Aristotle, in Politics, said that “he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of all benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all” (Book I, Part II). Homer’s Achilles serves as the main character from The Iliad, and it is he who most adequately fits the definition of everything that Aristotle was cautioning the populace to avoid becoming; a man apart.
Son of the Neried, Thetis, born of a mortal father, Peleus, Achilles was considered to be one of the mightiest Greek fighters in the Trojan War. Calchas, the seer, prophesized that Troy could only be taken if Achilles was present, but should Achilles enter the field of battle at Troy he would die an early death. In spite of this prophecy, Achilles allows himself to join the cause of Odysseus, setting down the path that will ultimately lead to his demise. In this, it is possible to see that though self-sufficient, in that Achilles is concerned with taking care of his own business and doing that which he thinks is right regardless of outside commentary or intervention, it is because of this that Achilles is unable to live within society. If Achilles was concerned with remaining within his community, being a part of it, he would have stayed home and hidden as his mother wished, but it was due to his desire for glory that he set forth down a path knowing it would lead to his death, but that all would remember his name.
Achilles refuses to buy off Agamemnon, and refuses to give up his own girl, a spoil of war, for Agamemnon’s pleasure; it is only Athena’s intervention that prevents the men from coming to blows (Bradford, n.d.), showing once more that Achilles sees himself as above society and above community rather than a part of it. Achilles allowed the prophecy to go to his head, believing himself to be above all others, and having no true need of others, in spite of his refusal to give up women he claimed as his, like Briseis, or his anger over the death of his companion, Patroclus (Bradford, n.d.), it could be argued that these were points of pride for him, as opposed to a true attachment to each. With Briseis Achilles refused to give her up on the say so of Agamemnon simply because Agamemnon lost his concubine; if translated into a child’s argument about a toy as opposed to a man attempting to keep his own woman, the pettiness and selfishness may easily be seen. While Patroclus had compassion for others who died in battle, Achilles had none, but he believed Patroclus was his to protect, and so he felt responsible for avenging his death.
Achilles was a man apart; akin in the eyes of Aristotle to a beast or god, and it is easy to see how the definition from Politics, though never intended to apply to Achilles, may easily be adopted and modified for such a purpose. Given the rash behaviors of Achilles, it is safe to say that of the two, he would be likened to a god, as opposed to a beast. The Greek gods and goddesses favored their chosen, protected them when able, avenged them when possible, displayed promiscuous behaviors, and were concerned with the greatness of their legends; if this does not define Achilles, then it is hard to say what would.