Who Was the Better Man?
The Iliad and the Odyssey are epic poems that were composed around 800-725 B. C. and it is traditionally maintained that they were written by down by Homer, the blind poet. The Iliad is about Achilles and how his anger affected the Trojan War. The Odyssey is about Odysseus and his journey home to Ithaca. Achilles was a great warrior, fearless in battle. Odysseus was a cunning strategist who eventually won the war for the Achaeans. It is often wondered who was the better man? Upon analysis, Odysseus is, undoubtedly, the better man.
To begin with, Odysseus has a great love of his family and his kingdom, and he has an honest pride in them. The Odyssey is about his journey to get back to his home, and all that he has to suffer and undergo to do so. He encounters many temptations along the way, including the offer of Calypso, the sea goddess, to make him her immortal husband. But in his love and fidelity for Penelope, his wife, he declines her proposal. Odysseus passes through the halls of Hades in order to seek out Teiresias and learn how to find his way back home; besides numerous other ordeals he has to endure. Through all this the principles of constancy and fidelity are realized in him.
Besides being faithful and constant, Odysseus is also a very clever man and a great strategist. Because of Odysseus the Achaeans won the Trojan War, for he thought up the Trojan horse. After the war, in all his travels, his cleverness and resourcefulness always won him through many a difficult situation. For example, in the Cyclop’s cave, without Odysseus’ foresight and clever escape plan, Odysseus and his men would all have been eaten by Polyphemus or have starved to death with no way out of the cave. Whereas Achilles would probably have killed Polyphemus without thinking of how to get out of the cave after he was dead. Thus, Odysseus is clever and prudent as well as faithful and constant.
Achilles, the son of the goddess Thetis, is the king of Myrmidons. He is the greatest warrior on the Achaean’s side, but he has one fatal fault: pride. The Iliad starts out with the pride of Achilles. He was angered and felt dishonored when Agamemnon takes his trophy, Briseis, from him. Achilles withdraws himself and his men from the war. He knows that this will probably lose the war for the Achaeans and that many men will have died in vain in a foreign land. But Achilles does not care. Achilles has no constancy or fidelity to his fellow soldiers or to his general, Agamemnon. He is preparing to leave and return to Pthia, when he learns that Hector has killed his best friend, Patroclus, who donned Achilles’ armor in an attempt to inspire and aide the Achaeans. Without blaming himself in any way for Patroclus’ death, Achilles rejoins the Achaean army and challenges Hector to combat. He wins the victory and kills Hector. He dishonors Hector’s body which in turn enrages the gods. To pacify the gods he returns the body to the Trojans, but only after King Priam came begging for it. Achilles’ pride is very dangerous and destructive. Homer chose to use Achilles as an example of who not to be like. Achilles nearly lost the war for the Achaeans and his pride did not allow him to feel any guilt for the death of Patroclus, which was very much Achilles’ fault and not Hector’s; and only the intervention of the gods and the desperate pleas of King Priam would induce Achilles to return the body of Hector for a proper burial. Thus Achilles is a very good example of who not to be like.
Odysseus and Achilles are also very different in their different levels of self-control. Achilles lets his passions rule him, so he often loses control of himself. His pride keeps him from thinking of others and how his lack of self-control could affect them in a negative way. Countless examples of this are in the Iliad, like when he withdraws from the war in a fit of anger although he knows that this will cause very dire consequences for the Achaeans. He even goes so far as to pray to Zeus for the victory of the Trojans over the Achaeans. Because Achilles’ mother is the goddess Thetis, Zeus decides to grant Achilles’ prayers. Odysseus, however, has control over his passions and lets his reason guide him. He does not give in to temptations, like when the beautiful Calypso offered to make him her immortal husband. He knows that, as tempting as it sounds, he has a duty to his home and his family, and that immortality would not make him happy if he was without the woman he loved and away from the land that he loved the best. Thus Homer teaches us not to let our passions control us, like Achilles, but rather let reason rule, like Odysseus.
In conclusion, Achilles represents all that impedes the advancement of civilization, such as pride, infidelity, and no self-control over one’s passions. Since pride is the root of all evils, this story is essential to the foundation of a good civilization. Odysseus, however, is a great model of who to be like. Odysseus is faithful, constant, prudent, and possessing of foresight. He is an example of the superiority of intelligence to brute force, which is another essential idea to civilization. Therefore, in every way Odysseus is the better man.