Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Although he proves his truly heroic character at the end of the poem, through most of The Iliad, Achilles is driven by anger and revenge. In fact, his greatest flaw is the intensity of his emotions, which usually leads him to ruinous excess. In spite of his excessive nature, Achilles is recognized by all of the Greeks and Trojans as the greatest of warriors. His mere presence on the battlefield strikes fear into the hearts of the enemy.
The wrath of Achilles is the central, unifying theme of the entire poem. The initial phase of Achilles' character development reveals his emotional intensity to the point of excess. Insulted by Agamemnon, he deserts the Greek cause, refusing to continue in the fight against the Trojans. Instead of performing like a warrior, he prefers to wallow in his own anger and desire for personal vengeance. Step by step the anger of the hero increases until, near the breaking point, it is snapped by the death of Patroclos, an event which replaces the deeply rooted anger with an equally profound grief. His friend's death also propels him back to action on the battlefield.
After receiving new armor from the gods, Achilles rampages through the Trojan forces, trying to avenge the death of his friend. The River Xanthus is filled with the blood and bodies of Trojan warriors that he slays. He then turns his anger and grief on Hector, killing the hated enemy and abusing his corpse. As Achilles disgraces the body of the Trojan hero, it is clear that he has not yet mastered his negative and excessive emotions. The gods must intercede to calm and change him. Sent by Zeus, Thetis, the mother of Achilles, tells her son of his harmful excesses and advises him to return the body of Hector to the Trojan. When he meets with Priam, who is willing to beg at the knees of Achilles for the return of Hector's body, the Greek hero is able to fully acknowledge that he has been ruled by negative and harmful behavior. He weeps for Priam and for himself.
Diomedes is a typical Greek hero. This young and vigorous leader rules over the city of Argos and its surrounding area and commands eighty ships, one of the largest forces in the Greek cause. His rational and controlled nature is clearly established early in the first day's fighting when he remains silent under some rather unfair criticism from Agamemnon; on the battlefield, however, he performs nobly and views the battle almost in a spirit of play. The absence of Achilles from the fighting allows Diomedes to truly shine as a warrior, and he is greatly helped in his cause by Athena, who makes his shield and helmet blaze with a brilliant light.
During the battle, Diomedes repeatedly shows his bravery and brilliance. When Odysseus ignores Nestor's pleas for help during the fighting, Diomedes immediately goes to the old man and takes him into his chariot. He then sets off to attack Hector, but is stopped by Zeus along the way. Even though he is burning with desire to fight, Diomedes follows the advice of Nestor to fall back, even though the retreat may harm his reputation. Later, Hector is the first to volunteer when Nestor suggests a night raid on the Trojan camp.
When Diomedes is wounded by an arrow from Paris' bow, he is forced to leave the battle. It is Homer's way of removing the young warrior from the limelight on the battlefield in preparation for Achilles' return to the fighting.
Patroclos, the son of Menoitios of Locris, previously committed murder and was obliged to leave his homeland. He fled to the home of Peleus in Phthia, where he and Achilles, the son of Peleus, became close friends. Eventually, they sailed together to enter the Trojan War.
The character development of Patroclos suffers from the fact that he always appears in the shadow of Achilles, for whom he plays a protective role. Although a brave warrior, Patroclos is not as skillful as Achilles, and Hector is able to overcome him. His death at the hands of Hector is the motivating factor for Achilles to return to the fighting and redeem himself as a hero.
Agamemnon, the king of Argos, heads the vast Greek force. Despite the accusations made against him by Achilles in a fit of anger, Agamemnon gives every indication of being an effective king and capable leader. His main purpose in the poem is to serve as the force that drives Achilles into his first wrath cycle.
Menelaos is King of Sparta, husband of Helen, and brother of Agamemnon. Although he is second in command of the Greek forces, he is not a well-developed character in the poem. His ability on the battlefield is only described in one major encounter with Paris. Most of the time, however, he is accorded no greater importance in the narrative than any of the other secondary heroes.
Like Paris, Helen is controlled by Aphrodite, who causes her to be so charmed by him that she willingly leaves her husband, Menelaos, to go to Troy with Paris. During the course of the poem, she reveals that she has made a mistake in leaving Menelaos and feels almost like a prisoner. In the third book, she cries out against Aphrodite and says she is nothing more than a pawn. Aphrodite responds by threatening to strip Helen of her beauty. As a result, she calms herself and acquiesces.
Odysseus is the son of Laertes and Anticleia and the husband of the faithful Penelope. In The Iliad, he distinguishes himself by his valor, wisdom, and eloquence. After the war he comes into possession of Achilles' armor, which helps him to gain stature as a warrior. Some myths also claim that it is Odysseus who devised the scheme of the Trojan horse, by which the Greeks eventually seize the citadel of Priam.
Nestor is the aged King of Pylos, who serves as an advisor and encourager to the Greek forces. His advice is usually sage and followed by those who are in positions of responsibility.
Aias is the name given to two heroes in The Iliad. The first or greater Aias is the son of Telamon, King of Salamis, and a noble warrior who sails to Troy with twelve ships. He is recognized as the second bravest Greek, next to Achilles. After the death of Achilles, he fights for the hero's armor, but loses it to Odysseus. The second Aias is the son of Odios, King of Locris. He was highly skilled in throwing the spear, and, next to Achilles, was the most swift-footed of the Greeks.