Achilles is one of the main heroic characters presented in Homer’s The Iliad, who is remarkable not only because of his feats but also because of his passionate nature. The character of Achilles is associated with such feelings and emotions as intense anger, deep love, great pride, and extreme grief (Konstan 12). Achilles’ passionate character and impulsive actions can be explained with references to the meaning of Achilles’ name.
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Thus, Achilles’ name is “etymologically related to the concept of one who suffers pain or grief” because of including such components as ‘akhos’ and ‘laos’ that mean ‘grief’ and ‘fighting men’ (McCoy 19). In spite of the fact that there are debates on the etymological character of Achilles’ name, the role of the hero’s name is significant to predict his fate and behavior because the hero’s grief associated with the people’s destiny directs Achilles’ actions; and this connection can be demonstrated with references to the hero’s reactions to the death of Patroklos, to the threat of the defeat for the Greeks, and to Priam’s words.
While discussing the meaning of Achilles’ name and referring to such its components as ‘akhos’ and ‘laos’, researchers are inclined to translate and interpret the name as the ‘grief of the people.’ Thus, Achilles’ name is important to accentuate not only the hero’s personal grief but also his ability to understand the collective grief (King 54). Furthermore, some researchers choose to focus on the interpretation of ‘akhos’ as not only ‘grief’ but also as pain, sorrow, and despair (Zanker 22).
From this perspective, the epic hero represents a range of strong emotions associated with the period of war and the people’s desire for winning prosperity and emphasizing honor (Becker 139). The sorrow which is in Achilles’ heart is not his personal grief, but it is a pain and suffering for the fates of all the Greeks because of the necessity of the Trojan War (Homer 1.430-459). That is why it is possible to discuss Achilles as the representation of all the pain experienced by the Greeks, and moreover, as the representation of the hero who not only feels the pain of the people but also responds to it while acting and winning.
The death of Patroklos became a trigger that made Achilles feel acute pain and demonstrate all his grief and anger in the desire for revenge. In spite of the fact that Achilles suffered from the loss of his honor in the painful conflict with Agamemnon, the hero concentrated on the personal grief and turned it against the Trojans to reflect the grief of the Greek people. When the hero learned about the death of Patroklos, “a black cloud of grief came shrouding over Achilles” (Homer 18.25). It seemed that Achilles lost control, and he “lay there, fallen … tearing his hair, defiling it with his own hands” (Homer 18.30).
Finally, Achilles “loosed a terrible, wrenching cry” (Homer 18.39). This cry made the Trojans tremble because of its intensity. The death of Patroklos was the event that caused Achilles to act because of the desire for revenge and act for the sake of the Greeks (Homer 18.50-76; King 19; Yan 4). Thus, Achilles can be discussed as “emblematic of an individual who struggles with pain and grief, at times responding to that grief through withdrawal, at times with rage” (McCoy 19). The grief does not leave the hero, and Achilles’ reaction to that pain is anger. According to Allan, Patroklos’ death “forces Achilles to recognize the duty that a hero owes his friends” (Allan 44). From this perspective, the hero understands his duty to protect the Greeks in the war.
Achilles chose to demonstrate his grief through his anger while recognizing the threat of the defeat for the Greeks. The hero understood that now the other people depended on him, and he recognized himself as part of the social community. Achilles’ return to fight meant not only the increased hope for the Greeks’ victory but also the hero’s focus on the fates of people (Bell 35; Homer 19.42-48). Following Allan’s discussion of Achilles’ personality, it is important to note that the researcher mostly focused on the “excessiveness and selfishness of Achilles’ continual rage” (Allan 44).
However, receiving the perfect armor made by Hephaestus, Achilles began to act as the defender of the Greek people, and thousands of Trojans were killed because of Achilles’ intense anger and desire for revenge (Homer 19.400-420). On the one hand, Achilles’ grief is too personal and selfish. On the other hand, the hero’s grief makes him fight not only for his pride while referring to his conflict with Agamemnon, but also for the benefits of his nation. That is why Achilles’ anger is his specific demonstration of the ‘grief of the people.’
However, if Achilles plays the role of a heroin battles against the Trojans and represents the grief of all Greeks, his personal pain becomes revealed not only when Patroklos dies but also when Achilles talks with Priam about Hector’s corpse and Achilles’ father. Thus, drawing the hero’s attention to his words, Priam “prayed his heart out to Achilles: “Remember your own father, great godlike Achilles – as old as I am, past the threshold of deadly old age!” (Homer 24.569-572).
Priam’s words made Achilles grieve for his father, and his intense anger was reduced because of his sorrowful thoughts (King 24). According to McCoy, Achilles’ “final integration of his own pain in a virtuous manner takes place not primarily in his victory in battle, but rather in the meal he shares with Priam after his rage is exhausted” (McCoy 19-20). From this perspective, it is possible to speak about the completion of Achilles’ role in the Trojan War because the hero addressed his personal pain caused by the death of Patroklos, and he also responded to the ‘grief of the people’ while turning his anger against the Trojans.
Achilles’ heroic character is in his intentions and direct actions because of the hero’s impossibility to control his intense emotions. Moreover, Achilles is characterized by great pride; that is why this hero plays the role of a guardian who protects the Greeks’ honor and addresses their collective grief. Homer describes Achilles as not only a hero who can fight many Trojans at the battlefield but also as a person who won his selfishness and inability to control anger in order to demonstrate sympathy for the other people’s feelings (Becker 140; Osborn 55). Demonstrating the significance of moral values, Achilles acts as a sympathetic person while speaking to Priam and understanding his concerns (Homer 24.50-76; Zanker 56).
Allan claims that “in urging Priam to mourn and move on, Achilles shows that he has not only recognized the universality of suffering but has also learned from his own” (Allan 46). That is why it is possible to speak about the changes in the hero’s character, which are the result of his focus on grief and suffering. Such events as the death of the friend, the fight with Hector, and the conversation with Priam made Achilles think over moral values and sufferings close to each person in the world (Bell 35). As a result, Achilles’ grief reflected in his name can be discussed as the universal grief for every person around the globe.
Homer’s The Iliad presents the impressive background for discussing the role of moral values in the world. Thus, Achilles’ name means the ‘grief of the people’, and this meaning is significant to explain the nature of all the hero’s actions, which can be influenced by his personal pain. In this case, Achilles can be responsive to the collective grief of the Greeks as well as address the sufferings of Priam.
It is possible to conclude that the meaning of Achilles’ name accentuates the various sides of the hero’s character and his specific features. On the one hand, Achilles is a leader who protects the Greeks in order to respond to people’s grief. On the other hand, Achilles is a person who demonstrates much sensitivity while being focused on his own feelings and emotions. The character of Achilles is rather complex, and it is almost impossible to explain the hero’s actions only from one perspective, without exploring Achilles’ motives and intentions.
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