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The Greek mythology is filled with stories about people who are considered great heroes due to their extraordinary qualities. Although Greek heroes fight bravely to obtain honor and glory, their flaws can harm them or their loved ones. While in Homer’s The Iliad, Achilles is represented as petty, prideful, and vengeful. In Virgil’s The Aeneid, the flawless epic hero Aeneas is represented as passionate, loyal to his duty, and wise.
In The Iliad, the tragic hero Achilles is a dynamic character. Throughout the story, Achilles’s actions are controlled by his emotions, particularly his rage. Firstly, Achilles tries to persuade King Agamemnon to return Chryseis to her father. Achilles’s deed indicates that he wants to protect the Greeks from the plague and conciliate god Apollo. When Agamemnon takes Achilles’s prize from him by force, Achilles feels dishonored and withdraws from the Trojan war. Achilles’s childish actions and decisions show how petty he is. In book 1, Homer shows that Achilles’s refrain from fighting implies that he does not care about the Trojan war nor Greek’s triumph when he says to Agamemnon that “[they] all followed [him], to please [him], to fight for [him]” (Homer, 82). Secondly, Achilles is characterized as prideful. He asks his caring mother, Thetis, to beg Zeus to “give the Trojans the upper hand, until Achaeans respect [her] son” (Homer, 568–69). Achilles’s request demonstrates that he wants to show Agamemnon that he has lost a great warrior when he swears “the time will come when Achaea’s sons all miss [him], a time when, in distress, [they will] lack [his] help” (Homer, 263–66). As a result of Achilles’s hubris, he loses his best friend Patroclus too. Lastly, in book 18, after learning about Patroclus’s death, “A black cloud of grief swallowed up Achilles” (Homer, 27). His uncontrollable anger drives him to take revenge from Hector. In book 18, Achilles’s “heart has no desire to live on, to continue living among men, unless Hector is hit by [his] spear first, losing his life” (Homer, 112–15). His violence towards the body emphasizes the great pain he feels in his broken heart.
However, in The Aeneid, Aeneas is represented as a perfect hero who obeys the gods and accepts his fate. Firstly, Aeneas is a passionate hero, since he determines to achieve his goal in founding the Roman Empire. Aeneas is wise because he thinks long-term. Rather than listening to his heart, he prefers to use his mind and listen to the gods, for they know what is right for his future. Secondly, Aeneas devotes his life to his duty, despite the temptation he faces during his journey. When Aeneas and Dido fall in love with each other, Aeneas forgets his duty. Aeneas says, “if the fates had left him free to live his life” (Aeneid, 139). This means that he is happy and feels comfortable with her, but his happiness does not last for a long time. When in book 4 a messenger reminds him of his responsibility, he is “truly overwhelmed by the vision” and “yearns to be gone, to desert this land he loves” (Aeneid, 137). Lastly, the hero Aeneas is portrayed as a mature hero. He does not complain about his duty nor shows hesitation in moving into action. Virgil devotes a long text time to describe Dido’s intense emotions when she learns that Aeneas leaves her; however, Aeneas does not comfort her nor ease her pain. Aeneas reacts as a wise hero because “he is deaf to all appeals. He won’t relent” (Aeneid, 439), so he does not allow Dido to change his mind in staying. Aeneas’s priorities are family, city and gods. This makes him a true hero.
Achilles and Aeneas differ from each other in their characteristics and their behaviors. First, Achilles is narrow-minded and is enraged because Agamemnon takes his girl. Achilles’s decision in quitting the fight for the sake of a girl shows that he is selfish and careless. Achilles does not care about the destiny of the Greeks; otherwise, he would not have wished for the Trojan’s victory. In contrast to Aeneas who thinks wisely and chooses to abandon his beloved to complete his mission. Aeneas’s intelligence is shown when he orders to flee and “keep it secret” (Aeneid, 137), which means that he avoids getting in troubles with her. Second, Achilles is egoistic, for he wants to “seize great glory” as he says in book 18 in line 152. His dignity is his priority, so he withdraws from the war when Agamemnon dishonors “Achilles, the best of the Achaeans” (Homer, 458–59). Achilles’s conceit does not allow him to be a good leader who considers his men first. Achilles wants to be valued and respected by the Greeks who wound his pride. However, Aeneas, whose duty wins over his passion, is committed to his pietas. Aeneas’s reliance on the gods’ plan demonstrates his belief that the gods choose what is best for his life; consequently, he accepts his fate and continues his journey at the expense of his happiness. Third, Even though Achilles’s Pride causes Patroclus’s death, his hatred rises. Achilles uses Hector’s body to take revenge and shows no mercy in book 24: “he’d harness his horses to their chariots, tie on hector and drag him behind, driving three times around the tomb of Menoetius’ dead son” (Homer, 14). Book 18 in The Iliad shows that Achilles is still controlled by his emotions; therefore, his rage turns him into a vengeful hero. Contrarily, the passionate Aeneas “[fights] to master the torment in his heart” (Aeneid, 139) and does not let Dido affect his purpose. Aeneas prefers to lose one person rather than losing his nation and the Roman Empire.
Concluding, heroism is represented differently in both epics. While in The Iliad, Achilles is an ambivalent character who cannot control his feelings. In The Aeneid, Aeneas has self-control and ignores his desires. Achilles’s pride is the reason behind Patroclus’s death, but his wrath impulses him to fight again and avenge. Unlike the respectful and decisive Aeneas who challenges the odds including Dido who tries to tempt him.
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