What Was Achilles’ Problem?

Triumph_of_Achilles_in_Corfu_AchilleionOver the course of the last few months, I have been studying the Iliad by Homer. It has been very interesting because it really displays many facets of the Greek worldview. I had read it before, but never in depth, and this time I enjoyed much more than on previous occasions.

The central character in the Iliad, as most of you probably know, is Achilles, the son of the goddess Thetis. From the first pages of the Iliad all the way through the very last, we are seeing Achilles attempt to restore his hurt honor. He feels he has been wronged, and this book is about how he deals with that.

Achilles, as a character, is quite fascinating and gives much insight into the Graeco-Roman worldview. Like most men of his time, Achilles valued his heritage and reputation quite highly. In fact, his major flaw was that he, first and foremost, was a man of pride. His pride blinds him to his fellow men and even to those closest to him. The pride of Achilles was the cause of his sorrow and demise. His pride had devastating effects.

We can see this when many, many Achaeans were killed as a direct consequence of his pride. Achilles’ fellow Greeks were slain left and right, and it all could have been avoided had he intervened. Here it is critical to note that Achilles even begged the gods to kill many of his fellow countrymen so that they would beg him back after he had his pride hurt when his commander took one of his women.

Achilles’ honor was more important to him than the lives of his comrades. This shows us both the extent of his pride as well as the effects of failing to recognize that man is made in God’s image. But it wasn’t just a bunch of random, unnamed Achaeans that were killed because of Achilles’ pride.

Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend, was slain as a result of Achilles’ refusal to join the battle. Achilles, true to his pride, refrained from fighting, but he did send his friend in his place. Patroclus was killed, and Achilles was deeply grieved.

Achilles could not eat and he nearly drove himself mad with grief. He wanted nothing more than to avenge Patroclus’ death, and he battled furiously to do so. His rage, bitterness, and sorrow were directly caused by his refusal to fight, which was caused by his pride. Patroclus’ death could have been avoided, but for Achilles’ pride.

Achilles also dishonored Hector by dragging his body across the battlefield and round and round the pyre of Patroclus. He wanted his body to be eaten by birds and dogs so that Hector’s spirit couldn’t find its way into Hades, and he did everything he could to make sure his body was destroyed, but the gods wouldn’t permit it.

Patroclus’ death caused Achilles to rage and dishonor Hector’s body, Patroclus’ death was caused by Achilles pride, and so, ultimately, Achilles dishonored Hector due to his pride. It was a direct consequence of it. This story clearly demonstrates that pride leads to grief and suffering, but this should be evident from a Christian perspective.

As Christians, we know that the Christian is not to live in pride, but to lay himself aside and to accept the Lordship of Christ. A Christian is not to live in pride, for the good that he does is not of himself but done through Christ in him. The Christian realizes that he is fallen and weak, and it is only his pride that separates him from his creator.

Instead of fighting for honor or pride, the Christian is to lay those things aside and to give himself up to God. The pride of Achilles separated him from his fellow man in the story, and the pride of the Christian separates him from God; clearly, pride is a serious character flaw, and a destructive force for evil.

Discussion — One Response

  • Paul Hastings October 22, 2013 on 12:03 pm

    Even Homer had some redeeming qualities. 😉