JESUS VS. ACHILLES
In the Iliad, we are given no account (to the best of my recollection) of the actual birth of Achilles. We know that one of his parents was mortal and the other immortal: His mother, Thetis, was a Nereid (meaning daughter of Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea) or sea nymph, while his father, Peleus, was king of the Myrmidons, the people of Phthia. This made Achilles a demigod, like Aeneas or Herakles, but Peleus also had immortality on his side of the family: his grandfather was Zeus. Therefore, Achilles, as Homer portrays him, was closer to divinity than any other Greek hero.
In the Bible (specifically, the New Testament), there is only one God, and He does not make a habit of sleeping around the way Zeus did; hence he only had one son, Jesus. So while Achilles is unique in his environment, Jesus is somewhat "more unique" in his. Jesus’ mother was Mary, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph at the time she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, Joseph, who has no blood relation to Christ, is himself a direct descendant of God, along the bloodline of Adam, Noah, David and Solomon. So again we see a dual divine connection, and Jesus, like Achilles, is both god and man, but more than half god.
Mary, it should be mentioned, remained a virgin after the conception of Jesus and his subsequent birth, and I often wonder why this detail of the story is necessary. I think it both proves that God is capable of miracles and prevents Him from committing the sin of adultery. In any case, Thetis was no virgin after Achilles’ conception, but being an immortal nymph, she did retain the appearance and demeanor of youth, of which virginity is often a symbol in myths. Additionally, Achilles and Jesus both seem to be the only children of their mothers and fathers.
Both Jesus and Achilles are the central figures and heroes of their stories. Both of them are, without a shadow of a doubt, the only ones who can save their people: the Achaians from death at the hands of the Trojans, the Christians from eternal damnation. The two fates are roughly approximate, since all Greeks, in the underworld, are reduced to a torturous shade existence. The main difference is that Jesus saves through his death, whereas Achilles must rush to save his people before it, or, an alternate interpretation is that Achilles’ death came simply as a result of his rampage. Another difference is the method of salvation: Jesus, simply because he is God’s only son, is able to take all of the sin of the world upon him and save the soul of anyone who believes in Him. Achilles just kills a lot of Trojans, among them Hektor.
The Iliad begins while Achilles is a young man, and there is no mention of his birth having been foretold the way Jesus’ was. However, both of them had their deaths prophecied long before the event, and themselves believed (and reiterated) the prophecies. In Achilles’ case, the prophecies came from Thetis and Zeus, who, in order to save the Greeks before it occurred, orchestrated events in Achilles’ favor. In other words, even the ones on Achilles’ own side cannot save him. In Jesus’ case, the prophecies of his birth and his death occurred some 700 years before the events, spoken by self-proclaimed servants of God such as Isaiah and Daniel. During his lifetime, though, he was not the only one to predict his demise. Caiaphas, the high Roman priest of God, also stated, with a double meaning unknown to him, that Jesus would die for the nation. He meant that Jesus’ death would heal the nation politically, but God, speaking through him, was stating that Jesus’ death would save the souls of the nation--he would die not at its behest but in its best interest. So Christ’s enemies as well as his followers prophesied of his death. To his credit, Hektor (Achilles’ major enemy) swears a couple of times that Achilles will meet his end, but he’s always wrong in stating that it will be he, Hektor, to kill him. Quite the opposite occurs, and it is because of that--and Hektor’s brother Paris’ subsequent vengeance--that Achilles is killed.
Probably the most striking contrast between Achilles and Jesus is that they led completely different lifestyles. However, both of them were kings in a sense: Achilles was leader of the Myrmidons, while Jesus was the spiritual leader of his disciples; he referred to himself as King of the Jews, and was mocked by the Romans for it. In daily life, Jesus was a teacher of the Word of God, while Achilles was a soldier. But their paths crossed more often than one might suspect. Achilles was a lover of poetry, singing songs the way Jesus spun parables, and often just for fun. Jesus, in the book of Revelation, is described as leading the armies of heaven in a robe dipped in blood, just as Achilles was covered in the blood of Trojans.
Anger, or more accurately, wrath (that is, divine anger) is the driving force of Achilles in the Iliad, and it is what causes him to commit the horrendous sin of mutilating Hektor’s body. Jesus, though free from sin, is often subject to anger, usually when his divine father has been offended or crossed in some way. Recall, for example, what was unleashed on the gamblers who conducted business in the temple. I think it is worth noting that Jesus’ Father, the God of the Old Testament, is much more noted for his quick temper and creative punishments than Jesus, so while anger is an integral part of the Christian pantheon, Jesus himself is not the chief bringer of it.
Both Jesus and Achilles held relatively high social positions, with many followers, but were oppressed and abused by an even higher power; respectively, the Romans and Agamemnon. Strangely, though, this repression seems to result in what is ultimately the wishes of the repressed. The Romans wished to quash Jesus and his teachings, so they killed him, but in doing so fulfilled his purpose, for what would Christ be without his crucifixion? Today, ironically, Rome is the center of the Catholic church, and home to the leaders of the Christian world. Agamemnon seized Achilles’ woman Briseis in an attempt to retain his own honor, thus raising his ire and ensuring that ire would be let loose in full force later, resulting in the death of Hektor. Of course, one could postulate that had Agamemnon not abducted Briseis, the outcome of the battle would have been the same, the only difference being less Achaian casualties, but then, why had the war lasted nine years, with no turning point until the death of Patroklos?
Both Achilles and Jesus are undone (and sent into their roles as savior) because of the actions of a close friend of theirs. Hektor killed Patroklos and drove Achilles mad with rage, resulting in Hektor’s death. The flaw was Achilles’: to give in to the anger. (If it was a flaw, why did it save his people? Had he conquered his anger in the first place, the problem would not have arisen.) Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver, and later returned the money and hung himself out of guilt. Obviously, the flaw was Judas’, but again, it fulfilled the purpose that Jesus had already claimed he had been born on earth for. What if Judas had not sold him out? Would Jesus have turned himself in?
Both Achilles and Judas are present only mainly at the beginning and at the end of their stories, and absent in the middle, though discussed constantly as the one force that can save the people. Achilles, at the beginning, gets in an argument and becomes so bitter he withdraws from the fight and does not rejoin it until anger spurs him to vengeance. Jesus never really gives a reason for ascending into heaven. One can infer that having been killed once already on earth, he didn’t enjoy the sojourn and simply wished to return home, and besides had done what he came to do. In any case, he returns in the distant future (at least two thousand years; hasn’t happened yet) in order to punish the wicked and cleanse the earth so that God’s people can be risen up into heaven. In other words, it’s safe to say that divine wrath motivates the comeback. Jesus is passive for twenty-two books of the New Testament; Achilles, for seventeen of the Iliad. Not precisely the same, but close.
Jesus could not commit the sin of adultery and he remained unmarried, thus was a virgin. Achilles, for a man enduring the pain of a lost love, is curiously unaffectionate toward Briseis, even once he should by all rights have gained her back. There is no climactic reunion scene between the two of them, at the end of the poem or anywhere else. The portrait we receive is of a very sexually frustrated individual, and I always saw Jesus the same way: born to experience the physical pleasures of being human, but unable to enjoy the physical act of love, possibly the strongest emotion.
Jesus was the only human who could perform the mysterious and magical feats that he did--turning water into wine, healing lepers, etc. He never demonstrated supernatural physical strength, which Achilles had in abundance. Though it is true that just as there are other demigods in the Iliad, there are other people who can perform physical feats which no man can "today" (2800 years ago), Achilles was singled out among these as the strongest and the best warrior. So both Achilles and Jesus were visibly unique in a way. They stood out in a crowd, usually because they formed the crowd.
XI. Divine Intervention.
Achilles is constantly helped by gods, and not just Zeus: Hera, Athena and Hephaistos are all on his side and aid him directly. They make him more powerful in battle than he already is, they scare away his foes, and they forge him armor. All aspects of the same thing, I suppose. God the Father and the Holy Spirit also would manifest themselves in Jesus’ life on occasion (notably at his baptism) but there was a glaring exception: Jesus’ last words before he died on the cross were "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" I suppose this is because this is when he had to be most fully human, because God is immortal. But after he rose he became most fully immortal, because no man can survive death. In the same way, Zeus ceases to assist Achilles once his promise to Thetis (that Achilles will reenter the battle and thus regain honor) has been fulfilled, and after Achilles kills Hektor, he gets almost no assistance. He is closest to death.
Achilles was killed by Paris, a Trojan. Jesus was killed by the Romans, who were the descendants of Trojans.
Jesus rose from the dead after three days in the tomb. Having conquered death and Hell, he had made salvation from it possible, but he could now live forever as a true god should. His death was symbolically crucial and quite significant to his followers, but to he himself it was actually rather inconsequential: it didn’t affect him. I think there are three ways in which Achilles is also "above" the matter of his own inevitable death: Firstly, after he died, the Achaians still won the war. Therefore, he had managed to accomplish what he set out to and so he may has well have died, it didn’t matter. Secondly, Homer doesn’t even include Achilles’ death in the Iliad. If he doesn’t feel it’s necessary to portray, why should we feel it’s important? Obviously, it’s quite important to Achilles, but he’d been acting as if he were dead ever since Patroklos was killed. That’s the third way. Important to him, yes, but did he seem to care? Not really.
XIII. Life After Death.
Jesus became a god, or rather, one with God, and watches over all of creation, waiting for the day to come when he’ll take his people up to heaven. Achilles’ ghost, as portrayed in the Odyssey, is lonely and miserable, subjected to an everlasting existence of torment and regret. I find no similarities whatsoever here. The fundamental difference between the characters asserts itself: Jesus is a deity to be worshipped, while Achilles is a tragic hero to be mourned. At this point, all comparison looks somewhat foolish.
In Book 9 of the Iliad, Phoinix compares Achilles to a god, wondering why he cannot forgive Agamemnon for taking Briseis, when the immortals can. Though Phoinix is referring to Zeus, Apollo, and the rest of the Greek pantheon, he could easily be speaking of Jesus, who came along thousands of years later, and yet shared the ability to forgive any sin if only asked in prayer. Achilles cannot forgive Agamemnon, however, not even when he races into battle--then he only has Hektor to bear another grudge against. But when Hektor’s father Priam comes to Achilles’ tent and supplicates him, saying "I put my lips to the hands of the man who has killed my children," then finally can Achilles let go of his anger. This is what makes him, for me, a far more complex and interesting character than Jesus--well, a man. He’s not perfect, and he’s not to be worshipped. But then, the Greek gods aren’t perfect either, but they still forgive at the drop of a hat. I’ll take Achilles any milennium.
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