Achilles and Apollo analysis
ty for this ask and i’m sorry it took this long lmao… this also applies to everyone else who submitted an essay suggestion way back then, i’m still gonna be answering those eventually. i’m sorry for the delay lol
Apollo || Achilles parallels
When you consider the actual content of the Iliad, it’s noteworthy that the epic starts with the (almost) simultaneous wrath of Apollo and Achilles. In both cases, the consequence is the death of hundreds, which shows their power. However, they’re different in that Apollo is a) acting on the wishes of a mortal and that b) Apollo chills out when he gets what he wants, Achilles however continues sulking. Unlike Apollo, Achilles attempts to harvest as much as possible from his “divine wrath”, despite Apollo being the actually divine one. To be entirely fair towards Achilles, he is mortal and hence has more to lose/less time to enjoy life to its fullest (source: In Our Time podcast). They are paralleled again in the last book of the Iliad, when Achilles recounts the story of Niobe to Priam. He compares Niobe to Priam, thus comparing himself to Apollo.
Throughout the entire Iliad, Apollo and Achilles follow what I call ‘opposing character arcs’. There’s definitely a proper name for that, but what I mean is that they’re basically headed in opposite directions on the same road. While Achilles needs to be humbled, Apollo needs an ego boost.
To clarify: Apollo is way too attached to mortals during the war, most notably Hector, but also Chryses and if you include backstory, Cassandra. Of course, the other gods also have certain mortals they look after, but no one gets as attached as Apollo does. Artemis (his twin) is completely detached from the war, and Athena (who has a similar amount of screen time) is not attached to the mortals themselves, but rather what they mean to the war. Poseidon cares so little that he, despite being actively on the Greek side, saves Aeneas’ life in order to abide fate. This is how he addresses him after saving him from Achilles:
‘What power, O prince, with force inferior far, // urged thee to meet Achilles’ arm in war? // Henceforth beware, nor antedate thy doom, // Defrauding Fate of all thy fame to come.’
Apollo, on the other hand, saves Hector’s life on many, many occasions, despite knowing his death being ruled by fate. Achilles states this explicitly in Book 20:
Achilles closes with his hated foe, // His heart and eyes with flaming fury glow: // But present to his aid, Apollo shrouds // The favoured hero in a veil of clouds. // Thrice struck Pelides with indignant heart, // Thrice in impassive air he plunged the dart: // The spear a fourth time buried in the cloud; // He foams with fury and exclaims aloud: // ‘Wretch! Thou hast escaped again, once more thy flight // Has saved thee, and the partial god of light. // But long thou shalt not thy fate withstand, // If any power assist Achilles’ hand […]’
The goal of Apollo’s character arc is for him to recognize his superior spot as a god on Olympus.
Achilles is the exact opposite of this. Achilles sees himself as above all others, even above fate itself (paradoxically, that is a mortal thing to think; Zeus, the ultimate immortal, acknowledges his inferiority towards the fates). Achilles is determined to live as long as possible, though he knows that his fate rules otherwise.
As you can see, Apollo and Achilles mirror each other in some way. Nevertheless, within these similarities they remain different. I’ve compiled a list of examples from the Iliad:
Book I: Achilles needs Thetis’/Zeus’ help to execute his wrathful plan, Apollo on the hand can execute his own plan himself,
Book XVI: Apollo helps Hector in killing Achilles, which is directly paralleled to
Book XXIII: Athena helping Achilles kill Hector (note that Achilles and Apollo are on opposite sides of the spectrum; Achilles is the one receiving help, instead of being the one to give it) — p.s.: it’s interesting that Hector was killed due to the help of Athena, his reasonable, divine counterpart, just as Achilles would be killed by Apollo, his vengeful and wrathful divine counterpart (x)
Despite proving himself to be a needy goofball (affectionate), Achilles doesn’t stop from continuously acting like he’s a god.
That is until Patroclus dies. By the end of the epic, both have completed their arc. For Achilles, the turning point comes when Patroclus dies (notably at the hands of Apollo). Following Patroclus’ death, Achilles admits he’s not divine and not even the best of the greeks. He abandons his fear of death, even brings it upon himself and falls in battle, just as was expected of him.
Similarly, Apollo does not intervene to help Hector during the duel. In a way, he even caused it by killing Patroclus. After that, he only shows his affection for Hector by protecting his corpse until Priam can collect it. After the end of the Iliad, by the time Troy has fallen, he’s so detached that he doesn’t even take part in the siege. He doesn’t do anything he shouldn’t to protect anyone he shouldn’t.
Okay, this is the part where I start reading into things that are just Not That Deep, but Apollo and Achilles have both earned themselves a certain level of closure, so here we go.
The cutting of Achilles’ hair is not only an act of respect to Patroclus, it’s also him giving a part of himself to death, and if you distance yourself from the war motive, it’s the point where Achilles ascends from boyhood to manhood (x). Also, a few paragraphs down, I mention that their long hair connects Apollo and Achilles — by cutting his hair, Achilles is removing the one big connection he still had to Apollo and thereby his striving for divinity.
Apollo gets his closure by basically killing Achilles through Paris, whom he uses as a tool without getting attached to him. Achilles’ death could also be symbolic for Apollo killing the mortal part of himself, which Achilles represents. Walter Burkert says Achilles’ death at the hand of Apollo specifically was unavoidable since “the hero [is] an obscure reflection of the god in the indissoluble polarity of sacrifice” (x, trans.). By the time Euripides’ Orestes takes place, Apollo is acting very much like Athena, manipulating and toying from high above instead of being sentimental. He ruthlessly destroys Orestes’ life for no reason other than the fact that he wanted to.
To me, the hate between Apollo and Achilles might very well stem from disguised self-hatred — they see in the other their own flaws and direct the anger that the self-reflection causes on each other. Beyond this (at risk of sounding too much like Troy the film), it might be jealousy for what the other possesses, namely divinity or mortality for which they long so much.
Some additional notes before I finish off. Regarding their appearance, Apollo and Achilles’ classic feature is their long, blonde hair. I am, of course, an advocate for redhead Achilles, but xanthos (the word used to describe him) can mean blonde. Walter Burkert regards Achilles almost as a “doppelgänger” of Apollo, mainly because of their hair (x). This similarity builds a connection between Apollo and Achilles, which isn’t super deep, but interesting.