Does Achilles emerge as a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
Achilles is a Greek warrior who fights in the Trojan War. He is respected and revered as a hero among all of the Greek people and he is the most important character in the Iliad. Achilles is an unbelievable warrior who doesnt get the thanks he deserves. He also got his war prize taken away from him and still basically wins the war for the Greeks. Finally, Achilles has characteristics and traits that people can connect with and understand his feelings. Achilles is viewed as a hero, though he isnt treated great and complains for a while, he still wins the war and emerges as the sympathetic character in the Illiad.
Right from the beginning of the Illiad, the reader finds out a lot about Achilles. When the Illiad starts, the reader quickly learns the selfishness of King Agamemnon. The muse tells the tale of how the Greeks captured two beautiful maidens named Chryseis and Briseis. Achilles being the great warrior he is, claims Briseis as his prize and he actually really likes her. Then, Chryses begs to get his daughter Chryseis back and offers Agamemnon a huge ransom. Once Agamemnon refuses, Chryses prays to Apollo to help him get his daughters back and Apollo sends a plague onto the Greek camp. After ten days, a soothsayer reveals that this plague was caused by Apollo because of Agamemnon not giving back Chryseis. Agamemnon is enraged and wont give her back unless Achilles gives up Briseis and gives her to Agamemnon. Before Achilles kills Agamemnon, Athena and Nestor calm the situation and prevent the duel. Achilles is humiliated and infuriated when Briseis is taken from him and given to Agamemnon. That was one of Achilles war prizes and for someone to take that away from him is wrong and shouldnt be done to such a valuable warrior.
Achilles is beyond enraged after all this and prays to his mother, who is the goddess Thetis, to ask Zeus to punish the Greeks for doing this to him. Achilles feels like all of his efforts in this war and any other time he has helped the Greeks in battle arent appreciated and this hurts him. Achilles is the best warrior there is and for someone to take his prize away from him really gets to him. Achilles chooses not to help the Greeks anymore and not fight on their side, or at all. Achilles, Patroclus and the Myrmidons, Achilles soldiers, sit out for a while and dont participate in the war. This really helps the Trojans since Achilles and his men were such great warriors, a void was missing for the Greeks. Achilles does this because he is so hurt by what his king did to him and how badly he is treated by him. Achilles wept to his mother and said, As my life came from you, though it is brief, honor at least from Zeus who storms in heaven I call my due. He gives me precious little. See how the lord of the great plains, Agamemnon, humiliated me! He has my prize, by his own whim, for himself, (I, 408-413). This shows Achilles is hurt by what his king did to him and the reader gains a lot of sympathy for Achilles after reading this. Not only is Achilles shown weeping, but he is weeping to his mother. When a son is shown weeping to his mother, begging her for something, it is hard not to feel sympathy for that person. It is hard to watch a person crying, begging to his mother and not feel bad for him. Also, in this conversation, Thetis is shown crying because Achilles is destined to live a short life. Though he could live a long life, there would be no glory in that choice so he obviously will live a short, glorious life. This again, is hard for the reader to bear without feeling sympathy for Achilles. He is being told by his weeping mother that he will live a short life and die young for glory. The reader feels very sympathetic for Achilles in this scene, seeing him crying, knowing he got his prize taken away, seeing his mother crying and knowing that he will die young.
Though Achilles possessed superhuman strengths and held a close relationship with the gods, he had many character flaws that did not allow him to strive in all aspects that he could have. His flaws did not allow him to act with the nobility and integrity that he could have. Unlike Agamemnon, Achilles shows his emotions, but he cannot control them. He strives to reach glory in every aspects of his life, and when he cant he becomes angry and cannot control himself. Many people can connect with this and feel sympathy for Achilles since most people want to achieve a lot in life and many times when they cannot achieve what they want to, it is extremely frustrating. Also, many people have bad tempers like Achilles and it is very hard to control emotions when you are upset or your temper is flaring. When Agamemnon belittled Achilles by taking his prize away from him, his rage built up inside and he refused to fight anymore. Many people know this feeling, when they are so fed up with something, they want to give up and show the person how it feels to be in their shoes. Since people can connect with this, they again are sympathetic to Achilles.
Although Achilles is consumed by the bloodlust, pride and anger, he also shows that he has emotions in the final book when he allows the desecrated body of Hector to be returned to his family and friends. Even though Hector killed Achilles best friend, he does the noble thing and allows the body to be returned for a proper burial. Achilles cried with Hectors father Priam while they talked about the love between a father and son and how Achilles father would want his body for burial as well. So, Achilles allows Priam to take Hectors body. As you wished, sir, the body of your son is now set free. He lies in state. At the first site of dawn you shall take charge of him yourself and see him. Now let us think of supper (XXIV, 718-722). This shows that Achilles is sympathetic towards Priam and that Achilles believes in tradition, it is Greek tradition to celebrate the closing of a deal by eating food with the people involved. The tradition of honoring a corpse and returning it to its homeland was also shown and this is what people feel sympathy for. Since Achilles can show sympathy for Priam, even though his son killed Achilles best friend Patroclus, the reader can feel sympathy for Achilles in being kind in this deed.
Achilles is very fortunate and has a lot going for him and Agamemnon basically hates him for it and thats not fair. The goddess Hera is on Achilles side, and assists him in his life if he gets into a bind. Agamemnon does not like Achilles because Hera and other Gods are on his side or at least like him. Plus, he knows that Achilles is a better fighter, but he cannot admit it. He holds a personal grudge against Achilles for this, and that is wrong. Achilles anger is justifiable because he had something taken from him unjustly. Agamemnon stole Achilles prize simply because he had to return his girl and he doesnt like Achilles. This is highly unfair, and everyone knew this except Agamemnon. Achilles actually liked Briseis and wasnt just after her for his own personal reasons like Agamemnon. What Achilles did was justified and again, the reader feels sympathy for him.
Overall I believe that Achilles emerges as the sympathetic character in this epic. He tried to be a good person, even though he had many character flaws that did not allow him to be as great as he wanted to be. Achilles showed emotions and was able to express how he felt to the reader. This factor alone allows the reader to connect with Achilles and, thus have more sympathy for him. Achilles got his prize taken from him, his best friend was killed, he is shown crying to his mom and crying to Priam Achilles emerges the sympathetic character.
Homer, and Robert Fitzgerald. The Illiad. London: Collins Harvill, 1985. Print.