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Essay on The Iliad: Understanding Achilles

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In Homer's The Iliad, we find the greatest, bravest, and most revered warrior of ancient times. Achilles was the son of Peleus, king of the Myrmidones in Phtia, and Thetis, a sea-nymph. As the legend goes, Achilles got his strength and battle skills when his mother dipped him in the river Styx. Achilles was thereby made invincible. However, Thetis forgot to wet the heel by which she held him and because of this grievous error, Thetis destined her son to defeat. It was prophesied that he would be defeated in battle by being pierced in his only vulnerable spot: Achilles' heel (thus the expression). This single weakness would inevitably be Achilles' downfall, but in the end he would still be defined as a true hero. The prophecy that he would die in battle during the Trojan War weighed heavily on Achilles. He knew he must decide whether to go home and live out his life in luxury, or go to war and surely die. The only benefit of his death would be the immortality and legendary status he would receive in the history of the world. Which brings us to our question: Was Achilles suicidal?

In determining the mental state of Achilles it is important to assess his relational ties with others. He loved his mother and looked to her for guidance and help. Although Thetis was the cause of his weakness, she did her best to protect Achilles and steer him away from the fatal destiny of the prophecy. To prevent him from being taken to battle, she bade him to disguise himself as a woman at the Court of Lycomedes. Only after being tricked by Odysseus, Ajax the great, and Phoenix, into showing his true identity did Achilles finally follow the path that would ultimately lead to his destruction. Proving himself as a brave and skilled c...


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...lles' pride required him to leave a name for himself; he had to become a legend. But how did he survive as long as he did? Was it luck? Was it skill? Was he blessed by the gods? I believe that his drive in combat was indeed his pride, but also he was compelled to fight in defiance of the prophecy. Achilles was far too brave a man to hide from danger; he chose instead to face it and to prove himself in every battle. His suicidal tendency is only truly clear after the vengeance for Patroclus has been taken. Achilles embraced the fact he would soon die and focused on defeating the Trojan army. With all ties broken and nothing more to gain in life but the glory and immortality he would receive in death, Achilles finally accepted his destiny and bravely placed his life in the hands of the gods as he went out to prove his worth on the battlefield one last time.



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