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Achilles and the Search for Immortality
Achilles, as a heroic and mythical figure, is representative of the Western search for immortality and truth in a world of temporality and illusion. The figure of Achilles expresses the desire within all men for a transcendence of the world in the search for truth and permanence through the quest for immortality.
This paper attempts to address the question of myth and immortality through the study of Achilles in the Iliad. The central thesis is that Achilles has a choice between human life and immortality through death. He chooses death and immortality over a mundane comfortable life. This choice makes him a heroic figure as he represents the archetypal desire of humanity to escape the finite and temporal world.
Another aspect that is explored is the realization that total transcendence of the world and Godlike immortality is not humanly possible. This paper attempts to place the Homeric myth in a broader context in terms of understanding the deeper significance of the story of Achilles. A Jungian view of the story and of myth is also explored.
The paper concludes with the view that the myth of Achilles and the search for immortality has a significance that goes beyond the story itself to reveals themes which pertain to the understanding of the human condition.
1. Introduction The meaning of the myth
The myth and legend of Achilles relates to the search for immortality. This is an endemic and pervasive theme in much of the important literature of the Western World. Faced with a world of death and temporality, the Western mind has searched, through art and literature, for images of permanence and transcendence. This is especially ubiquitous with regard to the Greek and Homeric legends and myths.
Karl Jung, the renowned psychologist and theorist, was aware that myth was a special and important genre of literature. Myths were not idle fiction or fantasy but rather indicative of a deeper and archetypal or common structures and layers of the human experience. These deeper layers of meaning are expressed through the images of myth and Jung also noted that world myths have many similarities. He therefore saw myth and legend as a more accurate measure of the human condition and scientific record.
Jung belongs to a group of modern authors who turned to myth rather than to history in their portrait of the human condition... For the transcendentalist Jung, humans cannot be reduced to their historical conditions, for through myth they are in contact with the timeless sphere of the collective unconscious, which in its archetypal representations changes through time and yet retains its basic identity.
In other words myths are etiological in that they explain and point to a subtle and complex understanding of mankind, cultures and explanations of life. They are in effect artistic constructions that creatively represent man's deepest questions and inner discoveries about himself and reality. It is in this light that the myth of Achilles is explored.
Achilles is one of the most important myths and legends created in Western literature. This is mainly due to the associations made within the story of Achilles and the questions that are raised with regard to immortality and the quest for permanence in the face of reality in which death is the only and enviable outcome. Achilles, through his mother Thetis, also has a close relationship with the transcendent and permanent world of the gods. However, he is also human and the decision that he makes has a profound significance for the meaning of life and for the eternal human quest for immortality. This paper will explore the legend of Achilles with particular reference to the Iliad.
The story of Achilles is best known through Homer's Iliad. This refers to the Trojan wars with Achilles as the central hero. His main characteristics are his incomparable strength and ability as a warrior; and his uncontrollable anger.
Achilles was the son of Peleus and Thetis. The myth also relates that Thetis was aware that Achilles was fated to die in the Trojan War and she disguised him as a girl and hid him at the court of King Lycomedes of Skyros. However, Odysseus found him and persuaded him to take part in the war. In Homer's Iliad, Achilles heads the invasion of Troy. During the final years of…[continue]
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