The Iliad is famous literary work by Homer, a Greek poet who depicted the long war between the Greeks and the Trojans in several poems. The book gives an account of the much later events which occurred in the final years of Troy’s siege. Homer typically depicted Achilles, one of the principal actors in the book, as a hero of his time. However, several artists have attempted to describe the protagonist in their own view. The Ransom of Hector, a piece of art which was created sometime between ca. 510 BC – ca. 500 BC, is a famous vase that shows a more perverse way of Achilles’ depiction contrary to Homer’s heroic perspective.
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Achilles was a warrior who was born from both a goddess and Peleaus, the son of Aeacus, the King of Aegina. Achilles and Agamemnon had since had their differences in their conquests of war. Particularly, Agamemnon had taken Briseis, Achilles’ prize concubine (Classical Literature, par 3). This act angered the warrior who withdrew his forces from the Trojan war.
Hector, King Priam’s star child, challenged Ajax to single combat which almost leaves the Greek warrior defeated. Although Agamemnon continued to beseech Achilles to join the war again, Achilles was torn on where his loyalties lie and sent his friend Patroclus in his stead. However, Hector slew Patroclus thinking him to be Achilles, which in turn, led to the reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles (Classical Literature, par 8). In this era, single combats were famous as they showed who was more powerful and skilled in combat. However, when Achilles challenged Hector to single combat, the action of the former were driven by revenge, rather than a show of might and power. As expected, Achilles killed his combatant and desecrated his corpse for days. This act made King Priam bitter, and he later approached Achilles to beseech him to release his son for burial (The Iliad, 24).
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The Ransom of Hector shows the events that followed after Hector’s death. King Priam is shown stretching his hands out to Achilles’ knees, while the latter is stretched across the seat, holding flesh from Hector’s corpse in his hand with a knife as blood drips down (Harvard, par 2). According to the artist, Achilles, the grand Greek hero, is also a perverse warrior who enjoys the tyranny of actions. In the Iliad, Achilles is seen sympathizing and even weeping with King Priam who attempted to seek out the warrior’s compassion by asking him to think about his father. Homer also goes on to explain that Achilles soon released the Hector to King Priam because he considered his father’s grief as if he were in the same position. Furthermore, Achilles offered his graces to King Priam saying that even though a god helped him venture the Greek camp, he would not harm him in any way (The Iliad, 24).
Homer’s main perspective of Achilles was that of a Greek warrior who was adored by those in his company because he was successful in every one of his conquests. Achilles was also a man who reveled in his ability to trample his rivals as shown by his pride when Agamemnon took possession of Briseis, his prize concubine. However, the Ransom of Hector, as a single scene in the book, depicts a gruesome and tyrannical warrior who enjoyed defiling his conquests even after a victory.
- Classical, Literature. Ancient Greece – Homer – The Iliad, 2009
- Homer, Robert Fagles, and Bernard Knox. The Iliad. , 1998. Print.
- Perseus Digital Library. Harvard 1972.40 (Vase), 1972