A Fighter or a Philosopher? Achilles Ponders

“One and the same lot for the man who hangs back and the man who battles hard. The same honor waits for the coward and the brave. They both go down to Death, the fighter who shirks, the one who works to exhaustion.”

– Achilles, The Iliad (Book 9, 385-388, translation by Fagles, 1990)

Like I said before, I was utterly amazed by the characterization in The Iliad. The characters are all somewhat well-known in our culture already – Helen, Paris, Hector, Achilles, Odysseus – that we feel like we know what they are all about. What I loved about The Iliad was that these characters could surprise me, even though I knew the plot. Like the above quote with Achilles. He’s downright philosophical! You’d think he’d be a bit of a dumb brute, completely focused on fighting and fighting alone, or whining away in his tent. Well, apparently he’s spent some of the time away from battle musing over life, and the purpose of his warrior’s ethos. (In fact, the above quote really reminds me of Ecclesiastes).

Now, if you want more surprises, check out The Iliad‘s characterization of Paris and Helen. I really feel the movie, Troy, (probably the most well-known movie version of this famous epic) really fell down when trying to portray these people as powerfully as they are portrayed in The Iliad. And I think it really fell down when it tried to portray Achilles, but I could write a whole post on that, so I’ll refrain for now.

Have you ever read a story where you thought you knew the plot already, but were surprised by how good the story actually turned out to be?

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Filed under Quotables, The Iliad

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