Achilles and Aeneas

Achilles and Aeneas

Created in different times, climes and around the apex of their respective civilizations, the immortal “Aeneid” and “Iliad” were resonant sagas.  Achilles and Aeneas were the quintessential heroes of their people, embodying the true, good and ideal as Greeks and Romans saw it.

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            There is one major difference between the protagonists of Homer’s poems and Virgil’s “Aeneid” - Achilles and Aeneas introduction. This difference significantly influences the elements of the plot. Refractoriness is inherent to Homer’s heroes in general and Achilles in particular, and this character trait defines the starting point of the poem. Achilles, as an epic hero, was fully devoted to this honor, which is measured by his warrior talents and his trophies. Achilles is a warrior and his thoughts and his behavior are determined by his own honor. That’s why the solution of Agamemnon insulted him so much – he was deprived of the proof of his honor.

 Stubborn about his own code of honor, he abandons the fight and sulks in his tent. Moreover, he asks his mother to help him punish Agamemnon, and she addresses Zeus, asking him not to let Greeks win the battle without Achilles. This event clearly demonstrates that his personal honor is of much greater importance to Achilles, than his duty of a warrior. Even as the Trojans threaten the Greek ships, Achilles remains unmoved and he does absolutely nothing. He even didn’t change his mind and didn’t join the battlefield when Patroclus came with bad news that the Greeks were suffering defeat. Only the death of Patroclus, his dearest friend, impels him to forget wounded honor and lead the Greeks to battle once again.

            On the contrary, Aeneas as a character does not possess this feature, his character is quite different. Pious Aeneas does not feel anger, his behavior is not determined by his own moral honor code, but by his honor as a warrior who is responsible for other people and for his duty. Aeneas may be regarded as an illustration to the Stoic’s theory of non-resistance to gods and destiny. Aeneas declines his emotions and his love to do his duty as he sees it. He does not hesitate that he feels right – he does not try to change his destiny, he follows the way described to him.

Unlike Achilles, Aeneas needed his fortitude and conviction shored up.  The interlude in Carthage, in the embrace of Dido, would have tempted a man.  But it imperiled the goal of finding a new home for the Trojans and becoming a founder of the greatness that would be Rome.  The visit to the underworld may also be interpreted as building up his conviction for the many battles that lay ahead.  At the same time, Virgil magnified the heroic generals of his own time as true descendants of a great forebear.

            Refractoriness of an epic hero also reveals through his anger towards the enemies, his rage and his self-forgetful fight. This motive exists both in Homer’s poems and “Aeneid”, but its display is different. Achilles stands out from other warriors, and his absence leads to defeat. Achilles was the mightiest of the Greek warriors. Even Hector could not withstand his onslaught.  He is not afraid of fate, as shown by his willingness to do battle with Hector despite the counsel of his mother that he and Hector would die one soon after the other.

On the contrary, “Aeneid” does not show such a deep contrast between the protagonist and other heroes. Aeneas is a warrior among other strong warriors. This again shows the contrast between Achilles, driven by his personal honor code and Aeneas, who rejects everything personal to follow his destiny.

Thus, we may conclude that Achilles and Aeneas, both heroes and warriors, are completely different in the ideas they personify. While Achilles serves his own honor and pride, sacrificing the success of his companions, Aeneas devotes his life to doing his duty, though he is forced to abandon his personal desires and intentions, his love and his beloved ones.


Muellner, Leonard. The Anger Of Achilles: Menis In Greek Epic (Myth and Poetics). Cornell University Press; New Ed edition (January 2005)


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