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Leah Sanson
Dr. Whitworth
European Literature I
22 March 2016
Achilles: From Child to Man Child
Rage. This is the emotion that dominates the plot of The Iliad and is Achilles’s main
downfall. While some epic heroes have a tragic flaw such as an excess of rage, an archetypal
epic hero is regarded as a figure that fights both personal and societal battles that create a change
within the character that leaves him stronger than before. In the end, an epic hero is supposed to
embody his own society and the core values that his culture takes pride in. Even in the end of
The Iliad, Achilles still does not represent the characteristics that his culture values and does not
show a dominance of logic. In The Iliad, Achilles breaks this archetype of an epic hero because
the audience recognizes his puer aeternus nature far beyond just the beginning of the epic and
does not see a great deal of change within Achilles’s character. While there is a change that
occurs in Achilles when Patroculus dies, the change is not enough to transform him into a social
exemplary figure because it arrives too late in the epic and Achilles is still controlled immensely
by his emotions in the end.
Achilles is an exceptional example of a puer aeternus because of the lack of responsibility
he holds for both his emotions and his actions. Achilles is completely controlled by his
emotions, especially in the beginning of The Iliad. Even the first sentence of the epic reads,
“Rage- Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles” (I, 1). From the very beginning, and from
an outside source, the audience is made well aware of Achilles’s anger. The audience also sees
this lack of control of his rage when he almost attacks his own soldier, Agamemnon, “his racing

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spirit veered back and forth, just as he drew his huge blade from its sheath” (I, 227-228). His
lack of control of his emotions does not change significantly from the first introduction of
Achilles to the end. Like a newborn child, Achilles displays exaggerated emotions to gain a
response from another figure, especially his mother. He calls to his mother in times of despair
and expects her to cure all of his problems. He dramatically cries in hopes of gaining the
attention of his mother, “so he wept and prayed / and his noble mother heard him… [she] stroked
Achilles gently, whispering his name, ‘My child- / why in tears? What sorrow has touched your
heart?’” (I, 423-427). His lack of responsibility of his actions also classifies him as a puer
aeternus. One surprising action that Achilles takes is asking his mother to evoke the law of the
suppliant, which cannot be refused, and ask for help from Zeus. He sees no problem in asking
Zeus for his fellow soldiers to be slaughtered so his army will need him to return to the fight. He
only cares about rejoining his army and becoming a hero. He tells his mother,
now, go and sit beside him [Zeus], grasp his knees…
persuade him, somehow, to help the Trojan cause,
to pin the Achaeans back against their ships,
trap them round the bay and mow them down.
So all can reap the benefits of their kingso even mighty Atrides can see how mad he was
to disgrace Achilles, the best of the Achaeans! (I, 484-490).
This action shows Achilles’s selfish nature; he wants his own army killed so that they feel the
need to bring back him to the fight. He does not think of the suffering and harm that his fellow
soldiers will endure; he only focuses on his personal gain that will come from the killings by
Zeus. This is characteristic of the opposite of an exemplary figure. His anger is his downfall and

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he does not have the maturity yet in this epic to deal with these problems that are shown in this
scenario clouds his logic, and transform into an epic hero.
Later in the epic this does not change dramatically, Achilles is still dominated by his
emotions, rage especially. When the Achaeans finally approach Achilles in Book IX to come
back and help them fight, he refuses until he receives the compensation that he wants and thinks
he deserves. Although Achilles finally realizes that heroism is not defined by material goods, he
still is controlled by emotions and will not use reason to rejoin the battle. He still cannot
empathize with the other soldiers. He will not just come back to the war because his fellow
soldiers are dying, he needs more. He states
you report my messagesince this is the privilege of senior chiefslet them work out a better plan of action,
use their imaginations now to save the ships
and Achaea’s armies pressed to their hollow hulls” (IX, 511-515).
Achilles has a long journey ahead of himself and obviously his character needs to go through a
major transformation in order to become an epic hero. Although Achilles has realized some of
his faults, he still expects great rewards just for his presence, which exemplifies his hubris, or his
excessive pride. It is not until later that Achilles is transformed, slightly, into a more social
exemplary figure.
The death of his erastes, Patroclus, ignited a change within Achilles. This death made
him put life into perspective and here he was able to use logic and reason rather than emotion for
one of the first times in this epic. Achilles was greatly affected by this death because of how
close they were. It is shown, “a black cloud of grief came shrouding over Achilles. / Both hands

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clawing the ground for soot and filth, / he poured it over his head, fouled his handsome face / and
black ashes settled onto his fresh clean war-shirt (XVIII, 24-28). He then pulls at his hair
(XVIII, 30). The pouring of the soot and the filth over his head symbolizes a baptism within
Achilles. Although this is not as powerful as a water or fire baptism, it reveals a cleansing and
suggests that a change will take place in Achilles’s character. Patroclus wearing the old armor of
Achilles while dying signifies the death of the old, childish, rage filled Achilles. Also, there was
an introduction of fire to the scene, which could even further prove that Achilles was changing at
this point in time. Moreover, his golden armor for example shows the purity and rebirth that
comes from this death and shows a reborn Achilles that is more headstrong and logic oriented
than emotion oriented. Thetis approaches Hephaestus, the God of fire, to create the armor for
Achilles, which again shows the baptism by fire, which purifies the soul. Even when his mother
comes to comfort him after hearing Achilles crying, he responds, “[d]on’t try to hold me back
from the fighting, mother, / love me as you do. You can’t persuade me now” (XVIII, 149-150).
He no longer relies on his mother for comfort and protection. But, with all of these different
literary hints that Achilles is a changed man, will Achilles represent the effects of his “baptism?”
Nearing the last chapters of the epic, Achilles should be a well-rounded social exemplary
figure to fill the archetype of an epic hero. That is not the case. Still, rage is present in Achilles
when he drags Hector’s body around the city of Troy. One would expect Achilles to respect the
body of Hector to represent his own culture well but instead Achilles,
[p]iercing the tendons, ankle to heel behind both feet,
he knotted straps of rawhide through them both,
lashed them to his chariot, left the head to drag
and mounting the car, hoisting the famous arms abroad,

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he whipped his team to a run and breakneck on they flew,
holding nothing back (XXII, 467-472).
This shows the lack of empathy in Achilles and exemplifies that Achilles is still ruled by
emotions and still not a true epic hero. After this instance however, there is a glimpse of a
changed man. Achilles shows a small amount of empathy when he returns Hector’s body to his
father, Priam. Achilles “then lifted Hector up in his own arms / and laid him down on a bier, and
comrades helped him/ raise the bier and body onto the sturdy wagon…” (XXIV, 691-693). After
telling Priam that he will have his son’s body returned to him he commands maidens, “[b]athe
and anoint the body- / bear it aside first” (XXIV, 682-683). He did this because he was afraid of
the old king’s reaction. He expressed, “Priam must not see his son” (XXIV, 684). Achilles shows
some logic in this scenario because he expresses a sense of shame and guilt for the barbaric
nature of his previous actions. But, without avail, his rage filled nature surfaces once more. He
quickly remarks at Priam, “[n]o more, old man, don’t tempt my wrath, not now!” (XXIV, 656).
So, while at the end of the epic Achilles displays some kind of transformation, he is nowhere
near a social exemplary figure like he should be in order to be considered an epic hero. Achilles
is only remotely considered a hero because of his strength rather than his logic and mind, which
are just as important as strength in an epic hero.
Although it is evident there was a slight change within Achilles, it is not enough to call
him an epic hero in the end. He still exemplified actions dominated by rage and did not use logic
prevalently. Achilles changed from a puer aeternus into a more mild form of a puer aeternus. He
branched out from under the wing of his mother but the emotion-dominated characteristics are
still present even in the last book. Homer waited so long to change Achilles to a hero to show
the realistic psychological process that took place in The Iliad; it is not just a moment of change

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within Achilles but instead a process. And if there were more to The Iliad, there would be more
of a change in Achilles but from the text, Achilles still shows his anger and lets his emotions
control him, even in the last book of the epic.