Achilles and Odyseus Essay

Kenneth Hudson

Ms. Gerber

English 10 honors

19 January 2010

Achilles: The True Hero

     Can a hero be defined by their traits?  Some say that a hero can be defined by their strength; others say that a hero can be defined by their wit and cunning.   The argument between Achilles and Odysseus contains that vital question.  Which one has the traits that make him more heroic?  Both have heroic traits, but there is a difference between them that does reveal which one is the most heroic.  Achilles’ physical and mental traits are ones that truly make him more heroic than the physically and mentally weak Odysseus.  Achilles physical traits include his great strength, invincibility, and skill in battle.  His mental traits include the defiance of death and the gods.  Odysseus does not have those traits and his acts are much less glorious than those of Achilles.  Odysseus simply goes through the motions of his journey home like a wont and portrays selfishness, disloyalty, and a lack of ability to take care of himself as he gets help from the gods.  Achilles has opposite traits as he receives no help from the gods; he even goes so far as to fight against them and against death.  He knows that he is going to die because he was told that but he still pushes through so that he can have the best death possible, in the glory of battle.  This mentality portrays heroism because of his bravery in fighting that losing battle.  He fights that losing battle with his great strength and invincibility.

     Achilles’ most obvious and defining traits in his physical journey are his strength and invincibility.  He is known for his skill in battle and his only weakness is his heel.  That physical strength truly defines him as a hero.  Achilles goes to the Trojan War to battle, and kills many people and possibly changes the tide of the war.  Achilles may have been the pivotal force in the Greek army that gave them an upper hand and allowed them to win the war.  Although he died, it was a glorious death and he died with the Greek army in victory.  This is a true sign of a hero because he fought and died a glorious death in the midst of victory.  Heroes similar to that are loved by the world because they are portrayed as a leading figure that destroys the foe and comes out victorious, even if that hero died fighting.  Achilles also shows his great physical strength when he faces Hector, Achilles hurled his spear right into Hector’s neck and kills him.  In this scene Achilles shows how skilled in battle by tossing the spear into Hector’s neck.  Achilles great battle prowess allows him to destroy all of his enemies with that physical strength.  There Achilles shows another defining trait of a hero, being able to bring a baleful end to the foe and come out as strong as before.  Those aspects of Achilles show his physical heroism, but he has mental conflicts that he has to overcome which also defines his heroism.

     Achilles’ mental journey is also a trait that defines him as a hero.  Achilles, strangely enough, is an exceptionally emotional man.  He portrays his emotions outwardly and is not afraid to hide them from anyone.  That may make him seem like a cry baby or a querulous child sometimes, but that emotion actually helps him.  That emotion gives him the strength to want to keep fighting.  At one point in the war, he was sulking in his tent when he heard that his friend died.  He was so sorrowful that he became extraordinarily angry.  This “Rage of Achilles” uses his emotion to propel him out to the battle and fight and kill Hector who killed his friend, and also was the prince of Troy and Troy’s most inspirational leader.  Achilles contains an emotional side that when is activated, no one can preempt him.  Achilles uses his feelings to help inspire him and give him strength so he can go out to the battle and conquer his foe, Hector.  A hero is shown by his emotion and ability to use that to his advantage, making him all the stronger.  Then Achilles shows his soft side when the King of Troy comes and asks for his son’s body.  Achilles feels the King’s pain and has mercy on him and gives the body to him.  That scene shows Achilles other emotional side, the one of mercy and kindness.  Achilles kindness is a deep feeling that is hard to reach, but when someone reaches it, Achilles become exceedingly kind.  All heroes are loved because of their kindness to others, which Achilles show, making him all the more heroic.  His emotional instability defines him inwardly as a hero because it gives him the strength and willpower to keep fighting and at the same time it also gives him the ability to be kind.  This emotion inspires him to fight a losing battle and a fight against the gods.

     Achilles’ fight against the gods and death is testimony to Achilles true bravery in the face of defeat.  Achilles goes against the gods when he completely ignores their rule to not tarnish a body.  After he kills Hector, Achilles takes his body and as a wise scare tactic, he drags it behind his horse to show to all of Troy that their great leader is dead.  Achilles defiance of the gods there justly shows his bravery because he is saying to the gods that he can follow his own rules and that they have no power over him.  Someone with that kind of power and bravery is a hero.  He shows even more courage when because he goes against his death and fights that doomed battle.  At the begging of Achilles story, he gets told that he will die soon when he goes to the war, but he still chooses to go down that path and march straight to his death, but he makes sure that he has a glorious and famous death.  Achilles shows great valor in that and he goes to that fight, knowing what will happen, but making it the best he can along the way.  A person, who knows that they are on their way straight to death and still stays on that path, shows great heroism and can truly be called a champion.

     Odysseus’s physical journey does not portray any heroism at all because he does almost nothing brave or heroic.  He just goes on his journey with the help of the gods and he even gets sidetracked from what his journey is about and stays in places for years, not remembering that he has to go home.  Odysseus gets so much help from the gods he almost does nothing himself.  He just goes along, praying that the gods can help him, having an easy and merry time as he sails along.  He does encounter monsters, but in most cases, he sets himself up, like in the story where he gets captured by a great Cyclopes.  He goes into the Cyclopes’ home and eats his food without his permission and so than he has to rescue his men and himself.  He can show wit and cunning, but that does not make up for his laziness and lack of not wanting to finish his quest.  These traits are not heroic and this helps to explain why Achilles is a better hero than Odysseus.

     Achilles is clearly the more heroic of the two.  He shows sundry acts of heroism in both his physical and mental journey.  He fights hard and dies a glorious death in the midst of victory after a great battle.  Also his emotions help him along the way to both define him as an individual and give him heroic traits.  Odysseus on the other hand does not show great physical strength as he relies more on his brain power to achieve goals that he is not entirely focused on.  He gets distracted along the way and shows disloyalty, selfishness, and his lack of power because of all the help he receives from the gods.  Achilles has the defining traits of a hero and that puts him above the non-heroic Odysseus.








Homer, Iliad. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. The Language of Literature British Literature. Evanston: McDougal Littell, 1997.

Skidmore, Joel. Odysseus. Mythweb. 1997. Fleet Gazelle. Retrieved 14 Jan 2010.