European Humanities
Mr. Spragins
Fall 2016

Essay Comparing Achilles and Odysseus

Due on Tuesday, September 13th will be your first formal essay. Your task is to describe the new hero that Homer has created out of the aftermath of the Trojan War. Compare and contrast the way that Homer characterizes his great epic heroes Achilles and Odysseus. Draw conclusions about Homer's appraisal of the changing values of Greek culture which these two men embody.

Can you come up with a thesis statement that explains Homer's purpose in putting these two heroes back to back in The Iliad and The Odyssey? What strengths and weaknesses of character do both men exhibit? Who has the best chance at success? Why?

How do we discover Homer's artistic intention?

1) First, describe the action of Book One: "The Quarrel by the Ships" What happens? See if you can describe the action of the whole episode in one simple sentence.

2) Next, do a close reading. Remember the key moments in the action and re-read those passages:

  1. Agamemnon's rebuke of Chryses, the Trojan priest of Apollo who had come to the Greek camp to ransom the return of his daughter, a prize of war (l. 28-38)
  2. The horror of Apollo's plague (l. 50-60)
  3. Achilles consults Calchas, the seer, who at first refuses to say what he knows because he fears Agamemenon's wrath. Achilles assures him that he will be protected if he speaks the truth.
  4. Agamemnon refuses to free Chryses, his prize, unless his soldiers pay him recompense! (l.120-140)
  5. The Argument between Achilles and Agamemnon (l.140ff) What is it that really rankles Agamemnon? How about Achilles? Is it the girl?
  6. Achilles' insubordination (l.174)
  7. Agamemnon taunts Achilles and urges him to dishonor himself by deserting. (l. 205) Then he declares that in recompense for the loss of his prize, he will take Achilles' concubine, Briseis.
  8. KEY MOMENT What prevents Achilles from attacking Agamemnon right then and there? (l.222) How did the Greeks understand the relationship between gods and men? What does Achilles do instead? (l.265ff.)
  9. Achilles' Rage (l.262-289) Despite Nestor's intercession (l. 302-332), Agamemnon and Achilles refuse to be reconciled.
  10. Achilles' Humiliation (l.412) Why is he so upset? Is it because he has lost his concubine, Briseis? What should we think of his prayer to his mother? What does she agree to do? (see l.485)
  11. Zeus and Hera's Argument, and Hephaestus' intercession

3) After doing a close reading of the text, take a step back and think about what Homer is up to.

  1. What values are most prized by the Mycenaean warrior culture?
  2. How do Achilles and Agamemnon define 'honor'?
  3. What is really going on in this conflict? Why do they hate each other so much?
  4. What is Homer's attitude towards these men?
  5. What is Homer's comment upon Achilles' warrior ideals?
  6. What does Homer imply is the true meaning of honor?

4) Write your paragraph on Achilles.