The Iliad is a tale of adversity, struggle, and war. This epic tale follows the journey of Achilles, a powerful warrior as he grows from a vengeful, wrathful man into a more caring a empathetic person. There are many themes throughout this story. One of the strong overtones Homer, the author, has presented in this story is that of rage. Achilles is a prideful and selfish man who is easily enraged when his pride is threatened. However, he is not the only mortal to suffer this infliction. Agamemnon, his leader in war, also has struggles with power and possessions. The main premise of this story is that of the Trojan War; however, the internal struggles within the characters make the Iliad a complex tale with multiple layers. Rage will be the main topic of this research paper.
The Rage of the Iliad
Anger, rage, and wrath are common themes throughout the Iliad. It is represented in the mortals and in the gods based on their actions, emotions, and decisions in the poem. Rage is a motivating factor for many of the characters in this epic, and the consequences of this are evident with short term and long term consequences for all involved. The Iliad is a tale of the Trojan War. All of the struggles and triumphs are set during this tumultuous time. Wounded pride, meddling powers that be, and decisions fueled by anger, wrath, and rage make this tale of war. The Trojan war, which is said to have taken place over a ten year span, is framed in this epic tale over the course of only a few battles. Yet, much death, destruction, and personal growth takes place in this period.
The commencement of the tale begins with the author beckoning a muse to tell him of the anger of Achilles, “that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans”. (Book 1, Lines 1-2). Achilles has herculean strength, as his mother is a sea-nymph and his father is a powerful military man. He is short tempered, however, and many of the struggles within the story arise from Achilles temper and arrogance. He is a great warrior, and attests to be the mightiest man in the Achaean army, but his major character flaws continually hinder his ability to act with dignity and honor. He cannot control his pride or the rage that is apparent when his pride is injured. Achilles is driven mainly by a desire for glory. Part of him wants to live a long, easy life, but he knows that his destiny requires him to choose between the two. In the end, he is willing to give up everything else so that his name will be remembered.
Also in the beginning of this narrative, it is noted that the gods started the Trojan War. “And which of the gods was it that set them on to quarrel? It was the son of Jove and Leto; for he was angry with the king and sent a pestilence upon the host to plague the people, because the son of Atreus had dishonored Chryses his priest”. (Book 1, Lines 7-10).
Agamemnon, leader of the Achaean’s, was not free from anger and rage. Still in the first book, which sets the stage for the epic, Homer states, “His heart was black with rage, and his eyes flashed fire…” (Book 1, Lines 89-90), as he spoke of keeping Chryseis, the kidnapped daughter of the king, Chryses.
By the end of the first book, it is clear that the common theme throughout this poem is that of rage. Specifically, it details the anger of Achilles and how this spite cripples the Achaean army. This first book also tackles the wrath of the gods. The gods in the poem partake in mortal affairs in two ways. First, they act as outside forces upon the events, as when Apollo sends the pestilence upon the Achaean army. Second, they symbolize inside forces acting on individuals, as when Athena, the goddess of wisdom, prevents Achilles from deserting all rationale and sways him to cut Agamemnon with expressions instead of his weapon.
Aside from the main theme of rage within the main characters, Achilles and Agamemnon, and among that of the gods which control the mortals in various ways, there are several other smaller examples set throughout the story. The next one presents itself in book four, as a graphic example of battle. “When they were got together in one place shield clashed with shield and spear with spear in the rage of battle. The bossed shields beat one upon another, and there was a tramp as of a great multitude–death-cry and shout of triumph of slain and slayers, and the earth ran red with blood. As torrents swollen with rain course madly down their deep channels till the angry floods meet in some gorge, and the shepherd on the hillside hears their roaring from afar–even such was the toil and uproar of the hosts as they joined in battle.” (Book 1V, lines 342-351). This vivid account of the battle, describing the blood, toil, and uproar paints the picture in the readers’ head of just how angry this war is. Although there is no clear villain in this tale, it is apparent that the gods seem to enjoy the turmoil among the mortals.
Rage is a constant theme throughout this book. Rage, defined as violent, explosive anger, is I used when discussing the bloody and angry battle between the Achaeans’ and the Trojans’. It is also used when discussing Achilles, in general. He has a short temper and is angered easily. His rage is quickly evoked when his pride is injured. Rage is also a descriptive term used when portraying Agamemnon, leader of the Trojans. Although Agamemnon resembles Achilles in many ways, he is characterized as more brash and self-centered. He only has the regard for things in which benefit him, and does not consider the best interest of those around him.
Rage is also mentioned when describing a break in the battle one night in Books nine and ten. This portion of the poem gives the reader insight into both Achilles and Agamemnon’s thoughts. A summit of the Achaean command offers a suggestion by Nestor to send a force to give the Achaeans new information. The mission to Achilles’ tent ends in disappointment, while the mission to Troy brings triumph. This enrages Achilles. Agamemnon, however, displays a levelheaded approach to the Achaean quandary by following Nestor’s advice to make amends with Achilles. “Mad, blind I was! / Not even I deny it,” he exclaims, acknowledging his fault in the rift (Book 9 Lines 138–139). He does admit to having been “lost in my own inhuman rage,” he seeks to acquire Achilles’ devotion instead of work with him to attain a common understanding of their association (Book 9, Line 143). Achilles isn’t really looking for an apology. He wants reimbursement for the fury that he has suffered. He wants his glory and honor restored. Although Achilles’ pride and rage are large themes throughout this poem, this passage, in many ways, humanizes Achilles. He is pressured from other sources and is driven by the desires of those higher than him, as are all humans in one way or another.
In Book Sixteen, the course of the story turns when Petroclus, Achilles’ dearest friend, prepares for battle in place of Achilles. He puts on Achilles armor and sets out to fight. Achilles prays to the gods for Petroclus’ safe return, and for the ships to be unharmed. Little does Achilles know, however, that only one of his prayer requests will be answered. The god Apollo meddles in the affairs of this war. He besomes enraged when his son Sarpedon is killed at Patroclus’ hand. He then wounds Patroclus and Hector finishes the job. It is important to note that mention is made at this point, that if Apollo had not intervened, the war may have ended once and for all. Instead, the Trojans get a foothold and Petroclus is murdered.
Rage is clearly identified in Book Eighteen, when Achilles learns of Patroclus’s death. He is described as being “mad with rage” and promises to his slain friend that his death will be avenged. His rage and revenge is graphically outlined. “Nevertheless, O Patroclus, now that I am left behind you, I will not bury you, till I have brought hither the head and armour of mighty Hector who has slain you. Twelve noble sons of Trojans will I behead before your bier to avenge you; till I have done so you shall lie as you are by the ships, and fair women of Troy and Dardanus, whom we have taken with spear and strength of arm when we sacked men’s goodly cities, shall weep over you both night and day.” (Book Eighteen, Lines 375-382).
Hector, son of Priam, presented himself in this novel as impulsive and careless, similar to Achilles. However, he does not come across as arrogant or overbearing, as Agamemnon does. Furthermore, the fact that Hector fights in his homeland, unlike any of the Achaean commanders, allows him to be portrayed as a kindhearted, family-oriented man. Hector shows adoration for his family. In reality, he even treats his brother Paris with pity, despite the man’s lack of concern for his military status. Hector is never aggressive with him, only hurling insults at him. In addition, although Hector loves his family, he never loses sight of his responsibility to Troy. He runs from Achilles at first and considers the notion of talking his way out of a battle. However, in the end he stands up to the powerful man, even when he realizes that the gods have deserted him. His refusal to take flight even in the face of a much greater army makes him the most tragic character in the story.
Achilles is provided with new armor from the god Hephaestus, which in many ways changes the tone of the epic. Book Eighteen is set in the night, with tones of doom and sadness in the air. Once Achilles is wearing his new protective covering, the poem begins to take on a magnitude of strength and power. Before this point, the battles seemed chaotic and unorganized. Now, somehow, they seem more significant and filled with a purpose. Achilles rage is again identified when he kills Hector and treats the corpse with anger and outrage, tying it by the heels to his chariot and dragging it through the dust.
The gods once again intervene. Apollo protects Hectors’ corpse, while Zeus sends messengers to Achilles for the release of Hectors’ body. Priam, the father of Hector, was sent by Zeus and pleaded with Achilles. He uses his own father as an example as to why Achilles should surrender the body.
“Remember your own father, great godlike Achilles— as old as I am, past the threshold of deadly old age! No doubt the countrymen round about him plague him now, with no one there to defend him, beat away disaster. No one—but at least he hears you’re still alive and his old heart rejoices, hopes rising, day by day, to see his beloved son come sailing home from Troy.” (Book 24, Lines 342-246). This is another attempt to bring out the humbleness in Achilles. It reaches beyond the anger and rage this mortal has experienced throughout the novel and tries to build him as a character. Achilles has not developed much throughout the course of the epic, and he does not grow much in the end. He does, however, relinquish the body to Hectors’ father, Priam. Hector is pyred ten days after his death and the funeral for Patroclus is held.
In the end of this tale, the rage that lay within Achilles heart is finally fanned. Achilles saw the grief within Priam, and was able to recognize this same pain would soon be on his own father. The rage that fueled the story suddenly melted away as Achilles sympathized with Hector’s father and released the body. The fate of Troy is still sealed, however. It remains a city destined to fall brutally at the hands of the Achaeans. While Achilles and Priam remain enemies, their hostility has become a nobler, more civil one. This transformation stems from the growth of Achilles’ character. Having begun the story as a volatile, hateful, and impetuous man, Achilles shows himself in Book 24 to have empathy for others. Throughout the poem, Homer describes Achilles’ failure to think beyond himself—his stubbornness allows the other Achaeans to be defeated, and his rage at Patroclus’s death causes him to disrespect Hector’s corpse in cruel and degrading ways. Now, however, Achilles not only respects Priam’s request by returning Hector’s body, but also allows the Trojan people amnesty in order to honor and grieve their hero properly.
In addition, Achilles’ change of heart at the poem’s conclusion stresses the importance of Achilles’ rage in the poem. Homer chooses to conclude the Iliad not with the death of Achilles or the fall of Troy but rather with the death of Achilles’ hatred and wrath.
The story does not mark the end of the war, or the death of Achilles. Instead, it focuses on the end of the internal struggle within Achilles. He had been so blinded with his own rage that he was unable to advance as a mortal. He could not see past his own pride and selfishness. But when finally put in a place of retrospect and reminisce of his own father, he understands the feelings of others and develops a sort of empathy towards others, including his enemies. The death of rage is the triumph of the Iliad.
It is unknown as to whether Achilles continued with this sympathetic new outlook. As a seasoned warrior and skilled fighter, it is unlikely that he continued to offer kindness to those around him, especially that of his arch enemies. Despite the fact the Achilles knew his fate was sealed, and he was soon to perish as well, it is unlikely that he was capable of relinquishing his old habits that easily. A warrior can likely not be anything but a warrior. However, perhaps with his age and life experience, Achilles would learn that pride and selfishness does not always reap many rewards. Sometimes, selflessness and the best interest of others should be presented first.
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