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The Iliad: Through the Eyes of Achilles

This exercise takes you through the events before, during and after the Iliad by following Achilles' life from birth to death. Beginning with Step 1, read the brief explanation and click on the links to vases, sites, texts and images to learn more about what occurred.

Step 1: Achilles
Link: Encyclopedia, Achilles.
Explanation: Note number two in the Encyclopedia entry for Achilles describes the hero with whom we are interested. Read the abbreviated list of his exploits.

Step 2: Brilliant
Link: Primary Text,
Homer Iliad, Book 1.1.
Explanation: The wrath of a hero may be destructive but none so destructive as the wrath of Achilles. What caused Achilles to become so angry?

Step 3: Infancy
Link: Primary Text, Apollodorus vol. 2.71.
Explanation: Achilles never suckled at his mother's breast and instead was fed the innards of lions, wild swine and bear marrow. A baby who could stomach this food certainly is not someone to anger when he grows up.

Step 5: Friend
Link: Vase Catalog, Berlin F 1737.
Image: Side A: scene at center.
Explanation: Here Achilles appears with the two people whom he loves the most, his mother, Thetis, and Patroklos.

Step 6: First Aid
Link: Vase Catalog, Berlin F 2278.
Image: Achilles tending Patroklos.
Explanation: Achilles is tending to his friend Patroklos wounds. An arrow lies next to Patroklos, perhaps this has just been removed from his arm. Both are armed for war. This is a gentler side of the hero whose anger will bring death to so many.

Step 7: In Battle
Link: Vase Catalog, Boston 97.368.
Image: Side A: Achilles and Memnon.
Explanation: This image depicts Achilles striding forward, sword in hand. Memnon has drawn his sword, but is wounded, and falls; and a third warrior lies dead in the lower part of the image. Athena steps forward to stand by Achilles, her spear in her right hand, her left arm extended in the aegis ready for battle.

Step 8: Games
Link: Vase Catalog, Toledo 1963.26.
Image: Side A: Achilles and Ajax playing a board games.
Explanation: Not all of Achilles time was spent fighting. He stopped fighting to spite Agamemnon and found time for games and singing. Here he plays a board game with Ajax as Athena looks on.

Step 9: Patroklos dies
Link: Primary Text,
Homer Iliad, Book 16.855.
Image: Naples 3254, Funeral of Patroklos.
Explanation: In this passage Hektor kills Patroklos and in turn will evoke the rage of Achilles who will kill Hektor. In the next few lines Patroklos will predict Hektor's death but Hektor will not heed his words.

Step 10: Divine Support
Link: Vase Catalog, Munich 1426.
Explanation: Read the vase description and notice that Achilles is supported by two gods, Hektor by none. Not only is Achilles a mighty warrior he has the backing of two gods as aid in completing his mission of winning the Trojan War.

Step 11: Revenge
Link: Vase Catalog, Boston 63.473.
Image: Achilles drags the body of Hektor behind his chariot.
Text: Homer, Iliad Book 24.1.
Explanation:
Achilles exacts revenge on Hektor for the killing of Patroklos. But in doing so he commits hubris by denying Hektor a proper burial. Look at the images of this vase and read the description. Do the images match the scenes described by Homer in the Iliad?

Step 12: Advice
Link: Primary Text,
Homer Iliad, Book 24.130.
Explanation: Achilles recklessness has angered the gods. Thetis comes to tell her son that his death is near and to make matters worse Zeus, himself, is angered by his actions. Achilles now must make the decision to ransom Hektor.

Step 13: A Plea for Compassion
Link: Vase Catalog, Toledo 1972.54.
Image: Priam goes to Achilles to ransom back the body of Hektor.
Text: Homer, Iliad Book 24.468.
Explanation:
Priam pleads with Achilles for the body of Hektor and asks Achilles to remember his own father hoping to evoke pity.

Step 14: Lamenting
Link: Primary Text,
Homer Iliad, Book 24.507.
Explanation: The two men join together to weep for their dead friends and family. Achilles wrath melts away with his tears and all is forgiven.

Step 15: Ajax vs. Odysseus.
Link: Vase Catalog, Vienna 3695.
Image: Side A.
Text: Sophocles,
Ajax line 1335.
Explanation:
Ajax and Odysseus argue over who should receive Achilles armor.

Step 16: In Death
Link: Primary Text,
Homer Odyssey, Book 11.479.
Explanation: When Odysseus visited Hades he met Achilles, Achilles ruled the dead as he had commanded troops in life. Even before his death, we learn that Achilles was worshipped as a god. Odysseus asks him not to grief in death since his memory is honored above.

Step 17: Preference
Link: Primary Text,
Homer Odyssey, Book 11.487.
Explanation: Our brave hero now worshipped as an immortal god would prefer to live as a slave rather then to rule the shadows of the underworld. Does Achilles regret his hero status and the choice he made?

Step 18: Male Ethic
Link: Historical Overview, 4.7 The Male Ethic.
Explanation: Achilles had a lot to live up to as an aristocratic male. He was both a warrior and a man of words. Like Achilles, later aristocratic men including Alexander the Great would have to live up to this goal set for them by society.

 

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