Achilleus, the son of Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis, is the leader of the Myrmidon contingent in the Trojan War. He is clearly the greatest of the Achaian warriors, in the judgment of both friend and enemy. The very sight of him on the battlefield is enough to send the Trojans fleeing in terror. Part of this power comes from his divine connections (his mother, Thetis, is a goddess), part from divine favor (at crucial points Hera and Athene look out for him and help him). This may also be a way of telling us of the enormous personal resources Achilleus has at his command.

Achilleus’ vast emotional and physical powers are not always at the service of clearheadedness. Though his initial anger at Agamemnon is based on a sense of moral justice, his rage transcends his sense of morality. His emotions motivate him more than his thoughts, for he holds onto his fury even after Agamemnon offers to return Briseis with an apology. At that point he is no longer operating for a principle of fairness but is playing out his anger and punishing his enemies. Unfortunately, his comrades must pay the price of his passions. Not until his friend Patroklos has been sacrificed does Achilleus realize he has held his position too long.

Yet he is a complex, vital man. There is little doubt that he is right in taking a stand against Agamemnon’s arbitrary decisions. He is one of those people who will fight to the death for what they believe in. Though his anger is fierce and relentless, there is nevertheless something noble in it. His sheer intensity demands respect. Because he is the one character actually to undergo change, the Iliad is really his poem. He loses much along the way but finally tempers his anger and reaches out in a gesture of compassion and peace toward Priam. Achilleus is first in the line of great Greek tragic heroes: his power makes him a hero, and his human blindness makes him tragic.