Characters make up the skeleton of a story. They convey the authors’ ideas, beliefs, and understandings of the world as well as of the human beings around them. Major characters in The Iliad by Homer are interesting and yet deeply disturbing due to the depth of meanings they convey through their conversation and actions. Some of the major characters of The Iliad have been analyzed below.
Characters in The Iliad
Among the most Homeric heroes, Achilles is the mighty warrior of the Achaean army. He has his own tragic flaws that cause his downfall. First, he takes much pride in the exploits. He leaves his comrades at the mercy of Agamemnon, praying that they are slaughtered. Partly driven by the deep desire for glory, he leaves himself at the mercy of the circumstances which cause a heavy blow to his wish to live.
Surprisingly, Achilles stays flat from the first book to the last book. He does not display much progress in his character despite reconciling with Agamemnon after Patroclus is killed. He instead directs his wrath and pride toward Hector and mauls him to death. Later, Achilles gives ears to his father’s pleas, though, he pays little attention to his kind behavior. However, one thing is certain that Achilles is a good human being, as shown from his grief over the death of his friend.
Hector is brave and courageous. He is the prince of Troy who fights fiercely against his opponents. Instead of glory and pride, he fights against the enemy to save his city, his family, and his people. He has a sense of responsibility toward his family, especially his wife and son. Unlike Achilles, he sometimes shows weakness and even tries to flee Ajax. However, he comes down to rashly treating his victims, including Patroclus. Finally, his downfall comes due to his ignorance of overconfidence that he asks the Trojans to come out of the city walls, leading to the complete downfall of the city.
Despite his impulsivity, he is not arrogant like Agamemnon. Though he tries to avoid this devastation through reconciliation during a duel, he feels that divine powers have turned against him, leaving him in the lurch to face defeat from Achilles.
Agamemnon is the king and the commander of the Achaean army. Despite his being short-tempered and arrogant, he stands up to Achilles to save his city. However, his arrogance surpasses Achilles’ pride. He uses every opportunity to show that he is a great warrior, while Achilles only becomes furious when it is required. He shirks from his major responsibilities of leading the army and aims to claim the spoils of war. A strong egoist, Agamemnon mostly stays concerned with himself and believes in the right to win applause as a king. Fate, ruination, and gods often intervene in his conversation to let him slip away, taking up the responsibility. In other words, Homer does not want his readers to sympathize with Agamemnon.
Father of Hector and the legendary king of Troy, Priam is a kind king who takes care of his subjects as well as his family. His care is shown when he pleas Achilles to return Hector’s body for proper burial. He even consults his wife, Hecuba, about it despite showing compassion to Helen, who has brought destruction upon the city. His humility is his greatest asset in response to arrogance and pride in the characters.
Thetis is Achilles’ mother around whom the major part of the epic revolves. A sea goddess, she protects and provides him safety wherever she sees that Achilles is inviting a danger or is being trapped. She has influence over Zeus to help Achilles. She seeks divine support for his victories throughout the poem and comes to his rescue even if she has to provide him divine equipment such as the armor to protect him. However, she never experiences comfort because she knew Achilles’ untimely death.
Paris is another significant character of the epic whose daring act of stealing Helen from Menelaus causes the downfall of Troy. However, Paris is not a fighter. Instead of showing feats on the battlefield, he prefers to enjoy Helen’s company. Although Helen is fearful of the destruction her action has brought to Troy, Paris is unmoved. He becomes a hero only because Aphrodite favors him.
Patroclus is a sympathetic personality. He brings tears into the eyes of Achilles and makes him a raging bull when it comes to exacting revenge. He makes Achilles realize that a friend in need is a friend, indeed. Patroclus is not only wiser but also compassionate when it comes to the sufferings of others. In his efforts to curb the fury of Achilles, he loses his life. That is why Briseis laments his death in the end.
Son of Telamon, Great Ajax, is also known as Telamonian Ajax, who is a giant among other men. He is a commander of his contingent and a great warrior among the Achaean next to Achilles. He is an unbeatable defense against the invading enemies. With Little Ajax, he forms a combination that can stop advancing armies.
Nestor is the son of Neleus and the oldest among the other Achaean kings. Although his courage is undaunting, he lost his battle skills. Nestor is an old man and was good at giving counsel, especially to Agamemnon. He is left with stories to tell others to inspire them.
Diomedes is the son of Tydeus and is famous for tenacity in the fight. Whenever there is a likelihood of any retreat among the soldiers, he gives a battle cry to rally them around. Athena often helps him to have strength when he falls upon the Trojans.