Comparison of Extent of Moral Obligations Between Agamemnon and Achilles

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once stated that the man who is incapable of working in common, or who has no need for others in his self-sufficiency, is no part of the community, like a beast or a god. A self-sufficient individual can maintain herself without external help, thus likened to a beast or a god. A typical individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficient as he depends on others for survival. In the Iliad, written by Homer, two characters embody self-sufficiency features: Achilles and Agamemnon. Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem published in 762 BC. The poem records last year events in the Trojan war fought between the Achaean and Trojan army. War broke out when Paris, a prince of Troy, eloped with Helen, King Menelaus of Sparta’s wife. The Greeks raised a massive army to sail to Troy to retrieve the queen marking the war’s onset.

Thesis Statement

Achilles was involved in the war as the myrmidons’ leader, while King Agamemnon was the de facto leader of all Greek armies. Achilles and Agamemnon both depicted the features of a self-sufficient man as described by Aristotle. Both men followed the heroic code of conduct that maintained their self-sufficiency since they were unwilling to accept anything less than the Homeric hero’s code. The thesis for this essay states, Achilles and Agamemnon both followed the Homeric code of conduct but in different ways often intertwined with their moral responsibility towards society. Their different ways of interpreting the heroic code often clouded their moral obligations towards society, affecting many people in the process.

 

 

Moral Obligations Entailed in Homeric Heroic Code

The most critical element of Homeric heroic code entailed a person’s reputation. A person’s reputation was worth more than wealth or power; thus, heroes protected their reputation at all costs. The honour was cultivated through having a good reputation among peers. This heroic code element was held in high regard more than life itself. A life without honour was meaningless to a hero; thus, he could not endure insults that damaged his reputation[1]. The honour was determined primarily through victories in battle and respect that was ordained to a hero. The heroic code maintained that men had to stand together in battle as the stakes were the greatest. A Homeric hero was a champion in every aspect of his life, such as battle, husbandry and peacetime. A Homeric hero also had to show respect to his superiors and respected authority.

The heroic code also empathized on loyalty to friends and avoidance of disgracing his community. However, where withdrawal from a situation was the last resort, the act was not considered a disgrace. A hero’s actions were a direct consequence to avert disgrace. Heroes were more concerned with society’s perception of their actions as they were afraid society would judge them harshly, thus losing their reputation. A Homeric hero was more concerned with being accepted as a hero by society than his social morals. A hero also had to refrain from extreme cruelty in battle. The heroic code was against deliberate acts of injustice and cruelty such that it advocated for a quick death rather than mutilation. Besides, the status of a hero was bestowed upon others through exemplary leadership skills.

Comparison of Interpretation of the Homeric Heroic Code to Conform to Moral Obligation in Society

King Agamemnon

King Agamemnon moral obligations were more important than his obligation to the Achaean army. His endeavors for respect eclipsed his obligation to protect the Achaean army. The Achaean army led by Achilles captured gold treasures and daughters of the priests as spoils of war.  One of the captives, Chryseis, was the daughter of a Chryses, a priest in Apollo’s temple. Chryses begged King Agamemnon to return his daughter, Chryseis, in Infront of all the chieftains for a significant price to no avail. King Agamemnon believed he was superior to the priest, thus accorded him no respect as he stated he would never let go of his war prize. King Agamemnon lack of respect for the priest was in direct violation of the heroic code to treat each man with respect[2]. Angered by King Agamemnon actions, the priest prayed to Apollo to avenge him and provide justice to his daughter in slavery. Apollo thus cursed the Achaean army with a deadly plague that ravaged entire battalions to punish the Agamemnon’s actions. King Agamemnon’s pride and preservation of his honour which entailed the decision not to give up Chryseis, dealt a significant blow to the Achaean army morale. King Agamemnon failed to uphold his moral obligation to protect his subjects from the plague by putting society’s needs secondary to his desires to keep his Trojan war prize, Chryseis.

King Agamemnon chose honour over his moral obligations to the Achaean army. In Greek culture, beautiful women were regarded as the most honourable reward. King Agamemnon was morally obligated to return his prize, Chryseis, to his father to protect the Achaean army from the plague. He deemed his decision to return his war prize as an insult to his honour. Thus, King Agamemnon decided to seek revenge by demanding compensation by seizing Achilles’ maiden, Briseis. Achilles criticizes Agamemnon’s reign and threatens to pull out his forces from the Achaean army coalition[3]. However, Agamemnon, blinded by honour, disregards Achilles threats to leave the war and takes his possession. Agamemnon’s self-sufficiency clouds his judgment as he views himself as a god capable of defeating the Trojan army without Achilles’s assistance.

Achilles

Achilles is modelled into a hero capable of attaining moral obligation and self-sufficiency throughout the epic. The strict heroic code does not allow heroes to make choices; thus, one must follow his superior’s orders. Achilles’ character is not self-sufficient as he chooses to withdraw his battalion from the war, thus disregarding the contradictory heroic code conduct of choices. Achilles reluctantly gave up his prize as a sign of respect to the King’s authority. However, he withdrew his myrmidon’s forces from the war. The withdrawal of the myrmidons turned the tide of the war against the Achaean army as the Trojan army, through their leader, Hector, the prince of Troy, forced them to retreat to the shore. Achilles abandons his moral obligation to fight in the war and defend Greek due to his vendetta against Agamemnon. Achilles believed his retreat was beneficial for him to retain his reputation as a leader[4]. Achilles humiliation at King Agamemnon’s hands led him to abscond his moral obligation as a Homeric hero to fight diligently in the war. The defeat of the Achaean army proved costly due to the number of casualties.

Through the advice of Old Nestor, Odysseus and Diomedes, King Agamemnon decided to return Achilles’ prize accompanied by other gifts in exchange for his services in the war. However, Achilles chose honour over the gifts since he deemed them an added insult to his reputation. His rejection of the gifts depicts his self-sufficiency as he claims his honour is more important than the gifts. Consequently, a beast or a god cannot be bought by gifts. Achilles claims that all brave and weak men were going to die, thus rejecting the idea that the braver one fought, the greater the prizes.

Achilles also broke the heroic code through the pursuance of social order in the Achaean camp. The plague continued to wreak havoc on the Greek army, but King Agamemnon chose not to address the issue. Achilles moral obligation to society eclipsed his desire to pursue the heroic code to respect authority. Achilles called for the entire army’s assembly, an action that was reserved for the King only. The main reason for calling the meeting was to figure out the origin and possible remedies to the plague. During the meeting, the prophet Calchas revealed that the plague was Apollo’s work, which served as punishment for King Agamemnon’s refusal to return Chryseis to her father.

The heroic code emphasized loyalty to friends and revenge when a hero’s close confidants were killed. Achilles loyalty to his friends is depicted in the call to avenge Patroclus death. Achilles had ordered his myrmidons to stand down and refrain from joining the war efforts. The Greek army’s continued defeat led to Patroclus impersonating Achilles and leading the Myrmidons to battle, where he died at the hands of Hector. His close relationship with Patroclus emphasizes Achilles’ self-sufficiency limitation as he begins to view other soldiers from human perception[5].  Achilles moral obligation to avenge Patroclus death shows that he discovered his flaws of failing to protect his close confidants and the devastating toll of his decision to abscond from the war on the number of Achaean casualties. Achilles moral obligation to avenge Patroclus death outweighs his anger over Agamemnon, thus decides to rejoin the war against Troy. Achilles fulfils his moral obligation as a Homeric hero by been involved in the war. The Achaean army is rejuvenated and subdue the Trojan army, who retreat to the city of Troy.

Achilles moral obligation to his enemies is also emphasized as he grants King Priam’s request to bury his son, Hector. Achilles had managed to subdue the Trojan army and killed Hector in single combat. However, Achilles, filled with rage, desecrated his body for several days instead of the heroic code. Achilles is depicted as a mortal man who empathizes with King Priam after he invokes Achilles’ father’s spirit, thus grants King Priam his request[6]. Achilles actions depict a man conscious of his responsibility to society as a Homeric hero to refrain from cruelty. Achilles moral obligation to permit an elaborate funeral to Hector shows he is not self-sufficient. Achilles also shows he is not self-sufficient through the role of women in his life. He is angered by Agamemnon’s deeds to seize his prize, Briseis, since he already had an attachment to her. Achilles is not self-sufficient since his romantic episodes with Briseis showed that he had cultivated an obligation of others safety in society.

How King Agamemnon and Achilles Avoid Tragedy Based on Their Moral Obligation Views

King Agamemnon and Achilles actions are based on pride; thus, the dilemma lies between their moral obligation to society and preservation of their pride. Agamemnon pride is tested when he is informed of the prophecy that the plague would end when he gives up his war spoils and his insistence on keeping his prize over his moral obligation to his soldiers. On the other hand, Achilles’ pride resonates with his troops’ withdrawing from the war to maintain his reputation and his refusal of gifts from Agamemnon to return to the war parade. The two characters pride shows their self-sufficiency as they deem themselves capable of achieving their goals without others’ need. People who hold such opposing views on morality avoid tragic conflicts through consolations. Consultations may be in the form of divine or mortal intervention to limit their self-sufficiency and integrate them into society. In the Iliad, divine intervention limits self-sufficiency through the prophet Calchas to prevent the plague. Mortal intervention is through emissaries such as Old Nestor, who advises King Agamemnon.

Conclusion

The thesis for this essay states, Achilles and Agamemnon both followed the Homeric code of conduct but in different ways often intertwined with their moral responsibility towards society. Their different ways of interpreting the heroic code often clouded their moral obligations towards society, affecting many people in the process. The Homeric heroic code emphasizes honour, respect for authority, loyalty to friendship, and refrain from cruelty. King Agamemnon depicts his self-sufficiency by refusing to give up his, Chryseis, his slave possession, thus exposing his Achaean army to the plague’s effects. Agamemnon pride also reflects his self-sufficiency, where he allows Achilles to leave the army, leading to the disorganization of the army. Achilles is both self-sufficient and mindful of his moral obligation to others. Achilles’ self-sufficiency is depicted in his refusal to participate in the Trojan war to safeguard his honour. Achilles moral obligation eclipses his self-sufficiency through disregard for controversial heroic code elements, his obligation to avenge his friend’s death and his perception of women in society.

 

 

Bibliography

Atasi, Sahoo. “The Iliad by Homer.” (2020).

Jan Haywood, and Mac Sweeney Naoise. Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War: Dialogues on Tradition. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.

Andrew Mathey, Gross. “Defining Politics: On History and Political Thought in Homer’s Iliad, with a Focus on Books 1-9.” PhD diss., 2017.

Scott, Goins. “Homer and the Good Ruler in Antiquity and Beyond.” The Classical Journal 115, no. 2 (2019): 254-256.

Marco, Cimino. “Aristocratic relations in early Greece: The case of Agamemnon vs Achilles in Homer’s Iliad.” Teaching History 52, no. 1 (2018): 16-18.

Nicolas, Evzonas. “Achilles: A Homeric hero enamoured with the absolute.” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 99, no. 5 (2018): 1165-1185.

[1] Sahoo, Atasi. “The Iliad by Homer.” (2020).

 

[2] Haywood, Jan, and Naoíse Mac Sweeney. Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War: Dialogues on Tradition. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.

 

[3] Gross, Andrew Mathey. “Defining Politics: On History and Political Thought in Homer’s Iliad, with a Focus on Books 1-9.” PhD diss., 2017.

 

[4] Goins, Scott. “Homer and the Good Ruler in Antiquity and Beyond.” The Classical Journal 115, no. 2 (2019): 254-256.

 

[5] Cimino, Marco. “Aristocratic relations in early Greece: The case of Agamemnon vs Achilles in Homer’s Iliad.” Teaching History 52, no. 1 (2018): 16-18.

 

[6] Evzonas, Nicolas. “Achilles: A Homeric hero enamoured with the absolute.” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 99, no. 5 (2018): 1165-1185.

 

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