The Rage of Achilles

What started the Trojan war? Was it a wedding of the Gods, where the uninvited, Discordia, throws a gilded, golden apple on the fabled table, saying, “To the fairest”? Sitting there at this wedding table, Zeus wisely decides to not get involved and chooses a mortal man, Paris, to give the golden apple to one of the goddesses, claiming which one is the most beautiful one. Each goddess offers something of worth to the young man. Hera offers him a kingdom, Athena offers him wisdom, and Aphrodite offers him the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris, so enthused with passion at the expense of reason, foolishly chooses Aphrodite. His fate will come at a later date. Daniel, while reading, learns of the beautiful chosen Spartan queen, named Helen. This is the bride Paris has been given. Easily seduced, she believes Aphrodite’s title only adds confirmation that she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and runs off with the Trojan, prince Paris. Meanwhile, the Spartan king, Menelaus, discovers this and tells his brother, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, to rally Greek troops to avenge the insult done to him. They unite and set sail to Troy to attack and plan to get Helen, the beautiful, back.

As the Greeks take Trojan ground, they ravage the towers and temples and take whatever found. Agamemnon claims a woman, as does Achilles. However, Agamemnon must give away his booty of war back to appease the gods. Since Agamemnon can’t have his woman he takes Achille’s. Achilles, so engulfed with rage—with an anger that won’t subside—he wishes his own people to die and backslide! There he pathetically sulks in his tent while bent. Nestor, known for his wise counsel, arrives and tries to talk to Achilles so that he can turn the tide for the Greeks. Nestor says:

I think I can claim to have some years on you.

So I must speak up and drive the matter home.

And no one will heap contempt on what I say,

Not even mighty Agamemnon. Lost to the clan,

Lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one,

who lusts for all horrors of wars with his own people.

But now, I say, let us give way to the dark night, (Fagles pg. 253)

Here, Nestor talks about the stateless, hearthless, lawless man, the most pathetic existence for any man. Later on, Achilles is still sulking in his tent over injured pride that won’t subside. Patroclus, Achille’s gentle friend, decides to goes into the heat of battle wearing Achilles’ battle armor. Rallying his courageous comrades, they head into battle. The Trojan general, Hektor, seeing Achilles’ Armor, cuts his way through the Greeks to face Achilles, the greatest of all Greek soldiers. There they face, sword to sword and fight and strike. Patroclus was as brave as Achilles, but not as skilled in battle. Hektor slays Achilles’ dear friend. While taking his armor off, Hektor realizes that it was not Achilles. There lay young Patroculos’ once beautiful body on the battlefield staring blankly at the sky. The Greeks bring Patroclus’ body back to their base. Achilles, finding this out, feels the beat and the pulse. Before he goes to battle, his mother warns him to weigh the consequences, and she tells him two paths that will determine his fate. Achilles contemplates these two fates:

That two fates bear me on to the day of death

If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,

My journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.

If I voyage back to the father land I love,

My pride, my glory dies…

True, but the life that’s left me will be long,

The stroke of death will not come on me quickly.

Achilles determined by the death of his beloved friend, driven by rage, suits up for war to slake ravenous revenge. He cuts through and slaughters the Trojan men until he meets the general Hektor. They battle one on one, and in a rage Achilles slays him. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Achilles ties his broken body up to his chariot. Hektor’s once handsome head was then dragged in the dusty, rocky terrain. The once brave Hektor, breaker of horses, is now being dragged by horses. An ironic ending.

All too human. On every page there is gritty gore and blood and war. At one point we have the warrior Diomedes striking Aphrodite herself. Aphrodite, so alarmed, goes to Mount Olympus and tells her mother as she wipes all evidence of the wound away from Diomedes’ melee, showing the difference between heaven and earth.

This epic is about reason trumped by passion while in the rage of war. From the beginning, we find out our eyes are a very powerful source of power in our life. Menelaus should never have looked at Helen. Other people can, but not him. Beauty can arrest our senses, mold minds, and capture your heart only to leave it in ruins and hurt. Is one woman worth war, one easily seduced woman? The prices we pay when we let passions rule over reason, and how that can twist and distort our higher ideals and good wills. Helen as one example of passion, and Achille’s as another. And what of this stateless, hearthless, lawless man? If a man is out of the civic order of things, loses his friends, and finds himself unable to retain even familial ties what rebut then? What then is he who won’t even hear the counsel of the wise man? At this point and plot don’t we have an outlaw in the making? If no one is to give him criticism, or love and hold him, how will that person grow and have greatness of soul?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s