This is part four of a six part article exploring the Classical traditions of heroism. My high school philosopher teacher once remarked that one can perceive perfection as a balance. With that in mind, consider the idea that perfection in a hero is found in the balance of masculinity and femininity.
The Iliad is a work surrounding the Trojan War that tells the story of the hero Achilles. The story begins at the eve of the closing of the long Trojan War. The Greeks are battling hard and do not yet have a clear advantage. Achilles, the greatest warrior has been sitting out the fight due to a wounded ego until Agamemnon buries the hatchet and the two tolerate each other enough to fight together.
Once again the war kicks up full speed and Achilles eventually kills Hector and wears his armor while racing around Troy. Paris, enraged by the death of his comrades and striving to protect Troy and Helen, shoots Achilles in the ankle, where Thetis held him while dipping him in the river Styx. Achilles perishes and without their greatest warrior, the Greeks still win the war. In all of Greek mythology, Achilles remains the best known hero, especially for his prowess on the battle field as a warrior in the Trojan War.
As a Greek icon of heroism, Achilles possesses characteristics that even today society associates with Greek mythology: hubris and hamartia. Hubris or deadly pride dictates Achilles’ decisions, especially when he chooses to sit out of battle since Agamemnon injured his pride.
The second characteristic is known as the hamartia or flaw. While many would consider Achilles’ pride as a fatal flaw, examining the story the more logical deduction is that the spot where Thetis held Achilles’ by the ankle is the fatal flaw. Up until that point, Achilles never wavered in battle, where he plowed through men with ease and was almost never sidetracked. The physical flaw killed him, not his hubris.
Hubris remains the byproduct of his physical prowess, not the other way around. Homer’s depiction in the Iliad of an arrogant, powerful, near invisible hero influences the rest of Greek mythology and even present day society. Achilles is the archetype of Grecian heroes to this day because of the romantic idea that Achilles fails and dies only due to a fluke shot by Paris.