Both Achilles and Aeneas feature in Greek mythology as central characters and heroes in the Trojan War. Both characters also feature in Homer’s Iliad as legends. Achilles is the son of Peleus, the king of Myrmidons and the nymph Thetis. On the other hand, Aeneas is the son of Anchises the prince, and the goddess, Aphrodite. This means that Achilles and Aeneas are both descendants of the nobility. Similarly, both Achilles and Aeneas share in the god-man myth since their fathers are both human, but their mothers, goddesses.
Schleiner divulges clearly that critical analyses put Achilles and Aeneas as contemporaries. This is because they both participate in the Trojan War and are great heroes in Homer’s Iliad. At the same time, Achilles and Aeneas must have lived at a time when the god-man mythology must have been popular since they are both given this status (97).
Nevertheless, despite the many points of convergence between the two admirable characters, differences also greatly abound. For one, Achilles is given partial immortality by being dipped in the River Styx, albeit his heel was inadvertently not dipped. This is not the case with Aeneas. Again, it is important to remember that Achilles is limited to Greek mythology, while Aeneas survives in the Greco-Roman traditions.
As a matter of fact, legend, as outlined in Virgil’s Aeneid, has it that Aeneas is the ancestor of both Romulus and Remus, through Rhea Silvia, their mother. Given that Romulus (and to an extent, Remus) is the founder of the Roman Empire, the import of this is that Aeneas is the father of the Romans. Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus are said to have traced their lineage far back to Aeneas and Ascanius, and to Aphrodite. The Palemodians also lay claim of being Aeneas’ descendants while the legendary English kings also traced their lineage back to Aeneas’ grandson, Brutus. There are no such preponderant claims over Achilles’ lineage.
According to Champagne, Aeneas is shown to have more social appeal than Achilles. This is specifically because Achilles is portrayed as someone who had intense anger. At an instance, Achilles wallowed in the mire of anger and self-pity, unlike Aeneas who constantly dealt with his predicament. Achilles’ act of succumbing to self-pity and anger is occasioned in the instance where Agamemnon takes Briseis from him. Achilles resorts to his tent as his fellow soldiers are on the battlefield (65).
Still, on the sociability of the two, Aeneas is portrayed as being more selfless, as opposed to Achilles who is passed on as selfish and somewhat conceited. As a matter of fact, Achilles comes out in the legend as a Greek epic hero and a brave warrior who fought for self-aggrandizement. At a point in time, Achilles desists from fighting after Agamemnon takes Briseis from him. Interestingly, he later joins the war, upon sensing that his fellow soldiers may win and attain the glory by themselves.
The case above does not apply to Aeneas. On the contrary, Aeneas fights for the honor of his state, his community, and his family. In the Aeneid, glory becomes subservient to leadership as Aeneas fights. According to Homer’s narrative, the Romans only became interested in the Trojan War since the journey that Aeneas had taken led to the founding of Rome. Aeneas fulfills the Greco-Roman rendering of piety. The Greco-Roman traditions had it that to be pious or a hero, one had to follow the course of his own destiny and to serve his calling. Aeneas does not only follow his will but that of the gods also, the sufferings he underwent to fulfill this purpose, notwithstanding (Champagne, 66).
The length of the two characters would go to fulfill their life’s purpose or destiny is reflected in their relations with the gods. The gods seem ready to reward commitment to live’s purpose and destiny. So many times do the gods intervene in Aeneas’ life, without Aeneas even asking for their help. The gods intervene when Aeneas is lost in the Mediterranean. The ghost of Hector and Creusa also direct and encourage Aeneas for instance. However, this is not the case with Achilles who invokes Thetis for help when Agamemnon takes away Briseis from him.
On another wavelength, Aeneas seems unsure of himself and thus, shows a knack for consulting the gods and relying on their guidance. This is not the case with Achilles who is almost always acting on his whims.
Nonetheless, it is imperative to divulge on Achilles and Aeneas’ character as being reflective of the socio-cultural settings they hailed from. Although the Greco-Roman civilizations fought for glory, Grecian wars were waged for personal glory, while Roman wars were fought for collective or national glory. These socio-cultural values can then either be seen to have boiled down to Aeneas and Achilles’ individual characters, or Achilles and Aeneas may have been representatives of these two cultures. Thus, it will be improper to pass Achilles as a case of character underdevelopment.
Champagne, A. Roland. “The Force of Achilles in the Iliad.” Orbis Litterarum, 58.1 (2003): 65- 7. Print
Schleiner, Winfried. “Aeneas Flight from Troy.” Comparative Literature, 27.2 (2003): 97. Print