector's sword. One main characteristic emphasized about the hero's personality, is his anger that caused so much destruction, from which we have today a phrase known as “wrath of Achilles”. After hearing the news about his friend, Achilles fiercely decided to fight yet again for the Greeks and killed many man in his rage looking for revenge from Hector. Eventually he finds Hector and kills him outside the walls of Troy. After killing Hector, he tied his body to his chariot and dragged around the walls of Troy for days and then back to the Greek camps.

Eventually Troy looses the war, yet right before the fall of Troy, Achilles was killed by one arrow in his heel. Since most of his body was immortal, no place but his one heel could wound the hero. Paris took a arrow, shot at the only mortal part of Achilles body, his heel. An alternative ending is that Achilles was going to marry Polyxena (daughter of Priam; the king of Troy), yet if that would happen then the war would end, and peace would set between Trojans and Greeks. Yet if that was the case then Paris would be forced to give up Helen and let her go. For such reason Paris struck Achilles with an arrow in his heel. Furthermore, from that part of the story we have another phrase commonly used as the “Achilles heel” which basically means an individual's weakness. After Achilles' death, is being said that his mother Thetis, raised an island (Leuce) for her son who dwells there. Even years after his death, people would visit the island and honor him as a hero and a great warrior, with either sacrificing animals in his name, or freeing them in the island, and many other gifts.

I see the story of this particular epic hero very symbolic to our human nature. From the beginning of the story, when his mother is dipping him into a river of immortality, we see the side of the mother nature. We see how mothers would do everything for their children to be healthy and safe. We see that even heroes could be weakened from their emotions, as Achilles was influenced by his anger very often. Even more the story and the end of it, shows us that no matter what, everyone has a weakness and nothing lasts forever. I find that Homer might have put the circumstances in such a way to show us that we are humans; heroes or non-heroes, everyone has an “Achilles heel” and sooner or later that vulnerable part of us may be used against us.
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