As with any epic, the central archetype that is always found in the story is the hero. In each of these epics, cultural difference play a vital role in how each hero is portrayed. Arjuna comes from the Hindu culture while Achilles comes from the well-known power hungry Greek culture. The culture of each epic hero mold them into the type of hero each of them are. Achilles is a brave warrior who is the son of a mortal and a goddess with a cruel and cold heart. Arjuna supports the role of a golden child. He is also a brave warrior, but someone with a loving and compassionate side. Although Arjuna and Achilles both have been labeled as the hero in their respected epics and cultural practices, each hero differs in personality traits, actions, and motives.
In both of these epics, the cultural differences and practices are evident in the characteristics of each archetypal hero. The Iliad introduces the reader to Achilles, a brave, cruel, and stubborn warrior who was feared but respected by all of Greece. These traits we not uncommon amongst Greek rulers and warriors because this is the practice that worked well with their culture. On the contrary, Arjuna exhibited a completely different set of traits that his culture saw as morally acceptable. The Mahabharata’s hero can be described as a well-rounded individual with characteristics of being trustworthy, intelligent, and loyal to his friends and family. Each of these epics heroes personality support their cultural differences.
As the epic hero in The Iliad, Achilles is a warrior who personality doesn’t significantly develop throughout the epic. His wrath is felt in many ways. The first time we see the wrath of Achilles is when Agamemnon doesn’t return Chryseis back to stop the plague being inflicted on Achilles’ people by the God Apollo. Although, Chryseis is returned to her family, Achilles is angered again when Agamemnon takes the one woman he truly loves, Briseis. Achilles’ fury drives him to isolate himself to the beach, where he prays to Zeus for the fall of the Achaean army, so that “all can reap the benefits of their king and that even mighty Agamemnon can see how mad he was to disgrace Achilles, the best of the Achaeans (Book one).”
Arjuna is the complete opposite of Achilles. Although they share the commonality of being warriors, Arjuna’s character can be characterized by his thought process before the big battle. Unlike Achilles character, Arjuna thought about those on the other side of the sword. It was Arjuna’s family fighting for the Kauravas, and it seemed morally untrue to hurt and kill several members of his family even if they were fighting for the same outcome of capturing the throne. “ All his kinsmen, his guru, his uncle, grandfather, and cousins were there waiting to be hurt and killed. He suddenly felt weak and irresolute (Narayan 147).” Arjuna’s weak and hesitant feeling shows his compassion for his family.
Every hero loves a victory, but some heroes rather win the battle within themselves instead of winning the battle and gaining the respect of others. Arjuna is a hero of inner victory. Before the big battle, he finds himself sad and torn. Despite the fact that he was fighting with friends and family, he also knew that he would be fighting against friends and family and that troubled him. “He confessed to Krishna ‘ I cannot go on with this war. My grasp on Gandiva slips, my mind wanders; how can I slaughter kith and kin? I do not want the kingdom.’(Narayan 147).” In this quote, Arjuna speaks about the grasp he has on his bow in which he would go to battle with. The grasp of his bow cant be interpreted as his will to fight for the throne, but since his grasp has loosened so has his will to take the throne. With a cloud of self-doubt over him, he receives a pep talk from Krishna. He first reminds him that the Kauravas “deserve no consideration (Narayan 147),” but most importantly he reminds Arjuna that he is just an “instrument of their destruction (Narayn 148). After this talk, Arjuna was now reassured in his duty and knew that he had to face the Kauravas in battle. The inner victory was hard to realize, but with the help of Krishna the vision and outcome became clear within the mind of Arjuna.
While Arjuna wished and was satisfied with inner victory, Achilles wished for outer victory and praise. In The Iliad, Achilles killed Hector with no remorse and dishonored him. His reasoning being that this is what was deserved by Hector for killing Petroklos, his close friend since childhood. During the one-on-one battle with Hector, Achilles speaks out on his anger after Hector tries to persuade him to allow a proper burial for him. This plea increased the rage of Achilles and he responds, “ Beg me no beggary by soul or parents, whining dog! Would god my passion drove me to slaughter you and eat you raw, you’ve caused such agony to me! (lines 411-414)” In these lines, Achilles cannot believe that Hector is asking for mercy after all that Hector has done to him. He gives his final judgement later in his response. “You’ll have no bed of death, nor will you be laid out and mourned by her who gave you birth. Dogs and birds will have you, every scrap (lines 420-422).” Achilles doesn’t promise him a proper burial, but promise the most disrespectful way someone can be treated after their death: being eaten by animals. In one of Hectors’ last words he describes Achilles personality to perfection and asks him to rethink what he is doing not for him but for the judgement that the gods may give. “Iron in your breast your heart is. Think a bit, though: this may be a thing the gods in anger hold against you on that day when Paris and Apollo destroy you at the Gates (lines 425-429).” The description hector used to describe Achilles is that of Iron. A heart as cold as iron reflects his personality trait of cruel and stubborn. Hector uses his last resort to end the battle, by reminding Achilles that even though he will have his revenge here on earth, there is no way to know how the gods will feel about his actions on his dying day. As a hero that leaned more toward outer victory and praise.
In conclusion, every hero in every epic are not always the same. Arjuna fulfills the loved and well rounded hero who thinks of others before himself, while Achilles is a hero full of rage and wrath. Victory is something that is always under the belt of a true hero, but the way each hero wishes to be praised varies. Arjuna seeks an inner victory and reassurance from wise council, but Achilles seeks outer victory from those around him. Achilles culture supports and respects his brave and cruel behavior, while Arjuna’s Hindu culture promotes just the opposite. Although Arjuna and Achilles both have been labeled as the hero in their respected epics and cultural practices, each hero differs in personality traits, actions, and motives.
1.) Narayan, R. K. The Mahabharata. New Delhi: Vision, 1987. Print.
2.) Homer, and Robert Fitzgerald. The Iliad. Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday, 1974. Print.