Achilles and the Iliad

"Achilles and the Iliad," Hermes 91, No. 1 (1963): 1-16. Reprinted in The Argument of the Action, 2000.


Achilles is a hero in a world of heroes; he is of the same cast as they, thought we might call him the first impression that has caught each point more finely than later copies. He holds within himself all the heroic virtues that are given singly to others (he has the swiftness of Oilean and the strength of Telamonian Ajax), but his excellence is still the sum of theirs. We do not need a separate rule to measure his supremacy. But before we can come into the presence of Achilles and take his measure, we must first be presented with the common warrior, who is not just something vaguely but specifically heroic, with whom Achilles shares more in common than he knows. The common warrior is the armature on which Achilles is shaped and the backdrop against which his story is played. Homer assumes our ignorance of what the heroes are, the heroic world from which Achilles withdraws and yet to which he still belongs. And it is our intention here to show how this world circumscribes, thought it does not completely define, Achilles.

VCE Classical Studies