Aeneas and Achilles were warriors on opposite sides in the Trojan War. As befits typical Greek heroes, they have the superiority of demi-gods and the qualities of great mortals, including heroism, courage in battle and vast intelligence. The major difference between these two heroes -- besides their allegiance to opposing factions -- is their sense of self: Achilles stands as an emblem of flawed self-serving, while Aeneas is emblematic of self-sacrifice.
Achilles -- Great but Selfish
Achilles is the protagonist of Homer's epic poem "The Iliad." He is a demi-god and son of mortal Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis, and fights bravely in the Trojan War in Book One. His immortal battle state is because his mother dipped him in the River Styx, which offered him immortality. His mother held him by the heel, however, so his heel did not get dipped in the protective waters, which left his heel vulnerable, as it was not immortal. By Book Seven, Achilles turns selfish. Angry with Greek general Agamemnon, he forsakes battle, leaving his best friend Patroclus to be killed in his place. Infuriated, Achilles kills the Trojan prince Hector in Book 22 and dishonorably drags his body around Troy.
Aeneas -- Great and Selfless
In contrast to Achilles -- Aeneas, the Trojan prince who is immortalized in his own epic "The Aeneid " -- is far from skilled in battle, but he distinguishes himself after the Fall of Troy. He leads unsuccessful attacks against numerous Greek heroes, and the gods must rescue him. However, he begins his own rescue efforts afterward, carrying his aged father Anchises on his shoulders out of battle and leading other Trojans to safety. Aeneas is also a demi-god, as his father was Anchises and his mother was Aphrodite/Venus. Aeneas is the picture of devotion and self-sacrifice, and Virgil’s story "The Aeneid" notes his religious and filial devotion.
Differences in Death
Another difference between Aeneas and Achilles lies in their deaths. Aeneas dies peacefully in Lavinium, a city he founded. Achilles' death, which is much more famous, comes at the bequest of the gods. Angered by the mistreatment of Hector's body, Apollo assists Paris, who is the least of all Trojan fighters, as he shoots a poisoned arrow into Achilles' mortal heel. This great, but self-centered warrior, is immortalized in the phrase "Achilles heel," which is a symbol of flawed weakness.
Differences in the Arts
The differences between selfish Achilles and selfless Aeneas are immortalized in art and literature. The statue of wounded Achilles at Princeton University depicts the hero as weakened, and turned away. Bellini's statue of Aeneas depicts the demi-god as strong and unafraid, and bearing Anchises on his shoulder. Even Shakespeare noted the differences. "Come tie his body to my horse's tail," says the cruel Achilles, as he stands over Hector's corpse in Act Five, scene eight of "Troilus and Cressida." Meanwhile, in Act One, scene two of “Julius Caesar,” Cassius in speaks warmly of "Aeneas, our great ancestor."
- Merriam-Webster: Demigod
- Gutenberg.org: The Iliad of Homer
- Google:The Oxford Companion to World Mythology: pages 5-6, Aeneas, Aeneid.
- JSTOR: Classical Antiquity: Achilles' Heel, The Death of Achilles in Ancient Myth
- The New York Times: Art Review: The Legacy of Homer: Triumphant Greeks from the Academy
- University of Washington: Honors Program in Rome: Bernini's Sculptures in the Villa Borghese (first image)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Troilus and Cressida (e-text)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The Life and Death of Julius Caesar
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.