Achilles Respect for Authority in The Iliad


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Achilles Respect for Authority in The Iliad

 

Respect for authority plays an important role in The Iliad. Achilles is a major

character in it whose views on authority change throughout the book. In Book

One, he seems to have no respect for King Agamemnon. Achilles questions

his judgment as well as rebelling against his authority. This is shown best

when Achilles says, "What a worthless, burnt-out coward I'd be called if I would

submit to you and all your orders." (Pg. 87 line 43-45). This is an outright lack

of respect directed toward Agamemnon. By Book Twenty-four however, his

views seem to have changed. Achilles talks to King Priam of Troy with respect.

An example in Book twenty-four is when Achilles and King Priam weep

together over their losses. Book One portrays Achilles as an individualist. This

was the accepted way of life in the Bronze Age, which is when Achilles lived.

The people who lived in Greece during that era were very selfish and

self-centered. Achilles is not the only character in The Iliad who acts this way.

Agamemnon, king of the Greeks, is also a very selfish character in this epic

poem. The conflicts between these two major characters have catastrophic

results. Because Agamemnon doesn't want to give up Chryseis, his war-prize,

Apollo cast a plague on the Greeks. Achilles goes to Agamemnon and asks

him to return the girl to her father so the plague will end. He agrees to return

her, but he doesn't want to be left empty-handed. He returns Chryseis to her

home, and he takes Briseis, a war-prize of Achilles. Achilles is so angry with

Agamemnon that he vows to stop helping him fight the Trojans. As the battle

goes on, Agamemnon realizes how important Achilles and his Myrmidons are

to the Achaean troops. The King of the Greeks then swallows his pride and

offers gifts to Achilles if he will come back and help fight. Achilles, however, is

so stubborn that he refuses all the gifts and will not allow his troops to fight.

When he is offered the gifts he rudely responds, "I hate the man

 [Agamemnon] like the very gates of death who says one thing but hides

another in his heart."(Pg. 262 lines 378-379) This quote shows how much

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Achilles is hurt by what Agamemnon has done. When Odysseus leaves

Achilles' tent, Achilles best friend Patroclus persuades Achilles to lend him his

armor so the Trojans will think it is Achilles and they will run away. This event

ends with the death of Patroclus. Achilles then realized that he lost his friend

because he had refused Agamemnon's gifts and chose not to fight. The death

of his friend is also a result his lack of respect for the kings authority. If he had

done what Agamemnon said, none of this would have taken place. Achilles

notices this, and in Book Twenty-four, he has changed. After Achilles rejoins

the battle and avenges his friend's death by killing Hector, he tries to destroy

the body by dragging it behind his chariot. Zeus notices this and protects the

body from deterioration and physical destruction. He then sends Thetis,

Achilles' mother, down to tell the warrior to return the body to King Priam. He

honors the wishes of his mother as well as the Gods. This is one type of

respect he shows, but he also shows respect to King Priam when he comes to

retrieve his son's corpse. After talking to King Priam, Achilles develops a bond

with Priam and sees the King as a father figure. With this new love for King

Priam, Achilles agrees to help him as much as he can. He grants Priam a truce

for twelve days so the Trojans can bury Hector, Achilles gives King Priam a

place to sleep for the night, and he has Hectors body washed. His respect for

the King can be shown when Achilles says, "All will be done, old Priam, as you

command." (Pg. 610 line 786). Achilles seems to have changed his ways on

dealing with authority figures. Books One and Twenty-four portray Achilles as

a different person. Book one shows him as a selfish person who doesn't care

about anyone else as long as he gets what he wants. When he doesn't get it,

he acts like a child and complains. In the later books of the poem, Achilles has

changed a great deal. He starts to think of others and their feelings. He

changes from being selfish to having a selfless attitude. These new traits that

Achilles possesses are the same ones that Hector lived with. Hector was a

very selfless person who lived with Iron Age values and constantly thought of

others and respected authority figures. Throughout the poem, Achilles actions

have made him reflect on what he could do better. Showing respect to those

who have earned it is probably the most important lesson that he has learned.

His actions in Book One affect not only his life but also the life of his friend and

the lives of other Greek soldiers. Toward the end of The Iliad, Achilles

understands that all these effects derive from one episode of selfishness that

took place in Book One with Agamemnon. This one occasion has a ripple

effect on the lives of the Greeks. Achilles understands this, and changes his

ways to avoid other conflicts with humans as well as with the Gods.


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