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Achilles Fight for Immortality in The Iliad Essay


Nature is an undeniable force that is uncertain and unjust. This is shown in the poem Home Burial by Robert Frost with the lines Three foggy mornings and one rainy day Will rot the best birch fence a man can build (96-97). Frost is telling the reader that nature will destroy the greatest things man can create, even something as great as life. In The Iliad, by Homer, Achilles knows that if he fights he will die in battle. Despite his given prophecy he decides to go. Why? Achilles search for immortality is a self-fought battle within the Trojan War.

Achilles, the greatest of all Greek warriors, is determined to receive immortality through his desire of glory. In the story, Achilles returns to battle after the death of Patroklos to not only seek revenge but also in order to obtain mortal glory. Achilles is faced with two options: divine immortality and human immortality. If he returns home he will receive divine immorality, a life of youth and pleasure. If Achilles is to return to the fighting, he will be killed and be remembered as a hero throughout time. Achilles has an undeniable desire for eternal life through his need of self-glorification.

After being humiliated by Agamemnon, leader of the Achaean army, Achilles decides to stop fighting in the war to show that he is needed. He knows that if he fights, he will die and will satisfy his hunger for glory. If he returns to his homeland, however, he will ultimately die unknown. Once he momentarily quits the war, the internal battle against his own drive towards human immortality begins.

Once Achilles begins sulking, he starts a disruption in the Greek troops. The Greek army, although created by thousands of men, is represented as one individual. They fight and die together because they can only survive by relying on each other. Achilles is the only member of the Greek army that begins to question his purpose for fighting. He has taken himself out of the war and hurt his troops in order to protect his honor. He is instantly consumed by his selfish morals and becomes separated from the Greeks and eventually, society. From this separation and his inability to share a deep connection with anyone, his fate is assigned. It is apparent that the Achaeans will fall without their greatest warrior. If Achilles fights for his desire of immortality, he will help defeat the Trojans. When the Trojans are driving the Greeks back to the sea, Achilles tells Agamemnon how much the Achaeans need him. By entering the battle and helping the Greeks push back the Trojans, he can prove that Agamemnon was wrong when he decided Achilles was an unnecessary attribute to his army.

When Achilles and Hector fight, Achilles is also fighting a part of himself. When he kills Hector, who is now wearing the original armor of Achilles, he is defeating the part of himself that is able to return home and live a long life. If he had chosen not to kill Hector, Achilles could still receive his divine immortality, but instead he seeks glory which ends his mortal life.

Hector's ally, Sarpedon gives reason to Achilles' decision. In battle he says to his cousin Glaukos, could we but survive this war to live forever deathless, without age, I would not ever go again into battle, nor would I send you there for honor's sake! but now a thousand shapes of death surround us, and no man can escape them, or be safe. (XII, 362-367) Sarpedon is stating that being young forever is impossible. As a result, he tells how honor must be received, even if it is their opponent is the recipient.

Achilles attempts to break away from this need to die for glory. During his break from battle, Achilles argues on behalf of life, A man may come by cattle and sheep in raids; tripods he buys, and tawny-headed horses; but his life's breath cannot be hunted back or be recaptured once it pass his lips. (XI, 495-8) Achilles knows that his life is very valuable and he truly wishes to live it to its fullest. In order to do so, he must die so that he may become immortal. The death of his friend Patroklos shows him that there is no everlasting youth. Once he recognizes this, Achilles knows that he must fight for the glory of war. He becomes divine on the battlefield and chooses his fate so that he may obtain glory and immortality forever.

Human effort is futile, often countered by nature and its misfortune to cause death. Although Achilles knows that he will die in battle, he decides to turn down a divine life to die as a mortal. As he is killed on the battlefield, he obtains the glory that gives him everlasting immortality.

Fagles, Robert, trans. The Iliad. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

Ferguson, Margaret, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy, eds. The Norton Anthology of

Modern of Poetry. Shorter 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2005.

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