Achilles (or Hector) analysis

Homework Assignment

Write a character analysis of either Achilles or Hector. (4 pages) In doing the background preparation for your essay, make a list of all the speeches and actions of your chosen character that you consider important, and all the interactions the character has with other characters in the poem that you also consider important. Then analyze these speeches, actions and interactions and draw some conclusions about the character of each man and what type of person he is. Your essay should conclude with a statement of the character’s essential nature, his core personality traits, and not just a list of the individual qualities the character displays in the situations you analyze. ———————————— 1. As we read the Iliad we should be testing our own understanding of, and responses to, the text against statements made in Contexts and Comparisons (“C&C”) and introductory notes in The Norton Anthology (“NA”). Listed below are some of those statements, as well as some general questions about the poem and your responses to it. a. Patroclus’ killing of Thestor, a Trojan warrior, is a brutal act in which “the simple spear thrust takes away Thestor’s dignity as a human being even before it takes his life. He is gaping, like a fish on the hook” (NA, 115 [2nd ed.]). We might ask: To what extent does Homer give the Iliad’s warriors human “dignity” on the battlefield in the first place, such that it can be taken away? In answering this question, take note of specific encounters on the battlefield in our reading assignments. b. The editors also note that the same description of Thestor’s death “emphasizes another aspect of battle, its excitement. “[There are] two contrary emotions: the human revulsion from the horror of violent death and the human attraction to the excitement of violent action” (NA, 115 [2nd ed.]). To what extent do you find revulsion or excitement in Homer’s descriptions of battlefield violence? Does either reaction predominate for you? How much honor/respect is accorded the corpses of fallen warriors? c. “The yearning for peace and its creative possibilities is never far below the surface” of the Iliad (NA, 115-16 [2nd ed.]). How much do you see this yearning for peace in the scenes in Priam’s palace–or anywhere else in the poem (hint: compare Hector’s parting remarks to his wife, Andromache, to Achilles’ remarks to his mother, Thetis)? d. “Nowhere in Homer’s epics, however, does a god have power to coerce characters to act in ways foreign to their temperaments” (C&C, 7; emphasis added). Do you think the interaction between gods and humans supports this statement, or do you think the gods can cause humans to act contrary to their temperaments? 2. Homer’s poetry is famous for its extended similes, but the Lombardo translation of the NA 3rd edition reduces the similes to the essential comparison of one thing to another. Nevertheless, do these similes tell us anything about Homer’s attitudes towards his human subjects or towards war? 3. A. We are told repeatedly that the gods act with the comfort of knowing they cannot die, an explicit contrast with human action which in battle is fraught with the prospect of death. How does this awareness of their own immortality (and, correspondingly, human mortality) shape the gods’ attitudes and behavior toward humans and your response to the gods’ attitudes and behavior? B. Bearing in mind the distant origins of the Trojan War—as represented by Yeats: Zeus’s rape of Leda in the form of a swan and the birth of Helen—and the unwavering determination of Hera (Zeus’ wife and sister) and Athena (his daughter) to see the destruction of Troy, what is your overall sense of Homer’s attitude towards the principal gods/goddesses he depicts in the Iliad? 4. A related topic (to 3.A.) is the sense of predestination that permeates the lives of the poem’s humans, particularly those of Achilles and Hector, but also Sarpedon and Patroclus. The former two warriors are acutely aware that their lives may end long before they grow old (unlike, for example, Priam, Hector’s father, and Pelius, Achilles’ father—both of whom are mortals). However, we are never told exactly when or how the two principal warriors’ lives will end (until, in the case of Hector, his life does end), even though there are clear intimations that the gods themselves know (as do readers familiar with the poem). If you believe that the lives of humans in the poem are predestined to end in a certain way at a certain time and place, how does that affect your response to the poem? How are the actions of major characters affected by their sense of their own fates? 5. Consider carefully the words and actions of Achilles and Hector. It has been said that Achilles ‘recovers’ his humanity at the end of the poem when he gives Hector’s body back to Priam. Do you agree? Did he have/lose his ‘humanity’ in the first place? Do you think Hector vainglorious? 6. What is your response to the roles (and fates) of mortal women in the Iliad—especially Andromache and Briseis: their lack of voice, their limited and precarious lives in a warrior society? What is your sense of Homer’s attitude towards the Greek/Trojan warrior society he depicts—insofar as you can infer that attitude from a poem focused primarily on war?

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