The Brilliant Jung Swift-Footed Achilles( A most intriguing epithet)
By Lisa A. Rustad '93
World Literature 1
Writing Objective: Comment on a character from our class readings.
In the Iliad, the “brilliant swift-footed Achilles” is a hero of the Greeks for renowned his physical strength and military prowess. Achilles fulfills the social role of hero as expected by Greek society. This social role Is Achilles’ persona; the Image of hero which he displays in public. Particular characters are very aware of Achilles’ expected persona of hero, such as his mother, Thetis who explains, “I gave birth to a son who was without fault and powerful, conspicuous among heroes…” (p. 113). Moreover, everyone in every society, regardless of social status, exhibits a persona. For every individual, it is important to display favorable characteristics of his or her personality. To do this, he or she brings his or her persona to light, while shoving the inferior aspects of the personality into the shadows.
It is fitting that the word persona is derived from the ancient Greeks. It refers to the masks which Greek actors wore, and more specifically, the mouthpiece of the mask through which the character spoke (Monte 7). Thus, when we say that people or characters wear masks, we are essentially speaking of their personas.
The genuine person behind this persona/mask is what Carl Jung refers to as the “shadow,” which is a part of our personal unconscious. Within this unconscious, there looms our real feelings: secret wishes, fears, and desires; those elements of our character which we find undesirable in relation to our persona (Monte 320). Naturally, we choose to acknowledge our persona while repressing our “shadow” just as Achilles does in the Iliad, But since Achilles is a Greek hero, perhaps we can compare his persona to the heroic Greek ideal of arete. Taking this concept into consideration, we come to realize how easy it must be for Achilles to ignore his “shadow” since his arete, or persona, is held in such high esteem by his people.
However, even though Achilles ignores his “shadow,” the reader Is able to observe Achilles’ “shadow” by noting his pride (hubris), his greed, and his fear of death. Thus, the reader and fellow characters, such as Odysseus, are able to see Achilles’ shadow. Odysseus comments on one aspect of Achilles’ shadow, that being his pride, when he tells Agamemnon that Achilles will not compromise, for “He is a proud man…and now you have driven him far deeper into his pride” (p. 111).
But Achilles does eventually abandon his pride and come back to his people. The reader may question Achilles’ behavior and ask what provokes Achilles to come back and how this comes about. Carl Jung’s theory of persona and shadow offers the reader an explanation for Achilles self-development and his strained relationship with Agamemnon, whom he so despises.
Jung explains that when we dislike or hate someone, as Achilles hates Agamemnon, the reason lies within our “shadow.” We end up projecting our “shadow” onto them since we see in this person a behavior or attitude which we dislike in ourselves. We hate this person because we feel we know them, but this is impossible since we do not truly know them. Instead, what we do know Is what we hate about ourselves, and it is these characteristics which we recognize in the “hated” person (Monte 320).
Achilles illustrates this projection when he says, “I know him (Agamemnon) well” (p. 102). Actually, it is not Agamemnon whom Achilles knows so well; it is those irritating traits which Agamemnon possesses that Achilles knows so well because he himself possesses them also. For instance, Achilles despises Agamemnon for his fierce pride, even though ironically Achilles too “has made savage the proud-hearted spirit within his body” (p. 109). In other words, what Achilles hates about Agamemnon is that which Achilles hates about himself, whether he realizes it or not.
When Achilles harshly reprimands Agamemnon for his greed because now that he has lost his war prize, Chryseis, Agamemnon wants Achilles’ war prize, Briseis. Achilles accuses Agamemnon that his “mind is forever on profit” and that he is the “greediest for gain of all men” (p. 73). But in saying this, Achilles is displaying his own greed; for he is fighting to keep his war prize, Briseis. Paradoxically, Achilles concludes this particular argument by expressing the anger he himself feels for losing his war prize, Briseis. The very crime for which Achilles accuses Agamemnon of, Achilles himself commits. In short, Achilles loses Briseis, his personal prize from the war, and Is as upset as Agamemnon is for the loss of his prize. It is this particular scene in the Iliad where we begin to sense that Achilles’ mask or persona of hero is slowly slipping, since his pride now expands past the bounds of moderation into the troubling territory of excessiveness.
Since Achilles condemns Agamemnon for traits he too possesses—though chooses to ignore—many paradoxes surface. For instance, in referring to Agamemnon, Achilles proclaims that for “such acts of arrogance he may even lose his own life” (p. 75). On the contrary, it is Achilles who loses his life, so to speak, because of arrogance. Moreover, as a result of refusing to fight with the Greeks against the Trojans since his pride has been injured, his “beloved companion” Patroklos Is killed. Achilles laments, “Patroklos, whom I loved beyond all other companions, as well as my own life…the spirit within does not drive me to go on living…” (p. 114). Thus, Patroklos’ death Is even more tragic to Achilles than his own death since he loves Patroklos more than he loves himself. But Achilles still fears his own death.
Even more telling than Achilles’ accusation of Agamemnon’s arrogance is the accusation he makes concerning Agamemnon’s fear of death in the following passage:
Never once have you taken courage in your heart to arm with your people for battle, or go into ambuscade with the best of the Achaians. No, for in such things you see death…But I will tell you this and swear a great oath upon it:…some day longing for Achilles will come to the sons of Achaians, all of them. Then stricken at heart though you be, you will be able to do nothing, when In their numbers before man-slaughtering Hektor they drop and die. And then you will eat out the heart within you in sorrow… (p. 76)
In this passage, we see that Achilles fiercely abhors Agamemnon’s cowardly fear of death. But what is the reason for Achilles’ vehement disgust for Agamemnon’s fear of death? The reason for such harshness lies in the fact that Agamemnon’s fear of death strikes a familiar chord within Achilles. Achilles display of external disgust allows him to avoid the internal self-disgust he feels regarding his own private fear of death. In short, Achilles is attempting to deny his own fears and insecurities by noticing the same fears in Agamemnon and then proceeding to criticize them. Achilles, at a moment when the mask is lifted, reveals his “shadow” (fear of death) briefly in the company of close friends. Achilles softly speaks, “Come one after another, and sit by me, and speak softly. For as I detest the doorways of Death, I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another” (p. 101). In his moment of acknowledging his secret fear of death, Achilles is able to express the tension he feels between the Image of the persona and the shadow, for “the depths of his heart” is thus the depths of his “shadow” where things are hidden and the persona is forced to “speak forth another.”
In addition, the passage referring to Agamemnon’s fear of death carries with it even more significance since it ironically foreshadows the traumatic grief Achilles will experience himself. For Instance, instead of the Achaians longing for Achilles, as Achilles predicts, it will be Achilles who will be longing for the Achaian Patroklos. Nor will it be the Achaians’ hearts which are devoured by sorrow, but Achilles’ alone in longing for Patroklos, who was killed by the “man slaughtering Hektor.”
Achilles’ agonizing grief for Patroklos is crucial in many respects. Obviously, Patroklos’ death Incites Achilles to rejoin the battle and conquer the Trojans. Thus, on a political level, Achilles’ grief is beneficial to the Achaians. But Achilles’ grief is also crucial on a personal level. Before Patroklos’ death, Achilles ignores his “shadow” and becomes transfixed upon his persona image—arete. In short, Achilles’ heroic image has become so large that he has forgotten or has chosen to forget that he, like all humans, possesses weaknesses In character. By denying these weaknesses, or the “shadow” within himself, he has committed an act which is detrimental to the development of the individual as a whole. In short, one cannot choose to only recognize one polarity of his/her personality, for in doing so, that person becomes one¬sided; they are not balanced and as a result suffer. Both polarities must be recognized to achieve “wholeness” (Monte 333).
Achilles only recognizes his “shadow” when he is forced to through the actions of Agamemnon. Agamemnon assaults his persona for everyone to witness and Achilles Is left with only his “shadow.” And since Achilles is finally forced to acknowledge his “shadow,” the reader is able to observe this struggle. For instance, in the following passage, we see that although Thetis strongly supports her son’s persona, she Is also adept at understanding the importance of his “shadow” as well, for …as he spoke In tears…she came and sat beside him as he wept, and stroked him with her hand and called him by name and spoke to him: “Why then, child, do you lament? What sorrow has come to your heart now? Tell me, do not hide it in your mind, and thus we shall both know” (p. 78-79)
In this passage, Thetis asks that Achilles confront his fears which she knows are hidden in his mind. Thus, Thetis realizes the importance for Achilles to acknowledge his “shadow.” And the way in which she wishes for him to verbalize his pain is significant because this process, being cathartic in nature, is highly therapeutic.
But it is Patroklos’ death which further forces Achilles to confront his fears because death, which he fears, has come another step closer to him through the death of his companion; and he is forced to deal with the issue. As a result, Achilles is able to resurrect his persona while acknowledging the presence of his “shadow.” In other words, Achilles can alleviate his fear of death by avenging Patroklos’ death. And because in this act of vengeance it will be Achilles the hero fighting Hektor, Achilles’ persona will be resurrected as well. Thus, Achilles does not make the fatal error of losing himself in the mask (hero), and nor does he permit himself to be overcome by the “shadow,” (fear of death). If he were to fall victim to his fear of death, he would have been unable to avenge Patroklos’ death, for he would be submerged in inferiority. Achilles’ triumph over Hektor exemplifies this balance in Achilles’ personality for the defeat of Hektor supports his persona of hero and also that of his “shadow” whose desire to avenge Patroklos’ death is fulfilled.
Achilles’ character undergoes a rigorous transformation In the Iliad where the polarities of his character are forced into a confrontation and an eventual compromise—parallel to that of the opposing forces in the Trojan War. But again, the most significant event for Achilles is Patroklos’ death because as Jung explains, Emotion Is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion (Jung 32).
Proof of this transformation in character can be observed in the touching conversation between Priam and Achilles. Only because of Patroklos’ death is Achilles able to empathize fully with Priam’s grief and Priam’s appeal to the grief for which Achilles’ father will experience when Achilles is dead. As Achilles explains, T know you, Priam, In my heart” (p. 166). This scene in which these two men meet, masks abandoned with fears exposed, contrasts sharply with the opening of the IUad where it is the heroic-warrior images of men who are in conflict. Thus, we see that the essence of Achilles’ true heroic nature, that being able to acknowledge both polarities in himself, allows him to come closer to humankind through his interaction with Priam. For instance, if Achilles’ were never to have acknowledged his own fear of death, he would have never been able to empathize with Priam’s grief or imagine the grief his father will feel when he is dead. Thus, the true hero is one who, despite the obstacles, bravely marches on through the “shadow” (fears and weaknesses) of his/her soul, for it is this shadow indeed which truly challenges the souls of humankind.
Jung, Carl. Psychological Aspects of the Modern Archetype. Vol.9.
Monte, Christopher. Beneath the Mask. The Dryden Press, 1991.