Achilles: The Worst Achaean of the Achaeans
By my definition of “the best of the Achaeans”, Achilles is the best MAN of the Achaeans. However, Achilles is the worst at supporting the Achaean war effort. Thus, I consider Achilles to be the worst Achaean of the Achaeans (and I expect that Agamemnon and many of the Achaeans would agree).
Achilles fails at showing support for the Achaeans from the start of Homer’s Iliad as he is intent on killing the Achaean leader, Agamemnon. When Agamemnon takes Achilles’ war-prize, Briseis, Achilles is filled with rage. In a description of Achilles’ emotions in reaction to Agamemnon’s disrespect, Homer writes, “the anger came upon Peleus’ son, and within his shaggy breast the heart was divided two ways, pondering whether to draw from beside his thigh the sharp sword, driving away all those who stood between and kill the son of Atreus, or else to check the spleen within and keep down his anger.” What does Achilles choose to do? “As he weighed in his mind the two courses and was drawing from its scabbard the great sword, Athene descended” in order to instruct Achilles to not kill Agamemnon. Thus, even after rationally considering his options, Achilles decides he wants to kill the leader of the Achaeans and only defers to jabbing Agamemnon with harsh words at the command of a divinity. With such a strong desire to kill his leader, Achilles represents himself as a terrible supporter of the Achaean war effort.
Besides hating his leader to the point of plotting his murder, Achilles is the worst Achaean because he does not want to fight for the Achaeans. Achilles sits out the Trojan War and sulks after Agamemnon dishonors him and he does not re-enter the war until Hector kills Patroclus. Hence, Achilles does not fight for the cause of the Greeks, but at his own will. Achilles is a terrible supporter of the Achaeans because he chooses not to battle while the Trojans kill his Achaean companions in combat. While Achilles says that his absence from the war effort is to spite Agamemnon, he makes it clear in a conversation with Phoinix that it is really because he suffers by supporting the Achaeans. In lines 323-327 of the Iliad Book IX, Achilles compares his suffering to that of a mother bird retrieving morsels for her young and having no food leftover. From this simile, Achilles shares with Phoinix that helping the Achaeans causes him to suffer. While Achilles is justified to say that contributing to the Achaean war effort makes him suffer, it does not excuse him from fighting in the Trojan War. The Achaeans as a whole suffer by fighting in the Trojan War, but they do not sit out like Achilles, they fight on. Thus, Achilles is the worst Achaean because he actively does not support the Achaean war effort.
Achilles is a great man because of his strength, skills in war, and honor from the gods, but he is the worst supporter of the Achaean war effort because he hates his leader and did not wish to fight for the Achaeans until Patroclus was killed. Achilles is the worst Achaean of the Achaeans because his hate towards Agamemnon and absence from the Trojan War almost led to a Trojan victory. Even though Fate prevented the Greeks from losing the Trojan War, the opening lines of Homer’s Iliad make it clear that Achilles was the worst Achaean for the suffering he caused the Achaeans by not supporting the war effort; “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians.”